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2017

The last day of 2017 is the best day to reflect on 2017. There were a lots of ups and downs. Like I saw Tom Petty live in May. Then he died in October. California finally got out of our devastating drought. Then we got massive fires in NorCal and SoCal. The San Francisco Giants were supposed to be playoff contenders. Then we ended tied for the worst record of the season.

I had a lot of good things happen this year. I won’t get into them because I don’t want to brag. I had a lot of bad things happen. I will get into them because I want to bitch. First off, I lost a very close friend in June. His passing was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life to date. I’m somewhat lucky to be surrounded by people feeling as lost as I am in the matter. We all miss and grieve him together. I lost a few others this year, like my Great Aunt Florence and my dog-in-law, Crash.

Pop culturally we watched in awe as powerful men were brought down with sexual harassment allegations. People that were long admired had their reputations and careers ruined when the public found out they were creepy rapist douchebags. I think that’s fucking awesome but I’m disappointed that the biggest creeper is still in the White House despite all the pussies he’s boasted about grabbing.

It’s hard to say if 2017 was a good year or a bad year, but it’s definitely a year that changed me. But I’m over it and want to see what 2018 has to offer. I’d say it can’t get any worse but I know it can and I don’t want to jinx anything. Hope you and yours have a prosperous 2018.

Critically Rated at 7/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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That Particular View

I was just outside on my balcony smoking a joint and thinking stoney thoughts. It dawned on me as I gazed at all the lights that I was the only one in the city with that particular view. And I realized that every window is special, every vista point is unique. Nobody else sees the city the same way you do. Nobody else will ever see the world through your eyes. That particular view is only for you and you alone. What do you see?

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Pelada (documentary)

There’s no denying that football/soccer is a global game. They play it almost every country on the map. There are numerous professional leagues and a little event called the World Cup where the best players in the world have their chance to represent their countries and compete for national pride. There are billions of fans and millions of players… and most of those players didn’t have what it takes to play professionally. The passion for the game doesn’t just go away and so they play any way that they can. Pelada is a documentary about pickup soccer games around the world.

The documentary follows Luke and Gwendolyn, two former college stars who didn’t quite make it professionally. Their whole life, their identity was soccer/football. And when you realize you can’t achieve your dreams you have to redefine yourself somehow. They embarked on a six month long trip across 25 countries, finding games and joining in. Football/soccer is a unifier and they meet people with interesting stories and finding out what the game means to them, how it defines them.

They meet a young Brazilian called Ronaldinha, nicknamed after her idol Ronaldinho because she has his talent. They meet a bunch of old timers who meet once a week to play games. Very old, decrepit, and slow-paced games, but games nonetheless. They go into the San Pedro Prison in Bolivia and play some intense 5 on 5 games with the inmates. The inmates are crazy good at soccer/football because that’s all they have to look forward to.

In Kenya, they go to a small village dirt lot known as Austin’s Field, named for a guy who lost his family and found solace in soccer. He is always at the field, maintaining it and organizing games for the children. On Saturdays he arranges a tournament and teams compete for a meager cash prize. The whole village comes out to watch and the sideline becomes a wall of bodies. Football is their escape from the drudgery of life.

They go to China and meet a group of players with a whole different style of soccer. They like to freestyle, putting more emphasis of tricks involving juggling and fancy footwork. It’s like breakdancing with a soccer ball. They also play small 2v2 games, usually in public parks with lots of passersby. Their goal is to spread awareness of street soccer and freestyling. I noticed that in most countries, the players were all really passionate and would get angry and get frustrated. The Chinese players were also passionate, but the only emotion they showed was pure joy. They found happiness in the game that sets them free. Most players they showed around the world were poor and soccer was their escape. In China, the main player AK gave up his high paying and stressful job to kick a ball in the street. Soccer is his sanctuary.

Luke and Gwendolyn also go to Jerusalem, home of three major religions and a shit ton of tension. And they play soccer with each other. They are never on the same team, they play against each other. But they are playing on the same field and that is worth something. They openly say that they hate each other, but if they still kick a ball around instead of fighting with fists or bullets.

They go to Tehran, Iran where women are second-class citizens and the government forbids women from playing with men. Luke and Gwendolyn jump into a pickup game and someone reported them to the government. Gwendolyn finds a few women who play. They have a quick game, playing in hijabs and looking uncomfortable. Luckily the government doesn’t confiscate their video and this documentary is the result.

Soccer/football is the world’s sport for a reason. This movie takes you all over and shows you why. I just wish that Luke and Gwendolyn wouldn’t spend all their time bitching about how they didn’t make it. They try to make the movie about themselves, when it should be about soccer. If you say your movie is about pickup soccer games around the world, keep it about pickup soccer games. No one wants to see a glorified home movie about 2 white Americans travelling the world.

This is a good documentary overall, especially when it’s about soccer games and not a couple with failed dreams. It’s worth seeing and I watched it for free on Hulu, so if you have an hour and half to kill, this is a decent way to spend it.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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V for Vendetta (comic)

V for Vendetta is one of those comics that transcends comics and gets accepted as genuine literature. Alan Moore’s story is about a masked vigilante who rebels against the oppressive dictatorship that the UK has become. And he wears a Guy Fawkes mask because you have to look cool if you’re going to fight the government.

