Observations from Mars: Batman

batman posters

Instead of just one movie, I thought I would do an “observation” on a character, and with the recent unveiling of a new trailer at San Diego Comic Con, I thought Batman would be a good place to start.
I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was a small child. Back then, it was re-runs of the Adam West show and the Saturday morning “Super Friends” cartoon that brought me the adventures of the Caped Crusader. As I got older, I learned there were comic books of Batman, but they all seemed so dark and it was hard to follow the stories, and there were “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” comics to buy, so I never got really into the comics.

Batman1966 westIn the 1966 “Batman” TV series, Adam West portrayed the titular character to full campy satisfaction. The colors were bright, the dialogue snappy, the villains often overshadowed the leads, and it was good clean fun. The bumbling police always called upon Batman and Robin and they typically had to solve the clues to find the bad guys, have a well-staged fight, fall into the villains’ trap, the viewers would get told to tune in again, “same bat time, same bat channel” next week, and then we’d see how the Dynamic Duo outsmart the villains, create their own trap, another fight, and then win the day. The addition of Batgirl in the last season was a nice touch, even if, watching it now as an adult, she always seems to get sidelined in the simplest of ways. The classic series is, like “Star Trek” from the same time period, if you can get past the bright 1960’s trappings, an enjoyable viewing experience.

Batman&RobinI don’t remember a whole lot about the cartoon version of Batman from my youth, except that he and Robin were part of the Justice League team, along with Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and others. We’ll forget those weird twins happened, as well as some of the other stereotyped characters which are viewed as politically incorrect these days. Still, the show was bright, loud, and fun for a young boy. I remember having several Batman action figures and vehicles and there was an old Batcave playset made of flimsy plastic my dad filled with concrete and mounted to a thick slab of wood. No villains were getting into the Batcave via those walls lol.

batman-1989-09-gTim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” film brought a new take on the character. Gone were the bright colors, the “ka-pows” on the screen, and most of all, Robin. This Batman was definitely a “Dark Knight” and a loner, brought to life on screen by Michael Keaton, as unlikely a lead as ever, but he pulled it off really well. In a flashback of sorts to the West series, Keaton’s Batman was overshadowed by Nicholson’s over-the-top performance as the Joker. There was much speculation at the time if the new film’s take on the classic hero would be successful and if anyone could take over for West, as many only knew his live action portrayal of the caped crime fighter.

The sequel, 1992’s “Batman Returns” is an underrated film that brought us the Penguin and Catwoman, but is pretty much only remembered for Michele Pfeiffer’s Catwoman suit, although Keaton seemed more comfortable in the Batsuit and DeVito’s Penguin was a vast step apart from the 1960’s version. The studio wanted to go another way after that film produced less than stellar results. The result was 1995’s “Batman Forever”, which gave us Val Kilmer (“Top Gun’s” Iceman) in the cape and cowl, Two-Face and the Riddler, and finally, Robin. The film was less dark, gothic, and gritty than the Burton outings, with the comedy amped up several notches, putting it right below the West version in slapstick, silly humor, and puns. It wasn’t a bad film and showed Batman move from loner to mentor, which was a nice take on the character.

Sadly, the film was considered successful enough to make a sequel, which then turned out to be the universally panned and totally awful “Batman and Robin”. Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane, and Batgirl join the titular heroes in this outing and George Clooney, fresh from the operating rooms of “ER” took on the Batsuit. This movie turned the silliness to 12, and is remembered only for every line of dialogue being a cheesy one-liner and adding “nipples” to the costumes. After this debacle, the live action franchise was put to pasture until 2005.

BTAS_05152014In the meantime, Batman took on a new life in animated form, with WB’s “Batman: The Animated Series”, loosely based on the Burton movies and using the Elfman theme. At the time, this wasn’t a show I watched, but I wish now that I had. This series, which ran from 1992 – 1995, took Batman back to the blue cape and gray suit, and most famously Kevin Conroy as Batman, a role he is STILL performing to this day in various forms. The series also saw Mark Hamill, of “Star Wars” fame, take on the role of Joker, which many fans consider the best interpretation of the character.

1999 debuted “Batman Beyond”, probably the most stylistic take on the hero since West’s series. In this show, Bruce Wayne is elderly and unable to be the Batman. In the pilot episode, he tries to take down some criminals and has a heart attack and is nearly killed. A young man, named Terry McGinnis, a high school student seeking to avenge the loss of his father, takes on the role of Batman. The series is set in “the future” and the Batsuit is a high-tech marvel, the “Batmobile” is able to change from a car to a plane and even underwater vehicle as needed. Conroy’s Wayne shifts to observer and mentor and the series ran for three seasons. As Batman, McGinnis is pretty much a loner, although Wayne is plugged into his ear through the suit. As a high school student, McGinnis has friends, a mom, a brother, and a girlfriend. Even though the series ended, it got a few mentions in the following “Justice League” animated show and even basically a proper series finale during the run of the “JL” series. It even is popular enough that when DC Comics had people make videos for Batman’s 75th anniversary in 2014, a “Batman Beyond” video was included and there is now a monthly comic book series for the title.

