Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Penguins of Madagascar" Review

I've never bothered with any of the Madagascar movies, but my girlfriend has seen them and no, she's not a 12-year-old, thank you very much. When recounting them to me, she'd always rave about the subplots involving "psychotic penguins" which made the main characters pale in comparison. Eventually the penguins from the Madagascar movies got their own TV series, Penguins of Madagascar (which is generally a hoot) and money being money, the inevitable Penguins of Madagascar movie had to be made which has led to this film, A Time For Killing, A Time For Dying, whoops, I mean Penguins of Madagascar. (What, no "The Motion Picture"?)

Penguins of Madagascar opens with with three penguins - Skipper, Rico and Kowalski - chasing down an egg which hatches to become Private. We leap ahead a decade to them in the middle of a convoluted scheme to break into Fort Knox, where they bypass the mountains of gold bars to get to their true target: A vending machine in the break room stocked solely with the discontinued movie version of Cheetos, Cheese Dibbles.

Alas, the snack machine was a honey pot for they are immediately captured and flown by helicopter to Venice (Italy, not California; because that could totally happen) where they encounter the evil scientist Dr. Octavius Brine who reveals himself to be actually an octopus named Dave who resents the penguins inherent cute and cuddliness and intends to use an evil machine to decutify all the penguins in the world. (If you're wondering where an octopus gets a submarine and scientific knowledge, you're in the wrong place.)

Eventually the penguins escape and chases ensue with them reluctantly joining forces with an outfit called North Wind which includes a wolf, a polar bear, a seal and a snow owl who have a secret base and jet plane and WHO IS PAYING FOR ALL THIS STUFF?!?!? Ahem...hijinks ensue, blah-blah-woof-woof.

There are some huge LOL moments in Penguins of Madagascar as well as plenty of throwaway site gags and jokes for the parents watching with their spawnlings. (e.g. When Skipper learns that the passenger plane they've literally crashed into is heading for Paris, he blurts, "France? Not with their tax laws!" and opens the emergency door to bail out of the jet.) But there's simply not enough laughs for a 90-minute movie to make it a mandatory watch.

I've always marveled at how TV sitcoms can cram in gags at an average of 3 or 4 laughs per minute while movies seem to settle for a joke every 3 to 4 minutes. Four episodes of the Penguins of Madagascar series will have more laughs than the comparable feature film's running time.

While the score is middling, there are enough laughs to make it worth watching; just not enough of them. BTW, I've deliberately left off the voice cast members because it's a hoot to see who voiced the characters. My girlfriend identified a couple that I hadn't.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable. (It's on Netflix.)

"The Wolverine (Unleashed Extended Edition)" Blu-ray Review

It's been two years since The Wolverine hit theaters (original review here), but despite having this Blu-ray set since late 2013, I finally got around to watching the "Unleashed Extended Edition" cut now. To be blunt, it doesn't really add much to the proceedings and the addition 12 minutes or so of additional footage slow down the already deliberate pace. How many more times do we need to be reminded that Logan (HUGE JACKEDMAN!) is feeling pain and limping due to his hampered healing factor?

Rila Fukushima, who plays the ninja cutie Yukio, went on to play Katana in the third season of Arrow, but she looks better here because bangs frame her odd face more flatteringly. She's not ugly, mind you; just...odd-looking. Still cute, just weird. (She's been called "Japanese Christina Ricci" which isn't right, but not totally wrong.) I probably had more of a problem with her character being mostly a simpy housewife which clashed with her otherwise-shown baddassery.

The transfer quality is good, but the flesh tones skew a bit too much to the orangish-ruddy side. (I haven't checked out the commentary/extras yet. I'll update this section if I do.)

One note about this cut - it's only available as part of the 3D package or digital purchase, not standalone. I really hate how studios have all the extras reserved for the 3D editions which sucks for people like me who want the goodies, but don't have/want 3D home theaters. Come to think of it, it's mostly Fox perpetrating this balderdashery as Prometheus and Life of Pi did this; some extras on the regular versions with the total only in the 3D set. This REALLY sucked with Prometheus as pretty much all the good stuff was on that extra disc. Life of Pi only had a couple extra things IIRC. Luckily, I have a friend to whom I can sell off the 3D disc to so he gets his "THREE DEEEEEEE!" on for cheap and it lowers my cost.

All that said, there's not really much additional in this extended cut making it a compelling purchase. Logan drops a few more F-bombs that the silly PG-13 strictures would prevent and there's more blood (up from the near zero that PG-13 allows) spraying as he slashes baddies with his shiny claws. But storywise there isn't much, though towards the end there's a major action beat involving a snow plow that must've been time-consuming to shoot only to scrap for the theatrical release.

Overall, the extended cut of The Wolverine doesn't do much to improve and it slightly harms the pacing. For completionists only.

Score: 7/10. The regular edition will suffice unless you want 3D.

The extended "The Rogue Cut" of X-Men: Days of Future Past is coming next week; we'll see how that turns out.

