Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

So I saw the new Harry Potter movie and I have to tell you, it was a major let down. After the hours of entertainment and consistent excellence of the previous six movies, I was shocked that the producers allowed such a collapse in standards for the penultimate episode of this multibillion dollar worldwide franchise.

First of all, the special effects were a mess. I mean, animatronic owls? Really, guys? I remember the previous movies had state of the art computer generated graphics, and there was some of that in this one but other parts just looked cartoony. Some of it actually looked to me like hand drawn animation, which I thought did not mesh well with the rest of the movie.

A lot of the actors’ English accents did not sound authentic. Some would drop in and out of different accents, others just spoke in a way that was nearly impossible to understand. The wands they used looked cheap, as if they were made out of plastic. They looked like toys you could buy at the store.

Many of the sets were very poor. The paint was cracked and honestly some of it looked like the kind of backdrops you would expect in a high school stage production, not a $200 million blockbuster. There were also a lot more house plants lying around than I think would be in a place like Hogwarts.

I was also thrown off by the giant monster truck rally that occurs in the middle of the movie. It completely derailed the story and felt very forced. The long shots of monster trucks loudly revving their engines really took me out of the world of magic and wonder that the filmmakers tried to create.

The product placement was crass and unsubtle. Ron Weasley never mentioned that he liked Mentos in any of the other movies, but in this one he seemed to take out mints every time he was on screen. He held the Mentos packaging in a way that was really unnatural and seemed to designed to get Mentos as close to the screen as possible.

Sometimes, in the middle of a scene, I got extremely frustrated because the camera would drift off away from the main action and just linger for a long time on staircases and other parts of the set. You could still hear the dialogue, but it was really difficult to follow what was going when you couldn’t actually watch the actors perform their parts. Come on, that’s like moviemaking 101 guys.

I thought it was very unnecessary to bring back Dumbledore after he died in the last movie (spoiler alert). But the way they decided to do it made it even worse. Portraying the deceased wizard as a brain in a vat was tasteless to say the least. Especially because the “brain in the vat” actually just looked like a lump of clay in a murky fish tank. The scenes where the characters just sat with Dumbledore’s brain looking uncomfortable were not very dramatic. There was no dialogue, and the actors would enter and exit for seemingly no reason.

Denzel Washington seemed like an odd addition to the cast. I know he’s a great actor, but his intensity seemed to frighten the children in the audience as well as many of the other actors in the many scenes he was in. I don’t want to say affirmative action played a role in his unusual appearance in a movie of this kind, but I’m pretty sure affirmative action played a role in his unusual appearance in a movie of this kind.

All in all, it was a very poor experience from start to finish. Which reminds me, the movie was way too long. I remember the other movies were all well over two hours and I had no problem because they were adapted from very dense books that I have no intention of ever reading. But this one clocked in at nearly four hours, which I think is testing the limits of what’s an acceptable running time for a children’s movie. I actually left halfway through because I was bored and hungry. I made myself a ham sandwich and took a nap but when I woke up I remembered that I wanted to see the ending. So I went back to the theater to catch the last couple of scenes. When the credits rolled I realized why the movie was such a disaster. They had like twelve directors on this thing! Talk about too many cooks in the kitchen. Knowing that, the bizarre tonal shifts – like when a dramatic scene would suddenly turn comedic without warning – made a lot more sense. It’s the worst movie I’ve seen since The Last Airbender (I know, I shouldn’t say things I can’t take back, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it really came close to matching how bad The Last Airbender was).

Here’s hoping Part II is better.

This was originally posted on November 20, 2010 on A Gilded Planet.

Baby Driver

Today sees the theatrical release of Baby Driver, the much anticipated sequel to Boss Baby. Boss Baby took the nation by storm just a few months ago, but 20th Century Fox had such confidence in Alec Baldwin’s vision for the franchise that they greenlit an entire trilogy of movies built around his trademark forever adult baby character. Just like Lord of the Rings.

