Browsing all 154 posts in Movie Reviews.

Reflections, lamentations, and a pithy defense of The Phantom Menace in 3D

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Reflections, lamentations, and a pithy defense of The Phantom Menace in 3D

I just got back from seeing Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D. I don’t believe I’ve watched a Star Wars movie in over six years, since I watched all six episodes in one sitting. The flaws of the prequel trilogy (and original trilogy) are well-established and need not be revisited. (For my thoughts on the matter, peep this four year old post.) Let it be said I was a Class-A Star Wars nerd at the peak of Star Wars fandom.

After the jump, my thoughts and reflections revisiting The Phantom Menace nearly thirteen years after its original release.

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Robert Rodriguez is one of my favorite genre directors. His book, Rebel Without a Crew, convinced me to move to Los Angeles and buy a camera. So when Rodriguez releases a feature, I check it out. Machete did not disappoint.

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MOVIE REVIEWS: All Six Planet of the Apes Movie in One Day

MOVIE REVIEWS: All Six Planet of the Apes Movie in One Day

I love watching the entirety of a movie franchise in one day. I’ve done Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (Extended Editions, mind you!) in the past. The exercise always gives you fresh insight and appreciation. This Labor Day weekend my buddy and I tackled the Planet of the Apes movies: all five originals, capped with the Burton reimagining.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Expendables

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Expendables

I just saw that The Expendables won the weekend for the second week in a row. This seems to be baffling a good many Hollywood types who never would have written a movie starring (virtually only) 30-50 something year-old men, actors who have all had their heydey and have since been relegated to streaming Netflix catalog filler.

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MOVIES: Can’t Get Inception Out of My Head

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MOVIES: Can’t Get Inception Out of My Head

I can’t stop thinking about Inception. (*wa-dump-tish*) As a medium, film is probably in its third act. Videogames and internet are more highly evolved forms waiting only for their renaissance, so when a film enters the zeitgeist as Inception has, it’s worth noting. Spoilers ahoy…

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I finally saw Inception. Oof, that’s how you make an entertaining movie. I’m not sure when the last time was that I walked-out of the theatre so satisfied. As far as I’m concerned, it ought to be the first serious contender for Best Picture 2010.

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End of Year 2009: Minutiae

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Time for end of the year lists. I HATE that any end of the year list runs before January 1st. I think they should all run January 30th, a month after the year has passed. That said, I want to participate in the ongoing discussion, so here we go.

Monday – Minutiae
Tuesday – LA Live Experience
Wednesday – Favorite Non-LA Recordings
Thursday – Favorite LA-Local Recordings
Friday – LA Bands

Disclaimer: I don’t know enough about anything to claim “best” with much confidence. Most everything on the CGT lists are unranked favorites.


Let’s face it: 2009 kind of sucked. I don’t like the pop route indie music has taken. Everything is too electro, too acoustic, or too disposable. It was uncool to like rock music in 2009, unless your idea of rock music is to stare at shoelaces all night. Maybe, maybe four records this year entered my all-time playlist. I spent most of the year listening to old Ted Leo and Superchunk records.

CGT went on tour with the Henry Clay People, which was a lot of fun. We got famous for taking cheap shots at the Jonas Brothers. On the blog we reviewed fewer records, put-on fewer shows, stopped live reviews on a regular basis, and did some writing for Web In Front, Fuel, and Radio Free Silverlake. CGT was always intended as a destination for my voice as a writer, not as a music blog competing for notoriety, and that’s largely what it was this year.

I most regret not seeking-out new music with the same enthusiasm I have in years past. I got pretty comfortable going to see the same bands I already liked and a part of me feels like I did readers a disservice by not unearthing new stuff.

Favorite Colts Players in 2009

I always list my favorite Colts players for the regular season. It’s never Manning or Reggie Wayne or the stars, but the lunchpail guys who deserve recognition:

  • Melvin Bullit
  • Donald Brown
  • Austin Collie
  • Pierre Garçon
  • Jacob Lacey
  • Clint Sessions
  • Jerraud Powers

Brown puts some power back in the run game. Rookie receiver Austin “The Stormin’ Mormon” Collie and virtual redshirt receiver Garçon have made Marvin Harrison a distant memory. (“Peter Waiter” is a future stud.) I’ve got to love the rookie corners playing most of this entire season better than the injured vets played the last two seasons. Sessions is the new difference maker now that Bobzilla is on the IR. Sanders’ replacement, Melvin Bullitt, is equally valuable.

Favorite Movies in 2009

This year was pretty disappointing. There was no brilliant Marvel property film like Iron Man or X2. I’ve barely seen any Oscar calibre movies yet because so few of them seem interesting. (Up in the Air, Precious, and Brothers are on the eventual to do list.) I’ll happily proclaim 2009 the worst year in movies since 1997.

