The last weekend in theaters was another example of the dry spell between winter and summer. Hardly anything seemed like it was worth watching, which is why I was willing to give the new Jennifer Aniston/Paul Rudd vehicle a shot. Normally Wanderlust would be a film that I would wait to see on DVD. It has no apparent ‘big-ness’ that requires a theater, and it is not so monumental that I would be willing to shell out ten bucks to go see it. Luckily I went on a slow night with discounted tickets, so for the bargain price of five dollars I saw Wanderlust.

This film is from the guy who most recently brought us the solidly funny Role Models, and producer Judd Apatow who has his fingers in lots of comedic pies right now. Wanderlust is about two youngish to middle-aged New Yorkers who finally decide to buy property in the city. Or rather, the wife decides and the husband banters a bit before giving in to her demands. After all, she Jennifer Aniston, you get a hot wife you pay the price in the pants department. Unfortunately for the couple, his company is raided the new day before he could get promoted, and she sucks at making penguin documentaries. Naturally the real estate agent is spectacularly unhelpful, and so we see the pair forced to leave for Atlanta to stay with Rudd’s older, cruder brother.

Now there are several things this film does right. It manages to be at least moderately funny throughout, and has a few gems of humor as well. The two funniest moments, not to spoil anything, involve the road-trip montage at the beginning, and a scene with Rudd trying to psyche himself up in front of a mirror. In the first scene the camera work is tight and the interaction between Aniston and Rudd is great. For the second scene it is all because Rudd just lets himself go completely, and ends up turning out something that is humorous precisely because it is so childish and stupid.

Naturally, Paul Rudd is the driving force behind this movie, consistently turning out the jokes and awkward situations that keep the film watchable. The supporting cast does alright as well, but none particularly stand out above the rest. Justin Theroux is okay as the head hippie douche/rival guy, and has moments where he is funny, but never in the effortless way of Rudd. He might be his rival in the film, but in terms of comedic acting there is no contest. Jennifer Aniston is there in her typical role of wet blanket/emotional heart. During the humor it is easy to resent her for not being funny and always bringing down the mood. However, there is not denying that she carries the emotional heart of this film, with an assist from Alan Alda.

Overall it was a good movie, and more enjoyable in the current drought of good cinema. The timing is good, Aniston gets less focus during the middle section so we can focus on Rudd, and the comes back for the emotional stuff in the third act. If you are jonesing for a trip to the theater, this is not a bad watch. Also it is a good date movie, as was evidenced by the fact that every single other viewer in the theater was part of a couple. My buddy and I ended up sitting a few spaces apart, just to make it clear that we weren’t part of the club. Bearing that in mind, you might not want to see this without a date – it’s your call.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is hovering around 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has the lowest composite score out of any movie in theaters last weekend. That being said, is it really so bad? This is the type of comic book movie that would have done alright a few years ago; if it had come out back in that time before The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and the other related films of the Marvel-verse. The frenetic film is a polarized reaction to the criticism of the first Ghost Rider and it attempts to correct all the things that people said they disliked. Unfortunately, in the current glut of comic book films, moviegoers are seeking a higher standard. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance fails to stand up against last year’s crop of superhero films, like the competent and well-made Captain America and Thor.

Nic Cage returned to star in this sequel that is not a sequel to the original Ghost Rider. Much like DC Comics is trying to do with Superman in the new Man of Steel, directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor skipped over another origin story in favor of putting the audience right into the action. This is something they do well. They are the ones responsible for the entertainingly bad Crank films. Their style is over-the-top and energetic, usually at the expense of a good story. The script was written by David Goyer (Blade series, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) along with two writers who have experience in television, but no movie credits. Goyer can be hit and miss, but the additional writers show that his original story was probably altered quite a bit. The story is more of an afterthought anyway, with the action sharing center stage with Nic Cage and his numerous Cage-isms.

