CGB Review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Winter is coming and so is its soldier.

This is my review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier!

 

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It has been two years since the Battle of New York (the first Avengers movie).  Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (or “Cap” for short) is living in Washington, D.C. and works for S.H.I.E.L.D with Nick Fury.  However, things are not always as they seem and Cap’s trust in S.H.I.E.L.D is tested.  When a deadly conspiracy is discovered, Cap and Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) must team up to save the day.

The Hits
As someone with a devotion to Saint Michael the Archangel, I am pleasantly surprised by how much Captain America reminds me of Michael; brave, honorable and standing firmly on the side of truth.  I love Cap’s sense of justice and duty, how he faithfully carries out S.H.I.E.L.D’s order, yet never does so blindly and how he stands his ground in the face of opposition.  He’s not perfect by any means.  He is a good man who seeks what is right and just in all things.  Often times, characters who are essentially pure of heart tend to suffer from being written as bland and uninvesting.  Luckily, a combination of thoughtful writing and Chris Evans’grounded performance make Cap virtuous without artifice, completely human while at the same time being a cut above.   I guess what I’m trying to say is I really love Captain America! 🙂
The Winter Soldier himself is a seriously terrifying villain.  I appreciate that his dialogue is sparse and how he uses the intensity of his gaze to intimidate and strike fear into the hearts of his victims.  His few words and fierce facial expressions make him an unnerving presence when he is on screen.
I really like the idea that [SPOILER TO ANYONE WHO STILL HASN’T WATCHED WINTER SOLDIER] S.H.I.E.L.D has been compromised by Hydra.  It mimics real life in that the people or groups we think are moral and upright sometimes turn out to be the opposite.  Also kudos to the strength of the plot’s intrigue, which is important for a film like this which has many complex elements.

The Misses
Some of the action is hard to see due to rapid editing.  I could see Cap’s action just fine, though at times the shaky cam would give me a headache, but Black Widow’s action sequences in particular are difficult to make out.  Speaking of Natasha (and I apologize in advance to any and all Black Widow fans), but I’ve seen her in four movies now (Avengers, Age of Ultron, Winter Soldier and Civil War) and I still don’t care for her character.  She has a good rapport with the other characters, but by herself, she’s not very interesting to me.
Can we please talk about the first five minutes, where we see Cap jogging with a seemingly random stranger (Sam Wilson) who we later learn is Falcon?  I get that the filmmakers were setting up Falcon, but within the movie’s universe, it just comes off as abrupt that two strangers would suddenly start jogging together for a long period of time.  I kind of wish the opening scene had shown Cap and Sam meeting first and then jogging into the Washington sunrise.

I can see why Captain America: The Winter Soldier is held with high regard among Marvel fans.  Along with the exciting action, well-written intrigue and a solid plot, Captain America himself is an admirable character and a hero you can believe in, just like the mighty Archangel himself.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
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CGB Review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

Ironically the theater auditorium I saw this in (Theater 10) was the one where I endured last year’s Fant4stic Four…
Beware of Theater 10!

This is my review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War!

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Okay, so this is a prequel/sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which means my summary will require some time travel.  Where’s the DeLorean when you need it?!
Anyway, so long before the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the power-hungry sorceress  Ravenna (Charlize Theron) learns that her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) is carrying the child of the Duke of Blackwood.  One jumpcut later, the baby girl has been born and is destined to become fairest of the land because–fairy tale.  On the night that they are supposed to marry and run off together in secret, Freya sees that the Duke has murdered their daughter, so she unleashes her suppressed ice powers and kills the Duke.  From there, Freya becomes a tyrannical Elsa and raises an army of kidnapped children into soldiers.  Two of those soldiers are Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who are engaged in a forbidden romance that gets them kicked out of Freya’s ice kingdom.
Fast-forward seven years after the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the magic mirror of Ravenna has gone missing, Freya is planning to destroy Snow White’s kingdom and Eric, Sara, and four dwarves must find the mirror to keep Freya from finding it and using it to resurrect Ravenna.

Am I the only one whose brain hurts after reading that summary?  Just imagine what it was like to get through this mess.

The Hits
I’ll give them this: The costumes for Freya and Ravenna are very pretty.  While Ravenna’s costumes are a little too extravagant, they do fit the fairy tale setting.  I did like how Freya’s dresses were white and silver; this keeps her from being an Elsa duplicate.
I understand what they were going for with Freya’s character; a hardened, grieving woman who tries to quash all sentiment while suppressing her own motherly instincts.  In scenes that call for Emily Blunt to be heartbroken and vulnerable, she conveys these traits very well.   With better writing, Freya’s tragic arch would have been more compelling than what we currently have.  As it is, I found myself sympathizing with Freya, just not empathizing with her.
The first act is fine for the most part.  It’s nothing to write home about, but I was fairly invested.  The idea of a betrayed queen “raising” an army of child soldiers had potential and even some of the scene transitions were pretty creative.

The Misses
The writing!  Holy cow, the script is embarrassingly amateur!  The story is painfully predictable, the flat and one-dimensional characters speak about how “true love conquers all” in blatant, on-the-nose spiels and the second act of the film is boring filler.  If I had been watching the film with my high school creative writing teacher, he would’ve been face-palming every five minutes because the plot suffers from a plethora of narrative missteps.
I’m sure that you know the difference between a plot-driven narrative and a character-driven narrative, but I will go over it anyway because once I do, we can get to the heart of why The Huntsman: Winter’s War doesn’t work.
A plot-driven narrative is where the events move the story and the characters are a small part of a bigger story.  A character-driven narrative is where the story could not happen without the central protagonist(s); it is specifically about the evolution of one person or a group of people. Star Wars is a great example of a plot-driven narrative while American Sniper is very much a character-driven piece.  Some films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Imitation Game are a seamless mixture of both.
In the case of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, this is a plot-driven film that really should have been a character-driven narrative.  From the dialogue, I could tell that the screenwriter intended for there to be more to Freya, Eric, Sara and the others, but whatever they intended got lost in the director’s agenda.  This doesn’t work as a plot-driven story because the actual plot is very weak, which explains the sluggish second act and the rushed third act.  The action gets in the way of any unique ideas that could have been explored and because Eric and Sara are written so poorly, Hemsworth and Chastain can do very little to make their characters interesting.  After the first act, Freya comes in and out of the plot, so whatever interest there was in her gets lost.  As for Ravenna, she is a shoehorned villain who is only prominent in the third act.
The story should have been a character study of two rival queens who are also sisters.  If Eric and Sara needed to be a part of the story, have Eric be Freya’s confidant and huntsman and make Sara the right-hand woman of Ravenna, then use their forbidden love to deepen the seething hatred between Ravenna and Freya; love and hate would collide through these characters.  The freaky magic mirror (which looks more like a gong, but whatever) could have been some all-powerful treasure that both Freya and Ravenna were after and would add even more fuel to their animosity.  I’d rather watch that movie!

All right, I’m just gonna say it: This movie is pretty awful and it’s all because of the stilted, mediocre writing.  Hey, Universal Pictures, do us all a favor and let Disney handle the live-action fairy tale genre.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go cleanse my brain by watching Maleficent and Cinderella again.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Jungle Book (2016)

Just looking for the bear necessities!  🙂

This is my review of The Jungle Book!

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, there lives a “man-cub” named Mowgli, who lives under the protection of a black panther named Bagherra and a pack of wolves.  All is well until the diabolical tiger Shere Khan comes looking for the man-cub, since man is forbidden in the jungle.  For his own safety, Mowgli must leave the jungle and go to the “man village.” Along the way, he meets the laidback Baloo and other colorful characters.

