Summer Moviethon 2016: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

June 25: #14, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Not even Megan Fox in a short skirt can save this festering turd.

Very early in the sequel to 2014's TMNT reboot, there's an incredibly contrived scene where Megan Fox's April O'Neil puts on her best 90s rock video starlet strut, snatches a plaid skirt off a rack without breaking stride, puts it on over her pants and ties her top to show off her mid-riff. It's something that would work very well set to Warrant's "Cherry Pie" and immediately comes off as pandering. Or maybe someone involved in the film's production pointed out to director Dave Green that Megan Fox is in the movie, and they should probably have her show some skin.

At least, that's what I thought at first. Then, I realized that it was in fact a preemptive apology. Like, "Hey, this is going to be a really shitty movie, so here's Megan Fox as a naughty school girl."

But even if this was 2006, that wouldn't be a suitable consolation prize for paying money to see the uninspired mess that is the latest installment of this once-proud franchise.

Hey, I know how to pander to the audience, too!
The last film wasn't exactly Shakespeare and the character designs sucked then, too. However, we at least had a couple of great action sequences at the end to pay off our patience. This time, the action sequences are just kind of there. Sure, stuff blows up, giant spaceships are assembled in the sky, and many turtles execute all types of flips and kicks, but what thrill there was is long gone.

And everything else is worse than last time around, too. Like the jokes. Oh, the jokes. Raphael jumps onto the front of a motorcycle being ridden by a bad guy and says, "That's how I roll." After he knocks him off the bike, he adds, "That's how you roll." Get it? Cause bikes have wheels that roll! HILARIOUS!

That's not all. While still in human form, Rocksteady (played by WWE wrestler Sheamus, who brings enough enthusiasm to the role that you feel bad for him) says that he's Finnish. Why? "Because when I start a beatdown, I always 'Finnish' it!" Ugh. Later on, Michelangelo points out that Krang is "literally re-arming" as he immediately summons a replacement arm after losing the original in battle. And he's supposed to be the funny one in the group!

Krang pretty much sucks. Stephen Amell as Casey Jones sucks, too. The film is peppered with the same old personality conflict that (gasp!) threatens to tear the Turtles apart that we've seen in every movie, and you spend half the movie feeling bad for Laura Linney, who has been nominated for three Academy Awards, but felt the need to slum it by appearing in this nonsense. What's worse, like Sheamus, no one told her that this movie is going to be a shit-show and she should mail it in. Instead, she plays her role as a detective like it's an honest-to-God police procedural and it just makes you want to give her a hug and tell her, "It's okay. You can stop now. Michael Bay can't hurt you anymore."

"There's Michael Bay! GET HIM!!!"

And maybe he won't be able to, since this film is flopping in the box office as we speak. Hopefully, that means the Turtles can rest in peace for awhile and Platinum Dunes can find a different dead film franchise to resurrect into a hideous, grotesque, shambling version of its former self.

Grade: D

Summer Moviethon 2016: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

#13: June 25, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Tonight, I dine on turtle soup.

I had never planned on seeing the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot for a number of reasons. For one, I'm generally anti-reboot. We all know the origins of the turtles; let's not go back there again. Two, I thought the Nickelodeon cartoon was well done and would have rather seen a feature-length version of that. Three, the turtles look awful in the film. Just horrible.

I mean, if you think about it, a half-human, half-turtle is a hideous thing, right? That's the stuff of nightmares. Even when considering how horrifying a mutated turtle that walks on its hind legs would look in real life, though, the characters for the reboot are still terrible.


So that was enough for me. Until I heard a few surprisingly good reviews ("It's better than you'd expect," friends said) and the movie came to my small town theater where our whole family can go see a movie for $20. We see just about every kid-friendly movie that comes through town, so I bit the bullet and watched it. And yes, it wasn't as bad as I expected.

Today was the first time I'd seen it since that initial viewing, and I still think it's pretty decent. Sure, April O'Neil is the worst reporter ever (who jots notes onto a pad in 2014?). Sure, it's silly that the turtles were once April's pets and Splinter became a master of ninjitsu by reading a book. Sure, there's more lens flare than in both of the new Star Trek films combined.

Still, there's some good here. Shredder seems pretty badass, even if his suit is way over the top and he appears to have arms entirely constructed out of oversized Swiss army knives. Some of the self-aware humor hits the mark, and as a veteran of the Transformers films, Megan Fox knows that her role is to look pretty and make the same three facial expressions all film long, so she's a great choice for O'Neil.

Expression number 1: Wide-eyed amazement.

Again, there's a lot not to like here. I could have done without the predictable subplot with Will Arnett as O'Neil's permanently friend-zoned cameraman, for example. But even if he's basically doing a Michael Bay impression, director Jonathan Liebesman can direct the shit out of an action sequence. Both the avalanche scene and the climactic rooftop fight are extremely well done, which is what takes this out of the C- or D range and makes it worth a viewing.

Grade: C+

Summer Moviethon 2016: The Great Alone

June 24: #12, The Great Alone

Told you I was a sucker for documentaries that feature niche sports!