Still, this movie is not terrible, despite what many, many other critics say. Neveldine/Taylor (as the directors are known) do a good job of making the action fast and interesting. The effects look better than the first film at half the budget. All of the supporting actors are competent, although none of them really rise above the occasion. That probably has to do with Nic Cage himself. At the center of the movie, and stealing every scene, Cage is at his bombastic best and worst. He really throws himself into the role, which is the special charm that keeps him coming back even when his movies suck. He plays it over-the-top and the directors obviously love him for it. Anybody who ever enjoyed seeing Nic Cage should at least enjoy his performance here.

In the end, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not up the caliber of other major comic book movies. It shares this with Green Lantern another movie that just could not rise to the level of its competitors. However, while the Ryan Reynolds critical flop cost around 200 million dollars, the budget of Ghost Rider was only 57 million. It’s not a summer blockbuster, not a critical darling, and definitely not Nic Cage’s best work. However, if you like action, Ghost Rider, and Nic Cage then this movie is not a waste of time. Use your best judgement, but this one is probably worth waiting for DVD at least.

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

The latest entry in the Mission Impossible series blew the doors off of theaters recently. With nearly universal praise from critics of all sorts, and holding a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the 90’s, this is a movie that demands attention. For those unfamiliar with the series, Mission Impossible was an espionage television series that was popular in its day. It never quite had the huge following that kept other older shows in the mainstream, but the name is fairly well-known. This entry is the fourth movie in the series, and is the best by far.

Tom Cruise returns as IMF (Impossible Mission Force) Agent Ethan Hunt. One of the best things about this series is charting Hunt’s growth from a cocky youth who was in over his head, to the hard-bitten veteran of the recent entry. Ghost Protocol begins with a bang, quite literally as like the other films a lit fuse plays a role in the opening credits. Even more than the other films, particularly the over-the-top second film by John Woo, this movie adds suspense to the numerous action sequences. Despite the main character being incredibly competent, the action sequences are filmed with a tangible feeling of danger.

One scene that deserves special mention is the highly publicized sequence where Tom Cruise scaled part of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. Like the great Jackie Chan he did not use any stunt doubles in the filming. Considering the fact that the tower clocks in at an impressive and record holding 2,723 ft that earns him some major points. Especially since just watching that part gave me palm sweats, and that was without seeing it in IMAX. The rest of the film is similarly impressive, with the supporting cast turning in great performances.

Simon Pegg returns from the third movie as the tech guy and provides a bit of comic relief as well; while Paula Patton plays an agent who is looking for revenge while managing to avoid falling into the role of default romantic interest. After his brief but fun cameo in Thor, Jeremy Renner is subdued dynamite as an analyst who gets swept along on the mission. His character is a refreshing counterpoint to the confidence of Cruise. Although J.J. Abrams did not return to helm this entry, director Brad Bird stepped up to take control. Despite being his first time directing a live-action film, he is responsible for such amazing movies as: The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and The Iron Giant which he wrote as well. Considering his prior work, and Oscars, it is little surprise that he did such an amazing job.

Still, just as much as Bird, Tom Cruise makes this movie his own. Despite the shaky relationship between the mega star and some viewers, the latest entry in the action espionage series illustrates perfectly why Mr. Cruise is famous. Mission Impossible is a franchise that conforms and breaks away from the standard ideas about what it means to be a franchise, much the same way he conforms and diverges from what it means to be a huge movie star. Anyway, love him or hate him, the simple truth is that Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is an excellent film, and the best entry in the series. Do yourself a favor, feed your action craving, and see this great film.

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Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to everybody! Hope that you have a great holiday season.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

This weekend the new Sherlock Holmes adaptation hits the screens. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows pits the titular detective against his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty. The first Sherlock Holmes was a resounding success and an excellent movie. Hot off the acclaim of the wonderful Iron Man film, and before the still good but disappointing Iron Man 2, Mr. Downey brought a new vibrant Holmes to the screen. Continuing off the promise of the first, director Guy Ritchie brings us a film that is even more exciting than the first without losing much of the charm that made it enjoyable.