The Hits
The CGI is truly remarkable.  I honestly forgot that I was watching CGI characters.  The level of detail on everything from the animals’ fur to the weather effects is quite stunning.
Neel Sethi is endearing as Mowgli.  Inquisitive, adventurous and even noble, Mowgli serves as the story’s emotional center.  Speaking of the actors, all of the voice acting is top notch!  Ben Kingsley is perfect as the firm and brave Bagheera while Bill Murray brings the warmth and charisma as the fun-loving Baloo.  Scarlett Johansson nails the trickery and cunning of the serpent Kaa.  Idris Elba–good Lord–he is terrific as the diabolic Shere Khan!  His deep, commanding voice gave me chills, making him an excellent villain.
Baloo and Bagheera have great chemistry as polar opposites, as well as guardians of Mowgli.  Bagheera keeps Mowgli grounded while Baloo helps the young boy feel safe and relaxed in his jungle home.  Out of all the characters, Baloo has the most character development.  His evolution from careless, self-centered wanderer to a competent and protective mentor to Mowgli is sweet and natural.
I like how the task of protecting Mowgli challenges other characters such as Baloo and even Bagheera to an extent to rise above their own imperfections for a worthy cause.  Keeping Mowgli safe becomes a community effort and in the end, community triumphs over the lone Shere Khan.  I particularly appreciate how Mowgli defeats Shere Khan not with ruthless violence, but by courageously standing his ground in the face of insurmountable opposition.  It reminds me of something Saint Thomas Aquinas once said, “The principal act of courage is to endure and withstand dangers doggedly rather than to attack them.”
A friend of mine named “N.M” recently told me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil.  They know what they’re doing.”  I kept thinking about her words as I watched the movie.  Throughout the film, animals fight off Shere Khan while Mowgli flees to safety, which reminded me of the angels and the saints fighting off the devil and his minions.  Oh, yes, Shere Khan has the similar characteristics of the fallen angel Lucifer.  There’s a particularly chilling scene where Shere Khan is indoctrinating Raksha’s (Mowgli’s wolf mom) cubs.  “Well, it looks like the screenwriters read 1 Peter 5:8,” I said to myself.  By the way, feel free to type in what 1 Peter 5:8 says in the comments section.  🙂  Granted, I highly doubt that the filmmakers were looking to demonstrate how our Heavenly advocates fight for us, but then again, our God can make use of anything, even secular forms of art, to make Himself known to us.

The Misses
So Christopher Walken sings/speaks “I Wanna Be Like You” and…yeah, about that.  It is as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted Mr. Walken to either sing the actual song or just say the lyrics without musical accompaniment, so they said, “Just do both.” As a result, Mr. Walken sounds awkward and stilted when he is sing-speaking the lyrics.
Personally I prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven ones, so even though I liked Mowgli, I couldn’t connect with him; he is sympathetic, not empathetic.  This hiccup doesn’t make the film less enjoyable, but just weak when compared to Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015), both of which were poignant character studies.

I would highly recommend the Jungle Book as a fun family film.  While some of Shere Khan’s scenes are quite dark, the majority of the movie is light-hearted and entertaining.  Kids will enjoy the animals and action, while the adults will be pleasantly surprised with the film’s depiction of courage in the face of danger.

Saint Dominic Savio, pray for us.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Now we get to the film that had to live up to the awesomeness of Empire Strikes Back.

This is my review of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi!

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The Galactic Empire has begun constructing on a second Death Star, one that will be more powerful and deadlier than the first one.  Upon completion, this second Death Star will crush the rebel alliance once and for all.
After learning that the most evil man in the galaxy is his father, Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet Tatooine to rescue his friend (and coolest character ever) Han Solo from crime lord Jabba the Hutt and he has Leia, Lando, C-3PO and R2-D2 helping him along the way. All the while Luke must find a way to save his father’s soul and bring him back from the Dark Side.

Before I begin, I would like to thank you, the reader, for your patience.  My day job has kept me busy, which is why it is taking a while for me to review these movies.

