Friday, June 5, 2015

Reviews: Some Recent Films

The Falling (Carol Morley, 2014)
When one of the pupils in a late-1960s all-girls school suddenly drops dead, her best friend starts displaying the same symptoms, her classmates following suit.  Are they sick?  Cursed?  Faking it?  Or is it all in their heads?  This bewitching exploration of teenaged sexuality provides no easy answers to these questions; however, for my part, I would actually have prefered it to be more ambiguous, as I felt the solution too heavily implied, perhaps due to the amount of coverage of Morley's research into mass hysteria.  Still, if you've ever wondered what would happen if Girl, Interrupted met The Devils, this is the film for you.  It's beautifully shot, edited, and sound designed, and the big revelation will leave you stunned.

A Royal Night Out (Julian Jarrold, 2015)

It's VE Day, and all of Britain has taken to the streets to celebrate.  All, that is, except for the royal family.  When Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret finally convince their father to let them go out incognito, it looks like they're in for a dull evening with some stuffy old courtiers, but then Margaret runs off, and it's up to Elizabeth, aided by an AWOL airman, to find her before she causes a scandal.  A cute little film that would have perhaps been better suited to television, A Royal Night Out was filled with a lot more humour than I expected it to be.  I had trouble, though, suspending disbelief for this mostly-made up tale (a recent Channel 4 documentary on the real royal night out suggests that their evening was far tamer); while Princess Margaret's characterisation was wholly believable, it was hard to imagine the Queen as a young princess.

Mad Max:  Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
When Furiosa, one of the Citadel's most respected tanker drivers, helps the warlord's favourite "brides" run away, it provides the perfect opportunity for Max to escape.  Circumstances bring them together, and Max and Furiosa team up to race across the desert and bring the girls to safety.  A pace that never lets up, strong characterisation, and the effects--mostly done practically, not by CGI--look AMAZING.  You could level the criticism that, for a Mad Max movie, it really isn't about Mad Max, and so why didn't Miller just make a post-apolcalyptic movie about freeing sex slaves?  However, Fury Road delivers a message about female empowerment and liberation that really shouldn't be causing all the controversy it has (Empowered women in an action movie?? Oh, the humanity!).  But don't worry, meninists, there are so many explosions you'll hardly notice the feminism.  It will just seep into your tiny little brains while you're watching shit blow up, and, who knows, in a few hours time you might actually feel like treating women a little bit more like actual human beings. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

While cleaning up a Hydra cell, the Scarlet Witch, a totally-not-mutant-you-heard-that-20th-Century-Fox? who can do pretty much whatever the script requires her to, puts some bad dreams in Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man)'s head.  So he and Bruce Banner (Hulk's non-green alter ego) decide to use the magic thingy out of Loki's staff to create an A.I., Ultron, that will defend the earth from alien attack, achieving, as Tony puts it, 'peace in our time.'

Now, had Steve Rodgers (Captain America) come into the room at that very moment, this would have been a much shorter film.  Anyway, Tony's project has a similar effect to Neville Chamberland's surrender of the Sudetenland:  aided by his sidekicks Scarlet Witch and her twin brother, Quicksilver, who, despite having the exact same name and ablilities, is totally not the same one from the X-Men, Ultron sets about bringing down his creator and destroying humanity, all the while evolving himself into his ultimate form.  Only the Avengers can bring Ultron down, but that's not an easy task, as they're at odds and on the run (thanks to Hulk's uncontrolled smashing).

Now, I've seen people whinging on social media about how Age of Ultron wasn't as fun as the first Avengers movie, and yes, I would have to agree in a way.  But what Ultron lacks in playfulness, it make up for in maturity, not unlike The Emperor Strikes Back or The Godfather Part IIUltron is a lot darker, but also a lot deeper.  In creating Ultron, Tony plays God not unlike another well-known fictional scientist, and, like Dr Frankenstein, his creation also turns on him.  Meanwhile, Bruce's Jekyll-and-Hyde-like dualism is further explored, as, on the one hand, his relationship with Natasha (Black Widdow) makes him more human, but, on the other, he finds it increasingly difficult to come back from his Hulk state.  Futhermore, Ultron rectifies the first film's under-use of Hawkeye in allowing us a greater look into Clint Barton's private life. 

