March 28, 2016

Movie Monday: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Despite the reviews, I decided to use my birthday ticket to see Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It is a movie with large flaws, but one that I still enjoyed.

There's not much flow to the opening of the movie.  It felt like I was watching a series of beginnings to different movies.  Batman vs. Superman takes on far too much for a two-and-a-half hour action movie.  Superman, in particular, gets shortchanged.  His motives are mostly, "Batman is more brutal lately, and I don't like that."  It doesn't help that Henry Cavill has a tendency to look blank whenever the camera focuses on him and he isn't saying anything.  (That's often.)

Batman vs. Superman as a whole could use 200% more dialogue.  This isn't just a movie where the characters don't talk to each other (despite that being a simple way to solve their problems).  They just don't talk.  I think Alfred (Jeremy Irons) talked the most, and his wit added a nice sense of levity to the proceedings.  Some of the action did have a sense of humor too, like a bad guy pulling on Batman's cape or Batman pinning a mook exactly where the mook stabbed him.  More humor would've been nice.

There's a game cast here.  Amy Adams is wasted as Lois Lane, particularly as the whip-smart Pulitzer Prize winner gets interview questions like, "Are you a terrorist?"  Laurence Fishburne gets slightly better material as her and Clark's editor.  Holly Hunter and Harry Lennix make great political figures.

I feel personally vindicated that Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck do good jobs, since I've frequently defended those castings to my friends.  Gadot played one of my favorite characters in the Fast and the Furious series, so I was happy to see her continue to do action films.  Her Diana is intense, but also joyous in battle.  I adored when the score kicked into full gear with her first appearance in costume.  She made me eager for the solo Wonder Woman movie.  (Beyond the fact that it is a solo Wonder Woman movie.)

I also hope to see Affleck in his own Bat-film.  His jaded, older Bruce is an interpretation seen in the comics and cartoons, but not one that's graced a live-action film.  He even gets in a few good ninja moves when he isn't attacking Superman head-on.  I'm not entirely happy with what the Nolan trilogy did with the character, so I'm happy to see a new interpretation so soon.

Jesse Eisenberg, however, does not work as Lex Luthor.  He gives a wonderfully energetic performance that is consistent with itself, but that doesn't work as any version of Luthor.  It's like they were trying to update Luthor into Mark Zuckerberg, which is an idea that should've ended up in the trash can.

Batman vs. Superman is a movie filled with gaping holes and a dream sequence that sets up the next movie yet makes no sense, unless Batman is suddenly prophetic.  But Batman and Wonder Woman are great, and the entire final showdown was fun.  There was enough there that I liked that I'm happy I saw the film on the big screen.  There's certainly potential in this DC universe, even if it has yet to be reached.

March 14, 2016

Movie Monday: Zoolander No. 2

Zoolander No. 2 Zoolander is one of my family's favorite movies, so I had to go see Zoolander No. 2 with my mom.  The opening is done as a series of news stories, letting the audience know what has happened to the characters since the first movie. 

The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good collapsed, killing Matilda and scarring Hansel (who then became a hermit).  Zoolander lost custody of Derek Jr., and then became a hermit.  Both emerge from their isolation after Billy Zane brings them invitations to walk in a new fashion show.

Like many comedy sequels, Zoolander No. 2 plays off several of the funniest bits in the first movie.  It does better than most at coming up with a new spin on them, although I felt the orgy jokes got old.  I also had trouble warming up to the Interpol agent played by Penelope Cruz.  Cruz is a terrific, nuanced actress.  Zoolander No. 2 is a terrific waste of her talents, going more often for a boob joke, including one heinously awful one that's mostly an excuse for Ben Stiller to grab her breasts.

Zoolander No. 2 does bring some new jokes to the field.  I particularly liked that the movie didn't have Zoolander and Derek Jr. instantly bond.  Derek Jr. inherited his mom's smarts, which makes him suspicious of many of the movie's situations, and Zoolander remains a shallow idiot.

Zoolander is an infinitely quotable comedy classic.  Zoolander No. 2 is an amusing trifle.  I can't say I plan to ever watch it again, but it was a fun way to spend some time with my mom.

March 11, 2016

Review: Morning Star

Morning Star Book three of the Red Rising trilogy
By Pierce Brown
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)

I didn't know how Pierce Brown could finagle his way out of the cliffhanger of GOLDEN SON or tie off all the dangling plot threads.  The heft of MORNING STAR alone shows what a daunting task it was to finish off this story.  But Brown managed.

I have a few, tiny complaints.  I felt that I didn't get to know the new characters in MORNING STAR, such as Sefi, as much as I needed too.  This book was a bit lighter on the character and relationship development overall than the other too, since so much action was needed to complete the war.  Nitpicking, however, is all I can do.