  • District 9
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Funny People
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • I Love You, Man
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • The Road
  • Star Trek
  • Terminator: Salvation
  • Watchmen
  • Where the Wild Things Are

Star Trek, The Road, District 9, and Inglorious Basterds are the only “great” movies I saw. I thought Where the Wild Things Are, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Watchmen were successful and appropriate (but obviously imperfect) adaptations of beloved properties. Funny People and The Terminator sequel were pleasant surprises, and the new Potter flick was surprisingly fresh and engaging.

Biggest Disappointments in 2009

Favorite Music Blogging

Last year I bookmarked all the blogging I liked during the year. This year I forgot to do that. This is a half complete list.

WLFY isn’t actually a new blog, but they are new to me and I love their cranky, elitist writing voice.

Joe Fielder left LA and left Radio Free Silverlake in the hands of a diverse range of scenesters (full disclosure: including yours truly!) RFS’s Let’s Independent! shows used to be the center of the scene (to me, anyway), and the spirit of those shows lives on with the new site. I wish for more online magazines like that one.

Surfing on Steam is an odd choice for CGT’s Blog of the Year. An Aquarium Drunkard and Buzz Bands would be obvious choices based on expertise alone. And in terms of the music SOS covers, I only like so much shoegaze and SOS dislikes / doesn’t care for most all of my favorite bands.

But Scott McDonald’s blog is fiercely consistent, it takes a stance on “what music should be,” is unapologetic, covers everything from local to national / known to unkown, and (perhaps most importantly) is always short and to the point. Every post tells you the who, what, and why you should care in about thirty seconds. That’s “what blogging should be” going into the year 2010 and SOS was most consistently worth my time more than any other site in 2009.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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I never offered my thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

  • The problem with the flick is that it never deals with “the mutant problem”. In the Singer films, and even in Ratner’s X3 (which I liked more than most), there are always politicians, law enforcement, and military looking to get those pesky mutants. In X2, when Pyro blows-up a cop car, it’s a problem. But in Wolverine the mutants just use their powers without pause, and they do so without ever considering the consequences of their actions, to society or to themselves.
  • For the character Wolverine this should have been a film about coming to terms with being a mutant. It wasn’t.
  • I was surprised with how faithful the Team X / Weapon X stuff was to the source material, but what I really missed was the torture and brainwashing aspects of the program. In the first three films we get a lot about how tortured Wolverine must have been when he went through the Weapon X program, but we don’t see too much of that here.
  • The design of Stryker’s lab and the events that actually take place break continuity with the flashback scenes in X2. In X2 we see men in gas masks, Wolverine covered in his own blood screaming, and Wolverine escaping through a sewer tunnel. Where were those scenes? And if I’m making a prequel, before the script is even finished, the first thing I do is get my design team on the task of recreating the old sets. “Well, we can’t start making costumes ’til we have a cast, but we know we have to re-build that lab!” Why couldn’t they get that right?
  • In the film, Team X begins hunting mutants for Stryker’s Weapon X program after Wolverine has left the team. They should have been hunting mutants for the program while Wolverine was on the team, and uncovering the questionable ethics behind Team X should have been what caused Wolverine to leave. The second act should have been Team X bringing Wolverine in, and act three should have been Wolverine assisting in the prison outbreak.
  • My childhood was raped with the portrayal of Deadpool.
  • The inclusion of Gambit was wasteful, though I’ve never liked the character much anyway outside of a romantic foil for Rogue. If Gambit was to ever be included in the X-Men films, it needed to involve the X-Men suspecting him of betraying the team from within. That’s his only interesting story arc.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not horrible. Liev Schreiber is quite good as Sabretooth and Hugh Jackman is always great. I thought including Cyclops and Professor X would be hamfisted, but the cameos worked.

Still, the overwhelming feeling I got from the film was “What a waste”. Fox had on its hands one of the best-handled comic book franchises in film history and the last two entries have been rushed into production with no regard for the fans’ feelings, the casual viewer’s self-respect, the integrity of the source material, or the integrity of their own company. Can’t Marvel get the X-Men rights back already?

Thoughts on Watchmen

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This post assumes you’ve seen the Watchmen movie and read the book, so if you don’t want spoilers, move along.

I’ve had numerous long conversations about the film with friends, in real life and on the internet. Some of these ideas may not exclusively be my own. I don’t claim ownership for the ideas in this post so much as I am saying all the things that I’ve heard or read that I agree with.

First thought: “That was as good of an adaptation, as faithful of an adaptation, as I could reasonably expect.”

