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Tainted Magic (Guardians of the Galaxy sort-of review)

I wanted to write this gigantic full-blown review about Guardians of the Galaxy when suddenly the internet.

Everyone and their father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate went to see this movie over the weekend. The buzz won’t be dying down any time soon, but it reached its peak sometime between Friday and Saturday. If you’ve read any amount of internets you know that Guardians is an awesome flick and you don’t need me as another voice in the geek chorus screaming that you need to see it because it is the absolute definition of a great summer blockbuster.

To reinforce that point (and in case you didn’t hear it elsewhere) I’ll just say that it’s one part Indiana Jones, one part Star Wars, sprinkled with Firefly and a heavy dose of Marvel lore, tossed liberally with 80s references and served on a bed of huge important connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a large side of awesome effing soundtrack. I don’t think the recipe misses a beat and the whole thing goes down smooth and tasty.

Instead of elaborating on the movie’s very important use of a certain character who rhymes with Shmanos and the foreshadowing of a certain item that rhymes with the Shminfinity Shmauntlet and how excited that makes me for Shmavengers 3, I’d like to talk about my theater experience for this movie in particular as it was not one of my favorites.

I’d like to establish that I understand trolls. I am at least a sixth-dan blackbelt in the art of trolling. I understand the appeal of purposefully causing others frustration. In more youthful times, I used my craft for selfish reasons – causing wanton chaos and disruption whenever possible. As I grew through the ranks growing ever closer to mastery I realized how to channel my powers for the greater good and how to use trolling as a tool for vengeance and justice rather than for pure entertainment.

The decidedly lesser-experienced group of younglings sitting in the front row of my theater that night had not yet reached the stage of enlightenment that permits one to remain silent and attentive in a movie theater and so began trolling a theater full of people seeing a blockbuster movie on opening weekend.

Were it me at their age, I may have trolled, but not nearly as hard or as constant as this troupe. Every silent or near silent moment within the first five minutes of the movie was disturbed by their narration of actions and shouting of ridiculous things. There were not many profanities from what I can remember, which proved to me that this was pure trolling and not just an attempt to throw sand in the face of the theater by getting kicked out. They would be with us for the long haul, even if someone summoned the dreaded uniformed-teenager-with-a-flashlight usher to attempt to calm them down.

Knowing this, I was resigned to it. Misguided and disruptive though they were, the theater’s speakers would likely be loud enough to drown out most of their shouts (it was a large theater and they were far away from us). They were, as it turned out. Though the young trolls could be heard as a mutter below the dialogue, they were dismissed as easily as crowd noise in the actual movie. The loud space battles and constant pumping music made them almost invisible.

This would have been almost tolerable, had it not been for what happened during the opening sequence.

Just as we were getting acquainted with young Peter Quill, a man from the very back of the theater screamed a typical unkind request for the young men in the front of the theater to be quiet followed up by a racial slur.

The entire theater collectively cringed, wondering if there would be some sort of immediate retribution. There was a tangible panic from a theater full of nerds and people otherwise unprepared to defend themselves should violence erupt. Luckily, the young trolls remained seated, shouting back that they would find the man after the movie was over. This was of some relief to the crowd that likely nothing would occur while the film ran but it tainted the room. A crowd of people waiting excitedly for the hit of the summer to get through the prologue and run the title card were, because of the addition of that racial slur to the scatological request for silence, unnerved and disenchanted. Whatever true magic may have been experienced – trolls or no trolls – was gone.

This is not to mention that the racial-slur-screamer failed to recognize the commandment “do not feed the trolls”. Taking things to a racist level is the filet mignon of troll food.

While the small group was easy enough to ignore – their display of skills including a noisy lap around the ground level of the theater and the search for an imaginary bag of popcorn – it would have likely been avoided had they not been further provoked by the racist in the back.

In addition to this, we were treated to a 40-something woman behind us who had, by all accounts, never seen an action movie before as she continuously shouted out questions in a vaguely mid-western accent about the particular goings on of the plot. She audibly gasped and shouted about the welfare of the characters in particular situations, letting the entire upper-portion of the theater know that whatever happened must have really hurt that guy. She also had a laugh like a harpy’s scream which didn’t help due to the very comedic aspects of the film.

Though I cannot blame this woman for what she did – her being an obvious shut-in without cable or erstwhile Amish on some sort of mid-life Rumspringa – as she was not doing anything with malicious intent. She was simply overly excited by the combination of light and sound which caused her moronic tendencies to become inflamed. Her ignorance of theater etiquette was far less tolerable than the group of trolls in the front row.

