Monday, December 21, 2009

What is Your Favorite Movie of 2009?

I just added a poll that hopefully includes your choice for the best movie of the year. If not, select "Other," then comment on this blog post to tell me what amazing film I left off the list. The poll will remain open through February 2010 to allow you to see as many 2009 releases as possible before the Oscars. Please Vote!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

This is harder than I thought...

I love writing about and discussing film. Along with actually watching movies, it's easily my favorite hobby, bordering on obsession. My intention this year was to review, at least to some extent, every movie I saw that was released theatrically in 2009. This turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be...

My personal life was crazy this year, as I was trying to help Grace plan our wedding and honeymoon, leaving little time for writing. I also have seen more movies this year than I ever have. I've seen about seventy 2009 movies already, and am not going to slow down any time soon given that we're in the middle of Oscar season.

What I've decided to do is abandon the "review every movie" policy, and focus more on films that I think are actually interesting enough to write about, as well as end of the year/decade lists, Oscar predictions, etc. I think this will be more fun and feel like less of a job for me. I already have a full time job as a CPA and don't really need to feel the weight of writing all these reviews hanging over my head.

I also hope that this will be conducive to more discussion in the comment section. I appreciate everyone who subscribes to the blog or reads the e-mails that get sent out each time I post, and I'd absolutely love for all of you to comment periodically, whenever you have a thought or opinion on the topic at hand.

I want to end this post with a list of movies that I haven't reviewed yet, but I absolutely consider to be "must see" if you have the chance. I'll write more about most of these on my "best of 2009" list:

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - Hilarious! Funniest movie I've seen this year (take that Hangover)!

A Serious Man - A deeply provocative Jewish fable from the best film making duo in the business, the Coen brothers. These guys are obviously at the top of their game.

Where the Wild Things Are - The beginning and ending sequences with Max at his home are probably the most emotionally honest portrayals of childhood that I've ever seen.

An Education - This is simply a delightful film, featuring the year's best performance by an actress, lead or supporting, from Carey Mulligan. The comparisons to Audrey Hepburn are justified...

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push" by Sapphire - This is a harrowing tale of sixteen year old girl dealing with abuse from both parents and illiteracy. Featuring an impressive lead performance from Gabourey Sidibe, and the Best Supporting Actress Oscar goes to... Mo'Nique as the most monstrous character ever seen on the silver screen.

The Messenger - There are two great performances here, from Woody Herrelson and Ben Foster and members of a casualty notification team for the Army. This is definitely the best movie in the Iraq war era showing the effects of the war at home, although is fairly a-political.

The Road - This adaption of Cormac McCarthy's best selling novel is just as powerful and nearly as bleak. Also, features yet another solid performance from Viggo Mortenson.

Thirst - From the sick, twisted mind that brought us Oldboy, Chan-wook Park delivers a chilling, original take on the vampire genre. This is the second best vampire movie of the decade behind Let the Right One In.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Other September Releases

I realize I am really late getting to these but I am trying to catch up, especially so I can get to some much better films I've seen lately. Please comment if you've seen any of these films and agree or disagree!

Julie & Julia

This film features two of the best actresses working today. Meryl Streep is fantastic as Julia Child, with her over the top persona and mannerisms, while Amy Adams is extremely under utilized as modern day celebrity blogger, and much less interesting Julia Powell. The film is slightly enjoyable as a whole, but completely overrated, and any Oscar talk for this movie, outside of a possible nomination for Ms. Streep, is utterly ridiculous. Seriously, it's a good date movie, and that's about it.


Mike Judge's latest live action comedy is neither as laugh out loud funny as Office Space, nor as absurd as Idiocracy, but is successful as a smaller, less ambitious comedy. To briefly summarize, Extract stars Jason Bateman as the owner of a company that makes and bottles extract, Mila Kunis as the devious temptress trying to get her hands on the company's money by way of a lawsuit involving a detached testicle, and Ben Affleck as the stoner bartender friend that talks Jason's character into hiring a male gigolo to seduce his wife so he can feel free to pursue Mila's character. High jinks ensue.

The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of this real life story of corporate impropriety and large scale price fixing makes for a humorous and absurd comedy with a great performance from Matt Damon as the whistle blower and FBI informant. What starts off as a corporate spy thriller gradually turns into a dark comedy with themes of mental illness, but the films is able to maintain its light tone due to a brilliant soundtrack and the Soderbergh's brisk filmmaking style. Although it didn't resonate with any real significance, The Informant! is an enjoyable ride, and Damon deserves some recognition.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 Releases I've Seen on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand

This film wins the award for most pleasant surprise of 2009 so far. I had heard essentially nothing but positive things about this movie, but it still didn't catch my attention as a film I'd really enjoy. If you know anything about this film and have had the same feelings, ignore those feelings and see this movie. It's a movie about a baseball player from the Dominican Republic (his nickname is "Sugar," 'cause he's sweet with the ladies...) who's working his way through the minor league system and earns his spot on a double A club in Nebraska. Everything about each environment we find him in feels genuine and real. This is a sports film, but with a concentrated focus on the pressures and dreams of Sugar and a few of his teammates, even covering current issues such as performance enhancing drugs and illegal immigration. If you haven't seen it yet, check out this beautifully shot little film on Blu-ray or DVD.

World's Greatest Dad
Unfortunately I'd read a spoiler filled synopsis for this film in a hotel before I eventually saw it on Cox On Demand. It didn't ruin it for me, but I'd definitely recommend not reading about this movie before you watch it. I'll only say that I highly recommend it if you are a fan of dark comedies filled with awkward situations. Robin Williams is downright brilliant in his role as a high school teacher raising a incredibly obnoxious teenage son on his own. That's all I'm saying. Oh yeah, it also features on of my favorite movie sequences set to a Queen song, ever. There, now go see it.

In the Loop
In the Loop has been billed as the funniest movie of the year by almost every critic that's reviewed it. Now at the time I'd seen this movie I didn't really have much ground to disagree, with it's only competition being The Hangover, but I'm afraid I might have to throw the "over-rated" flag on this one. While it definitely has it's moments, especially from fowl-mouthed British actor Peter Capaldi, I didn't find this obvious allegory to be quite as enlightened as the critical majority. It probably has to do with the fact that I don't agree with the view of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration that most of these liberal media types subscribe to, or maybe I'm just not smart enough to catch all the quick witted remarks and biting satire, who knows. I honestly think that if it had embraced it's screwball roots more instead of trying to make a statement, I think it would have been much funnier. Instead this is a marginally humorous film with a good cast (including James Gandolfini), but a misguided satirical aim that causes the entire film to miss the mark because of it.

This little indie film, starring two of the less famous Culkin brothers and Alec Baldwin, is set in the 1970s and does a pretty good job depicting the visual style of the era, with a complimentary soundtrack. Writer/director Derrick Martini examines the early modern family, economic divide brought upon by the "American dream," workaholics, adultery, and the inevitable dissolution of the family. With about as much hope as a Sam Mendes film, this bleak drama touches on themes of adolescent sexuality, school bullies, and the ever popular widespread fear of diseases (swine flu anyone?). Although I've probably made it sound like an exercises in tedium and depression, Lymelife is actually a pretty good film, with good performances and solid direction, and while I didn't love it as much as some (Ebert), I still readily recommend it.

This latest film from Jennifer Lynch, the daughter of David Lynch, is not quite as nightmare inducing as you'd imagine coming from a member of the Lynch family, but that isn't to say the obvious influences aren't there. This is a crime/suspense thriller with a dash of dark comedy thrown in for good measure. Surveillance kept me on the edge of my seat with my heart pounding through sever intense sequences. This film thrives on mystery and manipulating the audience's loyalties to certain characters and offers a dark twist on the "who-dun-it?" genre, as well as a good performance from Bill Pullman. It's definitely worth a rental.