What makes Game of Shadows fun is the interesting choices the director made. Unlike the previous film which keeps the villain in the shadows by hiding his methods, and despite the title, the audience sees Moriarty from the start. I found this a refreshing change of pace, many films are afraid to keep the villain in the audience’s sight. Seeing Moriarty work made it feel more like an even match between the two men, rather than artificially trying to make him one-up Holmes from the shadows at every turn.

Furthermore, this movie did a better job of letting some of the other characters get their moments of awesome. Jude Law’s portrayal of Dr. Watson was more engaging and realistic than the original, and his moments to shine make the famous partnership all the more believable. When we see how useful Watson is to Holmes, how much he needs him, it is easier to understand why he gives his friend such a hard time about getting married and settling down. Noomi Rapace, a swedish actress famous for her portrayal of the main character in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films, turns in a strong performance as Sim, a gypsy that gets involved in their adventure. The fact that she never is forced to be a love interest only makes her character more engaging, and though she never manages to steal the screen from Downey and Law, Rapace shines in her role.

Stephen Fry deserves special mention as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother. He is hilarious, as one would expect from Fry, but also fits perfectly into the role of eccentric relative. In seeing him we get a deeper understanding of Sherlock’s peculiar nature. British actor Jared Harris plays Professor Moriarty, and does it with subdued brilliance. While he is never the charming scoundrel like Holmes, he does seem every bit as intelligent and formidible. What Holmes brings to the table in erratic genius, Moriarty counters with dependable brilliance. They are perfect foils for one another. As for Downey himself, what can I say that anyone who saw the first film does not already know? Charming, egocentric, and somewhat broken, his Holmes is someone to be admired and pitied all at once. For an action movie, and make no mistake that this entry in the series is very much an action film, the characters are still charming and engaging. Sherlock Holmes most of all.

The plot itself is probably the weakest link in the chain. While not bad by any means, it fails to rise to the level of the characters. We see Holmes trying to stop Moriarty from starting World War I about fifteen to twenty-ish years too early, and Moriarty warns him that he is not just opposing him, but human nature itself. Could such a genius have a better master plan than war profiteering? Probably, but the truth is that it does not matter. Seeing the cast at work is worth the price of admission, the excellent action and passable plot are just extra icing on the cake.

See it.

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NaNoWriMo Attempt 2

Starting on November 1st at 12:00 AM I will be making my second attempt at writing a 50,000+ word piece. As is typical of NaNoWriMo I will only have 30 days to finish. The real benefit of an event like this is to help kick procrastination and self-doubt in the caboose. Something that is very helpful to me in particular, as that is one of my bigger hurdles in writing.

Anyway, after I finish the attempt (hopefully with a success under my belt) I will spend some of December editing the result and then post it up here. At the moment my pending work is shaping up to be in the Urban Fantasy genre. So I hope that all of you will let me know what you think once it is done.

Wish me luck!

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Conan the Barbarian

Before we begin, the most important thing to know is that Conan the Barbarian is not a remake of Conan the Barbarian. Most people are familiar with Conan from one of the many sources that features the famous barbarian: comic books, movies, cartoons, or literature among others. Of those, the most well-known is probably the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite being very different from the original source material it was a solid film, and is beloved by many moviegoers. In an era that featured more than a few fantasy films, most of which were bad, the first Conan film stands as one of the few examples that is still watchable today. Last weekend moviegoers were treated to a new Conan film, one that is very different from the one they might know. Preliminary results are in, and it looks like the most recent entry in the Conan franchise is going to be a box office failure. So does that mean it’s not worth seeing? Not necessarily.

