, , ,

Please put your hands together for our guest reviewer, Max. Max was kind enough to join me at the pre-screening of Rock of Ages, since it was a “school night,” and the theater was in the hinterlands of far West Plano, far from Sandy’s home territory. Take it away, Max!

MAX: I was fortunate to get an invite from my friend, Ann, to see a pre-screening of the new musical movie “Rock of Ages.” I will start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed myself! This is the second time I have had the pleasure of pre-screening a movie, having also seen “The Help” before its big release. Now that I am a veteran of the pre-screening world, I have established that there is an interesting mix of movie-goers that frequent these events: the all-powerful nose-up press people who radiate their eliteness at evaluating the entertainment value of the movie to the masses in their reviews the next day, and a sub-culture of traveling movie gypsies that are on some mysterious list of people who randomly qualify to go to pre-screenings “for free.”

As someone who really loves to watch people and relishes the diversities of our community, let’s just say that there was a lot of enjoyment in the interesting mix of people surrounding us! I have never had a metal detector body scan upon entry to a movie before this. I thought they might be looking for hidden cameras until I became aware of the audience around me and quickly realized that it was probably more for my own protection! Many of the “free” movie travelers (I call them travelers because I quickly decided they all rode in on the movie gypsy bus from Bosnia and looked like they very well might be packing heat!) So, I was very relieved that everyone in the theater had passed inspection!

ANN: I’m just going to make myself comfortable. Go, Max, go.

MAX: Once everyone was in place and all the body scans were complete, a man with a staticky microphone called for everyone’s attention at the front of the theatre! He explained that he worked for the movie promo company and that we were really in for a treat with “Rock of Ages!”

He was very excited about it and screamed out to the crowd, “Are you ready to rock?” The press people evidently do not participate in such foolishness as the area around us (we were with the press people!) remained silent. The Bosnians, however, are accustomed to the pre-show excitement that comes with the free early movie passes and proceeded to hoop and holler and make Ozzy Osbourne hand signals! It was then that we were informed of the “air guitar” contest that was about to commence! This is when I was super thankful that I had purchased a 20 gallon drum of popcorn to hide behind! (I LOVE movie popcorn!)

Without going into much detail, imagine the guy in high school with long hair, smelling of cigs and pot, who used to draw the Def Leppard logo that looks like lightning on every other page of his algebra book. Now picture 4 of him, but middle-aged, playing air guitar with one female counterpart, and that was the next 20 minutes of our lives! Needless to say, we could not wait for the movie to begin!

You need to know that I LOVE musicals! I was president of theatre in high school and starred in every musical production in school growing up! I have seen 5 shows on broadway and have worn out tons of musical soundtrack LP’s! This makes me an expert. Right?

ANN: Of course it does.

MAX: I have not, however, seen the stage version of Rock of Ages, so I came in with no pre-conceived ideas! I was a little confused! Right off the bat the main character (Julianne Hough) is on a bus travelling from her small Oklahoma town to L.A. to make the big time as a rocker. She randomly starts singing (they do that in musicals, you know!) and then other people on the bus started randomly singing. At this point, the audience started laughing! It was here that the confusion started for me. I couldn’t tell if the movie was trying to be funny or if it just “was” funny. If they were trying to be campy and sort of make fun of the ridiculousness of musicals, then they did a great job! If they were really trying to convey a true film version of a stage musical, then they failed miserably and it was all very laughable!

Julianne Hough as a “rocker” was kind of like Dolly Parton singing Twisted Sister with a straight face! It just did not work! I wanted to slap her and ship her back to Oklahoma! The story line has her landing a job in the “it” rock bar in like 5 minutes after getting off the bus! She falls for a rocker wannabe waiter (Diego Boneta) with whom she had no on-screen chemistry! I wanted to ship him to Oklahoma too!

Tom Cruise as the famous fictitious Rocker, Stacee Jaxx, really stole the show as the brain-dead has-been rocker who has a sex appeal that seems to hypnotize any woman close enough to sense his aura! He plays the role splendidly and is amazing in the stage performances.

ANN: Spoiler alert…

MAX: Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are entertaining as the slapstick bar owner and bar manager. Their homo-erotic duet really got the Bosnians going! Other supporting cast members were not overly memorable or worth mentioning, although Catherine Zeta-Jones DOES look really great!