Easy Virtue
Easy Virtue is a screwball comedy based on the play of the same name set in the early 20th century, on a plantation in England. The title refers to the supposed promiscuous nature of the movie's protagonist, Larita Whittaker, played saucily by the beautiful Jessica Biel. Unfortunately her beauty does no translate to an equivalent amount of acting talent, in fact it is probably more of an inverse relationship. She harps on the same defiant note throughout, always at odds with her husband's (Ben Barnes) belligerent mother, played with much greater skill, but equally monotone by the great Kristin Scott Thomas. Brought home by her newly acquired husband, John, she is simply not given a chance by his family, as by the end of the film almost everyone angry or disappointed with her about something. Well, I gave this movie a chance, and have to say I was equally disenchanted by the end. Not worth your time.

This virtually unseen little drama stars Kevin Spacey as a Hollywood psychiatrist, struggling himself to stay coherent amid his self-medication and alcohol binges, a direct result of a personal tragedy. We follow several characters' narratives, each a patient of Spacey's character, Henry Carter, and each facing a tragedy of their own. There is irony here, and some fairly dark humor as well, but in the end the film simply doesn't stand up under its heavy material. Also, the attempt at the end to try to bring their stories full circle, in a Crash-like manner, was simply evidence of the writers trying too hard to get a pay-off that they simply didn't earn. Besides an interesting performance from the very talented Spacey, there isn't much here to demand your attention.

The Girlfriend Experience
I must admit that I am not a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh, nor have I seen much of his filmography, but I do respect his talent as a filmmaker. The Girlfriend Experience is his most recent experimental work, and the only one that I've seen. It features an understated, almost emotionless performance by porn star Sasha Grey as a high class call girl in New York City. I wouldn't call her performance "good," but it was at least adequate, which I guess shouldn't surprise me considering she's been in approximately 180 films (pornographic) since 1996. She might just be the hardest working actress around... Yes, I jest, but back to the film. It features a lot of topical conversation between her and her "Johns" about politics and economics, as well as a some relationship drama between her and her personal trainer boyfriend towards the end. Overall, I didn't find myself caring about the character at all, and not just because of her occupation, but the film didn't do much to humanize her, other than showing us what is probably a realistic look at the day in the life of a call girl. An interesting concept that doesn't materialize into anything meaningful.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I have always loved animated movies, from the glory days of Disney to the modern classics produced like clockwork by Pixar, however, I had yet to discover the magic that is the animation from Hayao Miyazaki, who is responsible for such critically acclaimed films as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. A few months ago (yes, I am VERY far behind in my reviews) I was able to remedy that glaring deficiency in my movie viewing history.

Ponyo is a literal "fish out of water" story, almost a modern, albeit a different cultural, re-telling of the Little Mermaid, which happens to be the first movie I actually remember seeing in the movie theater when I was about 5. Miyazaki's version is incredibly bright, colorful, and brimming with a childlike innocence that has almost abandoned modern children's films, probably because they feel the need to amuse the parents with hidden innuendos. Ponyo will entertain anyone with it's vivid visual style and impeccable story telling. This story centers around a young goldfish whose father is a scientist that lives under the sea, and whose mother is some sort of goddess of the sea. She rebelliously sneaks away from her father's ship and wanders near shore where a young boy scoops her out of the shallow water. Because she accidentally activated some magical potion back on the ship, she begins to turn into a little human girl upon reaching dry land. The story isn't new, but is told in such a fresh way that it is far from stale.

One major difference I noticed from more traditional American narratives is that there isn't really a true "bad guy" in Ponyo. There are some tense, even frightening moments to be sure, but the lack of an antagonist was strangely new and refreshing. It almost reminds me of the Brave Little Toaster in the way that it centers more around the adventure than a specific conflict, although Ponyo is definitely more light hearted. Another interesting difference is that Ponyo is a Japanese film, and thus originally voiced in Japanese. However, the US release features an expensive dubbing overhaul, bringing in voice talents such as Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, and Liam Neeson. Usually I'm not a fan of dubbing in any form, but they definitely did a good job with Ponyo.

This year has been incredible for animated films, with Coraline, Up, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (I'll write about that one soon hopefully!), but Ponyo stands out as a much different experience, and an experience well worth having.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

District 9

I wasn't able to catch this film until about two weeks after it opened. By then the hype for this movie was through the roof. I heard only that it would not be what I expected, and that it was an allegory for apartheid. The initial teaser trailer reminded me of Independence Day, shot documentary style. What I ended up seeing was a smaller story than I expected, but one with much more heart and emotion than I had anticipated.

The title refers to a slum outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, in which aliens, known as prawns, have been forced to live for the twenty years since their space ship essentially "broke down" over the city. The movie opens with interviews and news footage shot like a documentary describing the arrival of the aliens, their capture and imprisonment, and some vague references to a man known as Wikus (played by first time actor Sharlto Copely), who evidently was involved in an event both unforgivable and tragic in the eyes of those being interviewed. These people were mostly employees of a global arms dealer also charged with relocating the prawns to a new site further from civilization, and even more like a concentration camp than their current conditions.

We catch up with Wikus as he is promoted to the person in charge of this relocation by his father-in-law. We follow him and other security offers/soldiers into the slums to serve the prawns eviction notices. Wikus is a man of seemingly no moral boundary or integrity, devoid of any noticeable good qualities. This makes what follows all the more interesting. As we watch his transformation, or in some cases the lack thereof, we sympathize with him to an extent, seeing the grueling intensity of what he is forced to endure, but even when he's essentially hand-fed opportunities to do the right thing and redeem his previous behavior, he surprises us at the extent of his inhumanity. Yet we still hurt for him on a visceral, human level. Given the location and the setup, the comparisons to apartheid in South Africa are both obvious and appropriate. The way the prawns are treated no doubt emulates race relations at different points in history throughout the world, and I think this movie does a good job of exploring what makes us human, in the core of our being.

On a technical note, the special effects were impressively blended with the real world environment, to a point that I really couldn't tell when they were using CGI or practical effects. The gun battles, especially featuring the grossly violent alien weaponry, are hugely entertaining and disgustingly satisfying. Although the film does "descend" into an explosive, guns blazing, action movie towards the end, it maintains its darkly satirical sense of humor throughout and never loses its emotional punch. The last scene is one of the most poignant I've seen this year, offering a glimmer of hope amid the madness, and a touching end to a truly impressive film from first time director Neill Blomkamp. One of the best science fiction films of the year (my heart belongs to Moon) and probably the best film this year that can qualify as "action," District 9 and its creator are on the lips of movie lovers and geeks everywhere. Here's hoping for District 10.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Spoilers... I try to avoid them, but you should definitely see this film before reading this review!

To say that I was eagerly anticipating this movie would be a drastic understatement. Quentin Tarantino is my favorite film maker. His films offer such an intense entertainment experience, equal parts action, comedic, and suspense. He makes films that he would like to watch, always focusing on the viewers experience above all other motivations. In my opinion, Tarantino's second film, Pulp Fiction, is the best film ever made. It's a master class in story telling, brilliantly using non-linear chapters filled with hilarious dialog and intense moments of violence to piece together a classic tale of betrayal and redemption, all while using completely unconventional and innovative script writing and film making techniques that have sense been copied to death by other screenwriters and directors.

I have loved all six of Quentin's films leading up to Inglourious Basterds to varying degrees, but the anticipation hasn't been quite this high for me, this being his first "epic" since 2004's Kill Bill: Vol. 2, which combined with it's first volume, is the best film of this current decade. Even though I love Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, and Death Proof, I particularly love what Quentin refers to as his "Mount Everests." These are massive undertakings for him, often taking many, many years to get on the page, much less actually production.

Leading up to opening night, which was 12:01 AM on August 21, 2009, I had heard mixed reports coming from Cannes, but I knew that the art house crowd that populated the critic's screenings at that festival didn't always appreciate the wildly entertaining pulp classics that Quentin consistently provides his audiences. The trailer for the movie purposefully mis-marketed Inglourious Basterds as a bloodthirsty action movie, like a mix of The Dirty Dozen meets Hostel. It didn't completely appeal to me, but I knew Tarantino had way more up his sleeve.

