Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bernie (2012) - Movie Review

It seems like many comedic actors have a defining moment when doing a more serious role or something against type.  Bernie is that for Jack Black.

Sometimes I hate when I actually like a movie, because I don't like to spoil things and that hamstrings my ability to write about it.  In this instance, it's almost impossible to talk about Bernie without spoiling a few things, but it's also an unusual case in that Bernie is based off true events, just not well known.  I debated even mentioning that this is based on a true story, because I know several people that weren't aware of that fact and were caught more off guard by what happened in the movie as a result.  Anyway, here we go...

Bernie (Jack Black) is a mortician in the small Texas town of Carthage.  He's a popular, generous, helpful and well-liked member of the community.  As you're being introduced to Bernie and shown slices of his daily life, they intersperse it with interviews of townspeople talking about Bernie.  One thing you'll notice is most of these people are talking about these events and people in the past tense, so it's clear that something happened that's yet to be revealed.  Also, you'll realize that these people are not actors, but the actual people of Carthage, so even if you didn't know this was based on true events going in, you'll get that feeling as the movie goes on.

Bernie befriends a wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine), a woman known for not being a very nice person and was generally hated by everyone.  She hasn't spoken to her family in years and some have even attempted to sue her to get at the family fortune.  Bernie is able to break through that and they become good friends, going on expensive trips and such.  Eventually, Bernie moves in with her and becomes her entire life, but this leads to Bernie feeling smothered.  I won't say how this turns, but you'll be surprised at where things go and how it all plays out.  It's one of those movies that's hard to believe at times and feels like it had to have been made up, but it's too absurd be anything but real.

While not full of laugh-out-loud moments, there are a few here and there, and the movie maintains a pleasant and humorous tone, despite being about something serious.  In many ways this has that quirky, but dark, feeling that you get from Cohen Brothers films.  I felt the same way after watching Bernie as I did after seeing Fargo for the first time.  I'm not saying this is as good as Fargo, but it evoked a similar feeling.

Director/co-writer Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) and co-writer Skip Hollandsworth do a great job of taking a real event and turning it into something that is somehow funny and enjoyable to watch.  While you shouldn't make light of tragedy, the movie doesn't do that in an exploitative way.  It's more like they took an unusual story and tried to tell it as authentically as they could while keeping the charm and feel of the people and small town in-tact.

This is a great role for Jack Black; it might be the best of his career.  He really makes the character come alive and seem real.  It was an inspired casting choice by Linklater, and Black ends up feeling like he was tailor-mode for the role.  Shirley MacLaine was great as well, and it's nice to see her back on the big screen in something that's not terrible.  Even Matthew McConaughey gives a good performance as the local district attorney.  He should stick to playing lawyers (A Time to Kill, The Lincoln Lawyer).  It seems like every time I'm about to write the guy off completely, he stars in a movie like this and I have to take him seriously again.

Besides Black, the best parts of the movie are provided by all the non-actors involved.  The local townsfolk interviewed deliver some of the funnier moments, but also help add to the realism and charm of the film.  They are honest and don't hold back at all with their opinions.  You really feel after that you could have been watching a documentary about Carthage.

Bernie is one of the great films that surprises you.  I honestly had no idea what to expect going into this and came out thinking this is one of the better movies I've seen this year.  It's light, charming and enjoyable, despite essentially being a dark comedy.  Many of you won't have a chance to see this in the theater, although it's still playing at The Vine (  I highly recommend checking this out when it comes to DVD/Blu-Ray.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Men in Black 3 (2012) - Movie Review

"Threequels" tend to have a pretty bad track record, especially when nearly 10 years has passed since the last film.  After the lackluster MiB 2, was anyone really demanding another?  There's a reason why it's been 10 years.  Anyway, the good news is that while not as strong as the original MiB, MiB 3 is a mostly entertaining, but flawed addition to the series.

An alien criminal, Boris the Animal, played by an unrecognizable Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), escapes a secret Lunar prison that contains the worst aliens out there.  Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) imprisoned him back in 1969, shooting off one of his arms in the process.  Boris wants revenge, and plans to travel back in time, not only to kill Agent K, but do it before he loses his arm.  Making matters worse, killing Agent K in the past prevents him from deploying a defense grid around that Earth that would have stopped the invasion of Boris' people and led to their extinction.

Boris succeeds, but Agent J (Will Smith) is somehow able to detect the fracture in the timeline.  He also goes back in time to stop Boris and restore the original timeline.  The movie picks up once Agent J arrives in 1969.  Fortunately, the movie avoids using the 60's to make fun of the times or use a lot of lame fish-out-of-water jokes  There are a few here and there, but I felt they worked since they didn't overdo it.  It sticks more to the task at hand.

You meet the younger version of Agent O (Alice Eve), but she's really not in the movie much.  This also goes for the modern version of Agent O (Emma Thompson).  This is one of the missed opportunities of the film, as it is consistently implied that Agents K and O may have had a thing at some point, but it's never developed and it's a thread that goes nowhere.

MiB 3, starts off a little rough, with some really labored and stunted dialog.  I had heard that they went into filming without a story or script and it feels like it at first.  Speaking of dialog, Will Smith seems like he's been out of it a little too long, as much of his ad-libbed dialog seemed out of date by a decade or so.   You know, like when your Dad or Uncle tries to relate to you and uses slang that nobody says anymore?  It felt like that.  Will Smith was his typical, charismatic self otherwise.

There's a lot about MiB 3 that felt underdeveloped.  In the early parts of the film, it seems like they are going to get into K's history and his motivation a bit more, but then by the time the movie ends you realize that none of the questions that are setup in the beginning are ever answered.  You still know the same amount about the characters as you did before.

As much as I like Jermaine Clement, he wasn't given a lot to do as Boris the Animal.  He doesn't have much in the way of meaningful dialog and just speaks with a weird voice and laughs unusually.  I think he tried as hard as he could, but again, there wasn't much there.

The most inspired thing is Josh Brolin's portrayal as the young version of Agent K.  He does a spot-on impression of Tommy Lee Jones (who's also barely in the film, as if he didn't really want to be there).  The impression is so good that the first time I heard him do TLJ's voice, I thought it was a dub, rather than impression.  You really do start to forget that you're watching an actor do an impression and somehow are  looking at a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones.