The Hits
Okay, I just love that the first character we start off the movie with is Darth Vader.  I will always get shivers down my spine every time I see him walk down a hallway or off of a ramp.   Interestingly, the revelation that he is Luke’s father makes me see him in a new light.  The fact that this sinister character was once capable of loving another human being (Padme Amidala) and creating new life with her is quite chilling.
Hey fellow Star Wars fans, I ask you: When Luke is trying to bargain with Jabba, have you ever noticed how he is wearing a black hood and cloak, as well as saying things that you would normally hear Darth Vader say?  For me, this is both disturbing and brilliant.  It shows how similar Luke and Darth Vader are without ever compromising Luke’s character arch.
Speaking of Luke and Darth Vader, the best and most complex scenes in this film are the ones with those two.  Luke confronting Darth Vader on the bridge is by far the most depressing scene in any film.  I say depressing because it’s clear that Darth Vader is too far gone, yet it is admirable to see Luke give it everything he’s got to try to bring his father back to the light.  My heart sank when Darth Vader said, “It’s too late for me, son.”  I can tell you that from experience, I know that when someone says that, it truly is too late.
I absolutely love the internal conflict that plays when Luke is watching the rebel ships being ambushed.  How Palpatine taunts him, tempts him [Luke] to strike him with his Lightsaber; what I adore is how Palpatine urges him to kill him out of anger and hatred, not for the sake of righteousness.  I love how Luke’s innate goodness shields him from the lure of the Dark Side.   The internal conflict ignites once Darth Vader discovers that Luke has a twin sister, forcing Luke to fight his father to protect those he cares for.  Yes, I did cry when Luke took off Darth Vader’s mask and the father got to get a good look at his son for the first and last time.

The Misses
Please tell me I’m not the only person who finds Jabba’s Max Rebo Band annoying as all heck.  I have no issue with taking time to establish a sense of place, but the look into Jabba’s lair goes on for too long.
Okay, can we talk about Emperor Sheev Palpatine’s plan?   Him trying to turn Luke over to the Dark Side is not my issue.  This is my issue: Long-term wise, does Palpatine plan on replacing his apprentices over and over until the end of time?  So he wants to make Luke his new servant by having him turn to the Dark Side and kill off his current apprentice Vader, but then how does he plan on acquiring new apprentices?  Let’s assume for a minute that Luke were to turn over to the Dark Side and kill his own father like Palpatine wanted.  I assume that Palpatine wouldn’t allow Luke to have children of his own, so would Luke just be his apprentice or would Palpatine readily replace him?  Also if Luke is the last Jedi, how would he have gotten his own apprentice if said apprentice would have to be a Jedi?
I guess in hindsight, these questions are pointless given that Luke resisted the Dark Side and now Palpatine is dead, but I wouldn’t be a movie reviewer if I didn’t raise these kinds of questions.

Going into this third film, I thought Empire Strikes Back was my favorite Star Wars movie.  However, after watching it, Return of the Jedi is my favorite film in the original Star Wars trilogy.  The emotional struggle between Luke and Darth Vader is mesmerizing to watch, the supporting characters are lovable and memorable as always, and Mark Hamill’s evolving performance brings Luke Skywalker’s character full circle.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

BONUS FEATURE!
Enjoy this animation from How It Should Have Ended!

CGB Review of Pixels (2015)

I now understand why so many people hate this movie.

This is my review of Pixels!

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In Pixels, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) is a former video game champion turned home-theater installer who gets involved in a war between planet Earth and aliens who have misinterpreted video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war.
I remember the wave of scatching reviews that came out after the movie opened.  If you go on Rotten Tomatoes and type in “Pixels,” you will see its 17% score and a plethora of negative reviews.
So is it really 17% awful?  Well, yes and no.  I say this because Pixels is the boring kind of bad.
At least with Aloha, Pan and Fant4stic Four, I had a plethora of grievances to rant about.  Those movies made me mad and were painful to sit through, but they were never boring.

The biggest problem with this film is that the main characters should have been children.  Take out the military and Kevin James being President of the United States (yes, that is a thing that happens) and just have four twelve-year olds instead of forty-somethings going up against pixelated antagonists.   Sure, it would feel like “The Goonies” crossed with “Super Mario Brothers,” but I have a feeling that it would be a far better movie than this.
However, if the script demands that the main characters be adults, then they should have been YouTube Let’s-Players or, at the very least, professional video game players.  It shouldn’t be too hard to create characters based off of real life Let’s-Players like Markiplier and PewDiePie.  This would make the characters feel more modern and less insulting to gamers. Instead Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage are all annoying nerd stereotypes of what people think gamers are.
The reason Pixels is boring is because the “comedy” is stale.  With the exception of one or two jokes that got me to chuckle, the majority of the comedy is misplaced.  Look, Mr. Sandler, having a nine-year old boy casually talk about how his father cheated on his mother with a nineteen-year old yoga instructer and has since left the family is not funny.  If Pixels was written as a dark comedy, then I could see the humor, but this is a bouncy, slapstick adventure, so jokes about serious subjects aren’t going to work.