Inglourious Basterds is a story of Jewish vengeance, represented by a band of Jewish American soldiers (a.k.a. the Basterds, led by Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine) terrorizing Nazis behind enemy lines, and a young Jewish French girl seeking revenge for the murder of her family. The man personally responsible for this atrocity is also the one character that ties the entire film together, the antagonist Col. Hans Landa, played brilliantly and enthusiastically by German actor Christoph Waltz, as he is in almost every chapter. The quality of the performance is at least equal to other powerhouse performances this decade (e.g. Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood and Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men), but I cannot recall the last time I saw an actor this charismatic and so obviously in love with his craft. He won the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and I fully expect him to take home an Oscar as well.

The film is divided into five chapters, the first of which is titled "Once Upon a Time, in Nazi Occupied France..." This title, the beautiful opening shots of the French countryside, and the sampling from the scores from many Sergio Leone films and other westerns gives this scene the feel of a Spaghetti Western set in World War II. Once Hans Landa arrives on screen and enters the dairy farmer's house, there is about twenty minutes of typically great Quentin Tarantino dialogue, only we're having to read it in subtitles! Heaven forbid the mainstream masses knew about that before going to see the latest Brad Pitt movie! Hence, the (brilliant) mis-marketing. The majority of this film is actually in a language other than English, about equal parts German and French, with a dash of Italian for good measure. Our good friend Mr. Christoph Walt speaks each of these languages fluently throughout the film, adding to the already tour de force performance to the point of showing off. Back to the scene. It turns out that Col. Hans Landa is not only an expert linguist but a master detective hired by the Nazis for the express purpose of hunting Jews that have managed to escape the grasp of the German army. As he interrogates this dairy farmer (who looks suspiciously like Stanley Kubrick), the camera gives us more information, and tension builds until the camera finally puts us directly in front of the Col., staring into his heartless eyes for a few very uncomfortable moments. Excuse the hyperbole, but I feel that this is one of the best scenes Tarantino has ever written.

It's not until the second chapter that we're introduced to the Basterds, and most of this scene is spent in the woods during an interrogation of a few hostages that the Basterds have taken after killing and scalping most of the Nazi unit. Here we meet Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), who gets his own flashback, and Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), also known as the baseball bat wielding "Bear Jew." If there is one thing wrong with this movie, it's the amateur delivery of each of Eli Roth's lines. He doesn't have too many, but whenever he opens his mouth I found myself cringing; in my mind a slight casting misstep, in an otherwise flawless cast (yes, I even liked Mike Myers). We also get to see a very animated Hitler, played deliciously over-the-top by Martin Wuttke, rant about the Bear Jew to the point of delirium.

Chapter three re-introduces us to the heroine Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), now the owner of a quaint movie theater in Paris, and her reluctant relationship to a young Private in the German army. This Private (Daniel Bruhl) is the catalyst for all of the events that follow, although Shosanna is obviously displeased by his advances. His playful banter and her distinct annoyance give us some lighter, humorous reprieve, before thrusting us again into the violent foray. This chapter also contains a great scene featuring a conversation between her and Landa over desert. The way Tarantino uses camera angles and close-ups to evoke the same feelings of tension he made us feel in the opening scene... Simply incredible.

Chapter four features the longest scene in the film that has been described by some as a thirty minute version of Reservoir Dogs that takes place in a basement tavern. There are several moments during this scene in which Quentin's pacing seems to meander until he suddenly causes you to hold your breath in anticipation. The scene builds and builds and when the release comes, it is quick, violent, and glorious; a small taste of things to come.

The fifth and final chapter culminates at the Shosanna's movie theater, at the premiere for a Nazi propaganda film which most of the German high command is attending. Each respective party of vengeful Jews gets basically the same idea, and the beauty is in the execution of each of these plans. One is a plan of desperation in which everything seems to go wrong. The other is a long gestating, deeply poetic, primal scream of a plan that culminates in some of the most haunting and enduring images Tarantino, or anyone, has put on screen.

I've listened to and read many critics and film geeks argue the meaning and purpose of this film, and some have submitted some pretty good arguments. There is definitely much irony throughout the film, especially when related to the violence. When a German officer is beat to death with a baseball bat, Tarantino presents him as an honorable soldier rather than a repulsive monster, which makes the beating and subsequent guffaws from the audience sit uneasily with a discerning audience member. Then there are the images of a grossly over-animated Adolf Hitler and his cronies, in a movie theater, their laughter and cheers erupting into a blood-thirsty frenzy as they watch a propaganda film that glorifies the death of hundreds of American soldiers. All the while a group of blood-thirsty Americans clap and cheer at the insanity that ensues, which can be described as a violent orgasm of death, or maybe... a holocaust.

There is so much substance here to be analyzed and scrutinized, but Tarantino himself has mentioned that he doesn't even try to examine the subtext of his films, although he recognizes it is there. Mostly he is determined to create a masterpiece each time he makes a film, and not for art's sake, but for ours. He is determined to create entertainment for an audience to enjoy over and over again, always finding something new to take away from it. I've seen Inglourious Basterds three times so far in the theater, and plan on seeing it once more before it leaves. Each time I notice more and more, and it leaves me somewhat contemplative, but always smiling.

One obvious theme is the power of cinema, and Quentin has mentioned that this film is essentially a love letter to cinema. Tarantino has always been accused of stealing from other movies, however, the accusers hardly attempt to apply the same level of scrutiny to other beloved directors (e.g. Martin Scorsese) who have not only revolutionized film, but as devout students of film, borrowed heavily from the great film makers who have come before and inspired them to make film in the first place. With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino has melded together classic themes, settings, camera shots and musical cues with his unique style of writing and directing to create a completely fresh and unique experience. The final scene is delivered almost like a punch-line, or maybe the closing message of a morality tale; either way it is just the right touch to top off his cinematic masterpiece.

Monsieur Tarantino, to you, your cast, and your crew I say, "Bravo!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

He chose...poorly

When Jonathan asked me if I would be interested in contributing to Cinematic Pontifications I was both thrilled and honored that he would grant me the privilege to share my ruminations on film as well as provide updates on current developments in Hollywood.

Simply put, the movie business is a fascinating world where the creativity of the mind is pitted against the value of the almighty dollar. The end result of these two dynamics is what you see when you go to the movies. Too often, I feel, that the movies that we are patrons of end up as over-commercialized, quick cash-ins, and more about what will put people in the seats over what maintains the integrity of a narrative. Few directors carry enough clout to simply be given "carte blanche" to do anything they want. Often something great gets lost in the process of creating a film and it's interesting to see what Hollywood has coming down the pipeline and how it's development may impact the final product and sometimes it is more interesting to wonder what could have been had the right minds been at work behind a film.

I had originally intended my first contribution to this blog to be a review of Neil Blomkamp's District 9, which I fully intend to give its due, but I happened to come across some curious news regarding one of my favorite franchises that seemed appropriate.

According to interviews with Shia LaBeouf and twitter posts from Producer Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg has supposedly "cracked the story" regarding the fifth installment of the Indiana Jones trilogy.

While that is all well and good, and might make for a nice topic of conversation at a cocktail party, I figure unless it's coming from the mouth of either Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, or Harrison Ford, it was simply not a topic worth debating.

Well, I now stand corrected. Harrison Ford recently conducted an interview with the French newspaper, Le Figaro, and had this to say regarding Indy V....

"The story for the new Indiana Jones is in the process of taking form. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and myself are agreed on what the fifth adventure will concern, and George is actively at work. If the script is good, I'll be very happy to put the costume on again."

I thought Kingdom of the Crystal skull was a major letdown, and felt overly campy and sagging heavily in pacing, dialogue, acting, lighting, writing, and pretty much every other category possible. I can't say i'm too pleased at the prospect of another crappy installment in one of franchises most beloved by myself along with multiple generations of movie-goes around the world. I do hope that Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford are able to re-capture the magic that made the original trilogy great and avoid the cheesiness of KOTCS.


