Tag Archives: Sequels

My 2018 Movie Tally: My First As A Dad!

26 Jan

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It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to write my tally for my ’18 blog tonight! Sorry, but I had the Muppet Show theme stuck in my head. Let’s start over…

THREE HOSPITALIZATIONS AND A DUPLEX

2018 was insane. Care for an abridged recap? Adi’s pregnancy was terrible. By March she had to go on Disability due to endless vomiting and dehydration along with twenty other symptoms. In May I was about to go on a “guy’s trip” to Vegas when her water broke and the baby started coming 6 weeks early. A long labor resulted in an emergency c-section. If the next month had been funny, it would have been a true Comedy of Errors, because oh-boy-did-Cedars-Sinai-screw-things-up…we were there for 6 days, sent home for 2, brought back in an emergency for 2 more days, sent home for 4, and then brought back with yet another emergency for 19 more days. And if the details of that are new to you, I truly invite you to read about the nitty gritty right here, it’s not boring.

But wait, there’s more! In the midst of the first hospitalization, we found our wonderful new home, and moved into a scary but wonderful arrangement with her parents. No not living together, but a duplex where we are upstairs and they are downstairs, and it has been a mutual blessing for us all so far….(cue dramatic music)! We moved in just in time for the Jewish High Holidays, and life began to semi-normalize.

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Adi’s nasty pregnancy left her with a few nuggets of poop, as she found out that she would likely require three surgeries to undo the damage of carrying our little terrorist in her womb: one for the worsened carpal tunnel in both her left and right hands, and another for her sinuses. Luckily thus-far it appears she may be able to avoid the sinus surgery, but as of writing this post she has completed the two on her hands.

SO I MARRIED A CLONED NOLTE

We named our adorable baby girl Natalia Rose, and she has blown up the internet ever since. It may be due to her cuteness. But it may also be because people started to realize that I, Boaz Hepner, actually married Nick Nolte. Don’t get the connection? Let me connect the dots in an incontrovertible way.

The following is a photo of Adi (above) and Natalia (below). Can you tell them apart other than from the faded picture quality? I don’t think so. Look, the photos were even both time stamped at 3:27pm, I smell an X-File in the making…clearly “my” baby girl is actually Adi’s clone.

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Now that you obviously agree that Adi gave birth to herself, all you need to see is Natalia’s unique head of hair. Now look at it next to Nick Nolte’s own unique mane.

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Case. Closed.

MOVIEPASS IS DEAD, LONG LIVE MOVIEPASS

But wait, throughout the entire roller-coaster year, there was craziness at the cinema! I don’t exactly mean the movies themselves, but the way to get tickets to the movies went bananas. Entering the year there was the greatest thing for movie-lovers that I imagine I will ever experience, MoviePass. It was like a fleeting dream. The longer time passes the more I start to doubt my own memories as real. “Listen up boys and girls, have I got a product for you! For just 10 dollars a month – you heard me, 10 bucks is all it takes – I’ll let you see any movie you want, day in, day out, no questions asked. Just go to 90% of your local theaters, swipe this magic card, and voilà, your ticket is paid for!” And that wasn’t even an exaggeration, that’s how it worked, and it really did work…..until it didn’t. I knew from Day One of this magical app that it was simply not a sustainable business model, and tried to get everyone and their mother to sign up and enjoy the ride while it lasted; because sure enough by the midpoint of last year the wheels were falling off the cart. In August we switched over to AMC’s own too-good-to-be-true program, and so far other than a small price increase, it has been fantastic. I’m paying 20 bucks a month (okay, double MoviePass but still the cost of under 2 movies) and I’m seeing 3 a week at their many nice theaters. But my favorite thing is that unlike MoviePass, I am booking these tickets and seats in advance. For my entire life I have avoided movies and showtimes that are busy because quite simply there’s always older stuff I haven’t caught yet, and why bother competing for bad seats in a busy theater or finding out it’s sold out when I arrive? (EDITOR’S NOTE: For the many years prior to these subscriptions, I was buying discount passes from each theater to save significant money, but in doing so you have to be in person to buy seats.) But this new program changes everything. I now I use my app, find whatever the heck movie I want that’s conveniently timed, and a few days in advance I can already reserve the best seats in the house. And if I change my mind? I cancel the tickets, it costs me nothing, no harm is done, and the seats are released for someone else. In just the past two weeks we have enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns and A Star Is Born in sold out AMC Theaters, and yet we had perfect seats and paid zero (beyond our 20 dollar subscription for the month). Oh, and one of them was in the special Dolby theater that costs over 20 bucks per ticket anyway, so that one alone justified its existence for the month. So unless the wheels fall off this sucker, we’re riding it into the sunset. (And you are welcome to read my analysis of those two plus Sinemia that I wrote up last August here).

