Friday, April 11, 2014

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' REVIEW

 In 2011, two superhero movies were taken to the next level by being period pieces.  'Captain America: The First Avenger' was set in WWII until Cap was frozen and reanimated in the present.  'X-Men: First Class' set the action in the 60's during the Cold War.  Then, Captain America hung out with 'The Avengers' the next year and took superhero team movies to a different level, a level that DC Comics and Warner Brothers have since been scrambling to imitate.  Now, with 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier', Marvel (characters) show their diversity by making what feels like a Jason Borune movie with superheroes.

Reportedly, there were some scenes in The Avengers involving Cap being a fish out of water after waking up 70 years later that were cut because that movie was an emsemble piece and needed to focus equally on Iron Man, Hulk and Thor.  'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' does a good job of exploring that and playing it for a few laughs without letting that aspect of the movie drain the plot or the action down.  Scar Jo is back as Black Widow, who is constantly trying to set Cap up on a date while making quips about how out of touch he is with the modern world.  "Where's the museum?  I'm here to pick up a fossil," she quips as Cap gets into her car.  Apparently, someone has taught him how to use the Internet, so he has been doing some catching up.  He's seen War Games and has a list of TV shows and movies that he wants to check out, including I Love Lucy.  He meets Sam Wilson, an ex-Army pilot who suggests that he check out a specific Marvin Gaye album.  They become friends and he later becomes a colleague to Cap after donning a rocket-wing backpack that is considerably less ridiculous-looking than the costume that "The Falcon" wears in the comics.  Cap goes to a "greatest generation" museum that has a display about him and visits an old friend who WAS his own age during WWII in the nursing home.  This reminds him how much he has missed by being frozen for 70 years.

Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, who has his largest (and best) role yet in these Marvel movies.  He sends Cap and Black Widow on missions, but Cap starts to question his methods.  This leads into a very political, "current", topical debate over whether America should police the world by attacking "potential threats".  Cap, being old-fashioned, feels that the punishment came after the crime.  Nick disagrees.  But Nick also has a disagreement with a politician that he answers to, played by Robert Redford.  Alot of under-cutting and back-biting happens until Nick is attacked by bad guys led by The Winter Soldier.  This leads to other things being revealed that involve Hydra (the rogue Nazi science group from the first movie) and that send Cap, Black Widow and Nick on the run.  The plot is not too difficult to follow if you are paying attention, but there is alot of "who's stabbing who in the back" kind of stuff.  Yes, Black Widow is a good guy in the comics, but there was a version where she was not.  So, I had my eye on her for a good 40 minutes of the movie.  It's not so political that it beats you over the head, but even if you hate politics in real life (as I do), politics in a movie keeps you guessing and layers the plot, which is well-done here.

Cap and Scar Jo have great chemistry together when they are on the run and uncovering plot stuff.  All of the actors in this movie are great.  There are some great plot twists that I won't spoil.  Yes, if you know the comics, you know who the Winter Soldier is, who he was in the first movie and how he ties in with Cap's past.  I won't spoil it here, but this movie goes from a heartfelt storyline about Cap trying to find his way in the modern world to some rather thrilling political stuff that threatens to bring down the SHIELD organization (from the other films) and that all comes together in a very entertaining way.  Lots of shooting and explosions.  Some bloody wounds, but no "gore" and one hospital scene that shows blood.  I would keep small kids away from it until they are older, but a great addition to the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And yes, stay for the scenes after the credits for an Avengers 2 tidbit..

I give this movie 4 shields out of 5.

'Mr. Peabody' REVIEW

'Peabody's Improbable History' was a series of animated shorts that were part of the 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' show (in reruns when I was a kid) where a hyper-intelligent bespecaled canine (with a bow tie) named Mr. Peabody would introduce "my boy Sherman" before getting into the WABAC ("way back") machine and teaching kids about history, visiting some historical period, meeting historical figures and getting involved with some historical event.

Like the original series, the 'Mr. Peabody' movie combines being educational with being fun and adventurous.  Here, we get a backstory for Mr. Peabody.  He was different than the other dogs.  He didn't like to play fetch.  He was too smart to see the point of it.  "You're just going to throw it again."  He would rather read and learn.  The beginning of this movie tells us in a very humorous way who Mr. Peabody is and what he accomplished (Nobel prize, inventions etc.) before finding a baby named Sherman in a basket and adopting him because he wanted more with his life.  The cartoon shorts never told us that Sherman was the dog's adopted son (I don't think), which is a new spin we get from the movie that creates some very touching drama, as the world's most briliant dog has to learn how to tell his boy that he loves him.