Another thing I thought was really interesting was the character of Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), an important alien that has the ability to see the outcome of multiple timelines simultaneously.  It's a cool concept and they use it well.  He isn't introduced until almost the end of the film though, so again, it felt like something that was underused.  Bill Hader, as Andy Warhol, was also one of the funnier things about the film.

There are a lot of weird or inconsistent things in the movie.  At one point during a fight, a metal door comes off the hinges for no reason at all. You see an alien die only to the same alien alive in the very next scene.  There a bystander screaming during the same fight, only to be one of the people the MiB are fighting against.  Why are you screaming like you're helpless, but then attack later on when you lost your tactical advantage?  There are a few things during the climax that aren't consistent either.  You'll notice moments where the bad guy would win if would do something simple, but that's 'bad guy movie logic' for you.  Some of these flaws you don't really notice until after the fact, where others are totally obvious as they are happening.

Barry Sonnenfeld did a good job keeping the tone of the film light and mostly fun.  It doesn't fully capture what made the first MiB great though.  The script by Etan Cohen (Idiocracy, Tropic Thunder) is an improvement over MiB 2, but many of the jokes fall flat.  I'm surprised at all the missed opportunities here.  As mentioned earlier, you think you're going to get more character development, but it never happens.  There's a moment at the end that's thrown in to give the climax some emotional weight, but it felt forced in.

The strongest elements of the film are the overall look of the film and the effects.  The alien and creature design was excellent, but that's to be expected whenever the legend, Rick Baker, is involved.  I didn't bother to see this in 3D for a change, and I didn't feel like I missed anything.  It is a very nice looking and colorful film though.

Overall, MiB 3 is a enjoyable enough addition to the series, but as I've mentioned a few times, it seemed like there was a lot of wasted potential.  If you're a die-hard fan of the series, I think there's a lot you'll enjoy about MiB 3.  For those of you that are dying to see this or are all caught up on your movies, it's worth a matinee.  Otherwise, I'd save it for a rental.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Battleship (2012) - Movie Review

You sank my sense of logic!  Battleship is one of those movies that you go in knowing it's not going to be revolutionary, but you hope it will at least be a fun, summer popcorn flick.  You'll hear people say things like, "Just shut your brain off and enjoy!"  The problem is, I'm tired of shutting my brain off.  If that's a perquisite to watching a movie, that's never a good sign.

I'm sure you're thinking I'm getting old and cranky, and that like other critics I have no soul, but I'm getting tired of lazy-ass movies that simply try to flash a bunch of a explosions and images on screen to distract you from the fact that there really isn't anything going on.  It's all the typical things that Michael Bay does, but somehow it ends up being even worse.  I've heard a lot of comparisons to Skyline and I'd say that's pretty accurate as far as both movies being about alien invasions don't make any sense.

As you may have already guessed, I didn't like Battleship.  This review is going to be a little more of a rant and spoiler-filled, so fair warning...

Where to even start?  The movie begins with showing you that NASA has found an exoplanet in the "Goldilocks Zone".  On the hope that there may be life there, a signal is transmitted, boosted by a satellite in orbit.  I'm already kind of scratching my head at this because lots of exoplanets have been found in the "Goldilocks Zone."  This isn't anything new, so why are we transmitting to this planet?  Are we doing this for all planets we find?  Is this why NASA needs more money?

Let's get the first flaw major flaw of this movie out of the way:  it's way too long!  It's well over two hours, yet you can walk in 30 minutes late and you wont miss anything related to the action.  You're introduced to our hero, a drunk Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), who breaks into a convenience store to steal a chicken burrito for Sam (Brooklyn Decker).  This scene would have been funny if it wasn't a blatant ripoff of an actual burglary.  Here's the clip of the actual event:

They reenact this in the movie as if it was something original.  This is the kind of crap I expect to see in something from the makers of Epic Movie.  Anyway, this scene is used to setup that Alex is a underachieving loser that's a disappointment to his older brother (Alexander Skarsgård), who's in the Navy.   He forces Alex to enlist in order to get his act straight.

We fast forward a few years, and I can only assume it's been a few years because it's never said how much time has passed and nobody looks any older, but Alex is now somehow a lieutenant.  I say 'somehow' because it's clear that he's still a screwup and he's about to get kicked out of the Navy.  His last mission will be for the RIMPAC naval exercises and then he's out.

Oh, but before we get to that, we're going to watch a soccer match.  Yes, you came to watch Battleship because you wanted to see a poorly shot soccer match between the US and Japanese Navy.  There's no point to this sequence other than to show you that Alex doesn't get along with one of the guys from the Japanese Navy.  Do you think they'll be forced to work together and respect each other by the end of the movie?  Oh, the suspense!

Anyway, this is seriously the first 30-40 mintues of the film and it didn't need to be there!  You can skip that first part and there's 30-40 minutes of your life you just got back.  If you wanted to establish Alex's character, it would have been much easier, and taken less time, to simply start with him already in the military and show that he's the underachieving officer, who's about to be kicked out of the military for fighting or something like that.  It's a much harder sell to show him as an absolute screw up even before enlisting, and then in just a short time he's advanced without seeing any character growth or maturity.  They tell you several times that Alex is smart and talented, but you never see him do anything that demonstrates that.

Finally, the aliens show up as the Navy is going through their RIMPAC exercises.  One of their ships is damaged entering Earth's atmosphere and causes all kinds of destruction as it crashes.  These aliens can travel light-years, but I guess they don't have the ability to detect a satellite that's in its direct flight path.  Anyway, they Navy investigates the ships that have safely landed in the ocean.  Shortly after, the aliens attack.

The other huge problem is aliens themselves.  They aren't developed at all.  What do they want?  It's clear they are invading, but why?  They don't have a single line of dialog, so there's never a mention about needing resources or tech, biology or just wanting our planet.  Their primary goal seems to be that they need to reestablish communication back home, because it's assumed that their communications ship is the one that crashed earlier.  That sets up a silly subplot involving Sam and a military veteran trying to stop them.  It's silly, not just because of the characters involved, but because it's ultimately pointless.  We communicated with the aliens first.  That's how they knew to find us.  If they were capable of sending five ships to Earth, what's to stop them from sending five more, or 20?  If they never hear back from their ships, you don't think at some point they aren't sending more to investigate?

One of the worst things about the aliens is that they show that they have this threat assessment display that determines whether or not they will attack or even see you.  So basically, in Battleship, you can shoot an alien, but then stand still and put your gun down and there's a good chance it will ignore you.  This happened several times in the film.  Nevermind that they are invading the Earth for whatever reason and they're in the middle of a battle against people who have clearly fired upon them.  Also, the aliens showed at other times that they had no issues with causing random destruction that affected civilian targets that posed no threat.  Battleship doesn't worry about things like logic or making sense.