Okay, enough with the foreplay, it’s time to talk about the movies I saw last year, let’s rev up those engines and count those numbers!

SHUT UP ALREADY AND SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

In my previous tally I had plummeted to an all-time low. In 2016 for my first time ever, I went under 100 movies, and saw only 86. I vowed to never let it happen again, and make it a blemish, an aberration in the history of Boaz. But then 2017 happened, and I saw one LESS flick, with a measly 85 as my final number. This was becoming a new pattern as I was bringing life into this world (okay fiiiiine, Adi was self-actualizing the life of her clone into this world, but dammit I was being supportive in my new role as pater familias and I needed my daughter to respect me as the insanely movie obsessed man I am). The year came to a close, and as always I had no idea where I stood as I pulled my bag of ticket stubs out of my drawer to do my annual count (yes that’s how I actually do it)! Like the 3rd act of any sports movie, I knew I could not be victorious, the odds were stacked against me; I had even spent an entire month in the hospital seeing nothing but my annual birthday movie. My most frequent movie companion was vomiting for 7 plus months and often unwilling (okay fiiiiine, unable) to go out. Previous “winners” of being my movie companion (some would meanly call them losers, it’s all a matter of perspective I suppose) had moved away to DC (Josh Baron), Nor Cal (David Mittelman) and even frequent commutes to Vegas (Jared Rubin). I was obviously about to find I had gone even lower than ever…

But wait, what’s this? I had somehow beaten the numbers of each of the last few years, and managed to see…106 movies! I can’t tell you how, it makes no sense to me, but just like the unlimited MoviePass plan fever-dream, apparently, there’s proof – it really happened. So enough is enough, let’s break down the numbers, let’s see who I saw the most with, and let’s analyze the highs and the lows!

My final tally for 2018 in theaters – 106

THE BREAKDOWN

Who I saw the most with:

