X-Men: Apocalypse – 2016

In the year 2000, the first entry in a new franchise gave audiences in the past a taste of what the future, which is now the current, holds for us in our current future, and beyond. If that past/future talk confuses you, then you’ll get a sense of what this franchise eventually turned into – a hulking, Cronenbergian monster, drooling new timelines and alternate universes like some kind of quantum-physics meatball. That movie, called Mister Man’s Mutant Party – later retitled to X-Men – was the start of a new era of comic-book movies: the previous decade was ruled by the progressively dumber and dumber Batman movies, which started as moody, Tim Burton-helmed commentaries on social status and mental health, and eventually tuned into goofy, Joel Schumacher-helmed toy commercials with a healthy helping of art deco splooge coating Every. Goddamn. Thing. When the last real comic-book movie of the 90s is something the director eventually apologized for years later, you know that the genre as a whole was in dire straits.

So, like a fiercely independent black woman with the ability to harness the power of god himself, the X-Men series blew into the theaters, creating a hurricane of feelings that can only be expressed as “I can’t think of more weather puns.” Gone were the days of Batman’s nipples pointing at the camera, one for each eye, as if laughing at you and your hard-earned money; we were in an era where the first scene of your movie about super-people took place in fucking Auschwitz. The concentration-camp aspect gave you great pity for the film’s main villain; the present-day plight of our heroes as they try to convince a clawed newcomer with the powers of what some cultures call “skunk bear” and the name of a high-school basketball team struck a nerve, as well. The general allegory the movie drew between mutants and homosexuals was subtle enough to be gripping, but not too subtle as to have it completely fly over your head. If it weren’t for X-Men (and its superior cousin, 2002’s Spider-Man) we may have found ourselves in a 2016 without the fantastic comic-book pictures we have. Comic-book movies have aged like people: the Chris Nolan era of Batman movies that followed the success of those early-2000s forays were akin to a gloomy teenage phase, and the current era we find ourselves in – the shared universe era – is one in which movie studios have fully embraced the comic books that originated all of these ideas. the 2000 XMen and its first sequel showed what comic-book movies could be: engaging both to audiences who cared about the source material, and their parents who dragged them there to see partially-clothed movie stars fight each other on top of the Statue of Liberty complemented by what was top-notch (now laughable) computer animation.

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Months went into this shot. Months.

We find ourselves 16 years and 9 movies later, with the X-Men franchise still going strong – and by “going strong,” I mean the exact opposite of “going strong.” The momentum has been lost due to a change from one shitty director to an even more shitty directors then back to the original shitty director, constantly-changing timelines, an obsession with black leather, and no real character advancement. The new film, Apocalypse, is now in the unenviable position of being a loss for 20th Century Fox: at the time of writing this, it’s taken in less than its predecessor, and is being lamented as a box-office failure. Is this bad? For the talented actors, set designers, animators, etc. this is certainly bad. But for the franchise, it’s hopefully a kick in the chest that the series needs: Apocalypse represents the titular state of the franchise where it stands today: the end of days, and the end of being able to milk the early-2000s sensibilities that catapulted this franchise into the limelight.

The movie has a lot going for it: our lead villain, for some odd reason named “Apocalypse,” is resurrected into the world of the 1980s by his followers and begins his hunt for total domination. He sees a world, as literally every villain in this franchise has to some extent, where his people are the only ones left. Purging the planet of all non-mutants (let’s call them “normies”) will allow the next step in the planet’s evolution to take place: he sees himself as the comet who has come to rid Earth of its dinosaur problem. But the real problem isn’t humans, it’s how goddamn tired this theme is as a central element to this franchise. Since the first movie came out, the core conflict has been humans fearing mutants, and mutants fearing what humans will do to them. This movie may be called Apocalypse, but it seems that the apocalypse comes dangerously close to happening in all of these movies.

As Apocalypse (played to very little effect by Oscar Isaac, who’s usually great) gathers his 4 followers who are lacking horses or even mutant horse-powers, we shift focus to the other mutants in the world, who all seem to hang out at Professor Xavier’s mansion/boarding school/sportsplex. While new kids like Cyclops (because he has two eyes) introduce themselves to others, we focus on Charles Xavier’s attempts to gather information on what he suspects, through a psychic vision, are the approaching End of Days. The movie doesn’t really ruin any of these characters necessarily – actually, it improves on them, to an extent. In the 2000 movie, for example, Cyclops was an absolute dickhead with an extreme distrust of the new guy (which seems to go against the whole point of the X-Men in the first place?); this movie gives us a vulnerable teen Cyclops who’s just getting used his powers. Jean “Mean Bean Machine” Grey went from serving mainly as a love interest to Wolverine to now being a vulnerable teen who’s just getting used to her powers. And who could forget Jubilee? She never had a role in these movies (other than a quick cameo in the original), and now…well, she still doesn’t really do anything. But is she a vulnerable teen who’s just getting used to her powers? Maybe! She never uses them!

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With that outfit, it’s probably for the best.

All this vulnerability is making me vulnerable. Let’s take a moment to escape the doldrums of “Degrassi Mutant High” and visit Michael Fassbender – my favorite actor in this entire franchise – as Magneto, living his life in solitude after coming to terms with his mutant/Jewish history. Oh, he has a wife and daughter now? And someone at the steel mill saw him save someone with his powers? Now the police are asking him to come with them? Oh, his wife AND daughter were killed by the same arrow, shot by an easily-spooked cop who was scared of a bird? Great! I was hoping that the most complex character in this franchise, who has had the most growth and the most opportunity for advancement, would be completely put back in his place as an unwilling servant to narrative spoon-feeding. As he clutches his wife and daughter, screaming at god about some nonsense, I couldn’t help but laugh in my theater. How many times does he have to lose someone he loves? How many times does his faith in mankind have to be tested?

And so, in his state of complete fucking vulnerability, because now everyone has to be a big bowl of emotion pudding in these movies, he takes Apocalypse up on his offer to become one of his four horsepeople. “How does Apocalypse do this?” you ask? Let me tell you: Apocalypse takes him to Auschwitz. He literally takes him to the abandoned concentration camp that Magneto was a prisoner of – something he will never forget, something that drives his very character to its core – and he reminds him of the cruelty of man. This is the kind of shit that makes me think Bryan Singer is a fucking hack. Taking something as easily exploitative as a Holocaust concentration camp and using it as the central pivoting point for your villain on more than one occasion is just lazy, lazy writing. This is the man who, in the director’s cut of Days of Future Past, chose to linger on a shot of the still-standing World Trade Towers for 3 Mississippis. It’s not even just lazy, it’s offensive in its laziness. He’s an auteur who peaked in the 2000s, and – like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused – refuses to leave the era behind. Only in the early 2000s were S&M-style black leather superhero suits cool, because studios didn’t know if audiences wanted the outlandish outfits seen in comics. It’s 2016, and we have a Guardians of the Galaxy movie that was one of the most massive box offices successes of the decade so far. So we can at least move away from the outfits, can’t we?

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Right???

Apocalypse dresses up his horsemen in black, leathery outfits that accentuate just how ready to rave these guys are, because of course not. His followers – Storm, Magneto, Angel (a dude with angel wings, what can I say) and Olivia Munn as “Phoning It In” – all help him break into the X-Mansion to try to control a giant machine that Xavier has access to which can help control anyone’s mind. Apocalypse succeeds, and does something completely non-villainous, which is launch every nuclear missile owned by every superpower into space. He’s a hero! We should be thanking him! After he does this, he kidnaps Xavier and escapes, and what follows are probably the worst 30 minutes of any movie I’ve seen this year.

Somehow, by mistake, one of the X-Men blows up the mansion. Complete accident. Oops! If it makes it any better, that guy gets blowed the hell up. So what of every other teen in the building? If you’ve seen the last movie, you’ll know a big show-stopper sequence was the Quicksilver sequence, wherein the titular superhero slows time to near-stopping it, and runs around while listening to music and enjoying himself. So the mansion’s been blown up, a lead character’s been burnt to a painful crisp, and “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics starts playing in a scene that’s so tonally off the mark, it seems like Bryan Singer gave the reigns to a different director that day. After everyone is safely rescued from the slowly-exploding mansion, a key villain from the other movies shows up – after having nothing to do with this movie so far, mind you – and kidnaps a bunch of the kids to take them to his secret military base. Some of the other kids manage to sneak on the helicopter, and – while in this secret base – free Hugh Jackman from a cage to do a 2-minute cameo as Wolverine, who then runs away. They escape the compound, and go to rescue Xavier.

The issue with this entire sequence, especially from the point of the military guy showing up onward, is that it’s completely useless. The entire scene could have been cut and it would have made literally – I mean literally in the Merriam-Webster sense, literally – no impact on the rest of the movie. While in the compound, Xavier telepathically communicates with Jean Grey to let her know where he is. That could have been done in a different way; the entire scene is to give audiences a Wolverine cameo, as if that’s something people really pine for in these movies. I love Hugh Jackman as much as the next straight man who’s comfortable enough with his own sexuality to admit such a thing, but the character of Wolverine is another product of the early Bryan Singer-era shit that just doesn’t stick anymore. At least Wolverine, and by extension Mystique, are relegated to smaller roles here.

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So edgy!

Speaking of Mystique, it’s important to note that despite marketing – which has been a misstep, considering how so many ads creepily focus solely on her getting choked out – has lied about her presence in this movie. She’s barely in it, compared to the Hunger Games-inspired role she had in the last movie; this is perfectly fine, as I’ve always contended that she’s a terrible actress who just got lucky, and if you think I’m wrong, watch any of her performances and tell me if she ever expresses anything with her eyebrows. She doesn’t! She’s mannequin-faced in everything. The Mystique thing works doubly well, considering this franchise’s new obsession with jumping through time periods the way it jumps through the hoops of basic-ass storytelling. Two movies ago we were in the 1960s, the last movie took place in the 1970s, and in this one we’re in the 1980s. It’s ridiculous that they’d expect anyone to buy that these characters barely age a day over the span of 30 years, and that is only exacerbated by Jennifer Lawrence, still in her mid-twenties.

