January 2014 Movie #1 – Man of Steel (Zach Snyder, 2013): Most critics didn’t like this movie and I can see why – it isn’t Richard Donner’s “Superman” (by contrast, “Superman Returns” received much more critical acclaim and was intended as a direct sequel to the two Donner films). There seems to be a constant refrain of “it wasn’t light” and “it wasn’t fun” – and it wasn’t. It wasn’t meant to be either of those things. Still, it also didn’t have the nice moments that made the “Avengers” movie what it was, either, so there is some justice there. Beyond that it is certainly true that the effects overwhelm the story at times and weaken what could have been a better movie. Still, the effects were pretty great. It is also true that there is no discernable chemistry between Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Henry Cavill as Superman so when they have their big kiss there is almost a feeling of “why?” Actually, there seemed to be more sparks between them in the final scene in the Daily Planet when he is in Clark Kent garb than there had been earlier. I’m not sure if this was a failure of performances, direction, or editing, but it was not there and the lack drained a lot of emotional weight from the film. On the other hand, Henry Cavill had some good scenes, as did several others of the actors. Amy Adams didn’t really have any such good scenes, but that was not due to her performance so much as her not being given much to do. When the movie worked, it was good. Overall, it is a fairly generic big blockbuster effects movie – much better than “The Green Lantern” but not as good as the Nolan Batman movies. I can’t say this leaves me feeling excited about “Batman vs. Superman” or “Justice League” or whatever the hell. January 2014 Movie #2 – Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013): I saw this at the a/perture earlier this afternoon. It has that wonderful Coen Brothers film feeling of being surreal and realistic at the same time. We follow the eponymous Llewyn through a few days in 1961 and get several things; a great character study, a Coen Brothers road-trip, the sort of great supporting characters played by excellent actors you usually find in their films, a slice of the Greenwich Village folk scene just before it explodes, and a dark rumination on the fate of the uncompromising artist. John Goodman was excellent as always (as Jon Foster said, just give him some great lines and you’ve got something). I also really liked Carey Mulligan in this. She has become a favorite of mine with just a few roles (especially “An Education”). If you like the Coen Brothers, or just good things, go see this. January 2014 Movie #3 – The Journey to Planet X (Myles Kane & Josh Koury, 2012): This is a documentary about two guys – a geology professor and a civil engineer – who make movies in their spare time. We follow them as they make a science-fiction short. Along the way we see how a friendship can work and how different the motivations for creativity can be. We also see two men with true creative vision, energy, and a can-do attitude – who also have almost no esthetic awareness at all. They approach their film-making with the sensibilities of a geologist and an engineer. Their blindness about the resulting product is as sweet and tragic as Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood’ and the film is as ultimately triumphant. Well worth checking out. January 2014 Movie #4 – Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (Gilles Penso, 2011): From the title and the fact this was produced by the foundation established to preserve his work, you can guess the tone of this. It is a very straightforward documentary about his work featuring many interviews with Harryhausen and a wide variety of collaborators and later film-makers. This is a wonderful film if you are interested in the history of stop-motion film effects or in Harryhausen’s professional life. I loved it. “The First Men in the Moon,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” and his Sinbad films are among my favorites. The first fantasy movie I saw that really stuck with me was Harryhausen’s “The 3 Worlds of Gulliver”. These movies loom over my childhood and probably, along with hefty doses of “Star Trek,” “Lost in Space,” and many Irwin Allen TV shows, set me on the path to being the geek I became. Most of the scripts and acting in these films were forgettable (not all, though) and no one really tends to remember most of the actors of these films or the directors – because the star was Harryhausen and his creatures. This celebrates one man’s creative life and is well worth the watching. January Movie #5 – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Tommy Wirkola, 2013): There is a growing sub-genre of action-horror films that feature a lot of special effects, fight scenes, some gore and supernatural elements, and a hefty