Age of Ultron provides some great cameo moments, bringing in characters from the Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor franchises, plus S.H.I.E.L.D. favourites like Nick Fury and Maria Hill.  But where were Pepper and Jane?  And it didn't seem like Cap and Thor were given very much to do (perhaps understandable, as they've got their own movies coming up).  Anyway, there were some nice character moments showing just how much the Avengers have bonded as a team, including a great sequence when they all try to lift Thor's hammer, which is brilliantly funny with an even better payoff later in the film. 

I just wish Marvel would realise that there are other ways to end a film other than destroying a city.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Round-Up

Recently I've unlocked the geek achievement of having watched all the Star Trek films.  Here's a round up of all twelve--which ones are classics, and which ones you should avoid like The Borg.

Note:  the number in brackets is my ranking.

The Original Series

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Robert Wise, 1979 [7]
Several years after the end of the television series, the now Admiral Kirk takes command of a newly refurbished Enterprise and goes after a mysterious entity known as V'ger that's threatening the planet.  Not quite as awful as its reputation suggests.  If you stripped away all the extraneous special effects (which do look great), you'd have a perfectly workable episode of the TV series... about 50 minutes out of a 2+ hour movie.

Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, Nicholas Meyer, 1982 [1]
The second instalment of the movie franchise sees the return of a villain from the TV show's first season, the super-human Khan, who's hell bent on revenge.  Kirk and crew have to stop him from using the Genesis Device, a life-creating machine invented by the ex-Mrs. Kirk and her son, as a weapon of mass destruction.  Not only is the plot more focused than in TMP, but Kirk finally has to face up to the consequences of some of the total ass-pull moves he made earlier in his career, consequences that have deadly results for his closest friend.  Said death is the most poignant and tear-jerking in all of Star Trek.

Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock, Leonard Nimoy, 1984 [9]
My attempts to avoid spoilers in the previous synopsis have clearly failed.  Spock is still out there somewhere, so Kirk et al steal the Enterprise to go find him.  Although it does bring Spock back in a satisfactory manner, the film suffers from a lower budget and Nimoy's first-time direction.

Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home, Leonard Nimoy, 1986 [5]
On their way back to face court-martial for stealing (and subsequently blowing up) the Enterprise, Kirk and crew find the Earth being threatened by some space whales, so naturally they have to travel back in time to present-day Earth to rescue a pair of humpbacks.   Yep.  While not quite as charming as, say, "The Trouble with Tribbles", TVH manages to capture the campy fun of the 60s series.

Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier, William Shatner, 1989 [12]
Spock's illogical half-brother steals the Enterprise to go look for God.  Apart from some nice character moments (and so much Ho Yay!), this is pretty awful.  Whose idea was it to let Shatner direct?

Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country, Nicholas Meyer, 1991 [2]
On the eve of the Klingon's entry into the Federation, Kirk and McCoy are accused of assassinating their High Chancellor, and the crew must prove them innocent.  Better direction, better effects (featuring impressive morphs from a shape-shifting Iman), and a solid story, TUC is easily one of the best in the Star Trek film franchise.

The Next Generation

Star Trek:  Generations, David Carson, 1994 [11]
Captain Picard teams up with the thought-to-be long-dead Captain Kirk to defeat this guy who's destroying planets basically just so he can go to his happy place.  While the story wouldn't have made a bad episode of TNG, the addition of Kirk was unnecessary, making his death even more pointless than Lt. Yar's.

Star Trek:  First Contact, Jonathan Frakes, 1996 [4]
The Enterprise-E (yes, they blew it up again) travels back in time to thwart the Borg Collective's plan to stop humans from achieving warp speed.  Lots of  action, good effects, a bit of humour, and plenty of suspense.  It's a really clever way to let us see the most important moment in Star Trek's backstory.

Star Trek:  Insurrection, Jonathan Frakes, 1998 [6]
Picard and crew go rogue to stop a Federation plot to meddle in the affairs of a peaceful planet.  An intersting concept that plays out fairly well, though the silly campy moments aren't handled as well as in TVH

Star Trek:  Nemesis, Stuart Baird, 2002 [8]
The Romulan clone of Captain Picard seeks revenge on his creators, the Federation, and the Captain himself.  Again, an interesting concept that's entertaining, but I didn't like it because they killed off my all-time favourite Star Trek character for real and didn't even give him a funeral.

The Reboot

Star Trek, J. J. Abrams, 2009 [3]
Young Jim Kirk and co. have to stop a vengeful Romulan who's traveled back from the future and messed up the timelines.  Wonderful nods to TOS, great performances (especially from Zachary Quinto as he explores Spock's contradictory half-human half-Vulcan nature), and a perfect way to reboot the franchise while keeping everything from the originals canon.