Already behind on my quest to watch and review 150 movies in 90 days, The Great Alone was a godsend as I browsed Netflix. Only 80 minutes long, a five-star user average, and it's a documentary about a sled dog racer? As someone who once watched (and enjoyed) a documentary on the competitive Scrabble scene, it was a no-brainer.

Let's get right to it - The Great Alone is fantastic. It checks all the boxes: it provides you with the information necessary to understand the niche sport it covers without drowning you in it. It provides incremental background on the subject, second-generation Iditarod competitor Lance Mackey, to give you a reason to care about what's happening. And most of all, like all great sports documentaries, it's not really about the sport.

The cinematography is gorgeous throughout.

Mackey's father, Dick Mackey, won perhaps the most memorable Iditarod race of all-time in 1978. In a race that covers 1,049 miles, Mackey won by one second, collapsing at the finish line as his son, Lance, looked on.

Dick Mackey was a great sled dog racer, but a subpar father, which he admits himself in the film. "I knew the personalities and quirks and in-and-outs of my dogs better than I understood my children," he says. Like so many boys who failed to gain their father's attention, Lance reacted not by avoiding sled dog racing, but by immersing himself in it in an effort to finally get the attention and acceptance he wanted from his dad. Your mileage may vary, but if you can relate at all to Lance's relationship with his father, this film will hit home.

Along the way, Lance had other struggles, too, including a bout with throat cancer and struggles with drug addiction. It's clear that many of Lance's issues spiraled out of the childhood that he spent trying in vain to connect with his father. It's poignant and sad to see that, even decades later as a grown man himself, Lance still remains driven by the urge to be loved by someone who always had other things he'd rather do.

A nine-day race throughout Alaska provides a lot of opportunities for beautiful shots, and director Greg Kohs doesn't disappoint. Kohs uses long-distance shots of Mackey and his team of dogs to illustrate the scope of the race and showcase the beauty of Alaska. Kohs also makes skillful use of the interviews with Lance and his family, knowing when to linger on a close-up and when to use a voiceover as Lance continues his efforts to reach Nome, where the race finishes.

All of a sudden, marathon running doesn't look so lonely.

Even besides the personal drama, the documentary is pretty fascinating stuff. Lance's relationship with his dogs is rather touching and makes it hard to think of a sport like this as abusive to the animals, as PETA claims. I suppose it'd be a matter of the individual racer and how they treat their dogs, but Lance clearly loves his animals as much as he does any human. I also enjoyed the footage of Lance reaching checkpoints in tiny Alaskan towns, where bundled-up kids ask for autographs and the racers stop for an hour or two of sleep before heading off again.

Grade: A


Summer Moviethon 2016: Glengarry Glen Ross

June 22: #11, Glengarry Glen Ross

Coffee's for closers only.

I had never seen Glengarry Glen Ross until yesterday, but I'd seen part of it. You know the scene - the one where Alec Baldwin visits a small group of salesmen and reams them up one side and down the other. After that, I was always curious to see the rest of the film.

I was surprised to find that the scene in question happens very early into the film. By the time Baldwin's Blake has appeared, we've barely been introduced to the film's three hapless salesmen, played by a scheming Ed Harris, a desperate Jack Lemmon, and a gutless Alan Arkin. Before and afterward, though, the film settles into an alternating pattern of "Who's on First?" style dialogue and whining over the low quality of the leads.

Ah, the leads. The leads! Anyone who has worked even a day in sales knows about "the leads." In this respect, Glengarry Glen Ross is terrifically accurate. The rather pathetic salesmen in the film laud their own magnificence when they miraculously make a sale and endlessly bemoan the terrible leads when they don't. It's a mentality that hit home with me as instantly reminiscent of a former friend's grandpa who was (probably still is, I don't know) addicted to gambling.

When he had a good night, Gambling Grandpa would come back to the house and regale us in triumphant tales of skill and determination. When he lost, which was most of the time, he bitched about bad beats and terrible luck. The sales trio in this film seems just as insufferable and pathetic.

They're supposed to be, of course. That's why Blake showed up to belittle them in the first place. That's also why the star salesman, played by Al Pacino, was absent for the lecture. It would have been out of character for him to sit through it, and writer David Mamet knew it.

What I didn't know is that Blake doesn't even exist in the play the film is not just based on. Knowing that now, it makes a lot of sense. That part of the film is so different from what precedes and follows it that it sticks out like a sore thumb. In my case, it also made a promise that the rest of the film wasn't ready to fulfill.

What I got instead was an hour and a half of salesmen whining and bullshitting with one another, kind of like the equivalent of being stuck in a conversation with a pathological liar at the bar. At times, I was tempted to stop listening altogether because the characters were so full of shit. Still, hard to hold that against the film, since that's basically the whole point.