Conan stars Jason Momoa as the titular character. Some of you might know him from Stargate Atlantis, some of you like me might never have seen that show. Much more importantly he played Khal Drogo in the amazing Game of Thrones HBO series. While he failed to blow my mind with his acting, he was competent as Conan and Drogo. Also he really looked the part. Much like Jake Gyllenhaal in the Prince of Persia film, Momoa transformed himself to look like the fictional barbarian given life. Actually that movie is a good comparison for this Conan film, both are watchable films that deliver a fun experience, but fail to rise above mediocre writing and directing. Steven Lang, the ‘bad’ guy from Avatar is the villain Khalar Zym, and Rose McGowan plays his large foreheaded daughter, the witch Marique. Some people out there have been making a fuss about the incestuous undertones between them, but considering the content of the film I think it fits just fine. Finally we have the gorgeous Rachel Nichols as the monk/damsel-in-distress Tamara. You probably know her from the much worse G.I. Joe live action movie. Just a little incentive to see this movie, she totally gets naked.

Actually, on that note, let us discuss boobs. This film has them. With the vast reduction of R-rated films since the 80s, it is sometime easy to forget how many action movies go for the PG-13. It’s a numbers game really, since they say that an R-rated film automatically loses about 100 million dollars guaranteed. Conan really could have used that money with a dismal 10 million dollar opening weekend. As a fan of the original Conan stories that this movie tries to emulate, I have to appreciate the courage necessary to make this a hard R film. This movie has boobs in significant amount, plenty of blood, it even opens with Ron Pearlman cutting a baby from his wife’s stomach on a battlefield. Yeah, that happens. For everything this movie gets right, it gets another thing wrong, in some cases very wrong. Conan suffers from an immaturity that makes the adult content seem cheesy instead of awesome, along with plot holes and clumsy execution that take away from the film as a whole. So between the failures that made the critics hate it, and the objectionable content that made many casual filmgoers avoid it, this film failed to find much of an audience.

Personally I enjoyed watching this movie. It was not necessarily bad, and is totally watchable. With a little clean up this could have been a good movie, as it stands Conan the Barbarian is not going to have a sequel. Considering the box office failure it also makes it unlikely that we will see another Conan movie for a long time. Because of that, I recommend that any of you who appreciate this character get to the theater to get your barbarian fix while you can. For the rest of you this might be worth a watch if you have an action craving, otherwise just wait until it comes out on DVD.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Innovation is a buzzword. In the modern day we are bombarded by media that is trying to snare our attention, usually to get our dollars. Because of this fierce competition, so many ideas are repeated that novelty and innovation have become highly prized, in many cases the most highly prized goal in media. Critics often fall prey to this syndrome, where the greatest thing a film can do is tread new  ground. Often they are so enchanted by the idea of seeing something truly different, that they do not care if that novelty comes at the expense of entertainment or quality. Captain America: The First Avenger is the antithesis of this trend. Much like the hero himself, this movie (directed by Joe Johnston who brought us the similar and excellent Rocketeer) exists to make us reflect on the adventurous and noble spirit of the Greatest Generation. Many critics have and will bemoan the lack of innovation or novelty at any cost, but as for me, I thoroughly appreciated this wistful and nostalgic look at a time and a hero that left the world diminished with its loss. So, on that note, let us look at Captain America: The First Avenger.

Captain America is the plucky and courageous young man Steve Rogers who wants to do his part for America. Unfortunately he suffers from a laundry list of physical defects, but makes up for his literal shortcomings with a can do attitude and inexhaustible resolve. Because of this he is chosen to test a super-soldier serum that turns him into the expression of human physical perfection. This movie chronicles his journey from a confused young man to an all-american hero.

One of the many things this film does right is to elapse time during WWII. Instead of following the typical path of most origin stories, and spending most of the movie giving Cap his powers and then not letting him really step up until near the end, this film shows some of his many heroic exploits during the war. We see Steve go from scrawny kid to walking propaganda poster to actual hero. It is through such a full journey that he really comes alive in a way that no other superhero besides Batman has really done on the big screen. For all that he seems to be a caricature of the ‘typical’ hero, Captain America has hidden and subtle depths that most superheroes lack.