dose of steampunk-y weapons – “Van Helsing”, “Jonah Hex”, etc… This is very much a part of that and like most of those movies it is fun, but still not all that great. It seemed to me there was a better movie hiding in there somewhere. The story is a bit weak and the movie can’t decide what it is – campy or more substantive. Still, I’m not sorry I saw it. It is fun enough for be worth a little less than 90 minutes – just turn your brain off before watching. January Movie #6 – The Colony (Jeff Renfroe, 2013): I’m a bit of a connoisseur of post-apocalyptic movies of various sorts, so I put this in my Netflix queue. This is a thoroughly ordinary post-apocalyptic cliche-fest. It doesn’t rise to the level of “Book of Eli” let alone the rarefied heights of “The Road Warrior”. It isn’t intelligent enough to be a drama, or scary enough to be a horror-adventure movie, and the fight scenes are too tedious for it to be straight-up action. Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton are thoroughly wasted in this. I’d rather watch the Patrick Swayze cheese-fest “Steel Dawn” than this – at least it is bad enough to laugh at. At least some Canadian film people got work between better projects. January Movie #7 – Starship Troopers: Invasion (Shinji Aramaki, 2012): This is the fourth installment of the “Starship Troopers” movies (not counting the vastly under-rated animated series). It is a Japanese CGI-animated production (although, interestingly, Casper Van Dien – who played Johnny Rico in the first and third movies – was an executive producer). It has that “video-game” animation style, like 2001’s “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” and decent, though not overwhelmingly good, voice-acting (no big names). Basically, if you enjoyed the other movies (I did) you’ll like this. It is sort of “Starship Troopers” meets “Aliens” in terms of story. It has the bleak vision of the Federation that has continued in all of the films (but without the vicious humor Verhoeven brought to the first one). The action is pretty good and it has a couple of decent movie moments. Early on, it also spends a bit too much time on the naked bodies of the female characters in the film, but not to a greater extent than other low-rent action films. If you can overlook the faults and just want to enjoy some military-SF action, it will do. I’m glad I saw it, but my life would have gone on just fine if I hadn’t. Snowpocalypse 2014 Movie #1 – Riddick (David Twohy, 2013): Often people talk about movies as “guilty pleasures” that they really want you to know they like and aren’t guilty at all about them. I’m REALLY rather ashamed that I like the Riddick movies… actually I’m ashamed I like “The Chronicles of Riddick” because it is unrelievedly bad. The first movie, “Pitch Black” is actually pretty good, for a small budget kind-of “Alien” rip-off. If you haven’t seen that movie, watch it, and then you will have seen this one too. Basically, “Riddick” reboots the franchise by re-telling the same story. Riddick is stuck on a desert-y planet. There are people there he is in conflict with, there are Bad Monsters who come out in the dark (there is also rain this time), Riddick and company have to fight through the monsters to get a necessary part to fix the spaceship. What made the first movie work was a much more interesting cast of characters and the fact that they made the monsters work in a way that generated real frights and real tension. None of that happens here. You do get to see one of Katee Sackhoff’s boobs, but it doesn’t really make up for the rest of the movie. It isn’t so much bad as a bit dull. There is little tension, no frights, and every time you think you know what is about to happen next, you are completely right. Oh, well. Snowpocalypse Movie #2 – Sputnik Mania (David Hoffman, 2007): This is a fairly pedestrian, but still worthwhile, documentary about the American reaction to the launch of Sputnik in 1957. It touches on elements of popular culture, but it is at its strongest when it tells the story of the role the launch played in political struggles over defense policy and particularly Eisenhower’s – successful – fight to prevent the American space effort from becoming fully militarized. Worth checking out. Snowpocalypse Movie #3 – Nollywood Babylon (Ben Addleman & Samir Mallal, 2008): This is a documentary about the Nigerian film industry, of “Nollywood”. It tells the story of that industry while following one of its most prolific directors as he shoots his 157th feature film. What emerges is a story of Africa, colonialism, art, politics, economics, creativity, and hucksterism that explodes with energy. One of the most fascinating elements of the film is its depiction of Evangelical Christianity in Nigeria and how that intersects with the film industry there. There is just too much in this 74 minutes to write about – go watch it!