Originally post from AICN

Friday, August 21, 2009

Honeymoon in Alaska

The Great Buck Howard
This was the first of two films I was able to watch on the plane trip to Alaska. It was actually a movie I wanted to see, which is more than I can say for most of the movies I watched on this trip. This film is worth seeing for John Malkovich's eccentric performance as the title character, a some what washed up magician, I mean mentalist, still making the rounds to small town America. He's proud of the ridiculous amount of Johnny Carson appearances he made and still seems to think he has something worthwhile to offer as he attempts to make a comeback and hopefully get a regular spot at a casino in Las Vegas. The story is told from the point of view of an assistant, played by Collin Hanks, Tom's son, and Tom also plays his father in the film. Collin is adequate in his role, but lacks the charisma that his father had at his age. This is an average movie, but worthy of your time if you find yourself trapped inside a speeding metal cylinder in the sky for seven hours.

He's Just Not That Into You

This was the second film I watch, so you can probably guess that there wasn't that great of a selection. I was just not that into this movie, or the title for that matter. If you found that last statement obnoxious, trust me, the movie was ten times more obnoxious. Sure, there was decent performances from Ben and Jen (sad that I don't need to use last names, huh?), but mostly there were annoying whiny twenty-somethings complaining about how hard it is to find someone worth having a meaningful relationship with. First, try looking somewhere besides a bar. If you happen to find someone great outside of the bar, but their married, leave them alone! I can't support any movie that condones taking the easy way out of a difficult marriage, but that was just the sour icing on this tasteless, unfulfilling cake.

Away We Go

Grace and I watched this together in our motel room in Anchorage the night before we got on the boat. It's the newest film from Sam Mendes, whose first two films, American Beauty and Road to Perditin, I absolutely love. His third, Jarhead, was pretty good, but I wasn't able to catch last year's Revolutionary Road. However, it seems to me that the quality of his films have been taking a steady decline. Away We Go focuses on a couple who discover they're pregnant, but they have no idea what they are doing, where they're going to live, or about anything else in their lives. There are several humorous moments throughout the films, but mostly it seemed to be haphazardly trying to uncover this strange mystery of parenthood, only to have these hopeless characters end up even further from the truth than when they started. If anyone else has seen this and got something meaningful out of this movie, I'd love to know what that was.

Crank: High Voltage

I really don't have much to say about this one... We watched it one night on the boat and dosed off toward the end. It was pretty much an exercise in shocking imagery (pun intended), but had literally no substance behind it. Sure, you could read it as a real life video game, but there was no intelligent commentary on the matter, and as a work of pure mindless entertainment, there are countless better movies out there that would fit the bill.

Yonkers Joe

We also watched this one on the boat. It features Chazz Palminteri, of Usual Suspects and A Bronx Tale fame, as a professional con-man who is rudely confronted with his fatherly duties when his mentally challenged son is required to leave the special school he's been boarded at for his entire childhood. In order to send his son away again to a better more expensive school he must first complete one more big score to cover the financing. Besides the obvious questionable morality of the main character for which we are supposed to identify with, the movie kind of meanders to its conclusion, at which point our buddy Chazz finally achieves some sort of humanity. Mildly entertaining, but overall a forgettable movie.

G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra

Normally, I wouldn't go to a movie like this (I try to see mostly good movies), but I was hanging with a bunch of my friends two nights before my wedding and we decided to go see the midnight showing. Most of us grew up in the 1980s and played with the toys, and thought, "Hey, it could be fun." Boy were we wrong...

To start with we got there about 15 minutes before it started and ended up having to sit on the second row. Needless to say I was not expecting that kind of crowd for G.I. Joe. The last time I sat that close for a movie was the opening night midnight showing of Pirates 3, also a terrible movie and experience altogether.

This movie was all over the place, with editing that would make Michael Bay dizzy. I mean, I know it didn't help with us being so close, but I honestly don't think I could have followed it from the best seat in the house. Also, the acting was atrocious, and the story... well just don't ask me what happened. Not even an unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt could save even one scene from this pile of crap.

If it wasn't for Bruno coming out this year and offending every essence of my being, this would be the worst movie I've seen (this year). It'll have to settle for second place.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Funny People

Funny People is Judd Apatow's third movie as director, and most assuredly his most personal endeavor. Featuring a very good performance from Adam Sandler and just about everyone involved, this film is very funny at times, but goes for laughs much less than either 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up. There is a somber, realistic tone throughout, and one could imagine that this is an accurate portrayal of comedians in their everyday lives. One major disappointment for me going in was the fact that the trailer not only focused on the weakest part of the story, but also gave away a very important plot point. Since it's in the trailer I won't refrain from mentioning it myself.

Famous Hollywood actor/comedian George Simmons (Sandler) finds out he has a rare form of cancer, and thus tries to reconnect with some of the people/things that brought him joy earlier in life. One of those things was doing stand up, the other was an ex-fiance who had since gotten married and had two kids. More on that later. George's first try at performing on stage in a long time is simply a disaster. This is where he meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a young struggling comedian trying to make it in the biz. Sandler, who doesn't want anyone to find out about his disease, hires Ira to be his personal assistant and writer, and spends the remainder of the film either verbally abusing Ira or whining to him like a selfish child. The dynamic between these two characters is what makes the movie. Ira genuinely feels a sense of love and loyalty to Simmons, and struggles desperately when confronted with the truth about George's condition, not wanting to be the only confidant.

George continues to drag Ira into his demented world as he makes it his goal to win back his ex-fiance, Laura (Leslie Mann - Apatow's wife), despite her being married with children. Sandler plays George as simultaneously likable and repulsive. There is much depth to this character and made me wonder if Sandler felt any personal connection with this character and his handling of immense fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the last third of the film that focuses on this attempted reunion descends into a weird, awkward place and doesn't return to form until the last scene of the film. At least we get to see an interesting performance by Eric Bana as Laura's loud, abrasive, cheating husband.

While it takes a lot of risks, I ultimately loved this movie and believe that the reward is greater for it. This film has generated some strong reactions from critics, both positive and negative, which says to me that it at least makes you feel something one way or the other, and that's a good thing. I'd recommend it for the performances alone, because in addition to Sandler and Rogen and the others mentioned above, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman also contribute great supporting work. While this films does contain equal parts drama and comedy, the comedic elements work so well for me that Funny People is my favorite comedy so far this year.


Moon is a small, low budget movie starring the ever amazing Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey, and is directed by first timer Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie. When the trailer came out I was so intrigued by it's suspenseful, dark tone, and minimalist aesthetic. However, when I discovered Clint Mansell was composing the score, my interest could not have been higher. Clint is my favorite film composer, and his score really added to the personality of this mysterious science fiction film.

Sam Bell (Rockwell) is looking forward to going home to Earth after a three year assignment on the far side of the moon, overseeing the harvest of helium-3 for a company responsible for supplying forty percent of the world's energy. Trouble starts when Sam has an accident while out on the moon's surface checking on a malfunctioning harvester. I do not want to reveal any of the events that follow in case you get a chance to see this film without any knowledge of the major plot points. However, even if you know most of what happens going in (as I did), this film has such a unique ambiance, it captivated me throughout.

Speaking of captivating... Rockwell's performance is one of the best I've seen this year, maybe the best from a leading man. Although he shares the screen with no one but himself and a robot, he chews it up, convincingly displaying a wide array of emotions. His character skates on the edge of insanity, forced to question everything he knows to be real. As anticipated, the emotion of each scene is amplified by the brilliant score from Clint Mansell. He sets the mood with ethereal piano melodies, ambient strings, and entrancing percussion. Easily my favorite original score of the year to date.