  1. Adi – 83 movies (previous year 58). If there’s any proof that no good deed goes unpunished, this would be it. I got/forced/begged/manipulated my pregnant wife in the first half of the year, and a then-mother of a newborn in the second half, to see 25 more movies this dramatic past year than the prior one! And let me tell you people, I do not ever take her to a movie she doesn’t want to see. Yes I’m the movie obsessed one, but she actually does want to see the vast majority of movies out there, especially if it doesn’t cost anything extra to see it – thus an added benefit to the subscription models of MoviePass (God rest its soul) and AMC Stubs A-List (yaaaay for now…).What were some of the highlights? Hard to pinpoint when there were 83 to choose from. Let’s go with the day we spent watching a ridiculously great triple feature, where the genres zigzagged all over the map. It began with Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie that was so damn good, and so beloved by all audiences and critics alike, that it was widely considered a shoo-in for winning the Best Documentary Oscar….so naturally it wasn’t even nominated, because that would be too easy. It brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes as I still have proof of how wonderful Fred Rogers and his show were. I was a little boy and loved to help my mother tend to her LA based English garden. I loved watching Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. So with my mother’s help no doubt, I sent him a letter asking if he would ever make an episode about gardening for me to watch. Soon after, when I was not even 4 years old, I received a personal letter by the iconic man himself making me feel special for each detail I had written. This was signed by him, and as cynical as I am about celebrities these days, yes I am confident the letter was really from him. But that’s not even the best part. 15 months later, I received another letter in the mail, this person identified herself as his secretary, and was letting me know that Fred Rogers remembered my letter, and was creating an episode about gardening, that would air later that year, and they wanted to make sure I knew. Who does something like this anymore??? Who would see a child’s letter to their show that has millions upon millions of viewers, responds to it personally, and then cultivate (in the non-digital age no less, with no way to easily keep track of these things), an environment that then took yet more time to tell that same child about the episode? I was not an 18-39 demographic. I was not a Nielsen viewer. I provided no way for them to make any money. I was a child, they were on PBS, and they cared. I cried happy tears watching that wonderful documentary about that beautiful man.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Writing this story inspired me to drive to my parent’s house, rummage through my old files, and eventually find these letters which I now present to you below:mr. rogers letter 1983mr. rogers secretary letter 1984
    Tell me that didn’t warm your heart to read, I challenge you. You can even see where I wet the end of his signature just to validate that it was real ink! Naturally, the movie that followed was Hereditary, a scary movie that involves a tour de force performance by Toni Collette that most critics also demanded be recognized by the Oscars – but good luck finding a horror movie that gets the respect it deserves come awards season. Last year Get Out was the first one nominated since Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Then again, Black Panther (damn fun movie) broke the Best Picture comic book barrier that even the superior The Dark Night was robbed of; perhaps a horror movie’s acting is the next barrier to get through. The film was great far beyond Collette’s performance, with some of the most haunting audio and visuals I experienced all of last year. From that we went into Incredibles 2, because what could be better than watching another Pixar masterpiece after being disturbed for 2 hours? My only regret is that I have not seen the original The Incredibles since its initial release, so it wasn’t fresh in my mind. Nonetheless, this made me love it as much as I remember loving the first one, and Pixar along with Marvel Studios (weird comparison) both continue to make movies that range from decent to awesome, with no stinkers in the bunch. (For the sake of that argument I will pretend Cars 2 was never made, because that’s far more convenient for my point.) So yes, that was a phenomenal triple feature!Here’s where things get weird. In all prior years there were a slew of friends seeing four or more movies with us. Two years ago there were 7 of those friends, and last year there were 9. So how is it that in a year when I saw this many more movies, there were only three friends who went with me to see between 4-5 flicks? Another X-File! (And before you ask, yes, I still wear deodorant!)
  2. Glee – 5 movies (previous year 0). That’s right, from left field, a new contender, someone who had literally never seen a movie with me before; my dear friend from the hospital who moved from working nights to joining me at day-shifts, and as we speak is moving back to nights on another unit. Let’s be honest, she only puts up with me to spend time with her true love, baby Natalia, but anyone who comes over and asks to change my child’s diaper is family in my book. My movie highlight with her has to be The Room. Yes, considered the greatest worst movie of all time, I had never seen it, and time was running out to catch the James Franco film The Disaster Artist about the making of it; so I made a plan, and a bunch of us went to see it with the infamously awesome Tommy Wiseau in person, where we got to take this absurd photo with him and his merchandise…
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    So yeah, it was a truly, hilariously surreal experience; we watched it on the big screen, him right there in the room with us, and then a few weeks later I saw The Disaster Artist in the same exact theater, with actual scenes of the movie filmed within the theater we were watching it in. Are you confused yet?! My head was exploding
  3. Haley – 4 movies (previous year 1). Another delightful friend I made at work. Between work and seeing movies with me, I found out that Haley was acting in a play that she hadn’t told a single coworker about. So naturally, I told everyone, and a group of us from work went to watch her and cheer her on! Listen, she’s obviously shy, and didn’t want the attention, so I’ll just share a photo of the entire cast bowing at the end, and you can’t possibly know which one is her.
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    Our year consisted of 4 movies. 3 were excellent, and 1 was unwatchable (and I almost never use that adjective as you know)! The best of the best was Hostiles. If you missed it, and I’m guessing you did, then run to your Netflix account and make it first on your queue. That movie blew me away. It should have at the very least been nominated for all of the major Oscars the previous year. Christian Bale was great as always. Rosamund Pike gave a performance that still to this day haunts me. She cries in a way I have truly never seen in cinema, and I get heartbroken just imagining it. No this is not a movie for the squeamish, it is extremely savage, and raw, and perfect. Den of Thieves was the first good movie Gerard Butler has been in for years, I expected fun B-movie crap and was surprised to get the next damn good version of Training Day. And Thoroughbreds was amazing. I don’t even know how to describe this other than a dark comedy, a genre that usually misses the mark, hit it right on the bullseye with this one. Best is if you know nothing going into it, as I did, but if you must get a taste, you can watch the trailer here. But wait, remember that earlier word? We also saw the one and only movie all year that I would describe as “unwatchable”. Proud Mary was a piece of garbage that had no direction, provided no fun, and it couldn’t end fast enough. And it’s a real shame since I would think you could put Taraji P Henson in front of a camera and film her doing literally anything, and make an entertaining movie, but this proved that theory wrong. Story, direction and screenplay does apparently matter too. (Luckily for her fans, Tyler Perry’s Acrimony came out a few months later, and was a wonderful and entertaining use of her talents.)