This was the first time my wife and I attended this particular movie house. We wanted to try something different and were far outside our home turf. They charge $6 any movie, any time and have extremely fresh and delicious popcorn at a reasonable price (for a movie theater). The seats are a bit worn in as it languished empty for a while before coming under new ownership recently and there were enough commercials before the previews hit that the first trailer didn’t run until 8:25 (for an 8PM movie). I suppose this is the best way to make up for $6 tickets, though, and I didn’t mind sitting through a few ads to save a couple bucks.

My wife and I did agree to one thing as we left the theater (where no visible trolls awaited the man who shouted the racial slur, by the by) and that was that we are going to remain very selective of the movies we go to see on opening weekend as there was far too much hassle in this crowded theater for things to truly be fun. While I realize these are common problems and you’re probably saying to yourself that this happens all the time in opening weekend showings, I’m merely stating my preference. GotG was a movie I wanted to see right away because I knew the internets were exploding with references and if I waited until the week after I would probably be spoiled. Any other movie for the rest of the summer won’t, in my opinion, warrant an opening weekend buy-in and I intend to avoid this as often as I can.

In the end, I saw Guardians. Because of the mayhem during the opening, I didn’t get the experience I wanted out of a first viewing. It didn’t take away from the movie but it did greatly detract from the atmosphere. There is a certain magic that keeps me going back to the theater and this night had none of that.

However, when the most disappointing part of the movie is something that has nothing to do with the movie, that makes it a good movie.

Bidula’s Last word – 9/10. See Guardians and remember your childhood. See it in a decent theater and remember the magic of your first summer blockbuster all over again.

I may have to go see it again while it’s out there just to get the full experience.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word – Iron Man 3

I liked Iron Man 2. There, I said it. Actually, I did say it before right here.

While it was not superior to its predecessor, it was still a fun romp through comic book land rife with reference and foreshadowing. I consider it a prequel to the rest of the Marvel Movie Universe at large; drawing in SHIELD, teasing Captain America and Thor, and giving birth to everyone’s favorite card-collecting agent, Phil Coulson. I believe it often goes unnoticed that this was the important transition movie that really set the stage for the Avengers.

That said, I realize that Iron Man 2 was and continues to be widely panned. This doesn’t bother me, I stand by my word. This did, however, greatly lower expectations for Iron Man 3 when it hit this weekend. The seemingly global disapproval of Iron Man 2 which arose in the media as the release of Iron Man 3 grew closer was palpable. Before it was even previewed for the media, people were calling it out as iffy. This was partly because the advertised villain – The Mandarin (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) – is something of a campy stereotype in Marvel Comics lore; a Red China throwback who used magical rings to varying effect in his quest for world domination. Standard supervillain junk and not much more.

In fact, the story (without giving too much away) makes the Mandarin mysterious, powerful, and menacing without the ridiculous camp you would think followed the character from even a cursory glance at his Wikipedia page.

Yes, I’m a comic book geek, and yes, I did like Iron Man 2 but Iron Man 3, from a strictly objective viewpoint, was an absolutely incredible film.

The phrase “this movie has everything” is often bandied about carelessly. I am not participating in such bandying by saying that this movie really does have everything. This movie brings the funny as much as it brings the action and suspense. There are some serious laughs to be had which is largely due to Robert Downey Jr.’s always spectacular performance as Tony Stark which, since the first movie, really brought the character to life. Tony Stark had been around long before these movies but I don’t think he truly had a voice in the original Marvel U until RDJ put him out there as a fast-talking, razor-witted, ego-tripping playboy. It was Warren Ellis and the Extremis storyline in 2005 that made the character movie –ready, but it was RDJ putting his stamp on the character that makes Iron Man one of the better books out there at the moment.

This is also because of the sharp writing and direction of this franchise. Though this has changed hands over the course of the trilogy, it has achieved a strange consistency. People seem to know how to write Tony and those around him and make it seamless.

Even though, as you may have seen in the trailers, a veritable army of Iron Man variant suits participate in the movie, this one is more about Tony outside the armor than Tony inside the armor. This is strange when you’re waiting for the post-credits scene and suddenly a wall of names marking the 3D effects crew takes no less than 30 seconds to scroll by, then you realize that, oh yeah, there were 42 armor variants shown in this movie and each one was different.

The story draws from the previously mentioned Warren Ellis Extremis story arc and doesn’t skimp on the details. They took a story from the comics which really brought Iron Man back to being a mainstream player in the Marvel Universe rather than just one of the Avengers, gave it a bit of polish, and pushed it out under the absolute best possible circumstances.