I won’t even get into the final battle. The world starts to end, the bad guys start to win, and they’re edged out of a victory at the last second by a deus ex machina that almost rivals the literal deus ex machina in the third Matrix movie. It’s all become so rote at this point, it’s hard to see how a studio can see the box office returns and still want to make more of these. This is, however, the same studio that allowed Fantastic 4 to be released in theaters. They had a very lucky success with Deadpool this year, and hopefully that will be the beginning of the righting of a ship that has gone wildly off course.

All in all, Apocalypse is the low point in a series that has X-Men Origins: Wolverine in its repertoire. The acting is hammy, the jokes and general levity are tonally mismatched, and the writing is ham-fisted while it thinks it’s saying some truly revolutionary shit, which makes it even worse. Bryan Singer has solidified himself as a director who not just has trouble keeping up with the times and trends, he flat-out refuses to.

There’s an all-too brief scene in the movie where Cyclops, Jean Grey and Jubilee sneak out of the mansion and go to a mall to just be teenagers. The scene in the mall is literally one shot of them walking out of a screening of Return of the Jedi, and one of the characters quips that “The third one is always the worst.” Bryan Singer may have thought he was taking a shot at the rightfully-hated third film in the series, but he seems to forget that this is the third film in this particular trilogy of the Macavoy/Fassbender era. Maybe it’s time to get a new director who can be a little less out of touch.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows – 2016

In the year of our Lord 1990, the world was shaken to its core by a cinematic masterpiece about crime, vengeance, and the seedy goings-on in the back alleys of the Big Apple. If you think I’m talking about Martin Scorses’s Goodfellas, you can go right back to the hell you came from. The movie I’m talking about is the original Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for you purists). This movie has it all, folks: sugar (Corey Feldman), spice (Corey Feldman), and a little bit of everything nice (Corey Feldman). As the last-surviving member of the ’90s generation, I’ve sworn to make it my duty to point out that the movie was (at the time of its release) the highest-grossing independent film of all time. Another record: it was the most-played VHS tape in my collection, and that collection included a taped copy of Face/Off.

The presence of the first film was felt, and it spawned a series of increasingly shitty sequels, prequels, threequels, me-quels, and a live-action show in the late ’90s that added a girl turtle with boobies. The Ninja Turtles franchise has always been, like Brendan Fraser’s Monkeybone, something best left in the past. It served its purpose as a radical, tubular, other-slang representation of the 90s, mostly because the fucking name was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The only way that’s excusable today is parody (which, ironically, the Turtles comics started as). So, in short, if I could go back in time and re-live the childhood magic of Ninja Turtles, I would. However, we should all be grateful for new and exciting experiences.

Oh, there’s another Turtles movie? Jesus. Alright.

This summer has seen the release of a new blockbuster Ninja Turtles movie, a sequel to 2014’s Ninja Turtles, a shameless Michael Bay knockoff that I’m still not convinced wasn’t ghost-directed by Bay, who produced it. That movie took what a lot of grown man-babies love, like shitty things they liked when they didn’t know any better, and tried to update it for a post-Transformers world: the stakes are high, but somehow still low; the human characters are bland and 3d-printed; and every other camera movement has to either be a Dutch angle or just spinning around a central point for no reason. Not to mention the fact the Turtles themselves look like boogers. Straight-up big-ass boogers, with eyes and mouths, like cousins of the Mucinex mascot.

However, when news started to appear that the the next one was casting actors for roles famous from the ’90s cartoon (but somehow never the movies), things started to look up. Could the franchise start embracing its inherently stupid roots with a new director? Would doing this help breathe new life into the franchise? Well, the answer is yes and that one emoticon of a person shrugging.

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Let me go ahead and get it out of the way: I loved this movie. Do I still watch the 90s cartoons? No, fuck no. I’m an adult. I haven’t rematched any of the 90s movies in years because I like to leave nostalgia where it belongs: up its own ass. That being said, there’s something to be said in a very cynical world about a movie that embraces how absolutely batshit stupid its premise is, and doesn’t try to make an effort to ground itself. The movie’s central villain is a brain inside of the stomach of a giant robot, and the henchman are a giant talking rhino and warthog, the latter of whom has a purple mohawk. It’s all complete fucking kitsch, and it knows it.

The movie opens with all 4 of the Turtles being introduced (a not-so-subtle sign that this is an attempt to reboot the reboot) with kid-friendly descriptions: “The Leader,” “The Muscle,” “The human with a turtle suit fetish,” etc. They’re on their way to a basketball game, where the conceit of the movie is set up: they have to sit inside of the Jumbotron, because they can’t reveal themselves to the world. After saving the city in the last movie, they’ve allowed Will Arnett’s character (who, as far as I’m concerned, is named “Will Arnett”) to take credit. They’re still in regular contact with April O’Neal, who is played again by Megan Fox, and they’re still trained by their giant-rat mentor, played by real-life giant rat, Tony Shalhoub. Their old nemesis, Master Shredder, is out for blood after being defeated in the last thousand movies; in his quest for revenge, he’s teamed up with a the aforementioned giant brain in a robot, Krang, who offers him unlimited power in return for a portal that lets him come to take over the planet. And so, the Ninja Turtles must battle their own self-consciousness as well as this new cabal of ridiculous talking shit, with the help of Tony Shalhoub, April, and a sexy, hockey-loving cop named Casey Jones.

Okay, deep breath. That’s just absolutely ridiculous, isn’t it? The thing is, all of these elements are 100% lovingly embraced for the schlock they are. This is a movie that, like the unfairly-hated Amazing Spider-Man 2, recognizes its roots and tries its best to recreate that feeling. The film utilizes a wide gamut of colors, it has enough callbacks to other Ninja Turtles stuff without making you roll your eyes, and it does all of this while kind of making you care about the plight of 4 obviously thirty-year-old turtles who claim to be teenagers for some reason.

The movie’s main issue is, it still doesn’t really know its audience. It tries way too hard to appeal to the sensibilities of kids, and the nostalgia of adults who want to see these characters on the big screen. The issue is, there’s really not much overlap in that Venn diagram. Scenes with the Turtles accidentally dropping a slice of cheese pizza (cheese? You pussies) onto the floor of Madison Square Garden in the middle of a Knicks game are transposed with shots of Megan Fox putting on a Catholic schoolgirl outfit in an undercover mission. Interrogation scenes are interspersed with a rhino and warthog commandeering a tank to kill 4 surfing turtles. It’s all over the place at times, but there’s something admirable about it to an extent. This is a movie that knows what it wants to do, and is so goddamn close to it, but still has enough studio interference that’s its not able to completely go balls-out crazy. Which, in a way, is a problem that’s always plagued these movies: Elias Koteas’ Casey Jones had enough sexual tension with April O’Neal in the 1990 movie that he may as well have been named Casey Bones (sorry).

 

It’s like Eddie Vedder & DeNiro had a baby.

The acting is largely serviceable, with the weakest performances still having enough fun to make it easy to look past. Laura Linney shows up to bring a little fucking class to this turtle movie, thank you very much; even Tyler Perry shows up, chewing scenery as a nerdy scientist who helps create the monster henchmen. You get the sense that everyone read the script and immediately knew what the movie was aiming for. Really, the weak link in the chain is Stephen Amell, who’s name is appropriately changed in autocorrect to “Stephen Smell.” He seems to have enough to work with, but manages to make whatever character-revealing monologues he has as boring as possible. He smiles when he should be frowning, things like that. It’s odd. Maybe i’m wrong, maybe he’s doing a weird Kaufman-esque commentary on acting, but i’m giving a lot of benefit of the doubt here. He’s just not great.

Voice acting is where this newborn baby really shines: the Turtles themselves are all pitch-perfect (I assume, I don’t really know what any of them should sound like), a WWE wrestler named “Sheamus” has his first movie role as the giant rhino bad guy, and Brad Garrett shows up doing a completely fucking insane insane insane voice acting job as talking-brain Krang, almost doing a half-Cosby impression.

The henchmen in the movie, Bebop (the warthog) and Rocksteady (the rhino), are probably the most fun thing to take away from the whole shebang. In every scene they’re in, they’re having the time of their lives. Laughing, slapping each other on the back and generally fucking with each other take precedence over whatever odd job Shredder has them working on. Even in fights with the Turtles, there’s an underscore of fun that serves this movie better than levity in other movies’ fight scenes, which usually only tonally undermine the affair. These guys just love being alive, and it’s fun to watch their chemistry.

The music selection in the movie is just as weird as anything else, which is to say it’s fantastic. Choices like “Spirit in the Sky” play quietly during scenes with dialogue, just to be there. It’s madness, but there’s clearly a method to it. I really can’t fault a movie that has Edwin Starr’s “War” playing while a giant talking rhino pilots a tank across Brazilian rainforest; it’s just too genuinely, sincerely ridiculous. Steve Jablonsky scores the movie (the only noticeable connection to the Transformers movies, aside from Fox), which is completely inoffensive; there aren’t really any noticeable motifs, but it does the job it came to do. Think of it as the “chicken nugget” of film scores.

One of the weakest parts of the movie, and there are plenty, is the CG work. There’s this weird thing going on in this and the Transformers movies (I really don’t want to blame ILM) where all of the characters seem to stand out too much from their live-action backgrounds. It’s as if the sharpness on these characters has been cranked way up, and it contrasts heavily with the more softly-focused environments in a way that’s distracting. It seems the most work went into the Turtles themselves, with some pretty solid mo-cap work being done; all things considered, though, it’s just not great. As in the last movie, Tony Shalhoub looks great considering how often he interacts with the CG Turtles, but there are scenes where you can tell he just wanted to phone it in all day. Those giant, black, beady eyes say more than your snout ever could, Shalhoub!