  4. Mayman – 4 movies (previous year 0). It’s actually nuts that I saw absolutely no movies with David (yes he occasionally has a first name) in 2017, because unlike Glee and Haley, David is not a new friend. In fact, not only has he been one of my closest for ages, not only was he a groomsman at my wedding, but he is responsible for my going into nursing in the first place! True story: back in 2008 this guy invited me to meet for a slice of pizza at our usual place, Nagila, and he had a legal pad full of notes in front of him as I arrived. It turned out to be an ambush, and he had spent hours of his time researching not only why I would make a great nurse, but how much it would cost, which schools do it the fastest, how many prerequisites I would need, and many other things that he anticipated (correctly) I would argue and question. An hour later, my very stubborn mind had been opened to a new career from its previous L.A. aimlessness, and I embarked on a new life-path. Between his 2 kids and busy job lawyering, I was thrilled to see that we had actually seen 4 movies together this year, and I’m honored to have him round out my 2018 list.The real story of the movies I saw with David is that 2 of them I had ALREADY SEEN. I rarely take the time to see a movie a second time, but hey that’s yet another advantage of a subscription service where cost is no longer a factor. And wait, by many counts I really saw 108 movies this year, but I have to be consistent, and when I see a movie two or even three times, I only count it once since my goal is to count how many different movies I see in the theater each year. An important caveat. So what were those two movies worth seeing twice? Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Avengers: Infinity War. What? Were you expecting Shakespeare? This is my movie blog, and I ain’t no movie snob. Show me a 200 plus million dollar spectacle that entertains the hell out of me, and I’m in cinema heaven. Sure they were full of flaws, but I enjoyed the hell out of them both. Many hate on the middle chapter of the current Star Wars trilogy, but I for one appreciated all of the risks it took; in fact it needed to take some left turns after the first one was loads of fun, but light on the originality. Although I will admit, I have no idea why this hilariously creepy scene needed to be included, other than providing a #MeToo story for a Henson-type Milk Creature. (For my review of the first two Star Wars movies, read my previous entry here.)
    And then there’s Marvel’s latest flawed masterpiece, Avengers: Infinity War. All of their movies have been varying degrees of awesomeness. Doesn’t have to mean Oscar-worthy awesome, it can simply mean Jeff Spicoli-type awesome, I’m good with that. If you grew up reading comic books, you grew up with a universe that was intertwined and crossed over from one character’s book to another. And only now do we finally have a universe like that in film, where the crossover format of the page has leapt to the big screen, and the results have been…awesome. That being said, I am still more than happy to laugh at flaws and plot holes as well as the next guy, and if you were a fan of this movie and have not yet watched this “How it Should Have Ended” clip, enjoy, and you’re welcome. But the best movie we saw together was actually neither of those double-viewed blockbusters, it was Mission Impossible: Fallout. How. Does. This. Series. Keep. Getting. Better? Seriously. The first 3 of the franchise were varying wobbly degrees of high energy, ridiculous ordinary action blockbuster, with the added bit of adrenaline injection that is Tom Cruise and his real life God-Complex-Death-Wish. You can’t help but enjoy this series a bit extra knowing he does the vast majority of his own death-defying stunts. But still, as I said, those first 3 were fine. But then the most recent two were absolutely magnificent. Every minute of them was exciting. The direction was crisp, the story moved, and the stunts were better than ever. These were as good as the best of the James Bond movies, and Christopher McQuarrie shot to the top of my list of favorite action writer/director options in Hollywood. In fact if you look at the previous movie he just wrote, it was the unbelievably entertaining, funny, and intelligent (also Tom Cruise) movie Edge of Tomorrow. So yeah, this guy is the real deal.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Honorable mention goes to a few friends who saw 3 movies with me: Harwin, who was number one (after Adi of course) each of the last two years, and sadly plummeted dramatically for no reason I can come up with…we happened to bump into him while he was biking in Marina del Rey, he got off his bike, showered (happens to live there), and ran in to watch The Greatest Showman with us – a movie that whitewashes the history of the circus, but does so with such amazing flair, music and Hugh Jackman, that it makes me excited for the upcoming whitewashed Broadway musical adaptation; Jared, who plays poker for a living, and once upon a time was chip leader in my movie tally…we loved getting to watch Molly’s Game with him, a rare great movie about the world of poker. Jessica Chastain and the Sorkin writing are what really make damn good; Mike, who used to also lead the pack in my tally, watched Bohemian Rhapsody with us, and has not stopped singing Queen to his kids ever since. Rami Malek’s performance is mesmerizing, Marc Martel who does the behind-the-scenes vocals imitating Freddy Mercury is magically pitch perfect (watch him here and see for yourself), and all of the concert scenes make it a really fun night at the movies…they also help cover up the fact that the film’s dialogue, acting and direction otherwise are quite ordinary and paint-by-numbers; Nathan, who took a few hours away from producing awe-inspiring videos for League of Legends, and saw the entertainingly ridiculous Liam Neeson on a train movie The Commuter, but balanced it out well by also seeing the spectacularly good Churchill movie Darkest Hour, which resulted in Gary Oldman winning a well-deserved Acaedemy Award last year; Sabrina, who seems to spend all of her time trying to help her clients in Adelanto Detention Center, but did manage to see the highly satisfying Spielberg movie The Post with me, and balanced it out beautifully when we left our spouses at home and went to see the finale to the Fifty Shades trilogy. Remember when I said much earlier that Proud Mary was an extremely rare movie where I would use the word “unwatchable”? Well I meant it. Fifty Shades Freed was ridiculous, pointless, but still fun. And a decent improvement on the 2nd one which was actually, nearly unwatchable; Oh, and last but not least Avish. She only saw 2 with me, but that’s not her fault. The only reason Harwin & Sabrina even made the cut of 3 was for my annual birthday bash in Westwood. Avish was planning to join that, her night was set aside, but we were in a bind. Remember when I mentioned the only movie we saw during the month of hospitalizations was my annual birthday movie? We needed someone to stay with Natalia while she had a feeding tube down her throat, and zero trust in a hospital that had already let us down not once but twice. So she offered to stay so that we could make a rare exit from the hospital grounds and see people on the outside for a night. Boy oh boy did we need it! We saw Deadpool 2, a hilarious Marvel franchise that I pray will remain R-Rated when Disney takes over, as it makes no sense in a sanitized universe. So Avish gets deserved honorable mention for her 2 movies plus sacrificing her 3rd so that we could go. This was the end result:

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AND BAD REGRETS, I’VE HAD A FEW

Seeing 106 different movies does NOT, however, mean I didn’t miss out on any. I looked back and counted 40, yes 40 that I had wanted to watch but missed. They ranged from incredibly crappy movies like Mortal Engines, The Spy Who Dumped Me and The Happytime Murders, to excellently reviewed films such as Lean On Pete, The RiderBlindspottingFirst Man and BlacKkKlansman. There were even a handful of movies where I had watched the previous ones within the franchise, making the OCD part of me not pleased at all; these include Maze Runner: Death Cure, Goosebumps 2, Super Troopers 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, The NunJohnny English Strikes Again, and yes even Sherlock Gnomes. And although I had reached my 1 documentary per year quota (has never been my thing, what can I say), I highly regret missing Three Identical Strangers and Free Solo.

UNTIL NEXT YEAR…

That rounds up my 2018 movie tally. I hope it inspires you to watch a few you have missed. I hope you know me a bit better than you did before reading this. And if I had one wish for 2019, it might be for World Peace; or it might be to make it more affordable to live in L.A. with my family; it likely should be to bring together our horribly divided nation; but instead I’ll use my one wish to see at least 107 movies next year, because we all want the 2019 blog to start on a happy note. (And if you have never seen the absolutely classic Steve Martin One Wish sketch I was mildly channeling, enjoy this nugget of brilliance here).

 

 

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Best. Trilogy. Ever?

