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Orange Is the New Black

So close and yet so far from being a good show both at the same time
"Orange is the New Black" – this is a complicated show to review and it has nothing to do with the fact that it's one of the first shows created exclusively for Netflix. What I mean is that on one hand, I haven't seen a film or show of this sort before. I've seen countless stuff on all- male prisons, but I've never seen anything centering on the life of an all-female prison. We always think that females are all kind and gentle to one another, when in fact that's not always the case. So I appreciate "Orange is the New Black" for breaking ground on that level. However, as I was rolling by the first two seasons, more and more things about the show kept coming up that got on my nerves. I started off liking this show decently enough for the things it does well. But as more of these aforementioned flaws unraveled, they only further ruined the experience for me.

As hinted at, the premise is filled with potential. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is a bisexual woman who is sentenced to 15 months in an all-female federal prison for unknowingly transporting drug money to her ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). Piper is engaged to marry her boyfriend Larry (Jason Biggs) and they plan on tying the knot by the time she gets out. So all she has to do is bide her time in prison and everything will be okay, right? Not even close. Sounds like the people running the prison had the brilliant idea of putting Piper in the same prison as Alex. Because you know nothing can go wrong by putting two criminals with a problematic history in the same place together. As if this weren't enough, the only way Piper will be able to get out is by not making friends in prison, which in that universe is practically impossible. So the show in a nutshell follows Piper, her fellow inmates and her loved ones and the experiences that ensue in that period of time.

It's a great idea for either a film or a show. And with the first episode of the series, we truly feel the heartbreak that Piper experiences knowing that she will no longer have freedom the following day. It starts off on a real strong note in that sense. From what's been offered so far, Piper's story is handled very well. Save for a couple expected contrivances, I like where the writers are taking us with her narrative. I don't want to unravel even the slightest spoiler, but the way that her situations in prison unfold as well as their timing help the audience clearly understand why her character seems to be heading the route that she is. Sam Healy (Michael J. Harney) is another interesting character. He's against lesbians, which is ironic since he expresses sympathy in season one towards Piper who is herself a bisexual. But he's also fairly easygoing on the inmates for the complete opposite reason that you'd expect. I like the main prison chef Red (Kate Mulgrew), since I like how tough as nails she is and how she's on top of everything. I like Lorna (Yael Stone) and how she's still planning a wedding to a guy that….well, I'm not giving away what season two does with her story. If you see this show, these characters will make it worth your time.

How do they screw it up? Well, for starters, there's the character of "Pennsatucky" (Taryn Manning) who is ungodly obnoxious. She's a religious nutcase whose means of drama and intimidation to our main character are either seemingly done to death and/or simply not much fun. Her accent and her nonexistent teeth don't help much either. You'd think this character would be bad enough with just that. But once again, without giving anything away, it seems like we won't be seeing her again after the season one finale, which in my opinion would make sense. However, in the season two premiere, we do! This part of the transition from season one to two is completely unacceptable! C'mon, guys! What you were doing with the season one finale was fine. Why did you have to screw it up with the season two premiere by going against what that finale was building towards? So that transition and her character really made me furious.

What made me even more frustrated, and the reasons why I can't recommend this series as a whole, are the African-American characters. Save for the transsexual who was fine, I couldn't stand these people. If you're curious as to why various people have trouble connecting to people of that race, by all means study the blacks in this show. It's bad enough that most of them are only on the show to be loud and obnoxious just for the hell of it. But even when they try giving a few of them a backstory to help us understand who they are, they still fail miserably at that. I feel bad that we live in a country where we're allowed to be friends with people of different races, yet we still end up as separated as the prison's lunch room, where the whites are in one corner, the Latinas in another, the blacks in another, etc. Yes, I know they're black. Now give them a personality that makes me believe they're on planet Earth.

Man, the people in charge of "Orange is the New Black" were so close to making a good show. But then they add in the characters of Pennsatucky, the blacks, and the annoying Asian chatterbox (Kimiko Glenn) that comes in season two, they screw up the transition between seasons, and then parts of the show get boring for whatever reason. Argh! So frustrating! Well, give the show this much credit, at least it clearly tried to take off.

The Birdcage

Come to "The Birdcage" for the sake of Williams, Hackman, and Lane
In the tradition of comedies about cross-dressing guys such as "Some Like it Hot" (1959), "Tootsie" (1982), and "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993) comes another such comedy with Mike Nichols' 1996 picture "The Birdcage". To my knowledge, this is the second cross-dressing picture that the late Robin Williams had starred in, after "Mrs. Doubtfire". And this time, though he doesn't dress as a nanny, he is married to a drag queen (Nathan Lane) that he runs a drag nightclub, named "The Birdcage", with. They have a son (Dan Futterman) who has just gotten engaged to the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of an ultraconservative senator (Gene Hackman in a juicy supporting role). Due to pressing circumstances at home, the senator, his daughter and his wife (Dianne Wiest) head down to Miami to meet the groom's parents. However, because his parents' sexual orientation will lead to controversy for the senator's re-election, the son tries to get his reluctant parents to act like a "normal" family for the sake of the engagement. Will the gay couple and their son be able to pull off this difficult act?

Right out of the gate, the most surprising element of "The Birdcage" is just how restrained the performance by Robin Williams is. Every time I watch this picture, I always seem to forget that Robin Williams is in this because he doesn't act like the skilled impersonator that he usually acts like in films such as "Aladdin" (1992). Yes, he does a couple of physical impersonations in a few scenes early on. But for the most part, he maintains a steady balance both comedic wise and dramatically between acting like a normal homosexual dad and a stressed out director. When I say that I forget Robin Williams is in this, I do not intend that as an insult. If anything, I intend that comment as a compliment to what Robin Williams accomplished as an actor. A good actor disappears into character, and a good comedic actor incorporates the right amount of humor into serious and/or stressful situations. Robin Williams accomplished both with his work in this picture which in turn makes it the perfect summary of his distinguished career in a nutshell.

Amongst the other standout performances that "The Birdcage" offers, the most notable one of all is the work by Gene Hackman. Who doesn't love the idea of a fictional senator who insists that he needs candy and/or chocolate to help him cope with stressful situations? Every joke made about this character's addiction to candy hits their target, but the writers don't make it the only joke to this character. This senator is very paranoid because every little thing he could do that would be considered wrong will most likely end up in sleazy magazines like National Enquirer. His paranoia is a result of everything that is wrong with a celebrity lifestyle in a way. He's cranky, but always in an enjoyable and often hilarious way. You'd easily be convinced that people like him exist in real-life. He's written in such a way that you would believe that anyone similar to him would react the same way that he does to all the things his character experiences.

Nathan Lane's performance is also worth noting. Let's recap the requirements for his particular role. He has to convince the audience that his character has been acting like a woman his whole life. Furthermore, he has to show us his character's physical struggles toward doing manlier things such as walking like John Wayne or smearing mustard on toast. The scene where Robin Williams helps physically man his character up demonstrates in a nutshell why Lane's performance pays off well. With any scene having Nathan Lane in it, one can clearly tell that he's studied how women physically and mentally behave. As far as the chemistry between Williams and Lane goes, their relationship consists of more arguing than sharing a connection which takes away from the experience a bit. But to be fair, there is at least a scene or two that shows them doing something that's meaningful for their relationship whether it's helping each other out or anything of that sort.

The character of the son that these two raised sadly is kind of a prick. I'm having trouble deciphering what it is about this guy that rubs me the wrong way, but it basically boils down to his grating neediness. He wants his parents to get rid of all the homosexually suggestive decorations in their apartment to appease the other family. I get the reasons behind taking that course of action, but he gets his parents to do it in such a way that they practically have no choice. Either help him out with making this wedding successful or never see him again. Well, anyway you slice it, they're still not going to see him again either way. And yes, you get a scene or two where he appreciates what his parents are doing for him. Even with that said though, his character is executed in such a way that he becomes more of a burden to the plot rather than enhancing the conflict for our main leads. And I'm sorry, but the relationship between him and the senator's daughter didn't feel that legitimate to me. Their so-called romance is just a plot device and nothing more.

My mom seems to consider "The Birdcage" her favorite film and to a certain degree, I can see why that might be. It's a light and fluffy piece of escapism that's ideal for a good evening's entertainment. The jokes and laughs this picture provides are plentiful, but most importantly, they're accompanied by a worthy narrative and characters that complement the laughter that "The Birdcage" offers. Check it out, it's worth two hours of your time.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Why are these people famous?
*sigh* I hope you appreciate what I do for you. Yes, it's finally time to talk about…ugh…"Keeping Up with the Kardashians". If you've seen my reality TV editorial on my site over a year ago, chances are you've seen me dedicate a few paragraphs to this particular show and other shows like it. And if you already know my stance on reality TV altogether, then you already know my thoughts on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians". Now before I go on with my rant, let me say this much right now. No, I will not review "Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami", "Kourtney & Kim Take New York", or any of the other Kardashian spin-off shows individually. Because guess what? I'm integrating all of these vile feces into this review along with its equally wretched mother. No point to reviewing them individually anyways since they're all the exact same thing.

There's no point to even talking about the plot synopsis for this show since even a toddler could summarize it in a sentence or less. What we have here is a show about the "private" lives of a family of celebrities undeserving of the ridiculous fame they currently obtain. Any plot found on an episode of this show is stuff that you normally see in every other reality show ever made right down to the clichéd editing tricks. Amongst the countless issues present in this show, what's the biggest warning sign to steer clear of this program? Even TMZ and other various press members who harass Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber on a regular basis don't devote special reports to any of the so-called "real" events that happen on the show. The second sign that this show is in trouble is when it fails to give even the slightest mention of why these people are famous in the first place. When the excuse for their rise to fame is because of a scandal that hardly has anything to do with them and a meaningless sex tape, avoid their show like the flu. Or better yet, get the flu since it's more worthy of attention than a sex tape.

I find this show to be offensively lazy. I can just picture how the filmmaking process went. Okay, so the Kardashians are unbelievably famous. Let's make a show that just follows them around and have them do whatever we tell them do. That will fill out the empty timeslot of a channel that didn't need to exist. There is no effort from any of these guys. I really feel that I'm wasting my valuable time talking about this show in length because everyone involved in making this clearly didn't give a damn and have no pride in their product whatsoever. You can't convince me that anyone involved in this production is even trying here. The person that comes closest to trying is Scott Disick and even then he looks miserable even being in the same room as these broads. And to be fair, so would I if these witches were like this in real life.

Let's start with the undeserving center of attention herself, Kim Kardashian. God, I freaking hate this bitch! Kim has to be the single whiniest, most negative, and all-around worst person I have ever had the displeasure of watching. She learns nothing from her past mistakes, she cries almost every episode, her behavior is worse than a toddler, and watching her is not preferable to being blind or deaf. Kourtney, the prettiest of the three older sisters, can't get it through her head that Scott isn't a husband for her to hold on to. She is way too forgiving and when she's mean to Scott, it's not exactly that warranted. As for Khloe….oh, Khloe. What is up with the phony and frequent high-pitched squeak? Why…why are all of you doing it? To be funny or is that how all of you decide to talk whenever you're being genuine? Just…please, for the sake of humanity, stop it….right now.

Oh, and Rob is just great! Think of him as just a male version of Kim. Wah! Wah! Wah! You hear that? I think Rob, Kim and all the babies in the world speak the same language. The parents Bruce and Kris…oh, I'm sorry. I don't believe these are parents. Let's see…hardly any punishments for the actions of the brats they raised, ummm…yup, these definitely aren't their parents. If they had real parents, I think they should be spanking each and every one of these spoiled brats for being such bad and pathetic wastes of sperm. But let's just for a moment take these sad excuses for people out of the picture and look at the project on its own, it's still crap. The scenarios are boring and contrived, the camera-work is too shaky, the editing is lazy, and the lousy characters don't help either. It only gets worse every time I watch it. I hope this show burns in hell along with all of these annoying and selfish idiots. Not even the looks of these girls could save this trash.


Plot holes and all, "Hook" has enough entertainment value for me to consider it a guilty pleasure
Once upon a time, there was a well-known story we all grew up with in some way or form named "Peter Pan". It was about a boy who never grew up named Peter Pan who took three kids named Wendy, John, and Michael to a magical place called Never Land. Think of Never Land as the ultimate vacation place almost exclusively for kids. It's a place where mermaids and pirates roam the seas, kids can do battle with pirates and Indians on land or by sea, and any grand kids' adventure you could think of can easily be found. Peter Pan's allies on the land include a trouble making fairy named Tinker Bell and a group of uncivilized children known as the Lost Boys. With their assistance, Peter Pan defeats, but not kills, his most dangerous opponent Captain Hook. Then he returns the three kids back home to London and they all live happily ever after.