One thing I appreciated was that the fight scenes were actual fight scenes and not the slow-mo-fast-mo junk or shaky-cam cut-fests or special-effects debacles of recent years. They were well played out, well cut, and, unlike most movies involving armor or giant robots (I’m looking at you Michael Bay), you could tell who the combatants were the entire time. Really, some of the most solid classically-shot action sequences I’ve seen in a long, long time.

There were some good callbacks for fans regarding SHIELD and the Avengers movie. Really nice to see that sort of thing in a solo picture and really nice to see the continuity of the universe moving right along. Paramount continues to hit this part of the Avengers franchise spot-on. There are plenty of little easter eggs hidden and I’ll probably need to watch the movie at least one more time before I get them all.

Another easter egg in plain sight was the introduction of the Iron Patriot armor. If you’ve read Marvel Comics within the last few years, you know the significance of that armor and especially the twisted bastard who was wearing it. They don’t go that far (licensing and plot-line surely would not have been kind), but it was still cool to see Norman’s red, white, and blue streaking around and getting into some interesting situations.

The ending corresponds with the rumors around Hollywood that RDJ may want to step out of the suit for good after his contract expires with Avengers 2. I wish that wasn’t the case. Something about him wanting to move on to different roles and not be shoe-horned into the action-movie role forever. The only problem with that is that he IS Tony Stark. Unless he buys it in Avengers 2, it’s not going to be as easy a replacement as Bruce Banner was.

BTW, stick around after the credits for a nice shout out to the Science Bros meme. VERY funny.

Bidula’s Last Word – 9/10

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word: The Man with the Iron Fists

Whenever I see Quentin Tarantino’s name attached to something, I expect awesome. 9 times out of 10, I get awesome. This would be that tenth time.

RZA, formerly of the Wu-Tang Clan, threw up his written/directorial/starring debut to the world last weekend with The Man with the Iron Fists. It was “presented by” Tarantino, which most people don’t realize he simply attached his name to help drive up box-office. Though, I thought with Tarantino backing things, maybe this was going to be a seriously awesome movie.

It had potential, aside from Quentin’s name. RZA, as a founding member of the Wu-Tang, is a genuine expert on the cheesy schlock-fu cinema of the seventies. The name of the group derives from one of those movies. Just about every Wu-Tang song makes some sort of Kung-Fu reference, if not using direct audio samples. Obsession puts it mildly.

The problem is, watching and doing are two very different things. RZA might have the geek-cred in this department, but flexing those nuts on the big screen is a huge risk and ultimately falls flat.

While watching, I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t expect much because it was supposed to be a 70s schlock-fu movie. My hopes were escalated a bit when the movie began with a fight sequence over the opening credits to the tune of “Shame On a Nigga”, which was wonderfully timed to the music. This was possibly the only true bright point in the movie. This also maintained as a trend throughout the movie, every action sequence being coupled with East Coast hip-hop or rap (mostly Wu-Tang derivative) enough that you almost feel like you should be watching an episode of Afro Samurai. It gives a sort of interesting flavor to the movie, but gets played out about half way through.

To me, the entire movie was sorta played our half way through. I waited for something unexpected to happen, but it never came. This was unsurprising considering Eli Roth was RZA’s co-writer on the screenplay and the most surprising and interesting things he’s ever done were the faux-preview for Thanksgiving during Grindhouse and his role as Donny Donowitz, The Bear Jew, in Tarantino’s Magnum Opus (and one of my all-time favorite movies) Inglorious Basterds. His writing has never needed to be much more than typical teens-in-the-wrong-place horror and increasingly more creative ways to kill people in the most painful fashion imaginable.

The reason this movie fails is three concurrent plotlines attempting to be explored and resolved within a paltry 1:39, though, any more than that and I may have walked out due to boredom.

Every fight in the movie seemed rushed and focused more on what felt like bad camera direction or bad editing. Like, really bad editing. Though entertaining, mostly due to their soundtrack, they were poorly put together for the screen.

This movie took itself far too seriously. There was a bit of humor, but I think it could have benefitted from more, especially since you’re essentially doing a period film study with this thing. RZA, I’m convinced, thought this film would be entered into the annuls of history or at least the annuls of Kung-Fu fandom. Though he has the star power, bringing Russel Crowe and Lucy Liu into the mix as headline characters as well as including the WWE’s own Dave Bautista as mega-badass Brass Body, he really can’t put much together with it.

Also, making himself the star seemed a bit vain. I understand that the character he wrote was a black blacksmith, but surely there were more capable black actors available. RZA may be cut, but I somehow doubt his prowess in the martial arts. His fights are the most heavily edited of all and come at the climax of the movie, which makes it a bit of a let down. Especially since, being a Kung-Fu flick, you expect a better final fight than RZA vs. Bautista in a Brothel Beatdown Match (copyright WWE).

