Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2005: recap

I have now posted my 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 "most anticipated" movie lists. You would think that would be enough, but no. Here is how well I did at predicting the movies to see in 2005.

For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film. As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 80%). The best film of the hit-or-miss Star Wars prequel trilogy. I'm still not a fan of the way George Lucas dumbed down the franchise, or the bluntly dark tone he took at the end of this film, but while they're not in the same league as the original trilogy, the prequels are still plenty entertaining, and this one in particular has some really good action.

2. Batman Begins

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 85%). Not perfect, mind you, but director Christopher Nolan's take on Batman is still the best to date.

3. King Kong

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 84%). This got great reviews, but I didn't think it quite lived up to the hype. It was entertaining, but not as memorable as it should have been. Maybe the 1933 version still works best because this is a story that was written around the visual effects that were possible at that time; adding CGI is overkill. Watch this 2005 version if you get the chance, but more importantly watch the original, which will never be topped.

4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 76%). I actually find this C.S. Lewis story rather ham-handed. (The man was no Tolkien.) But the performances were charming and the digital effects brilliant. the next two films in the series were also good, but never quite reached the heights this one did.

5. Fantastic Four

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 27%). No, no, no, no, no. This is the superhero team that changed comic books in the 1960s with three-dimensional characters and some of the freshest, most fascinating sci-fi stories ever told. You can't do this to them. What should have been on my list: Serenity (Tomatometer 81%). This is how an ensemble is done. When cult favorite TV show Firefly was cancelled prematurely, creator Joss Whedon made this movie to wrap up the loose ends - and go out in style.

6. War of the Worlds

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 74%). Sigh. Alien invasions used to be so much more fun. What should have been on my list: Kung Fu Hustle (Tomatometer 90%). Because sure, why not? Everybody loves kung fu!!!

7. Sin City

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 78%). Based on a comic book, this series of loosely connected, gritty crime stories is a comic book come to life in breathtaking visual style.

8. Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 58%). Take Angelina Jolie, add a few memorable lines and some rudimentary action, and you have something I'll watch.

9. The Island

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 40%). Take Scarlett Johansson, add... Wait, that's it? Never mind. What should have been on my list: Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (Tomatometer 85%). This martial arts adventure movie from Thailand was every kind of awesome.

10. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 84%). This only made my list because I had a slight man-crush on Robert Downey, Jr. and I'd been waiting for Val Kilmer to make another memorable movie since Tombstone. It was less splody than I thought it would be, but absolutely thrilling and wickedly funny in a twisted kind of way. I now have a big man-crush on Downey and I'm waiting for Kilmer to make another memorable movie since Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Final tally for my 2009 predictions: six winners, three losers and one that was just so-so. (65%)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2006: recap

I have already posted my 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 "most anticipated" movie lists. Here is how well I did at predicting the movies to see in 2006. (For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film.) As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. X-Men: The Last Stand

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 57%). The loss of original series director Bryan Singer for the last installment of the trilogy was a major blow. All of the action remains, but without the emotional center that kept the two prior films from being ridiculous. This is the biggest let-down in superhero movie history. What should have been on my listPan's Labyrinth (Tomatometer 95%). This Spanish-language, surrealistic nightmare fantasy from director Guillermo del Toro was both creepy and beautiful, and I found it fascinating.

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 54%). After a priceless first outing, this franchise has lost its luster. This isn't a terrible movie, and there are some really good parts to it - especially the new Davy Jones character - but overall it's disappointing.

3. Superman Returns

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 76%). I have a love-hate relationship with Superman and his movies. Here it was mostly hate. Bryan "I-left-the-superhero-franchise-i-was-good-at-to-make-this-drivel" Singer gives us a boring, depressing version of the superest of all superheroes, and the poor plot and outright stupid subplots don't help. Critics may have liked the moodier, artsier take on the character, but any true Superman fan will hate this as much as the Superman III and IV. What should have been on my listChildren of Men (Tomatometer 93%). This is a film where gray and depressing worked, a story about living in a dystopian future England.

4. Casino Royale

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 94%). Daniel Craig's first go as James Bond is grittier than we've ever seen the franchise be before - perhaps as a reaction to the Bourne series - and I liked it. the story was good, the acting was great and the action was spectacular.