Once upon a time, a film by renowned director Steven Spielberg titled "Hook" (1991) was created. It told the story of what happened if Peter Pan did grow up. And the story they came up with is as such. Peter Pan (Robin Williams), now named Peter Banning, is a successful lawyer who is having trouble connecting with his children due to constant broken promises and absences. The last straw comes when Peter is unable to attend his son's baseball game. The family goes to London to visit their grandmother Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith) to support the expansion of her orphanage. That night while the parents attend a ceremony for the orphanage, the kids are kidnapped with a note left behind by a "Captain Hook". When Wendy tells him that Peter is indeed the real Peter Pan, Peter is naturally in disbelief. Later that night, Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts) appears, knocks him unconscious, and takes him to Never Land.

When he awakens, Peter discovers that his children are indeed under the captivity of Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) and that they will remain so until Peter accepts Hook's challenge to a duel. But seeing that grown-up Peter is completely out of shape in this world, Tinker Bell intervenes with Captain Hook and she is granted three days to prepare him for the duel. While Peter is being trained by Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys and regaining the erased memories of his childhood, Hook attempts turning Peter's own children against him so that they'll stay in Never Land permanently. Now I have to admit that the premise itself is actually pretty interesting. I know in my review of the TV series "Once Upon a Time" I've gone on record of saying that I'm not into revisions of well- known stories at all. But with said, I thought it was very smart to make Peter the exact opposite of what he used to be in his childhood: a busy father with little tolerance for childish behavior.

It's especially smart in that this is the last person that you'd think was Peter Pan. If I were to summarize "Hook" in a nutshell, it would be that it has the settings and characters of "Peter Pan", but the story and moral of "Mary Poppins" in a way. Its moral being that embracing the playfulness of childhood when you're a parent is an important way to connect more with your kids, and also actually being there for your children. And while the moral isn't executed that strongly, its heart is in the right place. Robin Williams was well cast in this role with his switching back and forth between the strict father and the child-at- heart. Also inspired casting is Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook. Remember his evil laugh when he comes up with a plan to force Peter's kids to hate their dad? I'm sure I'm not the only one cracking up alongside Captain Hook. The best thing Hoffman does with his role is capture the hilarity and over-the-top nature of Captain Hook as depicted in the Disney picture without screwing it up.

Lying within "Hook" however are some numerous and major plot holes. The most significant one of all is when Captain Hook fails to kill grown-up Peter Pan upon discovering he can't fly even though Hook swears he's going to kill him anyway. Now why would Hook let an opportunity such as this sneak through the cracks so easily? If he's doing it out of a moral code or rule that the citizens of Never Land use with their battles, an explanation regarding what it is was never given to us. I mean there's no way he'd be that generous with Peter by agreeing to Tinker Bell's offer in the first place. For that matter, why did Hook consider her trustworthy to keep such a promise? Isn't she supposed to be on the side of the Lost Boys as opposed to Never Land's #1 referee? This plot hole is made even larger in the film's climax which I won't reveal or talk about since it would ruin the experience for the few who haven't seen it yet. Bottom line: Captain Hook blew a great opportunity while his opponent was down.

The subplot involving Hook trying to manipulate Peter's children into joining his crew is a very clever idea. It takes advantage of Peter's current status and hits him where it hurts the most. I'm split on the film's set designs since effort was clearly put into it and yet Captain Hook's ship never sails in the film. Not one time does it go off to sea and I have no idea why. Ultimately, "Hook" isn't the best project brought to us by Steven Spielberg. But give the film this much credit, it had some clever plot details weaved into the mix, the dilemma grown- up Peter undergoes is new, and Williams and Hoffman give it all they got. That's enough for me to consider "Hook" a guilty pleasure.


I shouldn't care for "Carousel" because of its messy narrative, and yet.......
My gut instincts are telling me that modern filmgoers aren't going to care for what I have to say about the 1956 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "Carousel". Most of the people reading this will find my opinion completely unacceptable. And in many respects, I can understand where people are coming from if they say that they didn't like this movie. If you have a permanent hatred for musicals, then "Carousel" is definitely not going to change your mind about the musical genre. And to be fair, even those who are big musical fans seem to be split on "Carousel". As for me personally, there are significant flaws about "Carousel" that I see as clearly as crystal. But as a big sucker for musicals, there are things that "Carousel" does extraordinarily well both on a visual level and on a musical level that are enough for me to consider it a guilty pleasure.

It's important to note that Frank Sinatra was originally set to star as the main character of this picture. But due to the fact that he wasn't impressed with filming the same takes twice for two different cameras, he backed out. This is where "Oklahoma!" star Gordon MacRae comes in and takes over the role. And right out of the gate, I must say that this role seemed tailor made for Sinatra because MacRae does a heck of a job unintentionally impersonating his voice through this character. "Carousel" centers on Billy Bigelow (MacRae), a carousel barker with a bad reputation and a young mill worker named Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones) who both get fired from their jobs after essentially paying too much attention to each other one night. After being acquainted with each other against the wishes of their highly strict bosses, they fall in love and get married immediately. Yes, just after they meet each other for the first time that night, they get hitched three times faster than a typical Disney princess.

Well, okay. So from there, we see them develop a meaningful and identifiable relationship, right? No, their character development gets sidetracked as Billy becomes bitter for being unable to find work and hits Julie in frustration one night, which isn't shown on screen. We get a subplot involving Billy and his pal Jigger (Cameron Mitchell) planning a robbery of a wealthy person in town, which will later have significant consequences. There's also barely a subplot with Julie's friend Carrie (Barbara Ruick) and her boyfriend Mr. Snow (Robert Rounseville). Basically the plot of "Carousel" is about a newly married couple that experiences some sort of trouble…allegedly, with too many subplots added into the mix. And all of the plots, including the central love story between Billy and Julie, are so hastily rushed that any trace of character development is completely missing. Yeah, I would say to go ahead and just fast forward through anything resembling a plot since it's so messed up and very sloppy structure wise. But the problem is that the film practically did that for us before we even though about it! That is exactly how unconfident the director and writers seemed to be in terms of the plot to "Carousel".

For that crucial aspect alone, I shouldn't be recommending "Carousel" especially considering the controversial developments that occur later in the plot. And yet here I am confessing that I have a soft spot for this flick. But to be fair, my recommendation is solely based on two things: the soundtrack by Rodgers and Hammerstein and the cinematography. Now you're thinking to yourself: that's not a good enough excuse to recommend a picture of this nature. But in this case, I'm making an exception. Whatever jaw dropping plot holes "Carousel" provides is made up for with the effort the filmmakers put into making this as great as it possibly can with everything else. The film's producer Henry Ephron really took advantage of the film's settings and made it as visually bright and atmospheric as possible for the big screen through the widescreen CinemaScope cameras.

Say whatever you will about some of the settings being filmed on stage as opposed to on location. Any way you slice it, even the on stage sets have a specific beauty to them. I liked the setting where the "If I Loved You" number took place with the traces of blue light against the mountains, lake, and buildings along with the little pond that shows the character's reflections. But of course, the cinematography on location in Maine and California are magnificent. The "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and "When the Children Are Asleep" numbers stand out when naming scenes at the top of my head where the on location cinematography is put to its best use. In both of these numbers, the skies look sensational, the sun is clearly present and shining on our stars and dancers, everything seems to be really happening. With "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", I got the sense that the dancers were really scaling that building back and forth without breaking a sweat. Amazing! And as for "When the Children Are Asleep", I never got the sense that it was all green screened. I was sold that Carrie and Mr. Snow were really controlling the boat the whole time.

Nowadays, with all the green screens and CGI in the world and with barely a hint of movie musicals being made anymore, it's refreshing to look at a 1950's musical like "Carousel" to remind me of how magical movies during that era truly were. Though its plot is messy, I give it credit for at least not being another backstage musical. But above all, I love how everything else right down to the singing seems to be really happening on screen. Even if you end up not caring for this, just remember that "You'll Never Walk Alone". Boy, that closing song was awesome!

The Band Wagon

Get aboard "The Band Wagon" indeed.
Here's the question of the century. Is it wrong to say that the best Fred Astaire picture happens to be one without Ginger Rogers? In the case of Vincente Minnelli's wonderful 1953 musical masterpiece "The Band Wagon", I think not. This is the film that answers the question: how does MGM follow up a big hit like "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)? Well, for starters, getting Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the same screenwriters of that film, to write the script for this one is a pretty darn good idea. Furthermore, changing the focus from Hollywood to Broadway isn't a bad idea either. And instead of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen taking over the director's chair, we'll have Vincente Minnelli, the director of "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944), lead the charge. Sure, Gene Kelly won't be in this picture, but do you know who will be? None other than the talented dancer who helped teach Debbie Reynolds how to dance, Fred Astaire. YES! Now we're talking!

Fred Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a washed-up Hollywood star who has recently quit the business and heads back to New York to try his luck out on Broadway. His two pals Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray) think they have the perfect script for his comeback. They are able to get popular Broadway director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to sign on for directing their play. However, Jeff insists on changing the light comedy into a dark and dramatic retelling of "Faust", which Tony thinks is outside his comfort zone. If that wasn't enough, a young and beautiful ballerina named Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) is signed on to be his co-star. Gabrielle also intimidates Tony because he has trouble dancing with ladies that are taller than him and feels that he doesn't have enough classical background to be dancing in her league. Will Tony and his pals be able to pull off a successful show even with all these obstacles working against them?

Would you believe me if I told you that Tony's concerns over dancing with his co-star Gabrielle was written especially for the film because it really happened on set? I'm not even kidding. On the "making of" featurette on the 2-disc DVD of this film, they said that Fred Astaire was concerned over the height of Cyd Charisse. Keeping this trivia in mind, I applaud the screenwriters for having the guts and the great sense of humor to put those details into the script as it was happening on set. Also on the aforementioned featurette, the screenwriters Comden and Green stated that the troubles the film's characters were experiencing while preparing for this production were based on things these two had experienced while participating in other theatrical productions. And you know what? I completely buy that these kinds of situations happened in real-life. I'm convinced that there are some Broadway directors who put too much scenery on set or that the guys operating the sets keep going the wrong way because they can't see what they're doing. It's completely believable in that sense.

In the tradition of "Singin' in the Rain", "The Band Wagon" is yet another MGM musical in which it was a miracle that it came together as well as it did. The 'making of' featurette for this picture seemed to imply that this was not a pleasant production. Once again, some of the picture's main stars couldn't get along with each other very well. Oscar Levant drove then-newcomer Nanette Fabray nuts because she stated that he was always looking for someone or something to put the blame on whenever he did a take wrong. But when she told him to go to hell during the production, I guess that shut him up good. Well played, Ms. Fabray. And of course, it's a testament to both Levant and Fabray's delightful work in this film that they make us forget their struggles together during production. Fabray in particular makes everything better whenever she's on screen with her positivity and endearing charm throughout. "The Band Wagon" literally makes you also forget about the troubles Minnelli was having at the time with his wife Judy Garland and the painstaking hours of rehearsal Astaire used to make his dances perfect.

Speaking of the songs and dances, the music by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz is some of the very best. "That's Entertainment" is arguably the greatest song ever written for the big screen. Not since "Make 'Em Laugh" have I heard a song that is the ultimate summary of what Hollywood is all about. It's a bittersweet reminder that anything can be considered entertainment to each and every one of us. Excellent message, terrific melody and rhythm, and outstanding lyrics, this song is a certified classic. And what worthy songs it's accompanied by. It's not every day you come across numbers such as "Dancing in the Dark" and "The Girl Hunt" which solely contain music and no singing. But it's all for the better since they showcase both Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse's dancing skills at their best. The endurance, variety of movements, and enjoyment that Astaire and Charisse demonstrate in these numbers are second to none. You truly don't see talent like that anymore. Every single musical number is simply perfection from the "Shine On Your Shoes" number in the recreation center to the "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" duet between Astaire and Buchanan.

If I were to talk about every single excellent thing about "The Band Wagon", we'd probably be here all day. So I'll shorten the rest of my thoughts down for those who haven't seen it yet. All five of the main actors have charisma to spare. The entire soundtrack is sublime. The writing is sensational and relatable. The dance sequences are some of the finest. The stylish production and cinematography are all top notch. Get aboard "The Band Wagon" indeed.

Pawn Stars

The History Channel, Las Vegas called and they want their money back.
Hey, kids! Ever wanted to see a reality show about a pawn shop in Las Vegas that picks up rare artifacts (that no one gives a crap about) for big bucks?! No? Well, you got it anyway with "Pawn Stars", arguably the most popular show ever made for the History Channel (a channel that no one ever wanted). Because when I think of high-quality television, this is totally the first thing that pops into my mind! Whenever I'm physically and mentally drained after a hard day's work, the type of entertainment I desire from my television every evening just has to be something like this! Yeah, nothing speaks excitement like talking about trivial historical items (war memorabilia, written documents involving celebrities, and the like) and their so-called "significance", negotiating a high price that will please both the customer and the employee, and squeezing in mundane scripted material between the shop's employees. Wow! Next, you'll be telling me there's a reality show being made about cartpushers! Oh, I'm just overjoyed!!!!

