Author Archives: Jesse Reed

About Jesse Reed

I am interested in writing interesting yarns and tossing them out there for people to bat around.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie I was waiting for this summer. Especially since Captain America came out in April, the biggest movie of the summer for me was going to be Guardians. This is due in part to the fact that I had read the comic books that inspired the film, as part of my most favorite of all Marvel crossovers, the amazing Annihilation saga. Yes, I am also a huge Nova fan, the real one, Richard Rider, not that new faker. Also, I have long been a reader of nearly every cosmic book that Marvel has published.

A brief history for those not familiar, Marvel has for many years published various comic books that take place in space, with the most famous of the space heroes being the Silver Surfer. ‘Cosmic’ is the term many use for any space-based Marvel comic books. The quality has ranged from pretty good, to really goofy. One of these crossovers plays a very important role in the Marvel movie universe, and that is the Infinity Gauntlet series. Thanos, Infinity Gems, every single character in the universe… it’s what Marvel is building towards, just you wait and see.

Alright, Guardians of the Galaxy is about a ragtag group of misfits that start off as enemies but end up banding together to save the universe. Or at least the galaxy. It plays off the charm of the leading man, Chris Pratt, and the smooth solid gold 70’s hits that supply the excellent soundtrack. Lacking either one of those elements would have made this film merely good, but with both of those it is quite possibly the best Marvel film to date. Although, that is a slightly unfair comparison, because it is also very much not a superhero film. If anything, Guardians is much more like Star Wars or Farscape. Two series that I very much appreciate.

This film just oozes charm. Much like we hear about Pratt’s character Captain Kirking his way into the undergarments of various alien beauties (or tentacle monsters), Guardians does the same thing to the audience. We want to love this film because it’s charming and pretty, and despite it’s shortcomings we really think it has a good heart. The same way we felt about Back to the Future, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones. It’s a lovable rogue. Only time will tell if Guardians becomes the next generation of those great films, but it’s hard to imagine it won’t.

Another factor that makes this film great is that it doesn’t seem to be as tightly woven into the Avengers narrative as the other superhero films. The connectivity of those films are part of what make them amazing, but Guardians is the oddball and needs to fill the role of the outcast among our heroes. If the Guardians ever meet the Avengers, it definitely wouldn’t be as best buddies. These are the weirdos.

Considering that this film is pulling very good numbers, this is probably old news to many. For those of you on the fence or dragging your feet, go check out Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s more than just another entry in the superhero craze sweeping theaters, it is a great film and worth seeing. See you there!

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

The most difficult movies to review are remakes of older films. Especially ones that are not particularly good or terrible, and at the risk of giving the whole review away, that’s the case with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nothing risked, and nothing gained.

In many ways this film is like the original. It tries to mix silly humor with a lot of action and a dash of character building, but where the viewers of 1990 were more innocent and open, that is not the case with the experienced viewers of 2014. The humor here either falls flat or is ‘har-funny’: hardy, har, har.

This is a little unfair to the filmmakers. If we could take a trip back to 1990 we would see critics who were taking time to point out all the shortcomings of the classic Turtle’s film. So, bearing that in mind, we have somewhat unrealistic expectations for remakes of these cult classics. Is it really fair to expect so much from what is, essentially, a goofy kids film?

I think the answer is yes. If someone is going to take on the responsibility of creating a remake of a classic film, then they should accept the unfair burden of high expectations. It is possible to succeed, I think, to create a movie that pays homage to the original while still being good in its own right. Take the remake of Fright Night for example, this film was excellent and while similar the original also could stand on its own.

Unfortunately the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fails to surpass or distinguish itself from the original. On its own it would be a passable action-comedy, if a little lacking in quality jokes. But under our expectations it strangles itself trying to pay homage while also standing on its own, and the end result is a movie that is just boring.

If you want to see this one, go ahead, but maybe it’s better to wait and watch it on Netflix. Just another example of a mediocre remake of a classic film, and more evidence of why the remake trend is something that should come to an end.

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Hercules (2014)


That’s what this movie is about. We are presented with a Hercules that is more human than demi-god, albeit an extremely impressive human in the form of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. His legends are hinted and revealed to be the actions of a very strong and skilled, but still mortal soldier. A hero without a purpose who lost his soul, and the glimmer of potential for something more.