Stars – They’re Just Like Us!

The setpieces are absolutely fantastic, and show how it’s easy to underestimate the creative prowess of movies like these. One sequence takes us from a plane to another plane (in midair!), with a tank battle ON the plane, with the plane crashing into a river, which our heroes need to escape before plummeting over the edge of a massive waterfall. All of this, while being pursued by a giant tank. The final battle in the movie is a CG mess, where chunks of chrome fly over the streets of a post-9/11 New York – the movie keeps this reminder in the back of your head, with lots of shots of New Yorkers looking to the sky in horror. What’s built here is the “Technodrome,” which oddly isn’t a massive rave in Bushwick, but a giant warship that seems to be able to destroy Earth, despite the main villain claiming to only want the city of New York. Set your sights a little higher, brain! Inside of his giant, constantly-upgrading robot, he fights the Turtles all at once, like an even weirder version of Pacific Rim.

The final battle is one in which the Turtles come to terms with their afflictions (y’know, the whole “being mutant turtles” thing), and the movie rolls credits with the theme song from the 90s cartoon. In my opinion, this is the perfect way to punctuate the movie: it leaves you with the reinforced notion that the people who made this movie had not necessarily a respect for the source material itself, but more for the general insanity and cartoonishness that made up its soul. Despite what any female Ghostbusters-hating neckbeard may tell you, the Turtles aren’t about honor, or teaching a valuable lesson, or any dumb shit like that. It’s about 4 brothers who are giant fucking turtles who love pizza. And drive around in a garbage truck. And have Tony Shalhoub for a roommate. As Mark Twain famously said, “Brevity is the soul of wit, and stupidity is the soul of Ninja Turtles. See this movie.”

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – 2015

SPOILERS!

Not many people forget seeing STAR WARS in theaters. I remember being a kid, sitting down in a dim theater, and seeing massive golden letters blast on the front of the screen before me, slowly pulling back as if beckoning me to follow it and see where it takes me. I knew, as any child would, that it was going to be magical. The next 2 hours were filled with space battles, explosions, laser sword fights, robots, intrigue, deception, and death. Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about it; digesting every magazine article, book, youth novelization, etc. I couldn’t help it. I fucking loved THE PHANTOM MENACE. It was “Star Wars,” man! Fuckin’ trade route disputes? Jake “The Snake” Lloyd? Ahmed Best, hot off his career-defining performance touring with Stomp? It was like it was built just for me!

Nostalgia can do stupid, fucked-up shit with your head. It can make you believe a movie you haven’t seen in 20 years is still good. It can make you wonder why more people haven’t seen “Good Burger.” It can make you believe that today’s entertainment doesn’t hold a candle to what you grew up with, and the generation following you will have no idea what kind of amazing shit they missed out on. GHOSTBUSTERS that are GIRLS? Good luck, dweebs!

So when “The Phantom Menace” was unleashed, like some sort of phantom menace, upon scores of horny bodybuilders aching to oil themselves up with the blood, sweat and tears of George “This is my neck” Lucas, it was safe to assume that – since this was the first “Space Blast” movie in 17 years – it would be AT LEAST better than “Return of the Jedi.” Right? Right?

The movie comes out. People see it. People. Fucking. Loved. It. Look it up! Read Harry Knowles’ review of “Phantom Menace” and tell me he saw the same movie you did. I was one of those people! I didn’t even know why I thought it was good, I just knew why I liked it. But here’s the thing that (thankfully) killed that movie: time. At first it was thought to be a worthy entry into one of the most successful franchises of all time, and a fantastic setup for a trilogy of 2.5 hour movies telling you how the OTHER trilogy of movies – which you’ve already seen – happened. It’s no real surprise that people can be dumb, but goddamn can people be dumb. But that was mostly hype talking, there’s no way lightning can strike – or not strike – twice. Right??

Time passed, “Phantom Menace” became reviled. By the time the second movie had a title, it was commonly accepted that “Phantom Menace” had some serious fucking problems, and people worried that this new trilogy would maybe stink? Once the title was released – ATTACK OF THE CLONES – this belief became more concrete. I was 12 when that one came out, and even in theaters I thought it was fucking boring and sterile. Like I’m pretty sure sterility is a theme to that movie? Anyway, I guess this meant I was free of the old nostalgia trap, right?

Just for the sake of this fucking worn-out point, let’s look at REVENGE OF THE SITH. I was 14 for that one, and it seemed perfect for me. It was the first PG-13 entry into the series, it looked darker, it was the epic culmination of nearly 30 years of filmmaking, and there probably wouldn’t be another “Star Wars” again. That movie blew me away in theaters. So much so, that I said it was the best in that trilogy by a far mile up until rewatching it a few years ago. It’s really awful.

So you can imagine my trepidation in the days leading up to the release of THE FORCE AWAKENS. For the year leading up to today, I had been watching trailers over and over, getting goosebumps from the music alone. I loved the cast, the director, and the effects looked great. It all looked like a real return to form for the franchise. But in the week leading up to it, those feelings shifted. I felt like maybe the movie’s hype became too much; as if the expectations were SO heavy, the movie couldn’t possibly bear the weight. Every single one of the prequel movies had this kind of hype, regardless of the quality of the one preceding it. Hell, this is 2015! There’s hype for almost every tentpole movie released, especially since studios are now taking properties from the 80s and 90s and repackaging them to Gen Y. This has worked, and it hasn’t worked. I’ve gotten caught up in the hype before, and I’ve been burned. So does history repeat itself in “The Force Awakens?”

As it turns out, it does and it doesn’t.

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There are times where this movie is fucking phenomenal. There are so many moments where your head almost spins at how true-to-form this feels for a “Star Wars” movie, especially compared to the last 15 years of “Star Wars.” JJ Abrams’ direction is creative, fluid, and easy-to-follow. There’s some really iconic imagery that will spring from this movie. Everything is where it should be – the opening crawl, the pan down, the first moments of an older gentleman secretly speaking to a rebel fighter. “This will begin to make things right,” he says, handing him a DVD copy of “Phantom Menace” with “ACE” crossed out and replaced with “ASS.” Or so you would think!

The rebel, Poe Dameron, is entrusted with what looks like a Lego brick, which holds classified intel regarding the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, who both the good guys and the bad guys are looking for. Upon the unexpected arrival of enemies looking for that same Lego brick, the secret rebel intel is given for safekeeping to a small, humble droid.

Hm.

No matter! The droid – BB-8 – takes this Lego brick in his hands (or “beep boops,” if you will) and hauls ass across the desert terrain of the planet Jakku as Poe is captured, to be held prisoner and tortured for the information he gave to a droid.

Hm.

So in this very same desert, coincidentally enough, we meet our other 2 protagonists: the first is a Stormtrooper named FN-2187, who sees the slaughter of innocent Jakkuan bystanders and refuses to do the same. His introduction is great at first – we meet him as he watches a fellow trooper die, smearing a bloody hand print on the front of FN’s helmet. But by the time we get to the aforementioned mass execution – which is about 40 seconds later – we see another shot of FN slowly lowering his weapon, shaking his head as dramatically as possible to convey to the audience that his helmet is in fact moving.

On the other side of the desert is a scavenger named Rey. Rey spends 50% of her time searching for junk in sunken Star Destroyers and AT-ATs (very cool imagery), 40% trying to sell her scraps to some slumlord junkyard owner, and the other 10% staring at the sky and waiting. She eats lunch wearing an X-Wing pilot’s helmet, showing the audience her hopes of being a pilot and how little she cares about the brain matter that’s probably still in that helmet. Moments like these are great, because they establish character motivations without spouting expository bullshit dialogue. What we see is what we get: a lonely desert dweller hoping to make something more of their life, like maybe being a space pilot.

Hm.

FN goes back to the Stormtrooper base, still suffering from guilt for all the guilt he felt by not doing anything, because he felt guilty. In his guilt, he frees Poe and helps him escape the Star Destroyer in a TIE fighter. The two become best buds – Poe gives FN his jacket and renames him Finn, which is nice because I’m fucking already tired of typing FN so many times – and the two have a lasting friendship for all of 2 minutes before their friend-ship is blown out of space and crash lands on the desert again. It’s as if Jakku is its own character in the movie!

Finn is split from Poe, and encounters Rey in the marketplace, where BB recognizes the jacket he’s wearing. Before they know it, though, the enemy is hot on their heels and blowing up so much desert you’d think “blowing up desert” is a euphemism for sex. And boy, let me tell you about these bad guys, the First Order! They’re very sleek, grey, utilitarian bad guys who command an entire army of Stormtroopers; they have a muscle-type bad guy who always wears a mask and speaks with a deep voice, and there’s a commanding officer whose relationship with the masked guy is unclear and strained at best.

Hm.

As Finn and Rey and BB are running across the desert, they stow away on a spaceship and make a daring getaway. This is actually my favorite reveal in the movie – there’s a passing joke about a shitty spaceship that Rey wouldn’t want to even touch, and the camera pans to it, and boom! The Millennium Falcon! It’s very well-done. Even the big moment shortly after, where Han and Chewie show up, is done without any wink-and-nudge bullshit, unlike some of the other callbacks in this movie.

Let me take a moment here to break from the story, because at this point in the story is where the fucking callbacks start. I’m not talking about shit like a droid being given rebel intel or any of that, I mean night vision goggles. “Night vision goggles” – a term I’m using for the first time here, but will act like it’s a very well known term – refers to pointless pandering in remakes/reboots/whatever you call a sequel that’s also a reboot (requel?), not unlike a moment in a recent billion-dollar grossing blockbuster where a character picks up a prop from the original movie and then puts it down. Like that’s fucking it: they pick it up long enough for the audience to see it and say “Oh man, there’s that thing from that thing I like!” and then promptly put it down. There’s no Chekov’s Gun with this kind of shit, it’s just pure fan service for the sake of fan service. You might as well have the character break the fourth wall and wink. It’s fucking dumb. In “The Force Awakens,” Finn and Rey and Han are fucking around on the Falcon and Han is giving them some exposition that the audience already knows (“Jedi are real! The force is real!”). During all of this, Finn is rummaging and picks up a little ball for a fleeting moment and then throws it aside. All of this happens in the span of about 2 seconds, and it took my brain 3 to remember that it was the little training ball Luke used onboard the Falcon in “A New Hope.”