This film is tightly plotted, and while it is not too short like Thor, I would not have minded a little more time spent with Cap and his Howling Commandos on their missions. It was just plain fun. I also want to give another nod to the writing in regards to the romance between Steve and his army liaison Peggy Carter, played by the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Hayley Atwell. Most movies have a lot of attractive girls in them, and this one is no different, but something about her character and style made Ms. Atwell’s character intensely distracting, in a good way. Their budding romance is emotionally realistic in a way that almost all action movie lack. I never felt that the Steve/Peggy romance was as rushed or forced as the one between the two leads in the earlier Marvel summer blockbuster Thor. It grows organically from their interactions and is well-written and handled in a way appropriate to the era.

All the actors really deliver in this outing. Chris Evans originally seemed like a reckless choice for the role and I had misgivings, but he grew on me as time passed. Now that I have actually seen his performance I truly cannot imagine anyone else playing the part. He is Captain America. Hugo Weaving brings over-the-top menace to the Red Skull, which is appropriate. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he did not bring his Agent Smith-ness to this movie. Again, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter manages to portray a capable woman in the 40’s with the perfect mix of empowerment and femininity that fits the role. As for the supporting cast, the amazing supporting cast, I really wish they gave out group Oscars for supporting roles because they bring so much vibrancy it really makes the world of Captain America come alive. Dominic Cooper deserves special mention for his role as Howard Stark, the father of Tony Stark (Iron Man). He plays the Howard Hughes-esque  role with the perfect mix of smarmy goodness and earnest 40’s sensibilities. Sebastian Stan as Steve’s best friend Bucky Barnes, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine the inventor of the formula, all the Howling Commandos, and everyone else is just excellent.

Director Joe Johnston channels his earlier work The Rocketeer as well as the first three Indiana Jones films into his work on Captain America. His world comes alive in a way that feels larger than life, it does not look so much like the actual 1940’s we had, but more like the 1940’s that we might have wished for. His action sequences are engaging and fun, in a very old-school sort of way. He does not resort to choppy camera work to make a fight look more frenetic, but instead shows wide angles that bring to mind fight scenes before the Hong Kong invasion of Hollywood. On that note, it is also really refreshing to see a hero that fights effectively and cool, without resorting to chop sockey moves. Cap is supposed to be a superhuman fighter, and he certainly is, but his style is more boxing and street fighting than wire-fu, a stylistic choice that was spot on.

The music is wonderful! Alan Silvestri did the score, and it echoes some of his best work on previous films. For those who might not know, he did the scores for Back to the Future and Predator among many others. With his fanfares and uplifting elements of the score, Silvestri echoes Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”. During the moments of creeping dread leading into action, something Silvestri does very well, I was reminded of Predator, one of the best examples of that transition in film to the day. The only song not written by Silvestri was the USO tune “Star Spangled Man” which was written by Alan Menken, the man who did tons of famous Disney scores and “Little Shop of Horrors”. This song and dance number is one of the highlights of the film, and also contributes to one of my favorite lines in the film from Chris Evans, “Don’t worry, I’ve punched out Hitler over two-hundred times”.

Okay, so the movie was good. That is the simple truth. Now, that being said, how does it stack up against the other superhero movies, particularly those this summer. Basically it blows them all away, with the only competition coming from X-Men: First Class. Captain America is better than Thor and Green Lantern is no competition. As for whether it is better than X-Men is up for debate, I personally thought it was a bigger film and because it was about one hero rather than a group, it had better characterization. Some might launch a counter argument with the excellent work of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Xavier and Magneto respectively. That argument does have merit, so it falls to each viewer to decide on their own which they prefer. Overall, it ranks among the best superhero movies, and along with the first Iron Man should set the standard for Marvel films. Comparisons with The Dark Knight are pointless, it’s like apples and oranges.