Moon has the feel of classic science fiction in that deals with mature themes such as corporate greed, even effectively exploring what it means to be human. It's truly amazing what Duncan Jones was able to do with such a meager budget ($5 million), and in his directorial debut at that. The special effects are not like anything you will see in Terminator or Transformers, rather each set piece and model is simply what was needed to tell the story, and it is a haunting one. Excuse me if I seem to be overselling this movie (did I mention Sam Rockwell delivers a tour de force performance?), but Moon is one of my favorite films of the year, and it simply deserves to be seen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is the best Iraq war film ever, and one of the best war films since Saving Private Ryan. It's a taught thriller, wrapped in the rough, sandy exterior of the war in Iraq. Part of the reason The Hurt Locker succeeds is that it's primarily a character study and stays away from political analysis and opinion about the war itself. This is easily Kathryn Bigelow's best film, and is sure to win her some Hollywood clout when it comes 'round to awards season.

At the center of this film is an EOD squad (explosive ordnance disposal), made up of three men, who must constantly disarm roadside bombs of all shapes and sizes. Each scenario is different, but the suspense is palpable. These men have to not only worry about disarming the bomb, but are constantly on the lookout for the enemy hidden in plain sight amongst the Iraqi civilians (who watch the EOD squad eagerly and intently), ready to set off the bomb.

Jeremy Renner plays the leader of this EOD squad, and his performance is superb, with a mix of super-hero like bravado and emotional gravitas. His character is complex and mesmerizing, but ultimately I was frustrated by the direction this film went with him. Whether you respect him or not, it's impossible to take your eyes off of him. His squad mates are also complex characters and the dynamic between this team is volatile, heartwarming, and even comedic at times. Throughout the film there are other characters the squad comes into contact with, usually played by big name actors, but each is handled with such a deft, understated touch that really increases the sense of realism.

If you only see one movie this year that's set during a war, see Inglourious Basterds. If you see two, check out The Hurt Locker. The pacing of the story, the beautiful cinematography, the acting and direction all deserve to be seen.

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer is the bubblegum pop music video version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, without the science fiction. It's every young man's celebration of frustration, a clinical case of fascination and rejection viewed from outside the fourth dimension. This film preys on young white male nostalgia much like Garden State or Adventureland, but focusing more on the relationship than the entire "coming of age" journey.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls head over heals for Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a receptionist at the greeting card company that Tom writes for (not quite the ideal job for an architecture major). We're told from the beginning that things don't work out, and the movie constantly jumps from day to day at different points in the relationship. This format allows for insight into different phrases or activities repeated throughout the film, each within a different emotional context at different phases of their relationship. We know from the beginning that it isn't going to work out between these quirky lovebirds, but the experience is in the journey, and the unconventional storytelling ultimately redeems the film for me.

This movie is a cutesy independent film, and it is incredibly aware of that fact. So many indy film cliches, so little time. In their mid-twenties. Some of the things that worked were the opening text (one of the funniest moments of the film) and a hysterical musical dance sequence. The one thing that really didn't work for me was his younger yet wiser 12 - 14 year-old sister whom he went to for relationship advise for some reason. Summer herself can often be unbearable and almost vile in the way she misleads and treats Tom. I found myself disliking her character so strongly that it might have hurt my appreciation of the film. This is Tom's movie, each heart-wrenching experience ripped from the real lives of the writers, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb (as usual) in this role.

Despite it's downfalls, (500) Days of Summer does strike some chords of familiarity and nostalgia, and while the visceral impact was not as strong for me as with other films I mentioned, I deem it a success. It is often hilarious and even insightful, and the quirkiness can be infectious if you just sit back and accept this flamboyant celebration of cutesy independent film making for what it is.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Two Lovers

This little gem of a film came out very early this year and I was just recently able to catch up with it on Netflix. Two Lovers has achieved moderate fame for being Joaquin Phoenix's "last film." This of course being due to his foray into the hip hop performance industry, leaving his acting career in the dust. It's hard to take him seriously, especially when he appeared as he did on Letterman apparently high, or completely out of his mind. Some people (Ebert) thought this was completely unfair to his fellow actors and filmmakers on this project. Normally I'd agree with him, but it seems that this episode actually made more people aware of the film, and that is a good thing, because it really is one of the better films of 2009 so far.

Two Lovers centers around Leonard (Phoenix), a Jewish man, probably in his late twenties, who has recently moved back into his parents house and started working in their dry cleaning business. I love the dynamic between him and his parents. Their relationship is so sweet and quaint, but seems real, in a way I haven't seen on screen in a while. There's no unnecessary drama or people overreacting, or screaming at each other. They care for each other, and while his mother does seem to be a bit nosey at times, her behavior turns out to be completely merited.

The "two lovers" in question are Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), the somewhat reckless free spirited neighbor, and Sandra (Venessa Shaw), the pretty, matronly daughter of his fathers business partner. Each has their own qualities, but he's more attracted to Michelle, who of course is in love with a married attorney that she works with. This may all seem a little too melodramatic, but Leonards back story (which I won't give away here) and Pheonix's outstanding performance grounds this story and completely supported my empathy for his character.

With excellent performances all the way around, and a poignant story told with a delicate touch by writer/director James Gray, there's a lot to like here. Although there's no doubt this is a small film, Two Lovers features one of the best performances of the year so far (excuse the hyperbole, but he's that good) and deserves to be seen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

This was a fun outing with my my son, my parents, my fiancé, her sister, and her kids. We just about filled up an entire row, and had a great time. This movie is pretty awesome to look at, and the 3D was fairly well done, although I'm not convinced it added too much. The story is simple and predictable, but humorous throughout. The main characters, voiced by Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Dennis Leary, John Leguizamo, and newcomer Simon Pegg were all more than adequate. Obviously, the success of animated films relies heavily on the graphic artists, and doesn't really require A-list talent, usually doing just as well with B-list actors and TV stars. Sometimes I think the A-list talent seems to overwhelm a film, or provides an imaginary crutch that is swiftly yanked away upon a viewing by a critical audience (case in point: Shark Tale).

I benefited from catching Ice Age 2 on TV a few nights before with my son, so I think the continuity added to my enjoyment. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a nice addition to the series, full of adventure and humor, although the little bit of adult humor sprinkled in missed the mark by a country mile. Other animated films, such as Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, deliver the same type of story and childish humor, but offer a lot more for the adult audience. Not so much with Ice Age. Despite this fact, this is pretty much a must see if you have children under 10. There isn't much else out there right now, unless you want to go see Up again (which actually is a much better choice).


This movie was SO gay... I mean that in the most derogatory, homophobic sense of the word, and literally of course. Unlike Borat, Bruno isn't very funny, rather it evokes cries of shock and horror, as well as nervous laughter. Nor is Bruno smart, clever, profound, or revealing in any way. Here's the problem: I can get behind a satire exposing racism, even if it's found in the most obvious of places, because racism is wrong (it also helped that Borat was very funny, even beyond his its social commentary). Bruno tries to reveal the blatant "homophobia" in America, and fails, not only because his tactics merit the responses they receive (even according to politically correct standards), but because of the ignorant misconceptions shared by most of modern society.

Let me explain. I believe what the Bible says about homosexuality: that it's a sin, plain and simple. People are not born that way. That is a lie promulgated by the media and supported by most Americans in an attempt to be "tolerant" in this tumultuous time we live in. Now please do not misunderstand me; I do not hate homosexuals, nor do I have any "phobia" related to homosexuality. The Bible calls for us to love all people, however, it never condones the sinful act. It actually uses pretty strong words against homosexuality, declaring it an abomination to God. Why the strong language? Because it mocks the beautiful, natural relationship that God gave us; marriage between a man and a women. The marriage is a sacred covenant between the couple and God, which also illustrates the covenant between Jesus and the Church. Homosexuals shouldn't be legally defined by their sin any more than people who practice other forms of sexual immorality, illegal drug use, or simply hatred, greed, or jealousy.