Really?  Really? There is actually literally no reason that shot needed to be there. It could have been trimmed and the movie would have been 2 seconds shorter, sure, but that 2 seconds was unnecessarily distracting. For him to pick up a prop that isn’t even on most people’s “Top 20 ‘Star Wars’ Props” and then literally throws it to the side just shows an inherent flaw in reboot/sequels: they want so desperately to remind fans (mostly man-children) that this is just like the good old days, before Melissa McCarthy or George Lucas or whoever the villain du jour is raped their precious childhood, and that the production team hasn’t forgotten what makes their favorite movie their favorite movie. Y’know, like the little fucking ball that Luke uses to train for like 20 seconds when he’s on the Falcon. Maybe 30 seconds after Finn chucks the ball, he bumps into the Holochess table, which turns on and reveals all of the little Harryhausen monsters moving around. This is actually a reference I don’t hate as much, since the movie takes a little more time to show it (and it seems like maybe they did a whole new claymation bit? Which would be great craftsmanship and attention to detail), but the fact that the scene goes “find reference, chuck reference, hear a line, bump into yet another reference” makes it seem too easy. Like they’re really relying on crutches to get the audience through this.

So Han takes Finn and Rey to a planet where Rey will be given transport back to Jakku because she misses it, or something. She says she feels like she’s been “gone too long,” but I was under the impression that the whole setup to the character was her wanting to leave, so her motivations make no fucking sense at this point. I think what they wanted to convey was that she had always dreamed of adventure, but is now getting cold feet, and thinks she should use the life she was given than start a new one. But it’s glossed over and resolved so quickly that it doesn’t really matter. In fact, Rey’s backstory is never really explored; it’s not even explained why she was on the goddamn desert planet to begin with, other than she was taken. I don’t mind patiently waiting for the next movie to get more, but omitting that element of her character seems fucking cheap and lazy. Also, I hope they aren’t making us wait for the next movie to reveal that she’s Luke’s daughter, because that would feel too weird. Everyone suspects it, why not just confirm that instead of making it another mystery?

The planet where Han takes them is the setting for probably the most confounding scene in the movie. When i say “confounding,” I don’t mean as in, “The clitoris confounds grown men who don’t like all-female Ghostbusters.” I mean the feelings I have are so mixed that I don’t know if it’s a good scene or a really rough one. The character of Maz Kanata, an anagram for “buy more stuff,” is a weird little creature that owns what appears on the outside to be a temple of some sort, but turns out to be a bar full of aliens and monsters and a band playing jizz (I swear to god that’s what it’s called), with some of the patrons working in tandem with the first order. You could say that this is a gross gathering of scum and villains. Here, Finn arranges for safe transport to move on with his life and Han has a conversation with an old alien friend, a creature who acts somewhat like an ancient tiny mentor to Rey.

Hm.

Finn decides to bail to get work with some spice traders or whatever the hell (which is weird, because he had such guilt over being a Stormtrooper, but will leap at a job offer by shady-looking monsters in a hidden dive bar), and Rey is understandably very bummed about this. This is a character who has gone through her life lonely. She finally manages to find a friend and begins a fantastic adventure with him, and now he’s bailing? After all they’ve been through? One character pleads with the other to stay, but the other seemingly has his mind made up. This isn’t for him. Sorry, kid.

Hm.

Rey finds out that in the downstairs area of this bar, which is open to anyone who wants to wander down there, there is a locked room housing what looks like a treasure chest. Inside lies Luke’s lightsaber which, when Rey touches it, fills her head with a deluge of visions of what has come and what is to come. Maz Kanata (an anagram for “the Blu-ray is out in March”) finds her down there and tells her that it’s her destiny. “The force is calling to you!” she says, the voice of 32-year-old Lupita Nyong’o coming out from an thousand-year-old alien. Is Maz Kanata (an anagram for “be sure to visit Disney parks and resorts”) a junk collector? It sure seem that way, what with all the fucking junk she’s collected. But she also somehow has a deep and intimate knowledge of the Force? But she also just runs a super-isolated bar catering to mobster aliens? And she kind of looks like a podracer? Since the First Order has sent out a call to all miscreants that Han Solo and his cohorts have a huge bounty, it isn’t long before the First Order shows up, thanks to this harlequin-lookin ass over here.

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 This is a movie filled with big action set pieces, but I would wager that this one is my favorite. The First Order is fucking everything up, Rey is terrified of her newly-found destiny and runs off, and Finn decides to forgo his stint on the intergalactic pedophile’s ship to stay behind and help. This entire sequence is great all around, and has a really cool long shot following Finn on the ground and Poe in the air at the same time. It’s a lot of fun! But unfortunately for Rey, it’s absolutely no fun. Lost in the forest, Rey is kidnapped by that scary deep-voiced mask gentleman, and whisked away to his ship.

Kylo Ren is a very interesting villain. he’s probably now one of my favorite villains in “Star Wars” lore. where most “Star Wars” villains have been either a) Darth Vader, or; b) some prequel trilogy “villain of the week” bullshit, it’s nice to see a villain that’s handled in a new and interesting way. I would even go so far as to say that Kylo Ren is the riskiest thing this movie does, and it works very well. He’s not as mysterious (read: cool) as Darth Maul, but who the hell can be? Ren is a very unstable, angry, scared, and young villain, one who is unsure of himself and his dedication to the Dark Side. He’s basically exactly what Anakin should have been in the prequels (“Revenge of the Sith,” at least). When frustrated or angry, most Sith tend to not react strongly at all; anger and hate is, after all, what powers them. Ren is different: his anger leads to temper tantrums, where he basically goes full Axl Rose and trashes whatever room he’s in. This leads to the fact that he’s not even a Sith yet – he’s more of a Sith sympathizer, one who desperately wants to fulfill what he believes is his destiny to bring the Dark Side back from…darkness. It’s an interesting character, a villain who ultimately has family ties to one of the heroes, and who is commanded by the mysterious and sinister higher power above him to do his bidding.

Hm.

So this mysterious character, who may as well just be called “The Emperor,” sits in a giant room, on a giant throne, and commands the members of the first order to carry out his plans for ruling the galaxy. He’s actually not giant, though; for some reason, he just wanted to appear to be the size of King Kong via hologram. This isn’t revealed until the end of his first scene, so I was admittedly a little distracted by why there’s a giant burn victim sitting alone in a giant, dimly-lit room. It is in this dimly-lit room that we learn, in a very odd and throwaway fashion, that Ren’s father is Han Solo. This isn’t a problem at all, but it seemed really weird that such a massive character detail was just kind of…put out there. But it works just fine; Adam Driver is a great actor and really does a great job of conveying the struggle he has internally. To boot, he looks a lot like Harrison Ford! So he has to kill Han as the biggest “test” so far of his loyalty to the Dark Side; with Han out of the picture, the giant hologram known as “Snoke” can have the power to rule the galaxy. How is he going to do that, though? A massive superweapon, of course! One capable of wiping out entire planets!

Hm.

Han reunites with Leia, who is concerned that the new Death Star, known as “Starkiller,” will wipe out the galaxy. I felt bad for Leia – well, more for Carrie Fisher – because she got an incredibly tepid response from the audience compared to C-3PO, who enters literally seconds later. Threepio’s entrance is great, one of the comic moments in the movie that really works and makes you laugh more than just blowing air out of your nose, which is how a most of the humor in the movie works. “But it’s a ‘Star Wars’ movie!” you say. “Corny jokes are just a natural part of that!” I can hear this argument and I understand it, but I also have never noted the “Star Wars” series for the corniness of its jokes. “Star Wars” never really had jokes, per say; more than anything it had moments of levity, to make us smile or laugh, but very few moments were “big laugh” jokes; even then, most of the jokes were Han’s. In “The Force Awakens,” everyone is a jokester! This really doesn’t bother me that much – it would be fucking stupid of me to say that it does – but the issue is when to use those jokes. In the first 10 minutes of “The Force Awakens,” Poe is being held down and is face-to-face with Kylo Ren, who we are meeting for the first time. Ren is supposed to be an intimidating figure, but the first line spoken to him is a joke about who should talk first. It’s arguable that this is just Poe’s character, one who can keep his cool in most any situation, but his sense of humor isn’t some persistent thing throughout the movie. Many characters get their moment (my favorite was BB-8 doing a “thumbs up”) and it usually works; it just once or twice creates occasional tonal shakeups that are a little confusing.

Take, for example, Han and Finn on their ground mission to disable the shields on Starkiller Base. During Finn’s days of being a Stormtrooper, he was in a unit commanded by Captain Phasma. Phasma had been marketed and touted around like some amazing new “Star Wars” villain, but is ultimately delivered with disappointingly little screentime, because marketing is the devil and it should never be trusted. In order to shut down Starkiller’s shields, Finn and Han hold Phasma hostage, demanding she input the code or whatever to shut the shields down. Finn, wanting to get back at Phasma for treating him like shit all that time, does a weird little bit where he’s telling her who’s in charge. As in verbatim, “Who’s in charge now, huh? Huh??” It’s a moment of humor that falls flat for me, because it’s so out of tone with that moment: the fate of the galaxy is at stake, and Rey is tied up somewhere! That being said, there were only a couple of moments like this (literally just 2 or 3) that I know are funny and will play well with most audiences but just didn’t work for me. Humor is subjective, though, and mustn’t be dissected. One doesn’t dissect gossamer.