5. The Departed

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 93%). Martin Scorsese once again proves his mettle with this intense crime drama. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio give great performances as undercover gangster and cop, respectively.

6. V for Vendetta

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 73%). I really didn't know what I was getting with this, just that it looked intriguing. What I got was a fascinating story about strange freedom fighters in a dystopian future England (a popular theme in 2006, apparently) that kept twisting and turning in unexpected and fairly brutal ways.

7. Mission: Impossible III

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 70%). The action was pretty good, but at this point in the Tom Cruise-led spy series, I still hadn't seen anything that I would want to see again.

8. Miami Vice

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 47%). Poor Tubbs rolled over in his grave. What should have been on my listThe Prestige  (Tomatometer 76%). As of early 2012, this is my least favorite Christopher Nolan film - but that just shows how good the director is. This tale of competitive magicians is slow in places, but also has some real shockers.

9. Snakes on a Plane

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 68%). OK, the marketing got me on this one. Luckily, I didn't pay to see it. It boiled down to a great title and one really good line from Samuel L. Jackson. What should have been on my listSlither  (Tomatometer 85%). An underappreciated b-movie horror starring cult-favorite Nathan Fillion and something scarier than snakes on a plane.

10. Crank

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 61%). The premise here is great: a man is injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate slows down - which leads to non-stop, adrenaline inducing action. The execution doesn't always work, but it's still an entertaining ride and worth watching at least once for the pure ridiculous energy.

Final tally for my 2006 predictions: three winners, four losers and three that were just so-so. (45%)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2007: recap

I have already posted my 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 "most anticipated" movie lists. Continuing to work my way backwards through my notes, here are my predictions from 2007. Note that unlike later years, through 2007 I was only doing "top ten" lists, not "top dozen" ones.

For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film. As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. Transformers

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 57%). Yes, the story would have been better, but this is the only film of the franchise that has at least been passable in the script department. And with giant, shape-shifting alien robots battling, what else do you need?

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 45%). The first PotC movie was great, the second was passable and this one was just frustratingly poor. What should have been on my list: 3:10 to Yuma (Tomatometer 88%). This was a pretty enjoyable western with great performances by Russel Crowe and Christian Bale.

3. Spider-Man 3

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 63%). half of t6his movie matched the first two installments in action and thrills. Unfortunately, the other half was a parody of itself, killing what had been an enjoyable series.

4. 300

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 59%). This got mixed reviews, but if you're an action movie fan, you can ignore the naysayers. It was visually breathtaking and full of enough action and memorable moments to make you overlook the rather thin story.

5. The Bourne Ultimatum

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 94%). All three of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne movies were incredible - the best spy series since Sean Connery's James Bond movies. This final chapter is probably the best of the trilogy.

6. No Country for Old Men

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 95%). The Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) have made some amazing movies (Fargo) as well as some stinkers (Burn After Reading). Count this at-times-funny, at-times-bloody thriller in the former group.

 7. Hot Fuzz

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 91%). The team that gave us Shaun of the Dead - Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright - brings us another action/comedy gem, this time about a British cop who gets more than he bargained for when he transfers to a small town.
 
8. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 37%). To be honest, I didn't have much hope for this one since the original had been so bad, but I thought there was an outside chance it would improve - after all, the Silver Surfer is awesomely cool. But no, it didn't. What should have been on my listLive Free or Die Hard (Tomatometer 82%). The Die Hard franchise should have been played out by now, but this fourth film was the best since the original, good shoot-'em-up entertainment.

9. I Am Legend

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 69%). I repeat: I love Will Smith. However, his films have gotten too formulaic. Producers need to stop treating him with kid gloves and start taking some chances. This post-zombie-apocalypse movie was kind of cool and could have been a winner, but the ending was spineless, as they did away with the thought-provoking original ending and instead gave it the standard Hollywood treatment. The result was supremely meh. You can see the intended ending on the DVD and it is so much better it hurts. Hollywood has been mulling a sequel for this one; it doesn't deserve it.