"Pawn Stars" is better than the likes of "Dog Whisperer", "Property Brothers", "American Pickers", "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and other similar reality shows on unneeded channels, but not by much. The show is further proof why reality TV apparently "needs to exist" by providing the audience with a formula that each and every episode of the show must follow or else audiences will be ripped off. Because you know, we really discourage variety in this country!! The formula goes something like this. We have scripted material in which one employee is usually going to cause trouble to the main boss of the shop in some way. Then that material is intercut with these guys doing their job and looking at the items the customers bring in for compensation. And at the end, from what the show seemingly wants me to believe, everything seems to turn out alright because everyone is still employed in the next episode. And yet we had reason to believe that the boss was going to fire that person since they apparently got on his last nerve from the previous episode. Ummm, this is reality?

Now you might be saying to yourself: "That's not realistic! If this guy has made as many mistakes as they're showing us, then they should have fired the guy a long time ago! So why haven't they yet?" Oh! That's right! You don't know about the reality TV star rule, do you? According to the reality TV star rule, the more drama a certain character creates (that would certainly get them kicked out of any normal place of work), the longer they'll stay on the show because……it's the only way a show will get ratings allegedly. So the next time you wonder why a reality show such as "Pawn Stars" feels less and less real with each season, just remember that you have this rule to thank for that. The reality TV star rule: because scripted reality TV didn't already feel fake enough yet! By the way, doesn't it help that the dilemmas the employees experience in the scripted part of the show are derived from every other show from this genre ever made? Oh, yeah! Way to capture the essence of reality, guys!

And way to excite us with all the stuff that these customers keep bringing in! Oh, yeah! Forget the fact that there was a frame of animation from "Aladdin" (1992) posted on the wall in a brief shot in one episode. Forget the fact that in another episode, a customer brought in the time machine from "Back to the Future" (1985) or at least something similar to the shop's garage. Forget whatever real cool stuff like that was shown in a few episodes. Because "Pawn Stars" has more exciting things to show us……like weapons, swords, outfits, tools, devices, and whatnot used in any war in human history, paintings and documents signed by celebrities, and other insignificant things that few of us give a damn about. I'm sorry, that's not enough for you?! Well, as an additional bonus, some of these items get analyzed by an expert, with each subject matter having a different one (an expert on weaponry, an expert on documents, etc.). If the item has value, the customer and the employee initiate a negotiation for a reasonable price. Yeah, isn't that just captivating to watch?! I'm sure a normal businessman would want to turn on the television specifically to see that every night!

Okay, that's enough sarcasm for one review. But seriously, who thought that a show about a pawn shop was a good idea for entertainment? Obviously, the History Channel was desperate for a reason to exist for 80% of people who watch television. So they shrugged and decided to give "Pawn Stars" a shot since they had nothing else of interest on their channel. The fact that this is now arguably the most popular show on that channel next to "American Pickers" only confirms why I avoid the History Channel. To this show's credit, it has more entertainment value than "American Pickers". On a rare occasion, a few of the items and exchanges between the customers and the employees interest me a little bit. But even then, does it really warrant a half hour time slot on a TV channel more so than a five minute YouTube video? If you enjoy learning about little details regarding big wars in human history and are into this type of television, more power to you. If you aren't into this stuff like me, then "Pawn Stars" is a total bore fest. I felt like I was going to school.

Top Hat

A pure tonic courtesy of the Great Depression era of filmmaking
Once upon a time in the 1930's, a legendary pairing of two stars took place in the midst of the Great Depression. Keep in mind that this era was a trying time for America due to the fact that many people were either broke or starving to death. What made this pairing so special is that they helped many people forget for a brief period of time that they were living in such an era. That pairing is none other than that of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Though Astaire would later star in other memorable musicals such as "The Band Wagon" (1953) and narrate the Christmas special "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" (1970), this team was probably best known by many for their collaboration on musical-comedies such as "Swing Time" (1936) and "Top Hat" (1935), the latter being the subject of this very review.

"Top Hat" follows American dancer Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) who travels to London to do a show for producer Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). One night when practicing his dance routine in Hardwick's hotel room, a lady named Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) from the room below comes up to complain about the noise he's making. Immediately falling in love with Dale on their first meeting, Jerry is determined to pursue her all over town to win her affections. But things get complicated when Dale mistakes Jerry for Hardwick, who is married to Dale's friend Madge (Helen Broderick), and Dale gets engaged to Italian fashion designer Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes). So Jerry gets Hardwick and his butler Bates (Eric Blore) to help him with winning back Dale. Basically, the plot centers on a new couple that must try to clear up a big misunderstanding that has come between them.

To be brutally honest, the plots have never been the primary strength of the musicals Astaire and Rogers made during that time. In fact, I can see why this story in particular might annoy moviegoers today as it's the type of plot found in rom-coms that most people hate. Because of the fact that the story centers on a misunderstanding, the couple apparently have to be convinced that they hate each other throughout most of the film (Though to be fair, I don't think Astaire hated Rogers at all). And as a result, we have trouble being convinced that they'd be a happy couple. Given that the ability to be convinced that a couple is in love is a crucial ingredient to make a romantic story work, the negative comments regarding the plot to "Top Hat" are justified in that sense. The story is awkward to say the least. But in terms of its execution, it could have been a lot worse.

The aspects that truly sell the musicals starring Astaire and Rogers, especially this one, are the musical numbers and the dancing. Film critic Roger Ebert really opened my eyes in his Great Movies review of "Swing Time" regarding what made Astaire and Rogers stand out. Ebert stated that "Astaire believed every dance number should be filmed, as nearly as possible, in one unbroken take, always showing the full figures of the dancers from head to toes. There are no cutaways to an admiring audience--Astaire thought that was a distraction. No cuts, or very few, to different points of view. And no closeups of the dancer's faces, for that would deny us the movement of their bodies. When you see anyone--an athlete, a musician, a dancer, a craftsman--doing something difficult and making it look easy and a joy, you feel enhanced. It is a victory for the human side, over the enemies of clumsiness, timidity and exhaustion."

To briefly summarize Ebert's brilliantly chosen words, Astaire and Rogers stood out from other talented dancers in Hollywood because they realized that little to no editing resulted in more convincing dancing. By using this minimal editing approach, we can truly appreciate the stamina and talent that Astaire and Rogers had as dancers and thus make the illusion seem more real to us. Remember the "Isn't It A Lovely Day" number early on in the film? The minimal editing used in that number captures the illusion that Rogers truly is progressing from a slow to fast dance alongside Astaire. As a result, the transformation of Rogers' character's opinion of Astaire's character during that song feels more complete. The dance sequences in the "Cheek to Cheek" and "Piccolino" musical numbers also obtain the illusion that they've been dancing for a certain period of time without interruptions. It's a smart strategy that Astaire and Rogers use for their dance sequences, so I give them full credit for that.

Pet peeves with the narrative aside, Astaire and Rogers still have some likability to them. The exchange between them at the start of the picture (when Rogers complains about Astaire's noisy dancing) shows this teaming at their best and summarizes the chemistry between them in a nutshell. Rogers has some smart yet playful verbal jabs and Astaire always seems to maintain positivity even when the going gets tough (usually when certain people want him to go away). The songs by Irving Berlin stand the test of time, namely "Isn't It A Lovely Day", "Top Hat", "Cheek to Cheek" and "Piccolino". The dancing between our two leads is amazing because of how they maintain pleasure even under pressing circumstances (wardrobe troubles, hours and hours of rehearsal, etc.). "Top Hat" is the type of picture you don't see being made today. I wouldn't say that it's going to be for everybody in today's world. But considering the time it was made, it's nothing short of a miracle.

Singin' in the Rain

Believe the hype. "Singin' in the Rain" is the greatest musical ever made.
Who doesn't love "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)? It's been considered by many as one of the most beloved motion pictures of all time. Even people who usually hate musicals can't bring themselves to say they disliked "Singin' in the Rain". Films in which everyone loves are very difficult to come by, because we all have such diverse tastes. "Singin' in the Rain" is a timeless American classic because it has something in it for everybody. There's outstanding songs and dances, high-end production values, excellent Technicolor cinematography, lots of laughs, terrific writing, irresistible story and characters, everything you could possibly want from a film musical. But "Singin' in the Rain" is much more than just a great movie. It's one of the rare films that is unquestionably guaranteed to heal any mentally depressed soul.

Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a highly popular silent film star in the roaring 1920's who works for the film studio Monumental Pictures alongside his best friend/musician Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor, in a wonderful performance) and leading lady Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Don is having a difficult time tolerating his frequent co-star, but the studio insists on carrying out a fake romance with Lina for the sake of maintaining their popularity with the public. One night when he tries to escape from some crazy fans, he accidentally meets a stage actress/chorus girl named Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). At first, she says some harsh words towards Don that makes him question how good he is at his profession. But soon enough, Don and Kathy start to fall in love with each other and Kathy becomes a reliable new star for the studio.

There's only one problem with their romance: Lina still thinks she and Don are a couple. And let's just say she isn't amused with the idea of Don and Kathy being together and she'll do anything in her power to make sure they're separated. So that's the love story in a nutshell. However, I didn't mention that the picture Don and Lina are currently working on next is becoming a troublesome production. Not only are the technical experts having trouble figuring out where to put the microphones, but Lina's voice isn't sitting well with the cast and crew. "Singin' in the Rain" is at its funniest when it's showing us the filmmaking process and the challenges the cast and crew have to face when trying to get the sound to work right. The director (Douglas Fowley) in particular was hilarious in terms of expressing just how frustrated he was with each and every take. You practically see every reaction you could possibly get from this guy in a situation like this with each reaction funnier than the last.

I personally got a kick out of the members in the audience in each film screening we see. I love how in the test screening of one picture, some girls are jealous of Lina's glamour. And in another, some guys are doing sort of a "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" routine picking it apart and laughing for all the wrong reasons ("I love you. I love you. I love you."). The filmmaking process and the smart audience members aren't the only elements that make the script by Adolph Green and Betty Comden so excellent. For one thing, I love how Green and Comden handled the character of Cosmo. He often receives less credit than what he deserves, but he never lets this disadvantage get to him. Cosmo still helps out his best friend Don with his musical contributions and shows his loyalty to Don in that sense. He's never jealous of Don to the point where he goes off on his own to try and top him. Thank God! Cosmo's just perfectly content with what's he currently got and I think he's pretty awesome for that.

Don and Lina's relationship is absolutely hilarious. You can clearly see Don struggling to stay calm over Lina and the wrong ideas she keeps obtaining from the fan magazines. I love how everyone including Don keeps talking down on Lina so that anything they say with a smile will be interpreted as nice to her even when it's not. I also bought the chemistry between Don and Kathy. Even though it's been brought to my attention that Debbie Reynolds had a difficult time with Gene Kelly during this picture's production, it never felt that way with her performance. That's of course a huge compliment to the acting talent of both Kelly and Reynolds to convince us that they're in love even though they didn't get along on set. Funny how the central romances for both "Singin' in the Rain" and "Some Like it Hot" (1959) were between people who couldn't stand each other, but I digress.

Perhaps what "Singin' in the Rain" is best remembered for aside from its story, characters, and comedy are its musical numbers. Everyone remembers when Don Lockwood is literally singing in the rain in the famous title tune. It's one of the most recognized scenes in film history for a reason. Amazing that Gene Kelly did the number while he had a fever. Cosmo's classic "Make 'Em Laugh" number has plenty of wit, comedic energy and innovation to spare. Did I mention that Donald O'Connor did all the stunts in the number himself? It goes to show you how dedicated and passionate these artists were during that era. The entire soundtrack is just perfect with other fun highlights including "Moses Supposes" and "Good Morning", in which Debbie Reynolds does a great job keeping up with Kelly and O'Connor.

What else can I say? "Singin' in the Rain" – the greatest musical ever made and one of the rare films that deserves its enormous hype. If you're tired of what's shown in theatres today and are looking for something much more lighthearted and timeless, you owe it to yourself to see "Singin' in the Rain".

Yankee Doodle Dandy

"Yankee Doodle Dandy" - The spirit of the U.S.A. captured in one film
"A man may give his life to his country in many different ways, Mr. Cohan. And quite often he isn't the best judge of how much he has given. Your songs were a symbol of the American spirit. 'Over There' was just as powerful a weapon as any cannon, as any battleship we had in the First World War."