Star Trek:  Into Darkness, J. J. Abrams, 2013 [10]
Kirk and the Enterprise crew must stop Benedict Khanberbatch from wrecking destruction across the galaxay.  References to TOS seem a bit more forced this time around, plus it continues to draw out the 'how Kirk became Kirk' angle instead of just letting him be Captain Kirk.  Really, it's just a shoddy remake of Wrath of Khan.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reviews: The Films of 2014

2014 has been, well, quite a ride, to put it charitably.  Here's a look back at the films I've seen this year, reviewed and ranked from best to worst.

1.  The Lego Movie

Ordinary Lego figure Emmet gets mistaken for a Master Builder and has to stop Lord Business from destroying the universe with the Kragle.  Full of in-jokes, cameos, and heartwarming moments, The Lego Movie was the most fun I've had at the cinema in years.  Yes, the message of "don't follow the rules" does seem a bit incongruous coming from a massive corporation like Lego, but the story delivers it well.  Everything is awesome!

2.  Guardians of the Galaxy

Peter "Starlord" Quill teams up with Gamora, a deadly daughter of the god-like super-villain Thanos, the muscular, literal Drax, badass talking raccoon Rocket, and a sort-of talking ("I am Groot") tree to stop the genocidal Ronan from getting an Infinity Gem and destroying the universe.  My first reaction was "What was Stan Lee smoking?", but Guardians of the Galaxy was the kind of summer blockbuster we haven't seen for a long time.  It's got well developed characters and plot, humor, exciting action, looked amazing, and has a soundtrack full of awesomely cheesy 70s pop.  Proof, perhaps, that the comic book movie is far from becoming stale.  

3.  Paddington

Marmalade-obsessed talking bear from Deepest, Darkest Peru Paddington arrives in London looking for an old friend of his aunt and uncle's, gets taken in by the Browns, and, after they save him from an evil taxidermist, becomes part of their family.  Imaginatively directed by Paul King (who directed The Mighty Boosh on stage and TV), the film does justice to the beloved children's stories by Michael Bond:  it's funny, heartwarming, and gives a much needed reminder to British audiences about how you should treat the people who choose to come live in your country.  The one drawback is that the two villains, the Browns's racist neighbor and the unhinged taxidermist, were a bit over the top; their motivations didn't seem very believable.

4.  Captain America:  The Winter Solider

Someone within S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to kill Nick Fury, so, with no one they can trust, Captain America and Black Widow team up to stop them and the mysterious Winter Soldier.  Great action, solid story with a lot of intrigue and suspense.  I think Hydra have become my favorite Marvel villain (and meme).  There's a lot that can be done with Steve Rogers as a concept and a character, and that's perhaps why the Captain America franchise is the best one in the Avengers universe.

5.  X-Men:  Days of Future Past

Wolverine travels back in time to the 70s to get Magneto and Professor X back together to stop Mystique from setting in motion the chain of events that will lead to the future annihilation of mutants and humans alike.  Highly entertaining with engaging action sequences, loads of laughs, and appearances from beloved characters we haven't see for a while.  Sadly falls back on an overblown, slightly implausible final battle, but still holds exciting prospects for a reboot of the X-Men franchise.

6.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay, Part 1

Lead by the militaristic and previously thought destroyed District 13, the people of Panem rebel against the Capitol.  Katniss is roped in as a propaganda tool to rally the nation; meanwhile, Peeta, captured after a daring escape at the last Hunger Games, is being tortured by President Snow.  As with the previous two Hunger Games films, Katniss's world is brought excellently to life, fleshing out the bits we don't see (but wanted to) in the books, and subtly showing us that which Suzanne Collins bluntly tells us.  Unfortunately, Mockingjay was the weakest of the trilogy, and, as with many book adaptations that have been split into two or more parts, it does not give a proper sense of ending.  

7.  The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies

Smaug attacks Laketown, Thorin Oakenshield lusts for power, and then Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Orcs all fight each other.  There is a lot of criticism to levy against Peter Jackson for trying to make less than 1/3 of The Hobbit into a feature length film that I won't go into here but that can be summed up as such:  amid the (needlessly) extended action sequences, material nicked from The Silmarillion, and made-up Elven girls, Jackson appears to have forgotten that the main character is, in fact, Bilbo Baggins.  Still, The Desolation of Smaug lowered my expectations so much that I was able to get some enjoyment out of the battle scenes.