Keep in mind, I am not condoning any hateful behavior on display in Bruno, but I honestly had trouble seeing any real hate towards him until the last 5 minutes or so. I should have known better than to go see this given my personal beliefs on the matter, but I was hopeful in that it was be more comedic than it was. Instead it was quite disgusting and was merely trying to shock the audience most of the time. It also shouldn't have been rated R since it displayed an erect penis for a significant amount of time, as well as real, not simulated, sexual acts that were only barely blotted out.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir with most of the people who will actually read this, but I needed to get out what I was feeling. This film offended the very nature of what I believe, and did it with absolutely no shame. Even if you disagree with my ideology, I doubt you will find much redeeming in this movie beyond a few humorous moments. At the end of the film is song, or rather a pathetic attempt at actually tying this movie together as some message of love, acceptance, and tolerance by having lots of A-list musicians perform with Bruno. At one point Snoopdog says something like, "Gay, OK" with a shrug of his shoulders, his attitude representing the blind acceptance of this sinful act as a natural way of life by Americans everywhere, simply because they think it doesn't affect them or they just don't want a conflict. Well, sorry Snoop, but it's not OK, but I fear it's too late, because the saturation into society is deep, and the conflict is everywhere we turn. God help us.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Public Enemies

Going into this year, Public Enemies was easily one of my top five most anticipated movies of 2009. Although he'd lose out to Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers, I look forward to Michael Mann's films more than most. Since my son was in town, I had to go see this movie at 10:35 PM, which had us leaving the theater after 1 AM due to the 140 minute run time. Usually this is not a great strategy for watching a film you really want to see, but oddly enough I was alert and attentive throughout the entire film and was able to enjoy it immensely.

Much has been made of the visual style and sound mix, and it is revolutionary as well as controversial. Mann, who has used the digital camera on his last couple films, delivers another beautiful looking film that completely breaks the mold of how an epic period piece is supposed to look. The first twenty minutes were so full of amazing and unusual shots, I found myself distracted by them. As for the sound, the levels did seem to be a bit off throughout, but holy crap, you will never hear more realistic sounding guns in a movie. For me, these were non-issues, and as the "film" progressed I was engrossed in the action and as well as the superb performances.

Johnny Depp coolly portrays John Dillinger as a hardened killer without much of an explanation or back story. This was also an issue with many critics, but I found it so refreshing that this didn't turn into a character study/biopic. Marion Cotillard (who won the "Best Actress Oscar in 2007 for La vie en rose) gives a nice performance here as Dillingers love interest. The relationship is a bit shallow and sometimes melodramatic, but it didn't detract from the film at all, and overall I thought it really earned the emotional moment at the end. Christian Bale was a significant factor in my early estimation of this film's potential, but he ended up being the weakest part of the film. As with all of the characters there was very little development for Melvin Purvis (Bale), the hotshot FBI agent tasked with taking down Dillenger, and it didn't help that he appeared to be trying not to over-act, as he's been accused of doing in his last couple of films. The result was so understated as to almost render him invisible on screen. The first face to face confrontation between Dillenger and Purvis was fun, but could have been much more powerful if Bale had matched Depp's intensity and bravado.

I've been nit-picking this movie, because as a whole I don't think there's much wrong with it. I highly suggest you go see this movie. It's the best summer action film you will see this year, at least until August 21st (Inglourious Basterds!!!). Michael Mann is the type of director whose films deserve to be seen; each and every one of them. His style and method of story telling and filming action is unique and often refreshing in the midst of so many action films that are merely exercises in excess. Public Enemies does not deliver the greatness of Heat or The Last of the Mohicans, but it deserves a lofty, respectable position among his filmography.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

I have to admit that going into this movie I was not expecting anything great. The reviews were mixed, and I saw it the second weekend, having already listened to several podcasts discussing the film. However, I tend to really enjoy Tony Scott's hyper stylized film making, especially his films from the nineties, including True Romance, Crimson Tide, and Enemy of the State. Lately I've been a little more tepid about his films, while still enjoying Domino and Man on Fire. The fact that The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a remake probably had something to do with my reluctance to see this film, since quality Hollywood remakes are a rare breed.

The story is a simple train hijacking, with a cat and mouse game between the negotiator and the head criminal, in this case played elegantly and elaborately by Denzel Washington and John Travolta, respectively. As much as I like certain films by each of the actors involved, this collaboration, which includes John Turturro, Luis Guzman, and James Gandolfini, was the ultimate generic, big name Hollywood cast. Denzel was good, but no one stole the show. Travolta definitely tried, and while over the top, his performance evoked flashes of Face/Off (one of my favorite action movies).

In the end, this was a moderately entertaining, but thoroughly mediocre popcorn flick. Tony Scott's style is all over this movie, but much of the action is either borderline ridiculous (the driving scenes) or underwhelming. If you're a tony Scott fan, or just an action movie buff, you should see this movie, just keep your expectations low. It worked for me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Killshot is a movie that for some reason its creators tried to kill early on. Anytime a film is pushed back a year or two, chances are the reason is that it isn't any good. However, this film's release was not only pushed back for years, but when it did finally see the big screen, it was for literally one week in Arizona. Not New York or L.A., Arizona! This movie has the pedigree of a champion, with stars like Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Diane Lane, Rosario Dawson and Thomas Jane. It's based on a novel by Elmore Leonard and directed by Guy Madden. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and it's produced by the Weisteins... These guys always seem to defy logic when dealing with their films, although in this case, it turns out that they might have been right.

Mickey Rourke is the focus of the film for the most part, playing a native American hit man on the run from his criminal bosses after a botched job. He has plenty of back story and motive for most of his actions, but when he and his newly found sidekick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are seen attempting an armed robbery/extortion, the lengths they go to to try to kill the witnesses seem absurd to me. The witnesses (Diane Lane and Thomas Jane) didn't see them actually commit a murder, yet they have to enter witness protection, only to move back home inexplicably after a short period of time, even though the criminals were still at large.

Overall the acting was pretty good, although Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character was a bit over the top, reminding me of his wigger, hip gangster wanna-be role in 2005's Havoc (famous for its Anne Hathaway sex/nude scenes). The thing that brings down this movie is the story, or the execution thereof. Having not read the book it's based on, I can only assume that Leonard's version was a bit more cohesive and interesting, but it just did not translate well to the screen. I didn't hate it by any means, but this was a highly anticipated film for a while and to see it come in well short of expectations is a bit disappointing. Killshot definitely looks better on paper (or on its IDMB page, if you prefer), with all of the before mentioned talent involved, but in the end it turns out to be a mediocre thriller, with most of its talent wasted.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Hangover

I think I'm still in shock over what I just saw. The closing credits are simply... Well, nevermind. This is a funny movie, easily the funniest I've seen this year so far, although that isn't necessarily saying much. The Hangover is the latest film from director Todd Phillips who brought us comedy gems like Road Trip and one of my personal favorites, Old School.

This is a story about four guys who go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, only to wake up the next morning not remembering a thing about what happened the night before, and having no idea where the groom is. The only evidence that remains is a chicken, a tiger, a missing tooth, and a completely destroyed hotel room. The mystery element adds a layer of intrigue not usually found in R rated comedies, and the ending is neither preposterous nor something that you see coming a mile away. Also worthy of note, Zach Galifianakis is great in his role as the weird, mentally troubled brother-in-law. I wouldn't be surprised if this launches him into many more roles in the near future that would take advantage of his special brand of off-beat comedy.

This film is doing gangbusters at the box office, and I believe it's on its way to being one of the biggest R rated comedy of all time. That's all well and good, but in my eye this is not as deserving of the praise and high box office as Wedding Crashers was, or either of the Judd Appatow directed films, 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Wedding Crashers was simply funnier, with amazing comedic performances from Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson (even Rachel McAdams), while Apatow's films are equally hilarious, but also contain genuine, heart-felt moments that really transcend the genre.