10. Ghost Rider

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 26%). Ghost Rider is a super-powered, demonic skeleton who rides a flaming motorcycle to hunt down bad guys. How can you go wrong with that premise? This is how. What should have been on my list: Grindhouse (Tomatometer 83%). The last team-up I saw from directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn, left me cold. This double feature tribute to b-movie, however, was pure pulp magic: a zombie apocalypse feature from Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and a psychotic carsploitation classic from Tarantino (Death Proof), with a some superbly ridiculous fake movie trailers in between (one of which was later turned into an actual film, Machete).

Final tally for my 2007 predictions: 5 winners, 3 losers and 2 movies that were just so-so. (55%)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2008: recap

I have already posted my 2011, 2010 and 2009 "most anticipated" movie lists. And just when you thought it was over, here is how well I did at predicting the movies to see in 2008. (For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film.) As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. The Dark Knight

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 94%). Christopher Nolan showed he knew how to make a good Batman movie with Batman Begins, but it was Heath Ledger's haunting performance as the Joker that made TDK the best Batman movie ever.

2. Iron Man

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 94%). This was my favorite of the year and one of my favorite movies of all time. It perfectly straddled the line: it was fantastic enough to wow us, and down to earth enough for us to connect with it. Robert Downey, Jr. was a big part of the reason: his portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man showed amazing depth and a wicked sense of humor. The cool gadgets and effects didn't hurt either.

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 77%). Yes, it was a sharp drop-off from The Last Crusade, and we could all use a little less Shia LaBeouf in our lives, but the latest Indiana Jones chapter was still tremendously fun to watch.

4. Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 87%). Hellboy was a movie I never thought would get a sequel, but thank goodness it did. Director Guillermo del Toro's bizarre vision and fantastic design made this installment even stranger - and more wonderful - than its predecessor. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy, monster and superhero movies.

5. Quantum of Solace

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 64%). It wasn't terrible, but it was boring compared to Daniel Craig's first James Bond movie, Casino Royale. I watched it, but I really can't remember much about it. Yawn.

6. WALL-E

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 96%). It wasn't quite Pixar's best, but it was close. This little-robot-that-could movie manages to capture and hold your attention with hardly any dialogue - just lovable characters, grand adventure and tremendous animation.

 7. Cloverfield

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 77%). This new take on the giant monster movie makes great use of the "found footage" approach to create a suspenseful and downright thrilling movie.

8. Wanted

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 71%). This movie about high-powered assassins hooked me with Angelina Jolie, but it was James McAvoy who stole the show. This was kind of overlooked when it came out, but definitely worth checking out if you love insane action scenes.

9. The Incredible Hulk

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 66%). This movie was also largely overlooked when it was released - probably because we were all turned off by Ang Lee's touchy-feely take on the Hulk just a couple of years earlier, but it turned out to be the best screen adaptation yet of the famous Green Goliath. The movie skips the typical "origin story" (flashes of it are seen in the opening credits) and launches right into the action - which never stops.

10. Hancock

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 40%). This movie actually starts off with a fairly interesting premise - a self-destructive, unloved superhero gets a P.R. makeover and becomes a true hero. The second half takes it in a completely different direction, though, and falls flat. What should have been on my listTropic Thunder (Tomatometer 83%). This action farce was about a group of actors making a war movie who stumble into a real war. Robert Downey, Jr. and Ben Stiller were especially funny.

11. Speed Racer

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 38%). This live adaptation of the famous kids' cartoon was a visual feast, but the story itself fell flat. What should have been on my listBolt  (Tomatometer 88%). This animated film about a dog who thins he has superpowers turned out to be surprisingly good.

12. Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 19%). Say what you will about the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but at least those films were watchable. This one, a two-hour commercial for the new animated TV show, was not. What should have been on my list: Kung Fu Panda (Tomatometer 88%). Action, comedy and a panda who learns to harness great power. Minus the talking animals, this is what an animated Star Wars film should have been.

Final tally for my 2008 predictions: 8 winners, 3 losers and 1 movie that was just so-so. (71%)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Heavyweight boxing champions 1973-2011

After George Foreman defeated Joe Frazier and claimed the heavyweight title (January 22, 1973), the WBA believed he should next face Apollo Creed, while the WBC believed Muhammad Ali was the top contender. As Ali had already beaten Creed some time before, Foreman chose to face Ali in the now famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight (October 30, 1974). However, the WBA chose not to recognize the bout, and instead awarded its championship to Creed after he beat contender Eddie Roman. Creed then defeated Ali by a close and controversial decision in March 1975 to become the undisputed heavyweight champ.

Creed refused an immediate rematch with Ali, saying that he wanted to fight another challenger first. It turned out to be a misstep, as the WBC withdrew its support of his undisputed championship and vacated the title again. That set up Ali’s famous “Thrilla in Manilla” fight against Frazier, sanctioned by the WBC for the heavyweight crown, which made Ali the only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion in history.

Seeking to repair his public image, Creed, who was Ali’s match in terms of self-promotion, looked for a worthy contender. When a bout with Foreman fell through, he decided to give an underdog fighter a chance at the heavyweight title as a publicity stunt. Creed chose little-known Robert “Rocky” Balboa for the fight, which took place on January 1, 1976. Balboa surprised everyone by going the distance with the champ. Creed won by split decision, but his public image had taken another hit. Creed finally decided to fight Ali, but by that point Ali had decided to retire to promote his faith of Islam*. That set up a rematch with Balboa on Thanksgiving 1976, which Balboa won.

Balboa retained the heavyweight championship for five years, winning ten more bouts along the way. His early title matches featured impressive wins against Leon Spinks, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, John Tate and Mike Weaver, but many felt his final fights in this stretch were lackluster. He was finally beaten by James “Clubber” Lang in August 1981. The following January, Balboa regained the WBA and WBC titles in a rematch with Lang. He was also named the inaugural IBC champion in 1983, but was stripped of all three belts later that year as he chose not to defend them in the ring. Following the death of his friend and one-time foe Apollo Creed in the ring in 1985, Balboa came out of semi-retirement for a Christmas Day 1985 match in Moscow against Ivan Drago (the man who had accidentally killed Creed in that fateful bout) in what many billed the best fight of Balboa’s career. However, he retired again, this time officially, in early 1986 due to concerns about the severity of the concussion he sustained during the Drago fight.

Following Balboa’s reign, there was no consensus champion again until Mike Tyson gained all three belts in 1987. A fourth championship awarding organization, the WBO was founded in 1988 with Union Cane as its first heavyweight title holder, although Mike Tyson was still almost universally acknowledged as the dominant fighter in his class. In January 1989, Tommy "Machine Gun" Morrison defeated Cane for the WBO title and James “Buster” Douglas defeated Tyson for the other three belts. Both champions would lose their titles within a year, however.(Morrison recaptured the WBO title briefly in 1997, but lost it again later that year.)

Tyson would later regain some of the titles, but his late career was marred by criminal convictions and unsavory behavior in the ring, including biting the ear of Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield in a 1997 title fight. Holyfield claimed the IBF, WBA and WBC titles from 1990-1992 and would continue to win championship belts for the next decade. In addition to Tyson and Holyfield, other champions during this time included Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and a resurgent George Foreman, who captured the IBF and WBA titles in 1994 at age 49.

In 2005, Mason "The Line" Dixon became the first boxer in 20 years to hold all of the existing heavyweight titles at once (and the first to simultaneously hold the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO belts). At first, many accused Dixon of lucking into the titles as heavyweight boxing was not what it once was. However, an exhibition match with then 59-year-old former champ Rocky Balboa in February 2006 changed that perception. Dixon beat Balboa by split decision in what turned out to be a true test of character. The champ injured his hand early in the fight, and still managed to beat Balboa who proved to be in exceptional shape.

Dixon remained the undisputed champion until February 2008, when the IBF and WBO awarded the title to Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko. As of early 2012, Klitschko still retains those titles, while his brother Vitali Klitschko has taken the WBC belt and Russian Alexander Povetkin is the WBA champion.




* Note: while Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, it is not believed that this factored into his decision at the time of his retirement. Ali famously stayed in fighting shape during his early retirement, and in the spring of 1978, he agreed to return for an exhibition against Superman, which he handily won.