I would have to say that overall some things just don’t go together! Like Rock & Roll and Musicals! Like Julianne Hough and musicals! (I just had a bad flashback from Footloose from last year!) Like Popcorn and Air Guitar! Like Bosnians and Critics!

ANN: I don’t think I can add anything to that. Besides, Max used my monthly quota of exclamation points.

Rating: 2 bottles of Bourbon.



, , , , , ,

Sandy: After two attempts and our real lives getting in the way, Ann and I finally made it to my most anticipated movie of the Summer, Marvel Studios’ The Avengers.
The movie brings together iconic Super Heroes Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. When an unexpected enemy emerges that threatens global security, Nick Fury, Director of an international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D, must assemble a team to protect the world from destruction. Despite pulling together this ultimate dream team, Fury must find a way to convince the Super Heroes to work with, not against each other, when the powerful and dangerous Loki gains access to a device of unlimited power.
Marvel’s The Avengers is based on their popular comic book series, “The Avengers,” first published in 1963. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston, and is directed by Joss Whedon.
Ann: You forgot to mention we saw this for $4 each, thank you very much. It pays to get up early in the morning.

Sandy: We’re also going to avoid spoilers this time around, so nobody panic.

Ann: As someone who was never into comic books, and has little knowledge of the heroes they contain, where they came from, or how they became what they are, I can say I was able to follow the story and have at least a basic comprehension of the action and motives.

Sandy: The villain in this is Loki, brother of Thor, (played by “Can my eyes get any bluer?” Tom Hiddleston). He’s a perfect rampaging sociopath, if ever there was one.

Ann: Yep. If you are looking for a rampaging sociopath, Loki is definitely your man.

Ann: We are introduced to each of the “freaks” as Nick Fury brings them together. We see Tony Stark after a very clever introduction of Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow.

Sandy: I’m surprised you were even able to focus on the movie once Robert Downey Jr. made his appearance.

Ann: I know. I don’t know what it is about him, but I adore him. Unfortunately, we also meet his girlfriend, Pepper Potts played by Gwenyth Paltrow. I wanted to hate her on spec because she was in the room with RDJ and I wasn’t, but since her character is funny and smart, I got over it.

Sandy: And she’s only in the movie briefly this time around. (As opposed to the Iron Man film.)

Ann: Actually, each of the characters is introduced in a way that gives you enough of a glimpse into their characters and motivation, without wasting too much time getting to the action.

Sandy: Scarlett Johansson plays Russian spy Natasha Romanoff and Jeremy Renner is Clint Barton a.k.a Hawkeye. Hawkeye – because Katniss Everdeen can’t have all the fun with a bow and arrow. He’s a master marksman with hints of a past with Black Widow. Natasha is one tough skin-tight leather clad super girl. She’s smart and her power is her own. It wasn’t given to her by a serum or an accident.

Ann: She’s actually outfitted in a costume that enables her to fight. No thigh high stiletto boots for her. I always wondered how Wonder Woman fought in a corset. I can’t keep a strapless dress up to save my life.

Sandy: Who can keep up a strapless anything? Natasha is sent in to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner who has been “off the grid” for some time. Banner is subtly played by Mark Ruffalo. With all due respect to Eric Bana and Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo is the best Bruce Banner to hit the big screen. His anger simmers just below the surface through the first half of the movie until “the other guy” is finally released. Three words of thank you to Joss Whedon…best Hulk ever!

Sandy: Fury then pays a visit to my personal favorite, Steve Rogers a.k.a Captain America. Growing up in the 30s and 40s, Captain America was a favorite of my Dad’s, so I was brought up on his stories. I love his old-fashioned honor and love of country. Plus, the arms on Chris Evans…who can’t love that?

Ann: I don’t dislike him, but he was a bit too goody-goody for me, but then, I’ve always liked the bad boy.

Sandy: I can’t fault you for being partial to Tony Stark, but I will make you watch Captain America: The First Avenger, and change your opinion of Mr. Rogers.

Ann: You are welcome to try.

