Posted by The Amateur Critics Guild on July 11, 2011
It is a busy season of life for everyone here at the Guild. So, we are taking the rest of the summer off to relax, refresh, and take in tons of awful summer “blockbusters”.
See you in a few months.
Posted by benjamin on June 27, 2011
Runtime: 114 minutes
Plot: When a test pilot known to be fearless receives a powerful ring from a dying alien, he is inducted into a corp of superheroes known as the Green Lantern Corp.
This was it. Green Lantern was my movie of the summer. It was to be the big screen adaptation of one of my favorite comic book superheroes. Even when the first trailer was released and genuinely a letdown across the internet and world, I tried to hold out hope. Then when subsequent images or video was released, my hope started to grow stronger. Well, I guess my hope was sticking around just too long.
My two greatest fears for this movie revolved around Ryan Reynolds playing the lead and the seemingly overuse of CGI to create the DC world of the Green Lantern. The good news is that those two fears were conquered and each was better than expected. Ryan Reynolds played Ryan Reynolds as only he could but it worked for Hal Jordan. He’s never going to win an academy award, but he carries charisma that makes it easy for many to watch him (mainly the ladies I guess but that’s not charisma).
For the CGI, it definitely seemed overused, but for a movie that is centered partly in outer space and with a superhero that can create anything imaginable through his ring, the use of CGI and a large amount of it was a must. The CGI team definitely put in overtime to clean up many of the early shots that looked cheap and fake. They weren’t able to make it all perfect, but the work performed on each of the constructs (the creations from the Green Lantern’s ring) was beautiful. Each one of them was exactly how I could picture it would be in real life after reading the comics for so many years. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat anticipating each new creation. My personal favorite has to be the race car.
Now for the bad news, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, the script, the pace, and probably a few other things I’ve tried not to remember. Don’t get me wrong. This movie is not as bad as the internet is trying to make it out to be. Worse than X-Men 3 and Wolverine? Ouch, I’m not buying that one. This movie won’t win any awards, but at least it is watchable.
The largest issue here is the script based predominately on a great comic story, “Secret Origins”. Martin Campbell, who has produced films such as Goldeneye and Casino Royale, wasn’t able to build on the poor basis that was present. Mark Strong was brilliantly cast as Sinestro but was given absolutely nothing to do. Peter Sarsgaard was given the creepy role of Hector Hammond but produced an over-the-top presentation of the character that made his use more laughable than needed. Green Lantern is a character and world that is essentially a space opera in the realm of Star Wars and Star Trek. However, the makers of this movie insisted on keeping Hal grounded on Earth. Not sure why this decision was made as every person in attendance will tell you that their favorite parts of the film were Hal’s training sessions on Oa.
Overall, I was hoping for something better, but I only received something mediocre at best. Thankfully it will make enough money to possibly warrant a sequel, but here’s hoping that the second learns from the many mistakes of the first. I wished and hoped for another comic book property given the royal treatment like The Dark Knight was. No superhero movie will be The Dark Knight so maybe it is best to stop looking and just enjoy to be along for the rides. Next up, Captain America: The First Avenger.
X-Men: First Class
Posted by benjamin on June 12, 2011
Runtime: 132 minutes
Plot: Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men working together with other Mutants to prevent nuclear Armageddon. — Yahoo! Movies
Summer 2011 was living up to be the summer of the superheroes. We’ve already seen it once on ACG for Thor, but there’s plenty more to come. X-Men: First Class was always lost in the shuffle but since the first trailer released it seemed to bring a thought that it could potentially be the hit of them all. Well after a single viewing, I’d have to agree so far.
First Class takes place in the 60′s in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The movie centers on a time when mutants are really first becoming known to the world and the audience gets to see the first interaction between Magneto and Charles Xavier as the two grow to learn they are not the only ones. However, due to each’s upbringing, their view on how the world should deal with the mutants is quite different.