In a lot of cases, the dialogue simply doesn't work for me, and by looking around online, I know I'm in the minority. Maybe you'd like an exchange like this between Ed Harris' Dave Moss and Alan Arkin's George Aaronow, delivered in rapid-fire mode:

Aaronow: Yes. I mean are you actually talking about this, or are we just...
Moss: No, we're just.
Aaronow: We're just "talking" about it.
Moss: We're just speaking about it. (Pause.) As an idea.
Aaronow: As an idea.
Moss: Yes.
Aaronow: We're not actually talking about it.  
Moss: No.
Aaronow: Talking about it as a.
Moss: No.
Aaronow: As a robbery.
Moss: As a "robbery"?! No.
Aaronow: Well. Well.
Moss: Hey. (Pause.)
Aaronow: So all this, um, you didn't, actually, you didn't actually go talk to Graff.
Moss: Not actually, no. (Pause.)
Aaronow: You didn't?
Moss: No. Not actually.
Aaronow: Did you?
Moss: What did I say?
Aaronow: What did you say?
Moss: Yes. (Pause.) I said, "Not actually." The fuck you care, George? We're just talking.

Me? I didn't dig it. It felt self-conscious, like some of Quentin Tarantino's dialogue, where I almost expect Mamet to appear in the background of the scene, winking. "Isn't this witty? I mean, isn't it just great?" It felt like dialogue from an abandoned episode of Seinfeld.

"WHAT is WITH these leaaaads?"

There are a few scenes where Jack Lemmon absolutely nails his role as a shitty salesman who is still using the outdated carny tactics that worked in the 70s, before salesmen adopted cocky alpha-male personas in the 90s and sales reps started acting like advisors a decade or so ago. Pacino is great as well, even if it's hard to watch anything he does and not see shades of his other roles, such as Frank in Scent of a Woman, which was released the same year that this film was.

I can see how Glengarry Glen Ross worked well on stage. I can see how director James Foley tried to translate that to the screen, and at times, his artful directing and economic use of the small office space works effectively. I just don't think it made for a very compelling film, despite good acting performances all around. It's not a bad movie, and it's one that you may very well enjoy, but it wasn't for me.

Grade: C-


Summer Moviethon 2016: Top Spin

June 20: #10, Top Spin

What if I told you that table tennis players are legitimate athletes?

I'm a sucker for documentaries about niche subcultures, so 80 minutes in the world of competitive table tennis was an easy sell for me. Top Spin follows three teenage table tennis standouts as they attempt to qualify for the Olympics. Along the way, the documentary shows the kids sacrificing their chances at normal high school lives and their parents going the extra while to enable their dreams.

If that sounds formulaic to you, well...it is. In fact, one of the few disappointments about Top Spin is that it is so approachable that it's almost homogenous. You don't really need to watch this if you've already seen similar documentaries chronicling the journeys of young athletes. Furthermore, while the kids are likeable enough, none of them are particularly charismatic or even memorable.

So, why does Top Spin work as well as it does? Well, in part because the formula it uses is a successful one. That's why it's used, after all. Furthermore, the novelty of the sport is enough to keep your interest while you develop an attachment to 16-year-old Ariel Hsing, 15-year-old Lily Zhang, and 17-year-old Michael Landers. By then, you're genuinely nervous about how they'll do in their quests to play in the Olympics.

Hsing making good use of the roughly .0003 seconds she has before the ball comes back to her.

Top Spin has a couple of interesting points to make, even if it doesn't realize it. At one point, Ariel makes a great statement about the loneliness of individual athletes. What sets apart Ariel's quote from the others you've heard is that she even yearns for the chances to be sad with teammates after a loss. Giving up your high school years to be an elite athlete is tough enough, but without teammates who are making the same sacrifices, it must be very lonely, indeed.

Another thing I thought about is the importance of the legitimacy that the Olympics provide. Even if you know nothing of table tennis, you understand the accomplishment of playing in the Olympics. The platform provides a common language with which to communicate the greatness of athletes in unfamiliar sports. It also provides an audience every four years that otherwise wouldn't exist.

So no, there's nothing really new here, but I was fully invested in seeing how the kids' efforts would pay off as the film rolled toward its end. It's hard for me to say the documentary doesn't succeed when I found myself rooting for the players like I did.

Grade: B


Summer Moviethon 2016: X-Men: Apocalypse

June 18: #9, X-Men: Apocalypse

Bryan Singer's newest X-Men film offers a mixed bag that ultimately succeeds.

Although critics have trended towards mixed reviews for X-Men: Apocalypse, a lot of the fan perception seems to indicate that the film is a disappointment. In some ways, it's understandable - X-fans expect a lot after two great films in a row and were excited about the debut of an A-list villain. However, I think the reaction has been a bit unfair for a film that may not equal First Class and Days of Future Past, but ultimately remains worthy of the franchise. Let's take a different approach with this review.

Since this is still in theaters, be aware that there are SPOILERS in this review, as with most of my reviews.

Why Apocalypse is better than people say it is:

- Casting aside, Apocalypse is built up as a credible threat to the X-Men. Sure, I wish he'd been a little bit taller (Skee-lo is stuck in your head now), but by the end of the film, he's been properly established as a bad-ass worthy of the entire team's focus.

- The rest of the cast is mostly successful. Everyone is pretty good, with Evan Peters as Quicksilver standing out again and Alexandra Shipp doing more with the role of Storm than Halle Berry ever accomplished. It was strange seeing Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, particularly because the character's look is not unlike Sansa Stark's, but she took ownership of the role by the film's end.

- Dat Wolverine rampage.

- The period-specific touches are great. I loved seeing Quicksilver do the moonwalk during his token slow-motion sequence, as well as seeing Nightcrawler rocking the Thriller jacket.

