Thursday, May 30, 2013

Movie – Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

The Fast and the Furious films are one of the rare examples where a series of movies has actually improved from the films that kicked them off, rather than demonstrated diminishing returns with each successive movie.  While Fast & Furious 6 is not quite as good as the previous film (2011’s Fast Five) it is probably the second best movie of the series.  There are even more over the top action stunts, improbable events, and a survival rate that is highly fictional.  All of that is beside the point when it comes to these films, though.  Who actually watches them for reality?  I don’t.  Besides, how can you not love a car chase that includes a tank?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hike – St. Sauveur Mountain, Valley Peak (St. Sauveur Trail, Valley Peak Trail, East Face Trail, Man O’War Brook Fire Road)

Somes Sound as seen from St. Sauveur Mountain
How would you like to get away from some of the crowds in Acadia National Park, but still do a hike that gives you great views?  The “quiet side” (west side) of Mount Desert Island features several hikes like this.  Today’s post is about hiking the trails on St. Sauveur Mountain.  It can be done from two different starting points and I will describe both.  Each is a loop hike, so only one vehicle is needed.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Time Off

This is just a quick note to let you know that I will be away for up to a week, and part of being on vacation or taking a trip is getting away from the computer for a while.  I probably won’t watch any movies, either (gasp!)  Since I’ve already reached this month’s goals for the Oscar Nominees, and passed 1,000 films seen from the 1,001 Movies list (more info to come in my May Status post), I also don’t feel any pressure from skipping a week of churning through those two lists.

Unfortunately, right now it doesn’t look like the weather is going to cooperate, so I may cut it short.  If I do get some nice weather then look for some hiking posts to intermix with my current Movie First Sightings and 2013 Big Summer Movies posts.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie – Star Trek into Darkness (2013)

While the 2009 Star Trek reboot film had its flaws, one of the things that was extremely smart about it was the fact that the storyline included the time stream being irreparably altered.  This meant that the filmmakers had rid themselves of the burden of more than four decades of Star Trek continuity.  They literally were free to do any story they liked about the ship and crew.  Because of this you’ll understand my puzzlement when I discovered today that for reasons which, quite frankly, escape me, director J. J.  Abrams chose to remake one of the original Star Trek movies.  And he didn’t pick just any old movie, but the one that many consider to be the most iconic: The Wrath of Khan.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Movie – Back to School (1986)

Back to School was a comedy vehicle for Rodney Dangerfield.  He had been doing standup for years, but his appearance in 1980’s Caddyshack had made him known to a whole new generation of people.  He also became almost ubiquitous in advertisements for Miller Lite beer in the early 80s.  By the time this film came out he was a full-fledged star.  Not a star yet, but one that soon would be, was Robert Downey, Jr.  He plays a prominent supporting role in this film.  It was the first time I ever saw him in a movie.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Movie – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

What with the subject matter in the movie, and with the word “grape” right in the title, it’s impossible not to use the word “bittersweet” to describe the film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  Johnny Depp is the star and he was already a household name when the movie was made.  Also in the film, and someone who I had never heard of before I saw it, is Leonardo DiCaprio.  He plays a mentally retarded younger brother of Gilbert’s.  Because I knew nothing about DiCaprio, and because he did such a good job in the role, I honestly wondered if the young man they got to play the role really did have that condition.  I must not have been the only one who was impressed because DiCaprio received an Oscar nomination for his performance.  He didn’t win, though. Those of you who saw the film Tropic Thunder know why.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Movie – Belle Epoque (1992)

Belle Epoque is one of the few comedies to ever receive an Oscar in any of the Best Picture categories.  In this case it was the 1993 Best Foreign Language Film winner.  It also won nine Goyas (the “Spanish Oscar”), including Best Picture, in its own country.  It is the first film in which I ever saw Penelope Cruz.  She was about 18 when it was shot.  It’s also the first time I ever saw Maribel Verdu and Ariadna Gil, too, but they are not as well known in the U.S. despite the fact that both were in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Verdu as the housekeeper and Gil as the mother.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Movie – Empire of the Sun (1987)

Empire of the Sun was the first “serious” Steven Spielberg movie that I saw.  Yes, he had done The Color Purple two years earlier, but I never saw that until about a year ago.  Spielberg was tired of being passed over by the Oscars because people thought he only did popcorn movies.  He started doing “serious” movies to change his image, although it still didn’t work until he did Schindler’s List (1993), which even the old grumps in the Academy finally couldn’t ignore.  Empire of the Sun is also the first film in which I ever saw Christian Bale, who plays the lead character.  I consider this movie to be the best Spielberg film that relatively few people have heard of.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Video - Spock vs. Spock

Technically, this is an advertisement for Audi cars, but it was so funny that I had to post it anyway.  I have no affiliation with Audi and I get no money from it.  I just thought you might get a kick from it, too.

I'm sure even the loosest fan of Star Trek got some of the references in it, but some of you might not have known what the song was that Nimoy was singing in his car.  If you want to find out, just watch the video below.  (You may want to brace yourself.)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013 Big Summer Movies Schedule and Reviews

“Summer!” – The cast of Firefly/Serenity (they would yell Summer Glau’s name whenever they messed up a line because she reportedly never screwed up herself.)

The purpose of this post is to give you a quick reference for the big films that are coming out this summer movie season.  I will be writing separate reviews of the movies I see that are good enough to recommend, and I will put the links to those here.  If the movie is not good enough to recommend I will add a short review into this post.  Either way you may want to save this post for future reference.

[By the way, you can see my 2011 Big Summer Movies and 2012 Big Summer Movies posts by clicking on those titles.]

Note – so many movies come out every summer, and so many of the smaller ones get moved around or even postponed, that I concentrate on the “big” movies.  These are the ones that are heavily advertised, expensive to make, have big names in them, and/or have had their opening dates scheduled for a long time. 

First, the list, then a little more about each movie:


Iron Man 3
Nothing looks big (maybe The Great Gatsby)
Star Trek into Darkness
Fast & Furious 6

The Hangover Part III
Skip it.  See below.
After Earth
Not horrible, but not recommendable either.  See below.


Nothing looks big (After Earth left a hole)

Man of Steel
Monsters University

World War Z
Not horrible, but not recommendable either.  See below.
Nothing looks big (maybe The Heat)


Despicable Me 2

The Lone Ranger
Skip it.  See below.
Pacific Rim
So bad it's almost good.  See below.
Nothing looks big (maybe Red 2)

The Wolverine
Silly ending hurts movie.  See below.


Nothing looks big (maybe the 300 prequel)

Shakycam in Space.  See below.
Kick-Ass 2
Nothing looks big (maybe Mortal Instruments)

Nothing looks big (maybe One Direction)

May 3rd:

Title:  Iron Man 3

Stars:  Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce

Summary:  Iron Man returns, but how have the events of The Avengers movie affected Tony Stark, and who is this new terrorist threat called The Mandarin?

Review:  Read my review here

May 17th:

Title:  Star Trek into Darkness

Stars:  All the crew from the first film, plus Benedict Cumberbatch and Alice Eve

Summary:  Sequel to the Star Trek reboot with J.J. Abrams pointing his shakycam lens on a reboot of another iconic Star Trek story.  Will it play with fans?

Review: Read my review here

May 24th:

Title:  Fast & Furious 6

Stars:  Everyone from every prior movie

Summary:  Director Justin Lin actually made this a franchise, with each film from number 3 on being better than the ones before.  Can he continue the streak?

Review: Read my review here

Title:  The Hangover Part III

Stars:  All the same guys, plus Heather Graham returns, and Melissa McCarthy is added to the mix.

Summary:  Everyone bands together to try to help one of their own, but their road trip gets interrupted by a kidnapping.  Will this end the trilogy with a bang or a whimper?

Review:  I thought the first one was hilarious and the second one okay.  I literally did not laugh once during this entire third movie.  There are some attempts at humor, but they fall flat.  Instead they try to focus more on the adventures the guys get into, but those really don't hold much entertainment or suspense in them.  This is just an all around not very good movie.

May 31st:

Title:  After Earth

Stars:  Will Smith, Jaden Smith

Summary:  Will and his son re-team for a film, but this time they are in a big science fiction movie where they play a father and son who get stranded on Earth 1,000 years after humanity abandoned it.  The father is injured and the son must go for help.  Will there be too much Jaden and not enough Will to satisfy movie viewers?

Review:  This movie is not as horrible as you may have heard.  Much of that is backlash against M. Night Shyamalan in general, and against Will Smith trying to push his son on the movie-going public in particular.  People expecting to see a "Will Smith movie" instead get a "Jaden Smith movie".  The son is the star and Will just speaks instructions to him.  Unfortunately, Will Smith seems to see his fearless military leader character as someone who would speak and act like a robot and Jaden just doesn't have the acting skills yet to carry a movie as the lead.  This isn't a bad movie plot-wise, but there's just not enough there to recommend it.

June 14th:

Title:  Man of Steel

Stars:  Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne

Summary:  Zack Snyder’s attempt to reboot the Superman story.  Like Bryan Singer before him Snyder feels he has to “fix” both the iconic costume and the origin story.  Will he succeed, or is he making the same mistake Singer did with Superman Returns?

Review: Read my review here

June 21st:

Title:  Monsters University

Stars:  voices of John Goodman and Billy Crystal

Summary:  Pixar’s prequel to their 2001 film Monsters, Inc.  See how Mike and Sully first meet in college and how they learn to become monsters.  Is Pixar cannibalizing yet another previously popular film, or do they have a real winner on their hands?  (And enough is enough; where is the damn Incredibles sequel already?)

Review: Read my review here

Title:  World War Z

Stars:  Brad Pitt

Summary:  Pitt takes on the zombie apocalypse movie genre.  Buzz was good for it until people learned that massive re-shoots had to be ordered to try to save the film.  Zombie fans will turn out for it in droves, but will it bring in the other movie viewers?

Review: The plot was okay up until it reaches the point where they apparently decided to completely change things. From that point on it was completely nonsensical. Combine this with the fact that another director has been infected with the shakycam virus and most of the action scenes were impossible to follow. Making matters worse is that three major action scenes are shot in very low light, combined with shakycam, just to make sure you can't see what is happening.  This film is trying really, really hard to be 28 Days Later, but it ends up being 28 Weeks Later.

July 3rd:

Title: Despicable Me 2

Stars:  voices of Steve Carell and Al Pacino

Summary:  Sequel to the surprise 2010 hit.  This time Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain league to try to stop a dangerous new bad guy.  Will it have the magic of the first film or is this just a cash grab by the studio?

Review: Read my review here

Title: The Lone Ranger

Stars:  Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter

Summary:  Reboot of the Lone Ranger story, but this time with Gore Verbinski at the helm.  Depp plays Tonto, with Hammer as the title character.  Will this be another great Verbinski/Depp pairing (Pirates of the Caribbean, Rango) or will their string of successes end here?

Review: There is a very good action sequence involving two trains at the climax of the movie. Unfortunately, it takes two hours to get to that point and it's about the only thing positive I can say about the film.

Most of the attempts at humor do not work and pretty much every single white man in the film is evil, for no other apparent reason than that they are white men. The one that isn't (the title character) is an idiot. A few other white men who have not yet had a chance to show how they are evil are quickly killed. Every single Indian, Chinese, and black man, however, is noble, brave, and good, all while being betrayed, beaten, and killed by white men. Gee, I wonder why this movie failed at the box office in a country whose large majority of the population is white?

Oh, and Depp simply plays Capt. Jack Sparrow again, just with a "me big heap Indian" accent.

July 12th:

Title:  Pacific Rim

Stars:  Ron Perlman, Idris Elba, and a young, photogenic, international cast

Summary:  Giant monsters from another dimension have invaded Earth and man builds giant robots to combat them.  Anticipation for this film is high, and you should never doubt director Guillermo del Toro, but I just keep getting a Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla feel every time I see the trailer.  Will it be able to sustain itself after the first weekend?

Review: This movie is really silly. In fact, it actually moves into the "so bad it's good" territory for large stretches. I was laughing at several scenes in this film (and not the few that were supposed to be funny.)

A bunch of giant monsters come out of a trench in the ocean so mankind's response it to build 300 foot tall robots to punch them really, really hard? I knew this going in, of course, but I was hoping it would entertain my inner 8 year old boy. Even an 8 year old was rolling his eyes at this.

They say at the beginning that planes, tanks, AND MISSILES (my emphasis) took six days to stop the first monster. As the movie shows, though, pretty much anything can stop them - except being punched by a giant robot. After eventually giving up on the punching, the robots kill them by electrocution, swords, bombs, and...wait for it...missiles launched from the robots.

Another solution is to build massive walls around tens of thousands of miles of Pacific coastline to keep the monsters out...instead of building a thousand feet of wall cap over the trench they are coming out of?  And mankind waits for the monsters to approach shore and destroy cities before trying to stop them instead of just positioning defenses right outside the trench the monsters are coming out of?

But maybe there's a good human angle to the film? Nope. Every character is either bland or an asshole, except for the Japanese pilot played by Rinko Kikuchi, who was also the best thing about 2006's Babel.  The CGI is good, but you don't get to enjoy it much since almost all of the major action scenes take place at night and/or in the rain/water so you can't see much of what is going on.

Pacific Rim is this summer's Battleship - big, loud, incredibly stupid...and unintentionally funny in so many places that you may still enjoy yourself. If you must see it I'd wait and rent it for a buck when it comes to DVD.

July 26th:

Title:  The Wolverine

Stars:  Hugh Jackman

Summary:  Long-delayed sequel to 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  This time around the film is based on the classic tale of Wolverine’s time in Japan and his attempts to fend off an old enemy while figuring out his future.  Is there still enough interest in this character or is this one too many movies with Wolverine in it?

Review:  I was conflicted on how to rate this film. On the one hand, the first hour and forty minutes were mostly a good movie. On the other hand, the last fifteen minutes were completely silly. The ending is the part of the film that leaves the most lasting impression when you are done with it, though.

We get something a little different in this movie: a superhero character study. It's a good look at the burdens Logan carries around with him. Yes, there are a few action sequences (complete with heavy shakycam) thrown in here and there, but by and large it's a quieter, more thoughtful movie than you may expect. Then in the last 15 minutes they completely undo everything with all kinds of silliness regarding both the adamantium in Logan, as well as what you can do with it in general.

Also, there is a credits sequence that creates yet another continuity problem with the X-Men movies.

So, I really wish that the writers could have come up with any other way to end the movie than the one they chose. Had they done so, this would have gotten a high enough rating for me to recommend it.

August 9th:

Title:  Elysium

Stars:  Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley

Summary:  A space station holds all the rich people, while the Earth is where all the poor live.  Can one man rectify this situation?  This is director Neill Blomkamp’s first film since 2009’s District 9.  That movie was much loved by critics, but was only a modest success at the box office.  Has there been enough growth in his fan base since then to make this a hit, or will this film be his “sophomore slump”?

Review:  Elysium, aka Shakycam in Space, had a decent concept, but a poor execution. Jodie Foster was completely wasted and out of place in her role. The entire plot point of changing code was silly because it can simply be changed back in a matter of seconds by going to the last backup. And the shakycam levels in the quiet parts of the film were set to "earthquake", while during the action sequences they were set to "paint mixer". There was a 10 minute stretch in the middle of the movie where I literally could not tell you a single thing that happened. I'm assuming some people died because those characters never showed up again, but you couldn't prove it by me.