This movie was fabulously bad. I can’t honestly recommend anyone see it. I’ve described movies as awesomely horrible before, i.e. Sucker Punch, but I could, in good conscience, recommend a movie like that because that movie didn’t take itself seriously and, honestly, was unique for the genre.

This movie is much like that first VHS you saw of Enter the Dragon; a bad copy of something that had been around for many years.

There is a fine line between awesomely horrible and fabulously bad. I’ll leave you to decide which is which. It’s a slippery slope.

Bidula’s Last Word – 5/10. The soundtrack saved it.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word: The Dark Knight Rises

Harry Knowles of aintitcoolnews.com wrote a review, dropping geek bombs of death all over The Dark Knight Rises.

Reviews like this are the reason I continue to write my own reviews and post them here. As a matter of fact, reviews like this are the reason I started writing reviews in the first place. The problem with most professional critics (and, I stress most, not all) is that the longer they’re at it the more jaded their voice becomes.

In the case of Harry Knowles, a long-trusted voice of the geek community, completely crapping all over Christopher Nolan’s penultimate Batman movie, this has never become more evident.

I am not completely condemning Harry Knowles for this, however, I would point out that the entire basis of his review compares apples to oranges. He’s going back to the source material and calling the movie out on not staying true to the comic. While I understand this and often explain to my wife after most movies based on comics or other pop-fiction which I’ve read/followed/obsessed over that the details in the movie were a bit muddled and here’s how it happened in the original property, I am a strong believer in the separation of Print and Screen.

Nolan’s Batman has never been the real Batman. No cinematic Batman could ever be the real Batman because the DC Universe has taken 73 years to establish. Most movies, especially big-ticket comic book franchises, are made for instant consumption and only have less than three hours at a clip to shove the entire history of a character down your throat to make the average uneducated movie-goer understand. This is no easy feat and is often the cause of potentially great superhero movies falling flat right out of the gate. Green Lantern is a great example of this because there is just too much involvement in the lore of the whole thing for the average consumer to really get it after only a 2-hour romp of what should have been titled Ryan Reynolds and the CG Costume Fiasco.

I digress.

No Batman can be the true Batman because Batman is a character who exists mostly in print. Printed-page characters, no matter how much illustration accompanies them, are always better in the mind of the beholder because it takes your imagination to get them to move around. No matter how many actors fit those parts dead on (Dan Radcliffe’s Harry Potter, Jen Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, et al), if you’ve read the source material – if you’ve obsessed over and re-read the source material and you’ve come to know the characters in a way that only you can really understand – when they hit the screen, they’re still not going to be that character to you 100% no matter how good a job they do. Print and Screen are two distinct entities and, though one may borrow heavily from the other, they must still be viewed as separate-but-equal entities.

TDKR is going to be a polarizing point in geek-movies for a very long time for this very reason.

As most of you reading this know, I am and always have been a huge Batman fan. Pre-Burton, Pre-Animated Series, Pre-People Born After 1986. I feel sad that I have to qualify myself as such to make this review seem credible, but such is the case in modern geekdom.

TDKR was not a masterpiece. It did not unseat its predecessor as the jewel of the Bat-Nolan franchise. The Dark Knight, in my mind, remains the best of this trilogy, joining many other second-movies as the peak to which all others must aspire.

That said, TDKR, if you are a fan of the Nolanverse, is certainly worth your time and your money. Please don’t believe the naysayers (of whom Harry Knowles is but one) who will tell you that it was totally garbage and will scream and thrash and wail about how this movie isn’t a real Batman movie because of the aforementioned objections and comparisons. If you liked Begins, if you liked Dark Knight, you will like TDKR if you keep an open mind.

As I mentioned, this was not a masterpiece, but its ambition was great in scope. Nolan went into this movie knowing that he wanted to bring the trilogy to a conclusion but also knowing that there is a wealth of Bat-Stories that would make for a fantastic movie, specifically a movie that he would want to make. The result is a brilliant mash-up of storyarcs, kind of a greatest hits, drawing from the last 35 years of the comic book that kept me, as a fan, watching every detail to see where things would go next.

The main plot of the movie is a combination of Knightfall, Son of the Demon, and No-Man’s-Land (that gives you enough hints without spoiling the flick for the uninitiated). Bits and pieces of other things are thrown in for flavor, namely some latter-day Catwoman details, as necessary.