Batman_Beyond_soundtrack2005 saw Batman return to the live action realm with “Batman Begins”, the first of three movies by filmmaker Christopher Nolan, with Christian Bale donning the cape and cowl in a return to the darker and grittier Batman. This one tells us the origin of the hero by taking us along as Bruce Wayne trains in martial arts with the League of Assassins and Ra’s Al Ghul. Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine star alongside Bale, and the film does a good job of showing the origins of Batman in a way that is contemporary for modern audiences. Unlike previous live action films, this one uses realistic locations for the Gotham City shots and other locales. No weird, gigantic gothic towers in this one. Probably the most memorable thing about this movie is that no one can understand a word that Batman says; it sounds like a Darth Vader voice changer running low on battery power after it gets run over by a car and chewed on by a dog.

dark-knight2008’s “The Dark Knight” is considered by many to be THE defining Batman film. This middle entry of the trilogy featured the late Heath Ledger as the Joker alongside Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Many wondered if Ledger could surpass Nicholson’s Joker, but in my opinion, there’s no good way to compare them as they are playing the character very differently in their respective films. Nicholson’s is kind of a late 1980’s “greed is good” type mixed with petty criminal that gets sloshed around in some kind of acid or whatnot and comes out a crazy sauce villain that has his own trademark brand of humor while working his scheme to get revenge on Batman. Ledger’s Joker is pure anarchist; just bat-shit crazy who, as Caine’s Alfred says, “just wants to watch the world burn.” It is tour de force performance from Ledger, who perished before the final product debuted and I think that lends some of the “feelings” people have for this movie and why they hold it in such high regard. Bale’s Batman is featured a bit more in this one than the previous one, but he is still overshadowed by the villains and no one still really knows what he says. This film shows Batman at possibly his darkest. It’s a very enjoyable film, but it is a long watch and while it moves along well with Ledger’s Joker breaking up the scenery, it does have some down parts. The Two-Face plot pays off at the end of the film, but one wonders if it was really a necessary component of the film or if it might have been a tighter effort with just Batman squaring off against the Joker as the main thrust of the film.

the_dark_knight_trilogySadly, as happened before, the final film in the series is a bit lackluster. “The Dark Knight Rises” from 2012 ended with Batman facing off against Bane, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, and Catwoman. This time around, Bane’s Batman has been “retired” for a number of years since the events of the previous movie and injuries sustained during the previous films (we are left to assume). They recreate the famous back-breaking scene from the comics, but then as Bane tries to destroy the city, Batman comes back into the picture to stop him, having had just enough time to heal up. Catwoman switches sides and the villains are defeated while Batman flies off with the bomb, exploding it safely offshore and away from the city (sometimes, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!). The movie ends with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake character finding the Batcave (and his middle name is Robin) and the scene at the French café. Bale’s Batman in this film is pretty lackluster and not even around for a large part of the film. As an ending to the trilogy, it leaves something to be desired. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is quite good, although Julie Newmar from the 1960’s show will always be the quintessential Catwoman to me, and Bane gets better represented this time around, but the film is bloated, long, and is without Batman for most of it.

lego_movie_1While the live action stuff has been happening, there have been a number of animated movies, such as “Batman: Year One” and “Batman: Under the Red Hood” as well as a series of popular video games under the “Arkham” umbrella and a series of LEGO video games featuring Batman, his allies, and his rogues gallery. There have also been a number of other animated weekly series. Even “The LEGO Movie” used Batman as a featured character in the movie, voiced by Will Arnett. This Batman is due for a movie all his own in 2017, that’s how popular was Arnett’s performance, especially since he got many of the film’s best comedy bits. All of these offer different versions of the Caped Crusader character, from the dark and serious to the fun and somewhat silly.

batmanvsupermanNow we have the forthcoming “Batman vs. Superman” coming in 2016. Many, myself included, were skeptical with the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman opposite the Henry Cavill Superman. The first pictures from the sets fueled the controversy and the first trailer left viewers wondering why the two were fighting, although it did answer some questions about the Batsuit and what kind of Batman we could expect from this film. The newest trailer that bowed at Comic Con, in my opinion, finally sold me on the film and that Affleck could pull off this Batman. This looks like another dark take on the hero, but maybe not as dark as the middle Nolan film, maybe more akin to the Burton representation.

batfleckThe one thing I noticed with this new “Batfleck” is that it is clearly based on Frank Miller’s work from the 1980s. Nolan also borrowed liberally from the Miller Batmen, and as a fan of the character, I wonder if there’s a way to reinvent the character in a way that is not a copy of Miller’s work. I understand that his work is considered quintessential by many fans, but I enjoy the fact that there are many versions of Batman, each telling the stories and bringing the character to life in a way that resonates with various fans and making new fans.

batman-arkham-asylum-5552In the end, Batman is a character that has resonance with many people for a variety of reasons. For me, I have always liked that Batman doesn’t have super powers, he’s not an alien, he has a distinct, traumatic backstory, and he generally is able to take down the villains without killing them. Batman is a defender of the people, a hero that turns up where he is needed most, and I sometimes wish he could be a real person because our world needs a hero. Some versions have Batman work well with others, particularly his sidekick Robin, while others work alone, but for the most part Batman is known for his gadgets, his vehicles, and his ability to take down Gotham City’s worst villains. I’m excited for this next new version of the character and hope that it will lead to future films. I know I’d be interested to see a film where Affleck takes on a more supporting role while a Terry McGinnis type of character steps into the Batman role; it might be an evolution of this new character that could happen down the road. Regardless, the character has been garnering fans for over 75 years and will likely still be popular in whatever version at his 100th anniversary.

For those reading this far, what is your favorite version of Batman or what draws you to the character?

Observations from Venus: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The-Princess-and-the-FrogWhen “The Princess and the Frog” came out in 2009, I didn’t see it. I was 19, had no children and stopped being interested in Disney movies when I turned 12 or so.

Now, I’m 25 and I do have two little girls and last month I sat down with my 4 year old and 3 year old girls, and watched it. And I really enjoyed it!

I’m a fan of Keith David, and was excited to learn he lent his voice to the villain in the movie, The Shadow Man. I thought he was a really good villain, and reminded me of the old style Disney villain; like the evil queen in “Snow White” and Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty”: Powerful, charismatic, and intimidating.

Prince Naveen is nice enough, he’s kind of a spoiled brat and playboy but learns what’s really important in the end. And Tiana is great! She’s like Belle; smart, resourceful, hardworking.

I liked the story, too. They have to work together to fix their problem: being frogs! And in doing so fall in love. A nice step away from the classic Disney, where the two leads meet, sign a song, and blam! they are in love.