The story is set in the UK a few years after a nuclear war. Society collapsed and a group called the Norsefire takes advantage of the chaos and establishes itself as the new government in charge. If you are trying to assume total control, it’s only natural that you would eliminate your enemies or any threats against you, and so the Norsefire purged the UK of foreign immigrants, left-wing liberals, homosexuals and put them in concentration camps.

Only one prisoner managed to escape and he decides he wants a little revenge. He dons a cloak and a Guy Fawkes mask, and has an unnatural obsession with the letter V and the number five. In the beginning of the comic, our masked vigilante saves a young girl named Evey from a sticky situation. He takes her to his underground lair and begins teaching her how to become free, while showing off his bombing abilities and literary prowess.

It soon becomes clear to the Norsefire that they have a terrorist on their hands and they have to stop him. Eric Finch, the head of The Nose (the police force) , is assigned to track down V. We start to see how the party works. We meet the Leader, a shut-in named Adam Susan, who spends all day with his beloved computer system, Fate. There’s also The Finger (the secret police), The Eye (the visual surveillance branch), The Ear (the audio surveillance branch), and The Mouth (in charge of propaganda).

V starts killing a bunch of seemingly random people with ties to the party. Finch discovers a link between the victims – they all worked at a concentration camp. He finds a diary from one of V’s victims and learns about a mysterious prisoner known as the Man from Room Five because he was locked in a room with a roman numeral V on the door. The Man from Room Five escaped the camp using improvised explosives and vanished into the night. Finch deduces that this prisoner became the masked vigilante. He just has no idea who his true identity is.

V continues wreaking havoc on the Norsefire of the next few months and years, all the while continuing to teach Evey how to be free and what it means to be free. While V is terrorizing the party, the party is becoming divided and there’s a lot of bickering and backstabbing and attempts to seize power. V’s continued assaults on the party makes the oppressed masses start to stir and fight back. The party must try to deal with a potential political uprising in addition to warding off V’s victories.

Finch goes a little off the deep end and starts to think like V. He figures out where V’s hideout is and confronts him He wounds V mortally and V ends up dying in Evey’s arms. She doesn’t unmask him, she instead decides to don the cloak and the mask and assume his role. His ideas will live on through her, he lives on as a symbol.

V is one of the most unusual characters in comic history. You never see his face, you never learn his identity. And neither do any of the other characters. V could be a hero, he could be a villain. He could be sane, he could be totally crazy. He’s a little bit of everything, and he’s always an enigma.

Alan Moore’s depiction of dystopia is very reminiscent of Nineteen Eighty-Four. David Lloyd’s fantastic illustrations are perfect for this story. Although some events are over-the-top, the artwork keeps everything grounded in reality. It makes everything seem not just possible but inevitable. The art and the story are perfect compliments of each other.

If you liked Nineteen Eighty-Four or Fahrenheit 451 but wish there was more violence and nudity and a masked vigilante, you would probably like this comic. They made a film version that doesn’t really translate well, but it has Natalie Portman in it and she’s nice to look at. It’s not a terrible movie, but it sucks compared to the comic. This is a good comic, it’s a smart comic, and it’s an important comic.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones returns to the big screen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This sequel is actually a prequel, Raiders of the Lost Ark takes place in 1936, and this is set in 1935. Indy is on the hunt for a mystical stone, not nearly as exciting as the Ark of the Covenant, but whatever advances the plot does the job. George Lucas wrote and produced the movie and Spielberg directed it. It’s not as good as Raiders, but it’s a satisfying sequel.

The movie starts with a musical number at Club Obi Wan in Shanghai. That’s quite a turnaround from the opening sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones shows up and is wrapping up an exciting adventure that involves a diamond and an antidote to some poison that Indy drinks. We are introduced to an obnoxious American showgirl named Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Indy’s exploited Asian sidekick Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). Jonathan Ke Quan is a Vietnamese actor who is playing a Chinese kid because Hollywood is racist and all Asians look alike. Indiana, Willie, and Short Round escape on a plane, but their plane is owned by the criminal they barely escaped from. They end up using a raft as a glorified parachute and find themselves in the main plotline.

After falling thousands and thousands of feet and sliding down a mountain in an inflatable raft, Indy and his pals find themselves in an Indian village. The villagers are in trouble and need Indy’s help. It seems that some assholes from Pankot Palace stole their sacred stone and kidnapped all the kids. The kids seem to be an afterthought, they really want their magic rock back.

Indiana agrees to help them because he’s Indiana Jones and the movie would suck if he didn’t do anything. So he heads to Pankot Palace with Willie and Short Round. They meet the young Maharajah, the king of Pankot Palace and they enjoy a lavish feast, complete with eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains for dessert.

Indy gets attacked by an assassin and decides that something is not quite right in the palace. He goes snooping around and finds a bunch of hidden passageways and tunnels that lead to the Temple of Doom.

Inside the Temple of Doom is a freaky cult of freaky fuckers that believe in child labor, human sacrifice, and ripping beating hearts out of people’s chests. Indy, Willie, and Short Round are all captured by the evil cult. Short Round gets to join all the child slaves, Willie gets to be a human sacrifice, and Indy gets to be converted into a brainwashed cult zombie.

