Once Upon a Mattress (2005) – When stage plays are translated to cinema, especially comedy musicals, I think they are often best served by simply filming a “stagey” version such as this, rather than trying to un-stage it. Seeing Tracy Ulman prance around the set as the delightfully un-delicate Princess Winnifred is a joy which would be muted if we were in a real (or real-looking) castle, wearing real (or real-looking) period costume. And some familiar faces from the supporting cast, such as Carol Burnett and Tom Smothers, are really best when seen on stage. More fun that I had expected from a story whose engine was Zooey Deschanel’s premarital pregnancy!
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) – Godzilla flicks are becoming like James Bond flicks for me — I’ve seen so many of them that all their action scenes blur together. So I couldn’t remember if I’d seen this before when I put it on. I think I should be able to remember which one it is, though: this is the Godzilla movie in which Godzilla appears before the opening credits, and then isn’t even mentioned again until it’s time for him to appear for the final battle. As a conscious remake/mashup of Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Destroy All Monsters, this movie has both some of the most annoying aliens ever (seriously, I wanted to slap that one “X” guy every time he appeared on screen) and some of the most unlikely “classic” Godzilla foe revivals (King Caesar? Hedora? Wow).
The Dinosaur Project (2012) – I knew nothing about this one when I turned it on; I thought it was just another lame SyFy Original. It’s actually an enjoyable British-made “found footage” movie about an expedition to the Congo to find the Mokele-Mbembe, in which a pterosaur-caused chopper crash and some well-drawn character conflicts combine to cause havoc. The CG dinosaurs are respectable, the South African shooting locations are convincingly authentic, and the conceit of having everyone wear a mini wireless videocam on their person somewhere helps avoid the problem of “Put down the damned camera while you’re running for your life, you moron.”
The Phantom of the Opera (2004) – This is the big-screen adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, not the Lon Chaney silent shocker. Or the 1943 version starring Claude Rains that I absolutely hate. Or the 1962 Hammer version which I haven’t seen, or the ill-conceived 1989 Robert Englund version with time travel and soul-selling, or the respectable 1990 TV miniseries with Burt Lancaster and Charles Dance, or the 1998 Dario Argento version which I haven’t seen, or the other few versions that I really don’t know anything about…
The name of Joel Schumacher is often bandied about as “worst director in Hollywood” (a label applied almost completely by Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), but he’s really at his best with bombastic, gothic settings, so this is spot-on.
My daughter Sariah turned this on, knowing only that (a) it was a musical, (b) there was a guy in a mask, and (c) a chandelier falls. By the end, she was crying into the pillow clutched on her lap. Then she made her mother and sister watch it. And then her friends.
Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs (2015) – I was awful disappointed that this wasn’t a period piece, something to show on a double feature with The Valley of Gwanji (1969). No, it was instead a cookie-cuttered SyFy-ish creature feature, with check-the-box character templates, standard Sega-level CGI, and nothing really to recommend it except (a) the mighty Vernon Wells as the old and mean Requisite Eee-vil Businessman, and (b) Sara Malakul Lane as Dr. Sinclair, a fresh-out-of-college mining geologist whose impressive mammaries (the consensus of Teh Intarnets is that they’re very well done implants) are so bodacious that, even being fully clothed the entire time, they tend to distract from the presence of bloodthirsty dinosaurs.
Speaking of bloodthirsty dinosaurs… I know this really isn’t the context in which to complaint about verisimilitude, but here’s the thing about meateaters: They eat meat. They don’t just cruise through a town, killing all the locals one after another without stopping to consume their prey. (On the other hand, these are dinosaurs that will climb several stories through an old grain elevator after their human quarry while ignoring the horse placidly grazing beside the door.)
Ant-Man (2015) – While the huge blockbuster first-string Marvel heroes dominate the universe-shattering tentpole movies, a second-string movie like Ant-Man can really imitate what makes a comic-book universe fun: It inhabits a world in which those other heroes and events exist, but it can explore story ideas without having to have the universe hang in the balance every single time, or without primarily being a segment in the dominating meta-saga (I’m looking at you, Age of Ultron). This is the kind of movie that lets me entertain the far-fetched notion that maybe, just maybe, there could be an Agents of Atlas movie in the future.