That's a terrific piece of dialogue from the President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt (Cap. Jack Young) addressed to legendary Broadway songwriter and performer George M. Cohan (James Cagney) in director Michael Curtiz's 1942 musical biopic "Yankee Doodle Dandy". It follows the life of George M. Cohan starting from when he was born on the 4th of July (though a source I looked at says it's actually July 3rd). Amongst the big life events we follow Mr. Cohan through include joining his parents (Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp) and sister (Jeanne Cagney) in the family's vaudeville act as a young and cocky kid, meeting his future wife Mary (Joan Leslie) who is also in showbiz, and his successful partnership with struggling writer Sam Harris (Richard Whorf) in producing one popular musical production after another.

Let's talk a little bit about the history of the picture's main actor, James Cagney. By doing this, it will help us understand what makes his portrayal of George M. Cohan so remarkable. Before this role, Mr. Cagney was best known for playing either gangsters or tough guys. Some of his best remembered roles included gangster pictures such as "The Public Enemy" (1931), "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938), and "White Heat" (1949). By keeping this in mind, one can understand why an actor used to playing bad guys wouldn't seem like the ideal choice for playing a patriotic musician. It's difficult enough for an actor to try acting in a different type of picture. It's even more challenging for an actor to make us forget about what they did before throughout a role that's out of their comfort zone.

But even with all these forces against him, James Cagney managed to pull off this role surprisingly well. Granted, we see that Mr. Cohan was a little mischievous when he was a young lad, whether it was carelessly interfering with a business conversation between his parents and a theatrical agent or testing out a song he wrote against the theater manager's wishes. Aside from that, you always got the sense that this person could do no wrong. I say that because he was not only a big sensation on Broadway (though maybe not with the critics apparently), but he was also a generous family man taking care of his family, wife, and business partner. From Cagney's performance, you got a sense that Mr. Cohen was looking out for the average Joe whether it was with his inspiring songs or his loyalty to the United States of America. If I were to explain why "Yankee Doodle Dandy" was on the list of the AFI's greatest films, it would be because of James Cagney's work since it proved that actors aren't limited to one film genre.

Because this is a biopic about a famous musician, naturally we get a good variety of musical numbers, all of which were written by the real- life George M. Cohan himself. Obviously, the songs are very well done with the notable standouts being "Over There" (A song that helped motivate the troops during World War I), "Yankee Doodle Boy", "Give My Regards to Broadway", "For The Record" (A number with charm and energy to spare), and "You're A Grand Old Flag". All these numbers are given the high-end production values and quality sets that they deserve. The presentation of the "You're A Grand Old Flag" number particularly comes to mind when naming a number that has tremendous production value. The massive amount of people in the background, the camera angles, the scope of the sets, it's all there. They truly don't make musicals like this or any other musicals from that era any more.

I have to admit though that while George M. Cohan and Mary are well- rounded characters, I was very underwhelmed by the other characters in this story. Specifically, the development of Mr. Cohan's family save for the father seemed hastily rushed. When certain plot developments came around in the second half, I felt they all went by a tad too quick and a bit out of nowhere. Because of this, the development of the mother and the sister felt very lacking and unsubstantial. There was also a big death scene with a major character in the film's second half that I found a tad problematic. The reason being was that I was more convinced that this person was exhausted from a hard day's work than undergoing an actual death. Nothing's bad about these characters as they are. They just simply needed more screen time in able to truly leave more of an impact on me.

"Yankee Doodle Dandy" – even by looking at the title alone, it doesn't take a genius to figure out how much this picture relishes the spirit of the United States of America. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if people viewed "Yankee Doodle Dandy" every 4th of July since it truly deserves it. And this viewer can assure you that it's not just because it loves America and what it stands for. It's also because it further proves that any actor in the U.S.A., especially James Cagney, can be in any motion picture that they desire. America is a free country, so we can do what we want. I think "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is pretty awesome for subliminally reminding us of that and that is why I'm proud to be an American. And to you I say, Happy Early Fourth of July!

The Biggest Loser

The best part of "The Biggest Loser" is the title
You know you're in trouble when the best part of your TV show is the title. Remember a few months ago when I said "The Big Bang Theory" was the worst sitcom I'd ever seen? Well, guess what? "The Biggest Loser" on NBC is officially the worst TV show in existence. This show is a representation of everything that is wrong with television today. NBC should be ashamed of themselves for letting a project as unpleasant and mean-spirited as this for getting on the air. A reality competition show in which obese contestants have to lose as much weight as possible is a completely idiotic idea. How can anyone take a health-related show of this nature seriously if the challenges are nothing that normal people would have to do in the real world? I'm not kidding when I say I recall seeing an episode where the contestants had to walk on a wire several feet high to practice their balance. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't do anything like that in his prime!

Now the implausibility of these challenges wouldn't be as big a deal if the contestants competing in them were even remotely interesting. But they're not, and that's only part of why the contestants are the show's most fatal flaw. Each of us have different priorities and paths that we take with our lives. We're not going to be the same no matter how hard we try. Some of us may be so busy with work that we won't have time to exercise. Does that mean we're bad? No. It just means there's only so much that we're capable of doing. Not everyone will approve of this theory, but that's just the nature of reality. I say this because "The Biggest Loser" is clearly missing something important: human decency. Deep inside, I want to believe the people on this show may be nice in real-life. But basically what the filmmakers did was edit the show in a way that makes the contestants either too whiny or too boring.

The show seemingly wants us to think that the coaches are always right and the contestants are always wrong. There's an episode where a handful of contestants eat at a restaurant outside of camp just to have a little fun. And considering how hard they've worked, they're entitled to do what they want because this is a free country. But when they get back to camp, let's just say they're punished for that action by the coaches. It's as if the show not only doesn't care that life for them is hard enough already, but they also don't seem to care about their problems. And considering that this is a show about their "redemption", I think it would be important to know their strengths and weaknesses. We never get to know who these people are other than the fact that they eat too much. We just see them being humiliated on camera and undergoing pain and misery all for the sake of losing weight. And frankly, that is very unpleasant to watch.

If you think things couldn't possibly get worse, it does. The editing is awful. Reality TV shows generally have the laziest excuse for editing, but "The Biggest Loser" takes the cake as the worst. When the contestants have to get on a big scale to check their weight, the tackiest Gladiator-style music is used to build-up the revealing of the weight. Because when I think of measuring how many pounds I am, the first thing I think of is "God of War"! I mean, no. Just. No. Of course, you've also got your fair share of god awful reality TV clichés including the procrastination rule and the brief meltdown (both of which I've addressed in my reality TV editorial). The brief meltdowns in this show are particularly abysmal. The editors didn't even try to make it all flow naturally. It all felt phoned in at the last second. I'm not sure if this was a result of strict company policies or audiences not being open to shows varying their style. Regardless, the only way you could have made it watchable was to not have it in there at all.

The pain doesn't end there since "The Biggest Loser" is literally, LITERALLY THE PREACHIEST SHOW EVER! The product placement on healthy foods and items that will guide you to enhancing your health is through the roof. All the contestants are ever allowed to talk about is figuring out how to win this competition and maintain a healthier lifestyle. All the imagery of the contestants working out, all the imagery of the coaches constantly pushing them, you could look at just a single frame of the show and you would immediately be able to conclude that obesity is bad. You would think that this is their way of staying focused on that message. But the problem is it's focused on ALL THE TIME! This message is practically being shoved down our throats to the point where we question if films or shows with important messages were really a good idea to begin with. To say its preachy nature is exhausting would be an understatement. To say that it's unbearable would still be an understatement.

This show may still be on the air, but I'm done with it forever. Out of all the TV shows I've seen in my life, "The Biggest Loser" is easily the very worst. Hands down. No contest. Regardless of the other horrible stuff that's out there, I know in my heart that there will be nothing worse than "The Biggest Loser". I'm sorry for everyone that was forced into making this cinematic equivalent of bullying, and I'm even more sorry for the audience that embraced it.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Apatow will need more than an editor if he makes a film like "Anchorman 2" again
Judd Apatow – what a frustrating comedic filmmaker he is. He gives us films like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005) and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008) that are good, but are filled with way too much filler. Then he gives us flicks such as "Bridesmaids" (2011) and "Superbad" (2007), which have a little less filler but aren't that funny. The potential for his work is there, but he's in dire need of a stricter editor. However, he'll need more than just an editor in the case of "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" (2013), one of the most insufferable comedies I've seen in a very long time. It's been awhile since I've seen the original "Anchorman" picture and I don't recall enjoying that film the last time I saw it. But when comparing this to the original, all that can be said is that writer-director Adam McKay, co-writer and star Will Ferrell, and producer Apatow have basically taken the worst elements of the original film and compiled a sequel that's significantly worse.

Several years have passed since the original flick. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are now married co-anchors for a New York City news network raising their six-year-old son Walter (Judah Nelson). One day, Veronica gets promoted to be the first female nightly news anchor and Ron is fired for his declining performance on air. Jealous of her success, he leaves Veronica and their son. After recovering from an enormous meltdown resulting in being fired from multiple jobs, Ron accepts a position at the world's first 24-hour news network. He reassembles his news team from the last film to get work at this place as well. All of them are assigned the late-night timeslot while competing with the network's primetime anchorman Jack Lime (James Marsden). Ron also eventually discovers that Veronica is dating a psychologist (Greg Kinnear) in his absence.

So, I've summarized the closest thing to the film's central plot as best I could. And on the surface, it sounds like the plot has potential. But I haven't even mentioned the love interest (Kristen Wiig) that Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) starts dating, or Ron's romantic affair with the news network's African-American manager Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), or even the stupefying developments in the film's second half that proved to be entirely pointless. It doesn't matter anyway since the script and direction are as well put together as a kindergartener's first arts-and- crafts project. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if "Anchorman 2" was made by a toddler since they both share the same level of intelligence. Don't get me wrong, I recall the first "Anchorman" film having many dumb moments. But at the very least, the first "Anchorman" didn't take it nearly as far as this piece of crap did.

Ron Burgundy is completely unlikeable here. He has clearly learned nothing from the ending of the original. The relationship he has with Veronica, as shown in this flick, only demonstrates why they shouldn't have been together in the first place. Their chemistry, in both films, is the on-again and off-again nonsense we've all seen before. They're not fun. They're tiring and uninspired. As a result, when certain plot developments take place in the second half, they're even more unearned. This is because it doesn't fit with what happened before, it raises more questions that are never answered, and it makes other events that took place earlier in the narrative even more pointless. I know for a fact that Ron isn't cut out to be a father, since there are more scenes of him being a poor excuse for a father than scenes of him being anything resembling a real father. Whether this was intentional on a comedic level is questionable, since I certainly wasn't laughing.

The premise of Ron and his news team working in a 24-hour news network is intriguing at first. But halfway through, the sinking realization sinks in that not enough time is being spent on the news stuff. The original "Anchorman" at least had a decent balance between focusing on the news itself and the hijinks that Ron and his news team engage in outside of work. Here, the script and direction are so clumsy and sidetracked that not only is the central focus of the narrative confused, but whatever is shown on screen isn't given enough focus to warrant the necessity. There's a crucial speech at the end made by Ron in particular that comes completely out of nowhere. The fact that nothing happened beforehand to lead to this moment makes the film even sloppier. The romance between Brick and his love interest literally went nowhere. Jack Lime was a lackluster excuse for an antagonist, and I couldn't see anything that was special about Linda Jackson whatsoever.

In my opinion, the best joke in the picture was only worthy of a smirk. It involves Brick appearing at his own funeral and it works since it fits that character which I knew from the original. There may have been another line or two that got a smirk out of me, but to be fair, it would've been from the first half. Aside from that, "Anchorman 2" was a complete waste of time. This is yet another example of a disgraceful sequel that didn't need to exist in the first place. If you think that what I described in regards to the film's overall character development and plot structure were enough to scare you off, it gets worse. You know a comedy is in trouble the moment a bus crashes and a couple slow motion shots precede it. You also know a comedy is dead on arrival when the main character somehow raises a shark. And you know all hope is lost for a film whenever its climax consists of a fight that defies all plausibility and yet no one from the press is covering this event secretly. Ugh. Watch "This is the End" instead. *facepalm*

My Fair Lady

Yeah, about "My Fair Lady"....
Your ability to get into the 1964 Oscar-winning musical "My Fair Lady" largely depends on your ability to tolerate its type of story. For me personally, there are a couple things that I do admire about this picture. But given the praise that it had received, including a spot on the AFI's list of the all-time greatest American films and being placed on countless lists of the best musicals ever made, I simply don't get what all the fuss is about. So, how can I be so cold-hearted for dismissing a film such as this? That question shall be answered after I briefly go over the plot. And like I said before, your ability to like "My Fair Lady" depends heavily on the plot.