Short Round manages to escape and snaps Indy out of his trance, and he frees Willie, and they celebrate by taking a roller coaster ride in a mine cart. After that fun ride, there’s some drama involving a rickety bridge with hungry crocodiles. Indy, Willie, and Short Round emerge triumphant and return to the village with their magic rock and all the kids. I’m glad the kids are ok, but I’m just so relieved that they got their stupid stone back. Priorities, you know?

This movie is a decent sequel, but it differs from the Indian Jones formula in a few ways. In Raiders of the Lost ark and in The Last Crusade, the story takes you all around the world, it’s a global trek. Temple of Doom constricts you and keeps you focused on one place, the titular Temple of Doom. The ending is very conclusive and is really happy. The other movies end but leave the story open, and they don’t end with a romantic kiss and a bunch of happy kids.

There are some truly memorable moments like the raft-parachute and the mine cart chase… both sequences were cut out of Raiders for timing reasons. The rope bridge sequence, the eyeball soup, beating hearts ripped from living victims, and Short Round… this movie had some great moments of its own.

This isn’t a great sequel. It lost some of the momentum from the first movie, but they get it back in the third. You can tell that they aren’t quite sure what Indiana Jones represents, but they get back on track for The Last Crusade (and ruin everything in Crystal Skulls). This movie has its moments and it’s still required viewing if you want to call yourself a movie buff.

Critically Rated at 12/17

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X-Men: The Last Stand

The X-Men are back on the big screen for the third time and Brett Ratner does everything he can to ruin everything that Bryan Singer tried to accomplish with this trilogy. Most of the main characters from the first two movies reprise their roles, but there are way too many characters to give anyone a decent amount of screen time. The end result is a bunch of mutants running around fighting each other but you don’t give a fuck about who is fighting or why.

The movie starts twenty years before the events of the main story, a middle-aged Charles Xavier and Magneto meet with a Class 5 mutant named Jean Grey. They have a brief discussion about how powerful Jean in, and whether or not she will control her power or if it will control her. The movie jumps ahead another ten years to a young Warren Worthington III as he tries to hide his mutant wings from his disapproving father.

The movie jumps to the present day as Worthington Labs announces a cure for the mutant gene. This causes a huge rift in the mutant community. Some mutants want the cure and others view it as a form of extermination. Magneto uses it as a chance to recruit more mutants to join his side. He recruits Callisto, Psylocke, Arclight, and Kid Omega (who should be named Quill, but whatever, details aren’t important).

Meanwhile the X-Men have lost Jean Grey from the events of the second movie, and Cyclops still hasn’t gotten over losing her. Shadowcat (Ellen Page) and Colossus have bigger roles on the team, and Beast (Kelsey Grammer) also joins the X-Men. Cyclops is all emo and goes to Alkali Lake and Jean reappears and the two are reunited. The joyous reunion is short-lived because Jean Grey is no longer Jean Grey, now she is the Phoenix.

Magneto keeps on recruiting more mutants to his cause. When he frees Mystique from her mobile prison, he also frees the Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) and the Multiple Man. They join the Brotherhood of Mutants without any persuasion, as soon as they are introduced they are recruited. How convenient. When Magneto and his posse go to recruit the Phoenix/Jean Grey, they bump into Xavier and a few X-Men who have the same idea. Magneto and Xavier both try to persuade her to join their side and Xavier ends up getting disintegrated.

The X-Men are without their leader and Magneto gets ready for an assault on Worthington Labs to destroy the cure. The remaining X-Men (Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Iceman, Colossus, and Shadowcat) form their last stand and try to defend the island. There is a mutant battle and mutants fight and mutants die. Jean momentarily regains control of herself and asks Wolverine to kill her and the Phoenix and he does even though he doesn’t want to.

There’s a scene after the credits where it’s hinted that Xavier has transferred his consciousness to a comatose guy. If genes are responsible for mutation, this new body shouldn’t have any powers, just throwing that out there.

There are a lot more mutants in this movie than in the previous two. They add mutants without establishing who they are. Callisto, Kid Omega, Psylocke, Arclight, Multiple Man, and the Juggernaut are all new mutants and they don’t waste anytime trying to establish their characters. They literally come onscreen, say their name and mention their powers and pledge their allegiance to Magneto. Super lazy writing.

The  X-Men are also treated like an afterthought. Cyclops is barely in the movie. Rogue’s character is completely wasted. She never even obtained the ability to fly like she did in the comics… she voluntarily gets the cure and stops being a mutant. Xavier dies simply for shock value. Colossus is on the team for the whole movie, but he has fewer lines than he did in five minutes that he was in the second movie. And where the fuck is Nightcrawler? Adding Beast was a nice touch, but you couldn’t have another blue mutant on the team?

The worst addition to the franchise was Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Angel (Ben Foster). They introduce his character in the beginning, he has a dramatic escape from being forcibly given the cure by his dad, he comes to the mansion for sanctuary, and he saves his dad from falling. That’s his arc. He doesn’t join the X-Men. He doesn’t fight. He just wastes screen time and keeps other characters from getting developed.