The plot thickens when Sherman gets into a fight with a girl at school who was bullying him and bites her.  This puts Mr. Peabody on the radar of a child services worker who uses the incident to try to take Sherman away, claiming that a dog should not be raising a boy.  It was a very clever introduction to what a devoted father this canine Dr. Who is and a set-up for some touching and funny moments.  Mr. Peabody invites the girl's parents over for dinner, hoping to smooth things over with them.  Sherman's attempts to make friends with the girl involve him trying to impress her by showing her the WABAC time machine, despite Mr. Peabody's instructions not to touch.  That sets the stage for a series of funny adventures and some wacky time travel rules that are well-played out in the story.  Leonardo DaVinci, King Tut and Albert Einstein play supporting roles and Putty from 'Seinfeld' does the voice of one of the soldiers inside the Trojan horse.  There are quite a few jokes that will go over the kids' heads and that the adults will enjoy (especially if you know history), but you're probably better off if you don't know anything about Oedipus.  You will wonder why they put a joke about Oedpius (and how having dinner at his house was awkward) in a children's movie when he was a mythical figure anyway.  And you may feel icky.  If you let that joke go over your head, 'Mr. Peabody' is a clever, funny, witty, well-written fast-paced adventure that young and old (who are unfamiliar with Oedipus) can enjoy together.

I give 'Mr. Peabody' 3.5 bow ties out of 5.


In a room full of people.
A thousand conversations.
The room keeps spinning.
Figure out how to jump in.
“Is this weird?  The way I keep wringing my hands?
Is this off-putting?  I should find a comic book fan.”
The one thing that I know WAY too much about.
Normal people like it too.  It makes me want to shout.
As much I want to be a social butterfly
I rack my brain to figure out how or why
I even want to when my head is more comfy.
Small things are distracting.  Is my shirt lumpy?
Is that girl single?  Is that a new flavor of
Mike’s Hard Lemonade?  Is that a purple dove
On that girl’s purse?  I wonder if she can see me.
How do I say “hi” without being creepy?
With that deer in the headlights stare I always get.
Somewhere between “hi” and “Meet my husband Brett!”
Forced eye contact.  Fingers tapping on my knee caps.
Done with socializing.  Go talk to my friend’s cat.
“I am kinda jealous at the way you bathe, Simba.
I don’t have a rough tongue and I’m not that limber.
Those people seem cool, but I don’t understand them.
Their obsession with the real world just seems quite random
To me now.”

How did my world get in this room?
I peek out cautiously through my eyes
Hope I can come out soon.
I like living inside my head
Where I can be understood
Forget social cues, because conformity’s dead.
Conformity’s dead.

(verse two)
Now that I’m married, social cues can take a back seat
To spending time at home with something awesome to eat
My apartment is still an extension of my over-crowded head
A little neater, little warmer, brighter colors on my bed
Only let people in, who are respectful and who get me
When I do something weird, only stuck-up people sweat me
Conformity’s a girlfriend that I kicked to the curb
When I found myself a wife who can tolerate a nerd
Who watches cartoons like it’s normal for my age
While being clumsy and distracted, spilling milk onto the page
Of a first-edition comic book guest-starring Boba Fett
Then being sad the rest of the day, like I just lost a pet.
No need to pretend that I care about sports
Or “he said” “she said”, nosy teenage girl reports
Coming out of grown people who think that I’m swearing
When I say “Asperger”…their eyes start glaring.
“Ass burger?”…”No, asperger with a P.”

They don’t get it.  I don’t care.  Roll your eyes.  I’ll just be me.
Surround yourself with people...non-judgmental and who get it.
Laugh at the people…so uptight they start to sweat it!
Got Aspergers?
How did my world get in this room?
I peek out cautiously through my eyes
Hope I can come out soon.
I like living inside my head
Where I can be understood
Forget social cues, because conformity’s dead.
Conformity’s dead.

'Muppets Most Wanted' REVIEW

In 2011, Jason Segel and company rebooted the Muppets with a great movie in which a new character named Walter (the world's biggest Muppets fan) reunited the Muppets for a telethon that would save the old Muppet theatre from the original TV show (never before referenced in a movie) from being bulldozed.  Some complained that the movie centered too much on Walter and not enough on the core group, but the movie was about how Walter became a Muppet and was therefore about "The Muppets", hence the clever title.  And we had a very dramatic reunion between Kermit and Miss Piggy, which led to one of the more emotional moments in the film's climax, where three plot threads were brought together during the singing of the Muppets iconic song "Rainbow Connection".  Oh, and that other song won an Oscar and had a Jim Parsons cameo and was also awesome.

Now, we have 'Muppets Most Wanted', advertised as being in the vein of 'The Great Muppet Caper' (the best Muppet movie ever).  Kermit is barely in it.  Yes, you read that right.  Kermit is barely in it.  They made him very unlikable by having him flip out and yell at Miss Piggy very early on in the film about wanting to get married.  You probably know from the previews that there is a frog named Constantine that looks exactly like Kermit except for a mole.  Well, this movie focuses on him, his criminal partner (played by Ricky Gervais) and Tina Fey's (surprisingly unfunny) character more than any single Muppet.  This movie commits the crime that a few of the post-Jim Henson's death Muppet films made (killing the franchise, necessitating Jason Segel's reboot), which is that the human characters overshadow the Muppets themselves in the same way that Shia LaBeouf was more important to the Transformers movies than the Transformers as characters.