Audrey Hepburn plays Eliza Doolittle, a young and poor flower girl with a strong Cockney accent living in the streets of London. One night, she comes across an arrogant phonetics professor named Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) who firmly believes that a person's ability to speak English properly determines their value in society. Naturally, Mr. Higgins is absolutely insulted by her ability to speak English. Coincidentally, he runs into a phonetics expert named Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfred Hyde- White) and bets him that he could teach a woman to speak English so well that he could pass her off as a duchess at an embassy ball. So with Col. Pickering paying for her lessons, Eliza reluctantly endures Professor Higgins' harsh speech training. His training includes and isn't limited to speaking with marbles in her mouth, repeating saying the same sentences over and over until she speaks them correctly, and other similar methods to practice her speech and word punctuation. Will she be able to become a proper lady with fluent English or will she be back on the streets again?

If you can't handle that type of plot, you won't be able to handle at least an hour of this 170-minute musical. Because guess what? An hour or so is devoted to the process of making Eliza into an acceptable lady in high society. To be fair, it does show us Eliza's progress with speaking English. But the main problem I had with this hour as well as the entire picture can be summarized in one word: repetitive. First of all, before Eliza even starts training, how many times did you hear her say "I'm a good girl" or something to defend herself in a loud and whiny manner? It was all the time, right? At the beginning, I actually was enjoying Rex Harrison as the professor and the sophisticated words he was using to dismiss Eliza. That is again until I caught on to the repetition of his character and how he goes on and on about how repulsive her speaking is. We get it. We know she can't speak satisfactory English. Rex Harrison did his part, but the script by Alan Jay Lerner and George Bernard Shaw is a broken record.

More so than the repetitiveness of Eliza and Professor Higgins' quarreling, it's the verbal training that really gets old. You know how in elementary school when the teacher makes everyone read out loud and some students have significant trouble which in turn causes other students to be annoyed? Well, think of this verbal training for Eliza as the cinematic equivalent of that situation. It's tedious for everyone involved. It's torture for Eliza, aka the student that can't read, because they're struggling with doing it right. And it's excruciating for Professor Higgins and everyone else in the household, aka the other students who can read, because it's testing their low patience. Other narrative complaints on my part include the character of Freddy (Jeremy Brett) who is a total bore, and the film's final third which sags on and on to no end. As a big fan of musicals, I can't tell you how hard I've tried to get into "My Fair Lady" over the years. And every time I tried watching it, I fell asleep.

Now to the film's credit, the songs by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner are good. Notable standouts include "With a Little Bit of Luck", "On the Street Where You Live" and "Get Me to the Church on Time". Two of those songs are sung by the character of Alfred Doolittle (Stanley Holloway), aka Eliza's father. He's easily the most charismatic and interesting character on screen in "My Fair Lady". Like his daughter, he lives in the streets on London and he's poor. Unlike his daughter, he's usually more optimistic towards the future even though he's guilty of getting drunk at any bar in London nightly. A scene in the first third of the picture consists of Mr. Doolittle confronting Professor Higgins after finding out Eliza's staying there for her lessons. And if you think he's there to rescue his daughter, you're not only dead wrong, but you'll be shocked to hear what Mr. Higgins has to say about HIS English. It's a great scene that adds complexity to the two best characters in the whole film.

But in able to get to the film's best tunes, Mr. Doolittle's subplot, scenes showing Henry Higgins' complexity, and the admirable production and costumes that "My Fair Lady" provides, you have to pay the price in the form of getting through a plot with limited appeal. It's possible I could have missed something here since many people seem to enjoy "My Fair Lady". Maybe, there's a reason why it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1964 over a more eligible film such as "Mary Poppins". Either way, this flick simply wasn't for me.


Go see "Her" - one of the greatest romantic pictures in recent years
We're currently living in an era in which advanced technology is taking the world by storm in the form of iPhones, laptops without keyboards, etc. It almost goes without saying that all of us have become so obsessed with technology that we practically depend on it all the time. Now, you know how around 60-70% of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) was a cautionary tale about how technology can go too far in its advancement? Well, I'd say the best way to describe writer-director Spike Jonze's sensational sci-fi romance "Her" (2013) is that it's a far more optimistic tale about what we've accomplished with technology and how it's still evolving. Given our present addiction and dependency on advanced technology in all aspects of everyday life, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone who saw this picture immediately related to the film's central character and the unusual experience he undergoes.

"Her" takes place in the year 2025 and follows a lonely man named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who is preparing for a divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). One day, Theodore purchases a talking operating system with artificial intelligence that is designed to adapt and evolve. He sets it up to have a female voice and the operating system names itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). What makes this operating system different from any other piece of technology is that she isn't just a program or device created to perform everyday tasks. Samantha has a personality that keeps on learning and growing, and her verbal responses are remarkably human. Samantha never comes off as robotic or programmed with whatever she says. She always feels like a real person that's not physically present in the same destination as Theodore is.

As you can imagine, Theodore is absolutely entranced by Samantha and her ability to learn and grow psychologically. Through the discussions they have with each other about love and life, Theodore and Samantha begin to form a special bond with one another. Yes, this is essentially a story about a man in a romantic relationship with his operating system. But don't let this surreal premise fool you, since Spike Jonze's script and direction treats it in such a sophisticated and genuine way. There's a brilliantly handled scene in which the screen simply goes to black while Theodore and Samantha are assumedly sharing their passion for each other. Now, you may ask yourself: are they having sex through some sort of accommodation? Is Theodore simply masturbating to her voice? Is Samantha using a type of internal programming that gives her the same specific sensations as that of human sex? The film basically allows us to come to our own conclusions on this matter and it's all for the better.

Probably the most important element regarding why this relationship between Theodore and Samantha works so incredibly well is because they're both equal. Yes, I know Samantha is a highly advanced operating system and Theodore is a human. Yes, I know for that reason alone, Samantha and Theodore are naturally unequal by default. Yes, also by default, Samantha is smarter than Theodore because of all the information that computers store as opposed to humans. I don't care what you say otherwise, because guess what? The movie doesn't care about this either. Jonze made the well-chosen decision to write them both as equals and keep the condescension to a bare minimum. By doing this, we're able to take the chemistry between Samantha and Theodore much more seriously. On top of that, we're more likely to become attached to them as individuals, become more involved in their discussions, and be able to identify with their personalities, fears, hopes, dreams, desires, etc.

Joaquin Phoenix was given an enormous task to carry this picture with his performance as Theodore. On the surface, you'd think it would be an easy performance to give since he's the only actor on screen for about 75% of the time. In theory, it would seem that there would be less goofs occurring if only one actor was on screen. But on the other hand, he's the only actor on screen for about 75% of the time and therefore has much more to do. In any case, Phoenix successfully proved to be up for this challenge and made it work. That's Amy Adams as Theodore's married college friend Amy and I truly admired the connection that Amy shared with Theodore. She's one of the only people who can understand and feel happy for the connection that he shares with his operating system without being freaked out. The fact that Amy herself had become close friends with a female operating system contributed to the strength of their connection further. In that sense, Adams is a perfect complement to Phoenix.

Of course, we can't talk about the film's acting without discussing Scarlett Johansson's superb vocal performance as Samantha. Let's recap what Scarlett Johansson was required to do with this role. She not only had to create an entire character by solely using her voice. She not only had to make this character feel human to the point where she could physically be in the same room with Theodore all the time, even though she wasn't. But she had to do all of this while dubbing over the recordings of another actress who originally did the role. That actress was none other than Samantha Morton, whom you may recall as one of the precogs from "Minority Report" (2002). Scarlett Johansson did a spectacular job at accomplishing all of these strenuous goals. But most importantly, she did it all with true passion. With an inspired vision of the future (including computers that type down whatever a human says out loud), a script that respects the intelligence of its audience, and moving characters brought to life by a gifted cast, "Her" is easily one of the greatest romantic pictures in recent years.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

If you can overlook some repetition, there's some good jokes to be found in this series
If you thought most of the people that the main characters of the TV show "Seinfeld" dealt with were scumbags, guess what? Those people are nothing compared to the main characters that the FX comedic series "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" centers on. Where do I begin? You've got "twin siblings" named Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton) and Deandra Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson) who own a bar named Paddy's Pub and don't get along with each other that well. Their father Frank (Danny DeVito) comes out of the blue one day and decides to become a manager at Paddy's Pub. Then, you've got two other guys named Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day) who are also co-owners of the pub. Mac tries to dress and act like a tough guy with advanced martial arts skills even though everyone else thinks otherwise. Charlie is responsible for doing the dirty work and is considered by many to be a slob, drunk, and drug addict. The show basically follows these guys and their constant misadventures in life.

I've personally watched only the first four seasons of this show so far, so my thoughts will be based solely on that. For about the first three seasons I've seen, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" was a funny show about five people who make life a living hell for anyone unfortunate to cross their paths. The Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), the show's most frequently recurring character, is probably the most unfortunate because of Charlie's undying interest in her and her undying non-interest in him. On top of that, she somehow constantly ends up being a victim of the gang's diabolical schemes against her own will. The reason the show earns its laughs isn't just because of the suffering experienced from the likes of the Waitress and any other similar characters the gang comes across. It's also because these five people, save possibly for Deandra, are so selfish, ignorant, greedy, dishonest and all around immoral that one can't help but chuckle at how they obtain their ill- conceived ideas.

When I was watching the fourth season of the series, I must admit that I was no longer laughing as frequently or as hardly as I was with the first three seasons. It could be because if you really think about it, the show starts repeating its own formula all too frequently. I think I can interpret the formula as such. The gang concocts an elaborate plan to engage in some sort of controversial activity. For example, Dennis and Deandra try to qualify for welfare by smoking cocaine, or any other bizarre situations. Each member of the gang conspires against one another and starts to become competitive for their own personal gain, vengeance, or entertainment. And most importantly, a joke is made at the expense of Deandra because she's a woman. The other four guys have the wrongly informed belief that she's incapable of doing anything at all because of her gender. Now in able for the audience to remember this, they literally have to make a one-note running joke about her gender in nearly every single episode.

Certain routines, plot devices, and running jokes similar to what I listed above can make this show repetitious for some, including myself. But for a moment, let's try to imagine the rest of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" without this flaw and consider the overall quality of what the show has got otherwise. You still have some pretty good stuff in here. I can name a few episodes at the top of my head that really stand out in this series. There's one called "America's Next Top Paddy's Billboard Model Contest" where Charlie and Deandra try to create a hit viral video for YouTube and Dennis competes in a modeling contest taking place at the pub. Another great one is "The Gang Dances Their Asses Off" where Charlie gambles the whole bar to win a dance marathon which in turn gets the gang to try and win the bar back. Other standout episodes I'll briefly shout out include "Underage Drinking: A National Concern", "The Gang Gives Back", "The Gang Gets Invincible", and "The Gang Sells Out".

If you're not into shows or films about guys trying to get laid or anything of that sort, you're probably not going to like this. If you're looking for shows or films where you can simply laugh at the stupidity of the characters that you follow, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" works in that sense. I wouldn't consider it one of the best comedies on television right now, but I'd deem it serviceable. I'd personally say you'll get 3-5 awesome episodes from this series minimum.

Sleeping Beauty

Not so much "Sleeping Beauty" so much as "The Three Good Fairies"
Walt Disney's 16th full-length animated feature "Sleeping Beauty" (1959) could really be retitled "The Three Good Fairies" instead. The reason being is that its narrative, oddly enough, puts more focus on them than it ever does on the title character. But I'll have more to say about that later. Let's briefly discuss the plot. If you think about it, "Sleeping Beauty" is just "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) all over again. Only instead of seven dwarfs and a poison apple, we get three fairies and a spinning wheel. A princess named Aurora is cursed at birth by a witch named Maleficent who states that on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. The three good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather assist King Stefan and the Queen by raising Aurora in a cottage somewhere deep in the woods. By doing this, they hope to prevent Maleficent and her minions from finding her. When this curse is broken, King Stefan and King Hubert hope to unite their kingdoms by having Prince Philip marry Aurora.

It's pretty safe to say that those who've seen this picture know what will happen next, and I can't discuss anything further to the few of those who haven't. But remember when I said that "Sleeping Beauty" is just "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" all over again? Well, that statement could best summarize my overall opinion of the picture as well as its main problem. If you've seen "Snow White", you've technically seen "Sleeping Beauty", too. In other words, there is very little that's new here. The two main aspects about this film that do stand out for me is the musical score and the animation style. George Bruns did a masterful job with executing the film's epic and grand musical score. Amongst the film's most soothing and healing songs are "Once Upon a Dream", "One Gift", and the title tune. The animation and backgrounds in this picture really take advantage of the widescreen process and make you feel as if you're seeing a medieval painting unfold right in front of you.