I only say all of that because The Hangover has been so highly praised by film critics, bloggers, and podcasters that I only want to provide a small dose of perspective. This is not the be-all-end-all of R rated comedies, but it is a worthy entry into the running for best comedy of the year so far, along with Drag Me To Hell (I also loved the comedic elements in Up). If raunchy comedies are your thing, this will most likely appease your appetite, which was left raging from the somewhat skimpy comedic snacks found in I Love You, Man and Observe and Report. As far as the closing credit sequence... check it out if you dare, but don't say I didn't warn you!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

As I'm sure you've figured out if you've read two or three of my reviews, I rely heavily on Rotten Tomatoes to help me decide what movies to go see. Also, if you know anything about my taste in movies, I generally can't stand horror movies. The last good horror flick I saw was The Decent back in 2005, and before that who knows when. So with Drag Me to Hell, I wanted to see it for its 95% (at the time, now 93%) Tomatometer rating, but I was weary of the horror aspect. I had never seen the Evil Dead movies in their entirety, and am definitely not a fan of Sam Raimi's Spiderman movies. My love for going to the movies in general pushed me over the edge and I ended up seeing this late in the weekend with some friends.

The plot is appropriately simple: a girl is cursed by a pissed off gypsy and has three days to break it. Raimi threw in the home foreclosure element to be current, but it really could have been anything.

As expected this movie is a lot of fun and very tongue-in-cheek. The effects are under-elaborate, but Raimi manages to pull off some genuinely creepy moments using shadows, wind and normal creaky house noises. This movie was also very repetitive. Each day, the girl would be fine, then get paranoid, and then attacked by a demon. The fun of it was seeing to what lengths this girl would go to save her own skin. This film is rated PG-13, and it really pushes it to the limit, not with gore, but just some really gross stuff. Usually that stuff is what got the most laughs, and it added to the personality of the film.

In no way is this film for everyone, but it is well done for what it is. I had a lot of fun with it, and recommend it to any horror fan or general movie buff.

Terminator Salvation

I went into this film with very low expectations based on seeing the negative reviews roll in, as well as listening to several movie podcasts bash it for a few hours. However, this was one of those films that I was looking forward to so much, that I decided I needed to check it out in theaters, you know, for the special effects and the action sequences...

Well, the effects might be the only good/decent part of this film. The rest of it was a mess, from the terrible writing and storytelling, to the bad acting, to the over-seriousness of the plot, which it seems we've seen before. It just doesn't work. Christian Bale, who I believe is a very talented actor, is overacting terribly, and the one potentially interesting aspect of the plot, involving Sam Worthington's character, is neither a surprise nor executed with any level of skill. Frankly, after seeing this film, I never want to watch another film directed by McG (what a stupid name).

I don't feel like writing about this movie anymore. See it at your own peril (and feel free to offer a rebuttal in the form of a comment on my blog, so everyone can see it).

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Pixar has released ten consistently great films (although I have not seen A Bug's Life), and this film might surpass them all in beauty, story telling, visual style, humor, and overall significance. I somehow managed to temper my anticipation by reminding myself of how Wall-e had received even higher praise from critics, and was ultimately not the be-all-end-all of animated films that it was made out to be by many critics and internet bloggers. So with Up, I was going to give it a chance.

This is a story of a old man living in his house in the midst of big city development. He and his late wife had bought that house as newlyweds, and everything about it was a constant reminder of her. Rather than give in and move into a retirement community, he takes the second most obvious choice.... he ties a crap load of balloons to his house and uses them to sail to South America, so he can finally travel to Paradise Falls, a place he and his wife had always dreamed of going. Not long after take, off he discovers a little fat boy scout on his porch. Being that they're at about ten thousand feet, he reluctantly lets him in the house.

The adventure that ensues is both ridiculous and hilarious, and involves a giant bird, talking dogs, and a Christopher Plummer voiced blimp flying
antagonist intent on capturing said bird. The action is fun and silly, and uses the 3D technology to enhance the experience, giving the audience a real sense of depth when looking into the Amazonian jungle from the top of a blimp or flying house. Most of all this film has a heart, and it doesn't hold back the sentiment, but it does it so tastefully and poignantly. Two or three times I found myself close to tears. Each of the main characters is so well fleshed out that you really feel you know them, even though they're just a 3D rendering on a screen.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this might be my favorite Pixar movie, and is certainly one of my favorite films of the year so far. I can wholeheartedly recommend this movie to anyone and everyone. Ignore the PG rating, this is fine for all kids. Heaven forbid they watch something with a little emotional substance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

2009 Memorial Day Weekend Movie Extravaganza

Wow, what a weekend! I drove up to Atlanta Friday afternoon to see my grandparents and hang out with my friend Stephen. I usually try to take advantage of the independent cinemas any time I'm in a bigger city, but this weekend I took it a step further. Stephen and I had decided we were going to simulate a film festival, in honor of Cannes. We managed to catch six films at the theaters and another four on DVD over the three day weekend. It was rather exhausting, but a heck of a lot of fun. In the following paragraphs I'll try to briefly give my thoughts on each film that we watched, with an emphasis on the 2009 theatrical releases.

JCVD (2008)
We started off with a double feature on Friday night, JCVD and Blade Runner. JCVD was such an interesting film. Of course JCVD are the initials for its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays himself, albeit in a fictional story. The film starts with a hilarious and impressively long take showing Van Damme at work on the set of some generic foreign straight-to-DVD action film. We later see him discuss his disdain for these pathetic roles his agent keeps getting him, as well a see him in court during a losing custody battle over his daughter. When he returns home to Belgium the movie takes an odd turn and he finds himself in the middle of a robbery at a post office. It's ultimately not a great movie, but Jean-Claude Van Damme actually delivers a very good performance. I hope to see him is more serious roles in the future.

Blade Runner (1982)
Unfortunately I am in no position to say much about this film because I was way too tired when I watched it and was frequently dosing off. It didn't help that it moves pretty slow throughout, but I definitely want to see this again. From what I saw, Blade Runner is beautifully shot, especially considering it was made in 1982. It seemed to have this amazing, surreal ambiance that permeated the whole film, from the visuals to the score to the characters. I look forward to seeing it again.

Tell No One
I wrote briefly about this film in my Best Films of 2008 entry. It was my fourth favorite film of 2008, but frankly I might have undersold it... This film moves me and blows my mind every time I've seen it (this being the third). From the perfectly cast actors and their performances, to the intricate plot, to the complementary song choices, to the masterful camera work; I cannot recommend this movie enough.

The Brothers Bloom
This was the first movie we saw in theaters on Saturday, and was easily both of our most anticipated. Rian Johnson's Brick was such a delight in 2005, and I was excited to see what he could do with a budget. Needless to say, the film met my expectations. It is so much fun, and the characters are each so great and yes, quirky, in their own way, but the "quirk" doesn't overshadow the humor, the plot, or the action. It's one of the few con movies that doesn't really try to con the audience, and although I wasn't completely sure where it would end up, I had a good idea of where it was going. However, the joy is in the execution, and I must also add that the music is quite well done. If you like any of Wes Anderson's films (yes, it is an overused, but valid comparison) you 'll probably appreciate this, although I do think that The Brothers Bloom is more warm and accessible than the typical Wes Anderson movie, especially his more recent material. This really is a treat, and although some critics (here's looking at you Ebert) couldn't get past the "cutesy," I think it had just the right touch, and it was downright hilarious in parts. Overall, this is one of the more pleasant movies I've seen this year.

Tyson (2009)
Going in, I had fairly limited knowledge of Mike Tyson, not being a boxing fan at all. We went to see this based on the high critical praise, and frankly, it is well deserved. This is a fascinating documentary about a fascinating and truly disturbed individual. Listening to Tyson talk about his childhood is tragic; listening to him talk about his first manager and his children is touching; listening to him talk about women is horrific. Love him or hate him, he has a certain draw to him. From the ridiculous, raunchy statements that come out of his mouth, to his sometimes brilliant colloquies on life, love, success, and failure, Mike Tyson is an entertaining guy, and this is an entertaining and insightful documentary. Check it out.

Sin Nombre (2009)
I just wrote a review on this not long ago, but just a quick note: Sin Nombre totally worked for me for the second time. This is not an easy movie to watch, but the performances and direction are very good and worth seeing. The scenes with the Mexican gang initiation is harrowing, while the scenes of the Mexican countryside are breathtaking. Sin Nombre is an effective mix of beauty and tragedy, and is still one of my favorite films of the year.