8.  Muppets Most Wanted

Kermit gets mistaken for the world's most wanted frog, who uses the Muppets' European tour to pull off the ultimate heist.  The movie opened with the brilliant musical number "We're Doing a Sequel", which was about how sequels are never as good as the original.  Sadly, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Aside from some good jokes and the wonderful double act between CIA agent Sam the Eagle and his "European" counterpart from Interpol, it just didn't live up to the promise of The Muppets.  The story was a bit weak, and Walter is starting to get (even more) annoying.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Who Is Missy?

Ah, yes. The mysterious woman who keeps popping up at the end of this series's Doctor Who episodes, welcoming those who have fallen in the Doctor's wake to the afterlife.  Obviously, she's being set up to be the big bad, but just who is she?  And is it really heaven?

What follows is rife speculation on the identity of the mysterious Missy.

God.  I mean, it is the afterlife, and all.  Supporting this is that, when the cop who died in 'The Caretaker' looks out the window, he says 'My God.' We then cut to a quick shot of Missy crossing a hallway, and Oliver Reeder says something to the effect of  'She's busy today', which suggests that she is meant to be some kind of god--whether the big G Herself or just the god of death/the underword, we'll have to see.

The Devil.  There's really only two other ways the above scene could play out.  If Missy isn't in charge of actual heaven, there's always the other place.  So what's she doing collecting all the perfectly innocent who've died around the Doctor?  Creating his own personal hell, maybe? Or....

Nicola Murray. The worst DoSAC secretary the goverment has ever seen (maybe she's aged/had plastic surgery/is secretly a Time Lady?) and Oliver team up spectacularly to get their revenge on Malcom Tucker. I mean, the Doctor does keep wondering where he's seen his face before....

River Song. Can we really be sure we've seen all of her regenerations? We know that she and the Doctor have a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey relationship, so maybe Missy is a past incarnation of Melody Pond out to ensnare the Doctor. I mean, she does call him her boyfriend after all.  And why do we assume that this afterlife is a physical place?  Mightn't it be a giant library database? And as to why she has a different face if this is after River died, well, wibbly-wobbly bullshitty-wullshitty.

Another 'Psychopathic' Woman with a Love/Hate Relationship to the Doctor Who Is Basically River Song.  You know, just like the one in 'The Time of the Doctor'.  I mean, Moffat's been pretty good this series about not using his worn out crap (or, at least, if using it, using it in fresh ways), so we're due a let down sooner or later.

The TARDIS. In this case, Missy would be an interface for the time-and-space machine, collecting souls/memories of all the people for who knows what reason.  Storing up faces for the Doctor to use in future regenerations, maybe? Moffat has said this season we'll get to find out why the Doctor looks an awful lot like a couple of guys we've seen already in the Whoniverse.  Although I don't particularly care for this one, it's got two things going for it.  A) The TARDIS pretty much is the Doctor's girlfriend, and B) storing dead people in the TARDIS memory banks actually makes sense.

The Rani.  We've had Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Davros, Silurians, Ice Warriors.  What classic villains are left? No, not the Zarbi! The evil genious Time Lady who's the Doctor's old school friend (the other one) turned... um... third? most important arch nemesis!

Another Random Time Lady. Ever since the show came back in 2005 people have been crying for the return of Romana/Susan/Flavia/Iris Wildethyme, etc.  Heck, who says Missy even has to be a formerly female character? She could be the Monk, the War Chief, Omega, or even....

The Valeyard.  Yes, the evil version of the Doctor that's supposed to spin off between his 12th and 13th regeneration.  Peter Capadli is the 12th Doctor, but thanks to Handy (a.k.a. Metacrisis Doctor), he's the Doctor's 13th regeneration.  So... IT IS TIME.  WHERE IS THE VALEYARD, MOFFAT?? WHERE IS HE/SHE???

All this is rather interesting, but there's one rather obvious answer that I've saved for last.  If feel that, quite probably, Missy is....

The Master.

If you look at it, it's pretty obvious.

First of all, we haven't seen the Master since 'The End of Time Part 2'.  Moffat's due a Master story.

Second, gathering up people who've died in the Doctor's name, probably to torment him? Sounds like a Master-ish thing to do.

Third, she's wearing all black, or at least dark colours.