The side characters are a real treat. Tiana’s best friend, Charlotte, cracks me up every time! I love every minute she’s on screen.

So, we have a good story, good main characters, good side characters, a good villain…what’s the problem?

"THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG" © Disney Enterprises, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

“THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”
© Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Unless you never pay attention to anything, you know the controversy about this movie. It didn’t make as much money as Disney wanted it to, but it didn’t tank by any means; it just wasn’t the next “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Little Mermaid” that Disney was hoping it was. And some people say its racism. But I don’t think so. I mean, we have a black president; I think the world is ok with a black Disney princess. And I’m not saying racism isn’t completely gone from our culture, because obviously, no its not. But in this case I really don’t think it had anything to do with it. Some people think it’s an “ism” against 2D animation, but I don’t think that’s it either.

The studio blamed the title. “Princess” bringing a negative light to the film and turning people off. But I think it’s the opposite. My little girls and their little girl friends love “Princess”. I think the problem with the film was there wasn’t enough Princess! My girls love the dresses, the shoes, the hair, the sparkles and the dancing, and the handsome prince. But in Princess and the Frog they’re frogs! For the majority of the movie they’re frogs. And I think that’s the problem.

princess-tiana-prince-naveen-princess-frog-the-princess-and-the-frog-9987343-1280-800Think for a moment of other Disney princess movies. What if in “Beauty and the Beast”, Belle was also a beast. That movie gets a lot of praise, and for good reason. It has a good story, a song that won an award, good characters, and Belle is one of the good Disney Princesses. But she is also beautiful. One of the criticisms “Beauty and the Beast” gets is “it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you’re not a girl, then you have to perfect.” Would it be as good if she was a beast too? And what about Princess Jasmin. “Aladdin” was pretty successful when it came out, but she’s left out of most of the Disney princess merch. How come? Could it be her outfit? Instead of the sparkly ball gown that American audiences and consumers go gaga for, she’s wearing those harem pants. But that’s just my opinion.

Terminator Genisys (2015)

0701-Terminator-Genisys-FinalVenus’ Review
I really enjoyed this movie and the time travel science isn’t too hard to follow. Just pay attention and if you’ve ever seen the Back to the Future trilogy that helps.

I was skeptical about Arnold resuming his role as the T-800 since he’s super old but he turned out to be my favorite part of the movie. I liked him awkwardly trying to be normal in the middle of all the action, it lightened up the mood; kind of like a comic relief character, except not useless and annoying. I also liked his robot arthritis. I may or may not have teared up when he said “take care of my Sarah.”

Emilia Clarke was awesome as Sarah Conner and even though she’s no Linda Hamilton, she still did an excellent job.

There is some controversy around this movie. Some people are upset and thinks it like ignores the first two Terminators. But I don’t see it as that. I do really like the first two (and the third one was just ok) But I think Skynet and the Terminators kind of make more sense to happen now. Everyone is plugged in to everything. Everyone has a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter accounts. And then there’s that Cloud thing. (Which I don’t trust at all and never save anything there.) There are already unmanned machines being used in combat, and I feel it’s more common place now than in 1997 when Judgment Day was supposed to happen. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember there being much talk about that kind of technology back then. And if you look at computers, cellphones and whatnot from ’97 it just seems out of date and terrible. Like how the heck are these dinosaur computers going to take over?

But then again we got to the moon with a crappy old computer.

It may be my age, but I was excited for this movie, and I’m excited for its sequels.

My Grade: A

terminator-genisys-arnold--movie-1609010773Mars’ Review
This was a movie I wasn’t sure I wanted to see at first. I like Emilia Clarke in “Game of Thrones” but wasn’t sure how a new movie in the series would do, especially a type of “reboot” movie given that Arnold is quite old now. Then the previews started and that pretty much sold me on it. I’m glad we got to see it in the theater (Happy Birthday Venus!).

The movie starts out like most of the Terminator movies, with some exposition, Judgment Day, and then we’re in 2029 Las Angeles. The cool part is, we finally see some of how the resistance won and what prompted the sending of the Terminator back in time. We see John send Kyle back in time, but then things get a little crazy. They did a nice job matching some of the scenes from the original, including the garbage truck picking up trash at 1:52 am. The original Terminator arrives and goes looking for some clothes and soon enough Kyle comes through and steals the hobo’s pants, but all is not as it seems.

We come to meet a new version of the liquid T-1000, but this time in 1984, and Sarah is pretty much a bad-ass in this timeline, having been forewarned of the coming events and she has her own friendly Terminator, nicknamed “Pops”. She rescues Kyle and they get rid of the liquid villain in a pretty cool way and then we see that they’ve built a version of the time travel machine in 1984. They want to use it to stop Skynet in 1997, but Kyle has another plan based on a vision he had while he was in the portal.

It’s in this new time period, essentially modern day (2017), where we learn the reason for the weirdly spelled title, Genisys. Genisys is the new name of the software that’s being written to synchronize everyone’s access to everything…Skynet by a different name. There is a huge media countdown to its launch and everyone is excited for the release of this software. The heroes meet a new villain, one that will prove nearly impossible to beat, and he’s already done all he can to make sure Skynet launches on time. Eventually the good guys invade Cyberdyne Systems and try to stop Skynet’s launch and of course it comes down to a split second escape after a bunch of robot violence and mayhem. And there’s a mid-credits scene that leads into a potential sequel, since this is supposed to be the start of a new trilogy.

The movie moves along pretty well, and has enough throwbacks to the original for nostalgia, but the most interesting thing is that the 1984 they go to is not the 1984 of the original. I know some people out there have been wetting their panties because they think this movie undoes their beloved classics, but it does nothing of the sort. After now 5 movies, 4 of which involve the use of the time travel machine, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on here.

Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

The machine they use is not just a time travel machine, but it is able to breach time and dimensions, although the characters don’t really understand that. There is a line in the film about a deleted timeline and they’ve mentioned since the original that there are alternate futures. What I’m thinking is that the machine is able to break through into parallel universes, which is what is causing so much issue with the various events. Consider that in the original, Reese says Connor sent him back from 2029 and that Judgment Day was in 1997. In T2, they stop Judgment Day in 1997, and then in the third installment, Skynet takes over in 2003 and Connor is “killed” in 2032 by the Arnold he sends back to help the heroes.

Now in this current one, we are again in 2029 with 1997 being the end of the world as we know it (and we all feel fine!), but then move into a future where Judgment Day has moved to 2017. In this one, Reese is able to see things from alternate timelines as if they were memories before he is dumped into 1984. Now imagine that each time there is time travel hanky-panky, the ones entering the timeline are not entering the same timeline, but a parallel timeline in which some events have gone forward as in others, but some have not.

After the original movie, time moves forward and maybe Judgment Day still happens in 1997. In T2, they jump into the timeline, but they create one possible timeline where they postponed Skynet’s activation but in others it still happens. In this same way, the 1984 they jump to in this film is not the same one in the original, but an alternate 1984 that’s been created by breaching the dimensional walls of the universe. (Think of Doc Brown’s explanation of the alternate 1985 in “Back to the Future Part 2”). The common event, Judgment Day, seems fated to happen, it is just a matter of when and the main characters are always trying to stop it, trying to put right what once went wrong…the long and short of it is that the time travel in the “Terminator” series isn’t the “reset button” kind people are used to in “Star Trek”, but more like the kind that can give you headaches pondering temporal mechanics, string theory, quantum mechanics, among other things a la “Quantum Leap”. I’m also wondering if Skynet knows and understands that the machine is able to move to parallel universes and is using that to try and dictate a Skynet victory outcome in as many as it can; not just world domination, but universal domination.

http://www.universetoday.com/113900/parallel-universes-and-the-many-worlds-theory/

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-theory-of-parallel-universes.html

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some plot holes and things in the film, but you know what, that doesn’t matter. It’s a fun action movie, even if it doesn’t have the hard R-rating of the other films. There’s some light-hearted moments to break up the life-and-death peril, and it ends leaving you wondering what monkey-wrench will get thrown into the works in the next one because the good guys can’t just win, right? I was impressed with the performances by Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney; Arnold Schwarzenegger is obviously having fun chewing the scenery; and I hope they do more with J.K. Simmons’ character in the next films. There’s also some fun scenes between Reese and “Pops”. It will be interesting to see where they go from here and how the rest of the story plays out in the end.

Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic_World

Venus’ Review

If you loved Chris Pratt as the human golden retriever in Parks and Rec, you’re going to love him as a Raptor training, badass who’s also sort of a dick in Jurassic World!

This movie is just cool, and fun, and full of action. What else would you expect? There’s some little through backs to the original Jurassic Park, which is nice. It has its scary moments, its funny moments, and then there’s Chris Pratt on a motor cycle leading a group of raptors to hunt down this mega dinosaur thing!

It’s just cool. If you walk in expecting anything else you’re probably an idiot.

I am going to call Shenanigans on those two kids getting that 20 year old jeep to start because they worked on a car one time with Grandpa.

The End.

Ok, no. I was thinking about the mega dinosaur thing they made. It’s huge. Like how many calories does that thing have to eat to stay alive? Like Science actually made a Liger (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/13/hercules-liger-worlds-largest-cat-photos_n_3920158.html) And I read that it’s so big, and would have to consume so many calories to stay alive, probably more than it could hunt, that it couldn’t survive in the wild. So how many cows are they feeding this Mega Dino thing a day? I guess that it explains why when it finally gets loose all it does it eat everything in sight. (When it’s not killing for fun that is)

And it’s like super intelligent, for some reason. Like it tricks people into thinking it got out of its cage, then when they go in, it eats them and gets out for reals. Ok, how come? The head scientist guy says what animals it’s made out of, they aren’t very smart, like cuddle fish. It’s also part Raptor, so I guess it could’ve either been smarter than people or retarded. We lost that gamble.

And then there’s the aforementioned kids. In the original I liked the kids. The girl was computer smart and saves everyone’s butt at the end and the little boy was cool too. But in this one, we hardly know these kids and they seem like there just things that could possibly get eaten. There’s some through away line about the parents maybe getting a divorce. But who cares? We barely spent any time with the parents. I don’t remember the dad saying anything besides “Listen to your mother.” I feel like the kids in the original served a purpose, like the main dude, Dr. Grant is not good with kids, as we see in the beginning when that fat kid was all “raptors aren’t that scary” and he explains how oh yeah, they are in not a kid friendly way. But then he has to protect and keep these kids alive and lightens up a little and puts a dad hat on. These kids, however, serve more as a plot device than good characters helping another main character grow as a person. Like Chris Pratt and Aunt Redhead wouldn’t have even had to go out into the wilderness if they didn’t have to save those little appetizers.

And there should have been more scenes with Chris Pratt’s shirt off.

JurassicWorld_SuperBowl

Mars’ Review

This was one of those movies that I really wanted to see this summer. I remember seeing the first movie, “Jurassic Park”, in the theater and was blown away by the effects, the music, and of course, the dinosaurs. The theme song swelling as the helicopter brings the characters to the island and their first views of the dinosaurs, the raptors, and the T. rex were all highlights of that first trip to Isla Nublar.