On Catwoman: Though Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is outstanding and, in all honesty, much better and less punny than Michelle Pfeiffer’s turn under the ears (the name Halle Barry has no place here), it seems like she was an afterthought in a bigger game. The character is used as a combination MacGuffin/Deus Ex Machina more than getting any true development. However, in the gigantically evolving plot of the whole thing, it was unfortunately easy to relegate her role to something simpler. Honestly, I think it’s a shame that a strong female character like Catwoman gets boiled down to Batman’s sidekick/occasional ass-saver. I suppose some sacrifices must be made for the betterment of the story.

Some to-do was also made regarding Catwoman “just being a professional thief.” Guess what, critics? Catwoman IS a professional thief. That’s her gig. It’s been her gig forever. Just because you had a boner for Burton’s stitched-up, vinyl, vengeance-driven version makes you disappointed? You’ll complain that she’s “just a professional thief” when that’s exactly what she was supposed to be all along? For shame, fanboy, for shame. Again, things are a bit different in the Nolanverse and you just have to cope. I don’t know what you were really looking for beyond this.

On Bane: Tom Hardy. What do I say to you? You’re awesome in everything. You made Inception watchable. This, however, I’m not so sure about.

The obvious comparison is first drawn: Was Tom Hardy’s Bane as good a villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker? The obvious answer is no. This is not Tom Hardy’s fault, however. He played Bane as I believe Bane should be played – cold, calculating, uncaring, brilliant, evil. The problem with Bane that we don’t experience in the comics is the issues of human expression while wearing a mask that covers your entire lower face. Artists can add a greater deal of expression through artistic license when drawing people like Bane (who wears a full face mask in the comics). Tom Hardy cannot conceivably be as expressive as Heath Ledger when his nose and mouth are caged under hard plastic for the entire movie not to mention the fact that all of his dialogue had to be overdubbed in post-production, not allowing much for subtlety of pitch or volume to his lines.

Tom Hardy didn’t fail Bane’s characterization through his acting. Chris Nolan didn’t fail Bane’s characterization by putting the mask on him. Bane, as a character, requires a mask to let us know that he is Bane. They allowed Hardy’s eyes to be exposed, but even then, the character is a remorseless, cold-blooded terrorist with a thousand-yard stare. Tell me he can use those peepers to maximum emotion with that shit going on.

Did I mention this was a VENOM-free Bane? This is a VENOM-free Bane. The concept works for this movie and, honestly, the whole VENOM plotline would have added another half-hour to the already epic 2:45 running time. You can believe from the spoilery bits of background they establish that Bane can still break the Bat. You’re left with a bit more hope that Batman could eventually take him than you were in Knightfall.

Yes, that scene is in the movie. No, it’s not as epic as the original comic book cover. Nor are the consequences. You just couldn’t have Bane in this movie without that particular scene. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, good on you and enjoy the show.

The rest of the cast does an exemplary job, including Bat-Noobs Joseph Gordon Levitt and Marion Cotillard. It’s really too spoilery to go into their backgrounds and I may have said too much just by saying that. There are also two sweet (one serious, one hysterical) cameos from the previous flicks. Keep your eyes open.

In the end, you have to take the Nolanverse for what it is. It’s a different representation of Batman, it always has been. I’d like to say that Batman Begins was the first movie to coin the term “Gritty Reboot” but I might be wrong. The point still stands that this franchise was not built on the mysticism and legend of the mainstream DC Universe. Nolan’s vision for this franchise has always been grounded slightly more in reality. Slightly.

Part of that reality is that Bruce Wayne/Batman is a human being, not an ideal as he’s portrayed in the comics. That has always been one of my main problems with the DC Universe – their characters are too perfect. They are without flaw and without fail 90% of the time. We’ve become so used to seeing DC heroes in that light that we’ve forgotten that they could be real people if they were written that way.

That’s what Nolan has done throughout this Trilogy. He’s explored the duality of Bruce’s character and the struggle to maintain that double life. In this movie in particular, he explores the problems of Bruce and Lucius Fox within Wayne Enterprises to keep the Bat-Tech they developed out of the wrong hands. People have problems. People have feelings. I should say that people have feelings other than the desire for justice at all costs. The DC Universe presents us with the incorruptible and unrelenting quest of Batman. Nolan explores the emotions behind that quest and some think the character weaker for it.

I’ve always found this version of Batman interesting because they allowed Bruce to be more of a human being. He had love interests, he has emotions, he has wants and needs, he has cares for something other than the quest. His regret turns to anger which drives him to do what he does. Batman Begins started exploring that emotion and TDKR wraps it up nicely.

Anyone bashing this movie because Nolan Batman isn’t “real Batman” needs to stop taking things so damn literally. Yeah, they effed with Batman lore. They effed with it hard. But, ask yourself: does it make sense in the context of the film? If you answer anything but yes, I’m curious if we were watching the same movie or if you accidentally wandered into the late showing of Magic Mike down the hall. Also, get over yourself and look at things differently. The written source material will NEVER be the movie, it will only be a shadow or an interpretation of that source material. Take it for what it’s worth and admit that, while this wasn’t a masterpiece, this was a pretty god damned good movie and certainly one worth seeing.