As to why the sequel is being released when the original is barely out of theaters, that has to do with the maturation cycle of babies, who age in months rather than years. Expect to see the third movie in the franchise in theaters this fall.

Now that we’ve gotten all that talk about franchise’s release schedule out of the way, let’s ask the question on everyone’s minds…is Baby Driver as good as Boss Baby? The answer is an emphatic YES. Baby Driver builds on the laughs, the thrills, and the mystery of Boss Baby such that I can safely say this movie exceeds the heights of its predecessor, as hard as that may be to believe.

Baby Driver opens with the titular Baby (Alec Baldwin) having been removed from his job as Fortune 500 CEO and on the run from the intelligence services of multiple governments as well as a bounty hunter hired by the Chinese Mafia.


Baby (Alec Baldwin) hits the road in Baby Driver.

He’s become a Wanted Baby due to his theft of kompromat (a Russian term meaning incriminating evidence used for blackmail) that could lead to criminal charges against some of the most powerful figures in global politics and finance. And what does that mean?  Baby has to hit the road!

In Baby’s single seat car, he’s got to race against time before…well, I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns, nor do I want to disclose any information that could jeopardize lives. All I can say is DRIVE to the theaters as soon as you can to see Baby Driver. You don’t want to miss it.

TL;DR – Stylish, exciting, and fueled by a Alec Baldwin’s rich baritone, Baby Driver hits the road, proving fast-paced CGI children’s movies can be smartly written without sacrificing thrills.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Baby Driver is a frenetic, funky, fast and fun for the whole family!” – Anthony Ray Bench, Film Threat

– Hudson Hongo, Variety

“Alec Baldwin delivers a courageous performance, speaking truth to power as only a baby can.” – Mameh Immanuel Sisma, The Guardian

“Like Boss Baby before it, Baby Driver should be seen simply because it is such a bold and wonderful idea.” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer

“Alec Baldwin is back, baby, and he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“The thinly veiled jabs at the Bernie Sanders and his ‘bro’ supporters made me laugh to beat the band.” – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

[REDACTED AT THE REQUEST OF THE NSA] – Dominique Vivant, Vulture

Melonmeter® Score:

99% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™ (IT DON’T GET MUCH JUICIER THAN THIS, FOLKS)

Marvel’s War Machine

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an ever expanding many tentacled media goliath. It has spawned dozens of theatrical films and TV shows and at this point it’s getting hard to keep track of it all. So stay with me as I try to explain the backstory of Marvel’s War Machine, a direct-to-Netflix feature film released earlier this month.

War Machine is Iron Man’s (aka Tony Stark’s) sidekick. He has appeared in Iron Man (2008) and its sequels. His real name is James “Rhodey” Rhodes and he’s a decorated military officer who works for Iron Man and eventually wears a similar intelligent super suit of armor except decorated with darker colors.

War Machine was portrayed by Terrence Howard in Iron Man and Don Cheadle in the two sequels. For this film, Marvel obviously had to recast War Machine with a bigger movie star. They chose Brad Pitt, a puzzling choice given that the character is traditionally portrayed as African-American. Though Brad Pitt is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, he is not traditionally considered to be African-American, and I found the “jive” accent he spoke in throughout the movie to be in poor taste.


Brad Pitt as James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine.

Other than that, Marvel’s War Machine is a pretty solid movie. The plot follows James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine as he tries to win the prolonged war in Afghanistan, featured prominently in Iron Man (2008). The movie hews closer to reality than any other Marvel production to date, with the movie turning from tragedy to farce as the war seems to consume James “Rhodey” Rhodes entirely, turning him into a conspiracy-addled whackjob by the end.

Marvel’s War Machine portrays the conflict in Afghanistan as a hopeless morass of inconclusive skirmishes and surprise guerrilla attacks. Given that all of the recent Marvel movies have been for dumb kiddies, this maturity and political sophistication surprised me.