While "Sleeping Beauty" does work very well on a visual and audio level, its story and characters fall hopelessly flat. The only interesting characters for me were the three good fairies. It's not because two of them are fighting over which color will suit the princess best. It's not even because they're the characters that get the most focus. It's because they have personality. I like that we can see their struggles with not using their magic especially when they've been so dependent on their wands. Merryweather is the notable standout for me because of just how blunt she is and how she seemingly speaks her mind. I know many people freak out over Maleficent as a Disney villain and consider her one of the best villains put out by the studio. One can definitely see her enjoyment over what she's doing when she's on screen. In my opinion, she COULD be a great villain if only she were given more screen time. As it is though, the quality of Maleficent as a character basically summarizes the picture in a nutshell. The potential is there, but all I can ask afterwards is this. Is that it? Is that all we've got?

One of the most critical flaws of "Sleeping Beauty" is Aurora herself. I am absolutely astonished that in this 75-minute picture, no more than 20% of screen time is devoted to her. I know that a certain event in the story has to happen because it's part of the original tale, so I won't complain about that plot point. But couldn't the writers have given more screen time to her beforehand? I guess they had more interest in developing the good fairies more so than Aurora, because it's something they hadn't done before. It still doesn't excuse a major character in the story from barely being on screen. The prince is probably the best developed out of the three Disney princess movies made while Walt was alive ("Snow White", "Cinderella", and "Sleeping Beauty"). It isn't saying much, since the others were barely present in the other films to start with. By the way, nice going on Aurora's parents, guys. I'm sure I'll somehow remember the brief 5-7 minutes they appeared on screen. At least I remembered King Hubert for when he was screen for more than 10 minutes. Way to pay attention to detail.

More than anything else though, it is the inexplicable amount of time given to the title character that really kills the potential that "Sleeping Beauty" had. Save for one song, the film's music is simply sensational. I highly endorse the animation style and the atmosphere that Disney's animators created. I even think that the three good fairies have enough character to them that they almost deserve to have as much time as they ended up having. The film, however, just doesn't work on a writing level. And that frustrates me because Walt Disney and his narrative crew are known to be some of the greatest storytellers the film industry had ever seen. Perhaps I won't know why Disney and his crew felt that the decisions they made with the narrative were or weren't the right ones. All I can say is that "Sleeping Beauty" is a definitive example of style over substance.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

"Winnie the Pooh" is special for all of you
Ah, long loved Disney icon Winnie the Pooh, My childhood wasn't complete without you. The many magical, pleasant trips and revisits To your world were nothing short of exquisite. But before the countless shows and films on the silly old bear came through, There was the 1977 feature, "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh". Having a look at this film long after my childhood had to end, I was once again reminded why this character was a great friend. My enjoyment of the film isn't just limited to the Pooh bear. I'm surprised people underestimate the high quality that's there. It might be because this 22nd animated feature from Disney Is really composed of the theatrical Pooh featurettes three. In other words, instead of just one main narrative, We get three. But they're done well. I can live.

The first part of the movie consists of Pooh working up an appetite For honey from a honey tree, though the bees won't give him a bite. Pooh goes to his best friend Christopher Robin to seek his assistance Since Pooh loves honey so much that he'll maintain his persistence. He'll use anything he can whether it's a balloon or a disguise, Even relying on his friend Rabbit to provide his desired prize. The following adventure of Winnie the Pooh's takes place on a blustery day Where everything, including his friend Piglet, is literally being blown away. If harsh wind weren't enough, it rains until the creation of a flood. No worries, this isn't the plot of "Noah" (2014). That film was a dud. During this crazy weather, Pooh has a nightmare regarding his precious honey

And how "heffalumps and woozles" steal it away as if it were lost and found money. The third narrative of the flick centers on an excitable and energized tiger. He's Tigger and he bounces so much it's a miracle he never seems to tire. Yes, everyone seems to enjoy Tigger well enough except for Rabbit, Who believes his bounces are too rough and makes dodging him his new habit. Will Rabbit be able to put Tigger's bounciness to the test and get rid of it? Or will everyone including Rabbit give in to Tigger's positive, jumpy spirit?

These three primary stories are eventually connected At the end in a way that not many of us expected. I won't spoil it for the few who haven't been acquainted With the film, so all I'll say is it's quiet and restrained. Some surprising words to say about this picture, I know. But if you know what I'm referring to, you too would say "Whoa!" It's touching and deep without being sad or tear-jerking Since it addresses what every kid must go through. There's a time in every kid's life where their chances of returning To permanent playtime will be reduced to very few. The film handles that material in the final act perfectly. It's one of the only new things created exclusively for the movie, But I don't mind since it's handled with such grace and subtlety. Even if it's three narratives in one, this is still a well told story.

The type of narrative that this picture did provide Was cinematically equivalent to seeing kids at playtime. You could literally feel the imagination unfold in front of you. It truly feels like your children obtained a new point of view. It's very rare for a children's film to come around Where death or violence is nowhere to be found. But Disney's storytellers still have plenty to work with here, Since the characters they create give you good reason to cheer. Pooh's legendary obsession with honey has proved to be his weakness, But his upbeat attitude and optimistic personality are impossible to resist. Tigger has been known to unintentionally scare some of his friends off With his energetic pouncing and bouncing, but he never meant to be rough. He's still a fun playmate to be around - pouncing, bouncing and all. With the innocence and stamina of a little kid, he's simply a ball. I embrace a kid's flick that has confidence in the characters they create That all the narrative needs to do is just observe them without debate.

I think of all the animated films Disney was producing during the 60's and 70's, This one was best suited for the sketchy animation the studio drew in a breeze. It fits the laid-back atmosphere and world that Pooh and his pals occupy Without giving us the feeling that more detail is what the animators need to supply. The Sherman Brothers, who wrote the wonderful musical soundtrack to "Mary Poppins" (1964), Supply the music here with such memorable tunes as the "Winnie the Pooh" theme song, "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers", "Heffalumps and Woozles" and many more. All of us have our own places for escapism in our childhoods, just like Christopher Robin's. "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is a place where kids and adults can tag along On an enjoyable adventure where there's truly something for everyone in store.

National Velvet

The horse movie to end them all, "National Velvet" is a pure treat
Passion - all of us have it for something in our lives whether we know it or not. Everybody is different and will have to walk down separate paths. But I guarantee that throughout the duration of each and every life, there's always going to be something about life that each of us will have an undying love for. Take the main character of director Clarence Brown's charming 1944 family drama "National Velvet" for example. An English girl named Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor) absolutely adores horses. One day, she comes across a wild horse named Pi who is gifted at clearing obstacles. She instantly adores Pi and eventually wins the horse at a raffle. She also meets a former jockey named Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) who detests horses because he caused the death of another jockey in a past race. Mi reluctantly agrees with Velvet's parents (Donald Crisp, Anne Revere) to help Velvet train Pi for the Grand National steeplechase, one of the most strenuous horse races in all the land.

This picture basically follows Velvet and Mi's progress at training Pi for the big race. There's also time set aside in the story where we spend time with the rest of Velvet's family including her older sister Edwina (Angela Lansbury, in one of her earliest roles) and learn more about Mi's connection to Velvet's family. I feel that I should tell you a little bit more about me and my family before I keep going. My sister was really into horses when we were both younger. There was a barn near where we lived about 10-15 years ago where she could ride on horses and even do some work at the barn after school. Because I was fairly young and no one else was at home, my mom had to constantly drag me to the barn as well even though I didn't have much interest in doing so. The reason for my disinterest is that I didn't like how it interfered with my ability to play with my toys and friends at home during that time.

The reason I bring this up is that when me and my sister watched "National Velvet" as young kids, guess which one of us seemed to like it more based on the fact that the DVD for this film is in their possession? That's right, none other than yours truly. Oh, how ironic. Helen Deutsch's script is probably the key ingredient that contributes to my high endorsement of "National Velvet". It manages to find a nice balance between respecting the intelligence of horse experts and welcoming those who know next to nothing about horses. Deutsch knew to keep the real fancy horse talk to a minimum and allow the audience to stay attached with the personalities and passion that these characters have. Because of this writing strategy, we can clearly see and identify with Velvet's passion and enjoyment of riding horses. We can also delve into how Mi's past is mentally distracting him in the present, and even make observations about the traits that all the Brown family members have in general.

I'm particularly fond of Velvet's parents as played by Donald Crisp and Anne Revere. I like how the father strives to install discipline in the household and yet he does things that he specifically told his children not to do. He tells his children not to feed the dog at the table and yet within a few minutes he secretly feeds the dog and gets caught. There are other fun scenes with the father that show off his conflict with establishing continuity while unintentionally providing anything but that. The connection between Velvet and her mother is very strong. There's a sweet scene between them that reveals something about the mother and what she did in the past in which you truly feel as inspired as Velvet after seeing it. The way Velvet's mother tells her to continue following her dreams and live life to the fullest really feels sincere. In fact, sincere is really the only word I can use to describe Revere's dedicated performance as the mother. She won an Oscar for this role and it's completely warranted in my mind.

Though this isn't the first role for either Elizabeth Taylor or Mickey Rooney, this was the film that really jumpstarted both careers and deservedly so. It's been reported that once filming for "National Velvet" wrapped up, MGM gave Ms. Taylor the horse as a birthday present. Considering the passion and dedication that Ms. Taylor puts into her role, it doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Mickey Rooney also does a stellar job at expressing his inner conflict between wanting to redeem himself and trying not to make the same mistake twice. Musical composer Herbert Stothart, who did the terrific musical score for "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), tops himself here with the picture's beautiful main theme. In the tradition of "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) and "Gone with the Wind" (1939), here's another example of a film that proves just how visually breathtaking and bright the Technicolor process was during the late 1930s and early 1940s. There is truly beautiful cinematography present throughout this film.

If in the unlikely chance that you should somehow end up not liking "National Velvet", all I can say is for you to consider this. In a time when high quality children's films are in short supply and finding classic films from video stores proves to be more strenuous, isn't it nice to revisit a film like this and be reminded of an era that was truly magical? Unlike most films today, "National Velvet" only needed some minimal things like a high quality script and great actors to make it great. And the effort that was put into it was enough to make it an undisputed family classic. Go see this film even if you don't have kids.

The Fox and the Hound

Fine for kids, not enough here for adults
It's a pretty safe bet that all of you know the basic plot behind Disney's 24th full-length animated picture "The Fox and the Hound" (1981), even if you haven't seen it yet. A baby fox, whose mother just got killed, is discovered by a kind old lady named Widow Tweed. Seeing that he needs a motherly figure to take care of him, Tweed adopts this baby fox and names him Tod. Next door, a hunter named Amos Slade (Jack Albertson, aka Grandpa Joe from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971)) has just bought a new hound puppy named Copper for his hunting dog Chief to train. One day, Tod and Copper start becoming play buddies and eventually declare they want to "be friends forever". Trouble ensues however when Amos insists that Copper (Kurt Russell) stays home where he belongs and Tod (Mickey Rooney) accidentally causes too much trouble for both Copper and Tweed. Will Tod and Copper's relationship stay the same, even when they'll become the biggest enemies when they're all grown up?

"The Fox and the Hound" is another one of those films where the filmmakers are mostly efficient in terms of telling the story, and yet one can't shake off a feeling of emptiness after watching it. You have outstanding film legends such as Mickey Rooney and Jack Albertson supplying stellar voice-over work. You've got the good old Disney visuals with their lush colors and backgrounds along with their warm and expressive character animation. You also have a story that supplies a good lesson for kids regarding the values of friendship. There are a handful of things like the ones I just listed that should make "The Fox and the Hound" good enough for me to recommend. But then, there was an unmistakable emotion I was feeling while watching it again years after I last viewed it. This emotion I'm referring to is, for lack of a better word, boredom.

Yes, even solid voiceovers, nice animation and an admirable premise can't quite save a film like "The Fox and the Hound" from being so drenched in averageness. You'll notice that I didn't even go into detail regarding the other supporting characters in this film. Don't worry, you're not missing a thing. I highly doubt that anyone, including myself, will even remember they were even there let alone remember their "necessity" to the narrative. So, let's just leave it at that. As for the film's songs, I don't remember one. There were even one or two cases where a song was clearly there, but I just had to listen carefully since I didn't hear singing. Not like the Disney music we're used to, is it? But whatever songs were clearly sang, they were all fairly dull anyways. In short, the songs and side characters could have easily been scrapped considering they're hardly even there to start with.