Rey, like Poe, finds herself under interrogation from Kylo Ren, but seems to be able to resist it much better than anyone. The brief, quiet power struggle they have with their respective Force powers shows that she has Force sensitivity so strong that it takes very little time for her to escape the facility. There’s a weird bit with her being able to mind trick a Stormtrooper with no prior knowledge of how that works, but it results in a great moment and honestly, it’s something I have no problem looking over.

The sequence with Han and Ren on the bridge of the reactor core (I think) is very tense and well-done. There’s an element of Light vs. Dark that shows in the literal lighting of the scene. To that end, the symbolism inherent in “as long as the sun is up, we’re okay” shines through (pun not intended) in the slowly creeping darkness eclipsing the reactor core, leaving only the harsh red glow of Ren’s lightsaber to illuminate things. It’s a sequence that you know will end poorly for Han, but you don’t know exactly how or when it will happen. The movie basically puts text on screen telling you Han’s fate: he sees that Rey is good with the Falcon, better than he is now. He gets a nice moment with Leia after years of being apart. Our young heroes show up and see the confrontation between the two, just in time to see their older mentor cut down by the villain.

Hm.

So with Han out of the picture, Finn and Rey attempt to escape, but are stopped by a wounded Ren. This lightsaber fight is fantastic, the best one since the “duel of the fates,” and one of the best of the series. Gone are the finely choreographed ballet-style twirling of lightsabers like you’re watching people trip balls at Burning Man, and in their place is a more hefty, emotional fight. Finn essentially sacrifices himself, choosing to face Ren in a battle he knows he can’t possibly win. The ensuing battle between Ren and Rey (it’s starting to get confusing) is gorgeous, taking place in a snowy forest, trees being lopped all over the place from vicious lightsaber swings. Kylo Ren thankfully doesn’t die in this film (doing a Darth Maul all over again would have been a stupid, terrible mistake) and you get a sense that killing his father has only damaged him more, making him increasingly unstable.

A major criticism I’ve heard is that Rey gets a hold on her force abilities far too soon, and is able to hold her own in a fight against Ren, when she should be outmatched. Personally, I saw it less as a statement of the great power Rey has, and more as a statement of how little control Ren has. He’s spent his early years training with Luke, and it wasn’t long before he was seduced by the Dark Side. His entire life since has been focusing on his abilities as a wielder of the Dark Side, but he still has issues with “temptation from the light.” It’s very obvious that he holds more emotion than actual ability, and he will most likely become a serious force (fart) to be reckoned with.

So we get to the last bit of the movie. Leia founds out her old flame is Han Baby Gone, and Rey teams up with Chewie to find Luke. Doing so requires the Lego block given to BB-8 in the beginning, which turns out to be a map leading to him! Unfortunately the most important part of the map, where Luke is, is missing. So with 5 minutes left in the movie, R2-D2 (who spent the last 20-odd years under a tarp) beeps back to boop, and doggone if he doesn’t have the rest of the map! Why no one bothered to try to see if Artoo would wake up anytime in the 30-year span between movies is beyond me, because it sure seems like this operation would have gone a whole hell of a lot smoother if he would have gotten his ass out of that low-power state.

Artoo, Rey and Chewbacca take the Falcon to an isolated island in the middle of the ocean – where the first Jedi temple is rumored to be – and Rey finds Luke, and they stare at each other for a while. Roll credits!

They really actually do spend the last 15 or so seconds just staring, with her holding his saber out towards him. No words, just music swelling, and two people just staring at each other. It would have been nice to see maybe the saber wiggle or something? Something to give us a little taste of before we wait for the next movie, for god’s sake! The literal final shot of the movie is a weird helicopter shot (that looks like it should be on behind-the-scenes features) of the two staring. It’s a lot of staring. You’ll be staring — at credits!

It really sounds like I hated this movie, but that’s not the case at all. This is the most mixed group of feelings I’ve had about a movie in a long time. Honestly, most the major issues I have are mere blips, but the blips do add up a little. It’s a truly great movie, and a great springboard for events to come. However, it does have its problems. It’s easy to snark at how many elements from “A New Hope” are lifted wholesale here, but it does present a problem of originality. I’m really hoping the next entry in the trilogy takes these now-familiar characters who have been through an already-familiar situation and throws them into unknown territory. Also, the problem most entry movies in a saga have is that the setup really serves to let us get to know these characters before they really hit their stride in the next movie. This movie may be a victim of that; will this movie still be as exciting as a set-up movie once the sequels are out? There’s so much to love, though: the acting is top-notch, the trio of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac is absolutely fantastic, and I think my favorite character in a movie this year is a little robot that rolls around. I think that last part is one element that makes the entire thing feel like a “Star Wars” movie: I can roll my eyes all day, but I will be devastated if some shit happened to BB-8. “Feeling like a ‘Star Wars’ movie” is a trait that is this movie’s biggest asset and its biggest problem. But I guess if my biggest complaint about the first “Star Wars” movie in 10 years is that it feels too much like one of the best “Star Wars” movies, then I shouldn’t complain. More than anything, it’s nice to know that the franchise is in good hands, and it’s exciting to see where these characters go in the future. Or a long time ago. Whatever works.

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Jurassic World – 2015

Jurassic Park is tied for my favorite movie of all time. It’s a movie that demands rewatches and examinations and serves to entertain and enlighten. It’s newest sequel, Jurassic World, thinks it’s smarter than most movies today and wants to prove that to you so badly it damages itself in the process.

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“No one gives a shit about your childhood!”

The Plot: Goddamn, this movie is poorly written. Almost every aspect, from character development to pacing to dialogue, is just terrible. Characters have lines that made me look away from the screen in embarrassment. Characters suddenly become evil, and are never seen or heard from again. Other characters have plans and plots that make no sense to the viewer, and have almost zero payoff. The movie jumps around so much, the scale of the island or the actions of its characters become an incomprehensible blur. The movie has about 4 plots and 5 thematic through lines, none of which are realized to any extent considered “full.” Chris Pratt’s character is similar to Ellen Page in Inception, but instead of asking a million questions, he just provides a million explanations – sometimes to no one in particular; he has the power to walk into the frame of a scene, fold his arms, and dramatically provide exposition, and he uses that power to the fullest extent.

The Park: The park is cool and has a lot of fun stuff going for it. It reminds me in a lot of ways of a real, functioning theme park (there’s a ride spiel featuring a Jimmy Fallon cameo that helps to sell this aesthetic), and the Universal City Walk-esque entrance plaza reminds me of the set design from Back to the Future Part II. The park is overcrowded and filled with corporate sponsors, not unlike modern-day Disney World. Maybe the movie isn’t so much a commentary on the delicate balance of life, but a harsh reprimand of corporate sponsorship in theme parks? I don’t hate the level of product placement in this movie (the director has gone on record to say that at least one major instance of this sponsorship wasn’t an actual paid advertisement; the company had to agree to it – I assume that was the case more than once); it helps to create a nice dichotomy between the park that John Hammond wanted to build and the one that came to fruition. Walt Disney dreamed of Walt Disney World originally as an actual city, a futuristic metropolis where monorails didn’t take you to hotels – they took you to work and home, etc. This idea died when Walt did, the only trace of it being the name (EPCOT) ported to the educational park in 1982. To that end, EPCOT itself began as a germ of an idea that people could come to Disney World and see and experience other cultures, and be educated while being entertained (think of it as The Learning Channel of theme parks). However, in the face of corporate ownership and meddling, the park – along with every other – saw its relationship change from symbiotic to parasitic. Jurassic World explores similar themes, especially the question of “who is the parasite?” However, that question comes into play most heavily in regards to the movie itself. It finds itself tumbling over its own shoelaces trying to show us the evils of corporate control, but forgets that it is itself a corporate movie. Jurassic World, ironically, may be *the* most corporate movie of the year so far. A major criticism of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which, I will once again put out there, I love) is that it feels too much like a “movie by committee.” Instead of allowing the director to do his damn job, the studio chose to stick their fingers in every possible pie, leaving a trail of filling that’s pretty easy to follow. This is absolutely the case with Jurassic World: the plot of the film flows in a way that suggests it was shot off of a rough draft, the set pieces barely being strung together. Character development is all over the place, with no real arcs present, and random ones (like a totally pointless love story added in the middle of a fucking action sequence) thrown in for the hell of it. The lead character was clearly written to be Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), but she’s thrown by the wayside for the infinitely less interesting character of Owen Grady. Dearing is a way more interesting character who is physically reminiscent of John Hammond, wearing all white, but who (literally) sheds her uptight facade to help the nephews she accidentally abandoned on the island. Wait what?

The Kids: God, these kids are tough to decide on. I really don’t hate them per say – they’re somehow less annoying and more self-reliant (though totally inexplicably so) than the girl from The Lost World; they’re like a nice blend of the kids from the original and the industrious-but-stupid kid from Jurassic Park 3. Because this franchise has to have a different kind of kid in each entry, this time we find 2 boys – brothers – on a trip to Isla Nublar together. The oldest is a total dickhead teenager who is totally wasted for the first act of this movie because the director thought it would be good for the movie to show him constantly flirting with girls. There are seemingly countless (maybe 4?) scenes in the first 45 minutes of this movie where he’s talking/flirting/eyeballing the shit out of some girl, and then his little brother does something lame, and he pretends to not know him. The entire relationship these brothers have is built on the fact that little brothers sometimes annoy big brothers. That’s it! There’s nothing more to their chemistry. Ty Simpkins (from Iron Man Three) is really good – theres a scene where he has an emotional breakdown about his parents’ divorce that’s really well-acted – but there’s just no reason for them to be a part of this. At least the kids in the original seemed….well, original. Lex was a young feminist computer hacker, and Tim was her younger, dino-obsessed brother. They also served for Alan to have a smaller, full arc regarding his relationship to children and his fear of being a father. By the way, that one, tiny arc in Jurassic Park is more substantial than any character arc in Jurassic World. Even elements are recycled in a transparent effort to try to recapture the spirit of the original – the younger brother is dino-obsessed and Claire’s character has an issue with having kids. Now, when I say “issue,” I mean there’s literally one line in the opening of the movie where Claire’s sister tells Claire that she’ll have kids “when, not if.” This is oddly insensitive, and I’m surprised people aren’t piling on the weird character-driven pressure to have a kid (when that character doesn’t even want them) the way they piled on Joss Whedon for Black Widow’s non-controversy about her being sterile. There are a couple of tacked-on scenes (that really disrupt the flow of the movie) where the brothers share a moment of bonding, so maybe they can live an extra 20 minutes. And if not for those moments, they would move along even sooner, avoiding the near-misses the pointlessly evil Indominus Rex seems to constantly have on them.

