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Please, do not read this.  What follows is not a loving tribute to an entertaining cinematic experience.  Rather, consider this a warning.  A cautionary message in hopes that this film we never be seen again.  This sequence of calamitous happenings depicts severe child abuse, reckless endangerment of minors, and a hopeless attempt to find some semblance of even a pseudo-happiness in a horrific nether realm of heinous familial tragedy!  But that Jim Carrey… hilarious!!  To be fair, everyone is their own brand of effective in this tumultuous tale.  Streep, Hoffman, Law, Browning, the Entertainer.  Class acts all around, which is why it is so tragic that they be sentenced to depict such a… well, you’ll see.  If you dare, abandon all optimistic expectation.  Deep breaths, all together, and bear witness to this deeply disturbing and darkly comic ordination.  Lemony, for all his ominous foreboding, may have been right after all…          

If you must, meet Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.  An inventor, a reader, and a biter.  The terribly unlucky, probably doomed, Baudelaire orphans.  After a mysterious fire kills both their parents, the siblings are shipped about between various guardians with varying enigmatic personalities. Uncle Monty, lover of reptiles, keeper of a secret.  Odd, but lovable.  Aunt Josephine, sweet in her way but afraid of everything. Rightfully so, this is a horrid reality in which these poor children live!  Then, of course, the worst of the worst.  The deplorable, the objectively awful, Count Olaf.  Or is it Mr. Stephano?  Captain Sham, perhaps?  No matter who he is or pretends to be, one thing is certain: he wants the Baudelaire fortune and will do anything to obtain it.  Moments after legally adopting the children, Olaf unleashes a homicidal scheme to shuffle the youngsters form this mortal coil.  Dark?  Pitch black seems more apt in describing this piece of celluloid.  Dammit if I didn’t enjoy every frame.   

Yet another in a long list of novels that I have not had a chance to read yet, Lemony Snicket pens thirteen books in the literary Series of Unfortunate Events, and this adaptation covers the first three.  Brimming with deception, greed, and abhorrent nefariosity, the gimmick works wonders.  Perhaps the movie did not receive quite the love that the novels did, which means no sequels, which is another sort of unfortunate.  Gothic and absurd in fantastic and stylized ways, the timeless yet somehow anachronistic world that has been brought to life takes the child entertainment genre and twists it until it’s bruised.  But where does the story go once the film ends?  Do the children ever unravel the conundrum behind their parents’ incendiary demise?  Will I ever have the money to purchase the complete set so I can find out for myself?!?  The endeavor of the struggling writer… an unfortunate event in and of itself.                                             

directed by Brad Silberling

written by Robert Gordon

released: 2004

favorite lines: "Sanctuary… is a word which here means a small, safe place in a troubling world. Like an oasis in a vast desert or an island in a stormy sea." Lemony Snicket

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Why is it so difficult to adapt a video game into a movie?  Mario?  Mortal Kombatants?  Street Fighters?  Prince of Persia?  Double Dragons? Anybody?  Perhaps it is because most video games take more than the standard hour and a half to two hours to complete.  To be truly faithful, the film would have to be eight hours long, which I’ll allow.  The active versus passive nature of each medium could factor in as well.  Maybe it is a problem of finding a balance between satisfying the hardcore gamers and reaching as broad an audience as possible.  Both sides are certain to agree that when it comes to Lara Croft and her tomb raiding, Angelina Jolie was the only woman perfectly equipped to portray the bad ass adventurer.  Yes, that sort of equipped.

Having yet to actually play any game from the Tomb Raider series (though I will soon, thank you GameFly), I journeyed into this quest both blind and terribly curious as to what all the fuss was about.  One brief shower scene minutes into the movie quelled that curiosity.  Wealthy and intelligent, gorgeous and deadly, Lara Croft is one of a kind. Finding joy in scouring the Earth for various relics, antiquities, and rare artifacts belonging anywhere but in the hands of the bad guys.  An even sexier Indiana Jones, if you will.  This first feature film follows Lara in a race against an ancient order known as the Illuminati to find the Triangle of Light.  See critics, there’s a plot!  In one corner, Ms. Croft and her double Ds pistols.  In the other, a young Jorah Mormont and the current James Bond, greedy for the unspeakable power the Triangle wields.  A global trek in the truest sense, the treasure hunt travels to Cambodia, Italy, Russia, leaving the viewer to feel as if they have been raiding right along with Lara.  Worse places to be, right?  Most of the Resident Evil series, I’m asking you.

Time storms, all-seeing eyes, cement monkey soldiers and a sentimental cameo by Papa Jolie himself, Jon Voight.  A very cool, rather brilliant piece of casting putting Voight in the role of Lord Richard Croft, Lara’s deceased, and apparently quite deceptive, father.  Having battled through some real life drama, when the two of them share the screen, there is real emotion permeating through.  A little piece of cinematic history woven into a generally well-received and, more importantly, fun adaptation.  The final freeze frame is on a level of awkward with Poolhall Junkies, but still, a thrilling ride. Enough of an impact was made to garner a sequel, one of only a select few video game motion flicks to ever be granted such a bonus.  The Cradle of Life awaits, more tombs beckon to be raided, and more Jolie, I think we can all agree, is officially a requirement.  Right up there with more cowbell.  Press Start to continue.

directed by Simon West

written by Patrick Massett & John Zinman

released: 2001

favorite lines: “Why would I try and cheat you out of anything now?  I need you to get the piece so I can steal it from you later.” Lara Croft

The Luna Temple. Long lost chamber containing Alexander the Great’s most prized possessions, and possibly the one place Lara Croft was not intended to raid.  The iconic and vivacious heroine’s irrepressible will to explore leads to her to this newly uncovered vault, and almost to her doom.  Tomb doom, that’s never good.  She does get to punch a shark, though.  Looks like somebody reached the next level of video game adaptation success, eh?  Storming into the realm of duologies, Angie JoJo returns as Tomb Raider extraordinaire, and this time?  It’s personal, as is tradition.

An orb taken from the Luna Temple is actually a map to the location of Pandora’s Box.  Oh Panda Boo, you crafty bitch.  Sure that box of yours may have created life, but it contains something far more destructive.  In fact, something that can provide the exact opposite of life.  Nature is all about balance though, isn’t she?  Light and dark, pleasure and pain, Breaking Bad and Keeping Up With the Who Gives a Shit. Of course, some douchenheimer believe he can harness what resides in that box.  Lara can’t let that box be opened, WON’T let that box be opened, not if her undeniable charm and continually impressive weapons proficiency has anything to say about it.  Those shadow guardians, too.  Freaky evil jackanapes, pardon the term.  Time has only ripened Croft’s ability to kick ass and look good doing it, and with a partner in King Leonidas, all that’s left to say is… This… is… Tomb Raider II: Straight Raidin’ It!!!   

A change in both writer and director delivers a different but equally gratifying viewing experience.  Behind the chair it went from Con Air to Twister with a sleek ease, maintaining a similar vibe from the first movie. Immense, extravagant action, blatant sexuality, a light dusting of humor, overt sexiness, and various global destinations.  Lady Croft and crew migrate to exotic locales like Greece, China, Tanzania.  The alarmingly bleak Kazakhstan.  This leaves the third film room to only travel to Iowa, Baja California, and Canada. Production ceased before it began.  A solid trilogy would have been pretty cool, though.  Jolie could still rock a mean Lara, should the opportunity arise.  The video game is getting a reboot, why not the film series?  Plenty of graves yet to be marauded, a plethora of caverns to dissect, entire hemispheres to be explored.  As long as any future titles agree to uphold the saga’s tradition of creative and entertaining adaptation, I’m game.          

directed by: Jan de Bont

written by: Dean Georgaris

released: 2003

favorite line: “Everything lost is meant to be found.” Lara Croft

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Haters, as the kids say, are gonna hate.  And holy crap did the haters have a field day with this one!  Easily the most scorned flick to grace the Movie Q to date, this modern day bedtime story causes even this relatively easy critic second guess my cinematic instincts.  To a point, a tragically dissatisfactory point, I am HUGE fan of M. Night Shyamalan.  Despite some unfortunate choices during the more recent section of his directorial career, Shamma-Lamma-Ding-Dong has proven himself to be more than capable of weaving true visionary-level films.  Both behind the pen and the lens, the Philadelphia-raised filmmaker is responsible for some objectively fascinating features. Lady in the Water, possibly in my opinion alone, is among them.  Discovering one’s purpose can be a difficult and confounded process, not meant to be completely understood by those experiencing it.  Here is no exception.  But go ahead, dive in.  It’s bathtub comfy.         

Cleveland Heep, stuttering handyman and unlikely hero, is rescued from drowning by Story, a Narf from The Blue World, an underwater haven.  Story is here to reinvigorate the relationship between humans and her kind that has long been forgotten.  As the sea nymph’s narrative unfolds, several apartments in The Cove complex became crucial pieces necessary to help save Story.  One piece in particular, the vessel, is a writer, one whose work will alter the course of human events for the infinite better.  Most critics found this message narcissistic on Shy Mulan’s part, since this fable came from his celluloid quill. Finding the few skills I possess to lie within the realm of the written word, the underlying concept of a writer saving the world is an appealing one.  Perhaps those willing to only dole out negative criticism and not contribute anything from their souls are simply bitter.  Fact is, no one, ever, will craft a tale about a critic who saves the world.  Not ever.  After all, baby IS on the half-tip. 

Self-indulgent to a certain degree, sure.  Night Sky and Moon casting himself as the writer destined for martyrdom could be interpreted in a number of antagonistic ways.  I’m tempted to agree, but I’m more tempted to say “Good for you, sir, way to stick it to the man!”  Creative, unique, different, I’m in.  A talented cast, imaginative script, terrifying quasi-wolves and psychotic monkeys fuel this mystically infectious tale.  There is just something about it, this furthering of an inventive scribe’s filmography.  There are enough idiosyncrasies, M. Night signatures (how the camera tells the story, striking angles and haunting sequences), in this movie that I consider it one of his triumphs.  As touching as it is creepy, as humorous as it is enigmatic.  Open your mind, your heart, your nearest aquatic pathway.  This one may surprise you.                        

directed by M. Night Shyamalan

written by M. Night Shyamalan

released: 2006

favorite lines: “Man thinks they are each alone in this world. It is not true. You are all connected. One act can one day affect all.” Story

Deposit accepted. Harboring a fugitive.  With “the child.”  No matter how you phrase it, pregnancy is hilarious!  At least, in the highly capable hands of Judd Apatow it is.  Scares the bejesus out of me, and I’m at an age when I should probably start considering the reality of furthering my essence.  “Spreading my seed” sounded too raunchy…  For better or worse, I see a lot of myself in Seth Rogen’s Ben Stone, consummate stoner and reluctant father-to-be. Thankfully I’m married, so at least my wife knows exactly how cuckoo banana pants I really am before baby comes rampaging through our peaceful bliss of a life together!!  Breathe, Quinnjamin, it’s only a movie…     

The phrase “all-star cast” is one that I wish I was creative enough to repackage and never use again, but this neo-RomCom features no less than FIFTEEN noteworthy comedic voices.  Just one after another, flooding the air with all kinds of ha ha.  I’d list them all, but I fear you may resent me for wasting your time naming names, then there’s the awkward afterward.  I will mention two casting , as they stick with me like breakfast on Sunday.  Ryan Seacrest ups his cool quotient with me infinifold with his scene-stealing cameo.  Always respected the guy, but thanks to Apatow, I’d now like to binge watch something with him.  Then of course, the wonderful, the caring nurturer we all hope our fathers are, Harold Ramis.  Since my father passed, I seem to emblazon my consciousness with patriarchal roles that remind me of him.  Mere minutes of screen time, and his part as the elder Stone may rival that of Dr. Egon Spengler.  I know, I know. Bold statement.

As frightening as the thought may be, Knocked Up delivers an honest, heartwarming, and genuinely funny portrayal of the miracle of life. It elevates the romantic comedy genre to a different level, one that more accurately reflects the modern, unplanned birthing event.  And who knows?  Maybe when our time comes, this whole baby thing won’t be that scary, huh?  Just follow the film’s lead.  Trip mushrooms in Las Vegas, read the baby books, can’t be that tough.  Yeah. Feeling OK about whatever is coming down the – wait, wait, they’re not actually showing the baby’s head come out… no no NOOOOO!!!!!

directed by Judd Apatow

written by Judd Apatow

released: 2007

favorite lines: “Please take the chairs away. I don’t like them. The big one is staring at me and that short one is being very droll.” Ben Stone

Sounds like most of my collegiate sex life!  Or was it hug hug boom boom… Iron Man and Doc Holliday, tag team crime solvers – no, wait.  Sherlock Holmes and an unfortunate Batman, cruising the streets, finding bad guys, and really just barely getting along in Hollywood’s ticklish underbelly.  Either way, here are two of the greatest actors in the history of the cinematic realm (in my humblest, in my humblest), Robert Downey, Jr. and Valentine (?) Kilmer, joining forces, kicking ass, even making out a little bit.  From the mind of once underrated now carving out his own corner of La La Land, master craftsman Shane Black, comes this criminally hilarious story of inadvertent identities, severed digits and intersecting homicides.

In truth, Harry Lockhart and Perry van Shrike are the men in charge of deciphering this murder mystery, their bravery and intelligence outweighed only by their witticisms.  Harry’s is a small-time thief who flees a botched robbery directly into an acting audition.  Johnny Law… evaded!  Gay Perry (not my idea, it’s his nickname!) is a little-to-no nonsense private investigator, always eager to let Harry know how moronic he can be.  Oh hey, I just got that.  Harry and Perry.  Freaking adorable.  Four days in SoCal have never been so engaging.  Almost obscenely so.  Call me a sucker for well-written conundrums.  Not to my face though, I’m sensitive.  Fast paced, incredibly funny, terribly clever and thoroughly original in presentation, this flick deserves so much more attention than it has received.  Sleeper hit, redefined.

Black has the knack for a wordsmith attack and, I’m hoping, a fan of rhyming.  This is one of those under the radar movies that, whenever mentioned, evokes an über-positive reaction.  Rightfully so, as virtually every aspect of this one is empirically outstanding.  The music, the script, the action, the funny, the unforgettable characters.  The fantastic way RDJ not only narrates but does so with such a unique flare.  The freeze frames, the interactions with both the audience and particular flashbacks.  All great, all the time.  He also wrote AND sings the song that plays over the end credits!  Track called “broken,” it’s beautiful.  Oh, if possible, the movie might be better with the commentary turned on.  Features Mr. Black, Chaplin and the Saint.  Ridiculous.                              

directed by Shane Black

written by Shane Black

released: 2005

favorite lines: "And that’s how she got to the same party as me. Oh shit. I skipped something. Damn it. This whole robot bit. I made a big deal, then I like totally forgot. Fuck, this is bad narrating. Like my dad telling a joke. ‘Oh, wait back up. I forgot to tell you the cowboy rode a blue horse.’ Fuck. Anyway, I don’t know if you want to see it now, but here’s the fucking robot stuff for your viewing pleasure. Can I say “fuck” more?” Harry Lockhart

Outrageous, ridiculous, obscene, and completely Kick-Ass.  Based on the comic book Push by Sapphire, this objectively awesome adaptation delivers humor, action, and an intriguing new twist to the superhero tale.  An entire world dedicated to the notion of people stepping up  Ordinary citizens take vigilantism to the next level, bad guys take a pounding.  Everybody wins!  Had I the means, the motivation, and the inherent skills necessary to do so, you would find me patrolling the streets, taking out the human waste that infests our cities.  Instead, I’ll settle for an occasional car horn honk and strategically executed middle finger.  From afar.  After I’m out of eyesight…  Extravagant weaponry, outlandish personas, turncoat sidekicks, ruthless villains.  Get ready to Punch Face! Wait…        

High school nobody Dave Lizewski, fed up with criminals and their Alpha Bully ways, dons a scuba suit and attempts to stop a carjacking.  Invariably he gets stabs, hit by a different car, then surgically equipped with metal plating all over his body.  Dave’s super power is being able to take an epic beating and keep on fighting.  Suppose there are worse powers to have.  Terrific metabolism, heightened sense of touch (imagine the orgasms though…).  As valiant and commendable as Kick-Ass’ intentions are, it’s another masked crusader that steals this show: Hit-Girl.  Petite but deadly, pint-sized but capable of brutal lethality.  Whether she’s cursing or killing, everything she does is incredible.  This eleven-year-old mega assassin has been raised to conquer evil, by none other than her Big Daddy, exquisitely portrayed by the Nicolas Cage.  Pairing him with brilliant newcomer Chloë Grace Moretz is a thing of cinematic beauty.  Great casting overall, from Mark Strong as big bad Frank D’Amico to a surprisingly effective performance from McLovin as Red Mist, wealthy wannabe and son of D’Amico.  These actors combined with Matthew Vaughn’s signature visual style, and consider all ass kicked.  Four words: Gatling gun jet pack.  Two more: holy crap!!    

My first experience with this movie was at my first, and only, trip to the San Diego Comic-Con.  Fantastic trip, would love to make it an annual excursion, highly recommended if you ever get the chance.  Completely unaware of a comic book series entitled Kick-Ass (one of the best hero names EVER by the way), my friends and I were able to sit in on the panel regarding the upcoming movie adaptation.  A screening of some footage followed, and it blew me away.  Once I got over the disturbing vision of a young girl straight murdering drug dealers, I was hooked.  This final product proved to be just as unforgettable. Pretty sure the overwhelming response during Comic-Con is the reason this film became a reality, which is a victory for fans of the genre. Excessive violence?  Yes.  Inappropriate behavior?  Absolutely. Hey, you can’t make a justice omelet without cracking some skulls, right?  The critics can keep their disparaging remarks.  Sometimes you just have to shut up and… you know.                                  

directed by Matthew Vaughn

written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn 

released: 2010

favorite lines: “Okay you cunts… Let’s see what you can do now.” Hit-Girl

Ironically enough, Kick-Ass is tremendously adept at getting his ass kicked.  However, with some patience, time, and proper training from everyone’s favorite tiny terror Hit-Girl, the Green Condom just might prove to be worth a damn after all! Who needs a suddenly bitchy girlfriend and menial high school activities when a return to superherodom is just a costume change away??  Based on the second volume of comic books, Kick-Ass 2 picks up an undetermined amount of time after the first chapter, with some notable changes.  New writer, new director (in this case the same new person), and a couple of minor casting changes later, and the next adventure can begin.  Revenge leads to vengeance leads to desperate brutality.   

Since his initial excursion into street justice, others have been inspired to take up the cause, leading to the city’s first super squad: Colonel Stars and Stripes, Doctor Gravity, Night Bitch, Insect Man, Battle Guy, and Remembering Tommy bring Kick-Ass into the fold as part of Justice Forever.  No special powers of which to speak, but plenty of enthusiasm to fuel the fight.  In the other corner of this costumed battle royal are the (wait for it) Toxic Mega-Cunts.  The Tumor, Mother Russia, Genghis Carnage, and Black Death, all led by the Mother Fucker (formerly Red Mist, now a much angrier McLovin).  I love the team warfare, as it makes for epic actions sequences and is a logical step after the events of the first film.  And where’s Hit-Girl when all the team-up festivities are underway?  She’s figuring some stuff out.  Best not to give her any shit for it.

The only movie of Jeff Wadlow’s that I had seen before this was Cry_Wolf and THAT flick was fantastic.  He brings a different but equally impressive vision to this sequel, as well as some illustrious new names to the franchise.  Jim Carrey inhabits the ill-fated Colonel, while John Leguizamo joins the fray as a top henchman to the D’Amico clan, and the Mother Fucker’s best buddy.  No Nicolas Cage, but fear not superfans.  Big Daddy may be gone but not nearly forgotten.  His pseudo-Batsuit loks like it would fit a certain somebody…  A third comic series has been written, so here’s hoping another cinematic installment.  Less than stellar box office results do not help the cause, but I’ve learned to never say never.  A solid trilogy when all is said and done?  That would be kick-ass.                 

directed by Jeff Wadlow

written by Jeff Wadlow

released: 2013

favorite line: “ Game on, cocksuckers.” Hit-Girl

If I’ve typed it once, I’ve typed it tens of times: never trust Bill Murray.  Just don’t it, especially if you are a dewy-eyed bowling prodigy from Iowa.  For my money, this piece of Farrelly funny showcases Master Murray at his most deplorable, which is also one of his most scene-stealing performances ever.  Had I my cinematic druthers, this entire film would be an extension of its first ten minutes.  Ernie McCracken (Murray) and Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), traveling the country on a bowling tour, swindling rubes along the way.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Amish joke as much as the next Brother, but imagine what a road trip THAT would have been.  Not since The Wizard would a trek to Reno be some much fun!

Gross, obnoxious, and chock-full of chuckles.  Former bowling prospect single-handedly takes Amish wunderkind under his wing in an effort to roll away with a million dollar purse.  Lunacy on the lanes… commence!  The Farrelly Brothers again manage to turn the stomach, tickle the funny bone, and touch the heart all at once with this story of loss, redemption, horrific comb-overs, and bowling.  One of the few activities in which I so not feel completely inadequate, I can appreciate a good ten-pin tale.  Dream house, no budgetary limits, would definitely include a bowling alley, probably found through a series of hidden corridors and secret passages.  Just past the sex dungeon.  If you reach the anti-gravity chamber, you’ve gone too far. Not as far as this flick goes with some of it’s subject matter, though…  Poor Buttercup never saw those amputations coming!            

It took me some time to come around to this cult comedy.  Maybe because the Farrelly’s didn’t write the script, or the decision to follow up one road trip comedy with another, or maybe Roger Clemens’ cameo was a little too spot on.  The performances are good, Harrelson, Randy Quaid, the lovely Vanessa Angel, each brings a certain something to this crass bowllegory.  The iconic William Murray not only kills it comedically, he executes a Turkey (three strikes in a row) in one take!  Damn you Big Ern, and your seemingly infinite greatness!!  Once I took the time with some friends to appreciate the subtler nuances (“An open frame in the tenth, I was robbed goddammit!!”), my sense of humor caught up with my pretension. Good thing, too.  If I hadn’t, I would have missed a lot of great memories.  Would’ve Munsoned the whole thing…

directed by Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly

written by Barry Fanaro & Mort Nathan

released: 1996

favorite lines: "It all comes down to this roll. Roy Munson, a man-child, with a dream to topple bowling giant Ernie McCracken. If he strikes, he’s the 1979 Odor-Eaters Champion. He’s got one foot in the frying pan and one in the pressure cooker. Believe me, as a bowler, I know that right about now, your bladder feels like an overstuffed vacuum cleaner bag and your butt is kinda like an about-to-explode bratwurst." Ernie "Big Ern" McCracken

Welcome to Skull Island!  Home to vicious dinosaurs, insects bigger than you, fiercely territorial natives, and one giant, angry gorilla! Pardon my tone, it’s not that I am excited, simply that I am terrified beyond all rational thought and can’t stop shouting!  Just way too many horrible things for one place, yeah?  I suppose the visionary director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy can manifest as many creeptacular beasts as he so desires.  Peter Jackson adds his impressive scope to the ever-growing remake genre, this particular take of the blockbuster variety.  King Kong, the eighth wonder of the world.  Sorry André, Kong was a bit before your time, the moniker sticks.  You were both giants, OK?  Besides, this wonder is made on against his will.  Kong was cool, best I can tell, kicking it behind his enormous wall, occasionally chewing on bamboo while he takes in a sunrise.  Make someone like that homesick, expect an unbroken boulevard of green lights.  

Few can build suspense like Peter Jackson, and the anticipation levels remain well-balanced in this adventure.  A solid third of the way into the film and at last he emerges, ready to snack down on the island’s latest sacrifice.  Even then, the might Kong is only partially revealed.  Trust in PJ, the King is worth the wait.  It makes sense, of course, but in an age where instant gratification is taken completely for granted, asking an audience to be patient can be a tall order.  Like Kong tall, twenty five feet at least.  Clocking in at just over three hours, a sizable investment is required on the viewers part.  All the elements bland together so well, though, that the amount of time spent watching ceases to be an issue.  Besides, shouldn’t a Handicap Match between King Kong and three T-Rex descendants last as long as cinematically possible?  Holy CGI, what a scene!  Best Visual Effects Oscar well-deserved, and the behemoth isn’t even stateside yet!

Depression-era New York gets an injection of excitement when King Kong arrives, and for forty explosive minutes the city belongs to him.  Is there a worse time for a giant gorilla to destroy a city, when there are scarcely any funds to rebuild?  But underneath all that fur and grand scale devastation, this is a love story.  A forbidden, socially unacceptable love story involving a girl and her centuries-old gorilla. That girl is Naomi Watts, and credit due, that lady goes through some stuff in this flick.  Not to be outdone, Jack Black is perfect as the maniacally overambitious producer, without whom, Kong might still be chillaxin on his beach.  Andy Serkis pulls double duty as both Kong and Lumpy, a chef/barber/surgeon on the tramp steamer SS Venture.  Thanks to him, you are fully on the side of Kong by the end.  Adrien Brody, Colin Hanks, Kyle Chandler, an excellent assemblage without question.  A credible cast helps legitimize any effects-heavy endeavor.  Tragic and beautiful, visually stunning and substantially moving, this neo-classic is the definition of epic.  Beauty may have killed the beast, but dynamic filmmaking brought him back.                                             

directed by Peter Jackson

written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens

released: 2005 

favorite lines: "We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign - and no memories. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there - there you could look at a thing monstrous and free." Hayes

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Ladies and gentlemen, Beatrix Kiddo!  Beatrix here was just breaking the fourth wall to refresh our memories as to who she is and what she is planning to do.  Spoiler alert: it’s in the title!  Vol. 2 of this epic saga is a separate beast, but an enriching one.  More dialogue driven, less action oriented, still fantastic.  Black Mamba is back and ready to inject her venom into her fellow snakes.  This one feels more Tarantino, relying more on a killer script than just killing. Words are the weapons of choice in this finale feature.  The long-awaited exchange between Kiddo and Bill is almost devoid of action, but ranks among my favorites in celluloid history.  Fear not, Paula Schultz, there is plenty of extravagaction to appease those expecting a bloody return.  For the most part, though, it’s the heart and mind that get a workout here.  Love can be as deadly as a swipe from Kiddo’s Hanzō sword, and leave as lasting a scar.        

After witnessing the Bride inhabiting a revenge-fueled killing machine, the opening of volume two takes a striking step back, displaying a human side of our heroine.  The audience also gets their first glimpse of the infamous Bill.  David Carradine, made relevant once again!  It’s what Tarantino does, revitalizes flat-lining careers.  John Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster.  Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen, filling out the remaining Deadly Viper roster spots in this second volume. Getting theirs is a sequence of pure cinematic gold.  No music, just the sounds of swords clanging and eyeballs squishing.  I agree, it is gross, but unforgettable.  The Bride’s wedding rehearsal, the Massacre at Two Pines, depicted in stirring black-and-white, re-establishes the horrific events that sparked this crimson retaliation.  Another piece of the puzzle, fitting exquisitely.  AND Samuel L. is on hand?  Screw Bill, let’s focus on Sam!

Uma inhabits a more vulnerable, more hopeful Bride in this concluding film. Enduring the trials of master Pai Mei, prepping for her wedding/normal life, finding out her daughter survived Bill’s vicious assault.  There’s more to this Black Mamba than merciless lethality. There’s an exhausted mommy lioness just wanting to be with her cub. Five more scintillating chapters, three more names crossed off her hit list (laters Sidewinder, California Mountain Snake and Snake Charmer, it’s been a vindictive pleasure), and one Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.  Pure bliss.  I’m not sure which part of this double feature I prefer.  Reflexively I would say Vol. 2, but actually I celebrate both halves as a triumphant whole.  Do NOT ask me to watch one without the other, or Ms. Kiddo may have to add another name to her Death List Five!  Forgive me, please, I just inhaled a polar dish of revenge…             

directed by Quentin Tarantino

written by Quentin Tarantino

released: 2004

favorite lines: "Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race." Bill

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Tough to believe that this one-two cinematic punch is collectively only the fourth feature film from Quentin Tarantino.  Perhaps his stories had become so woven into the celluloid tapestry, it’s easy to assume he has been churning out a multitude of incredible movies over the course of his career.  On the contrary.  This visionary crafts his content with precise care and innovative presentation.  An adventure of this magnitude could not be contained in a single theatrical viewing, so what does QT decide?  Split that bitch up!  One lengthy journey, two separate release dates.  An original approach, financially brilliant, somewhat frustrating.  By the end of this first volume, the last thing you want to do is wait eight months for the resolution.  From the opening moments, however, investment in this story ceases to be an option.  It is a joyful responsibility.  Grab your Hattori Hanzō sword, fire up the Pussy Wagon and prepare yourselves… it’s time to Kill Bill.               