Sandy: Thor enters the scene after three of our heroes have their first encounter with Loki. The relationship between the brothers of Asgard is the weakest development in The Avengers. Their story is played out in the 2011 Thor and I think those that didn’t see it miss a bit of the angst here. Thor wants to solve the problem of Loki himself, but Iron Man doesn’t like someone taking his toys. Iron Man pursues Thor while Captain America pursues Iron Man. The three have a battle royale with a final face-off between Captain America and Thor. Who wins in a contest of hammer versus shield? The result may surprise you.

Ann: Hello, Thor…

Ann: The group is brought together to sort out Loki’s mess, but there’s no “I” in team, which is a problem for this group. They can’t seem to unify, or agree, or really get along very well at all.

Sandy: It does look like Nick Fury’s Avengers initiative is well and truly dead. Loki’s plan leaves them bereft and scattered. What they need is something to unite them.

Ann: And something does. See? No spoiler.

Sandy: Then, a small nudge from Nick Fury helps them realize what’s at stake and what they can do about it.

Ann: Fasten your seatbelt.

Sandy: As much fun as the sniping is in the beginning, the movie takes off at this point into summer blockbuster “let’s make everything explode and look cool doing it” status. AND let’s do it as a team.

Ann: A really attractive team.

Sandy: Not sure the term “eye candy” has ever been applied better. Fury is betting a lot on his theory; specifically, the fate of the world. As the Avengers assemble to fight off Loki and his alien invasion, I enjoyed the ease with which each slipped into their respective role. Captain America immediately took on leadership, assigning each hero his or her job. The easiest…Hulk…SMASH!

Ann: He IS very good at SMASH.

Sandy: Hulk was a scene stealer in the battle – his moment with Loki. I defy anyone to not howl at that scene.

Ann: What I appreciated about the climactic scene, is that it is a scene in every sense of the word. And it’s ONE. Not one of those movies that keeps going and you think this has to be the end, then it starts back up again. And again. And again.

Sandy: The biggest problem I had with the movie was the transformer rejects that came through the cosmic portal opened by Loki. The CGI was great, but all of a sudden I was watching a Michael Bay movie.

Ann: I can see that. But I could also see that I would have nearly killed myself getting out of the way of those things if I’d been watching it in 3D. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and now want to watch the individual movies that introduce these characters.

Sandy: I have to admit it’s hard for me to be objective about this movie, as a comic book hero fan. I loved just about every minute. I could nit-pick things here and there, but I don’t want to. I have been waiting for this movie since Iron Man was released in 2008 and cannot wait to see where they take this franchise. It deserves every dollar of it’s almost one billion made.

Ann: Oh! I almost forgot – the end…

Sandy: One thing to be aware of in these movies are the scenes after the credits. Each movie leading up to this has had a hint about The Avengers. This one has two. One that gives us a hint as to the next villain (and I must say I was thrilled). Then, a scene at the very end that is not to be missed.

Ann: For those who walked out before the end of the credits, I can only say, “Boy, did you miss it.” It is well worth waiting a few extra minutes to race to the restroom.

Sandy’s summary:
The Avengers is a Summer blockbuster that completely lives up to its hype. It is a fun, action packed thrill ride that allows you to see flawed heroes learn to accept each other on a journey to save the world. This film is bold with its action, effects and especially its humor. Yet, oddly enough, one of the best scenes is a very quiet sixty seconds at the end of the film’s credits. I loved it from beginning to end and look forward to the next time this team is called to assemble.
Grade: 4 shields and a hammer.

Ann’s summary:
Grade: 4 Robert Downey Jr.s and one hammer – held by Thor.



, , ,

Warning: If you have read The Hunger Games it is safe to proceed. The movie doesn’t venture too far from the book. If not, SPOILER ALERT.

The movie, “The Hunger Games,” is based on the novel of the same name by author Suzanne Collins. “Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used to be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl as tribute in an annual televised event called, ‘The Hunger Games.’ The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.”

This morning, Sandy and I met on Yahoo Messenger to discuss: Side note, if you don’t know who Sandy is, please refer to the “What’s it all About” link in the upper left.

Sandy: I mulled the movie over for quite some time yesterday and thought about jotting down some notes, but was stupid and didn’t, so now I have to remember if any of my thoughts were clever or profound.