I suppose I should have expected something more adult from War Machine given that Marvel has produced TV shows for Netflix that are much grittier and darker than its dumbo kiddie films, and this movie was released exclusively to Netflix as well. As children aren’t allowed on Netflix, Marvel has been forced to adapt and evolve in order to succeed in the Netflix ecosystem. That’s all for the best in my book.

TL;DR – This portrayal of the conflict in Afghanistan stars Brad Pitt as James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine, the former sidekick to Iron Man trying to win back America’s honor by defeating the Taliban once and for all.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“A film that veers wildly from war movie to character drama to comic book caper to satire to a blended gray of nothing.” – Nur Faizah, PopMatters

“Brad Pitt is back, baby, and he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“An assured, nervy black satire on America’s involvement in Afghanistan and on one particular soldier, commander of U.S. forces James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“Really I expected more from Mr. Brad Pitts after all these years. Color me disappointed. Marvel’s War Machine is a real turkey, I’ll have you know.” – Topik Hidayet, Hindustan Times

“It appears to focus on a massive subject, only to reveal a much more understated approach; James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes may think he’s fixated on the glories of the battlefield, but he’s actually War Machine, a comic book sidekick trying to break out on his own.” – Vaughn Babigan, indieWIRE

“A muddled satire about the war in Afghanistan awkwardly forced to camouflage its lead character behind an alter ego and an offensive accent.” – Brian Lowry, CNN

Melonmeter® Score:

74% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight is the first film in the venerable franchise based on Hasbro toy line to fill every single one of its human roles with Chinese actors speaking Mandarin. However, it’s also the first Transformers movie in which humans only appear for about twenty minutes of the running time.

I’ve read that Michael Bay outsourced to his second unit in Quingdao all of these obligatory scenes featuring meatbags talking (subtitled) to each other. This allowed him to focus his energies exclusively on crafting computer generated vista after computer generated vista of Autobots battling Decepticons for control of the universe.

The result is a nearly two and a half hour mostly uninterrupted color show of sensuous visual delights. Bots explode, tumble and flip this way and that in beautifully balletic action sequences marred by not a single fleshy face.


Simply breathtaking.

Metallic muscles and cords ripple and twitch in tension and ecstasy. Thus they reflect the lurid pleasure experienced by those of us blessed enough to be in the audience witnessing the Transformers’ unbridled dynamism.

Michael Bay has finally transcended the false illusions of narrative and cohesive structure altogether. By entering the realm of pure cinema with enormous wrangling steel chassis as both icon and subject, he’s an invented an entirely new filmic grammar. Giant flying robots have been a staple of the cinema since the Lumière Brothers, but you have never seen them like this before.

Chaos and discord in the heavens rendered with such kinetic style puts Bay in a singular tier of filmmakers from whom he’s clearly drawn inspiration. Now we shall whisper Michael Bay in the same breath as Dziga Vertov, Rene Clair, Slavko Vorkapich, Norman McClaren, Arthur Lipsett, and – dare I say it? – Man Ray himself. Alongside Bay, they all drink creative nectar of the movie gods from the same horn-shaped vessel.

TL;DR – An exhilarating venture into pure cinema for the Transformers franchise leaves us breathless with the rush of seeing such vibrant whirling images only occasionally interrupted by obligatory scenes of narrative featuring Fan Bingbing, Wang Xueqi, Vincent Zhao, and Ge You.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Michael Bay is some kind of genius.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Transformers: The Last Knight offers more to see and more to startle than do many films by auteurs of overt artistic ambition and accomplishment.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“All the best moments in the movie—pure images, devoid of symbol and, for that matter, nearly empty of sense—go by too fast, are held too briefly…” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Michael Bay knocks it out of the park once again!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“When this heroic duo find themselves thrust out into the void of inner space from a collapsing planet, it has a terrifyingly vast emptiness that Bay doesn’t dare hold for more than an instant lest he become the nightmare-master. “ – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Bay’s highest inspirations are those of a virtually experimental filmmaker of pure sensation.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“[T]he enormous thing hurtling toward Earth is composed in a fanatical detail that would repay slow-motion viewing with near-geological patience.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Melonmeter® Score:

98% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Cars 3

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), Shooter McGavin (Larry the Cable Guy) and Dipthong O’Gurk (Anthony Michael Hall) are back as your favorite living, breathing automobiles in Cars 3. That’s right, it’s another animated adventure from the hit-making wizards at Pixar, the most creative and successful company since Motown Records. Incidentally, Motown also happens to have inspired all of Pixar’s movies from the Cars franchise to Please Mr. Postman and its sequel, Twistin’ Postman.

cars 3

After winning the tiebreaker race of the Piston Cup championship in Cars and foiling a secret plot by lemon cars to corner the oil market at the World Grand Prix race in Tokyo in Cars 2, Lightning McQueen, Shooter McGavin and Dipthong O’Gurk have nothing left to prove and are on top of the world as far as they’re concerned. It’s one long ride into the sunset for these old buddies – and what could be a better fate for anthropomorphized vehicles such as these ones.

All respect them for their good spirits that may rule in these perilous times! But it is, unfortunately, certain that the good spirits themselves are lacking, that precisely all the good spirits of automotive technology have left them in the lurch!

As is the hallowed custom with these movies, the plot moves forth by a most comical nature; there is no doubt about that. The way Shooter McGavin and Dipthong O’Gurk have bungled things up this time comes to light at the very beginning, where the task is to investigate the origin of their very souls as living, breathing automobiles.

Soon we are to discover it’s only Lightning McQueen who can board a container ship to Rio de Janeiro to rescue them with enough time to make it to that last and most important race. And we in the audience doff our tricorn hats at the screen, as our parents stare at their phones, faces illuminated by merest gleams.

TL;DR – The signpost to the right road is for Cars 3 the question: what is the real significance of the designations for “good” as spoken by the various anthropomorphic automobiles?

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“There must be some word today from my car so far away, please Mister McQueen look and see if there’s a car, a car for me.” – Gladys Horton, Vanity Fair

“Deliver dee letter, dee sooner dee better!” – Cowart Motley, Variety

“These cars sure can talk!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“Who has not stared into the headlights of a gassed up automobile and not seen a pair of unblinking human eyes?” – Umair Mamsa, Philadelphia Inquirer

“To this rule that a concept denoting automotive superiority always resolves itself into a concept denoting superiority of the internal combustion engine.” – Millicent Weems, The Guardian

Melonmeter® Score:

68% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Rough Night

Whenever a beloved movie like Date Night goes gangbusters at the box office, Hollywood takes notice and immediately begins developing a sequel. But sometimes, something along the way goes wrong and the sequel actually turns out to be a lot worse than the original. That seems to be what happened with Rough Night, the long awaited sequel to the Date Night franchise.

The first warning you’ll get that Rough Night isn’t going to be nearly as good as Date Night is the casting. The studio was apparently too cheap to cough up the money to pay the original stars (Tina Fey and Steve Carrell) their quote, and so they recast the leads with two much less funny actors: Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon. And while it’s daring to cast Kate McKinnon as a male, no amount of makeup or digital effects can make me believe she’s the same character that Steve Carrell played in the original.


Kate McKinnon and Scarlett Johansson reprise the roles Steve Carrell and Tina Fey played in the original Date Night.

Another problem with the movie is the plot, which is much less down to earth than the original. Date Night had a premise that everyone could understand: a couple goes out for a fancy dinner but end up being chased by mobsters in a case of mistaken identity. Rough Night goes for something more along the lines of The Hangover but much more confusing.

Phil and Claire Foster (Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon) fight over Phil’s invitation to a raunchy bachelor party in Miami. Phil eventually goes anyway despite Claire’s concerns and ends up on a wild ride with his sex-crazed buddies Buck (Ilana Glazer), Evans (Jillian Bell), Turrance (Leslie Jones), and Reinhold (Zoë Kravitz). Buck hits his head on a bong, Evans finds a dead stripper (Zach Galifianakis) in a closet, Turrance accidentally gets a crazy tattoo and Reinhold hits his head on a windshield and breaks through it ending up on the side of the road but gets up because he still feels okay from being on so many painkillers.