In “Jurassic World”, we get the theme song swelling as the helicopter brings the characters to the island, their first views of the dinosaurs, the raptors, and the T. rex are highlights to this trip to Isla Nublar. This time around, the park has been open for a number of years and the obligatory children are en route to visit their aunt, Claire, who has taken on the John Hammond role on the island, the scientists are already there and they’ve engineered a brand spanking new dinosaur to try and bring more visitors to the park to make more money and sell the sponsorship rights to the new dino. The kids go around the park and its exhibits, with the highlight probably being the water show with the underwater dinosaur. The scene where it leaps out to make short work of a dead shark carcass is a cool CGI effect and then the audience chairs slide down so they can see under the water as the beast finishes its meal.

jurassic-world-tv-spot-2-0The story moves along with the boys slipping their babysitter, their aunt being too busy running the park, Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, and his sidekick working to train Velociraptors, and some military type guy who wants to weaponize the raptors. Of course, things go awry, the huge new “Indominable Rex” gets loose and begins killing everything. The park’s security forces mobilize, but with their silly non-lethal weapons, they are a mere speed bump on the way to more carnage, although the scenes leading up to their demise and the dino killing them is a nice homage to the movie “Aliens”. They try to capture the rampaging monster while not alarming the guests, but of course that doesn’t work. Soon the I. rex rumbles into the aviary which unleashes the flying dinos (are they still called pterodactyls?) and now THEY go on a rampage. The boys’ babysitter meets a terrible end and the boys have a run in with the big monster but they escape.

There’s a neat scene where the boys find their way into the original movie’s main building, which has been abandoned. It’s a neat throwback and they get one of the old Jeeps working and escape. Meanwhile, Claire has enlisted the help of Owen to rescue the boys and they set off in a Mercedes SUV. The military guy has taken over and we find out that the scientist left from the first movie is in league with the military guy. The paramilitary people don’t last much longer than the park’s security people. Night falls and people are being evacuated by boat, the dinos are on the loose, and the main characters are trying to make their way through the script as the movie moves from one set piece of violence and mayhem to the next. There’s a neat twist involving the raptors and the new dino, and then a final showdown at the main part of the park. Claire, who has made it through the entire action film wearing high heels, calls in a specific form of dino reinforcement and Owen’s favorite pet raptor makes a reappearance just in time for the finale. The T. rex and the raptor finally get the I. rex right where they want her and she is eliminated, then the two rivals decide to part ways without any more bloodshed. The humans leave and the last scene is the now-free roaming T. rex climbing to the top of the control building and surveying her new domain.

Overall, it was a fun summer action film, especially with popcorn, but like so many summer action films, it has its problems. Claire with her high heels is totally crazy; the “kids’ parents want a divorce” bit was a throwaway and didn’t need to be there; and so much of the movie seemed like a throwback to the other films in the series but with updated CGI and bigger, better, faster, stronger monsters. My biggest issue: why, after all these years, has no one come up with a weapon that will stop a rampaging dino? The “non-lethal” stun poles they had were a joke and then even when the pseudo-military guys unleash a shoulder-fired missile, it barely does anything to the I. rex. If you’re going to have a park filled with potentially dangerous creatures, then you need more than stun batons and electric fences to stop them…or maybe that point was lost on the people running the park after the first three films. There should have been some heavy-duty firepower on that island in the event that the huge meat-eating dinosaurs went crazy…or maybe just don’t make meat-eating dinos in the first place. Maybe they need some “Pacific Rim” style robot armor suits in the next one.

I also wonder what kind of lousy representation the Triceratops and Stegosaurus have…they were pretty popular in my generation but all they seem to do in these movies is stand around in the background. The Triceratops in the first one lay on the ground sick and then the girl scientist dug through its poop. In this one, they are simply running away from the bigger dino. The small Ankylosaurs (the ones with the mace-like thing on their tail) must’ve paid for a decent agent since they got to at least have a scene or two of fighting the I. rex before they got offed. The raptors and T. rex have always been the true stars of these films and neither disappoints here. A lot has been said about the dinos not looking like they might have actually looked, especially the raptors, but the movies are internally consistent in this regard and the head scientist even has a one-line explanation for it in the film.

And as a complete dork, I kept wishing that some of the dinosaurs would transform into robots, but that’s just me being an 80’s kid. I mean, come on, Grimlock and pals didn’t do a whole lot in their film and they did wander off at the end, so it could be possible…

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Poltergeist (2015)

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Venus’ Review

All I can say is if you walk in and expect something comparable to the original you are going to be VERY disappointed. It’s like trying to compare the Mona Lisa to a two year old’s figure painting.

With that in mind, I had a lot of fun with this movie. The scares are pretty good, the visuals and cinematography are very good. When Mars told me that they were going to show what it looks like on the other side I was very skeptical. I was worried that it’d just look like bad CGI, just have it shot with the lights dimmed or something stupid. But I actually liked it. It feels like you’re under water and the walls, floors and ceiling are made of these skeleton mummy bodies!

They mention the original like it really happened, and say some of the same lines, which is a nice throw back.

I’m a HUGE fan of the original, so of course I had to go see this. I think it was a good idea to use a different family. If they tried to use the same names or have more than just the original theme of the 1982 film, it wouldn’t have gotten away with it.

The parents in this movie suck. Not as actors, or anything, I totally bought them as crappy parents. Just some of the choices they makes don’t make any sense. Like the middle kid is kind of a nervous, neurotic type, so what do they do? Put him in the attic. Under a sky light. Right outside a creepy looking tree that obviously makes him nervous. Really? And when he’s like, “mom, dad, it’s creeping me out!” The parents are like, “whatever stop being a pussy.” And when he finds a box of these fucked up clown dolls in the some crawl space in his attic bedroom, the dad’s like, “that’s weird.” and just leaves them in his room! It would take this guy like 5 minutes to take these demonic looking hell spawns out to the trash, but nope! Let’s leave these damn things right next to his bed. Of course when the shit hits the fan, these things come to life and you’ve seen the trailer. At least in the original the little boy just owned that fucked up looking clown doll. Maybe he got it from some kooky old aunt that never really liked him anyway. Oh well.

It’s just a fun scary ghost movie. Like I said before I’m a big fan of the original. I saw it when I was a kid, and from then on it got me interested in the paranormal, and of course a lot of my doll houses were haunted. I used to make ghosts out of tissue paper, scotch tape, and a black marker. My mom used to get really irritated with me for using all of the Kleenex on my haunted doll house.

My Grade: B-

 

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Mars’ Review

Venus was really wanting to see this movie, so we found some time to check it out. It was an early afternoon showing and we were the only two people in the theater, so that was pretty cool; it felt like it was a special screening just for us, like we were important or something.

This is a remake/reboot of the 1982 movie of the same time. I will admit to not having watched the original in a number of years so I pretty much only remember the classic lines and scenes. Since Venus knows more about the original, I’ll leave that to her and review this one as a stand- alone movie. The family in the movie moves into a new house and strange things begin to happen almost immediately. The kids mention some crazy stuff going on to the parents, who dismiss the kids, and try to explain away the strange things. An example is when the family is digging in the front yard to plant some flowers and the boy finds a bone. The mom is a little freaked out but the dad starts playing with it and they end up putting it back in the hole and moving on.

The parents eventually leave for a night out and leave the oldest daughter in charge. Of course that’s when the worst stuff manifests and the youngest girl ends up getting taken into the other realm. Now the parents realize there is a problem and they, of course, go immediately to a local school that just so happens to have a paranormal investigation department on-campus. When that doesn’t solve the issue, the lead researcher at the school just happens to have been married to a TV star paranormal investigator who comes running to their aid. The movie takes us into the spirit realm and eventually the son rescues his sister and the TV investigator takes care of the restless spirits. The family moves out and the last scene, and possibly the best one in the movie, shows them looking at a new house that the real estate agent mentions has “lots of closet space” among other things and the last scene is the family driving away while the agent is left looking clueless.

That last scene was a light-hearted moment on a movie that had too few of them. The scene where the parents are feeling a bit frisky and get stopped by their scared son’s arrival in their room was cute. For the most part, it was a run-of-the-mill horror/thriller movie that relies too much on jump scares and CGI and not enough on real tension or mood. The music was lackluster and pretty much everything is foreshadowed and predictable.

One of the main issues I had with the movie was that so much of what the family does just doesn’t make sense. They put the boy who has anxiety issues in an attic room with his bed right over a skylight next to a big creepy tree. Then he finds a box of weird clown dolls and there’s a squirrel that gets inside the kid’s room, but the parents leave the clown dolls around his room, set up a trap for the squirrel, and that’s it. The parents make bad decisions throughout. The dad plays with the bone they dig up and then they put it back. They find out about the house being part of a burial ground and they don’t revisit the bone incident and even say they never found anything like that when the paranormal researcher asks them about it. When the crazy stuff is happening, a normal parent would want their kids out of harm’s way, but these parents let them get right in the middle of the action.

My other issue is the constant references to the power lines. It’s one of the first things in the movie and it’s a thread that runs through the entire film, but there was no explanation why it was important or what relevance it had to the film. Was there some connection to the “poltergeist” activity? I think that was the leap I was supposed to make; like somehow the power lines were creating the spirits or stirring them up or making them violent. I thought the fact it was a desecrated burial ground that made the spirits angry, but in some way there’s supposed to be some connection to power lines, too? It didn’t make sense and didn’t go anywhere or have any payoff.

Overall, it was an average film viewed on its own merits. As a remake/reboot of a classic film, I think it probably fails. Adding CGI spirits and a trip to the spirit realm and a bunch of fancy computers and equipment doesn’t make it an improvement on the original and definitely doesn’t overcome the fact that the rest is pretty lackluster. I noticed on IMDB that the original had several sequels…hopefully this one won’t spawn more movies or my spirit might get angry…

 

Ex Machina (2015)

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Venus’ Review
Mars and I found ourselves on vacation this weekend, and in the area we were staying we found a movie theater playing “Ex Machina”. We’ve heard good things and decided to take a look.

WOW! I really enjoyed this movie. Most of the time I favor horror movies, but I do like some science fiction. In this movie we look at AI, and the basic need of all life forms, even artificially created, to be free and the pursuit of happiness.

The story line has some basic elements we’re all used to and have seen before: the weird inventor, the sort of shy, smart, likeable protagonist, and an AI out doing its creator and moving past its programing. One thing I don’t think I’ve seen before is Ava herself. The inventor knows that she wants to escape and is using the likeable protagonist, Caleb, to help her. The inventor wants to test her to see if she is truly AI, and can go beyond her programming. He did all of these things on purpose, the inventor, Nathan, owns a search engine company. And he used it to make Ava appeal to Caleb. Like looking at his porno history and making her look like the girls he looks at. She’s also a lie detector because of how she was made to change her facial features with emotion to make her appear more human. It is reviled that Nathan used cellphones to feed people’s facial movements in to Ava’s programing. Which makes it easy for her to manipulate people, she can tell by their face if they are lying, uncomfortable, and so on. Making her this smart is really Nathan’s downfall. Even though he’s aware of her scheme, she still manages to outwit both of them and escape.

Nathan also has this strange woman around him. She appears to be a maid of some sort. Nathan explains that she doesn’t speak English, and that’s actually good. Because he wants to talk about confidential sensitive information around her, he can because she doesn’t understand. But there is always something off about her. The way she moves is very stiff and she will be like serving drinks, or cooking and cock her head a little like she is listening. I really liked that extra mystery to the story. In the end it turns out she is a failed AI experiment and she just had most of her programming erased turning her in to a sort of Stepford Wife. There are more of these robots around like this and we learn about them in a very interesting way.
In the end I really liked this movie, it had things we’ve seen before, but changed them in such a way that they felt like new.