Bidula’s Last Word: 8/10. Shut up and see it.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word – The Avengers

Paramount did everything right.

They plotted The Avengers out to be the greatest comic book movie of all-time, and they made every single step carefully yet confidently. In an era where it seems that the studios are simply throwing crap at the screen and hoping it will stick for a few weeks, it is truly refreshing to know that, at the very least, Paramount is willing to make a long-term investment in good blockbuster cinema long enough to see it pay off.
From the word go, I knew this was going to work. When Iron Man came out and Robert Downey Jr. just dominated the screen, I felt a change in the wind. I felt that, down the road, awesome was coming – awesome which, at the time, was a whispered rumor of an Avengers movie.
The first statement I made was that they would have to do all the major players in their own movies first because there would be no way to squeeze all those origin stories into one movie. At least not for the big three (Thor, Cap, and Tony). Slowly, dots were connected. A mention of Stark Industries here, a cameo by Tony there, an Agent Coulson here, a Nick Fury there… everything leading up to this point.

Of course, it had massive potential to bomb. The performance of the Avengers movie to collective geekdom would either sound a triumphant call that Hollywood could make a comeback or could condemn it for generations to come.

The scope of it was unprecedented. It would be the first of its kind. A cast of characters drawn from separate films into the same story, uniting as they always should.

And, it was flawlessly executed.

Joss Whedon is a complete genius. His writing and directing only serves to the goal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He has his own vision in this movie, but he smartly remains within the parameters of the established films before it. Every character has their own unique voice that we have seen before.

No one acts out of character. They are all written perfectly as defined by their original movie. Tony Stark is still a wise-ass genius, Steve Rogers is still an idealist somewhat trapped in the past, Thor is still… well… Thor. You immediately feel that this is the ideal intersection of all the films which came before and time is not wasted in things like introductions or origin stories. This movie is the penultimate sequel. It is the one that all the others have been slowly working towards and the story takes full advantage of that by thrusting you right into the middle of the action.

You see the in-fighting – the conflict from so many extreme personalities in the same room – but you also see the unity within the group and, for once, Hollywood doesn’t smash it all together and hope it makes sense. Things feel natural in a way that they never have in that sort of group-of-misfits-bands-together situation. This is a huge credit to Whedon as a writer/director. He put all the puzzle pieces together and did everything right.

There are so many amazing points to this movie, but I don’t feel I can talk about them. I don’t want to spoil one second of anything for you and it’s far too in-depth to give a synopsis. A few talking points:

– Agent Maria Hill shows up, big shout-out to the geeks who’ve been following since Civil War.
– Mark Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk stands up almost better than if Ed Norton had been left with the role.
– You get to see the best of every hero in the fight scenes. Not one signature move or gadget is left out.
– Mentions of or cameos by most of the more main characters in the previous films. It’s the little details that get me.
– Hulk vs. Loki

And, for the love of God, if you have any geek cred or comic book knowledge, stay for the scene at the end… It’s a HUGE setup for Avengers 2 and if that movie is HALF as awesome as this one was, we are going to be some very happy nerds. Let’s just say that A2 will probably involve a very fancy glove and I ain’t talking the reanimated corpse of Michael Jackson.

Bidula’s Last Word – 11/10. It broke my rating system. This movie exceeded every possible expectation I ever had. You must see this movie. But, if you haven’t, do the homework and watch the others, too. It’ll be worth your time.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word: The Hunger Games

I was given the Hunger Games Trilogy a few months ago by a very good friend of mine.  She told me that I had to have all three finished by March 23 because that’s when the movie comes out and we are definitely going.

In this modern age of distraction, I’ve been terrible with books.  I always feel as though there is no time and have had trouble making room for reading in my daily schedule.  It was fortunate that, at the time, I was sort of at the end of my rope with playing video games and was looking for another source of entertainment.  Why not, then, pick up these books which were so emphatically being thrust in front of me?  But, three whole books by March 23?  How could I get there?  I could barely finish one in a month with whatever precursor to ADD I have inside me.  I’d never meet her deadline.

Open book, page one, devour.  Killed all three books within a week.  Loved every minute of it.  Well, most minutes of it, but that’s another discussion (I was sorta Team Gale).