The I-Rex: This fucking guy. the I-Rex is basically this movie’s Joker, or Raul Silva, or Loki, or any big-screen villain from 5 years ago who gets himself locked up on purpose. The I-Rex has an arc startlingly (and hilariously) similar to Nolan’s Joker, or even this summer’s Ultron. He starts from nothing, and gradually uses his environment and wits to eventually take over the island. He’s a creature with no empathy or remorse, a point they try to convey for sympathy towards him: just because he’s locked up his whole life, that makes it not his fault for being evil? When you see him born in the film’s opening, he comes out of the fucking egg evil! The thing about making your movie villain into some sympathetic super-genius is that it doesn’t work when you’re supposed to be actively rooting against him. One of the cool things about Jurassic Park was that even though the dinosaurs were eating their way through the park’s weekend staff, you never thought they were bad for doing it. Hell, most of the time the general reaction is “they knew what they were getting themselves into.” Even in Jurassic Park 3, you can’t hate the raptors for snapping necks and shit, because their eggs were stolen! Here, the movie presents the Indominus Rex as a violent, sociopathic dinosaur, one who hunts for sport: there’s a really emotional scene where an Apatosaur dies in Grady/Dearing’s arms, only for grady to look up and see that the I-Rex has killed an entire field of them. This moment solidifies the I-Rex as the villain, going so far as to have a Dobby-esque death for a dinosaur we’ve never seen before just to make us hate the I-Rex that much more. The fact that his entire genetic makeup is a mystery is intriguing on paper, but makes for sloppy action sequences. The dinosaur randomly has new abilities introduced in the middle of fights, leaving the viewer to wonder what exactly in the hell this thing even is. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but your dinosaur villain blending in with trees like a fucking chameleon and then popping out doesn’t give you a sense of “Wow” as much as it does a sense of “Wait, what? Oh, ok, I guess.”

Spared No Expense: Going back to the misguided theme of corporate sponsorship, the movie really feels (ironically) cheap through its use of callbacks and references. Usually shit like this doesn’t bother me in franchise films, especially ones that have major, decade-long gaps between entries, but this film felt like it was just pandering to millennials and fans of the original. Random cameos from Mr. DNA, the visitor’s center, a Jurassic Park t-shirt, the night-vision goggles, etc. seem less like a gentle reminder of the series’ origins and more of the studio shoving imagery in your face and expecting you to geek out. Take the visitor’s center: the entire scene here, from the kids discovering it to them inexplicable fixing a jeep and driving it out of there, it pointless. If this scene were removed from the movie, nothing would have changed at all. It was forced into the movie to add one extra thing onto the pile of nostalgia this movie blew all over itself. Instead of trying to focus on standing on its own two legs, this movie uses the original as a crutch; a means of reminding you every other scene that this is, in fact, a Jurassic Park film and not some SyFy Channel knockoff. Even the film’s climax, featuring what we’re told is the T-Rex from the original, doesn’t sit with me. That isn’t the same T-Rex, in my eyes. Hell, the CGI looks worse in this than it did in any other Jurassic Park movie. To me, it almost seems arrogant and cocksure that a franchise entry helmed by a new director tries this hard; there are references I did like, such as the Dilophosaurus cameo, but they’re too few compared to the ones beaten over your head like a brick.

Phris Cratt: Pratt really does a fine job as the Alan Grant/Indiana Jones hybrid character of Owen Grady. It’s not so much his performance that bothers me, it’s the character in itself. Everything about him, from his insanely simple vest/pants wardrobe to his website-generated name, seems like a Frankenstein of a character. It’s as if 5 different people all listed what they wanted to see in this guy. “He can tame raptors!” “He was a marine!” “He loves his motorcycle!” “He used to date the park manager!” That last point, wherein Grady has a random romantic backstory with Dearing, is probably my least favorite part of the entire movie. I wouldn’t have been so bothered by it if they had established a romantic past between themselves and left it at that, but the fact that they randomly kiss – moments after an ultimately low-stakes but still intense Pterodactyl attack – just stunk. It’s a movie that adds elements like this when it should be focusing on the ones it’s presented.

I think this movie could have been great. It definitely has a lot of great ideas, but that was its downfall here. Too many ideas cooked up, and all of them thrown on screen, merely makes a movie that has no idea what it’s even about. Is it about family? Having kids? Control over mother nature? Corporate greed? Too much of its own shit is just thrown at a wall, and nothing seems to stick. Jurassic World is already a hit among the fans, though; grown adults who openly admit to crying when the one dinosaur ate the other dinosaur really have a lock on the industry. This is a movie designed to constantly remind you of when you were a kid, and you didn’t know any better, and your parents paid for your movie ticket. This is a movie that straps you in a theater seat and pumps raw, cheap nostalgia into your nostrils and and mouth and expects you to thank it. Sometimes nostalgia isn’t so bad, and other times its just a gross, gauche cash-in on the rose-tinted Wayfarers worn by every Buzzfeeding college freshman in the country.

And now: an embarrassing collection of people who admitted to crying during this piece of shit.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction – 2014

Well, here we go.

If you care, there will be spoilers in this post. Not that it matters.

So I really liked the first Transformers. It had a lot of goofy fun action sequences, and awesome sound/visual effects, and it kind of reminded me of Small Soldiers. I say that in two different ways: both the plot and the childlike wonder I felt when I saw it were reminiscent of seeing big spectacle summer movies when I was a kid. 2 years later, the second film comes out, and I distinctly remember having a nightmarish headache afterwards. I also remember my friend Sean looking at me 30 minutes in and angrily punching himself in the head as hard as he could. I remember enjoying the third movie when it came out, but trying to rewatch it later on blu-ray proved that most people I knew were right: it was a long, boring, stupid, loud, hateful movie that took too long to get to the best part, a 9/11-evoking battle in the middle of downtown Chicago. Even that fight scene was bloated, ultimately culminating in Optimus Prime murdering another Transformer as he was begging for help.

So here we are, 2 years later, in 2014. There’s a new Transformers movie out, and Michael Bay seems like he’s starting over. Instead of subjecting us to more Shia LaBeouf/Josh Duhamel/Tyrese/Francis MacDormand/whoever the fuck else, we now have Mark “What’s Happening” Wahlberg as single father and buff inventor Cade Yeager, who has a 17-year-old daughter and a struggling business. One day, he finds an old truck in the middle of a dilapidated theatre (?) and hauls it back to the garage, eventually revealing its true identity: Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. However, the US government also wants their hands on Prime, seeing as they’re on an international manhunt to eliminate any surviving members of the Transformers race, using the events of Chicago to justify it – thus making this film a critique of…something?

This movie is just fucking awful. It’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in a theater. It’s not even the worst in this franchise, and it’s still terrible. None of the actors look like they want to be there; everyone looks bored, as if every scene they’re in is their last day of shooting. None of the writing makes any sense. Things just happen in this movie, with no rhyme or reason. There is virtually no characterization at work; one of the film’s major villains, Galvetron, has 2 lines of dialogue in this movie.

This movie has only 2 things in its favor. Mark Wahlberg’s character has a friend/business partner that gets fucking annihilated in the 1st act. This guy is played by TJ Miller (so I was already rolling my eyes when he showed up), whose character is a surfer living in Texas complaining about how the “waves are flat” or whatever. Why make him a surfer? Does he get to surf down a Transformer’s back at some point? Nope! There’s a 20-minute long chase scene that constantly cuts to his character making jokes, as robots and helicopters blow missiles at but nowhere near the protagonist’s car; when the heroes get out of the car, he gets caught on his seatbelt, and an assassin Transformer glasses the earth, turning him into a weird Temple of Doom-esque magma statue. It’s a rare moment of sense from Bay, who usually would just allow the character to live forever in some sort of vacuum, constantly quipping about the situation at hand as robot testicles dangle above him.

The other thing I didn’t outright hate in this movie was Stanley Tucci’s performance as a tech and engineering pioneer – he looked like he was the least bored actor in the movie, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. His character owns a company that discovered a rare element that molds into literally any piece of tech imaginable. While selling this to the public might be a more profitable decision, he instead is going the clichéd route and turning it into an army of Transformer clones. And if that isn’t stupid enough, the rare element they discovered is called “transformium.”

Mark Wahlberg gets to be buff as hell and sweaty for the entire runtime of the movie, and sometimes he wears glasses because he’s an inventor and he makes shitty little robots. No shit, Michael Bay cast Mark Wahlberg to play a failed Wayne Szalinski. He owns a giant house in rural Texas that’s being foreclosed upon, and is guarded by a little dog that looks like a Poochie and scoots around screeching. This entire movie happened because his character thought he could analyze and patent Transformer technology. How in the hell did he think he could get away with that?