Meanwhile Claire has tracked down Phil and his goofy companions and she’s ready to Shut. This. Shit. Down. I wouldn’t spoil the ending if there was anything to spoil, but none of it makes any sense anyway. It’s just a series of bizarre set pieces involving a loose pig, a trampoline, and an unfortunate accident with a cement truck.

TL;DR: While Date Night was one of the top six comedies of all time, this sequel is a scattered mishmash that suffers from too many missed opportunities.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“The bizarre choice to cast female actors in a number of different male roles (and vice versa), using a heavy amount of makeup to make it believable turns out to be the only interesting thing about this by the numbers sequel to Date Night.” – Biffanie Quane, Slant Magazine

“The amount of head trauma in this movie is staggering.” – Vang Anh Trung Nguyên, New York Daily News

“Tina Fey and Steve Carrell aren’t back, baby, and Rough Night suffers for it, big time!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“I’ve never seen a comedy this joyless and sullen.” – Nikita Urevich, Film Freak Central

“The circus freaks at the very end were my favorite part.” – Thế Lực Ngoc Thi, Toronto Sun

“The loss of Shawn Levy in the director’s chair is deeply felt in this dithering sequel to Date Night.” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AVClub

Melonmeter® Score:


Wonder Woman

Unlike the cartoonish dumb kiddie Marvel movies, Warner Brothers’ DC Cinematic Universe movies have always maintained a more serious tone and deeper sense of purpose. Wonder Woman follows this proud tradition, telling a story of honor and duty in a chaotic world.

Allow me to offer a brief summary of the plot before proceeding to the discuss the film’s many virtuous qualities. In Act One, Wonder Woman meets the man of her dreams. They fall in love and Wonder Woman gets pregnant.


That sword is a bit too close for comfort to her very pregnant belly.

In Act Two, Wonder Woman and her boyfriend struggle through a period of uncertainty. Wonder Woman also has to temporarily stop fighting crime for the sake the unborn child living inside of her. This act concludes with Wonder Woman and her boyfriend agreeing to do the right thing and get married.

In Act Three, Wonder Woman has the baby and almost immediately gets pregnant again. She realizes that her true calling is to be a loving wife and mother, and chooses to hang up her golden lasso and shield for good. Wonder Woman and her husband and two kids settle into a nice house out in the suburbs, and then the movie ends.

Wonder Woman is a celebration of everything we find noble about humanity. Wonder Woman and her spouse struggle through periods of doubt and indecision like we all do. We are thrilled to watch them overcome devilish thoughts of straying from the righteous path.

While missing the cool-ass cinematography and production design of Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman makes up for it with a heartwarmingly funny script by Judd Apatow, mainly known up til now for his ‘stoner’ comedies. Wonder Woman reaffirms faith, family, and traditional morality, which is as it should be.

TL;DR – Feel-good, earnest, and buoyed by Gal Gadot’s charming performance, Wonder Woman succeeds as a modest family drama.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“More of a family dramedy in the style of James L. Brooks than the action adventures we’ve come to expect from superhero movies.” – Wilda Wulandari, Christian Science Monitor

“In the end we learn that moms are the real superheros.” – Hixson Grabill, Chicago Tribune

“Judd Apatow keeps things light with his clever dialogue, allowing us to feel good about the very dramatic situations all families have to go through.” – Gulluzar Baboudjian, Boston Herald

“Even if you believe in choice, you have to confront the possibility that a choice can be made in favor of life.” – Ike Brizuela, Decent Films Guide

“Proves the old adage: once a mom, always a mom.” – Pie Corbett, USA Today

“Seriously, abortion wasn’t even mentioned!?! What a goddamned fuckass cop out!” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer

“Judd Apatow knocks it out of the park once again!!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Melonmeter® Score:

87% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY