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Back to the Future

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****½

Marty, I’m almost 18 years old. It’s not like I’ve never parked before.

Lea Thompson as Lorraine Baines in Back to the Future, © 1985 Universal Pics.

Lea Thompson as Lorraine Baines in Back to the Future, © 1985 Universal Pics.

I noticed something different this time—what is playing at the movie theater. Before Marty, Michael J. Fox, goes back in time, the name of the movie playing is “Orgy American Style.” Upon his return it is “The Assembly of Christ,” with Reverend So-and-So. The implication is that with a few small changes that Michael J. Fox made in 1955 his family’s life greatly improved, the town got much nice, and Biff Tannen’s life worsened. But the internal logic of the film does not fit fully, since Doc Brown–Christopher Lloyd–gets shot by the terrorists and is already wearing his bulletproof vest. I do not know if that mistake or the Christian propaganda is the worst goof in the movie. Regardless, it is still amazing. Oh, now I remember the worst goof, the awful Chuck Berry phone call joke.

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Final Destination

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***

Don’t talk to me, you scare the Hell outta me.

Clear River (Ali Larter) on the ill-fated Volee flight in Final Destination, © 2000 New Line Cinema.

Clear River (Ali Larter) on the ill-fated Volee flight in Final Destination, © 2000 New Line Cinema.

This was a surprisingly interesting movie. My favorite actor in the movie was Ali Larter. I do not see how this spawned four sequels though. I suppose the same could be said for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I hope, but strongly doubt, that Final Destination 2 is as good of a movie as The Wrath of Khan. Interesting side note, I have not recorded my rating for Wrath of Khan since I started keeping track of my movie watching. Both this, and Star Trek: TMP, have odd fascination with death and controlling one’s own destiny. Unfortunately, there was no William Shatner in Final Destination.

I wanted to look into which movie was more profitable for New Line Cinema, this or The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. At first this sounds absurd, but Final Destination did spawn 4 sequels, unlike Fellowship, which only had 2 (unless you count the Hobbit movies). Final Destination grossed $53,302,314, but only cost about $23,000,000. That means a profit of 232%!! Fellowship cost an estimated $93,000,000 (which is probably not true, since all three were made contemporaneously and needed an influx of $150,000,000 from Hannover Leasing in 2001…which would mean that New Line underestimated the budget by over 100%!). Regardless, $871,530,324 was the worldwide gross in 2011. So as long as it cost less than $375,659,622.41 to make, it was not more profitable (by percentage or net dollars) than Fellowship of the Ring. I guess this was not a surprising outcome.

American Hustle

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Amy Adams in American Hustle set in a time before Amy Adams knew about bras. © 2013 Atlas Ent.

Amy Adams in American Hustle set in a time before Amy Adams knew about bras. © 2013 Atlas Ent.

***½

Either fuck already or take a shit, but get out of there!

That above line was funny, but it was delivered off camera while FBI Agent Richie DeMaso—Bradley Cooper, The Hangover—is trying to have sex with Edith—Amy Adams, Giselle in Enchanted—in a dance club’s women’s bathroom. It almost sums up the entire movie, except for the best part.

1. Amy Adams—beautiful, dressed wonderfully, an actress so great that you cannot tell if she is just acting, or acting within the world of the movie.

2. Bradley Cooper—odd looking, obsessed with looks, aiming for the moon, and acting excellently while being a jerk.

3. Club Bathroom—it looked extremely gross, had coke, the outfits were pure 1970’s therein, and had some great music.

4. Additional Dialogue—this choice came directly from the director, David O. Russell.

Addressing those in reverse order: 4. There is no way that was in the script and the actors just chose to ignore it. Bad movies are rife with added jokes, particularly those lobbed from unseen characters off camera. This is not a bad movie, so why is it here? These scenes were dramatic, and not particularly humorous, as played by the actors. Essentially the entire movie had comedic elements added after the filming took place. Or if not, then it was just not written particularly well. Also, there is voiceover.

3. All of the locales were super, super 1970’s. Long Island with plastic everything. Hotels with gaudy furniture. Non-updated bathrooms. And, as I said, there is coke getting snorted occasionally.