The first two movies balanced action who deeper themes of acceptance, of tolerance, of being proud of who you are… this movie is just noise and fireworks. Ratner takes all the characters that Singer established and ruins them. He takes all the care and thought and attention to detail and casts it aside. He doesn’t care that the first two movies were foreshadowing something great, he wants explosions and meaningless special effects. And he delivers. This movie looks awesome. It’s just not coherent and the story sucks and any decent performances by the actors are lost in the chaos. This is a terrible way to end a great trilogy.

Critically Rated at 8/17

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings is the gold standard for epic fantasies. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first installment of the trilogy and introduces us to Frodo Baggins and the other occupants of Middle-earth. Peter Jackson cares a lot about the source material, and even though a lot of stuff is left out, the film captures the tone and feel of the book.

The movie begins with a little crash course in Middle-earth history. Back in the day, the Dark Lord Sauron made himself a ring that would give him the power to take over the world. There’s an epic battle with men and Elves and Prince Isilidur manages to defeat Sauron, and Isilidur decides to keep the Ring for himself. The Ring betrays him and he dies. The ring gets lost and forgotten for a few thousand years before the creature Gollum finds it and eventually a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) gets his hands on it.

He has it for sixty years before he leaves it to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) finds out that the Ring is the Ring of Power, and that Sauron’s forces are trying to get it back. Frodo must take the Ring and leave the Shire. He sets off on this journey with his loyal gardener Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin). Gandalf goes to consult with his wizard pal Saruman(Christopher Lee) where he learns that Sauron has dispatched the Nazgûl to find Frodo. He also finds out that Saruman is also working for Sauron and Gandalf gets taken prisoner.

Frodo and Sam are trying to make their way to Bree to meet up with Gandalf. They are joined by Merry and Pippen (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd). The four hobbits are being perused by the Nazgûl, but manage to make it to Bree safely. Gandalf isn’t there to meet them, since he’s all captured and stuff, but they meet a ranger named Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen). Aragorn is an ally of Gandalf and he leads the hobbits to the Elven city Rivendell. Along the way the Nazgûl attack Frodo and stab him with a morgul blade. That’s bad. And if Frodo doesn’t get to Rivendell as soon as possible he will turn into a wraith. That’s bad. Luckily Aragorn’s Elf girlfriend Arwen (Liv Tyler) shows up to save Frodo’s life.

Frodo and his companions finally make it Rivendell. Gandalf is there and he explains how he escaped Saruman’s clutches. Uncle Bilbo is there too, and they get to have a little hobbit bonding time. Elrond the Elf (Hugo Weaving) puts together a council to determine what to do with the Ring. They decide their only course of action is to destroy the Ring by throwing it into the fires of Mount Doom, right in the heart of Sauron territory. Frodo puts it on himself to take the Ring, He is joined by Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippen and Aragorn. And Legolas the Elf, Gimli the Dwarf, and Boromir the guy from Gondor decide that they want to join the Fellowship of the Ring too. Orlando Bloom plays Legolas, John Rhys-Davies plays Gimli, and Sean Bean plays Boromir.

The Fellowship embarks on their journey, but Sauron and Saruman aren’t making it easy for them. They have to worry about spies and orcs and trolls.  Gandalf tries to fight a Balrog and ends up dying a little bit. The Fellowship keeps moving on, but the Ring corrupts Boromir and he goes a little crazy. He attacks Frodo and tries to steal the ring but Frodo escapes. And then the Fellowship gets attacked by the Urik-Hai. Boromir dies, Merry and Pippen get snatched, and the Fellowship is in shambles. Frodo decides that he must take the Ring to Mount Doom by himself. He sneaks away from the group, but Sam tracks him down and Frodo lets him tag along. It’s always better to bring a friend when you have to do something alone.

The movie does the book justice, but the book is better. The film leaves out a lot of characters (no Tom Bombadil?!?) and events. Everything gets condensed and simplified. There are a lot of differences between the book and movie, but this is more faithful to the source material than the second and third installments.

This is a great start to a great trilogy. A lot of stuff might be missing, but Peter Jackson takes you to Middle-earth. What he does show you is amazing. Tolkien’s world comes to life and it feels real. There is a sense of history, it makes the unbelievable believable.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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The Hangover Part II

Todd Phillips returns to direct Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifinakis in The Hangover Part II. The Hangover was was an amazing movie, it was totally unexpected and out of the blue. The Hangover Part II is a complete retread and copies almost everything that the first one does and puts a slight twist on it.

Two years after the events of the first film, the Wolf Pack is reunited to celebrate Stu’s upcoming wedding. Ed Helms is the guy getting married in this movie, and even though Doug (Justin Bartha) isn’t getting hitched this time and can actually join in the fun, he is still shunned and ignored and has no bearing on the plot. Justin Bartha needs to fire his agent.

Stu is getting married to Lauren, and the Wolf Pack and Lauren’s little brother Teddy have a toast on the beach with some sealed beers. The next morning they wake up and Teddy has disappeared and they find themselves duplicating the events of the first film without realizing that they have done all the same shit before.

Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, and Zach Galifinakis stumble their way through their way through the plot, periodically spitting out semi-memorable one liners. They are trying to find out where Teddy is, and each time time they get closer to finding out his location, they get face another setback.

Ken Jeong returns as Chow, in an even bigger and more exposed role. He plays a bigger character, he actually effects the plot.

