This List is Not All-Inclusive!

Remember that you’re getting movie & TV advice from regular guys with regular lives.  The fact that we’re not sitting in front of our computers and TVs all day also means that we don’t have time to review every movie ever made.  While this list will continue to grow as fast as we can continue to watch and review movies & TV, we apologize in advance for those we did not get to yet.  Rather than relying on it as an exhaustive encyclopedia of movies & TV, though, we hope that you will simply use this list as a source for good suggestions of what to watch or stay away from.

LOOKING FOR A PARTICULAR MOVIE/SHOW?

Reviews are organized in reverse chronological order by the date the review was created.  However, you can also check out reviews for particular genres by using the “Categories” drop-down box at the bottom of the page.  Also, you can use the “Search” box (also at the bottom of the page) to find a particular movie/show.

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel

(PG-13) 2h, 23min

Plot Summary: Kal-El, one of the last of an extinguished race disguised as an unremarkable human, is forced to reveal his identity when Earth is invaded by an army of survivors who threaten to bring the planet to the brink of destruction.

Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay & story), Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel (Superman created by), Joe Shuster (Superman created by)

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See) This is new and improved Superman. Today’s audiences generally don’t care for flawless characters who are all-powerful, morally inpenetrable, and have all the answers to every problem in life. Snyder and company dirty Superman up a bit, focusing on his formative years. You can recognize Nolan’s influence on this film. Viewers get to observe as young Kal struggles with impossible situations to develop his moral compass, as well as to survive battles in which he is the underdog. Theology fans will appreciate the many subtle biblical analogies inherent throughout the movie.

As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, not since Christopher Reeve has any actor embodied this role so effectively that it becomes hard to picture anyone else playing Superman, and Cavill does so while changing the direction of the character. Not only is Cavill utterly convincing in his gritty portrayal of Superman’s loneliness, confusion, bottled-up anger, idealism, and loyalty, but he even looks more like Superman than anyone else that has ever worn the costume.  Beyond having the strong jaw, cleft chin, and piercing blue eyes, acccording to IMDB, Cavill trained for 11 months to take his already-V-shaped physique to the next level, ingesting five 1,000-calorie shakes a day to bulk up, then dropping to 1,500 calories a day to shred to 7% body fat, all while shunning steroids and working out with Gym Jones trainer Mark Twight until he couldn’t walk out of the gym. Snyder made it a point to include shirtless scenes in the film just to show that Cavill’s hard work on his body was real and not just the costume or CGI.

However, at least from an acting perspective, Cavill does not do all the heavy lifting by himself. The rest of the cast is top-notch.  As also discussed on the podcast, Shannon established his own intense and unyielding interpretation of General Zod. Adams portrays Lois Lane as a combat journalist, which gives the character a very different dynamic than the passive, helpless cheerleader that she has been in the past. Russell CroweAyelet Zurer, Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner not only make you care about Superman’s parents through their charismatic performances, but their characters are also legends to the map of Superman’s psyche, through which you can recognize aspects of his personality and moral code.

The visual effects in this film are stunning. They are everything that you could ask for in terms of big explosions, mind-blowing CGI, and breathtaking scenery. Krypton is its own character in this movie.

My only disappointment was that some hokiness was present throughout the film, beyond what is inherent in a comic book. For instance, it is silly to have a school bus full of kids plummet off a bridge, hit the water, and cut to every kid in the bus still sitting in their seats, unharmed; the impact with the water would have resulted in numerous injuries and kids flying all over the bus.

The Amazing Spiderman (2012)

Amazing Spiderman

(PG-13) 2 h, 16 min

Plot Summary: After Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he gains newfound, spider-like powers and ventures out to solve the mystery of his parent’s mysterious death.

Director: Marc Webb

Writers: James Vanderbilt (screenplay & story), Alvin Sargent (screenplay), Steve Kloves (screenplay), Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comic book by), Steve Ditko (based on the Marvel comic book by)

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, we love the Spiderman character, and Garfield not only does him justice, but he also presents a unique and charismatic version of Peter Parker that is even more interesting than when he dons the mask. Emma Stone brings The Girlfriend Experience, making Gwen Stacy endearing in her own right, not just because of how much the hero cares for her. Martin Sheen and Sally Field not only make you care about Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but they show you aspects of Spiderman that Garfield can’t by himself. Denis Leary really manages to walk that fine line between pompous jerk and loyal protector right into the viewer’s heart. In short, the acting is phenomenal.

Unfortunately, the storyline is nothing special, and the movie is too often unnecessarily hokey (Really? Is it that easy to break into a high-security lab with genetically unstable spiders?), which conflicts with the film’s more gritty tone. This film feels more like a background setup for sequel, which I have yet to see, but which I’m hoping will take the franchise to the next level, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did for its franchise.

Gridiron Gang (2006)

(PG-13) 2 hrs, 5 mins

(PG-13) 2 hrs, 5 mins

Plot Summary: Teenagers at a juvenile detention center, under the leadership of their counselor, gain self-esteem by playing football together.

Director: Phil Joanou

Writers: Jeff Maguire, Jac Flanders (film “Gridiron Gang”)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching) An inspiring true story. As you see in the credits, a significant number of movie quotes came straight from the real Sean Porter, who appears to be white. I guess Hollywood wanted to avoid the white-savior trope, but given how great this real-life story is, they didn’t need to reverse whitewash it…then again, Johnson played the hell out of this role (even if it’s not a huge stretch in range). And if you are a football fan like me, there was plenty of action with good camera work to maximize your enjoyment of the games.

Changeling (2008)

Changeling

(R) 2 hrs, 21 mins

Plot Summary: A grief-stricken mother takes on the LAPD to her own detriment when it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child, while also refusing to give up hope that she will find him one day.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(Must Watch)  The film is set mostly in the 1920s, but the hokiness of some of its scenes (although, according to IMDB, “Virtually every event depicted in the film appears as cited in legal documents, with dialog often taken verbatim from court transcripts”) and its sappy score are straight out of the 1990s. However, all of that is overcome by tremendous acting performances, especially from Jolie (but not Eddie Alderson, who was not convincing as Sanford Clark), as well as by the incredible story, which is mostly true.

I can’t believe that this could happen to somebody. This is yet another frightening example of the dangers inherent in handing over unchecked power to any law enforcement organization. If we do not pay attention to history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Additionally, this story reminds me of the value of today’s technology and social media. While many complain about how much easier it is to invade someone’s privacy, it is also a lot easier to expose corruption. Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant…these cases are not a new trend developing amongst police departments. This kind of rampant corruption and abuse of authority has existed for long before anyone can remember. But now we finally have the tools to expose them.

And it’s not just the police. As an attorney, I have personally stopped a mental health professional from wrongfully committing a person to a mental health institution over what basically amounted to a petty verbal argument between the doctor and the patient.

Respect to Straczynski for getting this movie made. This is where filmmaking crosses over into activism. If someone just told you the facts of this case, you might struggle to fathom how this would play out in actuality…how many people would have to screw up, be complicit, or just flat out do nothing to perpetuate this evil…and just how many people would have to decide to do the right thing, even at risk to their own career, financial interests, or even personal safety, in order to unf*ck this mess. This movie very effectively portrays how this unfortunate situation could very plausibly go down…and while there are many more checks and balances today to help prevent some of the previous injustices from happening again, perhaps some who would previously dismiss all police corruption and mental health abuse as wild conspiracy theories might have their minds changed just a little bit by this film.

Big Love (2006-2011)

Big Love

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: A polygamist and his relationship with his three wives.

Creators: Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer

Stars: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(Casual Watch)  I began watching Big Love for the novelty of peering into the life of a man with multiple wives, a trepidatious fantasy that I dare say all straight men imagine at some point (although further daydreaming about it often gives way to nightmares about being outnumbered and overnagged).  However, I did not think that I would find a show about Mormons in Utah so interesting after that initial novelty wore off.

Well, it wasn’t long before this series showed me how ridiculous my biases were.  The show grabs you with its universally human themes, and it also educates you by shedding light on both sides of explosively controversial issues that are very specific to a relatively small group of people, but nonetheless extremely important enough that we should all be aware of such issues.  The storytelling is gripping, featuring: a man who built a small empire out of nothing after being cast out of a polygamist compound and onto the streets; his first wife, who bought into this way of life out of love for her husband but still struggles with her choice; his second wife, whose father is the leader of the compound and is responsible for her husband being cast out; and his third wife, who was not very religious before meeting her new family, but has found the path through her love and devotion to this family.  More than anything, the themes revolve around people who are attempting to live what they believe is a righteous life, but having to hide it from the rest of society, lest they be persecuted, or even jailed.

It is hard to believe that the legal controversy over the ability of the State of Utah to not just deny polygamist marriage licenses, but to prosecute polygamists for cohabitation, did not come to a head until 2013 (see Brown v. Buhman).  As mentioned above, the show presents both sides of the coin, showing how the cohabitation laws were a useful tool for law enforcement seeking to prevent the wrongful exploitation of young women within polygamist compounds and societies, but also recognizing that a significant portion of people who were just trying to freely and honestly practice their religion were arbitrarily caught in the crossfire.  Ultimately, my hatred for pretext laws puts me on the side in favor of abolishing anti-cohabitation laws.  We should fight the war against exploitation of young women by changing the laws concerning exploitation of young women to better facilitate prosecution of the traffickers, not by casting a wider net that also ensnares innocent people.

The execution of the above-mentioned superior storytelling was masterfully performed by a strong cast.  This is the role in which I saw Paxton go from charismatic supporting actor to natural leading man.  All of the actresses playing the wives bring out their character’s individual strengths and beauty, but Ginnifer Goodwin in particular delivers The Girlfriend Experience; she only gets more beautiful the more you watch her.  And before she became a fantasy woman, Amanda Seyfried was soft-spoken teenage girl Sarah Henrickson, who expressed the turmoil shouldered by the children of polygamists through her big, blue-grey, brooding eyes.

amanda seyfried big love

Then

Amanda-Seyfried -Vogue-US-2015--01

Now

Unfortunately, the brilliance of the show was overshadowed in its later seasons by over-the-top plot twists.  It devolved into a hard-to-believe soap opera, and it lost a significant amount of the real-people-problems appeal that made it so relatable early on.  Thus, while the first two seasons easily deserve 4 mugs, the bad aftertaste in my mouth left by the latter seasons downgrades the series to a very full 3.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

(R) 105 mins

(R) 105 mins

Plot Summary: A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness.

Director & Writer: Neil Marshall

Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Think Predator, but with worse dialogue and much worse special effects (ironically, 15 years later). The “dog soldiers” were laughable.

It’s a shame because the plot and its twists had some real potential. Some of the actors, such as McKidd and Cleasby, were also pretty competent. Finally, it appears that the military technical advisors were pretty good, as well.

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

(R) 106 mins

(R) 106 mins

Plot Summary: Picking up directly from the previous film, vampire warrior Selene and the half-werewolf Michael hunt for clues to reveal the history of their races and the war between them.

Director: Len Wiseman

Writers: Danny McBride (screenplay, story, characters), Len Wiseman (story), Kevin Grevioux (characters), Len Wiseman (characters)

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Now that the special effects that were cutting-edge for this movie’s time have become not-so-impressive as the industry advances, the story itself is not creative or interesting enough to make it worth your time to direct your attention to the screen for almost two hours…unless you REALLY LOVE vampire or werewolf movies.  If that’s the case, let your freak flag fly!  It’s okay; I’m like that with football movies.  Besides, there are worse things to have on your TV in the background than leather-clad Beckinsale doing acrobatics, shooting weapons, and kicking ass.

We'd bite her back!

We’d bite her back!

Lilyhammer (2012-present)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: A New York mobster goes into hiding in rural Lillehammer in Norway after testifying against his former associates.

Creators: Eilif Skodvin, Anne Bjørnstad

Stars:Steven Van Zandt, Trond Fausa, Steinar Sagen

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(Casual Watch)  I went into the first season hoping for The Sopranos-meets-Norway. I don’t know much about Norway, and it’s nice to get a glimpse into other countries through productions that feature them as almost a character in themselves (for example, The American). This series did a great job in featuring Norway. However, it was also pretty hokey and featured a protagonist that I did not like.

Frank Tagliano is a narcissistic, hypocritical bully, who pushes his culture and ideas of how the world should be onto everyone in his newly adopted country, stepping on hapless and sometimes innocent Norwegians for selfish gain in stereotypical American imperialist fashion. However, unlike The Sopranos, in which Tony Soprano constantly struggled with his conscience, this show glorifies Frank.  I feel like I’m supposed to chuckle as he “outsmarts” (more like strong-arms) people into satisfying his every whim. Fortunately, in the second and third seasons, Frank became a little more judicious and tolerable, while other characters, such as Fausa’s Torgeir, flourish. In my opinion, Fausa carries the show. He is charismatic, funny, humble, and tough when he needs to be. He idolizes Frank, even though he is often unrewarded for his unconditional love. Most importantly, he is the conscience of the show, and through him, we are reminded of the price one pays for being or following Frankie the Fixer.