As the movie relies heavily on this friendship/tension between Xavier and Magneto, it was great to see the casting of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Both shined in their roles. McAvoy created an Xavier that was a little more dashing and rakish than we are accustomed with Professor X but in the times, it works and works well. His only failure was the cartoonish way his hand always had to go to his head when using his powers. It was fine once or twice, but then it became old and annoying. Fassbender’s Magento is perfect. He’s smart, powerful, and dark when needed. The early parts of the movie that have Magneto hunting down those in charge of the concentration camps could have been a movie in of itself that I would enjoy. The other mutants are mostly forgettable or were only added for the final fight, except for Jennifer Lawerence’s Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s Beast. The interaction between these two (new to me from the comic world I think) was sweet and definitely pushed the thoughts that many mutants want to be normal like most people do. Probably doesn’t help that mutations typically appear during the teenage years. I’d keep my eye on these four actors going forward. Might be nice to see what else they can do and bring to the screen.
Vaughn’s direction helped build the emotions and conflict. He borrowed from the original films but also added his own style. If he would have directed the third X-Men film, as was originally intended, maybe it wouldn’t have been the unholy mess that it ended up being. It can be difficult to create a period piece as well as an action movie, but Vaughn mixed the two with relative ease. Vaughn’s biggest letdown was late in the film when we encountered a “preparation” style montage that was cut together more like a comic book panel. I enjoyed this style in the first Hulk movie, but it seemed out of place here after not using it throughout the early parts of the film. Otherwise, Vaughn did very well to make a two and a half hour movie pass quickly and efficiently.
With all of this said though, I always believe that a superhero movie is made or broken by the villain. A strong villain can elevate the plot and heroes even when everything else is truly flat. Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw is that character. He is the Magento before Magneto becomes the ultimate villain. I was first worried about a mainstream film using a character and group, The Hellfire Club, that is relatively lesser known to the primary movie going audience. However, it was a brilliant move due to the time period and making the Club a true night club where the potential underground and shady deals could be taking place thanks to a few powerful mutants. Bacon is suave, charismatic, but he has a goal to make the world in the image that he approves. He’s even strong enough to make you forget just how forgettable the rest of the club is, including the “let’s show off what you have” Emma Frost who is played by January Jones.
As this movie continues to do well at the box office, I’m interested to see where the characters go from here. There is still plenty of time before the present day X-Men franchise timeline is met and several potential directions that are available. I’ve heard rumors that subsequent movies could be set in different decades such as the 70′s and 80′s. I’ll be there when that happens as well.
Note: There are two key cameos in this film that I thought were perfect. They weren’t too much or too little and fit nicely with the storyline when they are introduced. See if you can spot them.
Little Big League
Posted by will on June 10, 2011
Runtime: 119 minutes
Plot: A young boy is bequeathed the ownership of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins.
Seeing as we are ankle-deep in the 2011 version of our National Pastime, what is more appropriate than looking back on one of the many baseball-centric films of the early to mid 90s? In 1993 – 1994 our nation was plagued by baseball fever at the box office. In the span of two years we were inundated by the family-friendly likes of Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, and Angels in the Outfield. That doesn’t even include more mature titles such as The Scout, Major League II, The Man from Left Field, A League of Their Own, The Babe, and Cobb.
Little Big League came at a time of fevered passion for baseball. Yet, it also came at the end of a golden era. Baseball had a very strong following and fan base … That is, until the 1994-95 season was lost to baseball’s eight work stoppage and fan interest in our beloved sport waned. Outraged and shaken fans quit attending games and baseball suffered (although, popularity metrics and the actual decline of the love of the game can be infinitely argued upon, this is more from my personal experience).
Growing up, kids of my generation played baseball, religiously followed their team, collected baseball, had their favorite players, and savored visits to the ballpark to see the pros go to work. Baseball, then, was indeed American as apple pie and the Fourth of July. So, what is the state of baseball with American youth now? It’s hard for me to say but I do know I haven’t seen a movie focused on baseball in awhile (sorry, Fever Pitch … which was really a remake on a British film revolving around the game of soccer).
Little Big League manages to play to our childhood fantasies but it also raised the stakes. Whereas Rookie of the Year put a kid in a big league uniform, Little Big League put the a kid in control of a whole team. The premise is simple; the owner of the Minnesota Twins suddenly passes away and leaves the team to his 12 year old grandson, Billy Heywood, who has a prodigious baseball database for a brain. After kicking the unforgiving scuzzball manager to the curb, Heywood installs himself at the team’s helm. The rest of the movie centers around Billy’s attempts to win the respect of the proud and rugged team as they attempt to turn their season around. With every step, Billy must also face the scrutiny of the media, fans, and his friends.