The Hangover sequel borrows heavily from the plot of the original. You can deduce what will happen and when it will happen and if you are surprised than you are an idiot and can’t pay attention. This movie is a comedy. It’s not trying to fool you.

The movie is funny but it’s not as funny as the original. They are trying to recapture the feel of the first by completely copying each scene with a slight variation. Instead of finding a baby, they find a monkey. Not the same, and not as funny.

You are trying to pretend that it’s funny and that you like it. But you are lying to yourself. It’s like going skydiving for the second time… you are just going through the motions and the thrill is gone. It’s not as great as you remember, because it was totally new the first time.

The Hangover is a great comedy. It’s funny and original. The Hangover Part II is a decent sequel to a great comedy. It’s less funny and less original. It’s tired. It’s a rehash. It’s a YouTube sequel. You could have made a better follow-up and you didn’t and I hate you for that.

Critically Rated at 11/17

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Billy Madison

Adam Sandler is Billy Madison in Billy Madison. Tamra Davis (Half Baked) directs Adam Sandler in his first starring role. Billy must prove to his father that he is competent enough to take over the family business. The best way to prove his competence is to repeat first grade through his senior year in high school, spending two weeks in each grade. This wasn’t a box office hit, but it’s Adam Sandler’s best movie.

Billy Madison is a loser. A rich loser. He spends his days getting drunk and chasing imaginary penguins around his dad’s mansion. Billy is the heir to the Madison Hotel chain, but his dad doesn’t know if he can handle the pressure of running a Fortune 500 company. Billy proposes that he goes back to school to show that he can graduate without his dad’s help or influence.

Billy starts reliving his childhood two weeks at a time. He draws a blue duck with Miss Lippy in first grade. He falls for Veronica Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson), his third grade teacher, and he makes friends with Ernie and a few other students. Elementary and middle school is fun, but eventually Billy winds up in high school again. This time he isn’t as popular as the last time around and he makes amends with people he bullied in high school (like Steve Buscemi in an awesome cameo).

The villain of the story is Eric Gordon (Bradley Whitford), who stands to gain Madison Hotels if Billy fails. Naturally he tries to sabotage Billy, and when Billy finds out he challenges him to an academic decathlon to determine who takes over the business.

I am beginning to suspect a certain trend of happy endings in Hollywood movies, because Billy ends up winning even though he’s probably suffering from brain damage. Billy is not smart. He has occasional flashes of brilliance, but he’s not a smart character. He knows that there is no “w” in “couch” but still struggles to spell it correctly. He’s mean too. He picks on little kids and belittles them and makes no attempt to say sorry or rectify the situation.

There are some great supporting roles in this movie. Norm Macdonald stands out as Billy’s loser friend. He’s the kind of guy who steals thirty bagged lunches, lights bags filled with shit on fire, and has pickle races down store windows. Chris Farley plays an angry bus driver. He throws a banana peel out the bus window, and shots of the slowly decomposing peels become interspersed throughout the movie, before the peel leads to the demise of the O’Doyle clan.

There is a simple plot with a lot of random moments. A lot of elaborate sequences have no real bearing on the movie, most notably the opening chase of the imaginary penguin. There’s a sudden musical number, as inspiring as it is confusing. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, but there should be more of a reason behind gags like that.

This is Adam Sandler’s best movie. Happy Gilmore is the only other candidate for his best movie. Sandler is not that funny. He is goofy. He makes weird noises and makes fun of lunch ladies. He’s not a great comedian, but he can turn a film into a vehicle for himself and that’s not easy to do. If you missed the ‘90s for whatever reason, you can watch this movie and catch up.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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X2: X-Men United

X2 is a great sequel and one of the best comic book movies to date. Bryan Singer returns to direct, and most of the cast from the original come back, with a few new mutants and characters joining the fun. The story is bigger, the stakes are higher, the fights are more elaborate… this is a perfect sequel.

The movie starts with a bang as the teleporting Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) launches a near fatal attack on the US President. The President escapes injury, but the stage is set for the next level of the mutant/human war. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) dispatches Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) to track down Nightcrawler, while Professor X and Cyclops (James Marsden) go to visit Magneto in his plastic prison.

Magneto (Ian McKellen) has been tortured into giving William Stryker (Brian Cox) information about Xavier’s school for mutants. Stryker has been using his son’s power to manipulate and control mutants. Professor X and Cyclops walk into Stryker’s trap and they are captured. He plans on manipulating Xavier into using Cerebro to kill all the mutants.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has been hunting around Alkali Lake for clues to his past, but when he doesn’t find anything, he returns to the mansion and winds up acting as the babysitter while everyone else is advancing the plot. He catches up with Rogue (Anna Paquin) and meets her new boyfriend Bobby Drake a.k.a. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). The happy homecoming is short-lived as Stryker’s forces attack the mansion and the mutants are forced to flee.

Iceman takes Rogue, Wolverine and their friend John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford) to his parent’s house to hide out. Iceman comes out as a mutant to his family, and they aren’t too accepting. His little brother calls the cops on them and there’s a little showcase of raw mutant power before the X-Men (minus Cyclops and Xavier) all meet up again.

