06 July 2019

June 2019: The Name of Endgame's Booksmart

Why hello ladies and gents!

Deepest apologies for my absence. Unexpected, wonderful things happened. One day, out of the blue (pun intended), a police box appeared on my way home from work. Old, rustic, with an odd light on top, I took a second to stare at it. Lucky thing I did, because not a minute later a man in a tweed jacket and a bow tie came running towards me (well, not at me, but the police box). 'Oh, hello!' the stranger man said. Suddenly a laser blast passed right by us, startling me backward. I saw from a distance the thing the odd man was running from: a metal creature with two arms, one a sucker and the other a weapon. 'Yes, nasty beasts, those,' the stranger said, inclining the metal monstrosity heading our way. 'Best for you to come in!'

'What, in there?' I said incredulously. 'Won't it be a bit . . . tight?' I inclined my less than athletic physique.

'Don't worry. It's bigger on the inside.' The man winked. Even in the face of whatever bananas role playing scenario or crackpot insanity was happened before us, this man had a way about him - some charismatic certainty that everything would turn out okay.

'Exterminate!' the tin bucket annihilator exclaimed.

'Alright, what have I got to lose?' I said out loud, and ran into the police box with the stranger from another world, an enemy Dalek right on our tale. And that is how I met The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, and together, he and I - with a rotating pool of companions - traveled the past, present, and future, saving the universe from destruction more times I could count. Oh, the wondrous sights these eyes have seen! The creatures this galaxy contains! The secrets this universe is bursting to spill! A marvelous adventure, to be sure!

Alright, alright --

I was just a lazy sod.

Truth be told, after a while, life got the better of me, and I was blogging at a time where movie blogs were everywhere, and there was very little to differentiate one blog from another. What point was there reviewing a movie thirty other sites were reviewing? I pondered. I didn't yet have a notion how to approach things from a different perspective of other review sites - it was just more or less the same. Add some crazy life events, a job that exhausts the mind, body, and spirit, and a healthy sort of distancing from mass media as a lifestyle, and there you go, all the ingredients of abandoning the Ramblings of a Minnesota Geek.

But I think it's nice for a small little renaissance.

This is a blog, after all, innit? The purpose of The Ramblings of a Minnesota Geek won't specifically be to review every movie, book, and TV show I happen to watch - frankly, the responsibility of that is daunting and highly unappealing. Instead, this site will aim to be a little loose, perhaps a little more Andy-centric. Posts on life, adventures, collectibles, and any other fancy nuggets that I find irresistibly fun and fascinating, with the occasional movie and book review thrown in for good measure. I won't be updating on any sort of schedule or mandatory basis, just when whim hits me and I have something to say.

Speaking of which --

book que
You know how, while growing up, folks pass on the wisdom of 'don't judge a book by its cover', which we nearly all ignore? Yeah, well, I very much do that. While scanning through the sci-fi/fantasy section at a bookstore, the two things I note first is the cover (does it have a cool cover? Artsy? Or something generated from 90's photoshop?) and then if the cover is appealing, next up is the title (some generic thing like THORNS OF BLOOD or THE KING'S WARRIOR?), something interesting, something captivating. And then if the title succeeds in peaking my interest, I turn to the sleeve and read the synopsis. Obviously, this process is not preferable, but when you have limited time and looking for something truly unique, you gotta be a little picky. And that leads me to . . .

THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss. My God, have you read this book?! I imagine a fair amount have, as I'm quite late to the party on this one. Easily one of the most insatiably engrossing fantasy novels I've read in quite some time (among them being the stunning debut novel THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT by Seth Dickinson, which is also highly recommended). I've seen this title in bookstores for years, familiar with its crowd-pleasing reputation but never biting the bullet. I was wrong. In two weeks, I devoured THE NAME OF THE WIND and its sequel, THE WISE MAN'S FEAR, and now I, like thousands of others, are impatiently waiting for the third and final installment of the Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy.

Each book follows two timelines: one with an older, weathered innkeeper named Kote who recalls his life story to a scribe named Chronicler, and the other, Kote's younger self, Kvothe, a teenager who had a family, and lost everything one evening when monstrous entities from faerie tales slaughters everyone he loves. Lost and penniless, Kvothe has one ambition: to enter the University and become an arcanist (for brevity's sake, a wizard, although Kvothe would be none too pleased to hear that word attributed to him) and master the name of the wind.

THE NAME OF THE WIND was a marginally slow build, but within the hundred page mark, I was sold. Rothfuss has this gift that makes these Kingkiller Chronicle books such a success and other fantasy books more of a chore - he's able to build the world around these characters, flesh them out, make them real, without hindering the flow of the story with excess world-building details. His characters come alive, the distance between towns and cities and the understanding of currency and calendar of days, all important details that make this world seem real and concrete, and presented in such a way it never detracts from the narrative. The characters are varied, smart and flawed. The history and mythology richly layered and creatively spun. And before you know it, you've arrived at the final chapter.