23 Jul

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Synopsis: “After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 20 minutes)
The Planet of the Apes trilogy that just concluded was one of the absolute BEST trilogies I’ve EVER seen…and in case it’s not evident, I’ve seen quite a few movies.
Beginning, middle and end, it was just so damn powerful. Yes, for anyone who assumes a big budget movie about simians has to be stupid, don’t judge it by its poster, nor the cheesy fun Charlton Heston films, nor the really mediocre remake by Tim Burton (who I generally love).
No, this trilogy by Matt Reeves is fantastic. The heartbreaking first one Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a tragically wonderful performance by John lithgow (whom I get to meet in a few months thanks to Adi!!!), the great second one Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which shows a hell of an internal conflict among the apes, and now the final chapter War for the Planet of the Apes, which has Woody Harrelson doing a hell of a Martin Sheen circa Apocalypse Now impression.
Throughout the trilogy, the perennially Oscar-snubbed Andy Serkis is PERFECTION as the Caesar. The visuals are flawless, the drama is taut, and other than Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, I honestly can’t think of another trilogy that goes so wonderfully together. (Sorry, I love all of Back to the Future but the third is a huge loss in quality, the drop-off between the first two Godfather movies and the third is astounding, and many others including Harry Potter and James Bond have more than three great movies but they aren’t actually 3-story arcs, they simply have good and weaker chapters.)
Most people I know get annoyed when sequels are made to good movies, and I get that; they don’t want to see something great degrade in quality, so leave well enough alone. And I get that mentality, I do, I just happen to be a movie-LOVER and not a movie-SNOB (as evidenced by this blog), so I’m ALWAYS excited by the prospect of sequels (if I like the original), continuing stories and characters that I have loved and am excited to see continue. Sure, more often than not it disappoints (Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, and countless other examples) but sometimes it exceeds expectations (each subsequent Captain America movie, Terminator 2) and sometimes it’s just bonkers and insanely different from the first one (Gremlins 2 was basically a Looney Tunes cartoon!), but I’m Boaz, and I proudly enjoy seeing what they do with it, and in most examples I enjoy the experience of seeing it play out. A disappointing sequel does not detract from my opinion of a great original. But this Apes trilogy was a different animal. It’s not just an excuse for a sequel, it was designed to have a start, middle and end. Not one part of any of it felt like an excuse to find more material to work with. And man oh man did it fire on all cylinders.
Anyway, see them. In order. Preferably on a big screen with good sound.
Oh, and the way this latest one started with a recap was so simple in design that it amazed me it’s never been done before. Sometimes it’s the little things that go unnoticed…

It was much better than any previous Planet of the Apes incarnation, and just as good as the previous two in the trilogy, which is a high bar.

Quality Rating: A+ (What did you expect from a post about putting it up there with Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings as the best trilogy I’ve ever seen?)

Boaz Rating: A+ (I was gripped from the first to the last minute, it had me laughing the few rare times of humor, and crying at the somber moments.)

Oz The Great And Powerful (“My Take On Eagerly Anticipated Movies”)

31 Mar

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Synopsis: “A small-time magician is swept away to an enchanted land and is forced into a power struggle between three witches.” (Rated PG; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Everything about this movie screams that I would love it:
1. Sequel/Prequel – Yes, I’m a sucker for these. I know, I know…they usually disappoint. So rare that they are as good as their predecessors, and many people leave wishing “the filmmakers had just left it alone and perfect without an unnecessary add-on just to make more money”. Or some rant like that. But I’m of the greedy, “I want more” mentality.  This means that when I see a good movie, I’m ecstatic to hear there will be sequels. Yes, there are many things that shouldn’t make a movie better – and often make it worse – but still give me a built-in-excitement before I’ve even walked into the movie theater. Oz being a prequel to the 1939 classic certainly qualifies.

2. 215 Million Dollar Budget – It also means if I find out the budget is even bigger, I’m excited by how visually stunning it might be (hoping for another Titanic, knowing I might instead be getting the next Alexander).

3. 127 Minutes – It means if it’s a movie I’m already excited to see, I’m even happier to find out it’s 140 minutes instead of the usual 90 (the Harry Potter movies are a perfect example of this).

4. Exciting Previews – It even ties into my wanting to watch previews for the movies, knowing that those very previews will undoubtedly give away too much information about the movies (as detailed in my recent rant about them here). I still watch those previews and turn to whoever’s next to me and say, “I can’t wait to see that one!”

5. Sam Raimi – This isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine, but simply a pleasure. Sam Raimi is a director I love to watch. He created a name for himself making the fun-as-hell Evil Dead movies. In fact let me explain just how much this man loves making movies. He made The Evil Dead on a shoestring budget. It looked low-budget, and was a totally absurd movie, but it was boatloads of fun watching this hilarious horror flick. Thanks to its popularity, Raimi went on to make a sequel, but basically wanted to make the movie that he never was able to do in the first place; and thus Evil Dead II was basically a semi-remake of the original, but looked better, was made better, and was now more of a comedy and less of a horror movie (comparable to the awesome The Cabin In The Woods). Finally he made a third one called Army Of Darkness, which was absolutely ridiculous and hysterical, and added such a huge glob of comedy that you could hardly even call it a horror movie anymore. If you like the idea of a horror comedy and you haven’t seen those movies – run, don’t walk. And although it may be sacrilegious to say, you can start with the second one. Raimi went on to make a very good dark indie (A Simple Plan), an exciting, record-breaking blockbuster superhero franchise (Spider-Man), and another fantastic horror comedy (Drag Me To Hell). Yes, knowing Sam Raimi was behind the helm absolutely excited me most of all.