Fourth, she calls him her boyfriend.  I mean, have you not seen that phone conversation in 'The Sound of Drums'? I mean, the Master's always trying to get the Doctor's attention, so why wouldn't he have been like, 'Well, if you like your Earth girls so much... *goes all glowy*'

Fifth, a female Master would be a good way to open people up to the possibility of a female Doctor in the futre.

But finally...


I mean, it does rather stare you in the face, once you realise.

Personally, I think a female Master would be brilliant.  And if she's not brilliant, at least she couldn't possibly be as bad as when she was American.
Sweet Jesus, no, please no.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

 It's about 10 years in the future, and evil robots are killing both mutant and human alike.  So Wolverine gets sent back to the 70s to try to stop Mystique from killing the robots' inventor, Tyrion Lannister, because a) this causes the humans to fear mutants even more, and b) she gets captured, experimented on and her DNA used to make the robots invincible.  There's a catch, though:  to get to Mystique, Wolverine has to get Professor X and Magneto talking to each other again.  This is far from an easy task, as not only is the enmity between them strongest, but Magneto's in a high-security metal-free cell beneath the Pentagon for his involvment in the Kennedy assassination, and Xavier has forsaken his powers because 'Nam's such a bummer, man.

Like all the X-Men movies, Days of Future Past delivers highly engaging action sequences and loads of laughs, especially since time travel creates situations where we can laugh at people in the past's lack of knowledge of things to come.  (My favorite--Beast's monitoring system for 'all three networks--and PBS!')  And it was great to see so many of the characters we haven't seen since the last proper X-Men movie--Kitty Pride, Storm, Iceman, and the older Xavier and Magneto, and a few cameos that were awesome but way too spoilery to mention here.  It was a bit of a shame that some of less familiar mutants introduced in First Class were missing--they got drafted or worse--but at least we got to meet Quicksilver as a teenager straight out of That 70s Show. The sequence where he helps break Magento out of jail is brilliant.

The highlight of the film, though (aside from Hugh Jackman's rear or Jennifer Lawrence in blue paint--take your pick) is young Xavier's struggle to become the man we all know he'll be.  Massively depressed due to the closing of the school (students and teachers alike were being drafted in too great numbers), feeling betrayed by Mystique and Magneto, and unable to use his powers due to the cure for his paralysis, Xavier seems to have turned into a drunken selfish dickbag.  But we come to realise that what he really has to overcome is fear--fear of all the pain and suffering his powers expose him to.  There is a wonderfully heartwarming moment when young Charles meets older Professor X.  The only way the scene could have been better would be had Professor X told him to 'make it so.'

One thing that annoyed me about the Days of Future Past is what also bothered me about Wolverine:  Origins and First Class:  the massive slightly implausible battle at the end.  Now, all the X-Men movies have one, but in the past setting, they seem even harder to swallow.  It's a big leap of faith to believe mutants caused the Three Mile Island disaster or were involved in the Cuban Missle Crisis.  This time, it's even more bizarre, involving a baseball stadium and the White House.

The other thing I thought could be better was more time with young Xavier and Magneto working together.  X-Men 2 is still my favorite because I love it when they have to team up.  After the break-out, I was hoping to see this, but their time working as a team is shortlived, though, and soon Magneto is back to doing Magneto things.

Other than that, X-Men:  Days of Future Past is 2+ hours (was it really that long?) of solid entertainment.  And it's got pretty exciting prospects for the future of the X-Men franchise.  Without saying too much, the end basically reboots the entire universe.  Which means two things.  First of all, with no future continuity to worry about, we can see more of the retro origin story type films.  Second, with things changed, it means there's a whole new set of present X-Men stories to explore, especially given the reappearance at the very end of some much loved characters.

Imagine if The Last Stand never happened.  Beautiful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review Round-Up

It occurs to me that it's been well over a year since I've written a movie review. Since I've seen 10 movies (theatrically) in that time, that sounds like the perfect number for a round-up of brief reviews.

Iron Man 3
Tony Stark experiences PTSD from the events of The Avengers as he goes up against the Mandarin.  Although the final battle was a bit over-long, this is perhaps my favorite of the Iron Man franchise.  It retains the levels of sarcastic Tony we saw in the previous Avengers universe film, which some people thought detracting, but which I thought the first two Iron Man films could have done with more of.  And the twist with the Mandarin, though not entirely unpredictable, was still hilarious and brilliant.