Kermit doppleganger Constantine escapes from the Gulag in Siberia, Russia and hatches a plan with Dominic Badguy (pronounced "bad-gee"...get it?) to steal a bunch of things that will help him steal the crown jewels in London.  Dominic poses as a concert promoter, convinces the Muppets to go on a world tour, despite Kermit's reluctance and then replaces him with Constantine.  Kermit gets sent to the Gulag (where he is barely seen for the rest of the film) while the Muppets are fooled into believing that Kermit is talking differently because he has a cold.  Previously, Kermit has been a stabilizing influence on the group when they perform, but "new Kermit" Constantine tells them to do what they want in the show while he is busy plotting his heists.  They like the creative freedom at first, but later realize they took Kermit for granted.

Meanwhile, Kermit is recruited by Tina Fey's prison guard character to headline their prison's talent show.  We are "treated" to some very long scenes where tough Russian prison inmates are turned into Broadway singers, scenes that become unfunny very fast and...again...are focused on human characters and not on the Muppets.  Yes, the idea of the other Muppets not telling Kermit and Constantine apart is "Muppet humor" (Kermit and Fozzie played twins in 'The Great Muppet Caper'), but the Muppets were never this dumb when Jim Henson was alive.  Maybe because he focused on Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy and Gonzo, allowing him to develop their characters more instead of making them the butt of dumb jokes.

I did admire the way this movie touched on a subject that I have wondered about for years, what Kermit and Miss Piggy's kids would look like.  It's in a fantasy sequence.  Miss Piggy fantasizes about what her life with Kermit would be like, raising a green girl pig and a pink frog boy.  I always pictured their offspring as being more of a freak show hybrid, but I liked that they explored it.  None of the celebrity cameos are as inspired as "human Walter" from the last movie or any of the cameos in the old Muppet films (Steve Martin, John Cleese etc.).  My personal disdain for Celine Dion aside, the scene she was in was very focused on her, making you forget that the song is about Miss Piggy's sadness.  The plot is very rushed to cram in these lame jokes that do not flow organically from the characters the way they did in 'Caper'.  And, let's just say that none of these songs will be nominated for anything but a Razzie.  There is a lot of self-aware, "make fun of ourselves" humor that also falls flat.  The opening song is "We're Doing a Sequel", the lyrics of which admit that the sequels are never as good.  (Unless it's 'The Great Muppet Caper'!!!) and there is a cameo by Rizzo the rat and Kermit's nephew Robin where they crack a joke about beloved characters that were absent from the last film.  (cue rimshot)

I give 'Muppets Most Wanted' 1 rainbow connection out of 5.  Go rent/buy/stream 'The Great Muppet Caper' to see what this movie should have been.  It will be cheaper than theatre tickets and you will have money left over for snacks.

Or...go see 'Mr. Peabody'...which I DID like and I will tell you why with my next review.

'The Goldbergs' review

'The Goldbergs' is a new sitcom (six episodes in as I am writing this) that takes place in the 80's and centers around a rather high-strung family who shouts a lot, but you can tell through and through that they care about one another.  It doesn't have the corny feel that many sitcoms that actually aired in the 80's did, but the father is not a Homer Simpson/Al Bundy/John Goodman in Roseanne-style idiot/pushover.  He (Murray) is just hot-blooded in that 'because I care too much' kind of way.  Screaming "Where have you been?  I could have killed you!" means "I was very worried."  He is definitely a good father who cares about his kids and his kids know that, so the show has a nice realistic vibe without being too edgy to be family-friendly.

The main character in this show is Adam, the youngest of the three Goldberg kids.  What is innovative about this main character is that the creator of the show is also Adam Goldberg.  This show is based on his real-life family.  The main character is him when he was an adolescent in the 80's and they even show Adam's real-life home movies during the closing credits.  That made me appreciate the show even more because the actors in this show nail their real-life counterparts.  Patton Oswalt from 'Parks and Rec' provides the voice of an adult Adam narrating from the future.