Second thought: “They didn’t ruin anything. There was no ‘Daredevil would never throw a criminal into a train!’ kind of moment.”

Third thought: “For all it’s flaws, the film is still a conversation starter on heroism and justice.”

Fourth thought: “Other than the ending, this movie was scarcely altered from the source material with the aim of appeasing convention or appealing to the mainstream. It’s not perfect, but it’s not nerfed.”

I can’t write about Watchmen objectively. As you’ve read a million writers, reviewers, and internet nerds say, the graphic novel is “the Citizen Kane of comics”. You can’t talk about the film without talking about the book any more than you can talk about Branagh’s Hamlet without talking about Shakespeare.

The film’s central flaw is that it is too faithful to the source material.

Zack Snyder and his actors are so beholden to the legend of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s seminal graphic novel that they don’t take ownership of the story or characters. There are great directorial moves and riveting performances, the film is smartly and deftly made, but nobody takes any risks. Even Jackie Earle Haley, who is amazing as Rorschach, is simply embodying Moore and Gibbon’s Rorschach to utter perfection. At times, at its worst, Watchmen reminded me of the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho.

That said, Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan were perfectly adapted. Nite Owl II was very close. (Patrick Wilson “got it”. I loved his booming boyscout voice in the suit.)

Most fans love The Comedian in this film but I was actually a little disappointed. I always felt like being a spook / going to Vietnam is what taught Comedian his world view. He needed to be more of a two-bit punk in the flashbacks, though the rape scene was properly horrifying. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was good, but that role had potential to be a huge homerun and instead it was a base hit.

Dr. Manhattan’s clocktower on Mars should have been the most beautiful image in the film and instead it is a hideous CGI stain on the giant screen. If ever there was a case for employing Hollywood’s aging miniature model wizards, that was it. Unfortunate.

Watchmen is character-driven and Ozymandias is the film’s weakest link. It’s clear that Snyder is more comfortable with emotion and action than ideas, and I don’t think he was entirely comfortable with the super-intellectual Adrian Veidt.

In the comics Veidt isn’t a cynical celebrity or Donald Trump analog, he is a total golden boy. His Alexander the Great obsession is not merely centered on Alexander’s Egyptian conquest, but also his Greek heritage. He’s beautiful, intelligent, adored. This man does gymnastics for charity. When one reads Watchmen for the first time it is a reveal that Veidt is the mastermind “villain”.

But in the film you can smell him as the rat from his first scene. The horror of what he’s done for the betterment of mankind isn’t as painful to swallow because well, he wears a shitty suit and dresses in dark colors the whole movie. He’s the “bad guy”? No kidding!

Though I liked replacing Captain Metropolis with Ozymandias in the “meeting” scene, I would have added a short scene in a flashback where we see him fighting crime, maybe during the riots. Ozymandias is the only masked character in the whole film that we never see fighting crime at any point and that is a subtle (but strong) tell to the third act’s events.

All of the changes made were too delicate and calculated, especially the ending. I like the ending. In many ways, I think it is a superior ending, story-wise. But in the graphic novel the first eleven chapters are drawn in perfect 3×3 panel pages with the occasional 1×3 or 2×3 frame. The structure is utterly disciplined. It reflects the psychological confines of the characters and the physical confines of the world of the book. When the “disaster” happens in the twelfth chapter that structure is broken and Gibbons moves to larger, full-page, asymmetrical panels.

An early page in Watchmen.

Chapter 12.

For the entire book violence is skipped around, hidden from us, and mostly hinted at, and then in chapter 12… grotesque, deformed bodies line the streets.

In the film we see grotesque violence throughout, desensitizing us to the eventual horror of Veidt’s actions. And then when the destruction comes, when Veidt obliterates a small portion of the human population for the betterment of the rest, we don’t even see the loss of life! It is at the ending where the violence should be most grotesque and instead the audience is spared with meaningless, blue CGI blobs.

There’s a version of this movie to be made where Rorschach is the central character, taking us through the world and plot of Watchmen, with Ozymandias and Manhattan being the next two most important characters, and where the Sally / Dan stuff being a subplot. It wouldn’t have been as faithful of a film, but it could have been a more powerful one.

All that and I give the film an “-A”.

Zack Snyder is not subtle, but he is admirable in his refusal to compromise. Snyder’s films always have a clear and concise world with clear and concise rules of that world. That is true here. The film was visually stunning. It was the most expensive non-mainstream film I’ve ever seen. It takes comic books and superheroes as a serious, important medium to critique our culture. It has a masked man killing Kennedy, Richard Nixon in the Dr. Strangelove warroom, a lesbian costumed crime fighter kissing the WWII nurse instead of Alfred Eisenstaedt, and there was copius giant, blue, radioactive dick.