- Speaking of costumes, they're worthy of mention, too. Props to Singer and Co. for going with the comic-accurate Psylocke costume. Beast looks better in his hairy blue form than in First Class, and they did a nice job bringing Apocalypse's look to life without allowing it to be too corny.

Too bad Olivia Munn pretty much got all dressed up for nothing.

Why Apocalypse could be better:

- I don't buy Magneto as a lackey here. I get that they wanted him in the film and I also get that they needed another horseman for Apocalypse, but very little about his inclusion on Apocalypse's little dream team rings true with how the character has been portrayed in earlier films. Furthermore, it seems like a step back to see Magneto making the same old arguments after the realization he came to in the last film, even if that was the Ian McKellan-played Magneto from the future and not the one in this movie.

- The Quicksilver-Magneto father-son angle is not interesting in the least and is poorly handled. The idea that with the world hanging in the balance, Quicksilver would still be like, "Nah, this isn't a good time to reveal this information that could turn the tide of the battle" is silly.

- If the series is to continue (which it seems that it won't in its current form, sadly), they need to mine some new territory. I've enjoyed the Martin Luther King, Jr. vs. Malcolm X style debates between Xavier and Magneto as much as the next guy, but they've been having different versions of the same conversation for 6 films now.

- This film is over two hours long and feels like it, too. Considering that it's so long, the lack of any meaningful dialogue for a fan favorite like Psylocke is disappointing. The film could have been paced better or at least found a way to give Psylocke and Archangel something to do.

Grade: B

Summer Moviethon 2016: X-Men: Days of Future Past

June 18: #8, X-Men: Days of Future Past

The X-Men series jumps ahead to the future to go back to the past.

X-Men: Days of Future Past presents a long-awaited film adaptation of a beloved comic book storyline where the near future has turned to a shitstorm of global proportions. Mutants are all but extinct. The world appears to be pretty much destroyed. Storm's stylist has fucked up her hair again. The only answer?

Send someone to the past, of course! Because Logan is the most marketable the most likely to survive the mental rigors of having his consciousness transported back through time, our ornery anti-hero is tasked with getting 1973's Professor X and Magneto to be best buddies again and stop Magneto from killing Tyrion Lannister. It seems that Tyrion has grown a mustache that instantly turned him into a mutant-hating cad, but it's actually his eventual death at the hands of Mystique that will cause his sentinel program to thrive and endanger all mutantkind.

"For Storm's hair this time, let's go with the Kevin Bacon from Footloose."

All kidding aside, it's a great setup and the opening is awesome, as is always the case with the X-Men films. Right away we see the dynamic use of the future version of the team's powers, including Blink, whose use of teleportation is the highlight of the fights against the super-sentinels. The framed narrative works very well as the tension in the past and the future build throughout the film as Kitty Pride (Ellen Page in an improved performance) struggles to hold up her end of the bargain and her teammates fight to protect her.

Most of the film takes place in the past, however, and the film is strengthened by its reliance upon Hugh Jackman, who by now completely owns the role of Logan. Wolverine has always provided much-needed comic relief in Bryan Singer's X-Men films, and he does so again here, as evidenced when he wakes up in a compromising situation next to a random girl in 1973. Wolverine's interactions with Xavier and Magneto are excellent throughout as Logan is forced into the unlikely role of peacekeeper between the two. Little touches like Logan's reaction after passing through a metal detector without event (he hadn't gotten his adamantium yet in '73) add levity throughout the movie.

Logan wonders how they did without cell phones, internet and adamantium claws in the 70s.

Of course, no X-Men film is complete without some great conversations between Xavier and Magneto, and this one doesn't disappoint, particularly in a heated conversation between the two regarding the events of the last film. Both sides present completely relatable arguments, as always, and then Wolverine eases the tension by looking at Magneto and deadpanning, "So you were always an asshole."

Everything pretty much succeeds in this film, from Magneto spectacularly guiding bullets to the addition of Evan Peters' debut as Quicksilver, who steals the show in yet another memorable Magneto prison break. Jennifer Lawrence really solidifies herself as the best Mystique in the franchise's history here, while the narrative allows Singer to brutally kill off several X-Men in the future without repercussions. The gleeful murder of superheroes, only to bring them back to life just minutes later, is about as comic book-y as it gets, right?

If I reach for a criticism here (besides the fact that they cast young Steve Stifler as William Stryker), it's that the end unnecessarily makes Mystique look mentally weak. They could have had the same ending without Professor X intervening in her thoughts to basically tell her what to do, destroying her agency in the process. All it would have cost us is yet another preachy Professor X speech, which the series has had plenty of. Still, this is a new high water mark for the series and the best X-film yet.

Grade: A-


Summer Moviethon 2016: X-Men: First Class

June 18: #7, X-Men: First Class

Fox takes a chance with a prequel that changes the course of the series.

After the meh-fest that was X-Men: The Last Stand, a prequel was the best possible direction to go. I wasn't sure about this back in 2011, honestly. A movie without the franchise's most popular character (Wolverine) and recasts of its two anchors (Professor X and Magneto)?