By the way, world, look out for Maria Joana

maria-joana

and Ida Elise Broch.

  ida-elise-broch You might fall in love.

Band of Brothers (2001)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: The story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division and their mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day.

Stars: Scott Grimes, Matthew Leitch, Damian Lewis

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Watch It Live)  As a former Marine who deployed to Iraq, this ten-episode mini-series is a must for my personal collection.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say all military personnel should have it in their collections.  Even if you have little to no interest in military affairs, however, you should take the time at some point in your life to watch this series all the way through.

Beautifully scripted, masterfully acted, and filmed amongst breathtaking (in many different ways) cinematography, this production, which significantly contributed to HBO‘s fast rise as the gold standard in series quality, is an amazing portrayal of the sacrifices made by troops and of the horrors of war.  A healthy dose of clips from this series was played by my instructors during training ops to drive home points about all kinds of important subjects germane to war.

A few random thoughts I had while watching the project:

  • Everyone did such a great job acting, and the character development was top-notch.  Even amongst this wonderful cast, Damian Lewis stood out, followed closely by Neal McDonough.

  • It was pretty awesome to see David Schwimmer play such a different role.

  • There are countless useful lessons to be learned from this series, especially by those who hope to lead troops someday.

  • Why is there so much hip firing throughout the series?  Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to make some of these shots without looking down your sights?

  • I watched one of the most squared-away officers in the 101st return a salute sitting on his ass.  This would not happen in the Marines.  Is it different in the Army?

  • I understand very well the transition that one may go through in terms of how he/she thinks of the enemy during war.  When you first get out there, you dehumanize them in your head in order to justify some of the things that you may have to do.  After a while, however, there comes a point when you realize that your enemies are human beings, much like you, fighting out of a sense of duty, and just trying to make it out of this thing alive like you are.  At least, I went through a transition like that, and this series did a good job of illustrating such a transition.  Still, despite the respect that our soldiers may have gained for the Germans as a formidable fighting force made up of dedicated human soldiers, they were still Nazis.  They were supporting some pretty foul principles.  I’m not saying that our troops were wrong for regarding Nazi troops with the respect that they did during the conflict, but I wonder if my attitude toward Nazi soldiers would have softened even after we defeated them.

  • It would be great to have a beer with one of the living members of the 101st who fought in WWII.

  • After you finish watching this production, watch The Pacific. It’s even better!  Then again, I’m biased.:)

Firefly (2002-2003)

(TV-14)

(TV-14)

Plot Summary: Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them.

Stars: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Queue It)  This show is one of the best science-fiction stories I have ever experienced.  It’s got an overall entertaining background and interesting characters with compelling and varied individual sub-plots, taking place upon diverse and colorful settings, and told using different storytelling methods and unexpected plot twists, and even featuring a blending of English and Mandarin languages (Endarin or Mandarish?).  Think of it as what the Han Solo Chronicles might be like, if that story was told (setting aside that I think that there are a bunch of Star Wars books out there that probably cover that subject).

It is definitely limited by an inadequate budget, amateur stuntwork, low-quality cameras and some hokiness, but the story is so good and the actors really commit so, after awhile, you almost embrace these limitations as campy.  I do wonder how amazing this series could have been if HBO had grabbed it, though, instead of the CW-like production and wrangling of episode order that Fox put forth.  I am looking forward to see what Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, was able to do with a feature-film budget in the follow-up movie, Serenity.

I was actually surprised to learn that Whedon is from New York, given the overarching plot involving the oppression of individual states by the evil federal system that beat them in a civil war and given the country theme song.  Whedon’s yankeeness does make me feel a little more confident that I’m not being duped into cheering for the Confederate flag, though.

One final note: beware!  This series was cancelled in its first season, and leaves a lot of masterfully posed questions unanswered.  However, the ride is well worth the story blue balls that you will be left with when it’s done.  It’s like getting an awesome BJ from Esperanza Gomez, but not to completion; I still wouldn’t turn it down.  Really, though, you should have this show in your pop-culture tool belt.