How was the movie after all of this build-up? Cute. Enjoyable. A really good climax. But overall you wish it was better, and a great – not just cute movie. It begins with a really nice homage to the original in black & white, and I really enjoyed the way they tried to mimic the magic of going from the doldrums of Kansas to the exciting and colorful world of Oz. I need to clarify something at this point: Adi and I saw this movie in 2D, and not the intended 3D experience. From what I hear the opening was quite cool in 3D, and I’m sure we missed out at least a little bit of that. (As for my attitude towards 3D movies in general, I’ll get into that rant another time.)

There were nice winks to the original throughout the film, with characters and moments that you realized would eventually lead to the creation of the tin man, the scarecrow and the cowardly lion; and I appreciated all of those elements. And I’ll readily admit that it was great fun seeing the Munchkins make their big entrance back on the big screen. But there was just something I can’t quite put my finger on that made this movie that was all about magic a less than magical experience. For anyone who saw the Tim Burton version of Alice In Wonderland, it felt a lot like that. It was cool to see with a big budget on the big screen, but it never quite clicked as a great movie even if elements of it were visually impressive.  It was certainly enjoyable enough, just a matter of my high expectations hoping for something…better.

The casting of James Franco as (The Wizard Of) Oz was in large part to blame. I do realize that he was meant to be a charlatan, a trickster, all smoke and mirrors and thus a bit of a weasel; but it’s just no fun watching the protagonist as such a sniveling, whiny brat of a character. I wasn’t particularly rooting for him, and you kind of just wanted to slap all of the rest of the characters for treating him with such adoration and reverence. James Franco played Oz basically the same way he pretended to be an Oscar host in 2011: as a lazy, laid back, uninteresting character who mailed in his performance. It was bad enough that he did it as a host in a live ceremony, but for Sam Raimi to have months to film him, and somehow still think his performance was adequate as a character that kids should be watching and rooting for? It just didn’t make sense to me. (Editor’s note: Ironically, the movie we ended up seeing next was Spring Breakers, a film where I felt that the best thing about it WAS James Franco’s insane performance, as reviewed here.)

That was all on top of another fact that my friend Mark – who works for the Museum of Tolerance – pointed out to me. Franco’s character Oz encounters all of these powerful and truly magical witches in the movie. They had the power of true magic, while Oz was a faker, but yet these powerful witches reverted to their old-fashioned roles of needing a man to save the day. The more I thought about this fact the more it rang true and made me laugh. Even when these witches realized that he was all smoke & mirrors, they still wanted him to rule because of what his image could represent and do to inspire the people in the Emerald City. Really? So these witches who could basically do anything with the snap of their fingers needed a man just to be there and pretend to do things so that people could be safe again? Talk about  going back in time with gender roles!

Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are three pretty actresses who played their melodramatic roles of good and evil well enough. Zach Braff from the TV show Scrubs, was his usual cute and adorable self, as the voice of Oz’s monkey friend (and animated very well to boot). And Joey King was heartbreakingly cute as an animated China Doll. In fact her first two scenes as both a human and a China Doll (that strongly paralleled one another) were some of the most touching moments of the movie.

For all of the disappointment that James Franco brought to the role, the movie was saved by not only its visual splendor and respectful winks to the original classic, but by Danny Elfman’s fantastic score. His music created such an effortless whimsy to the movie, that it’s impossible to know just how much better the movie was as a direct result. All of that plus the fantastic final act, which pulled everything together in a very satisfying way, really gives me hope that the inevitable sequel may actually improve on this prequel. It allowed me to leave the movie on a high note, and although I won’t go so far as to call it a great movie, it certainly should provide a few nice hours in your local theater.

The movie was better than Return To Oz, a disappointing, infrequently-seen sequel to The Wizard Of Oz from 1985. Naturally, it wasn’t even close to the beauty and perfection that was the original The Wizard Of Oz.

Quality Rating: B (The visuals, creative opening and climax made for a solid but not great grade)

Boaz Rating: B+