Ann: Both, I’m sure. I thought about it last night and decided I was kind of angry with the movie.

Sandy: Wow. I didn’t go there.

Ann: I was thinking about the book in comparison, and how concerned we – and everyone else seemed to be – with how the brutality and desperation would be handled. Watching children in a state of distress is not exactly appealing. While I didn’t want to see that, I feel the drama has lost some of its drama.

Sandy: I think they had to sacrifice for the PG-13. They didn’t want to take it to an R or they would lose 3/4 of their fan base. I do believe the filmmakers did an excellent job of making the deaths fairly quick and mostly bloodless, but you’re right – they lose the magnitude of what’s happening to these kids. Let’s be honest; this is not a happy tale. This is “Lord of the Flies” meets “1984.”

Ann: If I hadn’t read the book, I’d have missed the intensity.

Sandy: I’m with you in that as much as they cut, it still seemed like they had to rush to tell the story. I have to put the book out of my head and just look at the movie. With that said, I felt that overall they did a good job bringing a book written in first person to the screen. I liked seeing the Gamemakers and the Capitol in the movie and how they manipulate every single thing. You see the manipulation in the book from Katniss, but I liked the vision that Gary Ross brought to the screen. It’s a bit like a malicious version of “The Truman Show.”

Ann: It IS a malicious version of “The Truman Show!” Character and actor evaluation: What did you think of Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire?


Sandy: Jennifer Lawrence, I thought, was a brilliant casting choice. She was sullen and rough in all the right places even though we didn’t really know why. But then she played scared and tender beautifully. Her scenes with Cinna, beautifully played by Lenny Kravitz, were close to perfect for me. I think we see her strength, but in the end they did Lawrence a disservice when she was not allowed at the final interview with Caesar to “lie” to Peeta about how she felt about him. I wish we had been able to see her play that scene. I think she would have killed it and also helped round out Peeta, but more about him in a minute.

Ann: I agree. I think the limitations were more in the editing of the screenplay rather than with the acting. It was annoying that in the end her feelings for Peeta appear to be purely superficial.

Sandy: Meanwhile, my “real world fear” is how many young girls now want to take up bow hunting.

Ann: Well, I do. And you know I should not have sharp pointy things that can be shot at high velocity anywhere near me.

Sandy: No…no you should not. Remember what our mother’s said, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” That is a terrible statement in light of the context of this movie. (Hangs head in shame.)

Ann: Let’s talk about the relationship between Haymitch and Katniss. Haymitch, the only person from District 12 (where Katniss and Peeta are from) to ever win The Hunger Games, is played by Woody Harrelson.

Sandy: For the most part I actually liked Haymitch better on screen. I admit I knew Harrelson was cast when I read the book, but I still think he embodied Haymitch in every way, but he was sober faster.

Ann: Much faster. I missed the bonding that took place between Katniss and Haymitch in the beginning of the games, when she is basically dying of dehydration and thinks he’s abandoned her. I hate that the filmmakers left that out. You lose the sense that she is completely alone out there and could die from something like lack of water as easily as from an attack.

Sandy: I really missed the water situation too. In the book, she finally realized he was not sending help because she was so close to finding the water herself. That moment, for me, was when she finally realized she could trust Haymitch completely.

Ann: Right. I guess that is the problem with the first person narrative, as you said. Unless she wanders around speaking her thoughts out loud like I do, you just have to guess what’s going on.

Sandy: If you are speaking your thoughts aloud and there is no one there to hear you, are you still thinking?

Ann: I’m clapping for you with one hand. Can you hear it?

Sandy: (Ignoring you.) Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne. He was a bit wasted in this movie even if he did get a few more scenes than the book. We don’t really know Gale at all yet. He’s outspoken on his views about the Capitol and his advise to Katniss as he says goodbye is the gentle reminder that, “all they want is a good show.” I did enjoy seeing his reactions on a few occasions, rather than Katniss wondering what he would be thinking. Two of the best for me were his refusing to watch the start of the games, and the kiss in the cave. Completely off topic, the Hemsworths have great genes, as big brother Chris (Thor) is just as lovely in his looks. If those boys ever did a movie together it might cause teenage girls to destroy the world as we know it.