Their ship design was actually kind of cool though, but again, there didn't seem to be any consistency to their technology.  You see times where their ships will fly and other times where they hop around in the water as if they can't sustain flight.  The actual alien design was kind of silly.  When the masks finally come off, they have frigging goatees.  Yep, spiky goatees.  Even aliens have hipsters.

Battleship has some of the worst dialog I've seen in a while.  Co-written by Erich and Jon Hoeber, this movie badly needed some punch-up.  Peter Berg is a capable director, but it doesn't seem like he had a lot of control over this.  I have a hard time believing he thought some of the stuff that happens in the movie made any sense.  How did anyone involved in this think it made any sense.  There are so many things in the movie that could have been removed.  Like, there's a really bad CG shot of a great white shark swimming that looked awful, but it had nothing to do with the story.  Why put that in the movie?  There's a point in the movie where they actually play a version of Battleship staring at display screens, as the Navy and aliens try to find each other.  Really?

There are two moments in the film where someone (presumably) dies and there is absolutely no reaction from the witnessing character, even though it's someone they care about.  If you don't care about your characters to show any emotion about them, I don't care about them either.  Maybe this is due to hiring 'actors' incapable of expressing these types of emotions.  I don't want hate on Taylor Kitsch, but this is already the second shitty sci-fi/fantasy movie he's been in this year.  I get the feeling Hollywood is trying to force this guy on us.  Jeremy Renner was originally attached to this role, and he wisely passed on it to be in something else.  Rihanna doesn't have much to do in the movie other than to run in needless slow motion.  She wasn't terrible, but they did a good job of hiding her acting.  They just throw Brooklyn Decker in some tank tops and short-shorts, and then her acting consists of either smiling or making a face like she just smelled a fart.

What emotion am I trying to convey right now?  Acting!

Similar to the recent Act of Valor, the cast features a lot of military veterans.  Since these guys are not actors, I'm going to talk negatively about that.  If you cast non-actors in speaking roles, you can't expect much.  Even though he's heavily featured in the trailers, Liam Neeson maybe has a total of five minutes in the movie.  He gets a pass.  Same with Alexander Skarsgård, who's also barely in it.  Lastly, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) shows up in a weird cameo.

In the end, Battleship is more like Battleshit.  This is a perfect example of a studio trying to make something out of nothing.  Actually, it was about something: product placement.  After watching Battleship, I had the urge to have a Coke Zero, microwave a chicken burrito, buy an AC/DC album and maybe join the Navy.  I'd love to say this is just a fun, but dumb, popcorn flick, but I couldn't even enjoy it on that level.  The movie has no personality, no excitement, and nothing in it makes sense.  It's barely worthy of a rental.

1 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Dictator (2012) - Movie Review

How long until Sacha Baron Cohen has his The Love Guru or his Norbit?  Or did he already have that with Bruno?

Here's a short review for a short movie.  Yeah right, I say that all the time and it never happens.

Sacha Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, ruler of the Republic of Wadiya.  Aladeen is a mash-up of all the worst dictators you can imagine.  He's a megalomaniac, anti-semitic (a staple of Cohen movies), kills people on a whim, and is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

He comes to New York to address the UN after they threaten military intervention in Wadiya.  Immediately after arriving, he's kidnapped, stripped down to his undies, and has his beard shaved, making him virtually unrecognizable to everyone.  As he has a double that's standing in for him, nobody believes he is who he says and cannot get back into the UN.  He's helped out in by a vegan, hippie chick, played by Anna Faris, and works with her as he plots to get back into the UN.

Rather than the improvised antics with real people we've come to know from Cohen, this is largely a scripted affair.  I would imagine we're going to see a lot more of this in future from Cohen.  Now that he's much more famous, it's going to be harder to find unwitting people he can fool dressed as a character.  Anyway, as far as the story goes, it's actually a pretty standard one that's not really breaking any new ground.  I'm kind of surprised that the story wasn't a little more inspired considering the pedigree of co-writers Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer, who are all writers for Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Shaffer is also the co-creator and writer of The League, another favorite show of mine.

If you like messed up, politically incorrect, or inappropriate humor, then The Dictator is for you.  As you'd expect, nothing is sacred with these guys, and nobody is left unscathed.  I laughed consistently throughout the film.  However, I didn't feel there were enough intense, laugh-out-loud moments; it's more of a consistent chuckle.  Again, with people behind this movie, I didn't think it would be so hit-or-miss and was expecting a little more bite to it. There is, however, a great speech at the end that takes a shot at our current state of affairs and is the highlight of the film.

Comparing it to Cohen's other recent films, this is better than Bruno, but not in the same league as Borat.  It's hanging around in the middle of those two films.

Director Larry Charles (Borat, Bruno) did a good job of keeping things moving along.  As I mention at the beginning, The Dictator is a short movie at just 83 minutes.  It doesn't drag or feel like it's running a gag or joke into the ground.  However, with all the cameos in the film and jokes from the trailer that didn't make it into the movie, you have to assume that this movie was edited down heavily.  I would bet there's going to be an unrated cut of this once the DVD/Blu-Ray comes out.

There are so many funny cameos in the film that you lose track of them all by the end.  The supporting cast also does a good job.  Anna Faris remains cute even when they everything they can to make her look unattractive.  She plays more of a straight role here, which is a surprise considering how funny we know she's capable of being.  John C. Reilly, who's one of my favorite actors, really isn't in it very much, despite being featured in the trailer.  It's not much more than a cameo.  Ben Kingsley plays Aladeen's right hand man, also another straight man role.  The guy that really comes out of this on a high note is Jason Mantzoukas, who some of you may recognize as 'Rafi' from The League.  He's funny in every scene he's in.

If you're a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen, or inappropriate humor in general, then I think you'll like The Dictator.  While more silly than satirical, and not as strong as Borat, it's consistently funny.  As it is a shorter movie, I can't really recommend paying full price for it, but a matinee wouldn't be stretching it too much.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012) - Movie Review

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up yet again to take on an old story about a vampire.  However, after watching Dark Shadows, maybe Depp and Burton should take a break from each other for a while.  Come back fresh after a few years.  At least it doesn't feature sparkling vampires...