August 16th:

Title:  Kick-Ass 2

Stars:  Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Summary:  Sequel to the fantastic 2010 film Kick-Ass with the title character and Hit Girl returning to combat the threat of the Red Mist.  This time around they have a whole team of other heroes to help them, but Red Mist has countered with a team of villains.  Will this be as great as the first one, or is the release date change from late June to mid-August a bad sign that the studio doubts the box office potential of this film?

Review: Read my review here

Friday, May 3, 2013

Movie – Iron Man 3 (2013)

I’ll answer the biggest Iron Man 3 question that all of you want to know the answer to: yes, there is a post-credits scene.  What’s that?  That’s not the question you had?  You want to know how this movie stacks up to the first two Iron Man movies, and to The Avengers?  Well, Iron Man 3 is a big improvement over Iron Man 2.  I would still pick the first Iron Man as the best of the three, but the third one is almost as good.  And no, it’s not going to touch The Avengers on how entertaining it is.  However, considering that The Avengers is the best superhero movie yet made, and that Iron Man is one of the best, saying that Iron Man 3 is not as good as them still leaves a lot of room for a really fun movie.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April Movie Status

I saw 68 movies in the month of April, plus 3 movie re-watches.  I mentioned last month that my goal for April in regards to the 1,001 Movies list was to get my remaining blocks of 100 (101-800) all under 20 unwatched in order to balance things out better.  I was able to achieve that.  I also discovered that I was not done with entries that were more than 2 ½ hours long like I had said last month; in April I found two more 3 hour long movies I had not seen and promptly watched them.

I’m not sure if I’m going to try to knock off more short term goals in May.  I should pass 1,000 entries seen at some point during the month.  (I’m at 986 as I post this.)  I might just continue to try to balance out the remaining blocks of 100 or I might decide to finish off the 1930s (6 entries) and 1940s (12 entries) during the month.  I haven’t decided.  It might come down to whether or not Netflix ever sends me Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) that has been sitting at #1 in my queue in “Very Long Wait” status for close to 8 weeks now.  Without it I cannot complete the 1930s.

As for the Oscar Best Picture nominees, I continued to plug away at them in April.  I stalled out on a nearly 3 hour long tearjerker made for the women who were at home during World War II – Since You Went Away (1944).  It sat there for over a week before I watched it.  I did finally bite the bullet and watch the more than 4 hour long Cleopatra (1963), though.

For May I might try to complete the 1960s (4 nominees left) and the 1950s (5 nominees left).  Two more movies after that would make me complete from 1945 – up.  Prior to 1945 they had 10 nominees per year, so I have more gaps from that point and earlier.

Here are the 68 new movies I saw in April.  Highlighted movies are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.  I will single out the four and five star films, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

1,001 Movies (49): Jules and Jim (1962), Badlands (1973), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), In the Realm of the Senses (1976), Kes (1969), The Man from Laramie (1955), The Paleface (1948), Johnny Guitar (1954), Silver Lode (1954), Spring in a Small Town (1948), The Music Room (1958), Shaft (1971), The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978), Ride Lonesome (1959), Ariel (1988), Satyricon (1969), Faces (1968), The Saragossa Manuscript (1965), The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972), Fox and His Friends (1975), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), Wanda (1971), Klute (1971), Red Desert (1964), The Killers (1946), Targets (1968), Bigger Than Life (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Ladies Man (1961), Le Boucher (1970), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Gimme Shelter (1970), Story of Women (1988), Written on the Wind (1956), Eyes Without a Face (1960), The Wrong Man (1956), Contempt (1963), Barren Lives (1963), Gertrud (1964), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Ashes and Diamonds (1958), The Conformist (1970), La Notte (1961), L’Avventura (1960), L’Eclisse (1961), Pierrot le Fou (1965), The Bigamist (1953), Shadows (1959), Forbidden Games (1952)

Oscar Nominees (7): Anchors Aweigh (1945), Johnny Belinda (1948), The Yearling (1946), Cleopatra (1963), Since You Went Away (1944), In Which We Serve (1942), Watch on the Rhine (1943)