THE WISE MAN'S FEAR is even worse. I read that sucker in four days. I was even more annoyed than usual to leave for work because I had to stop reading. The sequel is longer in pages, as Kvothe's journey brings him outside the boundaries of the University, but the experience will feel like it's over in a blink. If you haven't yet read these titles but are gearing up to, my best advice is to savor each page, even though it's immensely intoxicating. WISE MAN'S FEAR is successful as a sequel insofar as it doesn't diverge too drastically from the tone and style of the first, while expanding the world, the characters, and the mythology.

The next book in the series is said to be the last, and I'm frankly puzzled how that's possible with how much needs to be tied up for both the 'present' and the past narratives to sync up. Whenever that day may be, I'm heading to the bookstore day one and it will be mine.

what i've been watching

In this little thought bubble which I'll rename something much cleverer at a later point, I'll just do some quick write-ups of flicks and shows I've been consuming lately. Since it's the summer, why not start there, with the films being released since April?

I say April because I wanted to take a second and just gush about how much AVENGERS: ENDGAME was amazing and affected me in a real and powerful way and holy shit, kudos to writers Marcus and McFeely and the directorial duo of the Russo brothers. A movie like ENDGAME is unprecedented - wrapping up over twenty movies worth of storytelling, at least three major character arcs, resolving the monumentally earth-shattering conclusion to INFINITY WAR, and serving as its own distinctive and satisfying cinematic experience. I do not envy the writers or directors, but somehow, by and large, they met and exceeded expectations. As dark as ENDGAME gets, it's also ridiculously charming and, surprisingly, fun. The first two hours fly by with Paul Rudd's Scott Lang and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner stealing the show with their comedic chops. Chris Hemsworth continues to show new and exciting layers to Thor, now an overweight drunk dealing with his failure at dispatching Thanos. While this is an ensemble movie, it's still fair to say this movie rests entirely on the shoulders of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, handled with razor sharp precision and skill by Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr., respectively.

I could go on and on about my love for ENDGAME in a very Kevin Smith-ian way, but as the movie has reached $2.7 billion, I'm fairly confident most everyone has seen it and formed their own opinions. In the end, I'll just say bravo, Marvel, bravo. One hell of a film. And that ending - my God, that defiant Last Man Against an Army shot, the Portals, the music, the "hey Pepp" - I was just an emotional wreck, no shame about it. Seen it four times in the theaters, and genuinely considering a fifth before it exits.

But how about some less talked about flicks? Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron's LONG SHOT is the surprise of the summer. What a clever script with two charming leads. Rogen can be faulted for frequently portraying the same pot smoking funnyman in nearly all of his movies, but here Rogen plays a character full of moral conviction and restraint, a far cry from other roles. His character always dances this thin line between being too headstrong for his own good and a respectable, reserved journalist and friend; it's a fascinating performance. Theron is great in pretty much everything she's been involved with (here's looking at you, PROMETHEUS), and LONG SHOT is no different: a character that, from a young age, knew who she was and what she wanted, but over the years, that through-line has been made murky by the political cesspool of shit she needs to trudge through on a daily basis. How the relationship forms between Rogen and Theron's character isn't just utterly compelling, but it makes sense why these two would hit it off, and that is most definitely not the case with a majority of romantic dramas or comedies. I don't want to oversell LONG SHOT, because there's a chance someones distaste for Rogen won't allow them to overcome skipping this flick, or the trailers didn't do it justice, or the godawful home video art will turn them off, but right here, right now, I'm begging you: don't skip it. Watch LONG SHOT. It's absolutely worth it.

In a similar vein, BOOKSMART, the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, is extraordinary and just so damn good. It's commonly described as "SUPERBAD but with girls", which is fair insofar as it follows the conventions and tropes that SUPERBAD itself followed: two introverted 'nerds' who never party go out and party in hopes of socializing or meeting their romantic interest. So, yeah, in that regard, sure. But by labeling that, you're also taking away from everything that makes this film work. The two teenage leads are played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. Dever blew my mind years ago by her stunningly nuanced and also powerful portrayal of young Loretta in FX's JUSTIFIED series, and continued to stun me in the Brie Larson-led flick SHORT TERM 12. Suffice to say, Dever is a powerhouse actor, and she will have one hell of a career. Feldstein came out of nowhere, and her character and performance compliments Dever's so well.

Even though I love this film dearly, I'm not going to lie and say it was love right out of the gate. The first half hour is a little sketchy, but makes sense - it's all establishing the characters and scenarios. By the time they get to the proper party, BOOKSMART is firing at its best. Everything comes together beautifully, the pieces of the narrative tapping along until it hits a crescendo and gives us this wonderful single take where everything goes awry and all that transpired that evening comes to a head. By the time the third act climax comes, and our characters make their triumphant debut at graduation, I was beaming. It was a wild night. These characters grew. They got out of their comfort zone, they confronted their feelings for their romantic interests and their feelings towards their own friendship. The reason BOOKSMART works so well is, I feel, because they got PEOPLE down so well. So often, like SUPERBAD, these teen comedies feel like their characters are avatars for the story they want to tell, not making the characters themselves fully realized people. And I guess that's the success of BOOKSMART, for me - a fun, hilarious flick that felt real, honest, and two crazy, scared, legitimate people trying to live life.

If you skipped either LONG SHOT or BOOKSMART, do yourself a favor and remedy that as soon as possible. I'm sure they're both hitting home video in the not-too-distant future . . .
Kaitlyn Dever (left) and Reabnie Feldstein (right) in BOOKSMART

what's next

For July, I'll have (spoilers) a glowing review of SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME, the last Marvel release of 2019, and perhaps a book review or two. I'm heading to Chicago next week to participate in my fifth G-FEST! For those not in the nerd know, that's a Godzilla convention held in Rosemont, celebrating Godzilla and all other daikaiju eiga and tokusatsu shows. I'm bringing $300 cash with me for the dealer's room, and let's pray to Zilla I'll keep to that budget . . .

Until then, thanks for checking out the blog, and hope to see y'all soon!

17 June 2019

Box Day: Godzilla '55 and Godzilla '89 X-Plus!

The GyakushuGoji (left) and BioGoji (right) X-Plus releases are now mine! Mwhahaha!

As a relative newcomer and late bloomer to the X-Plus Godzilla collecting addiction, I'm playing all kinds of catch-up with these monumentally gorgeous vinyls, and I figured the best place to start is with my favorite Godzilla designs. For the most part, I've been successful, securing X-Plus releases of SHIN GODZILLA (2016), GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH (1991), and most importantly, MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964). Now, with utmost pleasure, I can say I have the GyakushuGoji from GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955) and the BioGoji from GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989) in my arsenal of monsterific mayhem! 

The GyakushuGoji X-Plus is a marvel. The second Godzilla ever put to film, he's a bit of an oddball. On one hand, his slender frame and ready stance portray a monster prepared for battle against his adversaries, but his face and two protruding teeth give him a sort of derpy impression. His row of scales and long tale are absolutely beautiful and menacing. Not my favorite Godzilla design, but I do have a fondness for oddball renditions of beloved monsters, and the GyakushuGoji certainly fits that bill.

Next up is a Godzilla I've been hankering for for as long as I started collecting X-Plus figures (two years, mind you, but feels like eternally once the addiction rolls in): the BioGoji. A true beast. Head to toe, this is a Godzilla not to be reckoned with. There is no hint of that 1970's kid-friendly monster to be found. Here, he's all destruction, all rampage. His colored, sort of muted yellow scales and toes set him apart from other designs very much in the traditional black and white color scheme. His eyes, mouth, teeth, and jaw, all add up to a monster ready to rumble. His lumbering figure representing the true, mighty God that he is.

All that to say, it's box day, and I am one hell of a happy camper! Was fortunate to find both on eBay for about $150 each. My addiction is satiated, my nerdiness on Cloud 9, but my bank account is much with the sad. Going to put a cap on my collectible spending for now, but if I manage to find original X-Plus releases of the original Godzilla (1954) or the KinguGoji (1962) designs, well . . . not quite sure if I can stop myself, because it would quite a bit of fantasy fulfillment to have the first four designs in a row, and I'm already two figures there . . .

Till then, cheers!

11 December 2016

2016 in Images

2016 in Images

It's been an interesting year. I've had the privilege to travel to two magnificent cities, spend time with wonderfully insane friends, and walk or bike around nature or (the always photogenic) Minneapolis. There's certainly been some downs, and there's been quite a memorable number of ups. Instead of doing a write-up of 2016, I thought it'd be fun instead to do a post of pictures I took throughout the year. Now by no means am I a professional photographer (although I would kill to have one of those spiffy uber-expensive cameras), but I feel the shots I selected are of a decent caliber, and what's more, each represent a good or memorable part of the year. Without further ado, 2016 . . . in images!

01.15.2016. Minneapolis morning.

February 2016. Lake Calhoun in Uptown, Minneapolis. With some assistance from Instagram filters, this sunset was a beauty to behold. Calhoun is one of my favorite spots in the city, and whenever in need of a relaxing time, I'll make the trek over there to enjoy the sights. One of the perks of Minnesota.

In May, I was fortunate enough to take myself out to New York City for my birthday. From May 19th-24th, I walked around the city solo - Central Park, Brooklyn, the One World Trade Center, Times Square, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, etc. It was a blast, and something I won't soon forget.

05.20.2016. Brooklyn, New York. If there's ever a time I seemingly vanish off the face of the earth and cannot be located, this spot -- right here -- is where I'll likely be. Absolutely beautiful.
05.23.16. Brooklyn Bridge, New York. One of my main Must Do's in New York was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. As an avid movie watcher, the Brooklyn Bridge has been featured in many films, and to have the opportunity to walk across it - fantastic. Not to mention necessary - I had a shindig I needed to go to in Brooklyn. Best of all, got to reunite with my friend from Mankato, miss Morgan Weinand, who graciously took time from her day and visited me in the city. Great company from a great person.

05.22.2016. Celebrated the final hour of my birthday on top of the Empire State Building. Even with easily a hundred people around me, taking selfies, kissing, or gawking, it felt peaceful and amazing. Perfect end to my night.

And in July, my mate Tom and I attended the annual G-FEST convention in Chicago, Illinois. Another lovely city, and one I might have a future in before I settle in either New York or California. It was hot as Tartarus, but that doesn't do anything to quench its inherent beauty.

07.14.2016. Chicago, Illinois. Great to be back!

07.17.2016. I mean, I was there for a Godzilla convention. This seemed like the obvious thing to do . . .
07.14.2016. Millennium Park. I love panoramas, and this specific part of the city (along with the luscious beauty of the Navy Pier) seems like prime real estate for such a shot.

09.22.2016. Foshay Tower Observation Deck. A particularly favorite photo of mine.  Just turned out damn fine.

September 2016. Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, MN. I love dinosaurs. I love animatronic dinosaurs. This was a good day.
Date Unknown. And there we have it. Thought it'd be appropriate to end the year on a high note. Look at this beauty. Minneapolis might not be New York, but it's a decent substitute.

 Adios 2016! It's been one hell of a year . . . .

24 September 2016

When the Addiction Calls - Recent Haul (9/24/16)

Hello all!

I'm getting back into the blogging business, and to ease my way in I'm creating a new feature for the site where I get to boast about my recent Blu-ray/DVD purchases! I mean, a new feature for the site where I tabulate the cost of each item and at the end of the month check my bank statement and swear "this will never happen again" . . . until I absentmindedly walk into a Half Price Books or Pawn America and go, "oh lookie! So and so for only $6! MINE!" These examples are by no means inspired by real life conversations with myself. . . Not at all.

Anyway, there's been lotsa splurgin', so let's take a look a gander!

Last summer, not a soul could have guessed one of the most engrossing TV dramas would come from the Lifetime network. Yet here we are. In 10 episodes, UNREAL's first season explored the psyche of a woman trying to get her life back in order after it all breaking into shambles, and makes a misguided calculation that returning to work -- at the very place her life descent into shitsville -- would help that process along. It does not go well. Thanks to the Mankato Pawn America, UNREAL - SEASON 1 is mine! Albeit, minus the slipcover, which admittedly makes me slightly cringe as a slipcover enthusiast. Another never-woulda-guessed-it surprise is WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, a horror mockumentary about a handful of vampire immortals sharing a house and dealing with their nocturnal proclivities while also trying not to kill one another as roommates tend to want.

Next up, BIRDMAN - a movie that didn't necessarily blow me away creatively or as a viewer, but it was the right price and had a slip, so might be worth a second chance down the line. As a completionist, had to pick up FINAL DESTINATION 5 (easily the worst of the five, both in regards to the death sequences and the all-around 'quality' of the film), and finishing this haul up: KUNG FU PANDA 3! Damn fun ride at the theater, and had some spectacular fight scenes in the third act - a $5 price tag for a Blu-ray released just a mere week before and with a slipcover to boot, not much hesitation in this pickup.

The haul where good prices resulted in half-hearted yet long-time-coming purchases. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY was a memorable drama two or three years ago when it debuted, the screenplay doing more for me than any of the performances. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is the weakest Tarantino movie since JACKIE BROWN (although this isn't a commonly shared opinion, it seems), but with a $7 tag, slipcover, and likelihood Tarantino will never release a Special Edition of the title, why the hell not just pick it up now? Vin Diesel surprised last year with THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, a fun romp with Ygritte of GAME OF THRONES fame and lots of CGI badassery. Honestly, it was the fresh take on tired stereotypes that really catapulted the title from 'casual theater enjoyment' to 'I should own this.'

PREMIUM RUSH has been a long time coming - fun flick, JoGo is amazing in everything. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN . . . I feel ashamed it wasn't already on my shelf. 13 ASSASSINS I watched years ago during my college days and, if memory serves me right, has some pretty visuals and gorgeously excessively violent fight scenes near the climax. VIRGINITY HIT was likewise another college years watch, and for $1 at Pawn America, I liked it enough for a second round. And finally, RANGO - long has it been since I've seen this beautifully animated movie from Gore Verbinski of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN fame, and with a rare slipcover - no thought necessary: it had to be mine!

How about you, fellow nerds? What's your recent haul? Any comments or questions about this haul, or why the hell I bought what I bought? Sound off below!

23 January 2016

Good and Bad of 2015: Movies - Vol. 2

Welcome to Day 2 of The Ramblings of a Minnesota Geek's Good and Bad of 2015 coverage! We continue today with some awards! Not your usual award fare, but after all, best to have some fun with this, right?


The 2015 Awards








TIME TRAVEL, YOU CONFUSING, BUT YOU FUN: Terminator: Genisys (Runner Up: Project Almanac)

PLOT TWIST I DIDN'T SEE COMING: Second act-third act of Focus. Dayyuumm!

THE DOMHALL GLEESON'S BEEN LEFT IN A STATE OF PERIL, HOW'S HE GETTING OUT OF IT?!!? AWARD: Hmmm. Ex Machina or Star Wars? Unfortunately, it's obvious General Hux will return to give more Hitler speeches in the forthcoming eighth and ninth installments, so gotta go with Ex Machina. What's gonna happen to him!?






THE GREAT: Star Wars - The Force Awakens/Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation/Mad Max: Fury Road
THE GOOD: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
THE BAD: Spectre
THE UGLY: Hot Tub Time Machine 2


AWARD FOR SURPRISINGLY GOOD HORROR MOVIE (LIKE, REALLY, REALLY UNEXPECTED): The Lazarus Effect. Admittedly, my interest in the film originated from a place of pure 'I love Olivia Wilde'-ness, but it being a early 2015 release, there was no reason to think the film would be any good, let alone worth my time, save for the lovely Ms. Wilde. Turns out, I was wrong. It wasn't that long ago that Lucy came out, a movie where a female protagonist is 'gifted' with abilities once a drug allows her to use all functions of her brain simultaneously. Ultimately, she meets a sort of 'tragic' end, but her arc is presented in a sort of superhero light, upping the 'woah' and 'awesome' factor in high-visual spectacles. The Lazarus Effect is the opposite of that. While abilities stemming from using all reservoirs of cognitive function plays a part in the movie, it's more of a Frankenstein-esque scenario where Wilde's character is resurrected from the dead, and it becomes a 'you're fucking with nature, and this is what happens when abominations fuck with you' type of deal. It's brutal, it's intense, and it's smartly written. Cards on the table, I'm not a huge fan of the ending, even though I've warmed up to it in the months since first seeing it, but the whole damn movie is better than it has any right to be, and for that, I gotta give it the edge over most horror offerings of the year.

THE COMING-OF-AGE FILM TEENS NEED TO WATCH: Paper Towns. After making boys and girls gush and cry like babies over The Fault in Our Stars, novelist John Green had another one of his books adapted for the big screen (with way less commercial success), but this time, with a story worth telling and character arcs worth showing. Look, we've all had that one crush that we put above everyone else - not in a worship-y sense, but we put that person on a pedestal, that that person becomes more than just a bloke or a lass and becomes something exalted, something special. We could barely know this person, but we transform this regular, everyday individual and idealize them, romanticizing them into something more than they are. That's a dangerous road, and one far too frequent an occurrence. Paper Towns takes that whole scenario - boy idealizes girl, boy loves girl, boy chases after girl cos she's his One True Love - and turns it upside down when she comes back to him with, 'how could you love me when I don't even know myself? I'm just as messed up as you are.' More than The DUFF (which I thoroughly enjoyed) or Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (which is a fantastic look at the complexities of friendships), the standout teen flick of 2015 has got to be Paper Towns cos the message this flick offers and, hell, the great side-characters the main protagonist has along with his journey. Great fun.


Although not a Drew Struzen piece sadly, this is still a epic poster..

Just because the movie was largely forgettable doesn't mean the poster campaigns were.

Another flick I wasn't a huge fan of, but if there's one thing it did well, it was atmosphere, and this poster has it in spades. Simple, yet effective. This is the movie.


Rey (Daisy Ridley), Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Could there honestly be anyone else? (If you answer 'yes', you are possibly certifiably crazy, and I'll see you in the inevitable remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) Before entering the theater for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there was one thing I was giddy above all - seeing the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker. Now, as most of the entire planet knows, we didn't really get that in the sequel (but boy did we get a bunch of intense looks!), but we got something even better. No, not BB-8, although that droid is adorable something fierce. It's Rey, the new, mysterious character living on the desert planet of Jakku, who teams up with ex-Stormtrooper Finn on a journey to return the BB unit to the Resistance. She's funny, she's resourceful, she's strong-willed, she's intelligent, and she kicks ass. Fuck the people labeling her as a 'Mary Sue', fuck all complaints lobbied towards the character of Rey or actress Daisy Ridley, the coolest, awesomest character of 2015 was owned the second Rey slid down a sand hill by a deserted Star Destroyer. Whatever happens in the forthcoming episodes, just give us MORE Rey. More Rey, me happy. Got it, Episode 8?

18 January 2016

Good and Bad of 2015: Movies - Vol. 1

Hello ladies and gentlemen! 2015 is behind us, and with it, the onslaught of 'Best Of . . .' and 'Worst Of . . .' lists, and I, the Great Connoisseur of Movie Nerdery, shall be no different! But in an attempt to mix things up a little bit, liven up the party, so to speak, my best/worst of lists are gonna be ever-so-slightly different. After all, this is a celebration of a whole year of film, so let's have some fun with it!

All in all, I've tallied 61 flicks released in the calendar year of 2015 seen, with plenty still left unchecked (looking at you Carol, Straight Outta Compton, The Big Short, The End of the Tour, etc.), but more than enough to give my verdict on the good and bad of 2015! All amped up!? Ready!? Then . . . .

The Good and Bad of 2015: Movies 


Oh go on, call me bias, but Brie Larson completely deserves it. Years ago, she melted her way into my heart with an exceedingly adorable role in 21 Jump Street, and it wasn't too long after that I was exposed to the honestly brilliant series United States of Tara, where she played the teenage daughter of the titular Tara where she impressed even more with her wide range and powerful performance. Then enter Short Term 12, a flick from a year ago that will forever be burned into my memory because it's so damn moving, and so damn engaging. At its core, it's a movie about messed up people helping messed up people, and it's a relatively simple movie, narratively-speaking, but my Gods, if Brie Larson doesn't completely astound even the most seasoned performer with her turn in that movie. 