Speaking of pointless comparisons, I have seen a trend among other reviewers to measure Captain America against Inglourious Basterds. Honestly speaking I like Basterds, but do tend to think it dragged a lot during the sequences with the girl who owned the movie theater. Tarantino is a little too in love with his own dialogue, and let it run away with him. Luckily not to Death Proof levels of folly, but it does get long winded. Anyway, just because they both take place during WWII some critics feel that Captain America has failed if it does not tread in Tarantino’s shoes. Beware when reading other reviews, if the writer tries to make such a comparison do yourself a favor and run away. It is like comparing apples and granite.

Captain America: The First Avenger was an wonderful movie and deserves your patronage. Much like Super 8 it evokes a type of storytelling that is different from what we typically see in theaters. It is also essential viewing for The Avengers coming out next summer. Speaking of that film, stay after the credits for a teaser, it was enough to make me very eager for summer 2012. If the world does not end I look forward to seeing it. Anyway, try to restrain yourself from seeing Harry Potter for the fifth time and go see Captain America, you will not regret it.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two is a war film.

Now some people might cite movies like Lord of the Ring when watching the sweeping battles in the last Harry Potter film, and they would not be entirely wrong. Peter Jackson remains a huge influence on the way we see large fantasy battles. I put forth the idea that Jackson was influenced by Ridley Scott’s epics, but then there are Mr. Scott’s influences and so on. The point is that this movie is fast paced and to me it feels like one of those great WWII movies like Guns of Navarone.

Because I was between formats at the time, I never did a review of Deathly Hallows Part One, but one thing I said after seeing it was that the next half would be a very fast movie. I feel that I should reveal that I have never read the final book in the series, so this was a guess rather than actual knowledge of what was to come. I have read the other six books, although I had seen the first three films before I ever read any of them. So when I say that about my guess, it was without certainty, rather it was based on the build up of the first half and the anticipation what I hoped was to come.

Okay, so the film itself. Director David Yates did an amazing job bringing this series to a close. Although he did not helm the series for the entire time, he came on board for the fifth film (which many consider to be the weakest), Yates really delivered with the excellent Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows Part One. Unlike some movies that are split apart, this film really does feel like the second half of one single movie. Whether you like that or not is more of a personal preference than success or failure.

This is one film that really does not need a synopsis. Anyone who has not seen the first seven, all two of you, is unlikely to go see this one. The important part is that most of the characters that we have grown to love and hate return for the finale. Given the war film nature of this there is very little time spent on reflection or slow character studies. In fact there are only two characters in this finale who seem to turn a corner, or at least reveal their true nature to us. The first is Neville Longbottom, who finally comes into his own as a heroic figure, and Severus Snape, who shows his true colors after seven films of flip-flopping. Anyone who has read the books already knows what to expect, but for those of us who have avoided spoilers it is an interesting treat.

Another thing the finale does well is to give the audience reason to question some of Dumbledore’s actions through the series. We realized that he was a puppet master, but only in the end do we get to see how much manipulation he did. To the point that we start to wonder if Harry’s boundless faith is misplaced, a sentiment that Harry never seems to echo. Perhaps that is one of the few weaknesses in this movie, we’ve already seen our hero stand up to evil seven times before. While the stakes have never been quite so high, the real difference between the finale and the prequels is that Harry is not the only person getting messed up. So are we ever in any doubt that he will do the right thing, or the brave thing? No, not really. It really seems like nit picking, but when he steps up in this movie it feels just a little bit old hat.

The supporting cast shines in their last hurrah, but they are underused. The movie was 130 minutes and feels pretty complete, having been split in two, but part of me wondered if it might have been better had there been another five or ten minutes showcasing them. Nothing new from Hermoine or Ron, although near the very end we do see Ron being a little more clever and earning the affection from Hermoine. Given the degree of fan crushes out there (Emma Watson grew up more attractive than the character was supposed to be) he needs a little time to shine so everyone is not questioning how he got her. The core three turn in a solid performance and manage to make the audience care about their struggle.