His daughter was played by an actress whose name I could look up but won’t because I’m lazy and her acting doesn’t even warrant that level of attention. In her first scene, she’s getting out of her friend’s Jeep (who drops her off like a mile away from her house) and says something along the lines of “2 more weeks of classes, ladies! Then we’re gonna get so wasted!” I’m not even joking or really embellishing here. If I recall correctly, that’s what she says verbatim. She’s supposed to be 17, but the camera roams along her skimpily-clothed body like we’re supposed to be sexually attracted to her. Mark Wahlberg complains about her hanging out after 8 PM and having a boyfriend in an effort to prolong her inevitable sexual awakening, yet the movie sexualizes her in a way that’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Speaking of her boyfriend, he’s a 20-year-old Irish racecar driver who constantly out-badasses the dad and says things like – again, the actual line – “I’m not here to help you save her, you’re here to help me save her.” You’re twenty years old, dude. Are you fucking serious? And I’m not sure what the point of all of that badassery was, because at one point he’s about to begin an assault to save his girlfriend, and immediately surrenders. Like, the second he runs out, he throws his gun down and says “I surrender!” Maybe this was intentional humor on Michael Bay’s part, but that’s doubtful.

The thing about Bay’s sense of humor is that it’s so immature; not just in the sense that he loves jokes about boobs and balls and poop and farts and disgustingly racist caricatures and sexist stereotypes. He also finds a juvenile humor in things that just aren’t funny. As I mentioned before, during a long and dramatic car chase, Bay cuts to the comic relief stressfully asking if they would get a reward for finding Optimus at least 6 times. It’s not funny even the first time, it’s just stupid. Does Michael Bay sit in the editing bay, laughing at all of the random cutaways he can throw in during epic action sequences?

The way the action in this movie is shot is just fucking awful. The editing makes no sense – during an early car chase, the good guys’ car drives through a restaurant. We then cut to the back of the building, which has a hole in the back of it the exact size of the car. What the hell is this? This movie has the logic and consistency of a Muppet Show skit. In that same scene, two cars are chasing each other, and the next time we see them, they’re in robot form fighting on a rooftop. How did we get there? Who cares! It’s Transformers!

After 3 hours, the movie just ends. That’s the crazy thing about this film series, is that pretty much all of these movies have a big battle and just immediately end with very little closure. Did the daughter get financial aid? Was their house foreclosed on? If anything, more questions are raised by the end. Optimus Prime manages to get dino-Transformers (don’t bother asking for an explanation, because the movie doesn’t even give one) to help in the final battle; once the battle is over, Optimus grants them freedom and lets them escape into the Chinese countryside. Uh, Optimus? Where the fuck are they going? Thanks for doing that!

The biggest issue with this movie is that it asks you to root for a hero that’s actually a bloodthirsty murderer. From the second film on, Optimus Prime hatefully kills everything that stands in his way, and this film is no exception. When he’s battling the aforementioned dinobots for the role of alpha (I guess), he promises to grant their freedom, praising them as “bretheren” and “legendary warriors.” Then, as soon as he gets on his back, he holds a sword to his throat and tells him “you’ll help me or die.” What kind of shit is that? The last line in this movie is Optimus telling his creators he’s coming to kill them. So he’s going to kill god now? What about your Transformers buddies, like the fat one with a beard or the racist samurai character or the one that’s wearing a trenchcoat for no reason UGH THIS MOVIE.

Let me go ahead and say this: I’m not the target demographic for these movies anymore. I never gave a shit about Transformers to begin with; I never had the toys, I never watched the cartoon, it’s all stupid to me. But there were grown men with their children in my theater, wearing Transformers shirts, applauding whenever characters of importance showed up on screen (twice). I fucking hated all of these people. Their enthusiasm bothered me. I’m all for fandom in general, but almost-40 former coworkers of mine who yell things at the trailer for Ninja Turtles are, to me, man-children who take the time they should be using to parent their child to bitch about how remakes are ruining their childhood. I usually stay during at least part of a movie’s credits, but this is the first time in recent memory that I left the theater the second the movie ended. Maybe I’m growing up, but I’m willing to bet it’s more so because this movie is a steaming pile of shit.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

WARNING! SPOILERS FOR “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” LIE WITHIN THIS TOMB OF whatever no one reads this anyway

It’s 11 AM on a Tuesday. I sit between classes and use my laptop, looking at reddit. I usually hang around the Movies sub, where anticipation and excitement frantically build for upcoming summer blockbusters. Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. With each new trailer, positive outlooks grow. But for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, most anticipation was at a minimum – a dull simmer. Most reviews had been out already since the film had released a week or so prior in Europe – they basically reinforced the general blasé attitude film fans had toward it. I honestly didn’t give a shit either way; I actually wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. I had heard too much garbage from spoilers I may or may not have peeked at (I wasn’t really spoiled any plot points, just a few instances of general nitpickery). I knew I would see it, but I was expecting poop. Why was I expecting poop? I really don’t like the first Amazing Spider-Man. It’s just not really good. It’s a pointless reboot that was only made in order for Sony Pictures to retain the film rights to the character, so it felt really disingenuous and unnecessary. The taste of Tobey Maguire’s sweet charisma still lingered on the tongue, and the new suit looked like a weird alternate dimension Spider-Man where he’s a serial murderer. There wasn’t a lot about it that was enjoyable, the stakes never seemed that high, the villain was ridiculous, the characters all seemed one-dimensional, there wasn’t a lot of chemistry between the leads, etc. It was kind of a mess, but it was tolerable. So here’s the sequel, another stab at nailing Spidey in an age where the bar is set very high for superhero films. The origin is out of the way, so now we can focus on expanding the mythology in exciting new directions. I expected more or less of the same as the first movie, to be honest. I went in thinking I would hate it.

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Oh my god, I loved it. Maybe loved is strong. I really liked it. I’m going to have to sit on it for a little bit to decide where to put it between the two. It’s essentially a comic book come to life, and it does things in a way that seems daring in this era of superhero entertainment. To start:

The Opening: This is the biggest issue I had with the movie. The opening sequence detailing the demise of Peter’s parents is meant to tug at heartstrings, but I mostly was rolling my eyes. Already with the goddamn ‘parents’ plot, I thought to myself. In retrospect, maybe the opening was good and my judgement was just clouded. Who knows! I’ll find out after I revisit it.

The Score: So with Peter’s parents out of the way, spread over the Eastern coast of the US, we get our first look at the new suit in action. This is a really incredible sequence that’s complemented by Hans Zimmer’s score. One of the things I liked about the first ASM was the music – the main “hero” theme had kind of a wistful yet hopeful feel to it. This one throws that theme in the garbage, and replaces it with a new theme that I’m deeply in love with. It’s like the hero fanfare in an 80’s movie with a score by Vangelis – it’s somber, heroic, but also captures the youthful and optimistic side to being New York’s 18-year-old savior. The score also does some interesting stuff with Electro’s theme; it’s much more manic and claustrophobic than our hero’s, and embodies an intimidating schizophrenia that the villain exhibits.

The Chemistry: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone knock it out of the park in this one. The “awkward teen not knowing how to ask a girl out” shtick is more or less ditched, focusing instead on Peter’s struggle to stay with Gwen after her dying father asked him not to. You can tell that these two really like being around each other, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out a lot of their dialogue was improvised. There was some creepiness to it (Peter stalking Gwen was….hm) but the constant peaks and valleys explored between them here really helps to flesh out both characters. 

The Suit: I wasn’t crazy about the suit in the first movie – I thought it was way too menacing – but the new suit is probably the best Spider-Man costume we’ll ever get. To that extent, the way this Spider-Man is captured moving on film is exhilarating; there’s a neat GoPro-style shot in the beginning that sets this tone pretty well. Also, Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is pitch-perfect here. There’s a moment where he stops some bullies from picking on a kid and walks him home, asking about his science fair project. He really gives off a feeling of interconnectedness with the people of the city, and it’s nice to have a Spider-Man movie where the cops aren’t trying to kill him every few minutes.

The VillainsA lot of hoopla was made about the film’s inclusion of 3 villains – Rhino, Electro, and the Goblin. “This is exactly like Spider-Man 3,” bemoaned a bunch of people that really should revisit that movie because it’s not that bad and maybe I kind of like it *cough*. The villains were actually handled really well! Rhino is in the movie for a perfect amount of time (Giamatti’s Rhino, while goofy and fun, needs someone who can write a better Russian character than someone who screams clichéd villain lines. I was kind of embarrassed for him in the beginning). Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn is great as well; you get a palpable sense of this kid pretending to be a total prick who never really got a childhood. He’s been shunned buy his father and now is in control of an empire, one he plans on using to help cure his mysterious disease (Chris Cooper, playing his dad, does an impeccable job of playing a character crossed between Howard Hughes and Mrs. Ganush from Drag Me to Hell). He’s the worst kind of entitled sociopath: new money who knows he’s been dealt a shitty hand.

Of course, this brings us to Jaime Foxx’s Electro, who’s getting trashed in reviews. Here’s the thing to those who argue that he’s reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s Riddler: I actually know dudes like Max Dillon. He’s disturbed, a loner, he has some form of Aspergers, he’s lonely. He is obsessed with Spider-Man (I know the feeling, pal). He’s killed in a freak accident on his birthday – which no one remembered (I know, it’s a cheap tactic to make us care more, but it fucking worked on me), and uses his newfound powers to make sure no one ever forgets him again. Electro starts as a goofy eccentric, sure; by the end of the movie, though, he’s actually kind of terrifying. There’s a moment in the third act where he’s staring down the new head of Oscorp for what seems like 5 minutes without even blinking. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him! I actually liked his motivation, and I especially liked that his character got no form of redemption at the end. That’s not sarcasm – I genuinely love it when movies take a poor everyman, turn him into a villain, and then deliver a comeuppance with no bullshit “I just wanted them to remember me” death monologue. It’s hardcore for a superhero movie whose franchise usually delivers some form of redemption for its villains (Doc Ock, for one), and I really enjoyed it. A special mention should go to Electro’s minor foil, an evil German doctor named Kafka who seems like he’s related to Hermann from Pacific Rim. It’s over-the-top, sure, but it’s so over-the-top that I really can’t fault it.