Now all of this is presented in the form of a fun sword-and-sandal action flick. I am very much a lifelong fan of the genre, so if the movie had only gone so far as to present a fun action story based on greek myth I would still have been happy. Luckily, the filmmakers decided to take it a step further and show us the story of a mortal hero becoming more than man.


Alright, so this movie takes place after Hercules has completed his famous twelve labors, so he’s famous to the people of the world. Something happened in his past, anyone familiar with the stories of Hercules would have a good idea of this issue, for the rest of you it involves his family. Now he wanders the world with his loyal band of soldiers as mercenaries. Fighting for gold, but still doing a little good here and there. We all know the drill.

Then he gets hired to help a king fend off some nasty invaders with an army of farmers. What’s a hero to do? Naturally we pull a Seven Samurai and train those guys into a crack force able to fight back. As the story progresses we learn more about Hercules the man, see that there is more to him than the legend, but also less. He is definitely mortal at this point, but much like the excellent Unbreakable we do not know exactly how normal he is or is not.


It means reaching a peak of something, or the deification of a mortal. Becoming the best and then transcending mortality. I think history would agree that the best stories all have this in common. Hercules, Buddha, Jesus, Elvis, Bruce Lee… they all share that journey.

In conclusion, this is the best Hercules movie ever made. Anyone who says otherwise is dumb. Clearly we’re all jerks for not seeing it and boosting the box office numbers, so let’s at least get the DVD.

Well, I’m not a jerk. I can still see it in October because movies come out stupidly late here in Japan. But all of you in America need to make amends, so go check it out when you can.

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Man of Steel Critical Rebuttal

Man of Steel came out in theaters after a large promotion campaign to generally lukewarm critical reviews. Contrary to many professional reviews, the box office numbers and reception among the people is positive. Fans of the film are thankful that the angry professional critic is a very small portion of the population, so the odds of seeing this film prosper are good. Still, no one likes being told that their opinions are invalid, or that something they enjoy has little or no value. That is why instead of writing a review of Man of Steel, I am writing a critical rebuttal addressing the most prevalent criticisms of the film. While it is perfectly acceptable for someone to dislike any film they wish, a critic is supposed to hold themselves to a higher standard. In fact, a good critic should offer their opinion sheathed in an overview that transcends their own personal tastes. Most of the negative reviews build upon three major issues: too much action, too much internal conflict on the part of Superman, and a third act finale that violates the core concepts of the character. Working off the premise that an effective critic is one who looks at a work on its own merits, and within its own genre rather than comparing apples and oranges, this rebuttal will prove that the three major criticism leveled at Man of Steel are invalid and simply demonstrate the personal prejudices of the critic.

We will begin with the idea that this film has ‘too much action’. Of the three major criticisms this one was the most common, yet also the one that critics accepted more readily. This is because Man of Steel is a comic book superhero film. Anyone even remotely acquainted with superhero comic books knows that fighting is not only part of the genre, but usually present in nearly every issue. Action is the driving force of the superhero, and Superman even premiered in Action Comics which was as aptly named as one can imagine. Our first image of the character is him lifting a sedan over his head to foil a group of gangsters. Supporting this idea, is the fact that the last film featuring this character, Superman Returns, was heavily criticized for being too slow and not having much action at all. Man of Steel has a very action heavy third act, which is common among origin stories and superhero films in general. We saw the same structure in The Avengers, Batman Begins, The Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and too many more to name. The idea of having Superman in a light-hearted action-light film is a throwback to the Richard Donner films of the late 1970’s. While his work with the character was monumental, it is the reluctance to let those films go that have hindered later attempts to revitalize the franchise. The show Smallville ran for ten seasons, a tremendous feat for any television show, demonstrating interest in the character. It was a very revisionist approach to Superman and his world, and despite some issues with repetitive storylines and easy drama, it stayed popular. Now that Man of Steel is out in theaters, reaction among the public is generally positive, and ticket sales are exceeding expectations for the opening weekend with an expected gross around 125 million. The action is directly contributing to this positive reaction, and makes for an exciting film despite critical complaints. Most importantly, it fits the character and genre, complaining about the action in a comic book film is like complaining about having pasta in your spaghetti. 