Between this and “The Cobbler,” I think I’ve figured out why current Adam Sandler movies don’t work.  It is because all of his movies are concepts, not fleshed-out stories.  When you are planning out a story, your concept is the basic premise; “Pixelated characters attack the world,” “Boy goes to magical school,” “Monkey washes a cat,” and so on.  The job of a writer is to take said concept and turn it into a cohesive story with a beginning, middle and end.  If you have a concept and just roll with it without figuring out how it flows as a story, then you’re going to end up with Pixels: A sad and boring flick riddled with tired clichés and stereotypes.

CGB Double-Feature Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2

The series may be over, but the fire it started will burn forever.

This is my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2!

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is the third/fourth and final chapter in the Hunger Games film series.  This is where Katniss must cope with the trauma of the Games while being the reluctant symbol of the uprising against President Snow and the Capitol.  In Part 1, Katniss is psychologically tormented by Peeta Mellark’s imprisonment at the Capitol.

Yes, this is a first-ever double feature movie review here on Catholic Girl Bloggin’!  I will have to say good-bye to this film series that I fell in love with just three years ago.

Let us begin.

Part 1 Hits
Jennifer Lawrence is amazing as usual.  Her performance tells me that to her, Katniss isn’t just another character she’s being paid to portray; Katniss is a person she respects and understands. This movie allows Katniss to fall apart and descend into her trauma, and Jennifer Lawrence knew how to deliver some powerful acting without getting too carried away (i.e. overacting). I cried three times during this movie, and two of those times were because of Jennifer Lawrence’s facial expressions and inflections. When an actor can make me feel distressed over the fate of fictional characters, that’s the sign of a strong performer.
This movie really knows how to sum up its supporting characters in a few scenes or less. Effie Trinket’s first scene in the movie is the best summary of her character that I’ve seen since the last two films. Haymitch’s entrance into the plot is downright awesome. I will say that I was wrong about Julianne Moore being miscast as President Alma Coin. Nope, she was the right choice. She manages to be semi-warm and welcoming, while carrying an iciness that Katniss can sense from a mile away.
If you’re a fan of House of Cards or any genre involving political intrigue, then you’re gonna like this movie. President Snow has made my Favorite Villains List. I would put him at #3 of that list. He is one evil son of a gun. The villain who can hurt you without being in the room is a dangerous person. I thought it was smart for both District 13 and the Capitol to use propaganda as their weapon of choice.

Part 2 Hits
Jennifer Lawrence always has been and forever will be Katniss Everdeen. She brings Katniss’ character arch full circle with a locked-down, quiet performance.  Along with being stunningly beautiful, Jennifer Lawrence brings a sense of vulnerability to her gravitas as she effortlessly brings Katniss to life one last time.
The heart of the franchise is Katniss and Peeta’s relationship.  I love the chaste and tender nature of their bond.  Their ordeal in the first Games and in the Quarter Quell have bound them to each other.  Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson both sell Katniss and Peeta’s care for one another with the believable depth of their performances.
While the pacing can be punishing for moviegoers who prefer stories that move faster, once the action starts, it will take your breath away.  The traps that Katniss and her crew have to go through are everything that you would expect from the extravagant, excessive Capitol.  There’s one great, nail-biting sequence that takes place in the sewers.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you’re going to love this scene.  Though if you suffer from clausterphobia as I do, then you might want to shut your eyes when Katniss and company first walk through the very narrow tunnel which has the ceiling really close to their scalps.  It only takes them two minutes to walk through the tunnel, but clausterphobia-sufferers might feel a tad uncomfortable.
President Snow…good Lord, this guy is diabolical.  Donald Sutherland is having the time of his life playing Snow.  I have enjoyed watching his rivarly with Katniss over the course of the series and I do hope that Mr. Sutherland continues to play villains from here on out.