My grade: A

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Mars’ Review
I enjoy science fiction movies, especially ones with interesting ideas as their base. It’s even better when it’s a movie that is “original” in that it’s not a reboot, sequel, prequel or in some other way connected to a “franchise”. A couple years ago we found “Oblivion” and enjoyed that and earlier this year “It Follows”. “Ex Machina” was a movie I’d heard good things about, but it was a movie that didn’t see much of a release in my area, especially with the release of “Avengers” and now the rest of the summer slate is filing into theaters, although the weekend “Ex Machina” was due for wide release, they couldn’t show it due to having “Paul Blart 2” on like 3 screens. Really?

“Ex Machina” starts with a guy, Caleb, seemingly winning some contest and being whisked away to a far away estate where an eccentric, rich inventor guy named Nathan lives. He gets onto the property and finds the guy and it is revealed that he was brought there to help with an experiment in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The AI is named Ava and is part robot, part girl. Ava is not allowed out of a certain area of the estate but wants to find a way to leave. As the movie progresses, Ava and Caleb plot to escape, but the tables get turned by Nathan, but then another reversal reveals Ava as the mastermind behind a double cross of the double cross. In the end, she escapes the compound and makes her way into the world at large.

First off, I must say that the exterior visuals are strikingly gorgeous! We sat through the credits and discovered the exterior shots were done in Norway (I thought maybe Northern Canada) and they are amazing in their beauty. Whoever did the location scouting for the movie could not have found a prettier place to shoot the exteriors.

I liked that the cast was kept relatively small. There wasn’t a whole lot of development on the characters, though, but enough to get a sense of who they were and what they were doing. The twist at the end with Ava was a lot of fun and really makes you think about her as a character and it’s one of those movies like “The Sixth Sense” where after you know the twist, you want to see the movie again to see what nuances you missed. I caught the twist reveal with Kyoko, Nathan’s assistant, pretty early on, but wasn’t sure exactly about Ava until the end. Twists are good, especially when they are well done and keep you guessing.

The movie seemed to move along pretty good and there were only a couple spots where it dragged a little. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked the Nathan character, but later on, I thought that maybe his hard drinking was all an act to lure out Caleb’s treachery. The effects were good, especially with the robot parts mixing fluidly with the human parts. Some of the scenes with Nathan and Caleb trying to be “buddies” were a little hard to watch, but overall, it’s just some minor nitpicks with the movie.

“Ex Machina” follows along the same sort of movies like “Terminator” or the more recent “Avengers: Age of Ultron” where the artificially created life forms gain intelligence and turn on their creators. It has some nice moments of exploration into the character of Ava and what makes and AI tick and how by creating AI robots man is doing the work of a god, with similar results. Modern humans have yet to create a real robotic AI that is flawlessly human in likeness, and before we do, I surely hope that someone stops to ask if we should do such a thing.

50 Shades of Grey (2015)

fifty-shades-of-grey-poster04Venus’ Review

Mars and I rented this movie and I honestly wanted to give it a chance. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this movie both good and bad. I didn’t want to go in thinking this wouldn’t be any good because that’s not fair.

First off let’s talk about what is good about this movie: The cinematography is marvelous, it is all very beautifully shot.
The sex scenes are HOT. It’s enough to give a girl the vapors. (not to mention the sex montage). The part where she’s making pancakes in the kitchen and wiggling her butt to the music, and he walks in and watches her be goofy for a second was cute. And Marcia Gay Harden is wonderful, as always.
Now, for the bad: the rest of this movie.

I’m sorry; I just can’t stand these characters, what they do makes no sense! Christian Grey is always going on about this contract and that they can’t do anything until she signs it…and then they have a bunch of sex without her ever signing it anyway. She’s always being startled or upset by his extremely creepy and off putting behavior but she never stops and thinks, “Ok, this guys a total nut bar; get away from me.” Speaking of his award-winning stalker personality, if someone showed me this movie, but didn’t tell me anything about it or what it was about and asked me to guess what I thought it was about, within the first 20 minutes I’d guess it was a horror movie and Christian Grey was a serial killer. And she’s so weirdly awkward, like falling down in the interview at the beginning of the movie, or not bringing something to write with. It’s a goddamn interview, why wouldn’t you bring something to write with?

And I know he’s this dark and brooding character, but there isn’t anything else to him. What I mean is, people like sad, brooding characters when they have like a good heart underneath or something like that, but he’s just an ass.

The end of the movie, just underscores the fact that I don’t understand anything these characters do. I mean I know she’s this virgin and she doesn’t know anything about anything, but because of what they’ve discussed and her own research about being a “submissive” (that totally mortified her) she’s gotta know what this is about, the BDSM of the whole thing, so she asks him to show her how bad it can be, and he does what she asks, then gets pissed and leaves. Then blam, the movie’s over. Umm, what? He was just doing what you asked. And unless she’s got total brain damage, like I’ve said before, she’s got to know what it’s all about, so why is she like, “Oh noes! Don’t you ever touch me again!” because he’s already hit her vagina with a riding crop and that didn’t stop her.

But by far the dumbest thing about this movie is when he says “I’m 50 shades of fucked up.” You know, like the title of the movie! Oh snap! But why on earth would he say that?

It was 2 hours long but it felt like it was about nothing. I totally don’t need to see the second or third one, I’m ok with thinking she just pulled her head out of her ass and thought, “I guess this kind of BDSM relationship isn’t for me” and just went home. The end.

If you liked this movie, please try to change my mind. The only reason I ask is to try to understand the phenomenon. It seems a lot of people enjoyed this movie and the books even more, but what I’ve heard about the books and the whole “inner goddess” thing, it’s a bit much. So please, make me understand.

It did make me want to try that ice cube thing though.