And now, in 2015, the world is finally ready to recognize her seemingly boundless skill with Room, a movie that doesn't utilize her acting talent as well as it could, but boy does she so completely own the screentime she is afforded.

31 August 2015

MMAM - Vol. 58

To celebrate the forthcoming DVD/Blu-Ray release of George Miller's phenomenally entertaining MAD MAX: FURY ROAD this Tuesday, I usher in the new era of Much Music Awesomeness Mondays with this stellar track from the flick. Composed by Junkie XL, "Brothers in Arms" plays about a hour into the film as Max, Furiosa and the gang make a risky rush through the cannon, attracting the attention of several unfriendly parties.

If there's one thing I love above all, I enjoy music with a epic feel, and "Brothers in Arm" has it in spades. There's this sense kind of Terminator-sense to this music, where an impossible mission is being undertaken against an impossible enemy, and that is gripping as hell. With FURY ROAD and RUN ALL NIGHT, Junkie XL is making quite the name for himself, and with his collaboration with Hans Zimmer for 2016's BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, it's safe to say the musical experience for that film will be something quite special.

So while gorging on the beauty of this track, save your bucks for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD coming out this Tuesday on DVD/Blu-Ray!

20 March 2015


The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Zoe Kravitz, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer
Written by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback
Directed by Robert Schwentke

I shamelessly loved DIVERGENT (read my review at The MSU Reporter). I saw it three times in theaters, once with audio commentary, and skipped around here and there scene-wise with the Blu-Ray. There's lots to love, and lots to identify. It was a well written, well acted, well shot movie that exploited my feels. INSURGENT I looked at with tempered excitement. Although I am positively giddy to revisit these characters, and most importantly to me, the themes, of this world again, the creative team behind the first film were nowhere to be found, and that creative team, I feel, were paramount in making the movie as good as it was. Director Neil Burger and screenwriters Evan Daughtery and Vanessa Taylor conceivably found the turnaround time too quick between films and opted to exit, or whatever the reason may be, it's disappointing none of these intelligent forces were behind for the sequel. The good news, INSURGENT is good. The sorta bad news, it's not nearly as good as DIVERGENT. The other good news? I dug the themes and how they were conceptualized in the context of the story. The other sorta(ish) bad news? It was a bit too on-the-nose. 

INSURGENT starts off five days after DIVERGENT left off. Tris (Woodley), Four (James), Peter (Teller), and Caleb (Elgort) are on the run from Janine (Winslet) and her task force of anti-Divergent exterminators. Team Kill Janine have their hands full - they need to lay low, but at the same time build an army that could overthrow Janine's reign of terror, and deal with shifting allegiances that put everyone in less than ideal spots. Things get even more complicated when Janine uncovers a powerful box with a secret message only Divergents can unlock. Thus begins the struggle for Tris, the only divergent able to release its secrets, but whose guilt and pain may make her unable to succeed, putting her life and the lives of others in jeopardy. 

First, let's talk about the positives, of which there are quite a few. In DIVERGENT, scenes I tend to go back to involve a personal moment for Tris, something not necessarily plot motivated but a beautiful character beat. Take, for example, when she and her fellow Dauntless recruits climb up the train tracks to their new home (while 'Run Boy Run' beats like crazy in the background), or when Tris succeeds in the Capture-the-Flag gambit and flies through the deteriorating skyscrapers of Chicago. These are but a few moments that got me onboard the DIVERGENT bandwagon. What INSURGENT offers isn't nearly as strong or memorable as such aforementioned sequences, but there is one particular standout sequence with Tris under the influence of truth serum. Woodley gives it her all in one hell of a heartbreaking, can't-look-away scene stealer as she is forced to confront the choices and sacrifices that she's made in her fight. It's brutal, it's soul-revealing, and it's damn good. Later, as the trailers have pretty much revealed, there's a Tris vs. Tris type of fight, and although it's rather a blunt way to hammer home the point of Tris' INSURGENT arc. Nevertheless, that fight, and the whole ten minutes that encompass her journey where she confronts facets of herself, is powerful. Each beat may not land as strongly as another, but it works. 

There's a good sense of momentum with the pacing and story. With the gang divided on what to do next against their fight with Janine and how to go about it, the Tris arc is allowed time to flourish. Ultimately, that means the twisty-turny allegiance of Peter and Caleb is muddled and rather under-developed, but for the sake of keeping the focus on Tris, it's a forgivable sin. As the Big Bad, Janine is regulated to pure Figurative Mustache-Twirling Villain. We know her goal - to open the box - and we know she'll achieve that goal through any means necessary. Any development of this character was DIVERGENT exclusive, it seems. But again, Tris' arc is what matters, and her poking and prodding and general evilness is a means to a end. Naomi Watts appears as Four's super hot mom. Like, seriously. Brunette works for her. All I can hope for ALLEGIANT is that she's a large and prominent character of the story. Yowza. 

