HyperZone (1991 - SNES)

I played through the American, European, and Japanese versions of HyperZone, and beat the American version without dying for the first time ever. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot to this early SNES rail shooter. It lacks depth and challenge, and the final stage is just a boss rehash. And yet, I have to confess I have a soft spot for it. It was an experiment in 3D technology that didn't get fully-realized, and what we ended up with was a Super NES Mode 7 graphics and sound chip demo. But as far as that goes, it's at least a very fantastically-sounding and colorful little tech demo. If Hal released it today, they could call it "art" and everyone would fawn over it.

Though it's not a "must-play" game, if you're at all interested, it wouldn't hurt to give it a whirl on an emulator sometime, or even on an actual SNES console if you manage to find a working cartridge for cheap.
Rating: 2.5/5

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002 - DVD)

I might be lowering my standards in giving this movie my recommendation, but you know what? I've seen it almost 3 times, and I still laughed at quite a few parts, especially towards the end when Austin and Mini-Me team up together. It has a lot of memorable lines ("I'm from Holland, isn't that weird?"), and I dare say it's my favorite of the three Austin Powers movies. True that it has more bathroom and male body part humor than I normally care for, but there's enough else going on to keep my mind off of it. Michael Caine as Austin's father couldn't be more perfect and he has some of the funniest lines in the film.

There are some great musical numbers, too, including a remix of "That's the Way" and "Shake Your Booty" with new lyrics performed by Beyonce Knowles. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't really have enough for her character to do after her big introduction scene, and that's actually part of a bigger problem: there are so many characters in this series now (including old standbys like Number 2, Frau Farbissina, and Scott Evil, and new ones like Goldmember) that there isn't a lot of time devoted to all of them. But even so, the movie does have its funny parts and a great visual style, too. So, yeah (baby, yeah).
Rating: 3.5/5

Avatar (2009 - Theater)

Avatar is a movie that really racks my brain. If I were to recommend seeing it, it would mostly be for the 3D effects and the gorgeous, lush alien environments, which are fantastic almost beyond words. However, for as groundbreaking as it is in the visual department, I just wish that the story wasn't something I feel like I've seen so many times before (Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai come to mind). If it means anything, Avatar does this plot very well and with prettier visuals than any other version of the tale you're likely to see, but the feelings of deja vu I felt were undeniable (I knew from the moment the movie began that there would be an "I trusted you!!" scene and sure enough, it hits that mark on the nose). As I expected, it's another "nature vs. technology" yarn that doesn't offer realistic alternatives. Sigourney Weaver is great as always, though.

One thing I should mention is that I saw the Special Edition, and from discussing this on message boards, it sounds like some scenes had been cut from the original version that caused the story to make less sense. So if you want to see it, I say skip the DVD for now and see the Special Edition in theaters, if possible.
Rating: 3.5/5

Big Fish (2003 - DVD)

I originally saw this movie in theaters years ago, and I'm afraid I've become a much more cynical person since then. The first time around, I was mesmerized by the fantasy/adventure portions of the film. On this viewing, I found it much too easy to side with Edward Bloom's son - the one character who thinks differently from everyone else, and has to be proven "wrong" by the ending. And does the ending make any sense? If all those things really happened, then why did none of those people turn up in Edward Bloom's life again until his funeral? If Spectre and Calloway's Circus were real, why did he never take his son to see them? Edward's whole attitude comes across to me as, "I was never there for my son, and I don't believe he deserves to know the truth about anything, but I was a GREAT person to everyone else I met in my life, so that completely makes everything okay", and the movie glorifies that!

I still think the adventure scenes work to a point, but they definitely need a framework to support them, and I don't like the one they've been put into. Even ignoring my complaints about the morality, it's just no fun watching Albert Finney slowly die and I could feel my subconscious screaming, "Just get to the damn flashbacks already!"
Rating: 2.5/5

Dragonslayer (1981 - DVD)

Dragonslayer is basically Shirley Jackson's The Lottery with a dragon thrown in. It's okay to a point, but there are some problems that keep it from being as awesome as a movie about dragonslaying should be, not least of which is the ridiculous ending, which would go on my list of "Top Movie WTF Moments" if I ever made one. It's also unfortunate that some of the special effects look dated. The dragon looks best when they use the full-scale model, but the go-motion used to make it walk and fly around, and the green "outlines" around the actors when they're superimposed into scenes with it, stand out like a blue tomato. The swordfighting scenes seem to lack energy, although there is a shocking amount of gore (especially for a Disney film), including a scene where a recently-deceased corpse's feet are chewed off.

On a side note, you can tell whoever made this movie didn't think very highly of Christianity. First a priest (played by Ian McDiarmid before he was Emperor Palpatine) is killed when he boldly confronts the dragon thinking it's Satan, and then another priest credits the dragon's defeat to God instead of to the "pagan" wizard who lost his life fighting it. Overall, not bad if you want to watch a medieval fantasy movie with a killer dragon, but it could have been so much more.
Rating: 2.5/5

Goodfellas (1990 - DVD)

Goodfellas is one of the few movies that's almost 2-1/2 hours long and deserves every minute it's up on the screen. It's an entrancing, unfolding tale of Henry Hill's life in the mafia. As Henry moves up through the ranks of organized crime, his boundaries dissolve and the audience is invited to experience the high life of the mob in all its splendor and glory. But almost as soon as he hits the top, his life begins to slowly crumble and fall apart as the darker side of mafia lifestyle reveals itself, some of which is brought on by loose cannon Tommy (played by Joe Pesci in an Academy Award-winning performance) who kills a "made man" during a heated argument. Eventually Henry hits rock bottom after his drug smuggling business is busted by the feds, and his only other friend in the organization at this point is whacking people left and right, with him possibly being next. The downward spiral he experiences is more terrifying than some horror movies I've seen.

Every step of the way of Henry's journey, he's letting us in on this secret underground world, so real because much of the movie is based on actual events, and the astounding camera work puts us right in where the action is. Truly one of the last great American dramas ever made.
Rating: 5/5



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