There are quite a few highlights in Deathly Hallows Part Two. Aside from the great action, which I will discuss in a minute, there are a few small moments that are monumental considering how long we have followed this series. When Harry returns to Hogwarts before the finale and every sees him for the first time, it was a very gripping scene. Also seeing all the familiar faces around the school, staff and students, preparing for battle was a little heart wrenching. People we first saw at age ten or eleven, now grown up into adults or near-adults, essentially going off to war, if you do not feel a little tug then you might want to check to see that you still have a heart.

Okay, so there were a few parts that had been spoiled for me, even though I never read the final book. Because of the spoilers I was expecting a few scenes to be a little more epic than they were in final delivery. So this is sort of warning to those of you who actually read the book, or had someone tell  you what you never wanted to know. Minor spoilers follow, but I try to keep them to general knowledge. If you are worried about it then skip the next paragraph.

When Mrs. Weasley faces off against Bellatrix Lestrange, I have had numerous people talk about this scene being awesome in the book. Unfortunately in this film it takes on a sort of footnote status, lasting only a minute or so, and feels hokey for a few reasons. First is that Julie Walters looks more frightened than fierce, which might be more realistic acting but not what I expected from the mama bear scene people mentioned. Second is that their duel itself was poorly done, it could have been more impressively choreographed. The other part was Harry facing off against Voldemort. While the fight itself was cooler, with a few exceptions as mentioned above most of the movie fights are cooler than described in the book, Harry never really delivered his whole speech about how he pitied the bad guy. Maybe they felt it was a bit cliched, and that would be true, but cliches are not necessarily bad. Because of this we never see more of Voldemort and he ends up being just another monster to be beaten.

Okay, so to recap for you, this film feels like a war movie. It starts rolling very fast and there are hardly any parts to catch your breath, or take a bathroom break. The action is fast and impressive, and we jump around during the big battle in a way that I personally enjoyed. However it does fall prey to the problem of many epic finales, it glosses over many of the smaller characters and the fast pace makes it hard to savor the good moments. Basically it is like being forced to eat a huge pile of your favorite foods as fast as you can, you might like it but odds are that you would appreciate a chance to slow down and savor the experience. Luckily there is a pleasant, although somewhat saccharine, denouement where we get to see the fate of the surviving characters nineteen years later. It provided a nice chance to catch my breath and mull over what I just saw before the movie gave me cab fare and kicked me out the door. Overall it is an excellent film and well worth seeing for fans new and old, but a word of warning to newcomers. You will miss a lot if you never saw the previous movies.

Check this out, you will not regret it.

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Forsaken Movie: Slaughter High

Retro movies are all the rage today. People reference classic gems here and there, and even films that are less than spectacular are remembered more fondly than they might deserve. As far as well-known underdogs go, I could list the usual suspects: Predator, Big Trouble in Little China, Bloodsport, etc. Cult classics that never became timeless blockbusters, like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, but that have amassed a large following. Most of you could find innumerable lists online that feature these movies, so I want to focus on a few of the less visible films out there. This is the first of my Forsaken Movie reviews, focusing on those films that never made it into the word-of-mouth canon.

First up is Slaughter High an interesting piece that a friend recommended to me. This movie came out in 1986 and features a primarily British cast pretending, some better than others, to be Americans. On the surface this is a basic revenge slasher flick where just about all of the victims are pretty horrible people. As we all know the ’80s was the golden age of the ‘Noble Nerd’. Much like the earlier Noble Savage, the Noble Nerd is the idea that the object of social contempt is always a misunderstood person of value. Because that idea is so prevalent today, and in the movies that are remembered now, it is strange to see a film that differs from that view. In Slaughter High the nerd d’jour is Marty Rantzen, one of those nerds that likes to pretend that he is cool to the point where he would turn on someone trying to defend him just to fit in with the crowd. Someone who does not fully deserve what he gets, but still kind of brings it on himself. In other words, the opposite of a Noble Nerd.