In what seems to be an increasing trend for me this year, Dark Shadows is based off source material I have no familiarity with at all.  In this case, a daytime soap opera that ran for more than 1,000 episodes from 1966-1971.

Johnny Depp stars at Bananaboat Collins...wait a second, that can't be right.  Bonobo?  Oh, it's Barnabas!  Anyway, Barney is cursed by the witch, Angelique (Eva Green), after breaking her heart.  Hell hath no fury like a witch scorned!  First, she kills Barnabas' parents.  Then, she puts a spell on his lover (Bella Heathcote) and makes her throw herself off a cliff.  This was actually a scene that bugged me.  As Barnabas is running to stop her from throwing herself off the cliff, he stops not once, but twice, to shout her name (for dramatic effect).  Of course, he gets to her just a moment too late.  Hey, I can think of two moments you could have gotten back if you hadn't stopped running!  You can't shout someone's name and run at the same time?  Anyway, Barnabas falls off the cliff after his lover only to survive the fall and discover that he's been turned into a vampire by Angelique.  She's also able to get the town to capture and bury him alive in a coffin.

200 years later, Barnabas is freed and finds that his family's business, fortune and status are all but gone.  He returns to his run down mansion, and introduces himself to his descendants living there.  His town of Collinsport is now controlled by Angelique, who hasn't aged a day being a witch and all, and is responsible for the Collins' decline.  Barnabas decides to rebuild his family business.  Angelique, still crazy and hot for Barnabas, warns him to join with her or she'll make his family suffer.  You'd think after 200 years she'd be over him.  I guess time doesn't heal all wounds, if you're crazy.  Barnabus isn't interested in her though, as the Collins' newly hired governess has caught his eye, who happens to look like his former lover.

Dark Shadows is a very nice looking film, with much of Burton's trademark flair and style.  This is one time where all the gothic and dark themes he normally uses work really well.  I still felt it a little too dark at times, but that's just a personal preference.  My eyes don't always focus well on darker movies.

As you'd might expect, Johnny Depp is the best thing about Dark Shadows.  I read that he was a huge Dark Shadows fan as a kid and was obsessed with the Barnabas character, so you can see how he was heavily invested in the performance and how committed he was.   Roles like this are made for Depp.

Dark Shadows features a great supporting cast, but unfortunately I felt like they are all underwritten and underused.  Some characters disappear for long stretches, and you almost forget they are in the movie.  Initially, Michelle Pfeiffer starts out a stronger character as the matriarch of the modern Collins family, but she's not given much to do as the movie goes on.  The same goes for Chloë Grace Moretz.  Her character is the snarky teen and played with a weird, jailbait-vibe, but then they didn't know what to do with her.  This is really highlighted with what happens with her at the conclusion of the movie.  Jackie Earle Hayley and Helena Bohnam Carter have their moments, but again, both seem kind of thrown in and aren't much more than background characters.  Jonny Lee Miller is barely used and I even heard Johnny Depp made made him remove the 'h' from his name to prevent confusion on set.  What a prima donna!  I might have made up that last part.

Besides Depp, I really enjoyed Eva Green as Angelique.  I found her performance to be very sexy and I almost didn't recognize her as a blonde.  It felt like she was trying to have fun, but I think she played a much better version of the same character in the recent show Camelot.  I also really liked Bella Heathcote, but mainly because I simply like staring at a pretty face.  It's not like she has much to do either.  It's basically the Johnny Depp show.

There's an unevenness in tone throughout the film.  The original Dark Shadows was apparently super serious, but in the movie version they tried to lighten it up a little bit.  This wasn't a bad idea, but they don't commit to it.  You see all of these funny, 'fish out of water' moments in the trailer, but those are pretty much all you get.  It's yet another example of the trailer misrepresenting the movie.  If you were hoping for a comedy or something lighter in tone, you're going to be disappointed.  Because it can't commit to a theme, there's never any real tension, urgency or anything to care about. 

One of the fundamental issues is how you possibly hope to wrap up five years worth of a TV show in just under two hours?  It can't be done and I think it was too much story for writers John August and Seth Grahame-Smith to handle in a single film.  They setup a potential sequel at the end, but it didn't feel earned.  Plus, I doubt there's going to be a sequel at this point anyway.  I only think this would've worked if they had gone into it from the beginning as a planned trilogy or series of movies. 

Overall, Dark Shadows is a very middle of the road movie.  Not terrible, but not good either.  There are entertaining moments here and there, mostly provided by Johnny Depp, but otherwise it's very forgettable.  This is something I don't feel like I ever need to watch again, and I'm already straining to remember anything meaningful about it.  I really can only recommend this to the most diehard Johnny Depp or Tim Burton fans.  It's not a bad rental when it finally comes out on Blu-Ray though.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, May 11, 2012

God Bless America (2012) - Movie Review

Have you ever seen a vapid Reality-TV personality and wanted to eliminate them?  Ever wanted to strangle someone for being rude?  Well, here's the movie for you...

God Bless America is the story of Frank (Joel Murray, Bill's brother), a man who finally snaps when life continues to deal him a bad hand while simultaneously getting fed up with the decay of society.  You see that Frank is divorced and has a bratty, unappreciative daughter, has horrible neighbors, gets fired from his job for a bullshit reason, and then to really pile it on, he's told that he has an inoperable brain tumor.  Frank flirts with suicide only to stop when watching a self-entitled brat on a 'My Super Sweet 16'-like show.  He decides to do the world a favor by getting rid of her before checking out himself.

As Frank commits the murder, he's spotted by one the victim's classmates, Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr).  However, Roxy thinks killing her classmate was awesome and encourages Frank to continue killing.  Together they go on a cross-country killing spree ridding the world of similar people they think are detrimental to society.

In the early part of the film, Frank has some great, articulate rants about how we've devolved, lack common courtesy, and how nobody can even have conversations anymore without checking their phone or talking about something they just saw on TV or the internet.  We celebrate the worst human qualities and feature it on TV every day.  This is where I felt God Bless America shined.  It's easy to identify Frank's rants and see that he's an intelligent guy.  Joel Murray did a good job of making him someone you initially like and sympathize with.  Outside of the killing, he's a level-headed guy.

Roxy, however, was a little harder to get behind.  She's completely desensitized to violence (another problem in modern society) and seems to revel in the killing.  It's not that Tara Lynne Barr's performance was bad, I actually liked her and think she's a young actress to keep an eye on, but it's more of a problem with the way the character was written.  She's actually more violent than Frank and wants to kill anyone that simply annoys her, where he only wants to kill people that are basically mean and 'deserve it'.