Other Movies (12): We Bought a Zoo (2011), Get Low (2009), The Secret World of Arietty (2010), Summer Lover (2008), Bachelorette (2012), Too Big to Fail (2011), Shallow Grave (1994), New Year’s Eve (2011), Valentine’s Day (2010), Topkapi (1964), Gog (1954), Castaway (1986)

Re-watches (3): Night of the Comet (1984), The Lost Boys (1987), The Insatiable (2007)

TV Series (0):

I had one five star film in April and that was Gimme Shelter (1970).  When I decided to see all the films in the 1,001 Movies list I had already seen almost half on my own.  As I watched more and more of the remaining ones I gave up hope of ever finding another great entry from the list.  Sure, I’ve seen a number of four star movies since beginning, but I figured I must have already seen all of the very best films already.  Then after having watched around 450 more films from the list I finally encountered one I would rate at five stars.  Gimme Shelter has great music in it, and not just The Rolling Stones, but also Ike and Tina Turner and others.  The thing is, this is far more than just a concert film.  It is nothing less than a recording of the death of the hippy ideal of peace, love, and understanding.  You are there as it happens.  Seeing the events that occurred at Altamont at the very end of the 1960s was sobering, but what added an extra level to it all was seeing the reactions of the Stones as they were watching tape of the concert footage at a later date.

My four star films in April were Johnny Belinda (1948), Shaft (1971), The Secret World of Arietty (2010), Too Big to Fail (2011), and Smiles of a Summer Night (1955).    

Johnny Belinda is a movie about a deaf/mute woman in a small fishing village.  She is befriended and taught sign language by a doctor.  Jane Wyman won an Oscar for her performance.  Her character has bad things that happen to her and her family, though.  I should note that I was surprised that a 1948 film took on one of the topics in this movie.  I won’t spoil what it is.

Shaft is the original black action hero.  (I’m talking about the Richard Roundtree version, not the remake with Samuel L. Jackson.  If you’ve seen it, try to scrub it from your brain.)  Shaft was probably the most mainstream entry I had left on the list and it delivered for me.

The Secret World of Arietty is another winner from Studio Ghibli.  Miyazaki didn’t direct this, but he did write the screenplay, adapting it from the classic children’s book The Borrowers.

Too Big to Fail is a re-telling of the near economic collapse that occurred at the end of George W. Bush’s second term as President, and his subsequent bailout of the banks.  There are quite a few high-powered actors and actresses in the movie.  It was done by HBO and in many ways it reminded me of their 1993 film And the Band Played On about the unchecked rise of AIDS in the U.S. in the 1980s while Ronald Reagan did nothing.

Smiles of a Summer Night presented me with two things I thought I would never see: 1. A Bergman film that wasn’t about death and despair; and 2. A Bergman film that is not only humorous, but that also has some naughty fun while it is at it.  It reminded me in some ways of Max Ophuls’ early 1950s films La Ronde and Le Plaisir.  This is easily my favorite from among the 10-12 films of Bergman’s I have seen.

The 1,001 Movies list is reliable for providing me with at least one 1 star movie every month.  In April I had two.  They were Satyricon (1969) and Wanda (1971).  I probably would have watched Satyricon (aka Fellini’s Satyricon) at some point from sheer curiosity regardless of whether it was on the list or not.  I found out it was just terrible.  And no, I was not offended by it.  It was simply pointless, other than “Hey!  Look what we can get away with now that movie censors are going away!” 

I had never even heard of Wanda before seeing it.  It follows the aimless wanderings (get the pun in the title?) of an aimless woman.  She doesn’t even have hippy ideals of “dropping out” of life.  She is just the single most apathetic person – man or woman – I have ever seen in a movie.  Does this sound like the makings of an interesting movie, especially when she is in nearly every shot?  Yes, it is supposed to be a feminist movie, but other than the fact that a woman wrote, directed, and stars in it, it is hardly feminist.  It is far from a positive portrayal of women or their struggles.  In fact, if a man had made it I’m sure there would be cries of misogyny.  Any way you slice it, I felt it was a bad movie.