Adam has his high-strung (like dad) older brother Barry, his sister Erica, his doting mother Beverly and his grandpa Albert, all of whom are very relatable, witty characters in a well-written show.  Erica appears to be the voice of reason among the kids.  Beverly the mom provides some relatable (yes, relatable) humor, embarassing her children who are trying to be their own people.  (Yes, you can relate to that.)  And Grandpa Albert (whose wife has died) dates a different woman every weekend.  The only word of caution I would offer as far as this being a "family show" is that, in the first two episodes, Albert provided some off-color humor in the form of advice he gives to Adam about girls and something he says about his own date.  Since then, I don't recall any of that kind of humor being in the show, his character has focused more on trying to be there for his grandkids.  It was kind of like Howard Wolowitz in 'Big Bang Theory', where Howard provided a lot of off-color humor and now he's married, so not so much anymore.  Yes, Grandpa Albert still dates a bunch of women, going to bars dressed in 70's clothes, but the jokes aren't like they were in the first two.  There was a rather touching moment in one episode where Albert admits to his daughter that the reason he dates different women was because he is positive that no one can replace his deceased wife.

This show has additional apeal for those who grew up in the 80's.  There are countless references to things we grew up with.  One episode shows Barry begging his dad for some Reebok pumps.  (Like I did.  Well, my mom.)  He thinks they can make him jump higher.  (We all did.)  And then he tries to slam dunk without the athletic skills to back up the shoes and does a hilarious face plant on the pavement.  (I knew a kid.)  I think the show is funny on its own merits without the 80's references, just because the characters are very relatable, but seeing references to Rubix cubes, Flashdance, neon being in fashion, doing research on microfiche and Lou Ferrigno's Hulk are icing on the cake for those who remember that stuff.

I took away a 'star' because of Albert's off-color humor in the first two episodes. but gave back half of that star for the Reebok pumps episode.  I would rate 'The Goldberg's' 4.5 stars out of 5.  It is on ABC Tuesdays at 9 and is more than worth keeping the TV on after 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' which I'm sure you are already watching.

'RoboCop' (2014) REVIEW

'RoboCop is the remake to that 1987 movie that was SO violent that my mom wouldn't even let me watch the edited for TV version (when she was in the house, that is).  Well, this one is PG-13.  No blood spurts.  No one gets melted by toxic waste only to go SPLAT when they are hit by an oncoming truck.  I don't remember any actual blood being shown outside of scenes that take place in hospitals (in a medical context) when RoboCop is being built.  I mention that, because, when I heard that they were remaking RoboCop as a PG-13, I thought to myself that it might be good if it was just as satirical as the first one, but just "PG-13" the violence.  It succeeds and fails at the same time.  Allow me to explain.

Just as the old one satirized 1980's corporate greed, the new RoboCop harps on a hot-button political issue, the use of drones in warfare.  There is a company called Omni Corp that wants to extend their drone program to police the United States, but public opinion is not on their side, so they build RoboCop as a PR stunt, to show that robots can be used in American police work, but easing people into it, because he is part-human too.  He's a gateway drug to the full-robot cops they want to produce.

Joel Kinneman plays Alex Murphy, a good cop who is trying to hunt down a traitor in the Detroit PD.  This results in him getting a car bomb placed in his car and seriously injured (not killed like the original).  Alex's wife (played by Abbie Cornish) agrees to volunteer him to be turned into a cyborg (later named RoboCop).  I liked the fact that a lot of the story revolved around Alex's wife's reaction to what he was going through.  Not only because the original film neglected this, but because it gave the film a lot of added heart.  In the first movie, Alex doesn't remember his previous life when he becomes RoboCop, only to try to piece it together when he receives flashbacks (that involve his wife).  In this version, he remembers his family, but when Omni Corp realizes that Alex's human emotion cuts down on his efficiency as a cop, they try to take that from him and make him act more robotic.  They do the same thing backwards, but it adds to the conflict of the story, Alex being caught in the middle of this corrupt company's publicity stunt while trying to hunt down the corrupt cops that injured him.

Gary Oldman is great as the scientist who gets roped into creating RoboCop by Michael Keaton as the CEO of Omni Corp. (who should be in more movies).  Samuel L. Jackson is awesome and steals the movie as...basically a black Bill O'Reilly...named Pat Novak who has his own TV show (The Novak Element...not the O'Reilly Factor) and is on Omni Corp's side, wanting robots policing the streets.

I mentioned that the violence is considerably less here (no more than a TV cop show), but there are scenes that show what remained of Alex Murphy after the explosion and...well, you may be grossed out to see a lung moving in a glass case attached to Murphy's head (and some weird trachea thing).  Or the scientist sticking computer chips into Murphy's brain.  It's "medical", but I thought it was excessive.  And, the third act, takes a bunch of intriguing ideas that were introduced in the first two acts of the film and, well, doesn't play them out.  And the film ends in the most anti-climactic way they could have possibly ended it, dropping the things that were interesting and including one plot twist that was not explained and made no sense whatsoever.

So, the new RoboCop is decent.  The first scene is awesome and thought-provoking, lots of good acting...but you are going to walk out of the theatre wishing they had wrapped it up better.  And that he had said "your move, creep!"  They use all of his catch phrases except for that one.  I give it 2.5 blood spurts out of 5.