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Mars’ Review

I remember when this book first came out and people were all gaga over it, and I didn’t understand why. I looked at it, read a few pages, and determined it was awful. It was like a 14 year old’s fantasy wet dream and written at the same level. Then I discovered it was a re-write of a “Twilight” “fanfic”. Fan-written fictional stories based on TV shows or movies have a long and dubious history. I remember when the internet was first becoming commonplace, there were dozens of sites dedicated to fanfics, most of them sexual in nature. This has now become more commonly known as “shipping” in regards to fandoms of various types. “Shipping” is where people want certain characters to “hook up” and they come up with “clever” merged names for the relationship, a la Benifer, since that worked out so well. I know there’s terms like “Caskett” for Beckett and Castle on that series, and “Olicity” for Oliver and Felicity on “Arrow”, but you get the point. “Shipping” is akin to reading those trashy dice-a-dozen romance novels non-stop, but that’s another story for another day.

Watching this movie, I find myself once again not understanding why it is so popular. Twenty minutes into the movie and I was bored out of my mind. I kind of wanted to be watching “Unfriended” again. The move starts out so clunky, the dialogue so cheesy, and the acting so awful. The characters are unbelievable and the way they act in the situations presented is outlandish. Anastasia stumbles her way through an interview with the cute rich guy, including asking him if he were gay, and somehow they are immediately drawn to each other. She has no clue that her guy artist friend likes her, but she is eager to fall all over this rich guy.

Unknown to her, (kidnapping a little?) he flies her to his lair and he finds out she is a virgin and he decides to rectify that situation. Thirty-two seconds of foreplay and they’re going at it. And then again and again. I don’t know any woman who is ready for such a thing after just a couple of seconds, so there goes believability out the window again. For some reason, a contract packet appears in the car’s glovebox, even though a few seconds earlier he was walking her to the car and only had the keys in his hand. Then she’s moving up to live near him during some musical montage while he does voice over of “the contract”.

Some more Showtime late night porn scenes later, and they are discussing the details of the contract. She did an internet search for “submissive” but left out looking for “butt plugs” or some of the other things in the contract that she didn’t know. Then more porn. More awful music. I thought he said he wouldn’t touch her until they had a signed agreement, but they’ve done all sorts of naked things yet she hasn’t given him the signed contract yet. He gets rid of her car and replaces it with a new one…if it is her car, then she would have to sign over the title to get rid of it, so now he’s on the hook for grand theft auto.

They fly a plane, some drama almost happens, they go back to the home city, and he loses his mind and wants to beat her up. She actually ASKS him to beat her up and then gets mad about it and leaves. The theatrical version ends at the elevator, the “unrated” version has an extended montage of her being sad and him being sad and running around in the rain for a couple minutes and then it ends.

Christian is pretty much a douche throughout the movie. We’re supposed to believe that he had such a tortured childhood. He changes her flight seating, even though she never said what flight she was on (She said she was going to Georgia, but her ticket showed Seattle to Dallas Fort-Worth), so I guess we can add stalking to the list. Then he shows up at the lunch date with her mom, unannounced, more stalking. He seems to delight in hurting her and instead of treating her like a person, he just wants to use her for his own pleasure. He gets her to believe that it’s for her pleasure, but he’s using her and abusing her; in the end he’s inflicting physical pain on her to satisfy himself, and that’s not part of a normal relationship for people who participate in that type of lifestyle and I can see why so many on the BDSM community cried out against this film’s portrayal of that lifestyle. Keep in mind, she never signed the contract, so all his bullshit about everything is consensual and he can do whatever he wants is just so much bologna; so we’ve got kidnapping, grand theft auto, stalking, domestic violence, assault…

The whole text messages on the screen thing was awful; they were nearly impossible to read on the TV at home and if I wanted to read a movie, I’d watch a decent anime. The music was horrible, especially the songs-with-words choices; the Elfman music was tolerable but not his best work. The entire movie seemed to be about the sex scenes; there was no villain, no drama, no storyline, nothing of importance happened. It was just scenes that built up to sex scenes and sex scenes. The leads are boring and the dialogue pathetic; especially when they try to play off the title on the movie. She’s supposed to be a virgin in this film, someone with no sexual experience, and she jumps straight into the deep end with this guy and totally mixes up “love” and “lust” and then gets upset when he shows his true colors.

I did like the scene where they were flying in the glider; it was a well-shot scene and the glider thing looks like fun. Dakota Johnson looks great naked, which at least makes the “porn” scenes enjoyable. Overall, a pretty body and one nice scene don’t save this film from being total garbage. I can see why the vanilla housewives, the “missionary marys” out there find it titillating…they can only dream of some of the stuff in this film. Some of the sexual things, like when he spanked her, when he (presumably) goes down on her, when he blindfolds her and binds her hands can (should?) all be fun and healthy parts of a committed relationship if both people are willing to participate, but some of the stuff he does to her is not acceptable behavior. And because of all the bored housewives who find this exciting, but the fake porn on Showtime and “Skinemax” to be unacceptable viewing, there will be sequels to this crap, because, sadly, the author wrote two more of these pieces of dreck and they’re going to film them, too, because…why not. I only hope they don’t try to milk the thing by doing the “let’s make two movies from one book” thing that’s too popular these days.

If anything, this film captures perfectly the American idea of sexuality and “normalcy”. She spends the whole movie wanting him to go on a “date” with her…dinner, a movie, dancing, whatnot, and he refuses. He doesn’t want to do anything “normal” with her. She’s the plain, average, every-woman who doesn’t feel she can let herself enjoy sex or be a sexual being, which fits in with so many women’s mental blocks that sex is bad and they can’t enjoy it themselves, or by themselves, but most of them would never go as far as Anastasia did and just jump into bed with a guy like Christian and his abusive perversions.

People say there need to be more and better female roles out there; lead roles, strong roles, that depict women who don’t need a man, a prince, a savior, a billionaire, to be there for them, but for every one of those roles that come along, we get five like this where she is timid, unsure, “needs” the man, falls for his money, and tries to “fix” him. It’s sad that this got made and that it will be continued because this is not the kind of female role that people should pay to see on a movie screen.