I read MORNING STAR with a giant grin on my face.  (Exceptions made for the death scenes.  I knew characters would die, but I hated saying goodbye to some of my favorites.)  Darrow and Sevro reunite!  Darrow and Mustang reunite!  Harrowing battles!  Clever ruses!  Unlikely allies!  MORNING STAR is more of what I loved in RED RISING and GOLDEN SON.

Absolutely, positively, do not start with this book.  Go back to the beginning, pass Go, and collect $200.  (You won't actually get any money, but you might feel like you did.)  This is a satisfying science fiction saga about one man managing to make a difference with the help of good friends against terrible enemies.  I'm so happy Brown didn't punt the landing.

March 7, 2016

Movie Monday: Deadpool

Deadpool is the superhero movie that's been riding the wave of success most recently.  It had a charming marketing campaign aimed at men and women that was pretty accurate to the tone and content of the movie.  It is also a good movie, which is pretty key to getting people in the theater after that first week.

I have no doubt that Deadpool isn't for everyone.  It's crude, and some of the violent moments are pretty darn graphic.  But the crudeness is suited to the characters, and there's a surprisingly touching love story woven throughout the movie.  Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) and his lady love Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) aren't great people, but they are perfectly suited for each other.  (I also appreciated Vanessa's tendency towards rescuing herself.)

Deadpool starts in medias res, with Deadpool attacking a convoy to find a man named Francis (Ed Skrein).  He then starts to narrate the backstory, telling us how he got to this point.  Cancer, experimentation, revenge.  It's a tale as old as time.  (At least in superhero stories.)

The plot is simple, but what sells it is the charm.  The ensemble has great chemistry and the jokes are delivered rapid fire.  Director Tim Miller started in animation, and I think it shows in the judicious use of effects.  There was a small budget, but he knew where to spend that money to make the action look good.  The choreography is also simpler than many movies, making it both easier to follow and believe.  Deadpool's skills are amazing, but there's a weight too them that's often missing in CGI-fests.

Let's face it: Deadpool might not be your style.  But if it is, give it a try.  This is a superhero movie that's got its own voice, and that's a pretty appealing thing.

March 4, 2016

Review: The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever By Jeff Strand
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Review copy

Justin, Bobby, and Gabe love making movies.  They just aren't that good at it.  But this time they're going to do it right.  They're going to write a script and everything!  It will be THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER.

What follows is a predictable tale of everything going wrong, friends falling apart and then coming back together.  What sells this story is the humor.  I was sitting in the Jiffy Lube getting my state inspection done and trying not to crack up in public, because Justin's grandmother was investing the money to produce his picture - and threatening him if he didn't pay her back with interest.  (She was just kidding.  But really, she's gonna get her money back and Justin isn't going to like it if she has to make him.)

I particularly liked the way the boys got involved in the community through their movie.  They sometimes screw it up (waking people early on the weekends being the worst), but sometimes get it just right.   It really emphasized that they were running around in public and making a true effort to get a shambling horde onscreen.

THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER isn't the type of book to win awards, much like the eponymous movie, but it is a cute and funny little novel.  It definitely made my hurry-up-and-wait chores easier to take!

March 2, 2016

Review: In Real Life

In Real Life By Jessica Love
Available now from St. Martin's (Macmillan)
Review copy

Hannah Cho has never met her best friend Nick Cooper in real life.  This spring break, she's going to change that by road-tripping to Las Vegas with her sister and her other best friend.  She's also, finally, going to tell Nick how she feels.

I couldn't wait to read this book!  The cover is adorable, and I always love Vegas and road trips.  I also liked the premise, because I've made many good friends online and meeting them in person for the first time is always a heady experience (despite not being in love with any of them).  Nowadays, online relationships transition into real-life relationships more and more.  It started promising too.  I can almost always empathize with the awkward overachiever.

Yet, I could feel myself getting crankier and crankier as I read.

I felt for Hannah when her big confession didn't go the way she planned.  Nick already has a girlfriend, and is different from the guy she spoke to on the phone in other ways as well.  But ... she keeps acknowledging and then backing away from the fact she brought a lot of her emotional troubles on herself.  Nick already confessed his feelings for her and she turned him down - brutally.  He didn't tell her about his new girl because he was licking his wounds in private. 

I understood why Hannah felt hurt, but once you turn someone down you don't get to whinge endlessly about them moving on.  I was on the side of Grace and Lo (her sister and friend), who were both encouraging her to be honest about her feelings and to please let them enjoy their vacation if she was just going to mope about a tangled snarl of love she caused.  (Actually, I pretty much liked every character but Hannah.)

Worst of all, reading IN REAL LIFE made me feel old.  I think I would've rolled my eyes at this kind of drama even as a teen, but I just had zero patience for it.  IN REAL LIFE had the bones of a story I could've loved, but I just found it grating.


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