Special effects are predominantly well done. The fiery house simulation sequence showcased in every INSURGENT trailer clearly has the most work done, as great effort is afforded to make air-bending Shailene Woodley look completely real and totally not digital. It works more often than it falters. The only real digital grievance is one of the final shots of the film, a full CG aerial shot of communities walking outside obliterated Chicago. Not a memorable image to end your movie on.

Where this movie stumbles, it's hard to peg down. On a surface level, there's a difficulty in ascribing any faults. The biggest pitfall for me, personally, as a DIVERGENT devout, is that the emotional center of the first film seemed lost. Yes, plot becomes of greater importance in this sequel (to a degree), but the pain and grief of Tris, and the arc that comes from that, should have held a greater emotional intensity. They did an admirable job, no doubt, just not fully there, if you know what I mean.

Neil Burger brought a swiftness and engagement with his direction in DIVERGENT, and although INSURGENT has plenty of prettiness and strong shots, I still can't help but wonder what it would look like under Burger's direction. When all is said and done, there's nothing inherently wrong with INSURGENT. It's a fine sequel that, thankfully, didn't suffer the full wrath of sequelitis (in the last decade, only CATCHING FIRE and THE DARK KNIGHT were saved from a sophomore slump), but was still missing some pieces anyway. Definitely worth seeing, especially if you were anywhere between a full on to somewhat DIVERGENT fan. I have absolutely no idea how they're going to make ALLEGIANT into two movies, but I guess we'll find out in a year. 'Till then, solid work, fellas. I wager I'll be seeing this once or twice more.



Father Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is having a difficult day.
Seventh Son
Starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Kit Harrington, Alicia Vikandor
Written by Steven Knight, Charles Leavitt
Based on the novels 'The Spook's Apprentice' by Joseph Delaney
Directed by Sergei Bordov
2015, 102 mins., Rated PG-13

Not long after Peter Jackson made sword and sorcery(ish) epics cool with the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, I was in the camp of folks who thought that all types of films like those -- with wizards, dragons, monsters, eclipse Armageddons, gods, etc. -- should be dark, serious, and above all, epic. Years later, when the Ray Harryhausen classic CLASH OF THE TITANS was remade with Sam Worthington as Perseus and Liam Neeson as Zeus and one killer kick-ass Kraken, I went in with the expectation the material would be handled seriously, and the movie would be amazing. I was wrong on both accounts. CLASH OF THE TITANS, the remake, was all about action. Gravitas and nuance was third to action and special effects. Nothing mattered other than making things look cool. For me, it was a devastating missed opportunity. 

I say all this, because that hard blow in many ways made films like SEVENTH SON easier to swallow and accept instead of being hit with overwhelming disappointment. Up front, I'll mention that I never read the books this film is sourced from, but if I were a fan of those novels, I imagine this adaptation would be quite the disservice. Probably DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION level of terribleness. A lot of this feels extremely loosely based off the series. But that's beside the point. The point is this: I look at SEVENTH SON as a wonderful, playful throwback to the sixties and seventies, when we had action/adventure fantasy movies. Specifically, I'm thinking of the SINBAD trilogy. SEVENTH SON is a homage to those type of flicks -- or rather, it would fit so well into those classification of movies of that time period. It's just fun. A paint-by-the-numbers plot with largely unimpressionable characters and so-so special effects. They're not trying for serious, or epic, or anything necessarily great. Just sit back, have a good time, and enjoy this fantasy throwback to a time where these type of films were everywhere in cinema chains. 

SEVENTH SON has something to do with kids who are born the seventh son of a seventh son having abilities of some sort. Father Gregory (Bridges) is a old, wise(ish) wizard who recruits Tom (Barnes) to stop Malikin (Moore), a shape-shifting evil badass sorceress who intends on destroying the world and ruling it with her evil minions. Right about now is where the end tag announcer from the BATMAN '66 series would say, 'can Father Gregory and Tom beat Malikin in time? Will the earth be enslaved by monsters? Find out next week, same mage time, same mage channel!' Or something like that. 

To put it bluntly, no, SEVENTH SON is not a good movie. Acting is subpar, at best. Jeff Bridges is hardly comprehensible as Father Gregory, choosing an accented voice spoken through lips that seem sown together. Or perhaps it's his gigantamous beard and facial hair that's blocking the words from escaping his mouth. Either way, there really oughta be a subtitle option when he's speaking. No doubt about it, this is a paycheck gig for Jeff Bridges, and his performance reflects that commitment. Ben Barnes was really impressive in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN, channeling the right amount of princely valor, charm, and acting talent. Here, there's not a ounce of that skill on display. He lumbers through each scene, makes out with a hot chick (in the most entertaining subplot of the film, mage & witch love: can they be together when one's a hunter and one's the thing they hunt?), and resorts to a dead plan, dead-eyed glaze. As a hugely underdeveloped badass witch, Julianne Moore's Malikin fares the best, but only because she hams up the screen so totally committed, it's spectacular to watch. She's having fun, and I'm having fun right there with her. 

The script could use, at minimum, ten more drafts. Iron out details about this world's rules, creatures, and words, improve the dialogue, and just improve the basic framework of the movie at least. All this 'seventh son' business is explained in one throwaway line, but it would be mighty preferable for some time devoted to explaining the mystical power behind it. Backstory and histories are brought up very late in the game, adding little emotional value to certain scenes when, if such details were revealed earlier, it would have helped considerably. The relationships between Father Gregory and Milikan, and Tom and (witch) Alice (Vikandor) are awkward at best, and could use refining to spice up their scenes, perhaps make up for the lack of chemistry between any of these actors. 

For me, the real highlight of SEVENTH SON, and the aspect that makes me the most giddy, are the monsters. Look at the photo above, Father Gregory face to face with this giant green lizard creature (played by Djimon Honsou in human form). That's the type of cool shit a monster-loving fan like myself has a field day over. And check out the photo below, with the four-armed badass ready to take down some opponents. For years I've watched ambitious yet poorly down battles of the protagonist vs. multi-limbed monster variety, and they've been disappointing. Not SEVENTH SON. No. These fights are spectacular. Those arms work in perfect unison, and the fight choreography with all four is expedient and lethal. Finally, the four-armed foe realized in all of his magnificent glory!

Ultimately, if one does enjoy those sword-and-sorcery fantasy epics from the sixties and seventies, and walk into SEVENTH SON with that mindset, the film's a blast. It really, properly is. If you go in with the mentality that this is a $95 million dollar movie produced with the intent of being something like 'the next big thing' with glamorous special effects and a built-in fanbase with the hopes and dreams of a multi-film franchise deal hanging in the balance, than this movie is quite the clusterfrak. For all its poor writing, incomprehensible performances, and occasionally lavish special effects, SEVENTH SON is fun. As it's now out of the theatrical circuit, give it a look-see when it hits DVD/Blu-Ray. For me, this was a fun, nostalgic trip to a time long ago when fantasy adventures were all the rage.

15 March 2015


Run All Night
Starring Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook
Written by Brad Ingelsby
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

In the last five years, Liam Neeson's THE GREY is his best, most nuanced, most accomplished role since he broke 'big' with action films once TAKEN took off. TAKEN 2 and 3 were just disasters of mediocre movie-making and unenthusiastic deliveries by Neeson. Haven't seen A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, so can't comment if that was a marked improvement, but I can say that RUN ALL NIGHT is.

To clarify, RUN ALL NIGHT isn't a deep movie, nor altogether a return to the 'glory days' (aka six or so years ago) of Liam Neeson being a bona fide action star, but it's a mark in the right direction. It gives Neeson his juiciest material to work with in years as a character torn between his loyalties to his best friend of several decades and his duty to his flesh and blood. Of course he will always choose his son, Michael, and he will do whatever necessary to save him (Neeson's characters are always quite skilled at protecting family members), but to have that extra layer of kinship - hell, brotherhood - with the villain of the story? That right there adds some much needed drama and dimension to action movies that have become rather thin of everything as of late.

RUN ALL NIGHT has Neeson as Jimmy (lame name, folks, but gives him the Common Man vibe; a Common Man who also just happens to have a particular set of skills . . .), a drunk lowlife ex-super killer for his buddy and non-blood brotha Shawn (Harris). They're best of mates until a series of absurd coincidences forces Jimmy to kill Shawn's son to save his own. Thus begins the longest night of their lives, as these two families cause mass havoc in the streets of New York City with car chases, bathroom fista cuffs, and apartment explosions. And have to deal with the threat of sporadic rain!

Thing is, my one thumb up kudos for RUN ALL NIGHT is probably elevated because of the shit storm of subpar movies Qui-Gon's been in before. The fact that I'm watching this action movie that has fight scenes that I can actually comprehend, a story that actually tries, and characters of substance, well -- that just seems maverick compared to the rest of the similar titles of this litter. It's a fine film, highly competent, shot and lit with such moody dark blues and bright florescent vistas that it's actually rather impressive. The real heart of this whole thing is the Jimmy and Shawn relationship, where decades of brotherhood is dissolved due to familial duty and obligation. Blood has been shed, and the only way to rectify the situation is with blood.

It all culminates in a shootout in the woods, but the real ending is a rather tragic, low-key, quiet exchange of bullets and words at on the train tracks. It's a nice beat, two friends forced to this shit storm of death. Shawn and Jimmy even have a motto that's repeated at least four times throughout the movie, probably one of those things more seasoned screenwriters should probably skip, because it telegraphs the films trajectory immediately. There's two ways this movie could end, but throw that motto in there and now there's only really one way.

All in all, this was one run I was satisfied to partake in. A dark action thriller that works. If Neeson decided to hang up the action reins now, it'd be a good choice to end on (seriously, watching Neeson try to keep up or conduct the same maneuvers as his considerably younger costars was a bit sobering; his roles work best when he's a straightforward physical force, like a shark, picking out bad guys without much aerobics). Better this than a hypothetical-perhaps-soon-not-to-be-hypothetical TAKEN 4. Give RUN ALL NIGHT a go if you're a Liam Neeson fan like myself, but if you're looking for solid action spectacle, rent or blind buy Keanu Reeve's JOHN WICK instead.