"Man On Wire" Review

With the upcoming fictionalized IMAX 3D telling of the tale of French daredevil Phillipe Petit's stunning 1974 trot between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, The Walk, directed by Robert Zemekis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I finally decided to catch up with the 2008 Best Documentary Oscar-winner (and a whole bunch more awards), Man On Wire. (The title comes from the police report detailing his crime.)

Combining interviews with Petit and his accomplices with a ton of recreation footage with Paul McGill, a dead ringer for a young Petit, acting out the preparation, Man On Wire traces his quest from seeing a news story announcing the building of the WTC through stunts walking on Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sydney Harbor Bridge up to the security-dodging evening of the Towers walk itself.

While the subject is inherently thrilling, there is too much padding in the middle of preparations and a couple of major details aren't even explained like how was Petit & Co. paying for all their travel back and forth from France to America and the equipment itself. While they spend significant time discussing how they accidentally fed out too much cable and had to labor to pull it up, they never bother explaining how the stabilizing guy lines were rigged.

The trailer for The Walk hints at mechanical trouble, but nothing is mentioned in Man On Wire about it; the walk went uneventfully with Petit lying down on the wire and making multiple transits between the Towers. While The Walk is sure to be a visual treat - it's one of the few movies that pretty much demands seeing in 3D - it's still worth seeing the flawed, but fascinating original documentary. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (It's on Netflix.)

"John Wick" Review

One genre of movies I enjoy is the Unstoppable Killing Machine on Revenge Quest. Movies like Man On Fire and Taken featuring men (always men; someone fix this and get Angelina Jolie to star in it) who have been wronged by Bad Guys who didn't know who they were messing with and die horribly as a result.

Keanu Reeves is the titular John Wick (terrible title BTW), a guy with a nice house and pretty wife who suddenly dies from some unspecified medical calamity. After the obligatory rain-drenched funeral, a delivery arrives: a pet carrier with a puppy inside and a note from his wife. I'm not clear as to how this was pre-arranged, but it's just a McGuffin.

One day while gassing up his vintage Mustang, a Russian guy (played by Theon Greyjoy aka Alfie Allen) approaches him asking how much for the car and not taking kindly to Wick's rebuff of his offer. How unkindly is immediately made clear as Theon and his pals break into Wick's place, beat him up, kill the poor puppy and take his ride. When Theon shows up at John Leguizamo's auto shop asking for new VIN number and papers for his stolen Mustang, he gets punched in the face. The reason why is spelled out in this phone conversation between Leguizamo and Theon's Russian Mob Daddy:
MOB DADDY: Did you lay hands on my son?

LEGUIZAMO: Yes, I did.

MOB DADDY: Why would you do such a thing?

LEGUIZAMO: Because he stole John Wick's car and killed his dog.

MOB DADDY: Oh. [hangs up]

That's right, folks, John Wick is a Jules' wallet in Pulp Fiction and SPOILER ALERT by the end of the movie there will be a LOT of job openings for minions in the Russian Mob.

There's a bunch of tangential aspects I'm not recapping because they're just trimmings, not the central murder steak which makes John Wick a good entry in the UKMoRQ pantheon. The reputation Wick has is frequently referenced on the sly, not by constant proclamations of his badassdom. The missus wasn't crazy about Reeves' performance, finding him too young (he's 50 now, but looks 40) and bland, but I found his usual limited range suited for the slow burn required here. The supporting players are also good in their cutout characters. Movies like this aren't about deep characterizations, mmmkay?

The lions share of credit for the brutal efficiency of John Wick are directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (only the former is credited due to DGA's usual shenanigans about directing teams), veteran stunt coordinators whom Reeves met making The Matrix and stage the mayhem with a clarity of geography and lack of shaky cam and edit fu that makes too many modern action flicks spastic, incomprehensible messes. I suspect they were sick of how their craft has been masked by sloppy shooting and cutting and wanted to demonstrate how you should be showcasing a proper fight. It may not be quite as kinetic as classic Robert Rodriguez (e.g. the bar gunfight in Desperado), but even R.Rod isn't R.Rod these days.

Slick and stylish, John Wick delivers the body count goods for those looking for an action fix.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

"Ted 2" Review

Did you like Ted? Then you'll like Ted 2. Review over.

While not quite as hilarious as the original foul-mouthed teddy bear movie, it's still solidly packed with raunchy goodness as Ted tries to gain legal recognition as a person so he and his trashy wife can adopt a baby. Many high-jinks (get it?) ensue.

While some critics have slagged it wrongly as a rehash (mostly because they'd rather be watching Lars Von Trier brutalize women), there's still a lot of wild original moments like the Busby Berkeley-style opening credit sequence to the bizarre menagerie that appears during a campfire song to some too-good-to-spoil cameos which are clearly throwaway gags, but who cares?

The Good Sport medal goes to Amanda Seyfried (replacing Mila Kunis as the love interest) who endures a mean running gag involving her eyes. Also pay attention to who Patrick Warburton's character is dating - I didn't recognize them and thus a meta gag didn't connect for me until the credits. My bad.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

There was another red-band trailer out before this one that was even funnier, but I can't locate it now. (No, I wasn't high. Then or now.)

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