Following the complaints about the action are issues with the emotional journey that Superman takes. Essentially, many critics take issue with his emotional concerns, finding them too adolescent for the 33 year old character. This is a criticism that not only is invalid, but also goes to demonstrate how out of touch most professional critics are with their modern audience. More than any other time in our post-WWII society, people are waiting longer to marry, have children, or settle on a profession. Psychologists and other social scientists have several long theories about the why, but the important part is that it is happening. People are not only less able to ‘settle’ into society, but are now less willing because of the increased importance placed on introspection and personal contentment. The Superman of Man of Steel is 33 years old, and therefore was found as a baby by the Kents somewhere around 1980. Meaning he grew up on the tail end of Generation X and the beginning of what many call the Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. This is a very interesting birth time, because it instills in that group the questioning and brooding of Gen X with the reduced opportunities of the Gen Y groups. Some might say that this is giving too much credit to the writer, but given that we do not know Mr. Goyer’s research methods it is impossible to say. Regardless, the Superman of this film is very modern and fits into his age group perfectly. Critics who complained that his emotional concerns were too adolescent, given that he wanders the world asking ‘who am I’, ignored the fact that on top of his generational concerns Superman is an alien. This is something the film demonstrates very explicitly; in this version when young Clark saves someone he doesn’t get a pat on the back. He does not even get the grudging recognition and support of Spider-Man from his fellow New Yorkers as we see in those films. Instead he is taught to be paranoid by his father, and afraid of a world that would not likely accept him. Can you imagine a young teenaged Clark Kent seeing films like Independence Day and the like when they came out? Even more telling, when he was very young and likely saw E.T. in theaters, or old sci-fi from the 50’s? Seeing a Pa Kent teaching young Clark about fear and paranoia is not even a completely new idea, it was echoed in the Smallville television series. Explaining why it took about six or seven years before he decided to actually become a hero and a full ten before he suited up for the first time. There have been various alternate comic book continuities and such that explored this idea as well. So, the critical complaint that Clark Kent’s fear of exposure, and disconnection from humanity was inappropriate to the character is invalid. It exists in many forms of his history, and fits this version of the character because of the film itself and the age they made him. 

The final complaint is one that some critics voiced, but is the one that was most echoed among those who enjoyed the older Superman films, and might even be familiar with the comic books. They complained about the violent and action filled third act, including the collateral damage, but most of all the problem was with one particular scene. Now, this is a big spoiler for the film, so here is a warning:


[Superman fights General Zod in a major showdown, and after a long and brutal fight he is forced to get serious to save a family that Zod is trying to kill with his laser eyes out of spite. This is the most  blatant issue people have, although thanks to fridge logic (check TV Tropes for that one) many people are also taking issue with what they call ‘genocide’ on the part of Superman. General Zod takes a Kryptonian scout ship that has a ‘genesis chamber’ on board and is planning to use it, in conjunction with a terraforming device to rebirth his race and kill humanity in the process. When Zod uses the ship to attack a plane with Lois Lane and a device that they created to get rid of Zod’s minions, Superman busts in and uses his heat vision to destroy the ship. Of course, Zod warns him that he’ll be wiping out the last hope of reviving Krypton and Superman responds with, “Krypton had its chance”. Before destroying their arguments with reason, I want to take an aside to make a personal appeal: I am glad he did these things. I am getting so tired of the repetitive issues where a superhero refuses to take a life under any circumstances whatsoever. No, I do not want the 90’s anti-heroes who think life is cheap, but neither do I want some hypocrite who thinks that because their hands are ‘clean’ it is right to let villains kill and destroy. Superman destroys the ship in the heat of a fight, and never gets a chance to process it during the battle, not to mention that there are a whole host of arguments about the morality of him destroying the ship. For instance, the genesis chamber looks like underwater weeds with pods that grow babies, but at that point they had not genetic template. They were blanks waiting for data, no more sentient than stem cells in a lab. So what did Superman do? He destroyed the means of reviving his dead race to save the already living race of humanity. Was it tough, yes, but was it right, very much more yes! The living takes precedence over the non-living, and the pods were not alive. As for killing Zod, he does that to save other lives. Some argued that he could have tried to run over and save them, but they are clearly ignoring the situation. He has Zod in a rear naked choke, a very bad position to be in, naturally. Earlier in the fight, Superman is holding his own, but the tide was shifting towards Zod, who was a trained soldier and even learned how to fly during the fight. So, in the first place, Superman did not know that he could win the fight if he let go of his lucky hold. Also, Zod repeatedly stated, in his rage, that he planned on killing every human on the planet, and that the fight would go on until either he or Superman was dead. Finally, he had no outside help, no other heroes; there is not even any kryptonite in the film. No way to imprison or get help to defeat Zod. So, he gets in a lucky position and gets control of the fight, but Zod still won’t listen to reason and is turning his head to laser some innocent people. Lois runs in to see what is happening, adding to the tension by putting her in danger. Superman was out of options, had no guarantees, and was gambling with the lives of everyone he loved, and the whole human race to boot. In that position how could he not kill Zod? After he does it, he falls to his knees and is crushed by his remorse. The next scene takes place after a time skip of indeterminate length, because clearly he needed some time to cope with taking a life, and killing the last member of his race that he knows about. It was handled well, and Superman did what he had to do, proving himself a true hero even when the chips are down.]


No argument, however well reasoned or not, can truly change someone’s instinctual emotional reaction to something. People may love or hate Man of Steel, and with good reason, it is a controversial take on a very iconic part of our history. Superman has always been more important to people than is indicated by his financial hold on media. When a character gains that level of importance, people are extra sensitive about new interpretations. The familiar is a warm comforting blanket, and the new is a head-first dive into an unknown pool. Is it cold? Is it dirty? Is there even any water? We cannot really know until we take that dive. So, see the movie, judge on your own merits, that’s what matters. However, when critics throw their hats into the arena, and want to tell us the objective quality of something, they need to be objective. Man of Steel is not a perfect movie by any means, and has a lot of room to grow. Much like the Superman portrayed in the film, it does the best it can and for most of us that’s pretty darn good.

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Zero Dark Thirty

The controversial Zero Dark Thirty is an interesting film on many levels. Whether looking at the claim to be based on actual accounts of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the cries of pro-Obama propaganda, or the unapologetic depictions of torture. Now we could have an interesting discussion about the morality of those things today, but I’m really here just to discuss my reaction to this film as a film. Is it art? Is it propaganda? Is it immoral? I really don’t care, I just wanted to see an interesting movie, and in the end I did.

Unless you’re new to this world we live in, you’ve probably heard about this film, or at least the subject matter. We have the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, and the ‘War on Terror’. Starting in 2003 we follow the point of view of Maya, a CIA agent who has been working on al-Qaeda related intelligence. She was recently assigned to a ‘CIA Black Site’ which is basically a place where they held prisoners to extract intelligence, in many cases using torture as we see in great detail. Over the course of the next eight years, roughly, we follow her career as she attempts to track down Osama bin Laden.

A particularly interesting facet of this film is that it is very grueling to watch, but can still be completely enthralling. I suspect that if it were dealing with wholly fictional subject matter, many of the primary plot points would be old hat: Maya’s obsessive tendencies, her growing alienation from ‘normal’ people, and the seemingly endless chain of setbacks. It’s all very ‘tense espionage thriller’ only without as many thrills. Because it attempts, to some degree, to follow real events the narrative is constrained and doesn’t spoon feed us the tasty thrills we expect. As something of a fan of the genre, the pacing was close enough to a ‘normal’ espionage thriller to be exciting, but different enough to be attention grabbing.

Okay, let’s talk about the pay off. What’s that? It’s the strike against Osama bin Laden at the very end of the film. Yes, I guess I might be spoiling something for all two of you who don’t remember all the news about killing Osama bin Laden, just like some of you probably complained about Titanic reviews that mentioned the ship sinking. The film’s climax covers the special forces strike against the ‘compound’ where Osama bin Laden was hiding. For action fans it’s a let down, yes we do get some gunfire and even some explosions, but it violates one cardinal rule of action flicks. The ‘heroes’ are not going up against a superior force. Our highly trained SEAL team is going up against three guys relaxing at home with their wives and children. Some unsavory things go down in this raid, and are presented in a very matter-of-fact manner. Much like the torture earlier in the film.

Basically, this film boils down to that expression, matter-of-fact. Or maybe you could say ‘professional’. The emotional gravitas comes from Maya’s journey and sacrifices, but the film does not even attempt to instruct the audience on the moral implications of torture or assassination. Some people will find that repellant, but for me that is what made the film engaging. Call me crazy, but I like the chance to judge for myself whether something is right or wrong, and it’s nice to have a film that allows for that. Can torture be justified? Is it acceptable to send a group of special forces into a home with the express intent to kill, not capture? Most movies would try to answer those questions. Zero Dark Thirty is not the answer, it is the question, and that’s why I liked it. Go see it and judge for yourself.

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Django Unchained

Tarantino’s latest outing might also be his best, or at least his best since Pulp Fiction. If you’re like me, then Tarantino’s film outings over the last years have been hit or miss, usually both in the same film. Working backwards we have Inglourious Basterds which was extremely entertaining until you get to the part of the story centering on the French girl’s theater. Before that we had Death Proof a wildly self-indulgent snore fest, and Kill Bill which was more fun, but also self-indulgent. It goes on, the common theme is ‘Tarantino-ism’ at any cost, even if the cost is telling a good story. Not quite to Shyamalan levels, but disappointing to say the least.

The point of all this front-loaded complaining was because Django Unchained defied all of those issues. Was it stylized? Yes. Did it hurt the story? Not even a little bit.

Dealing with slavery right on the cusp of the Civil War, this is the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Initially a simple business arrangement, the two become fast friends and partners, and later try to free Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from slavery.

Absolutely a film that rests on the strength of strong characters, Django Unchained is wild fun. Now bear in mind that it does deal with slavery, and while not meant to be realistic by any means, it can still be hard to watch. Tarantino indulges his love of gore and bad people, with both present throughout. We also are treated to great music, wonderful scenery, and a sprawling story. Clocking in at nearly three hours, this movie never feels long, but does feel full.

For such a fun character romp, I would be remiss if I failed to single out some of the actors who went above and beyond. Naturally, Jamie Foxx was exceptional as the titular Django, delivering a performance that was soulful and only verged on being ‘too cool for school’ once or twice. Considering how badass he is in this film, that’s a great achievement. Samuel L. Jackson plays the head house slave (they don’t call him slave, I’m being polite) as an unrepentantly evil bastard. It’s pretty ballsy to put an evil black person in a movie about slavery nowadays. Also be sure to keep an eye out for some really fun cameos and smaller roles by famous actors, including: Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, and Jonah Hill to name a few.

With such awesomeness abounding, there are two people who take my prize. Leonard DiCaprio as southern ‘gentleman’ Calvin J. Candie, and Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Both play their characters with hidden depths, with DiCaprio being all charm and flash over a brutally evil core, and Waltz charmingly brutal over a good heart. It’s tough to choose who I think did a better job, but in the end I picked Waltz. While both were wonderful, it was the relationship that we see grow on screen between Django and Schultz that was the emotional core of the film. If not for that then it would have been another Kill Bill, a fun revenge flick, all flash and no heart.

It’s probably still too fresh in my head to fairly claim this was my favorite movie of the year, especially in a year that included The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises. Don’t go see this expecting a measured discussion of slavery, go see this expecting a great story. You’ll laugh, cringe, and cry. In the end what else can we ask of our entertainment. Django Unchained is absolutely worth seeing, don’t miss it.

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Total Recall (2012)

Okay, so here’s the laconic review of the Total Recall remake: visually impressive, but lacks the heart of the original. Now you can go home.

Wait! I was just kidding, don’t go! Some of my friends go to great lengths to tell me that my reviews are too long, so I was experimenting with short form. Stick around and I will tell you why this film lacks the heart of the original, how visually impressive it is, and whether the remake is still worth seeing. See? Isn’t that worth a measly 300 credits?

Have you seen the original? That is the first question to ask, but really not that important. Sure, there are a few in-jokes, some of them pretty funny, that you’ll miss without seeing the original first. Despite that problem, however, the film does stand on it’s own two feet. The story has been changed from being about revolution on Mars to revolution between a strong economic power and the ‘third-world’ in a future devastated by chemical warfare. Now, instead of traveling through space, people ride a giant subway through the center of the Earth. Yes it’s true, but it’s not as dumb as it sounds. Basically it uses gravity to accelerate this subway, called ‘The Fall’, for the first half of the trip and then needs a lot less energy during the second half. Kinda neat, if one over looks the incredible engineering requirements to make a tunnel through the center of the Earth.

Anyway, the conflict is between the residents of the only two remaining inhabitable parts of the planet: Britain and Australia. Britain has become the ‘United Federation of Britain’, and is rich, advanced, and naturally corrupt. Their only problem is lack of living space as population keeps increasing. Australia is ‘The Colony’ and much poorer despite lots of living space, because most of the people take the train through the center of the Earth to commute to work in Britain.

From here it’s pretty similar to the original: guy tries to get fake memories for fun, might have real ones that conflict, lots of chases, and a fight between the evil government and nice rebels. Unlike watching the original, which came out in 1990, as I watched the terrorist tactics of the rebels in this remake I wondered at possible unfavorable comparisons to modern terrorist groups. Bombings and the like, but the movie avoids this moral situation by shifting the focus and also making the government completely evil.

Enough background, let’s answer those three points from earlier. Yes, this remake does lack the human element that made the first Total Recall engaging. Although most of us are pretty sure that Colin Farrell is a better actor than Schwarzenegger, he never managed to reach the same level of emotional vulnerability that we saw in the original. Yes, I’m claiming that Schwarzenegger somehow displayed his vulnerable side in the original, which is why it might be a classic and my favorite of his films. The only other movie where I think he managed to do that was Conan the Barbarian but he was still more relatable in Total Recall.

Because of the differences between our lead actors the journey becomes very different as well. With Schwarzenegger we were never that afraid he might lose a fight or fail to save the day, our fear was more centered around him being hurt emotionally, whether by people he cared about or by discovering it was all a dream. Because Farrell is not Mr. Action Star, we actually do wonder sometimes if he can survive, and so the movie focuses more on survival and success than whether or not the whole thing is real. It plays out like a sci-fi version of The Bourne Identity rather than a Total Recall remake.

While the supporting cast does a passable job, they fail to capture the vibrant life of the people in the original. They combined the Richter and Lori role into one for Kate Beckinsale, and she does fine, but is not as engaging as they were separately. Jessica Biel barely gets any screen-time, let alone development, as Melina. Finally, fans of Breaking Bad will be disappointed by how little Bryan Cranston gets to show off his acting chops. The news is not all bad, I can safely report that the Three-Breasted-Woman shows up, but is played by a much more attractive actress. She actually did make me wish that I had three hands. Still, overall I have to give the win to the original.

Visually this movie is impressive. Everything looks great, although Minority Report and I, Robot did it first and years earlier. Also we have Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel in this film, the win is most definitely with the remake. Sure, Sharon Stone was hot back in the day, the actress who played Melina was alright, but Beckinsale/Biel wins this one hands down. For the ladies out there, I’m sure you all will appreciate Colin Farrell, if he’s your cup of tea. The remake also does one other thing really well: chase scenes. Considering that about seventy-five percent of this film is comprised of chase scenes, it’s a good thing that Len Wiseman manages to do them well. Although the original was visually impressive for it’s time, and still holds up well, the remake does manage to give us more impressive visuals, whether of the computer generated or female variety.

Overall, I have to admit that he original Total Recall is better by far. This remake is unlikely to be a classic, and seems to be under-performing at the box office as well, too bad. Despite coming up short by comparison, on its own merits this was still a fun movie. It never really drops the ball, was fun to watch, and delivered a cool setting. I’m a sucker for cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk stories, and there are not nearly enough movies that use those genres. Now we have another addition to the ranks, so success or failure aside, I’m glad they made this film. I recommend seeing it, if only because it’s nice to see a fun action film with sci-fi instead of superhero elements. After this last summer it might be just the change of pace you need.

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Total Recall (1990)

Long considered a seminal movie among Schwarzenegger fans and sci-fi action enthusiasts, Total Recall is a very important film in more ways than you might know. Aside from its obvious popularity and importance in the Schwarzenegger catalog, the original Total Recall was one of the last major Hollywood films to use practical special effects rather than computer generated ones. So if you go back and watch a lot of early 90’s sci-fi films and wonder why the ones from the late 80’s look better, that’s pretty much why. It took a long time for computer effects to catch up and, although debatable among some, surpass practical special effects. This was pretty amazing at the time, even winning Total Recall an Oscar on top of two other nominations for sound.

Faring even better among film enthusiasts, Total Recall is now considered a classic of cinema. While that statement might cause some critics to roll over in their graves, whether or not they were dead before I said it, it’s actually true. An entire generation of people love this movie, try saying “Two Weeks” without getting several people repeating it back at you while pulling at the edges of their mouth. Personally I think Total Recall is the best Schwarzenegger film, even beating out Predator for the spot. Hey, don’t shoot the critic, I love Predator but I think Total Recall just brings more to the table. So with the remake out in theaters I felt like some people out there needed to know what kicks off this subjective reality extravaganza.

People like to throw around the fact that Total Recall is ‘based’ on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”. While it did inspire the basic plot, we need to give proper credit to director Paul Verhoeven (you might remember him from such films as Robocop) and the parade of writers who gave us the memorable scenes and lines that make this movie great. As you’ll see in my upcoming review of the remake, losing that special Verhoeven tongue-in-cheek violence and humor is a major hurdle to greatness. This film gives us some of Arnold’s best one-liners of all time, too many to name and pointless without the accompanying scenes.

The supporting cast is universally excellent as well. Standing out among the crowd are Ronny Cox (also from Robocop) as the bad guy Vilos Cohaagen, Sharon Stone (when she was still smokin’ hot) as Arnold’s wife Lori, and Michael Ironside as Cohaagen’s enforcer Richter. We’ve also got wonderful performances by people who I only know by their characters in the movie, such as Benny the cabbie, Melina, and naturally Three-Breasted-Woman. Who could forget Three-Breasted-Woman? When they announced the remake all people asked about was whether or not there would be a Three-Breasted-Woman in the film. Just a tiny preview of the next review, there is indeed a Three-Breasted-Woman in the remake. Be at ease, my friends.

Great special effects, hilarious lines, memorable performances, and numerous other qualities make Total Recall a classic. Much like Robocop the special effects still look great and the film is watchable next to any computer-generated modern works. If you haven’t seen this movie then go check it out, if you have and are considering watching the new movie then go watch this again just to refresh your memory. Either way, it’s worth watching Total Recall, whether for the first or fiftieth time.

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The Amazing Spider-Man Editorial

The Amazing Spider-Man is a good film. Let’s get that out of the way right at the beginning. I thought there were many things it did well, and the things it didn’t do well were still decent. It never dropped the ball and brought home a good Spider-Man movie. Considering how disappointing the last installment was I call that a win. So if that’s all you’re looking for, then go see this film, it’s worth the $80 ticket price nowadays. If you’re looking for a little discussion of the issues that led to this film, with some minor spoilers, then continue.

Okay, so many people seem really focused on why they are rebooting this franchise when it’s only been about five years since the last one. In fact this is probably the beginning of a trend in Hollywood. Now we don’t go see Spider-Man, we see Raimi’s Spider-Man or Webb’s Spider-Man. It’s not surprising when you consider the exalted position of the director in Hollywood, versus the craftsman-like nature of a comic book writer working for one of the big companies. Comics are all about standing on the shoulders of giants and adding your own tiny part of the existing narrative. Directors like everything to be their own, and so you’ll usually never see a ‘name’ come into a pre-existing franchise. Don’t like reboots? Well get used to it, with the current explosion of comic book movies we’re probably going to be seeing them for a long time.

The other issue is that, usually, it is much easier to make an exciting intro to a character than a continuation of the story. Sometimes that is not the case, as with The Dark Knight or The Avengers where those films tend to be more well-regarded than their predecessors. In those cases they lived by upping the ante, in The Dark Knight we finally got the Joker, who is the ultimate Batman villain, and in The Avengers we united a disparate group superheroes to form a team. Also, The Avengers is only partly a sequel in the traditional sense, and is more of a mash-up or crossover. We all know those tend to be more exciting, when they don’t fall on their face, so it’s still not a completely fair comparison.

It is much harder to keep the excitement of a franchise up around the fourth installment and beyond. Trilogies are popular for a reason. Film is not television, audiences want a pay-off for their pay-out. So we see reboots of reboots. The X-Men franchise had a similar issue with the release of X-Men: First Class after the horrible X-Men: The Last Stand. It’s not all director vanity either, would you want to be the guy who had to revive the franchise after the last crappy film?

So now we have The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters. Say what you will about Spider-Man 3, because I certainly did, it did well in theaters. This new film needs to do well also, and I hope it does because despite some faltering steps they did one thing very well: Spider-Man. I really liked the him this time around. The actor, the look, the character arc; it was all very well-done. The new Spider-Man makes me realize all the things I disliked about the old one: too weepy, not sarcastic enough, bad jokes. Common sense says that superhero films live or die on the quality of their villains. Generally this is true, like most common sense, but fails to take into account the exceptions to that rule. While Loki was a fun villain, he was hardly original in concept, yet The Avengers was awesome. Batman Begins lacked a strong villain presence, even Ra’s al Ghul was off-screen most of the time, and I loved that film. Unfortunately, the villain in the newest Spider-Man film is not particularly engaging, he gets the job done to be sure, but lacks that spark which makes a great nemesis. He feels like a placeholder for the next guy to come along and really make a mark on Spidey’s life.

Really that’s about all you need to know about the new Spider-Man film. The hero was well-crafted and the villain fell short. It’s an origin story, so I think a strong villain is not as necessary as in later films. Hopefully The Amazing Spider-Man will do well enough to get a sequel where they can use a better nemesis, otherwise we might be seeing the next reboot sooner than we thought. Either way, go see it, if you like Spider-Man then you’ll enjoy the film.

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John Carter

John Carter is the result of over 80 years of trying to get from book to film. Published in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs (better known for creating Tarzan) it is the story about a Civil War veteran that is accidentally transported to Mars. Only instead of dying from asphyxiation or hypothermia, he ends up on a dying world that is the cradle of one-great civilizations. It is a forerunner in the field of science fiction, and credited as the creator of the Planetary Romance genre. Although the books have not retained their popularity, or even experienced a resurgence like others, they still hold a special place in history.

Given the history of the source material, and the length of time since the original had been released, there was more than a little uncertainty about producing a film. Prior to John Carter the only other release was a direct-to-video flop that starred Traci Lords in the main female role. Still with the mighty might of Disney and Pixar behind this film it seemed like a ready hit. Unfortunately that does not seem to be the case. With very uneven critical reviews, and disappointing but respectable ticket sales, John Carter seems likely to follow in the mold of Superman Returns, as a film with such a large budget that even making 350 million dollars is considered a failure. Which is a real shame because there is a lot to like about the pulp epic.

We start with a brief glimpse of fantasy Mars, called Barsoom in the film, and then a slice of the end with Carter and his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yes, that is true to the book. Burroughs used himself as narrator and character in the story who was relating Carter’s stories. Then the majority of the film is from the diary that Carter left for his nephew that relates his wild story. The narrative is enjoyable, especially for those that read the books, but could potentially be confusing to people who prefer their action epics to be splayed across the screen like something from Hustler. Personally I have no problem with a movie that unfolds instead of slamming my face. While the story does diverge from the book, it does so in a clever way that displays the writers (there was more than one) knowledge of the source material. Instead the first movie melds elements of the first three books, and while the ending is certainly left open for a sequel, it also provides a satisfyingly crunchy ending.

Director Andrew Stanton also was the lead writer, and with credits from WALL-E and Finding Nemo he has talent. However his familiarity with animated features does seem to overshadow his ability to create intimacy with living actors. While epic and awesome, John Carter does falter a bit on delivering the personal touch. That also could have something to do with the source material, it was written over a hundred years ago and lacks many of the conventions that are so common in today’s works that their absence is seen as lack of quality. Many of the period aspects are diminished or removed; such as Carter’s protectiveness of Dejah Thoris (the female lead), their love at first sight, and the fact that in the books the Indians (Native Americans for those of you who are so PC that you can’t even remember how that term was once used) are unabashedly the enemy. Despite this minor hiccups, the movie succeeds in being epic and fun.

Lead actors Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins deserve special mention here, particularly Kitsch. They had to interact with a lot of CGI and try to invest those interactions with emotional gravity. Furthermore their personal chemistry was very effective, as they are able to convey interest and even falling in love in the spaces of a few short glances. Kitsch, who played Gambit well, if briefly in the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is perfect for the role of Carter. From his subdued southern manners to always being ready for a fight, this movie nailed Carter. Collins also does well as Dejah Thoris, who in the books is described as the most beautiful woman in two worlds. Naturally a beautiful woman, the movie does well at enhancing that, and also adds to her character in the form of scientific knowledge. While that was downplayed in the original, it does make her more interesting and important in this film.

Many critics took the opportunity to take a poke at the seemingly invincible Disney and Pixar by bashing this film mercilessly. The two most prevalent arguments were that John Carter is boring and unoriginal. Out of many other reviews, I only found one that ever acknowledged the fact that this story predates almost any other science fiction or sword-and-sandal epic by decades. Is it inspirational, yes. Unoriginal, absolutely not. As for the charge of being boring, that is very much to personal taste, but I enjoyed the film in its entirety. Epic and fun, clever and playful, but most of all beautiful, John Carter is a throwback to film as spectacle. Indulge your inner Roman and go see this. The part about following up with a large meal and an orgy is optional.

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