However, the main problem with the movie is when they talk about only killing people that 'deserve it', it gets into dangerous territory.  How do you know someone deserves to die?  Because they were mean to you?  Maybe they were having a bad day.  Many people that kill think the victim deserved it.  Where does it end?  For example, they happen upon a guy who's double parked a sports car and shoot him.  For double parking.  Really?  Sure, the guy is a dick, but is being dick or double parking a crime against society worthy of death?  You could make the argument that many of the people killed in the movie truly didn't deserve it.  It makes it harder to get behind the characters and what they are doing.  At a certain point you feel like you're simply watching two nuts on a rampage, while at the same time acting as if  they are the only sane people in a insane world.

I will say that they kill some people for talking and using their phones in a movie theater and that is something I can get behind, so I guess I'm guilty of dark thoughts like Frank's.  We probably all are.

I do think the underlying point God Bless America is valid and important.  Would the world be better off with less self-entitled, narcissistic dickheads?  Should we all start being a little nicer to each other and showing more common courtesy and decency?  Could we use less bad reality TV and TV personalities like the Kardashians.  Of course!  It's just that the point started to get lost as the movie went on and became about killing more and more people.

The flip side of this is if all the terrible stuff on TV annoys you so much, turn it off!  I hate a lot of that crap, too, but I don't watch it, because I try not to watch things that annoy me.

Another thing that's off about the movie, and it's actually a pretty big plot hole, is that despite committing all these murders, many with witnesses or being caught on camera, they are never on the run from the police.  Not until the very last scene of the movie are they in any danger of being caught by the cops.  There's barely even the hint of police throughout the movie.  In fact, Frank's ex-wife is engaged to a cop and when he sees them, he just goes, "Oh hey guys!  What's going on?"

God Bless America was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. If you seen any of his other films, he's got a pretty dark sense of humor.  I've enjoyed his previous films, so I had been looking forward to this.  The humor in the movie comes mostly from the parodies of the TV shows they feature.  The dialog itself, outside of Frank's rants, is pretty uneven.  It actually felt a little too preachy at points. 

Don't get me wrong, I liked God Bless America, but it felt like the great first half was let down by the second half.  It fizzles out and the conclusion isn't very satisfying.  I think it's worth watching, but it's better suited for a rental when you're in the mood for a dark satire about modern society.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This Week in DVD - May 9th

It's a new month, so that means some good movies right?  Once again, I didn't have much to watch last week, so I'm combining the last two weeks again.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011)

Ugh...look, I know this is supposed to be a kids movie, but I think this series is trash.  It seems like all they do is take any opportunity to shoehorn a Chipmunk version of a bad pop song, even when it has nothing to do with the story.  In the context of the films, this is what they are famous for: Chipmunk karaoke.

Also, why are they hiring well known actors to voice the Chipmunks only to process the voices to the point where they can't be recognized?  Why not save a few bucks and just hire capable voice actors?

I love how nobody seems at all bothered or nonplussed by the fact there are talking chipmunks just casually walking around in plain sight.  Plus, how are the Chipmunks themselves always so unaware of their own surroundings?  This is the third movie and they still haven't learned how to act appropriately in public and acclimate to society?

The low point of this movie was when a group of sassy 'club rats' gets into a dance off with the Chipettes, which had to be one of the more embarrassing things I've ever seen in a movie.  It would be like picking a fight with children and with lots of people watching, but nobody going, "Hey, how immature are you?"

Anyway, they get stranded on an island, I don't recall that they were actually shipwrecked, so the title is kind of misleading and just a bad, forced pun.  The movie is so recycled that once on the island, they run into a character played by Jenny Slate, who has a family of balls she's talking to.  One of them is named 'Wilson'.  Yes, 'Wilson' as in Cast Away.  Really?  Did they think it was okay to rip off Cast Away because no kid would have seen it?  Why would you make a reference to a movie that no kid would have seen anyway?  There are many other (bad) jokes throughout the film that also don't make sense to include in a kids film as they wouldn't get the reference.  Did you do that for the poor parents that had to watch this?

Movies like this are why I generally don't review kids films when they are in the theater.  Pixar has shown that it's possible to make great 'kids' films that appeal to all audiences without pandering.

1 (out of 5) Death Star - I'm sure kids will like this and that's it.  It's a terrible movie even by those standards.

Hop (2011)

Poor James Marsden.  He really deserves better than this.  I'm serious, I think he's a talented guy that for some reason seems to get stuck making crap most of the time.  In Hop he stars as an unemployed slacker, so right away, he doesn't seem like someone that you're going to be able to get behind.  Plus, I also can't stand it when characters in a movie don't act like a normal human beings in situations that aren't unusual.

A young rabbit, named E.B., is next in line to succeed his father in the role of the Easter Bunny.  However, he decides it too much pressure and runs away to be a drummer.  The rabbit is voiced by Russell Brand, who's voice is like nails on a chalkboard for me. 

This movie features a huge pet peeve of mine, being a former, serious drummer.  I hate when you see someone drumming, and what you hear doesn't match what you see them doing.  Normally, it's a small thing here or there, but in Hop, he'll play drums and you hear sounds that don't even closely match for long stretches and then accompanying music joins him despite that he's playing by himself.

Anyway, E.B. and Marsden are thrown together and sent off on a series of silly events which lead to them becoming co-Easter Bunnies.  While you may this think is a spoiler, you are told in the opening moments of the movie that this is the story of how they became the Easter Bunny, so there.  

It's pretty boring and not very clever or funny.  However, I didn't think it was as annoying and insulting as I thought the Chipmunks was.  However, as with the Chipmunks, it's another movie featuring a talking animal where nobody seems to be bothered or surprised by it.

I will say the animation is pretty good, it's just too bad it wasn't used in a better movie.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Again, kids will enjoy it, but there's not much for adults to latch on to.

W.E. (2011)

Wow, what a mess!  This movie was almost as pretentious as the actual Madonna, who co-worte and directed this.  Just because you were married to a director, doesn't mean you can also direct.  This feels like unchecked ego bleeding into other areas.  Okay, enough Madonna hate for now...

W.E. mashes two unrelated stories together in such a rough fashion that initially I thought maybe I had hit the wrong button on the remote and skipped ahead in the movie.  It feels like you're starting in the middle and it took me a while to get what the hell was going on.