The stronger aspects of this Disney flick reside whenever we focus on the complications that arise between these two friends when they're all grown up. You couldn't have asked for a better ending for this film if you tried. It stays true to the relationship between Tod and Copper without betraying the audience by completely making them into something they're not. Tweed's also an intriguing parental figure for Tod in that she goes back and forth between being very forgiving of Tod's mischief and trying to teach Tod to avoid getting in trouble. Aside from that, there really isn't much else to discuss regarding "The Fox and the Hound". It's a harmless flick for little kids to see one time, but not much else. Take my advice for what it's worth. Not one of my favorites from the Disney canon.


Just so we're clear, this is a religious story? No offense, but it didn't restore my faith at all.
Since this marks the first time I'm officially doing a review on a film based on the Bible or anything directly related to religious beliefs, I might as well give you my personal stance on how I personally feel about religions in a nutshell. I'm not doing this to engage in lengthy or passionate religious arguments with other people for fun. I'm putting all my cards on the table because I feel it's necessary to do so in able to express my personal opinion for this picture so my readers can step into my point of view. Let's start from the beginning. I first went to a church with my parents as a kid and I had no idea why we were there throughout. When I heard the speaker say the words "Jesus Christ", I was befuddled. You see, my parents frowned upon me using those words at that age to the point where I considered those words as ones I shouldn't use, alongside words like s***, f***, b****, etc.

Throughout all of my life, my enjoyment of attending a church service was equivalent to my enjoyment of going to school. In other words, it was a complete chore. As I did in my school courses, all I did during church services was just daydream about other things and wait patiently to get out. I don't even listen to what's being said out loud, that's how little I cared. Then there was the constant "sit down, stand up" routine every time we sang a different song. To get straight to the point, I disliked going to church that I simply decided I have no religious beliefs. Like politics and health, this is another subject matter that I avoid engaging in like the plague. Now with all that out of the way, let's discuss about just how weird writer-director Darren Aronofsky's biblical fantasy "Noah" is, shall we? And in answer to your question, yes, that is the same Darren Aronofsky who gave us "The Wrestler" (2008) with Mickey Rourke and "Black Swan" (2010) with Natalie Portman. Brace yourself, folks.

Russell Crowe plays the alleged "protagonist" of the story, Noah, a seemingly normal everyman with a wife (Jennifer Connelly), three sons, and an adopted daughter (Emma Watson). One day as he journeys through the desolate wastelands of Earth with his family, he is given a mission by God to build an ark big enough to save all of the creatures on Earth except for all the other humans. You see, God has basically determined that humans have committed such savage crimes to their own planet that they're not worth saving. So it's up to Noah to be able to live up to the enormous task that God himself has granted him, even at the possible cost of alienating his own family and with looming danger from a savage nemesis (Ray Winstone). Though I can't give a certain answer regarding why many people feel "Noah" is controversial, I at least agree that controversy is warranted for this film albeit for my own reasons.

What we seem to have here is a religious picture that involves God trying to destroy all of mankind and save the other animals instead. And there you have the biggest problem with the film. I understand the appeal of stories involving a person trying to go up against the world, since there are some people out there who want to see humanity's current way of living terminated permanently. But an important factor that must be remembered here is that it's in fact a religious story. And last time I checked, isn't religion supposed to be the celebration of humanity and its good will? If it is, then this "religious story" isn't going to convert people to Christianity or any other religion any time soon because it's basically showing everything wrong with humanity instead of vice versa. It wouldn't be too big an issue if the narrative was written well, but it's not.

"Noah" is so unsure of itself that when we're seeing shots of women being tortured by men, as if indicating there are good people outside of Noah and his family, it goes against the anti-humanity moral of this story as well. I honestly wanted to see Noah rescue these women along with his blind grandfather (Anthony Hopkins) from the storm and put them on the arc as well just so the story could work. But no, the script is so dumb that it doesn't even do that. But let's leave the religious contradictions out of the experience for a minute and look at the film just on its own sea legs. It's still an unstable piece of work. Not only was there no effort or humanity being put into fleshing out these characters, but some of them turn out to be a few wasted script pages. It comes off as though the writers thought every single human being on the planet is boring and they just don't care what happens to them in the end.

Russell Crowe seems very tired in his role of Noah. It's as if he's reprising his performance in "Gladiator" (2000) only in his sleep. The weirdest part was the way in which "Noah" was shot. You either get shots that use inadequate CGI, too many shots in shaky cam, or very gray imagery. Save for a few shots, the cinematography was just unpleasant to look at. I forgot the musical score existed in this flick, since it was that uninspired and generic. Emma Watson is one of the film's few virtues as the adopted daughter of Noah as she's the closest thing to a relatable human being here. Even though his character's narrative purpose was questionable, Anthony Hopkins does what he can with the material he's got. Nonetheless, let's not kid ourselves. There's no way "Noah" can stay afloat, both as a religious story and as a film altogether.

The Big Bang Theory

The worst sitcom I've ever seen
Today's review isn't really going to be a review. Neither is it going to be the hate-filled, 5,000-word rant that I've been concocting in my head for the past few years like I thought it was going to be. Instead, my thoughts on the unbelievably popular CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" are going to come together here in the form of a huge apology. No, this apology isn't going to be for fans who will be upset with my hatred for this show. This apology is instead going to be addressed to any poor soul who's been referred to in high school as a "nerd" or a "geek" by peers who don't know any better. This apology also goes out to anyone who's been a bully in high school because deep inside, I know they suffered through something the rest of us didn't. This apology even goes out to all of the Indians, Islamics, al-Queda members, and Middle Eastern countries we've been fighting these past ten years because, for a reason I'll address later, I think they may have been hurt in some way by this show as well.

I'm writing this sincere apology to everyone for two reasons. 1) I'm too polite, mature and classy to do a rant loaded with expletives. 2) From the couple of episodes I've watched, this show deeply hurt me so bad that I will never again watch a few minutes of even one episode (even a few years after I last watched it) because it would only result in more unneeded pain. Usually around this part of my reviews, I give you a reasonably detailed synopsis of the plot so you know what to expect. But for once, I'm just going to do all of you a favor and summarize it in one sentence. It's just extremely nerdy stereotypes in an apartment who talk about sci-fi/fantasy stuff like "Star Trek" and "Dungeons and Dragons" and date the women next door. That's it. It's about as lazy an idea for a comedy as you can possibly imagine. Just so we're clear, this is what's being green lighted for three more seasons, folks! HAPPY?!

I'd like to make a statement to those who were or are still considered bullies. If the character of Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) was at all the primary reason you started picking on other people out of fear that everyone may be a lot similar to him, I am truly and deeply sorry for all of you to undergo such suffering. If it makes you feel better, I would punch this guy in the face instantly upon seeing him on the streets, I hated him so much. His voice is obnoxious. His lines are beyond atrocious (more on the dialogue later). As a character, he's simply a mean, cynical creation made even worse by intolerable repetition. The actor playing Sheldon doesn't even hide his homosexuality well at all. And yet this actor keeps getting Emmys for this role! WHY?! I've heard that this character might be autistic. If he is, then it's all the more reason for an autistic person such as me to detest him further. My condolences go out to any bullies tortured internally by this character. But most of all, my heart goes out to all these smart people cruelly called "nerds" and "geeks" for being the unintended inspiration of such a vile stereotype and also for being the victims of the cruelty placed upon them from their peers.

Here's another creation that makes me inconsolably upset, the stereotypical "comedic" Indian character named Raj (Kunal Nayyar). Good God, no wonder the Middle East hates our guts! Not only has 9/11 and the Iraq War caused devastation for both the U.S. and the Middle East, but this race of people now has to accept the fact that one of their own has to sport a hairdo so atrocious that even Gandhi would be ashamed to witness it from the afterlife! I despise this recent trend in sitcoms lately where the writers are trying to force a funny Indian character into their stories just to account for the fact that more people of this race are coming to America. I'm not against Indians moving to America for better opportunities since I understand they need to make a good living and it's a way of providing equality to all of mankind. What I'm not okay with is poorly written characters like Raj who completely go against the tone the show was aiming for and unintentionally reinforce an offensive Indian stereotype concocted by whites that reflect their views regarding what these people are like. The only way you'll make these people feel equal is if you write them equally, not by giving them "funny" accents.

There's more to my anger with this show aside from causing potential harm to "nerds", bullies and Indians. The theme song is 100% unacceptable and immediately does harm to my ears whenever it comes on. The laugh track is desperately trying to tell you that every word that's coming out of the actor's mouths is funny, when in fact not one thing even earns a smirk. Speaking of words, the writing in this show is awful. Smart writing comes from stories, plot points, dialogue, and characters that are identifiable and down-to-earth for everyone. It doesn't come from constantly using "advanced" words that sound smart to you but actually sounds dumb to regular folks like myself. "The Big Bang Theory" was an endurance test and as such, it is hereby banished permanently from the site. Anything related to the show spotted inside my house will automatically result in immediate eviction. I will never be the same again. By the way, "bazinga" is not a word and it's certainly not funny.

Once Upon a Time

"Once Upon a Time" - not such a magical fairy tale
Quick Disclaimer: This review is solely based on the first season of the series that is being reviewed. Whether or not you get into the TV series "Once Upon a Time" largely depends on your willingness to tolerate the reimagining of stories you've seen or heard many times before. Furthermore, you'd also have to be interested in these fanciful stories being combined with a story on the completely opposite spectrum in terms of tone. In this case, we have a bounty hunter named Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) who runs into a seaside town called Storybrooke, Maine, which is secretly occupied by characters from various fairy tales who've been transported into the real world. The memories of the past fairy tale lives from the likes of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), and the rest of the fairy tale characters have been robbed by the evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) using a curse from Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle).

It turns out that their only hope to breaking this curse and restoring their memories is Emma herself, who not only reunites with her son Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) whom she gave up at birth but also discovers that she may indeed be connected with these fairy tale characters more than she thought. A few of these fairy tale characters are even the same person. For example, the Genie (Giancarlo Esposito) is also the Magic Mirror, Rumplestiltskin is also the Beast, etc. Every episode tells a different fairy tale, some of them even tell two stories with the other one continuing another fairy tale subplot from before (the Snow White/Prince Charming subplot comes to mind). Basically, what we have here is a mash- up of many of the most popular fairy tales ever told (Snow White, Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, etc.) that aren't even really mashed-up.

Let me say this much about the show, I respect the filmmaker's attempt at taking material that really doesn't lend itself well enough for television and just going with it. I also think that Jennifer Morrison does a fairly good job with her work as Emma as do a handful of other actors in this series (the actress playing Belle first comes to mind). I did like the episode that follows Hansel and Gretel since I feel it's a story that I've personally rarely seen on screen. The way they execute that episode is exceptional in that it really delivers on the suspense. Having stated these virtues, I felt that "Once Upon a Time" didn't really work well as a television series. I feel that the main reason this series didn't do it for me from a narrative perspective has to do with the concept itself.

By taking many different fairy tales and putting them together all in one world, it not only makes the narrative too crowded for its own good, but it doesn't give much time to develop each of these characters well enough to warrant their necessity in the central conflict of the narrative. By taking these fairy tale characters and putting them in the real world, it contradicts and conflicts with the escapism that these fairy tales were trying to provide in the first place. Am I seriously expected to be delighted when the evil Queen and Emma take part in a political debate over a certain area of local land? Do I really want to have these fairy tale characters talking about real-life issues such as a person's health status or dull, mundane stuff along those lines? Why mix fairy tales with reality if all it's going to result in is just defeating the purpose of fairy tales?

I wouldn't be bothered by that as much if the characters we're following are even remotely interesting and that's certainly not the case at least with Snow White and Prince Charming. For me, these characters really drag the show to a halt whenever they're on screen, they're that boring. I felt as if at least 80% of what they do in this show is just contemplating their feelings towards one another. There wasn't a single part about their relationship that I felt wasn't generic or tired. I knew the quality of their chemistry was in trouble when Snow White first punches Prince Charming and thinks he's a schemer in one of the show's first few episodes. For real though, out of all the fairy tale characters they could have chosen as regulars for the series, why Snow White and Prince Charming? Couldn't we have followed Hansel and Gretel as they get older and wiser about who they come across? I bet the show would've been far more interesting if more focus was put on them.

Though Emma is truly one of the show's stronger aspects, she's not without her implausibility. Case and point, the fact that she's willing to believe what her son is saying about this town just based on a book in his possession. Yeah, kid, if I were her, you'd frankly have to uncover more evidence than that to convince me that what you're saying is true. The other characters range from forgettable to hardly even there. The special effects don't look that great to me. But above all else, the approach that's taken to telling this particular narrative in the format of a television series more or less proves why fairy tales weren't meant for this particular medium of television. I know "Once Upon a Time" has a legitimate fan base. I'm simply not going to be in it any time soon. It's just not a dream come true.