If revenge is a indeed a dish best served cold, then this first volume of Kill Bill is an icy slice of awesome.  Former assassin attempts to get married, change her ways.  Boss of former assassin gets jealous, decides to eliminate the entirety of said former assassin’s wedding party. Dammit, William, she was pregnant!!  Let the vengeance flow, freely and with much satisfaction.  Five chapters, each more fiendish and uniquely tailored to fit the narrative.  Chapter One is simply titled with an encircled number two.  The third chapter is delivered almost entirely through the anime animation style.  Mind blown.  Visually, this is Tarantino’s most ambitious venture when compared to the previous three, incorporating multiple formats and techniques to tell the Bride’s tale.  The intricate process of a gun firing, examined with deliberate detail.  A twenty minute poly, then mono, then again polychromatic gore-gy of biblical proportions, rivaling most fights scenes produced.  Now, then, ever.  A true feast for the ocular senses.

Of course one can’t Quillify this first volume without mentioning Black Mamba herself.  The Bride, also known as * beeep, * Uma Thurman.  She kicks ass here in ways that cinephile, and probably most of the viewing public, never knew she could.  Her contribution to this loving yet brutal homage to QT’s favorite genres (spaghetti westerns, Hong Kong martial arts flicks, Japanese chanbara) is immeasurable.  The list of actresses who could have pulled off such a dynamic and iconic role with such grace and devastation is short.  Whether she is decimating enemies or waking from a four year coma, Thurman truly shines.  With two of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad (Cottonmouth, Copperhead, thanks for playing, now rot and burn) effectively vanquished, the Bride’s vengeful glow can only brighten further. Bill better lock up tight, Black Mamba is slithering his way. Conclusions can taste even sweeter than revenge, when properly prepared…                

directed by Quentin Tarantino

written by Quentin Tarantino

released: 2003

favorite line: “When fortune smiles on something as violent and ugly as revenge, it seems proof like no other, that not only does God exist, you’re doing His will.” The Bride

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My favorite dinosaur as a kid was the triceratops.  Big, deceptively cuddly, horns for days.  To see this ancient creature brought to life was an especially memorable experience.  Sure she is depicted as a sick lump, a bitch of the dino community, but still, what a sight.  My father and I both simultaneously read the original book, then went together to the theater to take in this event in filmmaking, and were forever affected.  A living theme park, recreating history, bringing years of theories, calculations and studies into reality.  Sounds awesome until you think about that Mummy ride at Universal Studios. No thanks, I’ll keep my rides auto-erotica, er, animatronic.  Steven Spielberg “was really just trying to make a good sequel to Jaws, on land.”  Upon completion, I’d say he made that fish tale look like an episode of Flipper.  Some species are meant to remain extinct, though it makes for a groundbreakingly iconic movie when they don’t.        

It’s not the familiar dinosaurs that steal this show, however.  Yes, the T-Rex is outstanding and scary despite it’s hysterically small arms.  But he’s old news.  Besides, vision based on movement?  It’s like he never had a chance.  Most of the blissfully ignorant populace, myself included, had no idea what the what a velociraptor was before this awe-inspiring odyssey, and now they are synonymous with the scariest things found in existence. Six feet tall, brilliant, no joke killing machines.  Yet popular enough to name an NBA franchise after them.  You’re welcome Toronto. The dilophosaurus is smaller than the Raptor, but possibly more horrific.  Giant fan coming out of their necks, venom spewing from their mouths, and they sound like a howling monkey raping a rattlesnake.  Poor Newman, never saw those fanned fiends coming.        

The humans are no slouches in this thing, either.  Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, each adding thespian credence to this genre redefiner.  Master Jeffrey in full Goldblum as eccentric chaotician Ian Malcolm.  Magnetic is his tremendocity.  Hope that leg heals up quick, for his adventures are just beginning…  I’ve ceased being surprised that Samuel L. Jackson has roles in most of my favorite films, just consistently overjoyed when he appears.  His part may be small, but he makes it memorable. Always there to lend a hand, even an entire arm.  Behind the camera, what else can a cinephile ask for than the author of the primary text penning a script for one of the great visionaries of our time? That’s dream team stuff.  A majestic score, unforgettable imagery, a true cinematic escapade.  Stay sharp, treasured guests.  There are still many wonders to behold, and to fear.  To find them, however, you’ll need to get Lost…     

directed by Steven Spielberg

written by Michael Crichton & David Koepp

released: 1993

favorite line: “Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Dr. Ian Malcolm

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The suspension of disbelief is a definite prerequisite for enjoying any movie about dinosaurs being brought back to life.  But why, in the name of all that is decent and logical, would anyone, ever, GO BACK to an area inhabited by ancient carnivorous creatures?!  Granted it is Ian Malcolm (the über-smooth Sir Jeffreth Goldblum), but still, it’s probably the first question people asked when news of a Jurassic Park sequel broke.  The fact that this second chapter is “based” on a novel by Michael Crichton helps, sure, yet drastic alterations make for, at the very least, a special effects extravaganza. At it’s worse, the story gets convulsed and departs too far from the original text.  Either way, people are going to get eaten.  And for goodness sake, stay out of the tall grass!!    

The harsh consequences of a failed dino-themed theme park come crashing down all over John Hammond’s empire.  He may not have survived the literary adventure, but his role in the cinematic journey is a crucial one, as he convinces four researchers to investigate Site B.  What WHAT?!?  A second island, a factory floor, is in danger of being pillaged and destroyed.  No fences, no rules, no control whatsoever.  Once you get passed the “Are you mentally disabled??  Stay away from the island!!,” this blockbuster sequel delivers the thrills.  A particular sequence involved a state-of-the-art research trailer, two T-Rexes and a cliff still tightens my taint.  Joining Ian on this death trek is paleontologist girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), environmentalist documentarian Nick Van Owen (which makes me immediately think of Vince Vaughn), and Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff), field equipment expert and winner of Best Death Thus Far.  No Neill, no Dern, which doesn’t take long to get over, but still slightly detracts from the overall sequel vibe.  A slew of dino fodder arrive to transport the animals, but none of them really matter. Ultimately, it isn’t about the actors running for their lives. People pay to see dinosaurs once again roam the Earth, and the carnage that ensues.  Plenty of both here.

Then, sadly yet regrettably entertaining, there is the finale.  Created entirely for the film, the final minutes witness a Tyrannosaurus Rex rampaging through the streets of San Diego.  Now, the first installment took its liberties when adapting the book, but stayed relatively within the limits of what the first novel had to offer.  This, on the other razor-sharp claw, goes somewhere beyond rational adaptation.  To leave the island motif, where these stories thrive, and incorporate the city is a huge risk, one almost as big as they creature terrorizing it.  Had it been left out, had the Site B finale with the raptors finally showing up and kicking tail brought the film to a close, I think this second part would have been received much better.  Having said that, it’s a helluva ride.  A goofy, “Guess they went that route” sort of ride.  So the sequel well has been tapped, credit to Hollywood for knowing we’d all pay for it.  Elevated stakes, some decent humor, triple the body count.  Nicely done.  No sense in going back for more, right?  I mean, who would believe that more people would return to Isla Sorna?  Seriously, who?!?                     

directed by Steven Spielberg

written by David Koepp

released: 1997

favorite lines: “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running, and screaming.” Dr. Ian Malcolm

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No force on Earth or heaven could get me on that island…  Well, we’ll have to see about that, won’t we Dr. Grant??  At least you’ve acknowledged going back to that place would be absolutely insane… Cue the obligatory opening death scene!  For the third consecutive trek, it doesn’t take long for things to get snacky… and heartbreaking!  In a brief, cruel tease, it would seem that Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler have recovered nicely from their dinotastrophe in Jurassic Park, settling down in a lovely home with a couple of children.  But no, life couldn’t be that beautiful, could it?!  So goes the story of Jurassic Park III, glimpses of awesome among a landscape of “Dammit!”

First, no Spielberg.  Isn’t a deal breaker, but still, worth noting.  I like Joe Johnston.  I thought he made the Marvel Cinematic universe, and Lady Liberty, proud with Captain America: The First Avenger. He may not have a distinct style, but here he delivers an adventure, despite no original text to even loosely base the plot on. Second, no Jeff Goldblum.  By now, it officially feels weird without Dr. Ian Malcolm and his signature swagitude.  The absences are piling up like the body count in The Lost World!  Still, being a sucker for the franchise, I optimistically venture back into dinoblivion.  Third, how did something as massive as the Spinosaurus go undiscovered in the previous film?  This thing is bigger than a T-Rex, super predator, scary as hell.  Spinosaurus vs. Tyrannosaurus Rex: Rumble in the Jungle is an epic showdown.  Two titans duking it out, stubby arms against slightly longer ones.  Some complain about the short length of this film, being the shortest of the series, but I appreciate it.  At this point in the saga, there’s no room for pretentiousness.   

Fear not, faithful Jurassholes, there are plenty of positives in this third expedition. We finally get to see the nightmares of the skies terrorize some humans, as the winged Pteranodons are release from their oversized cages.  They freak me right out, but this yard still belongs to the icons.  Velociraptors run this    town, much to the terrified chagrin of Dr. Grant.  He has a theory that, if it weren’t for extinction, raptors may have eventually reached the top of the evolutionary ladder.  Then I didn’t sleep for several days…  William H. Macy and “Don’t Call Me Green” Téa Leoni join him in the fray, searching for their kid on Isla Sorna.  It’s not a journey through Cretaceous Tract without some damn kid, is it?  Aside from the adolescent annoyance, Johnston impresses (also the writers, one of which is personal favorite Alexander Payne) with an ability to bring something new to the series.  Few third entries are crucial to any cineverse, but this one presents enough funky freshness to make it memorable. Fourth parts can be even less necessary, and with Jurassic World on the horizon, it remains to be seen what (special) effects genetically engineered dinosaurs will have on today’s audience. Something tells me that sort of story will never go extinct.                        

directed by Joe Johnston

written by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

released: 2001

favorite lines: “Now, are there any questions?  Questions not related to Jurassic Park, or the incident in San Diego, which I did not witness?” Dr. Alan Grant