My Week in Movies – February 20th

So, this week did… not go as well as I’d hoped. But that doesn’t mean it was a complete loss.

That Awkward Moment
Zac Efron is joined by half of the upcoming residents of the Baxter Building, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller. These three dudes deal with rom-com relationship issues, but from the (only in the rom-com genre) not-as-explored male perspective. The film revolves around Efron’s bro, but, counterintuitively, he was the character I liked the least. I empathized with Jordan’s failed marriage and with Teller’s discovery of his romantic feelings for his platonic friend. But it’s Efron’s movie, and his general demeanor and actions left me utterly disappointed that he was actually able to win over a girl like Imogen Poots. And then lose her and win her back again. But I suppose that was always the way it was going to happen, because there was never anything particularly fresh about this film’s plot. It was a mildly satisfying diversion with some laughs and a few touching moments and, unless you count the failed attempt to humanize a jerk, a complete lack of innovation.

Grade: C

The Monuments Men
Finally, George Clooney’s World War II Ocean’s movie, The Monuments Men, released to theaters after a huge, portentous delay! I didn’t care. I was so excited for this movie last year and remained excited for the day I could finally see it. Clooney gathers a band of misfit artists – and great veteran actors you always dreamed you’d see in a movie together – and leads them into World War II. Their mission: to protect and rescue Europe’s prized art and culture before Nazis and bombs leave nothing left to admire. The cast was an interesting choice, with the definite vibe of the Ocean’s series, but funnier. Yet the movie’s script moralizes and evangelizes so hard, trying to impart the import of art and culture, that it robs this interesting cast of its chance to do much more than hang out and josh around in uniform, criminally robbing them of their chance to stretch and make tough choices resonate with acting decisions. Tense moments (and how could there not be tense moments with how much the film tentatively evokes the Holocaust?) were cut with winking jokes a few too many times. I still enjoyed this movie on the whole, and will always come out to the theater when Clooney headlines a team-up film. I just wish this one had been better.

Grade: B-

So not a bad week, per say, but not nearly as good as I had hoped for, especially considering Clooney was in the mix. I’m not holding out much hope for next week, as I’ll likely only see one movie and it has no Clooney at all.

My Week in Movies – February 13th

I didn’t hit the theaters after Ride Along and I, Frankenstein (anyone would need a break after that), but the Lord/Miller collaboration that that greeted me upon my return was worth the wait.

The LEGO Movie
Now here is a comedy I can enjoy. The LEGO Movie is easily the best movie of the year thus far. (Might survive to the end of the year with that title, that’s how good it is.) It’s funny and caring, yet not unwilling to poke fun at itself and its “corporate overlords”. I mean, come on, the antagonist (voiced by Will Ferrell) is named Lord Business! His nemesis, and our protagonist, is Emmett (Chris Pratt, soon to be Star-Lord/battler-of-dinosaurs), a standard, non-descript LEGO construction worker. He meets WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), a master builder looking for the Piece of Resistance. Emmett stumbles onto it by accident and WyldStyle whisks him away from Lord Business and Bad Cop (Liam Neeson!). The movie follows Emmett’s attempts to halt Lord Business’s nefarious plan to use the Kragle (all these silly names will make sense eventually) to freeze his Lego world in a perfect state. Along the way, we meet several master builders, including sage-like Vitruvius (Morgran Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and characters from just about every licensed property you’ve ever loved. This movie never takes itself too seriously, has tons of priceless cameos, and is a truly great adventure. There are even two hilarious songs, “Batman” and “Everything is Awesome”, both of which shine as parodies of real music and as catchy tunes in their own right. Best of all, the movie isn’t afraid to point out that LEGOs really are just toys, meant to be played with and enjoyed by all. Just like this movie.

Grade: A+

Really, The LEGO Movie has more than made up for everything I’ve watched thus far. Maybe 2014 is starting to pick up, because next week looks like it will be pretty good too.

My Week in Movies – January 30th

This week I ventured into theaters to see Kevin Hart (ugh) in Ride Along and Aaron Eckhart (yay?) in I, Frankenstein.