"Well done, Josh. Well done."
When you were a kid, have you ever felt like you were too short to do fun things that taller kids your age were doing? Have you at one point in your childhood wished you were "big" or tall enough just so you could fit in? I know there are plenty of us, including myself, who've been in the same shoes as the main character of director Penny Marshall's 1988 comedy-fantasy "Big" at least once in our childhoods. Josh Baskin, a young boy at the age of 12 (going on 13), goes to a mysterious fortune teller machine and wishes he was "big" so he can do more adult stuff. The next day, he gets his wish and discovers that he has literally become an adult overnight. Now, an adult Josh (Tom Hanks) and his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) must try and figure out how to get their hands on that machine and set things right, but not without exploring the life of an adult first.

Adult Josh is lucky enough to land a job as a data entry clerk at a toy company, but then he obtains a promotion to become a paid toy player for the company. You see, Josh's boss Mr. MacMillan (Robert Loggia) is deeply impressed with his current insight into the latest toys and his childlike enthusiasm. His admiration for Josh is further warranted by his innovative ideas for new toys to put on the market. Josh's creativity also impresses fellow company executive Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins) with whom he eventually initiates a special romantic bond with and whose boyfriend Paul Davenport (John Heard) is….jealous of him to say the least. So it seems like this guy of "13 going on 30" is living the American dream. But there's only one problem: he still needs to get back to his 13-year-old life before his friends grow up without him.

I've always been intrigued by people who are either unemployed or unexperienced enough to go to the top and yet somehow get to the top faster than anyone else. This personal fascination was present whenever Cosmo Kramer appeared on screen in the TV series "Seinfeld" and it's certainly present throughout "Big". What I really like about this movie is that it takes a concept that would be seemingly dumb and silly in other hands and makes it into something that's very smart, funny, and even profound. Tom Hanks perfectly fits into his role since he maintains the innocence and energy of a child (as a kid in his situation most likely would) while also showing the maturity of an adult at the same time. I love how we can clearly see him struggling between this new adult life he suddenly started and his childhood life which he still hasn't finished yet. I don't recall a day in my adulthood so far where I didn't feel similar to Josh in that I'm just not ready for what the real world has to offer.

"Big" truly is one of those films that anybody can relate to, both on a dramatic level and especially on a comedic level. Robert Loggia is simply outstanding as Josh's boss, Mr. MacMillan. What absolutely delights me about this character is that even though he does something that normally would never happen in the real world, you get the sense that he knows what he's doing. After all, he does work at a toy company. And aren't the best toys successful because of their creativity? In a way, this is an ideal position for Josh because of his unique ideas for toys. Furthermore, his ideas aren't coming from statistics and charts like Paul (such as a building turning into a robot), his ideas are coming from his own special imagination (hence the electronic comic book). And I completely admire such enthusiastic characters as Mr. MacMillan who desires these traits in their employees. Oh, and his famous foot-operated electronic keyboard duet with Hanks is awesome, too.

This wonderful film was written by Steven Spielberg's sister, Anne Spielberg, and Gary Ross (who'd later write and direct "Pleasantville" (1998), "Seabiscuit" (2003), and "The Hunger Games" (2012)). All I can say is kudos to Spielberg and Ross for their collaboration on this stellar script. Almost every line in this film is very well chosen and fully thought through. The jokes hit their targets with efficient timing and genuine affection. I've gone over how strong the characters of Josh and Mr. MacMillan are, but the other supporting characters hold their own, too. Josh's friend Billy is a fun sidekick since he has more than one superb exchange with Josh. Also, the way in which he helps Josh by helping him apply for a job or even stealing from his parent's emergency funds feels like how a real kid would handle those scenarios. Josh's adult love interest Susan is also very strong in the sense that she starts to connect more with Josh primarily because of his strong passion and love for his job.

It was an absolute pleasure having a look at "Big" again with my family at my side. I loved this film when I watched it as a kid and I love it now. Director Penny Marshall executed this excellent script by Spielberg and Ross with the utmost care and passion. The film is filled with funny moments from beginning to end and every single laugh is earned. Every one of the main characters is relatable and the actors chosen to bring these people to life are irreplaceable. With all due respect to Dustin Hoffman and his performance in "Rain Man" (1988), I would have given the Oscar for Best Actor that year to Hanks since there was simply more intrigue and fun put into his performance. In the words of none other than Mr. MacMillan, all that needs to be said is "Well done, Josh. Well done."


A Disney cartoon that's dull? Inconceivable!
Disney's 33rd full-length animated feature, "Pocahontas" (1995), was the first Disney animated picture to be solely based on a real historic character. Granted, such a milestone is impressive for an animation studio such as Disney to accomplish. Unfortunately, not only does this tale have little to no historical accuracy (anyone who doesn't know history can even see that), but it seems that this marks one of the few times in which (dare I say it) I was bored watching a Disney film. Yes, even with a few good things going for it and the fact that I liked it enough as a kid, I can't help but feel that something about "Pocahontas" was missing when watching it again as an adult: actual entertainment value.

You should be familiar with the story by now. In 1607, a group of England's finest sailors, including renowned explorer John Smith (Mel Gibson), set out on a journey to the New World and arrive in what would later become Jamestown. The leader of the expedition, Governor Radcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), is given the ill-informed belief that this new land is filled with gold and instructs his men to dig up and blast the land to search for it. Meanwhile, an Indian tribe, and their leader Chief Powhatan, currently occupying the land is not amused with the idea of these "pale visitors" invading their territory. Only Chief Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas is willing to open up to one of the new settlers John Smith. And from there, Pocahontas and John Smith fall in love and do what they can to stop the colonists and the tribe from waging war on each other.

Now, the plot doesn't sound that bad up to this point. However, I forgot to mention that there many other subplots in the mix as well. You've got a settler named Thomas (Christian Bale) who's unable to impress Radcliffe in the slightest. There's also three animal sidekicks (a raccoon, a dog, and a hummingbird) combined for Pocahontas and John Smith. We've also got a Scottish settler and an Irish settler having some comic relief moments. There's a talking tree also known as Grandmother Willow, which doesn't make sense seeing that the animals don't talk and yet this tree does. We also have another "love interest" for Pocahontas from her tribe named Kocoum and Pocahontas' best human friend named Nakoma. Yeah, I bet you can tell what the first problem with this film is: WAY too many subplots.

It's a significant flaw for more than one reason, chief among them the characters of Pocahontas and John Smith. Boy, are they boring. There is no character development for either of them whatsoever. The chemistry between them is nonexistent, just because they say they want to be with each other doesn't mean that's real, genuine chemistry. Though Mel Gibson does what he can with what little material he has to work with, the actress voicing Pocahontas sounds like she isn't even trying to be invested. But worst of all, these characters make zero emotional impact because there isn't enough time spent on them or enough depth to make it a credible romance. And the biggest reason for that has to do with what I think is easily the film's weakest aspect: the animal sidekicks.

These animal sidekicks are obnoxious. I can't stand them. Say what you will about the comic relief in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1996), at least they weren't on screen for that long. Here, the animals are given way too much screen time and for no good reason. I like pantomime comic relief…if it's done right, but not the way it's done here. The slapstick is uninspired and these sidekicks do absolutely nothing to contribute to the narrative. If they're trying to symbolize what happened at the time, I'm not convinced that they did it correctly. In a story that's as "dramatic" in tone as this, there's no way I can take a story seriously if more emphasis seems to be placed on these animals than giving depth to anything else in the narrative.

The sole character that I was even remotely interested in was Thomas. On top of the fact that he's the only character in which we can clearly see experience change, he's the character that I believe is the most relatable. Sure, his character arc is pretty predictable (he goes from a weakling to a leader), but he's the closest thing to the film's emotional center as we're likely to get. The music by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz is decent. Surprisingly, my favorite songs are songs from the colonists such as "The Virginia Company" and "Savages" as opposed to "Colors of the Wind" and so forth. I'm torn on the animation style for this film. While it does look nice, it looks nothing like the Jamestown I visited when I was in elementary school in Virginia. I think for the visual style to be accurate, the settlers would've had to travel up a river leading to the Appalachian Mountains or they would've had to just travel to the West Coast, but what am I to rewrite history?

Besides, Disney's "Pocahontas" already rewrote history…to little effect. Sure, its music and visuals are alright, and the ambition of taking a historical event and making it into a Disney animated picture is admirable. But the main characters are about as well developed as everyday pedestrians (in that they simply pass by), the animals put the narrative to a halt every time they're on screen, and the narrative itself isn't even that interesting because there's too much that's not needed and everything that is there is vaguely explored. This is definitely one of Disney's weakest animated pictures.

The Lego Movie

A film that reminds us how cool the Lego toys were and still are today
Sometimes, life is full of surprises. For instance, when I read the first couple reviews coming out for the new animated feature "The Lego Movie", I was simply amazed by how much critics loved it. Christy Lemire, who you may recall as one of the two critics on the short-lived TV program "Ebert Presents at the Movies" on PBS, adored it claiming that this was one of the best films she'd seen in a long time and one of the few films that made her cry. Yes, an animated feature centered on Legos, one of the most popular toys from my childhood, made this critic shed a tear. To say my mind was blown would be an understatement. What on earth could be in a film about Legos that convinces critics like Christy Lemire and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, who was on the final season of the TV program "At the Movies" on ABC, to give it a rare perfect score? Follow me, kids! Let's find out what all the fuss is about.

"The Lego Movie" centers on Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), an ordinary construction worker who meets a mysterious woman named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). She's looking for something valuable at his construction site and after he falls into a hole, he finds the valuable Piece of Resistance. What he doesn't know is that Lord Business (Will Ferrell), the evil ruler of the Lego land, and the Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), Lord Business' lieutenant, are after this item since they want it to rule the world with the super weapon Kragle. Additionally, Emmet is told by Wyldstyle and a wizard named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) that he is one of the Master Builders, meaning he allegedly has the ability to build anything creative without instruction manuals. The problem is he's anything but that. Regardless, they train him to become the hero they want him to be with help from the likes of Batman (Will Arnett), a pirate named Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) and 1980s spaceman Benny (Charlie Day). Together, they embark on a journey to save the Lego world.

Essentially, writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have concocted a typical "chosen one" story in which an ordinary person or creation is chosen to be the one to save the universe. However, Lord and Miller add a couple touches into the mix that make the narrative fresh. For instance, it takes place in a world, or worlds I should say, that is made up of Legos or little plastic toy blocks that can be locked together and built into something massive. "The Lego Movie" consists of both computer animation (the type of animation found in "Toy Story") and stop-motion animation (the animation you'd see in "The Nightmare Before Christmas"), and all that needs to be said is that the integration of the animating styles is seamless. The visuals remain true to the real- life physics of the Legos and every little mundane thing that's in this world, whether it's water or fire, are all Legos, which is really cool to see visually. The money spent on these detailed yet fancifully creative visuals was put to good use.

I was impressed by the all-star cast that was involved in this film. There's Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, and Elizabeth Banks in some of the major roles. There's Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Cobie Smulders in fun cameo roles as Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman respectively. There's even the guy who voiced/embodied C-3PO in the "Star Wars" films reprising his role in cameo form here as well. What's remarkable about the voice-over work in "The Lego Movie" is that the celebrities blend into their roles so well that I didn't focus on spotting which one is which throughout. Instead, I just immersed myself in the film's playfulness and humor. This marks the first time Morgan Freeman does voice-over work in an animated film. Well played, Mr. Freeman. Liam Neeson does a rare comedic role as a split-personality Good Cop/Bad Cop to surprisingly terrific effect. Also, Chris Pratt was ideal casting as the main character since he is a normal everyman but without a trace of blandness.

Many people have commented on how surprising and, dare I say it, emotional the last third of "The Lego Movie" is. Without being too specific, the way the film builds up to this specific plot twist that everybody talks about is actually pretty well done in my mind. It sticks to the main idea of the story in regards to an individual's creativity with its solution and reminds us (especially current college students now I'm sure) why Legos were and still are such great childhood toys. These were one of those toys that allowed us to follow the instructions and go on our own creative path both at the same time. One of the things "The Lego Movie" does a very good job at accomplishing is capturing the playful spirit of childhood without being grating in any way to adults watching it with their kids. I'm certain that kids will be inspired by this flick in terms of growing their imagination, while adults will simply be in awe over how much imagination was put into making this film.

The only thing I could say about "The Lego Movie" at this point is that it's simply a fun flick. If you think some elements of the plot are predictable and unoriginal, I wouldn't argue against that since I recognize that there are such elements. If you find that there's one too many slow-motion sequence or other similarly fancy filmmaking trick being used, I'd understand. All I can say is that I can guarantee a good time to be had with "The Lego Movie" for anybody. With cool animation, stellar cast, good morals to children, and authentic childhood spirit, "The Lego Movie" is impressively assembled entertainment.

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