Star Trek Into Darkness
J. J. Abrams remakes Wrath of Khan with younger, prettier actors (Cumberbatch!!!).  Into Darkness follows up 2009's Star Trek by showing us more of how Kirk became Captain Kirk, instead of just letting him be Captain Kirk.  Plus, references to TOS seem a bit more forced this time around, and Uhura is reduced to having "relationship problems" with Spock.  It just wasn't any good.

The World's End
Five guys return to their home town to complete a pub crawl from their youth, only something's not quite right....  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright team up once again to make one of their comedy homages, this time to science fiction films, particularly Invasion of the Body SnatchersWith some familiar faces (Nick Frost plays the straight man this time around), they deliver entertainment and laughs.  It's good, but just not up to the levels of excellence of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which became even more apparent if, like me, you saw it in a Three Flavors of Cornetto screening. 

The Wolverine
Logan vows to protect the granddaughter of a Japanese soldier who saved his life, but there's something more sinister going on... something that might just make him mortal after all.  The Wolverine was quite unambitious, but that works in its favor.  It wasn't great, but it wasn't awful either, and delivered some solid entertainment and, apart from some obligatory Mecha, good action.

Sunshine on Leith
Two Scottish soldiers return from Afghanistan to face the complicated world of family, relationships, and... music!!  Set to the songs of the Proclaimers, Sunshine on Leith is the Scottish (filmed on location in Edinburgh and supported by Creative Scotland) musical that blows Brigadoon off the map.  It blends the working-class milieu of social realism with the musical in a way that shouldn't work, but totally does.  Vocal performances were good all around--yes, even Peter Mullan's.  And who knew the Reid twins wrote something other than "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"!

Thor:  The Dark World
A bunch of Elves led by the 9th Doctor are coming back, and apparently their threat to not just Norway but all the realms is so great that Thor must team up with Loki to stop them.  It's certainly much better directed than the previous Thor movie--the action was better, the plot made a bit more sense, and the moments of humor seemed more appropriate--but it's still a Thor movie.  But on the plus side, it did have some great bromance bits between the two Asgardian brothers, some wonderful moments for Tom Hiddleston to do some proper acting, and a scene with Chris Hemsworth shirtless.

The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug
The bits from The Hobbit in between when they escape the Orcs in the Misty Mountains and when they run afoul of Smaug.  More so than An Unexpected Journey, Desolation of Smaug is really suffering from Peter Jackson's decision to split the book into three films.  Whereas Part 1 padded things out with character development and world building, Part 2 went with extended action sequences that felt really unnecessary.  As there isn't really much left from the book, I dread to see what Part 3 will have to offer.  Although I don't mind too much the material taken from The Silmarillion, it's the original stuff I don't much care for.  As a character, Tauriel was okay, but The Hobbit is already a great story; it doesn't need a superfluous romance.

The Lego Movie
Ordinary Lego figure Emmet gets mistaken for a Master Builder and has to stop President Business from destroying the world with the Kragle.  Full of in-jokes, cameos, and heartwarming moments, The Lego Movie was the most fun I've had at the cinema in years.  Yes, the message of "don't follow the rules" does seem a bit incongruous coming from a massive corporation like Lego, but the story delivers it well.  Everything is awesome!

Muppets Most Wanted
Kermit gets mistaken for the world's most wanted frog, who uses the Muppets' European tour to pull off the ultimate heist.  The movie opened with the brilliant musical number "We're Doing a Sequel", which was about how sequels are never as good as the original.  Sadly, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Aside from some good jokes and the wonderful double act between CIA agent Sam the Eagle and his "European" counterpart from Interpol, it just didn't live up to the promise of The Muppets.  The story was a bit weak, and Walter is starting to get (even more) annoying.

Captain America:  The Winter Soldier 
Someone within S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to kill Nick Fury, so, with no one they can trust, Captain America and Black Widow team up to stop them and the mysterious Winter Soldier.  Great action, solid story with a lot of intrigue and suspense.  I think Hydra have become my favorite Marvel villain (and meme).  There's a lot that can be done with Steve Rogers as a concept and a character, and that's perhaps why the Captain America franchise is the best one in the Avengers universe.

Ranking them, best to worst:
The Lego Movie
Sunshine on Leith
Captain American:  The Winter Soldier
Iron Man 3
The World's End
The Wolverine
Thor:  The Dark World
Muppets Most Wanted
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Star Trek Into Darkness