Rudo y Cursi (2009)
I wasn't completely sold on whether to see this film or not, but the reviews were pretty good and it fit into our schedule and our theme of independent film watching so we gave it a shot. This really is a good movie. Rudo y Cursi is a charming tale of two brothers, both wishing to be famous soccer players, which they both end up doing to some extent, although one of them would rather be a singer. It features familiar themes of brotherhood and money doesn't buy happiness (or does it?) and is frequently hilarious, if not predictable. Overall, I really liked it. The acting is good, the writing is funny, and although a bit cliché at times, it has a sweet, genuine spirit. This was a welcome lighthearted film in the midst of some pretty heavy material, and I recommend it if you get a chance.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009)
I was really looking forward to this documentary, not only because of the 98% Tomatometer, but because I love heavy metal, especially '80s. However, when I first saw the preview for Anvil: The Story of Anvil I thought it was another "mockumentary" in the style of This is Spinal Tap, because I had never heard of this band. It is an amazing story about these two Canadian Jews,
Steve and Robb, sticking together for over thirty years and never quite making it big, although they're recognized by many of their peers as pioneers of heavy metal. Not just any peers, but the likes of Lars Ulrich and Slash. More than just a music documentary, this is a commentary on friendship and the pressures that striving after this lifelong dream can have on family and friendships. We follow them to their mundane jobs, on a disastrous European tour, and through the recording of their 13th album. This film was fascinating as a real life human drama, often touching. Although I really liked Tyson, this is probably the best documentary I've seen since Man on Wire last year.

Goodbye Solo (2009)
I must start by saying that I am not a big fan of these "neo neo realism" or "minimalist" films. I find them consistently boring and somewhat pretentious. This film really doesn't have much of a plot other than the main character, Solo, a cab driver in North Carolina, trying to find out why an old man wants to kill himself. Solo finds out of his plan after much pestering about why he wants someone to drive him to the top of a nearby mountain on a specific date a few weeks later.
However, the main character, Solo, is so infectious and likable, that it easily makes the slow dreary parts tolerable. I can't recommend this to everyone, but I did enjoy most of this film.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Stephen hadn't seen this film yet, so I Netflix'd it and brought it with me. Sally Hawkins' performance still amazes me. She's not acting, rather she is this character, Poppy. She's a British school teacher with a flowery outlook on life, always trying to brighten somebody's day. It's so intriguing seeing how the people around her react and are affected by her, and also how she maintains her uplifting demeanor. With on of the best performances of 2008, Happy-Go-Lucky is a 'must rent" in my book.

I can't wait to do something like this again. It was kind of exhausting, but so much fun. Next, I'd love to actually go to a real film festival somewhere, anywhere. We'll see...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

One thing about Rotten Tomatoes, a site which I absolutely love and rely on, is that it can instigate some pretty high expectations for a film. For example, if a film has, say, a 96% on the Tomatometer, one might be inclined to think that this is one of the best films of the year, or almost perfect, etc. No, the reason for the high score is the movie is highly accessible, and well made of course. This is why Pixar films always have such a high rating, because they're high quality films created for broad, "general" audiences.

So, is Star Trek the best film of the year so far, or the best Star Trek film? No, but J.J. Abrams has created a fun, character driven summer blockbuster that will probably exceed most of the other special effects driven popcorn flicks this year. Films like Transformers 2, which is probably about 5% real and the rest of it CGI, have shallow characters with no substance or plot to speak of.
It bears mentioning that I was not overly impressed by the special effects, but they served the film well, as opposed to being a distraction. I'll take a good story with strong, developed characters any day over robots and explosions. Those might be cool to look at briefly, but the true beauty of film is losing yourself in a story and identifying with its characters, while being challenged in some way.

Abrams took a tired franchise, gave it a shot of adrenaline as well as a few pints of fresh blood, and launched it back into space. The story is well crafted, maybe a bit contrived at times, but the real catalyst for the success of this movie is the casting, primarily Chris Pine. He hasn't been in hardly anything, yet he storms onto the screen like he owns the place and demands to be noticed. His portrayal of James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise, is spot on; he nails the essence of Kirk without ever stooping to a Shatner impersonation. He's also given a bit more freedom to rebel than the original Kirk might have, given that the story sets him in an alternate universe in which he has grown up without his father. This adds a new dynamic to his character without changing who he is or ultimately will become.

I don't need wallow through a plot synopsis, because frankly, that is not why you should see this movie. The focus was on Kirk and Spock(s), their rivalry, and ultimately their budding friendship. Each original crew member was introduced in a charming, often humorous way, and the writers did a great job honoring the canon, while taking their liberties as well, in order to make it fresh. To put it simply, Star Trek is just a heck of a lot of fun, and easily worth your ten bucks to see it on the big screen. I look forward to seeing where Abrams takes the franchise from here, and I have no doubt it will be an exciting ride.

Monday, May 4, 2009


I had a chance to check out Earth in Austin, TX with my son, Westin. First, I have to give mad props to any documentary that can hold the attention of a 4 1/2 year old for 90 minutes. Second, as far as nature documentaries go, this could be the best one I've ever seen. I thought going in that it might get old after a few minutes, but I was captivated throughout. It follows a few different animal families from different parts of the globe, and doesn't hold back when it comes to the harsh realities of survival in the wild. It wasn't too graphic for children, but its tone was often pretty bleak.

Going into this film I was worried that the narration was going to be full of ignorant Al Gore-isms and tree-hugging climate change nonsense, and while I wasn't completely wrong, it really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, the voice over by James Earl Jones was quite good, often adding just the right touch of humor to the situation.

Of course, the main reason to see a nature documentary is the imagery, and Earth delivers in a huge way. Disney manages to get some amazing shots of wildlife, so clean and clear, and magnificent to behold; I have literally never seen some of spectacles they captured on film, including my favorite shot, which involves a ginormous airborne great white shark and a helpless seal. 'Nuff said.

Sin Nombre

I think it's important to note that I came into this movie with very high expectations. Although I had never heard of it until about March, it quickly became one of my most anticipated films of the year. I'd never heard of writer/director Cary Fukunaga, but the subject matter as well as the high praise from many critics had me salivating when I realized I might get a chance to see in while I was in Austin. My sister was kind enough to humor me and go to that movie instead of the new one from Michael Caine, and off we went to a nice little Regal independent theater in Austin.

This film is about two different individuals, a Mexican gang member and a restless Honduran girl, and how their worlds collide on a train carrying illegal immigrants across Mexico to the United States. I don't want to spoil any details of the plot, but I will say that there are some pretty brutal moments in this film with lots of gang violence. I've heard that it isn't proper to describe one film by comparing it to another, but in the case
of Sin Nombre the comparison is too accurate to ignore. It falls right between City of God and Slumdog Millionaire in subject matter and tone, and all three movies feature themes of young love, gang violence involving children, and poverty.

Obviously illegal immigration is a huge theme in this movie, but it is far from politically charged, instead focusing on the humanity of its characters and garnering plenty of sympathy for them. I found it very easy to root for these people and separate the characters from the issue itself. I am definitely in favor of more stringent measures when dealing with illegal immigrants, but at the same time you can't wish ill will upon another human being. Issues such as poverty and corrupt government in Mexico need to be addressed in a serious, aggressive way in order to make any progress with the illegal immigration problem, but if this film is any indication, the situation is virtually hopeless. Even for the ones who make it, it still must be bittersweet considering many leave their loved ones behind, and might not ever get to see them again. It's a choice that I'm blessed to have not had to make, and I thank God for that!

I know I've been sufficiently vague about the film itself, but let me assure you that this is a great movie which lived up to my high expectations. It's not as devastatingly beautiful as City of God, or as expansive and daring as Slumdog Millionaire, but Sin Nombre does have some amazing, unique cinematography and great young actors who make this tale survival ultimately rewarding. I highly recommend this film as it's one of my favorite of the year so far, and I personally can't wait to see it again soon.