It’s been 17 years since this film was initially released and I am pleased to write that it holds up. The premise is simple but the movie is still a pretty entertaining 119 minutes. While the story is formulaic, there is enough substance for the film to leg out a double. Sure, there are a lot of cornball moments and logic was thrown out of the game in the first inning, but this movie isn’t trying to be an accurate portrayal (a 12 year old is negotiating the rights for Ricky Henderson at one point!).
An added bonus to watching this movie is the nostalgia. Plenty of real life players make cameos, from the legendary (Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson), familiar (Paul O’Neill, Sandy Alomar Jr., Iván Rodriguez, Tim Raines), and the Oh-Yeah-That-Guy (Dave Magadan, Wally Joyner, Carlos Baerga). For those of us Millennials growing up in the late 80′s and early 90′s, Little Big League is a nice memory trip to when baseball was king.
Posted by christopher on May 23, 2011
Runtime: 146 minutes
Plot: The life and times of a mobster.
To be a Goodfella, that’s the life, you’ve got it made. Money, respect, women, drinking, gambling, you’re a part of a family. It’s all that Henry wanted growing up. Forget the middle class, average, monotonous lifestyle, sitting behind a desk writing reviews for your blog. That’s not for Henry, there’s no risk, no adventure, no fun. It’s a grind in the start, being a grunt, a gopher; but if you show respect and don’t fuck up, you’ll get yours, Henry sure did.
I had not had the pleasure of viewing this movie prior to this point. I was aware of it but it had only recently struck me that, as an indisputable classic, I should probably give it a whirl. What struck me right away was how much I had missed not seeing Goodfellas earlier. It’s been parodied and redone but only now can I truly reflect and appreciate what an influence it was on media and our culture. What also struck me was the timeliness of the film. Viewing it on Blu-ray I’m sure it was in some way digitally enhanced, and while not a taxing film visually, it could just as easily been created today as it was in 1990. Also to this point was the surprising applicability in light of the “Jersey” movement, where the film highlighted the women’s lavish but incredibly tacky lifestyle choices from their homes, pets, clothing, and makeup. Same too with the men, all named “Pauly something something.” Same as it ever was.
The topical influence is rather apparent but the directorial influence deserves incredible credit as well. It goes without saying that Scoresese is an incredible filmmaker, and it’s telling in the shots that have been mimicked many times now. I’m thinking specifically of a scene where Henry is first taking Karen out on a date to the club. They skip the line and enter through the backdoor/kitchen. The one shot follows Henry and Karen through the halls and kitchen, eventually leading them to their table, capturing every interaction along the way no matter how subtle. It serves to establish Henry’s character for one as a strong, respected member of the family without cutting for even a moment to switch scenes. Scorsese pulls a similar move in introducing the family in the beginning; a one shot again from a first person perspective.
One piece of the film that initially captivated but eventually drew me out was the narration. I quickly became drawn into the film and into Henry’s character as Ray Liotta led the story. He has a great voice, one that always imparted a bit of youthfulness and innocence in spite of his actions. Unfortunately the film switches with Karen narrating for a short while. This would have been wonderful had the film continued to switch, with new characters taking the lead, discussing their thoughts and the current actions in relation to Henry; it did not, however. Henry, in stead, picks the narration back up which frankly just left me confused in hind sight. In the grand scheme, given Karen’s role, I’m not sure why she led the story for a short while.
The performances, across the board, were quite spectacular. De Niro and Pesci particularly. They not only embodied the mobster personality but both added lightness to the story. As much comic relief as was necessary, often times quickly countered by extreme violence, intensity, and often psychopathy, which in and of itself was fun and entertaining.
Beyond the narration, I found the story dragged. There was a point of transition, after which point it just repeated itself. It all eventually served into the climax but could have been cut into a tighter story.
Still, in my humble opinion, Goodfellas is a made movie.