Ride Along
I repeat, ugh… I’m not a big fan of comedies in general, and as comedians go, I really dislike Kevin Hart. I’m not sure how anyone finds him funny actually. So with those biases in mind, I declare this an awful movie. Hart’s character is a man-child trying to convince his live-in girlfriend’s brother, played by Ice Cube, that he is a worthy suitor. Cube tests Hart with a ride along. Hart attempts to prove his worth both as a potential cop and potential husband and Ice Cube in turn attempts to submarine his efforts by having Hart deal with petty public nuisances all day. Eventually, they do get into a serious situation, finding out that Ice Cube’s partners are dirty and in the employ of Laurence Fishburne’s nefarious dealer, Omar. Hart saves Ice Cube by imitating the reclusive kingpin, but the bad guys escape and kidnap the girlfriend/sister. Hart and Cube have to work together to save her, they succeed, they accept each other, roll credits. Part of planning to watch 100 movies means seeing some films that are below your standards and fail resonate with you. Ride Along is both of those things for me, to an extreme extent. Not only was this movie’s plot predictable, the situations were not particularly funny and Kevin Hart is terribly not funny enacting them. Ice Cube’s grumpy, protective brother isn’t any good either. Fishburne’s reveal was about the only interesting development in Ride Along, and it most certainly was not worth watching the other hour and a half of Kevin Hart inanity.

Grade: D-

I, Frankenstein
Aaron Eckhart takes on the titular monster role in I, Frankenstein. Well… sort of. One thing that constantly bothers me about Frankenstein adaptations, expansions, and re-tellings is that everyone seems to forget that the monster doesn’t actually have a name. In this version, an adaptation of a graphic novel, Aaron Eckhart’s monster is caught in the middle of a war between Demons, led by Bill Nighy, and Gargoyles, led by Miranda Otto. The Demons wish to possess human bodies and rule the Earth; the Gargoyles, created by the Archangel Michael, watch over and protect mankind. The action truly takes off once Adam (the name given to the monster by the Gargoyle Queen) returns to the the Gargoyle’s sanctum and allows a police officer to get killed. Nighy and Otto’s followers battle multiple times while Adam is drawn further and further into the fray. One of Nighy’s scientists, played by Yvonne Strahovski, has been researching corpse reanimation for sinister purposes. Lo and behold, Adam ends up saving the day and lives happily ever after with this scientist. A bit messy, but, hey, at least, I, Frankenstein was entertaining. The gargoyle-demon battle scenes are well-done and engaging, particularly the ascension/decension effects which are beautiful. The characters have understandable motives. It’s most certainly not a great movie, but there are already several far worse choices, it’s still only January, I’ll allow it.

Grade: C-

After last week’s rise to “just barely below average,” Ride Along weighs down a mediocre I, Frankenstein and leaves us all the worse for the wear. Fortunately, there looks to be some relief in the near future! (And no, it’s not one of the hundred other movies in theaters starring Kevin Hart, who’s haunting me like a poltergeist.)

My Week in Movies – January 23rd

Welcome back for another installment of “My Week in Movies”. This week I managed to see two 2014 releases, Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan and Cuba Gooding, Jr’s Life of a King.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit stars Chris Pine as Tom Clancy’s CIA hero. We start the movie in London where Ryan is a student who watches the September 11th terror attacks on TV after stirring from a nap on a bench. We fast-forward a bit and Ryan is now a Lieutenant in the US armed forces and aboard a helicopter where he’s pressing a superior over the phone to read a report he submitted. the chopper is it by an explosive and we spend a chunk of the movie at Walter Reed where Pine works with Keira Knightly’s PT resident. Kevin Costner also enters the movie As a shadowy commander watching Pine from afar and considering his approach. He recruits Ryan to work as an undercover financial analyst on Wall Street and the movie starts rolling from action scene to action scene after that. I enjoyed this movie far more than I expected. It’s a bit slow in the early going but that’s mostly due to the introduction of Pine and Knightly as they setup for a multi-movie franchise. The plot falls apart once the action starts going. But nothing unforgivable. I wonder where the next installment will take us and if we’ll get more thriller or more action.

Grade: C+

Life of a King

Cuba Gooding, Jr. takes on the role of Eugene Brown, an ex-con and estranged father, who tries to improve his life and the life of some neighborhood kids. The movie starts off with Eugene being released after nearly two decades in prison. He struggles to find a job and re-connect with his family. Eventually, he lies on an application and gets a job as a janitor at a local school. He ends up taking over detention duties and teaching chess to his students. From here we drop into the very expected inspirational mentor mixed with tragedy plot. Life of a King will stick with me because of the vehicle used to inspire, chess, and the lead actor. But will end up mostly forgotten as an average film in a mass of movies I plan on watching this year. It’s “based on a true story” line doesn’t bother me too much here but the expected plot points make me think it’s been embellished quite a bit. This film can (and will) be safely ignored.