Ann: The new Baldwin brothers?

Sandy: Baldwins without the crazy.

Ann: At least not yet.

Sandy: They’re British. Not sure they’re allowed to go crazy, or are they Australian? I’ll have to fact check that.

Ann: If British aren’t allowed to be crazy, explain Elton John to me.

Sandy: Uhm, two words on Elton: THE SEVENTIES. By the way, they’re Australian, so crazy is definitely allowed.

Ann: Thus, Mel Gibson.

Sandy: A bulked up Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, fresh off “The Kids are All Right” – dyed blond, but they did not correct his eye color.

Ann: I can’t believe you remember eye color from the book??

Sandy: His eyes were blue in the book, just like Harry Potter’s were green.

Ann: Wow. You’re scary.

Sandy: I have green eyes so I was particularly fond of Harry having green eyes and then a blue-eyed Harry hit the screen. Please understand none of this has anything to do with the performance by Hutcherson or Radcliffe for that matter.

Ann: Again. Scary. I thought Peeta was a bit drippy. No! Stale – he was stale. (Bakery joke!)

Sandy: Wow…that is bad. I thought you would, at least, go for a milk toast joke there. Again, I am going with the first person issue; how do you put Peeta on film when everything we know about him is through Katniss’ eyes? We didn’t get a chance to really know Peeta in the cave scene because, once again, the filmmakers didn’t take the time. And those scenes, after we learn what he’s done for Katniss and what he would still do for her, are where the reader falls in love with Peeta. I think Josh is a better actor than the screenplay allowed him to be and his character was poorly developed.

Ann: I would definitely give up some of the flashbacks of the mines – or the bread scene – to establish more “chumminess” between our romantic leads. What did you think of the Gamemaker control room? I imagined something like that when reading the book. How else would they have all those cameras under every leaf and rock?

Sandy: Is “chumminess” in Webster’s? I’m looking it up now. I did like seeing the Gamemakers and Caesar doing commentary. When Stanley Tucci channeled Jim Nantz’s golf voice describing the tracker jackers, it was one of the few moments I could laugh out loud in this movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing this whole manufactured environment on “Survivor.” Not the fight to the death part (I’m not that disturbed), but the Star Trek type screens and all the manipulation…very George Orwell.

Sandy: President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland, is more manipulative in the movie than we see in the book. Snow is a bad guy. He sees Katniss as the catalyst for a possible uprising. His comment to the Gamemaker about giving people a “spark of hope, but that the spark must be contained,” was a nice touch.

Ann: Yes, you definitely see his manipulation. It smacks you over the head, in fact. Flashing light – BAD GUY – THIS WAY.

Sandy: So overall, what did you think?

Ann: I can’t get past the differences between the movie and the book. I wish I could block it out and look at it objectively. In the book, the sense of horror – that these kids are being forced to fight to the death is chilling. I know they can’t spend hours watching Katniss stagger around looking for water and nearly dying, or watching Peeta in the cave, oozing puss and developing gangrene, but it just falls short. Peeta seems in okay shape for a guy who’s been living under mud and not eating for days. I’ve looked worse on a bad morning. They aren’t scared enough, tired enough, or wounded enough to consider desperate. I’m happy and relieved they survive, but not as much so as I thought I’d be. The movie takes it quite a bit easier on them. Despite the fireballs and furry mutants. I DO like that our heroine is more interested in saving her family and doing the right thing, than in romance.

Sandy: This is a difficult movie to take at face value, but that is what I’m going to do. The premise is terrifying: Children being forced to kill each other because of an attempted coup against a repressive leadership and these Hunger Games being broadcast and celebrated like the Olympics. Peeta’s statement that he wishes he could think of a way “to show the Capitol that they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their games” is what defines the rest of the movie. What do these two young people do when they are thrust into a situation where they have to fight for themselves, their families and each other and not lose their integrity? Exactly what are you willing to do for those you love? It’s ultimately a character piece for me and from that aspect I quite enjoyed it. Now, in my best Effie Trinket voice – Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor.


Ann: 3
Sandy: 4

We’d love to hear what someone thought who hasn’t read the book.