The X-Men are making their escape, but then the get attacked, but then they are saved by Magneto and Mystique. And so they decide to all join forces and become X-Men United. They make their way to Alkali Lake to confront Stryker, save Xavier, and save the world. Of course there has to be a slight twist and so there is one. So if you haven’t seen this movie that’s been out for more than nine years, be grateful that I didn’t spoil anything. This movie sets everything up for a great third installment, but then Bryan Singer left and Brett Ratner came in to ruin the final film.

One thing that has bothered me since the first time that I saw this movie is that Iceman doesn’t stop the raging floodwaters. I mean he’s Iceman. He can turn water vapor into ice. Surely he can turn cold water into ice. I mean there’s snow all around, it’s already cold, and it wouldn’t be that hard.

The first movie uses mutants as a metaphor for racism and equality. Charles Xavier is like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Magneto is like Malcolm X. This movie uses mutants as a metaphor for homosexuality and equality. Iceman comes out to his parents. He fearfully tells them that he is a mutant and his mom’s response is, “Have you tried not being a mutant?”. Director Bryan Singer is gay, and for him to include a scene like this in a summer blockbuster could have been controversial, but I think it adds to the context of the film.

This is a great movie, it’s a great sequel. It’s the best X-Men movie to date. There are great characters and awesome fights. There are morals and messages and themes and references to the comics that only avid fans will get. The opening sequence with Nightcrawler is one of the best opening scenes in any movie. It draws you in and you are instantly hooked.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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The Animatrix

The Matrix is a great movie. The sequels have some great moments, but they are not great movies. The Animatrix is the best installment in the Matrix franchise. It’s a collection of eight animated shorts about the Matrix universe. Each segment has it’s own style of animation. Four of the stories are related to the movies, and the other four are independent. If you liked the first movie and thought the sequels sucked, you should give this one a try, it might redeem your faith in the Matrix franchise.

Final Flight of the Osiris is a CG animated short that ties directly into the Matrix Reloaded. The animation is reminiscent of the Final Fantasy movie. The Second Renaissance is a two-part film that explores how the machines came to dominate man. It’s pretty much a history lesson on how the Matrix universe was formed. B1-66ER will haunt your dreams. Kid’s Story is a tale about that weird kid that wanted to carry Neo’s luggage in the second movie. It’s how he escaped the Matrix, and Neo makes an appearance. Really cool animation, kind of like Waking Life.

Program is an independent short; it has no bearing on the films. It’s about a chick named Cis being tested as to whether or not she wants to be in the real world or go back to Matrix. It’s my least favorite segment. World Record is about a sprinter who pushes his body and mind to the limit, escaping the Matrix and finding freedom. Beyond is about a girl who goes looking for her lost cat and finds a haunted house. The haunted house isn’t actually haunted, it’s just a glitch in the Matrix. It’s the best of the independent stories and one of the highlights of the Animatrix. It’s simply fantastic.

A Detective Story is a film noir short about a detective trying to track down Trinity. It’s set in the ‘30s or ‘40s, and it’s like the Maltese Falcon meets the Matrix, but it works. Matriculated is the last short and a disappointing way to end the Animatrix. It’s done by the same guy who did Aeon Flux, so imagine that style with weird Matrix robots. It’s about a group of humans who try to reprogram machines to help humans and not kill them. It’s not a bad story, but the Animatrix should end with a short that is more relevant to the Matrix films.

The Animatrix is the best installment in the Matrix franchise. And it’s the most overlooked. The Animatrix is worth buying, high praise in these days of illegal downloads. The Second Renaissance and Beyond are reason enough to buy it. Great animation and great stories add up to a great time. And you gotta admit that it has a clever title.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Independence Day (film, not the day)

Before Roland Emmerich went crazy and started spewing out ridiculous disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, he made an awesome disaster movie called Independence Day. This was one of the best summer movies of the ‘90s. It had it all: a sweet cast, amazing special effects, and good action scenes. Plus Vivica A. Fox plays a stripper.

The movie stars out with a bang. It starts on the moon and a giant shadow creeps across its surface, steadily heading for Earth. Before long, giant spaceships are hovering over 36 major cities across the world. As we learn about the threat, we are introduced to the main characters. Jeff Goldblum plays David Levinson, a genius who discovers a hidden code that indicates the aliens are going to attack. He goes to Washington, D.C. to warn his ex-wife who works for the President of the United States. Bill Pullman plays the President, a former combat pilot.

Will Smith plays Captain Steve Hiller, a pilot for the Marines. He wants to become an astronaut, and he has a stripper girlfriend named Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox). Randy Quaid plays Russell Casse, he’s a pilot too. Seriously, the whole world gets destroyed, but half the survivors are pilots. If you wanna survive Independence Day, you should start taking flying lessons.

The hidden code that David finds turns out to be valid, and the ships attack simultaneously across the world. Millions of people die, but if you jump into a storage closet in a tunnel, you’ll be fine. That’s how Vivica A. Fox survived. She plays a stripper in the movie by the way.

So the world’s been half destroyed, and we have no idea how to stop them. Will Smith flies around and gets one to crash and then he punches it in the face and welcomes it to Earth. And then he and the alien body get a ride from Russell Casse and his family to Area 51. And the President is there, along with David and all the other people who haven’t died yet. The alien turns out not to be dead, and we find out that they want to take over the world and they want us to die. So we decide to nuke them. And it doesn’t work, and we don’t know what to do. And we seem pretty fucked.

Then David gets an idea. He’ll simply use his Apple laptop to upload a virus to the mother ship to disable all the other ships, while simultaneously the survivors across the world will launch a global attack on the alien ships. Will Smith and David fly to the mother ship, and the President and Russell Casse and all the other survivor pilots take to the skies in a desperate attempt to save mankind.

Not to spoil anything, but we won. We beat the aliens. And David takes up smoking. He probably stops recycling too.

This movie came out when I was ten years old. It was the movie of the summer. It was like my Star Wars. It was an event. And when we went back to school we shunned the ones who didn’t see it.

There are a lot of funny moments and lots of great one-liners. There are also some touching moments, like when the President has to tell his daughter that mama ain’t coming back. Some of the actors do a great job, like Judd Hirsch as Julius, David’s father. Some of the actors do a terrible job, like James Duval as Miguel Casse, Russell’s son. He looks like he went to the Keanu Reeves School of Wooden Acting. I think Bill Pullman’s speech with the bullhorn is one of the best fake president speeches of all time. Oh, and Vivica A. Fox plays a stripper.

Of course there are lots of plot holes (like where’s the Secret Service?) and poorly written characters, but the movie is exciting and fun and entertaining. I like being entertained, it’s fun. I think it’s weird how everyone laughs at Russell whenever he mentions being abducted by aliens ten years earlier. They know that aliens exist now. They should be apologizing for having doubted him.

Independence Day is a cool movie. It was the first time Will Smith saved the world. He does that every other summer now. This was back when it was still special. Seriously if you haven’t seen this movie you missed the ‘90s and I feel bad for you.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Howl’s Moving Castle (film)

Hayao Miyazaki is like the Walt Disney of the Japanimation world. He makes amazing and timeless animated family films, and Howl’s Moving Castle is one of them. It’s based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones, but I never read the book, so I can’t really compare them. It’s a decent story, but the animation takes it to a new level. This is a fun fantasy film.

The movie is about a young hat maker named Sophie who makes hats. She’s kind of stuck in a rut and dreams of a better life. Instead she gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste, and Sophie gets transformed into an old woman. She can’t tell anyone about the curse, and so she leaves home to find a cure.

She helps out a scarecrow with a turnip for a head. The scarecrow is under a curse too, and even though Turnip Head can’t talk, he helps out Sophie as much as he can. Sophie eventually ends up in a moving castle, owned by a wizard named Howl. Howl has an apprentice named Merkl, and a fire demon named Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal).

Sophie’s country is about to enter war, and the king insists that all wizards be enlisted to help fight. Howl is a pacifist and doesn’t want to, and that kind of kicks off the larger plot. To help disrupt the war, he transforms into a bird-monster-thing, but each transformation makes it harder to return to human form. To complicate matters, a witch named Suliman is also after Howl, and a lot of stuff happens before shit gets resolved and you have your happy ending.

Miyazaki is a genius. He’s one of those filmmakers who creates a masterpiece and retires only to come out of retirement and make another amazing film. His attention to detail is impeccable. Every scene, shot, and frame is a piece of art. He makes the characters compelling and keeps the movie flowing at a good pace.

The castle is fantastic. You can sense the magic in the walls. It adds to the tone of the film and feels like another character, similar to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. In films about magic and wizards it is important to have the sets feel magical and impressive.

A lot of Japanimation films can get lost in translation. Spirited Away is great movie, but unless you know the significance of bathhouse spirits in Japanese culture, you aren’t getting the full picture. Howl’s Moving Castle is based on an English author’s book, so the culture clash isn’t as evident. It also helps getting well known actors to dub the English version. Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, and Lauren Bacall are among the celebrities to voice a character.

You either like Japanimation or you don’t. There is no in-between. If you don’t know if you like Japanimation, Miyazaki is a good start. He’s got a few good movies, this is one of them. Spirited Away is probably his best. This one’s not too shabby.

Critically Rated at 12/17

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The Babe (film)

John Goodman stars as the great George Herman “Babe” Ruth in director Arthur Hiller’s The Babe. Babe Ruth is an American icon; many consider him to be the best baseball player of all time. He was larger than life and lived like he was. This biopic covers the rise and fall of his career, playing as much to the myths as to the facts. There’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. And yes, I did steal that from The Sandlot.

The Babe Movie Poster

The movie starts with Babe’s dad giving up on him and dropping him off at St. Mary’s, an orphanage/reformatory. He’s a chubby troublemaker who gets picked on constantly. That all changes when he picks up a bat and discovers that he was made to play baseball. He’s a phenomenal pitcher and has a powerful bat. In a few short years he catches the eye of the Baltimore Orioles and leaves the orphanage to conquer the world.

Babe is too big for Baltimore, and he goes to the Boston Red Sox. Babe is too big for Boston, and he goes to the Yankees. The bulk of the film takes place in his Red Sox and Yankee days. They explore how success has gone to his head. Babe wants it all, and he can suddenly have it all, and since he’s just a big kid he goes nuts. He has a good heart, but he’s brash and impulsive and hurts people without meaning to.

John Goodman does a decent job as the Babe. He is a little too old to be playing him, and he’s also too fat. Most actors would have to gain weight to play him, but Goodman could stand to lose a few pounds. There are dozens of actors that could have done a better job. Babe Ruth was larger than life, it was his exploits that make the movie interesting, not Goodman’s portrayal of him.

The Babe is like a kid. He has no manners. He is blatant and just says whatever is on his mind. He has no social skills; he uses other people’s toothbrushes and farts at fancy parties. He wears his heart on his sleeve, he will be ecstatic one moment and having a tantrum the next. He has a habit of calling people Dad, a sign of his broken childhood.

Trini Alvarado plays Helen, Babe’s first wife. He loves her, and marries her, and starts a family with her. And he wants to be with her. But he can’t. He can’t be contained. He wants to party and go to the city, not stay at home and play house. So he goes out, and girls throw themselves at him, and people kiss his ass, and he feels happy. But he hurts Helen over and over again. They separate, but the whole relationship shows how damaged Babe is. Eventually he finds love again, and this time Claire (Kelly McGillis) is able to handle him, she acts like a parent figure and gives him rules and boundaries.

They humanize Babe off the field, and they embellish what he did on it. He never hit a popup so high that he got an infield home run. He never hit 2 homeruns for a sick kid in the hospital. He might have called his shot, but it was not that dramatic. He hit three homers in one game in the twilight of his career as a Brave, but he didn’t retire right after.

People often debate about who the best baseball player of all time is. Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, and Stan Musial are all in discussion, but Babe Ruth was a 100% natural talent. He singlehandedly changed the game. Not only is he arguably the best homerun hitter of all time, but he’s also considered one of the best pitchers of all time.

This is not a great baseball movie. It’s not really a good movie either. It’s just an average movie made about a great man. I’m not one for remakes, but I think we can do a better Babe Ruth movie. It doesn’t have to be 3D or in IMAX, but Americans love baseball and Americans love Babe Ruth. So anyway, this is an alright movie, it could have been better.

Critically Rated at 9/17

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Eragon (book)

Christopher Paolini’s Eragon is the first installment of the Inheritance Cycle. It is your standard sword and sorcery fantasy epic, complete with dragons, magic, elves, dwarves, werecats, an evil king, and an orc-like breed of monsters known as Urgals. A young farm boy named Eragon finds a dragon egg, which soon hatches, and Eragon becomes the first new Dragon Rider in over a hundred years.

The only other known living Dragon Rider is the evil King Galbatorix, the ruler of Alagaësia. The Dragon Riders were once guardians and warriors of peace, until Galbatorix went crazy, started a war, killed the other Riders, and made himself king. There is a secret resistance known as the Varden, who are trying to overthrow Galbatorix. The Varden and Galbatorix both want Eragon on their side, and the fate of the Empire is at stake.

Eragon lives in a small, isolated village with his uncle and cousin. One day he finds a weird stone, which turns out to be an egg, which soon hatches for him, revealing a baby dragon. The dragon and Eragon form a bond; he becomes a Dragon Rider and names her Saphira. Eragon seeks advice about dragons from the local storyteller, Brom. Before long, servants of the king come looking for Eragon and Saphira and kill his uncle. Eragon and Saphira decided to avenge his uncle’s death and set out on an epic journey with Brom as their guide. Along the way, he meets an elf named Arya, a witch named Angela, a werecat named Solembum, and a mysterious stranger named Murtagh who becomes a friend despite his shady history.

The basic plot is like Star Wars. A young boy on the verge of manhood discovers that he has fantastic powers, but it takes the death of his uncle to spur him into action. He must learn about his power, and he gets advice from a wise old mentor, and goes on a hero’s journey. Along the way, he rescues a damsel in distress and travels with another outcast. The world is reminiscent of Middle-earth. There are strange creatures, lots of history and folklore, ancient magic, and honor and chivalry still exists.

A Dragon Rider is an elf or a human that forms a bond with a dragon. The Rider and the Dragon are linked telepathically, to the extent that their personalities can merge together, and they are almost one soul. A Dragon Rider can use magic, but the dragons are the source of the magic. Dragon Riders become stronger, faster, and more powerful than a normal elf or human. The dragon chooses who they want to hatch for.

There is a lot of magic in this book. The Dragon Riders get their magical powers from the Dragon and use the ancient language (words of power) to wield magic. Magicians also use the ancient language to perform magic. Sorcerers get their magic from spirits. Witches and wizards get their powers from potions and spells. You don’t need to remember all that, there’s no test later, I just like to geek out about magic.

Paolini started writing this book when he was fifteen. It’s all the stuff that a teenager wants in a fantasy book. There’s a hero with a cool sword, dragons, evil creatures working for an evil king, magic, and epic battles. It’s a simple read compared to Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but it’s more fun to read. There is more adventure, and the plot is easier to follow so you know what is at stake. This book establishes a lot of characters and locations, and the later books delve into them in more detail. Each book gets better as Paolini grows and matures as a writer. They made a really terrible movie that butchered the book. Don’t bother watching that shit.

Eragon is a good book and the start of a good literary franchise. The plot is cliché and familiar, but new things are scary and who likes change? Paolini created an amazing world and this book is a great introduction to the world of Alagaësia. And did I mention the dragons?

Critically Rated at 13/17

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