My hesitancy was misplaced, however. The recasts injected some much-needed life into the series and allowed two fully formed characters to return to a time when they were still developing the ideals that would have them verbally sparring decades later. Which brings us to the first reason this film works: James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are superb as young versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), respectively.

Fassbender in particular does a lot of heavy lifting here, and it's not hard to see that this film was the end result of a planned Magneto prequel that never came to fruition. Magneto is also a key part in most of the film's action sequences, which are the best in the series so far.

"Bitchy resting face" is just another one of Emma Frost's mutant powers.

You have to give credit to the writers, director Matthew Vaughn, and the cast for ensuring that other storylines resonate, too. In particular, Xavier's friendship with Mystique is very well done, as Jennifer Lawrence quickly makes you forget all about Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the blue shape-shifter. A nearly realized romance between Beast and Mystique is about as sad as this series gets, with Nicholas Hoult really nailing Hank's conflicted feelings about his mutant gift/curse.

There are missteps, sure. The middle act drags slightly and Beast in his hairy form just looks like a cat with a mullet, or the Teen Wolf dad, take your pick. The tie-in to historical events seems a little cheesy, although it's not a deal-breaker. January Jones is pretty flat as Emma Frost, even if the role does call for a detached take on the character.

The resemblance is...wait for it...UNCANNY.

Still, there's so much to love here. Logan's cameo is great and the use of younger characters really drives home the struggles the young mutants have with feeling alienated and wanting to fit in. Meanwhile, Kevin Bacon is reliably detestable as the film's real villain.

The social commentary, as always, is a bit on the nose (Hank says, "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell" after revealing that he's a mutant). However, Magneto's insistence to never be at the mercy of those who are "just following orders" again resonates and gives yet another great glimpse into the character's motivations.

Overall, X-Men: First Class was a triumph, especially considering that Vaughn had never directed a big budget action film, the third film was such a dud, and the cast consisted of mostly lesser-known performers. This one would succeed in righting the franchise's ship and give X-fans a reason to be hopeful about future installments.

Grade: A-

Summer Moviethon 2016: X-Men: The Last Stand

June 17: #6, X-Men: The Last Stand

X2 knocked it out of the park. Surely Brett Ratner can't fuck this up, right? Right?

Wrong. About a third of the way into the 2006 installment into the X-Men franchise, you think that maybe Brett Ratner turned in a good film. You think that, but all Ratner has really done is turned in some good moments.

Young Angel cutting off his wings in the bathroom! Colossus tossing Wolverine in the first silver screen fastball special! The Danger Room! A Stan Lee cameo!

But in the middle third, things start to slow down and by the final act, we're off the rails and X-Men: The Last Stand instead earns the dubious distinction of being the worst X-Men film. What went wrong?

First of all, Magneto surrounds himself with what appears to be dozens of extras from the Club Hel scene in Matrix Revolutions. Oh, but one of them is like a porcupine! And another can eject an unlimited supply of bones from his arms, which he can then throw at people. Why is that better than throwing knives? Who knows, but it's more gross, at least.

Mutant or not, Danny Trejo's character from Desperado would have been a better choice, Mags.

The film tries to tackle two major comic book storylines in 104 minutes and doesn't do either one justice. It particularly messes up the classic Dark Phoenix story that was so perfectly set up in X2. Ratner and company decide to foreshadow the unmitigated disaster that was Spider-Man 3, replacing any nuanced differences in Jean Grey's behavior with just having her be kind of a tramp instead.

Also on the romantic side, a charisma-less Ellen Page appears as Kitty Pride, aka Shadowcat, and promptly gains the attention of Bobby (aka Iceman) despite appearing to be like 14 years old while Bobby could pass for 30. This leads to a pretty lame love triangle between what appear to be two grad students and a high school freshman, as well as to some really awful decision-making on the part of Rogue, played capably by Anna Paquin.

There are little issues, too. The writing is corny at times, leaving us with precious few of the witty exchanges we saw in the previous two films. Wolverine's weird pining for someone who he barely interacted with throughout two films feels forced and creepy, as when he lectures Scott while saying, "I know how you feel."

"Maybe she would have loved you if you didn't smell like old cigars and beer farts, Logan."

Dude. Scott and Jean had a serious relationship going already when Logan moved in and decided to get a high school crush on her. He disappeared between X-Men and X2, all the while Scott and Jean continued to be together, and he somehow knows how Scott feels? Yeah, it makes Wolverine look like a dick. Luckily, Scott saves the scene with this ace line: "Not everyone heals as fast as you, Logan."

The ending is a mess, too, killing three major characters and really writing the franchise into a corner. Magneto suddenly comes to a conclusion that he's made a terrible mistake, a conclusion which seems forced and undermines everything the character has been about. Then there's Rogue, who gives up her mutant powers in an apparent attempt to get her boyfriend back, denying her any type of agency whatsoever in the process. I could be more harsh with the grade, but the movie does have some really good moments that help it stand above other duds in the genre. It's just too bad they don't come together to make a solid film.

Grade: C-

Summer Moviethon 2016: X2: X-Men United

June 17: #5, X2: X-Men United

Does X2 still rank as one of the best superhero films ever?