2. Gross looking dudes wearing glorious outfits abound. The movie opens with Christian Bale going through an elaborate routine to appear not bald. Soon Adams, through voiceover, tries to bring the viewer up to speed on Bale’s conman, Irving Rosenfeld. Now that I think about it, it probably took 45 minutes to get back to the start of the movie. The fashions are not flattering, Cooper has a wig on, or something that changed his hairline, but he curled his own hair with mini-curlers because…he did not look sufficiently Jewish? At least all those giant ties used in Argo found a new home in this movie.

1. Amy Adams was mostly gorgeous—pretty much for the entirety of the movie, except when Cooper tries to sleep with her. Jennifer Lawrence was both attractive and utterly disgusting. Her insides were Bale’s outsides. As they are married, Adams is Bale’s girlfriend/conwoman partner, they make an interesting couple. Lawrence is incredible as a narcissistic sociopath house mom, who went to the Kevin Smith school of logic and hot girl school of being a bitch who always thinks that she is right. The oddity is that every screwed up argument with Bale ends with some lines that Aaron Sorkin must have written. If I seem frustrated with her and Adams—and the male characters—it is because I wanted someone to root for in that core group.

Louis CK as Agent Stoddard Thorsen, and the back of Bradley Cooper's head, American Hustle, © 2013 Annapurna Pics.

Louis CK as Agent Stoddard Thorsen, and the back of Bradley Cooper’s head, American Hustle, © 2013 Annapurna Pics.

Anyways, I teased a best part and there he is, Louis C.K.! He is hilarious in the same down to earth, beta male cop role that he nailed on “Parks & Rec”. There is a running joke throughout where Louis tries to tell Bradley Cooper a story about ice fishing with his brother, but Cooper keeps interrupting him with an incorrect guess about the point of the story. Kudos for casting him and thumbs up for providing him with such good material. It felt like the opposite of an Aaron Sorkin conversation—measured and real. Without him, and to a lesser extent the wonderful Jeremy Renner—as the mayor of Camden, this movie would have been untethered from reality and would have moved into Oceans 13 territory. I really enjoyed Oceans 13, but it never claimed, as this movie does, that, “Some of this actually happened.”

Now that I think about it, this is an amazing cast and it should probably reteam for a reboot of Oceans 11 and 13. David O. Russell could even direct it. Christian Bale could play Danny Ocean. Bradley Cooper has basically become Brad Pitt at this point. Amy Adams/Jennifer Lawrence would be great as Ocean’s ex-wife, and whoever did not take that role could play the Andy Garcia villain, because it’s the 2010’s and the movie could use a better sexual ratio than 30 men to 1 woman.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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****

I am fire… I am death.

Part I of the review: It is hard to review the second part of an adaptation without comparing it to the source material and to the first part. I, for one, will not endeavor to do so. Compared to the Unexpected Journey, this has a more consistent tone. That tone is different from those in the original in that it is a more frantic and despondent tone. Fortunately, that tone works. It is a less fun tone, but more appropriate for a part two. Last time Peter Jackson tried to pull that off, he could not stand letting the desperation lie for a year, so he had to provide a series of successes. This time, we are looking at some Empire Strikes Back Han Solo in carbonite shit here.

The lowlight was, again, the titillation Jackson feels for ugly characters being villains. The easiest one to pick on would be The Master of Lake Town, played by Stephen Fry—Dietrich from V For Vendetta. He has a comb-over. And bad teeth. I do not know if those are Fry’s actual teeth—English stereotypes—or if it’s a prosthetic. But the killer is that his number one man had zits—Ryan Gage, whose IMDb picture has no gross blemishes. The only other character to display such a condition was the Great Goblin whose second chin was the size of two dwarves. It is just lazy writing and lazy directing to keep doing this crap.

Other than that though, this was a sensitive film. It managed to showcase the difference between the elves in a way that Rivendell and Lothlorien never did. The Mirkwood elves are more like the middle and lower class of the elvenkind. I was really impressed with how well Mirkwood matched how I imagined it in the book. For Part II of the review I will try to provide a synopsis of the plot with pictures from the glorious Alan Lee version of The Hobbit.

Part II: This covers about the middle 1/3, but it ends 4/5ths the way through the book. That is possible because of some major deviations from the book, particularly once the the Dwarves reach the Desolation of Smaug in front of Erebor. All of the drawings below are done by Alan Lee, unless otherwise specified.

Beorn, Bilbo and Gandalf in discussion.

Beorn, Bilbo and Gandalf in discussion.

First, the Dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf (Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan) are immediately thrust back onto the run in this film. Instead of seeking refuge with a shapeshifter named Beorn as Gandalf instructed them to, they all go running headlong into Beorn’s home and bar him from entering. Fortunately he does not kill them in the night and decides to help them since he hates orcs more than dwarves. Quickly they find themselves on the doorstep of Mirkwood Forest, the land ruled by Thranduil, the King who failed to come to the Dwarves’ aid when Smaug attacked and father of Legolas—Orlando Bloom, famous for playing Legolas in The Lord of the Rings. Before dashing off to investigate the “Necromancer” with Radagast, Gandalf warns the Company to stay on the path through Mirkwood no matter what and to be wary of the air therein.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) getting a breath of fresh air in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, © 2013 New Line Cinema.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) getting a breath of fresh air in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, © 2013 New Line Cinema.

Second, the film does a great job of demonstrating the closeness and disorientation within Mirkwood. Bilbo’s ascent up a tree was just as I imagined it, including the view thence. The spiders appear and Bilbo uses The Ring to free the Dwarves from certain death and then the Wood Elves show up and capture everyone except the invisible Bilbo, as opposed to just Thorin at first.

Poor dwarves and some spiders.

Poor dwarves and some spiders.

Thranduil spoke with Thorin, and things went about as poorly as in the book, but in this version the two lords know each other and thus the questions and answers differ, yet still Thorin is still sent to the dungeon for a 100 years if he does not loosen his tongue.

From top to bottom: Balin, Ori, Bofur, Dwalin, Nori and Dori! © 2013 New Line Cinema.

From top to bottom: Balin, Ori, Bofur, Dwalin, Nori and Dori! © 2013 New Line Cinema.

Third, Bilbo comes through and saves the Dwarves. He gets them into the barrels while some elves get drunk on Thraduil’s wine. I love that because in The Two Towers Legolas drinks over two gallons of beer and starts to feel a tingle in his fingers. That was bullshit and this kept it real. Their escape was much more exciting in the film than the book.

Lake Town, looking very similar to the film's Lake Town.

Lake Town, looking very similar to the film’s Lake Town.

Fourth, the Company reaches Lake Town, but stinking worse in the film than in the book. And they meet Bard—Luke Evans of Furious 6earlier than in Lake Town and make him a far bigger part of the story. The Master of Lake Town seemed more cunning than Fry played him, but the sets for Lake Town were amazing. Everything looked and felt perfect. Even the long bridge when an elf chases an orc, do not bother looking in the book for that, fit wonderfully.

Looking upon the city of Dale, long abandoned after Smaug's terrible assault.

Looking upon the city of Dale, long abandoned after Smaug’s terrible assault.

Fifth, the eleventh chapter of the book begins, “In the two days going they rowed…” Unlike in the book, in Lake Town the Company—minus three, excluding Gandalf—have but one day to arrive at the Lonely Mountain as they know that they will only be able to find the secret door into the mountain by “the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day.” This is inconsistent with the book, but in keeping with the rush that pervades this film. I did not care for how that impacted the Dwarves’ impatience on the doorstep, particularly Thorin’s disregard for the key that Gandalf gave to him.

Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities

Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities on a mountain of treasure

Sixth, Inside the mountain Bilbo meets Smaug and things go poorly. Both Smaug and the wealth in the mountain exceeded my estimations from the book and from the first film. Despite the tragedy of awakening Smaug, there are two bright spots: 1. Smaug has a weak spot on his underside and 2. the Arkenstone was found. Hopefully both with be of great importance in film number three.

Holiday in Handcuffs

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**

I hope you aren’t expecting a lot from Santa. A federal offense probably puts you on the naughty list this year.

From IMDb’s page on the TV movie, Holiday in Handcuffs: “A struggling artist working as waitress kidnaps one of her customers to bring home and meet her parents at Christmas.” If you want to test the validity of that description, you can watch the entire thing through IMDb’s website. My girlfriend just wanted to put some cheesy Christmas movie on in the background while we wrapped presents, so I chose this one, since the struggling artist is played by Melissa Joan Hart, whom I loved as a kid in “Clarissa Explains It All.” As a bonus, the customer is Mario Lopez.

Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart as Trudie and David in Holiday in Handcuffs, © Hand Cuff Prods. 2007.

Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart as Trudie and David in Holiday in Handcuffs, © Hand Cuff Prods. 2007.

Unfortunately Melissa Joan Hart starts out looking like a mess and then gets messier. Eventually she, both physically and psychologically, pulls her shit together. Mario Lopez, on the other hand, looks like his usual handsome self, except that he has a shirt and jacket on. He is at a diner(?) or ice cream shop(pe?) or Indian restaurant waiting to propose to his (predictably bitchy) girlfriend and have an all-american cheeseburger. At first he reacts very negatively to being kidnapped by an insane woman, but after about a day and a half Stockholm Syndrome sets it.

Melissa Joan Hart looking much better. © ABC Fam, 2007.

Melissa Joan Hart looking much better. © ABC Fam, 2007.

I would like to say that it is not half bad, but it is. It did have some cute moments and does have a positive message—be yourself and not who you think your family, or society wants you to be. It is a heavy handed message and delivered poorly, but it is nice and all the felonies aside, Melissa Joan Hart seemed like a cute woman.

The Hangover Part III

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**

And someone has to pay…my head of security. He couldn’t stop three fuck ups and a Chinaman from breaking into my home.

There are several funny lines in this movie, like the above quote from John Goodman—The Big Lebowski. Get it? His last words are, You think this is a fucking game? Ehh!

Marshall (John Goodman), Hangover: Part III, © Legendary Pictures 2013.

Marshall (John Goodman), Hangover: Part III, © Legendary Pictures 2013.

There are a few touching moments. Like Alan–Zach Galifinakis–finally not laughing at Stu–Ed Helms. And that sums up this movie. Instead of creating new laughs or emotional connections this just cashes in on both its previous iterations as well as classics like The Big Lebowski and Amadeus. There are just so many disappointments in this movie. That is why I gave it such a low rating, but it really did have a great cast and there were two scenes that Melissa McCarthy stole.

National Treasure 2 or The Rock

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Was National Treasure: Book of Secrets trying to make a sequel to the original, or recreate the magic of their action classic The Rock.

**½

Oh look. My tax dollars at work, coming to arrest me.

In The Rock Nicolas Cage plays nerd who needs to solve some riddles to get into an impregnable American landmark, while Ed Harris plays the villain with armed men to help him. National Treasure had a more traditional villain than that with Sean Bean’s Ian Howe. Harris seems to pick up the “Ian Howe” role with Mitch Wilkinson. But instead of a motivation of greed, Harris just wants to give value to his family’s name by finding El Dorado, so he needs Nicolas Cage’s help. In The Rock, Harris held San Francisco for ransom with some stolen poisonous gas and a few rockets, which he had stationed on Alcatraz. He wanted money for himself, his comrades, and his deceased soldiers’ families. He was a general who oversaw classified missions, after which those who did not make it back, but died for their country, were disavowed. When push came to shove, Harris was no murderer. Wilkinson seemed to have no compunctions against taking human life, but then later he did. He was a much less internally consistent character.

Ed Harris, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and Nick Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, © Disney 2007.

Ed Harris, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and Nick Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, © Disney 2007.

Nicolas Cage gets all worked up and yells in both of these movies. He worries about a woman in them. Needs the help of an old man. Learns a national security secret from a hiding place known only by a few living people. Gets to be with that woman from earlier, who was briefly really mad at him. Wears a wet suit. And acts like an insufferable know-it-all.

Bartha as Riley Poole, © 2007 Disney

Bartha as Riley Poole, © 2007 Disney

The major difference between these two movies, is the wonderful Justin Bartha. While his material was not as good in this movie, he still brought the “Barth,” as I like to call it.* If only the side story of his financial troubles had been excluded he could have had, well, a more interesting side story. On the bright side, at least he did not get “Terrence Howard-ed.”**

*Okay, I just made that up now, but going forward I might use it again if a) Justin Bartha acts in another thing I see, and b) I remember the word “Barth.”

** I did not just make up that term. There is absolutely one legitimate hit on Google for “Terrence Howarded”. Unfortunately, if you search for “Terrence Howard-ed” you get a lot of sentences that say “Terrence Howard, Ed Norton.” I guess I should explain it then, Terrence Howard played Rhodey in Iron Man, but then Marvel replaced him with Don Cheadle without even making an insulting low offer to continue to play his character in Iron Man 2. The same thing happened to Ed Norton, except Marvel smeared Norton’s name in order to justify going cheaper with Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner in Marvel’s The Avengers.

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