Grade: C+

This week ended up better than last week but still not a great week. Jack Ryan could prove to be a good start to a new franchise and Life of a King is touching but just another inspirational mentor story. Maybe next week will be bettter but I have my doubts, we’re still in the wasteland of the early year.

My Week in Movies – January 16th

Welcome to a new year with the Culture Conquistadors! This year, we’re all planning (and hoping) to bring you new content more frequently. For my part, I’m starting a new series of movie reviews. Each week, I’ll write about a paragraph on each film with some plot synopsis and opinion. I’ll grade each film I see and then part with some general thoughts on the week.

The Legend of Hercules

My first movie for 2014: Legend of Hercules. As usual, I did not see this movie in 3D.1 The screening I saw was advertised as 2D, though it’s hard to argue that this film has more than one dimension. This 99 minute action flick was likely meant to be the beginning of a franchise but it’s inevitable failure at the box office got it re-titled and released in the January wasteland. I caught glimpses of a larger narrative arc, likely meant to be drawn out in subsequent installments, but as its own film, Legend of Hercules fails to string much in the way of good plot together. Hercules is sent away to Egypt to die at his earthly father’s behest. He and his company’s captain survive at mercy of their ambusher’s hands. They are quickly sold into slavery and fight their way back to Greece in hopes of saving Hercules’ love interest from an arranged marriage to his wimpy half-brother. Not much stands out in this movie except for the freeze framing of the fight sequences, meant to promote the 3D version that I never saw. The other thing that stands out is just how far they strayed from the mythological source texts. The only resemblance this Hercules has with the Greek Heracles is that they’re both supernaturally strong men.2 The names of the characters in the movie mirror the myth. Yet this movie could have just scratched off the serial numbers3 and used any name out of a hat for the story they tell. I might have been more willing to accept this movie as just a new Hellenic myth; instead it plies the name of Hercules in for marketing purposes. I’m honestly not sure it could be a worse film. Or that any other 2014 film could be worse. So it looks like I got my worst movie of the year out of the way early. Hopefully the other Hercules production later this year (starring The Rock!) will be better.

Grade: D-

I also happened to catch Mark Wahlberg in Lone Survivor this week, but seeing as that movie counts towards last year, I’m leaving it out of this post. Hercules was pretty bad and I think it will stay near the bottom of my 2014 rankings; fortunately, Marky Mark evened out the balance this week with his great 2013 performance.

  1. Podcast listeners will know that 3D makes me ill. 
  2. I’m fairly sure this is a far worse adaptation than even Kevin Sorbo’s television Hercules. Or Disney’s animated Hercules. 
  3. The use of a character, object or place and only renaming it. For example, as a RPG game master I need a diverse cast of enemies but I am often limited to a small set of usable monsters with approrpiate game mechanics. So I file off the serial numbers of an orc, removing all the exposition and description that makes it an orc and re-write it as if it were a goblin. I then use the newly minted goblin as an enemy instead even though, through the lens of game mechanics, it’s just an orc. 

You Are Cordially Invited

For the past two years, Charles and I have been building this website and podcast in one form or another. It started as an idea to build a community around thoughtful discussion by merging our two individual blogs.1 Our first attempts continued to stumble. A large part of that failure was on me for not writing. I had been busy running a weekly D&D campaign and just couldn’t sit down to write as frequently (or really at all) as I would have liked.

Nine months ago, Charles and I started recording a podcast. It took us a while to come up with an appropriate name but eventually we landed on Culture Conquistadors. We’ve released two dozen episodes and we’ve almost kept our planned weekly schedule. Last month, we ran out first book club discussion. It was a bit unwieldy, not unlike our first foray into podcasting, but this month (and in the months following), we’re hoping to clean it up and make it an enjoyable read.

This month we’ll be deploying and announcing new features for our website. You’ll notice that we’re leaving behind the blues of Drupal and MiNext and white blandness of an unthemed website to our own Culture Conquistadors theme. We’ve done most of this without much feedback or participation from the audience. Sure we get phone calls from our moms (Hi Mom!) and we have offline discussions with our friends. But we really want to share these adventures with a larger, participatory audience. And so today, Charles and I, the Culture Conquistadors, cordially invite you to join our culture expeditions.

You can register for an account by visiting

We’ve always envisioned the book clubs as a larger discussion between ourselves and our audience. And so starting today, we’ve opened up the comment sections of the book clubs.

  1. These are also on the way back. Including archived material we have backed up.