The Misses with Parts 1 & 2 
Everything wrong with Mockingjay has to do with the fact that it was split into two parts.  The actual book Mockingjay is only 390 pages and is in fact one page shorter than Catching Fire, which is 391 pages.  Because of this, both film do suffer from filler-riddled scenes.  If you’re not a fan of films that take their time, both films might test your patience.
It seems as though the weaknesses of the Hunger Games franchise remain unimproved.  Prim still lacks presence outside of being a plot device, Gale is not fleshed out very well and the two-part split means sitting through some filler.

All that being said, let the record show that I feel Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 are actually better than the book itself.  The filmmakers knew they had a huge challenge facing them in making a dialogue-heavy book with minimal action and making it cinematic.  I feel that director Francis Lawrence and everyone else involved stepped up to the plate and brought to us a truly satisfying conclusion to an influential series.

This brings us to the end of the CGB Hunger Games Extravaganza.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing and reviewing my favorite film series for you guys and gals.
Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor always.

 

Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

CGB Review of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I know this seems like a random CGB post.  This movie isn’t in theaters anymore and I didn’t even announce that I’d be reviewing this movie on the CGB Facebook page.  However, there is an explanation as to why I’m reviewing this today.
On Friday, I wrote my first article for The Catholic Response.  It was an op-ed about Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to both homosexual and heterosexual couples.  When I posted the article on my personal FB page, it didn’t take long for a war to break out in the comments section between my conservative friends and my liberal friends.  Anywho, playing defense for two days wore me out, so I thought I’d do a more light-hearted post.

This is my review of Guardians of the Galaxy!

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Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that had Marvel Studios bitting their nails. Based on an obscure series of comics, Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill, aka Starlord, a fast-talking, brash space collector who ends up coming across three misfits; an alien named Gamora and two genetically engineered creatures, Rocket the racoon and his tree hybrid friend, Groot.  The four of them are taken into custody after a brief quarrel with one another and meet another outcast named Drax.  From there, this ragtag group must come together to save the world.

I’ve seen this movie four times and it wasn’t until my fourth viewing when I finally gave in to the film’s charms and embraced it as my favorite Marvel movie.  This is the ultimate popcorn flick!

The Hits
I have always had a soft spot for stories about a group of oddball people who have to set aside their differences and stick together.  The five leads are well-established and identifiable not just because of their unique designs, but also because of their personalities and backstories.  Peter/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot are all fleshed-out characters and never come across as cliched tropes.
I LOVE Rocket and Groot!  Rocket is hilarious with his sardonic humor and quips. Groot is just charming with his humility and classic line, “I am Groot.”  I appreciate how his one line never becomes annoying.  It’s made clear that he has a limited vocabulary through no fault of his own, so him saying “I am Groot” all the time is understandable.
Guardians of the Galaxy does what Fant4stic Four couldn’t achieve; it establishes Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot as a family unit.  They bicker and argue without bailing on each other.  They disagree, but begrugingly come to necessary compromises.  There’s a dynamic within the group.  They have a rapport with one another.  What’s interesting is that the five characters start out using each other, but as a journey goes on, their selfish agendas are gradually replaced with sincere loyalty and a sense that sticking together is essential for their survival.  Actually, this movie depicts how everything falls apart when people come together for self-serving reasons, and that the greater good can be accomplished once those same people put aside personal gain.
C.S. Lewis once said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”  This movie is a great example of that.  The villains, Thanos, Ronan and Nebula have the same demeanor and are all self-centered.  Meanwhile, Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot all have distinct personalities and different backstories, yet come together for the same cause.
Yes, I love the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.  I’ve listen to “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Cherry Bomb” and “Come and Get Your Love” about a dozen times. Making Peter Quill/Starlord a lover of 80’s rock music was a brilliant way to incorporate the songs into the film.

The Misses
Why did it take four viewings for me to like Guardians of the Galaxy?  Well, for one, you almost have to watch it a second time because the plot gets convoluted, especially with its space talk and technobabble.  I found myself caring more about the characters than the actual conflict.  Despite all the emphasis placed on the Inifinity Stone thingamajig, the object itself doesn’t have much presence.  I kept forgetting that the Infinity Stone was even a thing unless characters brought it up via expositional dialogue.
Am I the only one getting sick of weak villains?  I understand that no one is born evil, but come on, screenwriters, step up your game when it comes to writing villains!  Mind you, the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is handled by the same people who gave us the entertaining, yet intimidating Loki (Thor’s brother).  Loki is the best comedic villain that I’ve seen in a while, so I know that Marvel Studios is capable of bringing great villains to the big screen.  As for Guardians, Ronan the Accuser is the reason why I didn’t care for the story’s conflict.  The script tries to make him a narrow-minded traditionalist, but that arch goes nowhere.  His rivalry with Thanos is partially realized.  Two villains who don’t like each other is an interesting concept, but the movie doesn’t execute it very well. Ronan himself is just not very interesting.  His design is passable and the actor portraying him is fine, but the character never frightened me.  How am I supposed to be concerned about the safety of the protagonist(s) if the villain isn’t an intimidating threat?
Finally, there is one thing I should mention.  The movie opens with a hospital scene in which young Peter Quill says good-bye to his dying mother.  This scene might be uncomfortable for those who have lost a family member (specifically a mother or grandmother) recently.  The scene is only a few minutes long, but I thought I’d give you all a heads-up.

Honestly, I love this movie because of the five titular Guardians.  Their evolution from selfish outcasts to a family unit that would go through Hell and back for each other is executed wonderfully.  Other than the heartwrenching opening scene, the majority of the movie is an exciting action comedy with heart and humor.

Saint Ignatius of Loyala, pray for us.

CGB Review of How to Train Your Dragon (2010) (In Loving Memory of Sophie)

I’ve actually seen this movie twice; the first time was last year when my dog Sophie was alive.  I was sick with the flu and Sophie was sitting on her blankets in front of the TV.  “Tell me what happens, Sophie,” I said while trying not to throw up. Sophie just tilted her head and yawned.  I think she took a nap during the climactic battle in the dragons’ nest.
My second viewing was last night during our LifeTeen movie night.  Every time Toothless would tilt his head or lick Hiccup’s face, I smiled because I thought of Sophie, who passed away on May 11th of this year.

This is my review of How to Train Your Dragon!

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Also this review will be dedicated to Sophie.

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How to Train Your Dragon is based on a series of twelve children’s books of the same name written by Cressida Cowell.  It tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who lives in the island of Berk.  On the island, dragons come periodically to steal Berk’s livestock.  As a result, the Viking villagers hate dragons and train to slay them.  Hiccup, the awkward son of the village leader, Stoick the Vast, sets out to kill a dragon in order to gain acceptance, but when he catches the dreaded Nightfury dragon, he can’t bring himself to do it and instead begins to form a friendship with the Nightfury that he names “Toothless.”

I can see why so many people adore this movie.  This is a fantastic and charming animated film!

The Hits
Holy cow, the animation is gorgeous!  The fire effects look like real fire.  The water looks realistic.  Even the clouds are stunning!  I like how the Vikings characters are designed to look brutish and macho, but are still easy on the eyes.
The opening scene is one of the best that I’ve seen in a while.  Everything we need to know is summarized with exciting visuals and Hiccup’s narration giving us context.  From there, the story never skips a beat and moves at a smooth pace with no filler scenes to slow down the plot.
This movie is a must-see for pet owners especially because it understands the relationship that forms between a human and their animal friend.  It capture how hard you have to work on gaining your pet’s trust when you first bring them home, as well as their unbreakable loyalty to you once you’ve earned their respect.  I love how Toothless becomes protective of Hiccup because it reminds me of how during our walks, Sophie would bark and stand in front of me if she suspected that something was wrong.   The bond between Hiccup and Toothless is genuine and heart-warming.  Every scene they have together is used to show the organic development of their relationship.  This allows the scenes where Hiccup and Toothless have to go through Hell and back for each other to feel believable.

The One and Only Miss
The only hiccup (ba boom pssh!) of this movie is that Hiccup’s change of heart is too abrupt.  When we first meet him, he’s gung-ho about catching a dragon and killing it in order to prove his worth.  Then when he has Toothless in his grasp, he goes for the kill and then within seconds, he changes his mind and decides that he just can’t kill a dragon.
Now to the movie’s credit, it is explained in the third act why he did a 180, but I think because in the beginning, his character was set up as being hellbent on killing a dragon, his change of heart felt too quick.  If he had been first established as not really wanting to kill dragons, but feeling obligated to do so, then it would have felt in-character for him to not go through with it.  Another alternative could be have Hiccup let Toothless go, but then show him continue to wrestle with the idea of killing him at the next opportunity.  He could begin to bond with Toothless while undergoing this internal struggle over the course of the movie.  I understand that this is a kids’ movie and that there are other story elements that they need to cover, but I think it would good for children to see that not everyone turns over a new leaf that quickly.  Children need to know that it’s sometimes hard for people to change their ways and that conversion of the heart comes gradually, not instantly.

Overall, How to Train Your Dragon is a great animated gem that has something for both kids and adults to enjoy.   The topic of two opposing forces is handled with tact and grace and the love between Hiccup and Toothless is centered on loyalty and the courage to stand against public opinion in order to protect each other.

Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

Rest in peace, Sophie (11/10/99-5/11/15)
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CGB Review of Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)

Hello James Franco!  I see you’re back for a second appearance on CGB (see my review for The Interview).
I wish I could say “nice to see you again,” but…(sigh)…

This is my review of Oz the Great and Powerful!

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Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz.  It tells the story of a shady, self-serving con artist named Oscar Diggs who ends up in a magical land and is mistaken to be the prophesized wizard who will save everyone from the Wicked Witch.

I grew up reading classic fairy tales as a kid and I’m a fan of the live-action fairy tale genre.  I adore last year’s Maleficent and Cinderella is on my list of best 2015 movies.  I even enjoyed the admittedly-flawed Into the Woods from last year.
As a fan of the genre, Oz the Great and Powerful is a disappointing watch.

The Hits
James Franco is not the problem here or in The Interview.  In fact, he’s a pretty good actor.  He does a decent job portraying a selfish, superficial man with guile and hidden agendas.  I also like that he starts out oblivious to how his self-absorption hurts others and how he slowly changes his ways once he realizes the consequences of his lies and half-heartedness.   That’s a good message for kids (this is a kids movies, after all).  It’s also good for kids to see that you don’t have to be a perfect person to do great things.  The only developed character is James Franco’s Oz, so his performance alone is what kept me watching.
I don’t have a lot to say about Mila Kunas, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, but I will give them credit for doing what they could with their roles.  Even though I think Mila Kunas is better in films that take place in modern-day settings than in period pieces or fairy tales, but she is actually believable as the naïve, hot-headed Theodora.

The Misses/The Problem with Prophesy Stories
Making this a chosen-one story was a big mistake.  Any time a character is predestined to go on a quest, all the authenticity and character agency is lost.  No matter how hesitant the character is, you know that he/she is gonna end up choosing to go along with the prophesy anyway, so their choice to do so comes off as a demand of the script.  Because Oz is the important person who is prophesized to save the land, none of the friendships he has with the side character feel genuine.  It has the vibe of “we’re your allies because you’re the destined one” and not “we’re your allies because we sincerely care about you as a person.”  Personally I find it more compelling when characters choose to go through Hell and back for each other even if they have nothing to gain from being with one another.  In addition, the relationships are never fully developed enough to be considered authentic because the script is a by-the-numbers checklist of prophesy clichés.
Also this should’ve been an animated film.  The environments would have looked much better than they do here.  There’s one sequence where the camera zooms in on a swarm of butterflies and it looks weirdly pixelated.  This only bugs me because none of the other effects are pixelated.  The CGI looks gorgeous when the camera is still, but a pan-across shot shows how incredibly fake the CGI is.

Overall Oz the Great and Powerful made me sad.  The actors all do a capable job and the colors are stunning, but there’s nothing enchanting about contrived relationships and predictable story formulas.