First, you have the story of Wallis Sampson, who's best known for marrying King Edward, which led to him giving up the throne, and that leads into the events of The King's Speech.  Unfortunately, we aren't watching The King's Speech today.  Intertwined with this, you have the story of Wally (Abbie Cornish), a bored housewife that's trying to get pregnant by her abusive, alcoholic husband (who's also cheating on her).  Yes, the two women in this movie are named Wallis and Wally.  Okay...

Why are these two stories mashed together when there's no actual link between the two women, other than having similar names?  Who knows?  Wally doesn't seem to be very happy in her marriage, so she becomes obsessed with Wallis and Edward's story and spends her time checking out an exhibit and auction for junk from their estate.  She just stares at their stuff and daydreams about them.  While this is happening, some douchey security guard continues to hit on Wally, even though he knows she's married and they have absolutely no chemistry together.  Eventually, Wally's marriage falls apart and she ends up with the douchey security guard, which only made sense because he actually paid attention to her for more than a minute.  It still seemed odd considering there didn't seem to be any actual attraction between them.

To make things even more confusing, Wally or Wallis would randomly show up in each others stories and actually have conversations with each other, like interactive ghosts.  There's all kind of weird, distracting things in the movie.  At one point Wallis dances in one of the flashback sequences, but a Sex Pistols song starts playing.  What the hell for?

The movie has some style and I thought the flashbacks of Wallis and Edward were actually done pretty well. In fact, Andrea Riseborough, who plays Wallis, was the strong point of the film.  The story telling is just too disjointed and the movie is pretty boring overall.  I'm also mad because it wastes Abbie Cornish, who's one of my Aussie girlfriends.

 1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - I'm gonna say pass.  I just don't think there's enough here to recommend.

The Vow (2012)

A Nicholas Sparks-lite movie.  Even during the trailer they advertise it as staring Dear John's Channing Tatum and The Notebook's Rachel McAdams.  At least they know who your audience is and who to market it to.

The movie begins with the couple getting into a car accident.  Instead of pulling over, they simply stop on snow covered road at a stop sign and decide that it's a perfect time to have sex in the car.  You almost feel like they deserved to get rear ended.  Tatum then does voiceover about some nonsense about 'moments of impact', and Tatum is not an actor that should be doing voiceover in any movie.  He just doesn't articulate very well.  To illustrate one of the 'points of impact', they decide to show you a super slow motion shot of Rachel McAdams going through the windshield.  Why they felt that was necessary, I'll never know.  Then, to show how totally realistic these movies are, you see her in the hospital afterwards with just a few cuts on her face.

The movie flashes back to how they met as a super-annoying, hipster couple (Tatum wears what appears to be a wicker fedora when he meets McAdams, barf).  I already can't identify with these people.  They have their super-hispter wedding and tickle fights to try to show you how in love they are in a few minutes.  Anyway, she awakens from her coma not recognizing her husband and having no memory of the past several years of her life.  She still thinks she's in law school, rather then the artist she was, and still engaged to her former fiance, instead of married to Tatum.

The rest of the movie features a lot of melodrama about Tatum trying to spark McAdams memory and get them to fall in love again.  Even though she hasn't talked to them in years, McAdams family steps back into the picture to use the opportunity to bring her back into the fold.  Meanwhile, McAdams keeps running into her ex, still feeling the way she did about him years ago.  Her ex is a dick, too, and doesn't have any problem using the situation to his advantage.

The true story this is based off of is actually an interesting premise, but it's failed by the total lack of chemistry between McAdams and Tatum.  Plus, McAdams character post-accident is actually kind of unlikeable, which is kind of a shock for me, as Rachel McAdams is my girlfriend.  I actually felt for Tatum's character, but since Tatum can't act, it was hard to really care about what he was going through either.

In another unintentionally hilarious twist at the end, they show you a picture of the actual couple and they look nothing like the actors you just watched play them.  I guess nobody would like a romantic comedy featuring normal looking people.  Look I don't mean to make light of the actual tragedy these people went through, but I think the whole thing is kind of insulting.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars - This is only something I can recommend to either a rental for date night or people that like really melodramatic romantic dramas in the vein of other Nicholas Sparks films.

Movies recently out on DVD that I've already seen.

Haywire (2012)

This is one of my early picks for my top ten of the year, but I have a feeling it will get edged out of list pretty soon with so many other potentially good movies still on the horizon.

Former MMA fighter Gina Carano stars in this Steven Soderbergh directed film about a mercenary that's looking for payback after being setup on a botched job.  One way you could look at this movie is the girl from Hanna all grown up, but with a little bit of the Soderbergh, Oceans 11's flair thrown in.

One of the reasons I liked this so much was for the realistic fighting scenes and how it finally featured a strong female in a believable action role.  I hope Carano gets a chance to be in a few more films like this.

I gave it 4 Death Stars in my original review, and I'm sticking to that.  I highly recommend renting it.  I'm going to pick it up on Blu-Ray soon.

Underworld: Awakening (2012)

I enjoyed this probably more than it deserved.  I haven't been a big fan of the Underworld series, but I ended up liking this the best of all of them.  Also, I appreciated how it started with a recap of the previous films, so you didn't have to remember all the details of the previous films.

Don't get me wrong, it's far from a perfect film.  I wouldn't even actually call it a good film, but I found the over the top vampire vs werewolf action to be highly entertaining.  If you're a fan of the series, then I think you'll really like this one, too.

I actually saw this the same day that I saw Haywire.  Good day for action chicks!

I gave it 3 Death Stars the first time around.  It's a good rental.

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012)

While there are a few funny moments, this was pretty awful.  If I hadn't seen a few funny sketches of theirs before watching this, I would have wondered how they even got a movie made, let alone why they have a fan following.

Having said that, the humor seemed like the kind of stuff I would have thought was hilarious back in Junior High or High School.

I initially gave this .5 Death Stars, but then bumped it up to a full Death Star after watching it a second time just to make sure I wasn't hating it because I was in a bad mood.  The second viewing didn't help much.

I can only recommend this to die hard Tim and Eric fans.  For anyone else, there's no reason to ever watch this.

Meeting Evil (2012) - Movie Review

Nick Fury swaps his eye patch for a fedora and a murderous rampage.