What seems like a few decades ago, X2 came out and was immediately hailed as perhaps the best comic-based superhero film yet. The next year, Spider-Man 2 came out and gave it a run for its money, followed by other instant classics such as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Avengers. There have even been a couple of really strong X-Men sequels to challenge X2, such as X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I'm happy to say that for me, X2 still holds up. The Nightcrawler opening is still awesome, as is Wolverine's first on-screen rampage at the X-Mansion and Magneto's escape from his plastic prison.

Beyond such memorable set pieces, the film simply improves upon the original in just about every way. Halle Berry dropped the puzzling accent she used as Storm in the first installment, the fight scenes are much better choreographed (Wolverine vs. Lady Deathstrike stands out), and the new additions to the hero and villain rosters include more hits than misses.

Goodbye silly accent, hello silly haircut.

Mystique is much better here, with a particularly memorable escape scene that really sells her as someone being worthy of such a high rank in Magneto's organization. The film is paced well, which is a good thing since at over two hours, this isn't a short film. The finale isn't as dynamic as in many superhero films, but seeing William Stryker get his is satisfying and Jean Grey's demise is well executed (no pun intended).

As with most of the X-films, the movie works as social commentary, with Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier and Ian McKellan's Magneto both having plenty of thought-provoking things to say during their exchanges. The parallels to the struggles of gay people are pretty obvious and a little heavy-handed, but they still work. When Bobby's mom asks him, "Have you tried not being a mutant?," it's both brilliant satire and a wonderful point.

"No, Mom. Have you tried not being an ignorant slut?"

While I don't think X2 is the greatest comic-based superhero film ever any longer, it's still an amazing effort that holds up very well after 13 years. Hugh Jackman really comes into his role as Wolverine here, while Stewart and McKellan ground the film with their continued greatness as the series' iconic frienemies. This is still one of the best superhero films ever.

Grade: A-


Summer Moviethon 2016: X-Men

June 16: #4, X-Men

Fear the wrath of...Toad!

Blade was earlier, but I still consider the first X-Men to be the first superhero comic film of the modern era. Although the superhero movies that came out in the first several years of the new millenium don't entirely hold up that well, many still have a soft spot for X-Men. Me? Not really.

This is weird, mind you. I have about 3,000 comics sitting in my house and a fair amount of them are X-Men comics. I've dutifully seen just about every comic book movie while it was in theaters, including Ghost Rider. I'm squarely in the target market for X-Men, even if I always preferred Spider-Man and Batman to Marvel's team of mutants.

I remember not being that crazy about this movie when it first came out, which surprises me after watching it again the other day. Some of my original criticism of the film still applies, but it's still a really solid movie, and the first credible attempt to bring Marvel's characters to the big screen. It was my duty as a nerd to like X-Men! So why didn't I?

Let's check in on some of the things I disliked about X-Men 16 years ago and see whether they still apply today:

#1: The villains mostly sucked. This one holds true today. Mystique was good, but a little underutilized in what is actually a pretty fast-paced film compared to the more bloated superhero films we see now. But Sabretooth? Awful. Who decided that Sabretooth should speak primarily in grunts and roars? And Toad is a C-lister, not someone who should be able to fight off Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Storm at the same time.

Halle Berry as Storm: 100% more enjoyable without the stupid accent she uses in X-Men.

#2: Underwhelming special effects. Surprisingly, I've softened my stance a bit on this, even though special effects have only gotten better since X-Men. I remember hating how Wolverine's claws looked in the first film, for instance. Sure, some of effects work is a little lame (like when Senator Fantastic squeezes between the bars of his cell to escape), but I can overlook that stuff. A lot of the special effects actually do hold up well, too, such as when Professor X enters Cerebro.

#3: Mediocre casting. When the movie came out, I remember not approving of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Too tall, I said. Too skinny, I complained. Not hairy enough, I lamented. Sure, those things are true, and Jackman hadn't really hit his stride as Logan in this film, but since then he's grown into the role and now I take back that particular complaint.

I also didn't like Ian McKellen as Magneto when the film was released. In the comics, Magneto has gray hair, sure, but other than that, he's a beefy dude just like all the other bodybuilders masquerading as superheroes. However, he does a nice job in the role and since he was a child during the Holocaust, there's not much of a way to get around him being older. Some of my other complaints in 2000 were just as silly (Famke Janssen as Jean Grey...at the time I said someone "hotter" should have gotten the role. Not sure what I was thinking then, either), and they don't apply any longer.

Ian McKellan after hitting the gym for a couple of months. Oh, and creatine. Lots of creatine.

#4: The fight scenes were just okay. I still agree with 2000 Jon (Jon2000? Would have been a sweet rapper name in 1998). The fight between Wolverine and Mystique was pretty bad, honestly. Many of the action sequences in the film are ruined for my by the wirework in the film, which is really floaty looking and unrealistic. Even an otherwise strong intro for Wolverine early in the movie is marred by the corny "metal hitting metal" sound effects whenever Logan hits the other fighter. And why would a metal bone hitting a regular bone make that sound? That was a case of early comic movies not trusting us to know the characters.

So a lot of the things that made me dislike X-Men in 2000 don't really bother me so much anymore. Anyway, this film has a lot of classic moments, mostly involving the ball-busting between Wolverine and Cyclops. Between Wolverine leaving his middle claw up to flip off his longtime frienemy to telling Cyclops "you're a dick" to prove his identity later in the film, the rivalry between the two is pure gold. Patrick Stewart and McKellan are really good, Halle Berry...well, looks great, and the film tells a solid story that sets up the next movie nicely. I'm glad I watched this one again after not seeing it for several years.

Grade: B-


Summer Moviethon 2016: Alice Through the Looking Glass

June 14: #3, Alice Through the Looking Glass

"Everyone parts with everything eventually, my dear."

Just a few hours after finally watching 2010's Alice in Wonderland, I went with the fam to see Alice Through the Looking Glass at the theater in my tiny little town. As a parent, I go to pretty much every family-friendly film that comes through, since it's a chance to go see a movie and eat cheap popcorn without getting a sitter.

I hadn't read reviews before seeing Alice 2: All Heads are Off, but I had heard that it was basically an assault against humanity and/or cynical cash grab. I'd say that assessment is about a quarter correct, as the movie isn't really bad, but certainly exists to make money. But hey, it's a Disney film, not an art house flick made on a shoestring budget. Plenty of good movies were made in order to turn a profit.

Lets get it out of the way: Alice II: Curiouser-er is pretty good at times. If you're sitting in a theater to watch it by choice, you already know you're in for a ton of special effects, and they're well done. Sure, you'll get a bit of an overload effect after watching computer-generated backgrounds, characters and foreheads for two hours straight, but the sea of time sequences and end sequence are still pretty awe-inspiring.

Sea of time? That's right. Like any sequel that was made when ideas were running a bit short, this one features time travel. Basically, the Mad Hatter is in trouble and Alice quickly realizes that the only way to fix it all is to not only go back to Wonderland, but to travel through time once she's there. Oh, and because it's a Tim Burton production, Time is an actual person, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who kind of acts as if he's doing a half-assed impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I'm as cold as ice. Or should I say Al-ice?"

Yes, it's only a Tim Burton production this time around, as James Bobin handles the directing duties. Don't be worried, though, he basically directs as if he's been tasked with doing a Tim Burton impression, which he pretty much has. Bobin does a passable enough Burton pastiche, especially since many elements of the film were already established by Burton's Alice six years ago.

Really, everything about this is kind of similar to the last, only a notch or two to the left on the meh-meter. The acting is fine, but Depp seems to have cranked up the lisp and turned down the charisma as the Mad Hatter. Helena Bonham Carter is excellent as the Red Queen again, as this time she's been afforded the chance to add a few extra dimensions to the character through her (admittedly silly) backstory.

The framed narrative is even worse this time than the last, as we're dragged into this whole mess because Alice's mother inexplicably decides to sell all of her shit while she's away being chased by pirates on the open sea. Why would you do that, you ask? To move the plot forward, of course! The resolution at the end is just as forced and nonsensical.

Pictured: How Johnny Depp actually dresses when not playing a strange character.

"I fear I may never see you again," confesses Alice to the Mad Hatter late in the movie.

"Well, we've only made $63 million in the US so far, so you may be right," Alice should have responded. "But I'll see you in 15 years for the reboot!"

Don't be afraid to see this movie if you liked the first. It's good enough, even if it lacks a lot of the charm of the first. If you hated 2010's Alice, Alice 2: Electric Boogaloo won't change your mind.

Grade: C+

Summer Moviethon 2016: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

June 14: #2, Alice in Wonderland (2010)

"Curioser and curiouser..."

You probably know before you even see Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland whether you're going to like it or not. I personally never took the time to watch it, but not because I didn't think I'd enjoy it. It had more to do with how much I like the 1951 animated version. Well, and I found that the casting of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and the choice of Burton as director were a bit too on the nose.

Regardless, there's a reason why Burton and Depp were obvious choices: they work well. Burton brings all of the imagination and eccentricity you'd expect to the film, while Depp is perfectly peculiar as the Mad Hatter. Similarly, Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen are great, if not adventurous, casting choices.

Mia Wasikowska, playing the same role she played in Crimson Peak.

The framing device is the weakest part of the film, casting more than a few parallels with The Wizard of Oz while taking Burton out of his comfort zone at a fancy garden party as the film opens. Burton settles for a washed out look and overcast sky until he and the audience simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief when all that nonsense ends and Alice goes down the rabbit hole.

The film uses a ton of CGI, and while a lot of it isn't exactly realistic looking, the sometimes dodgy effects actually fit well within the movie's aesthetic. Most of the cinematography and design is beautifully done, and as a fan of the animated version, I was usually only disappointed when the movie paralleled the 1951 film. For instance, Absolem pales in comparison to the psychedelic rendering of the caterpillar from 60 years ago.

Aside from the visuals, the best part of the film is the acting. Depp and Carter are outstanding in their roles and you can tell that they really enjoyed hamming it up throughout the movie. Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover are fine in their roles as the White Queen and the Knave of Hearts, although their roles aren't all that memorable. Wasikowska plays Alice capably, capturing Alice's sense of wonder early on and her determination as the film moves toward its conclusion.

If you can include a picture of Anne Hathaway, you do. It's a rule. Or it should be, anyway.