The Hunger Games brought me back to reading in a way that only Harry Potter and Stephen King’s Dark Tower had before.  These were the only other two series I pounded through with unrelenting force, that is until I reached the end of the current book and was forced to wait what felt like a lifetime (almost literally in the case of the Dark Tower series) for the next installment.  And, as the previous series before, I was sad when The Hunger Games trilogy was over, though satisfied with its conclusion.

Needless to say, it was with much enthusiasm that I pre-purchased a ticket and was there opening night (not the midnight show, I’m not insane) for The Hunger Games, the movie adaptation of the first book in the titular trilogy.  Due to the popularity of this series (which I didn’t realize was so fevered until shortly before post-time) much airspace was proliferated with propaganda regarding the movie and I deconstructed every morsel; looking for the smallest detail and grumbling when something didn’t’ catch my fancy or wasn’t the way I’d pictured it while reading.

I took an almost curmudgeonly skeptical attitude toward this because, though the narrative was strong and would likely stand on its own, this is modern-day Hollywood, where beloved works of fiction are burnt to the ground at which point their ashes are pissed on by production houses and directors just looking to make a buck.  Sometimes, you have things like the colossal bomb of John Carter where a sci-fi story beloved by generations is thrown to the 3-D CG wolves and left to fester in the sun as a $200 Million loss to their studio.  Paper is delicate and, if transferred improperly to the screen, can be ruined forever.

Even up to the last minute, when the theater was growing dark and I had just shut my phone down after perusing a review which said they’d pared the novel down to around two hours, cutting much from the original source material, I was nervous.

From the opening bell, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

Though the novels are wonderful and stand on their own, I failed to realize how much fat could actually be trimmed for the screen.  I failed to realized that pages upon pages were dedicated to incidental characters who, in the large scheme of things, really didn’t matter.  There were paragraphs describing food and the taste of food.  Passages described the excesses of the Capital as compared to the poverty of the Districts, painting distinct pictures in one’s imagination and, importantly, leaving much to Katniss’ own interpretation or opinion due to the book’s rapid-fire first-person present-tense style.

You remember quickly that this is a movie.  There’s no need to describe what the people in the Capitol look like or act like, because you can show it in a five second clip and get the same general idea.  Often I forget this fact and it is such a simple one.  I rail against turning five-hundred pages into two measly hours but am slow to realize that 200 of those pages were spent on description.

The first-person present-tense of the book is almost entirely retained by the cinematography and  the direction.  Much like the novels, you’re with Katniss every step of the way, experiencing exactly what she is experiencing.  There are very few shots with which she is not involved.  Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) certainly had her work cut out for her in becoming her character, studying climbing, archery, and hand-to-hand combat in order to prepare for her role, then being the absolute central character in the movie.  I was very pleased with this aspect the same as I was with the Harry Potter films.  Both series rely on the perspective of their respective protagonists and the movies preserved that except where absolutely necessary.

Woody Harrelson turns in an exemplary performance as (my series favorite character) Haymitch Abernathy and plays perfectly with Lawrence’s Katniss as their relationship grows from hatred to mutual respect.  Elizabeth Banks is a dead-on Effie Trinket and Donald Sutherland turned out to be a better President Snow than I anticipated (I always pictured Malcolm McDowell).

Oh, and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman?  Genius.  He made the character very reminiscent of Richard Dawson in The Running Man – surprisingly appropriate for the situation.

Liam Hemsworth (Gale) and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) get the job done, but are drastically outshined by the rest of the cast.  The other tributes in the Games (as they were in the book) are played by throwaway actors, though it is nice to see them sketched out roughly as I pictured them for the brief time they’re known.  Even Rue didn’t overly impress me, but then again, she had about all of ten minutes of screen time before SPOILERS.  Most of the tertiary cast were meh, but you can’t get too attached, now can you?

One surprise was Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith, the Gamesmaker, whose role was largely downplayed in the book but of whom we get more than an eyeful due to the movie’s slight peek behind the scenes of how the games actually work.  To me, this was incredible fan service (to see what the Gamesmakers are actually doing while it’s all going on!) and also serves to better illustrate some of the more complicated and long-winded plot points regarding how things function in the games.

I believe that this may be one of the best adaptions from book-to-screen without any sort of graphical reference.  It trims ALL the fat where necessary and leaves us with a lean, predatory movie, fierce in its convictions and its storytelling.  Poised and ready to strike when the time comes for the sequels.  It does so well at cutting the parts that unless you’ve read the book fifteen times or you have an exceptional memory (myself the latter), you won’t even wonder where those entire passages went.

This movie does incredible service to the book, the fans, and everyone involved.  It was a compelling thrill ride with very few dead spots and is certainly the work of a master surgeon when it came to editing the necessaries to make this into a film.

Bidula’s Last Word: 9/10.  TL;DR, Very enjoyable, highly recommended, you don’t need to read the books first though I still strongly recommend checking them out.  If you don’t devour them within two weeks you’re either extremely slow at reading or you’re just not trying.

Keep fighting the good fight.

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Bidula’s Last Word – Sucker Punch

From the moment I first saw a trailer for Sucker Punch, I knew that it would be one of the most awesome movies I would ever see. Knowing that it would be awesome left me to wonder, “…but will it be any good?”

And that’s where we are now.

Sucker Punch is, to paraphrase a good friend who was with me last night, a 125-Minute Nerd Orgasm. She did say this in an affectionate way because she, herself, is a nerd, married to a nerd, and friends with nerds.

Scantily clad hot chicks with large firearms and swords, biplanes, zeppelins, power armor, steampunk zombies, orcs, knights, dragons, castles, dungeons, B-25 bombers, robot soldiers, brothels, fishnets, monster samurai, more big guns, sage-like wise men, Zack Snyder, Jon Hamm, and an absolutely KILLER soundtrack. This movie has something for every variety of geek, nerd, or dork who ever breathed.

In what The Great Zack (director of two small, relatively unknown pictures, 300 and The Watchmen) termed as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”, we get an epic action movie covered in the thin candy shell of drama. Much like M&Ms, you’re not really there for the candy shell, you’re in it for the chocolate (and peanuts or pretzels or whatever additional filling you prefer).
The dramatic candy shell revolves around the tragic story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her introduction to the girls of Lennox House, a home for insane girls. Her mother had recently died, leaving her and her sister in the care of a sexually abusive step-father who also wants the girls out of the way so that he can collect on the apparent fortune left behind by the mother.
While trying to defend her sister, Baby gets her stepdad’s gun and attempts to shoot him. A miss and a ricochet sends the bullet through her sister and gives her stepdad reason to have her committed (under the table, of course), which is where we meet Blue, the head orderly, who forges signatures to get things he’s paid for to happen within the asylum. Baby’s stepdad wants her to remember nothing of her former life and throws up some extra money to have her lobotomized (the RL setting is the 60s, and they’ll still do that). It will be five days until the doctor comes.

The asylum isn’t an asylum, it’s a brothel. The girls aren’t patients, they’re orphans and runaways forced by Blue (the boss) to serve his upper echelon clientele. The High Roller (Jon Hamm) is to purchase Baby Doll from Blue in five days. Baby meets up and is shown the ropes by the girls who will become her cadre of adventures – Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abby Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung).
Every girl must have a dance routine. Madame Gorski (Carla Gugino) encourages each girl to make the dance their own; to use it as an escape. Baby Doll takes this literally and, when she dances, she enters her own world where she meets The Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who gives her a quest. When she gathers all the items needed for escape from the asylum/brothel, she can be free.

The acquisition of each item brings another fantasy landscape, each with its own theme song, each with its own insane fight sequence. This is the chocolate you’ve come for, my nerd brothers.
We get to watch the girls kick insane amounts of ass in an anime-type style that puts the Matrix to shame. I won’t go any further into the plot than I already have because some people might want to actually see the flick. I will say that there is a very soft twist at the end. Nothing too strenuous or over-obvious or even that spoils the movie, but its there, take it or leave it.

If you like intense and crazy fight scenes, this movie is for you. If you enjoyed the video game style battles of, say, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, you’re going to love this.
The fight scenes are exactly why I say that this movie was AWESOME. Just not good.
The dramatic plot isn’t very strong and is fairly easy to see through. You’ve seen the drama part of this movie before. But, like I said, you’re not here for the drama, you’re here for everything else. As long as you go in to the movie with this mindset, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Is it the CG Wankfest that so many people said it would be? Hell yes. But, it’s a much more entertaining CG Wankfest than the last few have been. In this writer’s opinion, it’s about a million times more fun than Avatar could have ever hoped to have been. And the action (which is really the reason you watched Avatar, too, admit it) is so much more awesome. PS, I’d rather watch hot chicks in fishnets kick ass than crazy blue cat people/night elves do it any day of the week.

This is not a movie for the critics. This is a movie for nerds. This is a movie for people who enjoy action movies. It will be panned by every publication (Entertainment Weekly already gave it a D). But, the fact that it is both awesome and not good at the same time will probably make it a cult classic.

Bidula’s Last Word – 7.5/10. I stand by that review proudly as a nerd and fanboy. You might not like it if you’re not the same way, but the hell with you, they didn’t make this movie for you.
Nerds of the world: See this movie IMMEDIATELY.

Tell me bitches don’t roll 20s like ALL NIGHT LONG.

Keep fighting the good fight.

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