My favorite part was from the scene Rorschach is arrested until the end of the prison breakout. I thought the end conversation between Sally, Dan, John, Veidt, and Rorschach; the scene where they decide “what to do now,” was incredibly moving and effective.

I had a blast. I plan on seeing it again this weekend.

The Dark Knight review

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This review of The Dark Knight is SPOILERIFIC and I strongly suggest you not read further if you haven’t seen the film, whether or not you think you care. Seriously.

I didn’t see The Dark Knight until Sunday, 7:30pm, at the Universal Mouth-Breatherwalk IMAX theater. We got there an hour early and 120 people were already in line. For a Sunday evening show. We had to sit four rows up from the front and the screen easily filled our fields of vision.

That was two nights ago. I am still not sure how to respond to what is, without qualification, the best superhero film ever made. I’m not even being hyperbolic. By any metric or standard it tops all others. I adored previous superhero flicks like X2, Spider-Man 2, and Iron Man and now… now I am not sure if I could sit through them. They seem utterly silly and adolescent to me now. The Dark Knight is a fantasy genre game-changer.

The Dark Knight is not even really an action movie and its scarcely a superhero flick. It’s really an ensemble crime drama — an ensemble crime drama that is equally as good as Heat.

The Dark Knight is also a post-9/11 commentary film that honestly and intellectually explores themes of terrorism, good and evil, and moral compromises in the name of security for civilized society and a better future. There are five heroic characters in this film (Batman / Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, Lt. Gordon, Luscious Fox, and Alfred) and none of them have the golden key to moral righteousness. They just do the best they can.

Gordon, Dent, Bats, and Luscious all have ethical dilemmas in trying to be heroes. Even the mobster Sal Maroni says “this is too much” and does the right thing despite his criminal nature. For everyone in the films wants something except The Joker. That primal desire, whatever it is for (wealth, fame, justice, etc) is what makes them complex human characters. The slow realization over the course of the film that The Joker wants nothing at all, that he is in his own words “just a dog chasing cars,” is what is so horrifying. Sal Maroni is a bad man, but The Joker “just wants to watch the world burn”. Even the worst gangster in the film doesn’t want that, a theme that is echoed when a boat full of criminals decides not to detonate a second boat of passengers in an act that would allegedly save their own hides.

Even in tweaking details, the story was remarkably faithful to the comic books. Dent, Gordon, and Batman worked together to clean-up Gotham and then Dent was a casualty in the war. Both Gordon and Batman have to live with Dent’s existence as a consequence of their decisions to go to war against crime and as a consequence to the moral compromises they made. Worst of all is that Dent was the most pure, the most “good,” the least compromising of them all.

More than anything, the Nolan Bros. in their script really understood the principal moral cores of all of the characters. Batman, Alfred, Gordon, Dent, The Joker, Luscious, and Maroni all have lines they will and won’t cross. Even the Joker has one line he won’t cross: he’ll kill anyone but Batman. And the Nolans got all of those characters right on every dotted-I and crossed-T. Not a single character did something out of character as they are in the comics.

The Dark Knight
really serves as a second piece of the Batman origin. In killing-off Rachel Dawes they have finally gotten one piece of Batman’s core character right that no Batman film has ever had the guts to be faithful to: Batman has nobody he loves. The film leaves us with a Batman who is responsible for no one and responsible to no one. He is a shadow, a foil, a hero, and a villain to the people of Gotham, half of a rorschach drawing for the city’s own psychological ills. His costumed villain nemeses are the other half of that drawing.

The circumstances surrounding Heath Ledger’s death causes his performance as The Joker to drown-out praise for the other actors and that is unfortunate. Yes, everything said about Ledger’s fearless performance is correct. He showed himself to be a master thespian in his last bow. But The Joker is more of a psychological profile of our own species’ capacity for evil than he is a real person. The most believable character in the film is Gary Oldman’s Lt. Jim Gordon, a man whose personal failings and tragic mistakes on screen are nearly as painful as those in our own life. Every day Gordon has to decide how many corrpupt cops he can stomach just to bag a bad guy and his anguish is expertly rendered.

Kudos also to Christian Bale (Side note: Dude, treat yo mama right.). His Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins was psychologically complex, but in this film he brings that same complexity to the character when he dons the suit as well. His interpretation of Batman is now, without a doubt, the most faithful of all who have played the character — and more faithful than most of the comic book interpretations to boot.

I haven’t talked about how well-shot the action is, how Chicago was realized as Gotham, how the film has a Shakespearean 5-act plot structure… I could write ten pages on this movie, easily. I wouldn’t change a frame.