Overall, Alice in Wonderland is an enjoyable experience that is still somehow less than the sum of its parts. It's meandering at times and really stumbles its way to a rather corny ending and a hasty, ham-fisted wrap-up back after Alice returns to reality. It feels less zany and more calculated than you'd expect, but it's still worth checking out.

Grade: B

Summer Moviethon 2016: Nintendo Quest

June 13: #1, Nintendo Quest

It's the best documentary ever made about looking for old NES games. By default, really.

Nintendo Quest was the launching pad for this installment of 150 Movies in 90 Days. It's kind of appropriate, really: the subject of the documentary, Jay Bartlett, embarks upon an ultimately rather pointless quest to buy all 678 officially licensed Nintendo Entertainment System games in one month, which mirrors my own equally silly quest to watch 150 movies in 90 days.

The difference, of course, is that instead of making a movie about my quest, I tucked the details away in a crappy blog where they're unlikely to actually gain the attention of anyone who could be doing something much better with their time.

The problem here is that Jay's quest simply isn't that interesting. Sure, it's hard to buy all 678 games, especially without use of the internet, but it's basically a road trip where we see Jay visit the homes of gamers he knows or used video game shops and sorts through hundreds of games to find what he needs. It honestly feels like an idea that a couple of guys came up with simply to entertain themselves, rather than something that could have ever been expected to entertain an actual audience.

Jay seems like he may be a shut-in of sorts. He clearly has anxiety issues, although those aren't really talked about until halfway through the film. At times, the film makes a half-assed effort to indicate that the quest is really a way for Jay to push his personal boundaries and use his love of games as a way to leave his comfort zone, but it simply isn't explored enough to make a difference.

Not pictured: actual entertainment.

Instead, much of the documentary is like a failed TLC pawn shop show where Jay haggles with different shop owners and private collectors in order to stay under his budget while getting all the rare games he can. The problem is that there's no transparency and we never actually know what he's paying for most of the games or what his budget is. Without that information, the film fails to provide any drama when it comes to the actual quest itself.

Another issue here is that director Rob McCallum often makes the mistake of telling us things instead of showing us them. That's a huge mistake in a documentary and it really hurts Nintendo Quest. At one point, we're told that all of the buzz around Jay's quest has centered around the rarest NES game, Stadium Events. "Everybody's talking about Stadium Events," we're told. WHO?!?! Jay is so insulated from the outside world during his road trip that we're left to assume that the only people who give a shit about his efforts are him and the other people in the car, who are rarely ever on camera. It just feels like a couple of friends screwing around.

The game EVERYBODY is talking about. It can be yours for just $70,000!

Despite this, McCallum really seems like he has potential. The film is peppered with historical tidbits about Nintendo that are really well done, and the production values are high throughout. The sound and video quality are much better than you'd expect and little things like travel montages and on-screen graphics depicting the rare games Jay's collected are skillfully done. The problem is, the film doesn't know if it wants to be an exploration of Jay's growth, a buddy road trip film, a NES documentary or a feature-length version of reality shows like Pawn Stars. As a result, it doesn't succeed at being any of them.

At one point, Jay talks about his dad's death and it's clear that he and his mother have very different views on the event. His mother says it was very hard on him to lose his dad, while Jay flat-out says he's glad that his dad is gone. The film threatens to get interesting and help you care about Jay, and then what do you know? We're back in a used game shop watching Jay haggle over a copy of Bubble Bobble.

Although it's somewhat entertaining, the questions Nintendo Quest fails to explore are more interesting than the ones it actually answers.

Grade: D

150 Movies in 90 Days: The Return

Okay, so my last attempt at watching and reviewing 150 movies in 90 days turned into a double failburger with extra fail sauce. I barely made it 40 movies before falling so far behind pace that I stopped altogether not long after.

This was three long years ago.

Here we are, in what 2013 me would certainly describe as the future, and I'm still not sure what to do with this blog. Having a place to force my thoughts on whoever is unlucky enough to stumble on them is great, but I don't know what to do with it. I feel like I should somehow turn this thing into a multimillion dollar cultural phenomenon.

I mean, this is PRIME REAL ESTATE, people. Actually, probably not. Does anyone even use Blogger?

Anyway, in lieu of better ideas, I've decided to review a shit-ton of movies again. Why? Because I'll be hiding away from the heat most of the summer and it seems like a fun thing to do. Also, I need an incentive to watch a ton of movies that I either haven't seen in years or have never seen. And finally, because I need to write something that's not work-related from time to time.

So there you have it.

Now, I've made several attempts to watch an arbitrary number of movies in an equally arbitrary period of time in the past. Each time, there are two camps of people with distinct, but ultimately predictable reactions.

Reaction #1: Wow...that's a lot of movies!

Yes, it kind of is. At least, it is when you've got kids who are home from school all summer and you're working and going to the gym and doing all kinds of other Important Adult Stuff.

Reaction #2: Really? That's not that many movies.

Well, sure, you're also right. It's less than two movies per day, after all.

Actually, there's also a third reaction, which is a combination of "Why are you doing that?" or "Who gives a shit?" depending on the honesty level of the individual in question. My answer to why I'm doing it is always the same, "Cause it's awesome." And it is.

Let's do this.