Marty is the only ‘official’ nerd in this school, considering that we only ever see the main cast of characters around, this is hardly surprising. Somehow they have a fairly large school for, maybe a dozen students and a gym teacher. Naturally one could reasonably assume this is because of a small budget leading to a small cast, but it is so much more fun to envision this as a school for the criminally insane. Which makes a lot of sense when you see the lengths to which the other students go to torment Marty. From the more obvious case of a girl luring him into the locker room for some fake nookie to the Batman Villain-esque burning his face with acid, this is very much a plot-driven narrative. None of the characters are developed beyond the most shallow archetypes, which kind of works. Without the nuances of good acting or interesting characters the audience is left free to make jokes at the movie’s expense.

For those of you who don’t feel like looking it up on Wikipedia, and because my friend Josh loves when I include a plot synopsis, here is the premise: Marty is the school nerd. Everybody hates him to an irrational degree, the girls and the boys. Leading me to believe the boys are angry closeted homosexuals, and the girls are angry that the only straight guy in school is such a dork. After luring him into the locker room, Marty is prodded in the crotch by a javelin and then shocked by an elaborate precognitive trap. Then the guys grab the naked young man and give him a swirly. Yes, they are face to crotch with him, I refer you to my previous comment about angry closeted homosexuals. After this horrible torment the gym teacher/only teacher shows up to punish the group with lots of low-impact exercise.

Let us take a moment here to reflect on the situation and think about what we would do if subjected to this hazing/attempted homosexual rape/electrical play. I feel pretty sure every single one of us would get the hell out of there fast, or at the very least would stay away from the freaks who came after us. Right? Marty being a genius spends his time complaining to the swirly brothers that they interrupted his shot with the girl who lured him there in the first place. They give him a laced joint to say sorry, while the sleazy jokester rigs his chemistry experiment to boil over. All the thrashing around knocks over of a jar of acid that was conveniently left on a precarious shelf, and the disfigured Marty is wheeled away as the students look on in shock.

I can see their confusion, they only wanted to jab his penis, shock him, drug him, and make chemicals explode around him. Turning him into Two-Face was just a step too far. Then we skip years into the future for a high school reunion at the now abandoned school. Can any of us honestly believe that a group of people would go to an abandoned school for a reunion, especially the site of a place where you participated in the maiming of someone who conveniently disappeared afterward? From here the plot is by the numbers, picking each person off. Acid is a recurring theme, but we also have a lawnmower maiming and attempting hanging among others.

Here is the real kicker, we only see two of the four girls topless, and neither one is the main female character. What a crime! For those of you who know older movies, Carol the lead girl was played by Caroline Munro of ’60s and ’70s movie fame. She played hotties in Hammer films, Harryhausen films, and even a Bond film. Considering she was 37 here, Ms. Munro held up pretty well. Go back and look her up in some of those other films I mentioned and be even more impressed. On the subject of the cast, Marty was played by Simon Scuddamore, a real life nerd/victim. Apparently playing this role drove him into a Heath Ledger-like depression and he committed suicide shortly after the production of the film. Even sadder still is that he will probably only be remembered for this movie, reinforcing the idea of him as a hapless nerd, creating a vicious cycle. No one else is of note, although one guy was in Highlander. Not anyone big, but just thought you might want to know.

For being low budget, and I mean really low budget, this movie is still surprisingly watchable. My buddy who recommended it to me liked to point out some sophisticated use of cinematography and a catchy score among other things as redeeming qualities. I sat through the whole movie so there must be something to that. The plot is paint-by-numbers and the characters are empty clothes, but there is something there that pulls it all together. Slaughter High is a great example of how something can become more than the sum of its parts. If you like horror movies, enjoy seeing films that most people missed, and never feel bitter when the one girl you want to see naked keeps it all on, then check this out.

I hope you all enjoyed this glimpse of a lesser known film. Look for upcoming reviews of Harry Potter 8 and Captain America. If any of you have suggestions for future reviews please mention them in the comments section. Happy watching!

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