Meeting Evil features Luke Wilson as John, a just-fired real estate agent.  To make matters worse, he's in bad shape financially and pretty miserable, snapping at his wife Joanie (Leslie Bibb) and kids for surprising him on his birthday.  Wait a second, their names are John and Joanie?  Seriously?  Oh boy...that's a double date you find an excuse to skip.

There's a knock at the door and it's Richie (Samuel L. Jackson), a stranger who's car stalled and needs a push.  Even though he's just asking for help, there's something creepy about Richie, and we all know how Richie is a name that just inspires fear.  Also, the way John is reacting to him seems unusual as well.  John is injured while pushing the car and Richie offers to take him to the hospital, which John reluctantly agrees to.

They take a detour at a bar were John runs into his mistress, Tammy (Peyton List).  John might be miserable, but I'd be pretty happy if I was sleeping with both Leslie Bibb and Peyton List.  Anyway, from there they all head off together where Richie continues to detour them, saying cryptic things that put John and Tammy on edge.  Things take a turn for the worse when Richie kills someone in front of them and becomes increasing psychotic.  Richie leads them on a murderous rampage with John essentially his hostage, even though he had multiple opportunities to escape (Tammy is able to get away) or subdue Richie.

Why is Richie killing all these people?  He's obviously a psychopath, but he makes statements about not being a bad guy, lack of common courtesy and only killing people that have given up.  You think there might be something beneath the surface of it all, but there isn't really.  Most of the killing happens off screen, and many times you aren't even aware he's killed someone until well after the fact.  The movie is largely bloodless as well, so it's very tame for a movie about murder.  As a result, you never feel any tension.

When Richie's real intentions are revealed, it's a disappointing let down with an even more disappointing climax.  Based on the premise there's so many interesting places they could have taken this film; like having John, already in a downward spiral from losing his job and marital issues, being forced by Richie to join in the murders and eventually enjoying them as he continues to break down mentally.   For most of the film, I was expecting Richie to eventually reveal himself as some kind of demon or devil in human form that just reveled in the carnage.  That wasn't the case either.

This was based on a book by Thomas Berger, which I hear was more of a character study that the movie should have been.  The screenplay by Chris Fisher, who also directed, seems to have lost any of those qualities and made this into a pretty generic thriller.  This wasn't a good effort on his part. This felt like something that could have been a TV movie.

Meeting Evil is overacted to the max with pretty bad and inconsistent dialog throughout the movie, especially from the supporting characters.  There are some exchanges that end up being unintentionally hilarious.  As mentioned earlier, there's never any real tension and the pacing of the movie really drags.  I was shocked after finishing this to see that it wasn't even 90 minutes.

I hate to pick on the guy, but what happened to Luke Wilson?  After movies like Old School and Idiocracy, I thought he's be a superstar by now, but if you take a look at his filmography, he's been in a series of terrible movies.  He really felt like he was phoning it in here, alternating between whispering his dialog and shouting it. Samuel L. Jackson, on the other hand, seemed like he was having a lot of fun playing Richie, but it's always more fun to play the mysterious bad guy.

There are many distracting things in the movie, like casting two young actors to play John and Joanie's kids that look nothing like one another, let alone look anything like their parents.  They even seemed to be different ethnicities.  As neither kid had a single line of dialog, their presence seemed completely unnecessary to the film.  Speaking of unnecessary, there were two cops that would show up from time to time that also just didn't do anything for the movie and everything they did felt very amateurish.  Lastly, Peyton List seemed wasted here as well.  Early on, she's struck by Richie and has blood on her forehead, but she never wipes it off even though hours have passed and you last see her in the police station.  Nobody attends to her injuries there?

Does these people look related to each other?

I had high hopes based on the cast, but Meeting Evil is just not a good movie.  It's overacted, over-directed and doesn't go anywhere interesting after the promising setup.  Plus, it wastes a Nicholas Cage-like performance from Samuel L. Jackson.  It's a mess and just kind of ridiculous.  This isn't something I can really recommend unless you like watching bad movies.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, May 7, 2012

Safe (2012) - Movie Review

This is the type of action film I've been wanting out of Jason Statham for years.  All it took was the Russian and Chinese mafia to chase a little Chinese girl to make it happen.  Enough with this 'transporting' of hot models.

Safe stars Statham as Luke Wright, who's name will be drilled in your head after once sequence of dialog where his full name is repeated about 8,000 times in a row.  This is during a conversation between two people who both know who he is, yet have to say his full name over and over as if there might be some doubt as to whom they are talking about.  We've all figured it out by this point, have you guys? 

Anyway, Statham is a cage fighter that was supposed to throw a fight, but of course he screws up and doesn't, so now the Russian mob makes him pay.  Rather than kill him, they kill his wife and threaten to kill anyone he's ever going to know.  This forces Wright becomes a bum, wandering the streets unable to have much of the way of human contact for fear of being responsible for someone's death.

Juxtaposed with Luke's story, is the story of Mei (Catherine Chan), a Chinese girl that has the mutant ability to memorize any number she's seen in an instant.  This makes her very useful to the Chinese mafia, who call themselves 'old school', because they don't use paper or computerized records.  She's basically kidnapped  by the mob, with the promise they will take care of her sick mother as long as she works for them.  The mob is all about family and stuff.  At one point she's given a very lengthy and important number, which has now made her the target of Russian mafia, who want this number too.  We aren't sure what for yet, but more will be revealed as the movie goes on.

Mei and Luke's paths cross, literally, when Luke notices Mei hiding from a group of Russian mobsters.  Even though he really had no reason to get involved (other than maybe take advantage of an opportunity to stick it to the Russians), Luke Wright leaps into action and saves the girl.  He's the former cage fighter/bum with the heart of gold, I guess.  Only, we are soon to find out that he's no ordinary cage fighter/bum.  Like The Transporter, there much more to him than meets the eye.  Oh wait, I'm thinking of The Transformers.  Why hasn't Statham been in any of the Transformer movies?  I'm getting off track again...

I have to wonder if director/writer Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans, Uptown Girls) is a fan of old school action films. Safe has all the 80's action cliches: car chases, gun fights, fight fights, dirty cops, bad dialog, bosses with over the top accents, etc.  It's actually not a bad effort though, but I wouldn't expect any less from the writer of Dolph Lundgren's The Punisher.  The action moves along at a very fast pace and you never feel like the movie drags during its 90 minute runtime.  It also has a nice 'gotcha' at the end.  I hesitate to call it a twist, but it caught me by surprise even after I had been warned about it before seeing the movie.

As far as the action goes, it's all done well.  There's lots of nice Statham ass-kicking moments punctuated by loud punches and thuds.  There were a few too many quick-cuts with the editing during the fighting though.  This is still a pet-peeve of mine.  The other thing you'll like is that nobody really ever hesitates to act in the movie, if you think a guy is about to punch someone, don't worry, he is.  Have you ever watched an action film and wondered why the guy with the gun doesn't just shoot the other guy when he has the chance?  That happens here.  Safe is a violent film and totally-over-the-top, but it's done in an entertaining way. 

It is pretty much completely a Statham vehicle, with the rest of the cast made up largely of no-names or people you may barely recognize from other small roles.  The only person I recognized was Chris Sarandon, who most of you know will know best as 'Prince Humperdinck' from The Princess Bride, and James Hong, who was 'Lo Pan' from Big Trouble in Little China.

The soundtrack by Mark Mothersbaugh helped with the nostalgic action feel.  At times sounded like it was copying Mission Impossible or Lethal Weapon.  The end credits sounded like Predator theme.  Whether that was intentional or Mothersbaugh isn't that creative I don't know.

Safe isn't breaking any new ground in the action genre.  It's actually pretty dumb, but it's dumb fun.  Even if you aren't a huge fan of Jason Statham, Safe is an entertaining action flick that you can just shut your brain off, watch and move on after.  If you are a fan of Statham, then I think you'll be pleased as this is a step up from some of his more recent efforts.  This will likely be out of the theater soon, so I wouldn't make a huge effort to see it, but if you wait a month or two and catch it on a rental, I think you'll enjoy it quite a bit.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers (2012) - Movie Review

All hail to the House of Whedon!  He is your new master now!  Just give him the keys to the Mavel Universe and step away.  For the second time in a month, I've seen a movie by Joss Whedon that I can't talk too much about as to not spoil it.  Joss, stop making great movies, so I can talk shit about them!

The Avengers was one of those movies that I never actually thought would happen, let alone work on any level.  How are you going to combine all of the characters and what they've established in several films and it not be a mess?  Well, they managed to pull it off.  It is the definitive superhero team-up movie.  The JLA is on notice!

Having said that, The Avengers does require that you have seen the previous Marvel films.  You don't necessarily have to have them memorized, but at least be familiar with what happened in Iron Man 1 and 2, Captain America, Thor, and to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk.  Then again, I can't imagine anyone looking forward to this movie that hasn't already seen those.

The basic story is that Thor's brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has recruited an army that he plans on using to dominate Earth.  Early in the movie he's able to steal the Tesseract, also known as the Cosmic Cube (which you've see in both Captain America and Thor), from S.H.I.E.L.D.  He needs the Tesseract to open a portal to bring his army here.  In order to stop Loki, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), reactivates the Avengers initiative.  That's pretty much it.  You've got your villain, you've got your conflict, so assemble the team and fight, right?

The Avengers actually started off kind of slow and for a bit I was worried that maybe it wasn't going to live up to the type.  At 2 hours and 22 minutes, there's a lot they trying to roll up from the previous films and at the same time add depth to some of the newer characters, so the length of the film is forgivable.  Once it hits about the hour mark, it really takes off and becomes a roller coaster ride.  I really can't describe it in words without prattling off a bunch of adjectives.  You just have to experience it.

While I think the weak point of the film were the enemies The Avengers face off against, I did think Tom Hiddleston was great as Loki.  He's just so cold and slimy and Hiddleston seemed to have fun with the role.  Loki is more of the type of villain that will get in your head or get you to argue with your friends, only to look back at him with big grin on his face, satisfied with himself for manipulating you.

There were a couple of fights that had a little too much shaky cam, but that's a nitpick.  I really can't fault anything else with the the movie.

Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth are all back as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, respectively.  They play their characters with the same effort and style that they did in their own movies, so there's no disconnect when watching The Avengers and wondering why a character's tone is suddenly different.  Despite the large cast, nobody was giving an effort like they didn't want to be there or were upset with a diminished role.

The real surprises here were Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and especially Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner.  Not so much with their acting, as we all know what they are capable of, but it's how they fleshed out their characters.  Like many, I wasn't too impressed with how Black Widow looked compared to guys like Thor and Iron Man.  What's she going to do with a handgun, when you have the might of the Hulk standing next to her?  They successfully turned her into a badass.  It's the same with Hawkeye.  He's a character I've never had any interest in, but again, they showed you why he deserves to be on the team.  Initially, I was nervous about yet another recasting of Bruce Banner, but ultimately, I think Ruffalo's portrayal as Banner is the best we've seen so far.

Speaking of the Hulk, this is easily the best the Hulk has ever looked on camera!  In Eric Bana's Hulk, he was too big and blocky; in Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk, he was too ripped, but they got the perfect balance of the two this time around.  I don't want to spoil anything, but this is the Hulk movie you've been waiting for.  The best moments in the movie belong to him and he's simply awesome!

The Avengers is a team effort though and once the action gets going they really capture that dynamic well.  Captain America falls into his natural leadership role and everyone has their part to play.  You have to credit writer/director Joss Whedon, who's used to working with large ensemble casts.  He was able to balance everything out well.  They even gave some depth to some of the side characters like Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Colson (Clark Gregg).  They stand out and they get to have their moments.  I can't mention everyone, but you get to see many side characters from the previous Avengers-related films pop up.  No Happy Hogan though.  He's too busy producing.

As you'd expect from Joss Whedon, The Avengers is funny and has that witty banter you've come to enjoy in his work.  The story was co-written by Zak Penn, who's also wrote The Incredible Hulk, X2 and several other (lesser) Marvel comic films, so I think his involvement helped with the consistency of the Marvel Universe.  While there's the great action and humor, there's also some more human moments that I actually felt were kind of touching.  There's definitely more going on here than just popcorn fluff.

As it was shot in 3D, the 3D looked great and this is one of the few times I'd recommend seeing this in 3D or especially on IMAX, which I did and thought it was awesome!

Oh, stay until the end of the credits.  The very end...

The Avengers could have been a disaster, but it ends up being easily the best Marvel film and second only to The Dark Knight as far as superhero movies goes.  Joss Whedon managed to make me feel like a kid again, without making a movie that's for kids.  It's action packed, funny and everything you want your summer blockbusters to be.  It's the comic book fan's dream!  This is going to be in my top ten favorites of the year, so I'm not even going to pretend otherwise.

5 (out of 5) Death Stars!!