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The Death of Gwen Stacey: So this is a major plot point in the comics, one that was expected since Gwen was announced as the new love interest when the series was rebooted a couple of years ago. The marketing department for this movie (who all need to never work in Hollywood again) may as well have put it on a poster from the get go – apparently there are even TV spots showing her falling with the narration “Not everyone gets a happy ending…” which what in the actual fuck? Anyway, you know she’s a goner. Yet, for the 10 minute-or-so fight with Goblin in the clock tower – Gwen falls a few times to fuck with us – I was actually nervous. I knew it was coming, but I still had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even in early parts of the movie, like during conversations between the two, I would completely forget that she’s doomed & suddenly remember again; this looming sense of dread really got me invested. And holy shit, how brutal that death scene was. I’m amazed they were able to show that in a summer blockbuster as cartoony as this one. Sure, there’s no Departed-style spat or blood spray, but the whump of Gwen’s head hitting concrete and Peter’s web suspending her waist an inch above the ground were jaw-dropping. Very well done! I’m glad Gwen’s death was so similar to the comics – the ambiguity of Peter’s role in it is a little deadened, but that’s fine – and I’m glad that, like Electro, she died before Peter got a chance to say goodbye. It’s insanely cruel and heartbreaking, but it’s necessary for us to care about this character. Also, I’ve said it before, but Andrew Garfield is the shit at crying on screen.

I can’t stop thinking about this movie, especially its ending. After mourning for 6 months, Peter is urged by Aunt May to consider starting his life again, using Uncle Ben’s death as a nice way of reminding us that you aren’t the only one who lost someone, dick. He realizes via Gwen’s very well-shot graduation speech that his responsibility, his purpose, is to provide hope. There is a light in the darkness for Peter, and Peter is that light for so many others. He rushes into battle with Rhino once more, accepting his destiny as a new man, an adult, a hero, an Amazing Spider-Man.

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Spooky Buddies – 2011

Every year, there are countless cheap, shitty holiday movies that are released for kids to gobble up like the idiots that they are, and 2011 was no different. Alongside Thomas the Tank Engine Celebrates Hanukkah and  A Very Ben 10 Kwanzaa, October gave us Spooky Buddies, a rare glimpse into the celebratory customs of newborn puppies during Halloween. Spooky Buddies follows the adventures (or should I say “misadventures?” Hahaha! Haha! HA! HAAAAAAGH) of 5 adorable dogs who have multi-million-dollar grossing DVDs exploiting their shenanigans. These dogs are stars! It’s unfortunate, though, that kids eat this shit up like the sugary, nutrition-free cereal it could be aptly compared to. Spooky Buddies is the Superbabies:Baby Geniuses 2 of children’s halloween-puppy-magic movies. And yes, that’s an insult.

Sigh…here we go.

The movie opens with 5 puppies (don’t worry – they’re terrible basset hounds, not the precocious golden retrievers that are the leads) that are being held hostage in a mysterious castle. You know the situation is dire when everyone in the town of Fernsfield (wasn’t that the name of the geologist in Prometheus?) is in on a desperate hunt to find them.

Don’t be fooled! They’re SAG members!

The reason for the pupnapping? A warlock named Warwick is trying to feed all of them to a Halloween Hellhound, who will eat their souls, in turn granting him power to return to the physical realm and conquer the world. No, I’m not making this shit up.

Lawrence Tierney?

The Hellhound manages to murder 4 of the 5 puppies (they’re turned to stone when killed), but one of them somehow gets stuck between the mortal and nether-realm, floating around the castle as a ghost. The townspeople show up just in time, and banish Warwick and the Hellhound to the Mirror of Eternal Damnation, or something like that. But enough of that shit, let’s get to DA PUPPIES!!!!

No shit – this one is in the middle of saying, “Pshaw, dawg.”

Flash forward to present-day, where the old house is a stop on some school tour of creepy Halloween sights of Fernfield, and we’re introduced to the puppies and their owners. PUPPY ROLL CALL!

Who framed this shot?

The puppies are (in order of cuteness): B-Dawg, the gangsta; Budderball, the jock who eats everything; Buddha, the peaceful, smart one; Mudbud, the dirty one whose name sounds like “Mudbutt”; and Rosebud, the pretty/sassy one that Charles Foster Kane had to leave behind when he was adopted. They’re like a boy band! If that weren’t enough, the puppies each have their own owners, who each share their respective puppies’ personality traits and sexual orientation.

Clearly amazing and focused actors.

The puppies follow the owners everywhere, but for a fleeting few moments, they break free of those invisible bonds and investigate the spooky mansion together. One of the puppies fucks up, though, and manages to release the Hell Hound, much to the aggravation of the puppy corpse that still haunts the house (still not making this up!)

The dog thinks it’s real!

Meanwhile, the kids are wrapping up their tour when one of them decides he wants to do his school project (who wrote this?) on the Hell Hound, and goes with his friends to do research. They all go to the Sheriff’s Station (none of them wondering where the hell their puppies are), and the main kid asks the Sheriff is he can use Warwick’s staff (which looks like it can be bought at K-Mart for $10) for his presentation. “Well, it’s part of a cold-case file…” he says without a trace of irony as he hands the kid the staff.

The kids regroup with their puppies and go home to get ready for trick-or-treat. The main kid (whose name is fucking “Billy,” give me a goddamn break) gets his costume from his mom, who got him a “hip-hopping bunny,” though he clearly said “hip hop rapper,” mom, you fucking bitch.

The kid decides to stick it to his mom and go as a wizard instead, using the staff as a prop, which is a great fucking idea. It’s police evidence, why not! He meets up with the rest of his friends, who are all dressed as public-domain Halloween characters: alien, pirate, etc. Did Disney not want to loan out their own characters to their own movie? Whatever.

Emotions!

While all of this stupid bullshit is happening, two bully kids sneak into the haunted mansion and somehow release Warwick and the Hellhound (wait, they had already been released!) and are turned into rats for being so fucking cool-looking. Warwick then goes on a path of destruction looking for puppy souls for the Hellhound, and wants to get some spellbook or something to complete the whole “world conquering” scheme. Here’s the next thirty minutes of the movie: Warwick has crazy fish out of water hijinks, the ghost puppy gets out into the world and finds the kids, Warwick hypnotizes an entire dancehall full of costumed adults (in a beat-for-beat ripoff of Hocus Pocus), the kids team up with an old man who knows Warwick somehow, and takes them all to a church. Oh, and the Hell Hound kills 2 innocent dogs in his path.

So, the church: this is where the movie takes a pretty serious left turn from Crazytown to INSANEVILLE, because the old man has all of the kids and puppies hole themselves up in an old chapel. The kids are like “The fuck?” and the old man says “No black magic can touch the house of God!” Yep, this is in the movie! Somehow, though, Warwick fucking busts that shit down and surfs in on his magic scepter like “BOOM” and makes the group retreat. And what better place to retreat to than the old mansion where it all began? The final battle begins, as the puppies are stranded in the kitchen area with the Hellhound, who attempts to suck a soul out of one of them but is swiftly defeated (and turned to stone) by a fart. Hooray!

Pure class.

Warwick steals the book from the kids, and begins to read from it, but is blinded by the words. “What….is….this….trickery?!” he proclaims. The girl of the group steps up. “It’s the BIBLE!” She screams, as he falls to the ground.

Okay, stop.

First off, it’s great watching these movies with Bateman because it gives me an opportunity to put him out of his comfort zone and see him react to things in new and fun ways. For example, I’ve never seen him leap to his feet and angrily scream “WHAT THE FUCK?” until this movie! If you’re trying to push some agenda on kids, it’s bad enough. It’s a known fact that the Narnia movies, like the books that inspired them, are allegories for Christianity. But to the untrained/uncynical eye, they’re movies about kids that get weapons from Santa Claus and fight alongside a badass lion! When the extent of you’re movie’s religious message is “JESUS GOOD, EVIL BAD” while breaking the fourth wall, then you lack subtlety and are a bad screenwriter. One of the worst, actually. Ugh, this fucking movie.

Good wins, that’s how it ends. The “Bible” thing doesn’t make me want to summarize anymore. Anyway, it sucks. The whole thing sucks. It’s so fucking bad, but in my mind I thought it would be at least “so bad it’s good,” but GUESS WHAT, every time I think that will happen it’s just fucking terrible. Cringeworthy. The dogs are terrible actors. If you read my review of Superbabies, I said that baby actors are the worst, which I’ll still stand by, but dogs are in an entirely different league. The night before, Bateman and James and I watched Homeward Bound, which (no joke) features some of the best animal acting I’ve ever seen. It’s beautiful. In Spooky Buddies, the dogs just look tired all of the time, and can’t focus, and lots of shots are slowed down because they give the puppies so much fucking dialogue in one-shots it’s ridiculous. The human acting is similarly terrible. Harland Williams, what happened? I mean, you were always fucking garbage, but dude, is cash that tight for you right now? Was Rocket Man not enough?

Nice blurb, Roger.

The movie, like Hocus Pocus, is impossibly long. It’s the longest 90 minutes I’ve ever sat through. So much shit happens in this movie, it may as well have been a miniseries. The writing is terrible, because it’s incredibly lazy. Basically having each dog represent a different type of stereotype (jock, nerd, princess, etc.) makes for shitty lines like “I ain’t scared, dog!” It makes me sad that kids don’t care. The majority of kids that see this will laugh and love it and watch it multiple times every Halloween, while their parents drink themselves to death in the background. I work at a major retail store that manages to sell literally every copy of the Buddies movies when a new installment comes out annually. That’s how popular this shit is. But the worst part of the whole thing is the fact that in the end, this movie was a platform for a stupid fucking religion and some kids will be proselytized. It’s not even thinly veiled or something that can be debated. I have no problem with religion if it’s private and not pushed on me – I don’t push atheism on anyone who doesn’t believe in it. But I do have a problem with shit like advertising the power of Christ to kids who don’t know any fucking better. It’s fucking wrong and evil.

Yay! Spooky Buddies, everybody!

You adorable little bastard.

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