Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Pursuit of Happyness

This movie makes you feel like absolute crap.

I'm not saying it's bad. The acting was good, and the plot was based on a true story, which is why it's such a potent film. But watching someone go through terrible hardships and incredibly difficult situations while trying to keep his family together makes you shake your head in disgust for complaining about how tough you had it in class this week.

I remember talking to someone who saw this right when it came out, which was Christmas of 2006. She, too, thought that it was quasi-depressing; especially so during the holiday season. I wonder if this was an appropriate time to release such a downer-movie, but I guess the producers decided that the Christmas Break time slot was too appealing to pass up. You can't really knock them too hard for trying to make a living. And I suppose the film DOES have an overall inspiring message, but it just takes the whole movie to get to it. If you know anything about Hollywood movies like this (and you ALL do), then you'll already know what happens in the end. Seriously, they wouldn't tell the story if it ended up any other way.

For me, the most stand-out aspect of this movie was the incorrect spelling of the title. I'm a fan of correct grammar, and it always bothered me when I saw the trailers for The Pursuit of Happyness spelled with that cursed "Y" in there. Thankfully, they actually explained the spelling in the first 5 or 10 minutes of the movie; otherwise, I think I would have just assumed they spelled it wrong by accident - a sure sign of incompetence.

Will Smith stars alongside his son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith (don't look at me...that's what it says in the credits) as the father/son tandem of Chris Gardner and Christopher Jr. Not surprisingly, Will turned in another top-notch performance which actually got him nominated for the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Forest Whitaker ended up winning it for The Last King of Scotland). I AM slightly surprised, however, by Jaden's performance. Granted, the kid is probably like 6 years old or something, but all I heard when this movie was in theaters was "Oh, you've GOT to see Pursuit of Happyness because Will Smith's son is SO GREAT in it!" I was expecting the next Haley Joel Osmont and ended up getting the black child version of James Franco - boring. I'm fairly positive that ANY kid who can speak English could have played that role just as well. Yeah, it's Will's son: but who cares? It felt like the only reason they cast Jaden was so that 20 years from now the Smith family can look back at this movie propped up next to their photo album and say "Awww...remember that? Wasn't that cute?" Bite me. The gimmick didn't work. Nice try though.

One of the cooler aspects of this movie was the Rubik's Cube scene shown in the trailer. Will uses his gumption to solve one in order to get a shot at a "competitive internship at Dean Witter" that's supposed to turn his life around. All this did was make me want to go out and buy a Rubik's Cube. I will solve that thing if it's the last thing I do...

Sigh. All right ladies. Yes, the movie was "cute." Yes, the kid was "cute." Yes, you might cry. And yes, Will Smith is rockin' a mustache. But on the whole, the movie was pretty average. The depressing quality that lasted for (nearly) the entire thing was too much and it ruined it for me. It served only to make me feel bad for having the luxuries that I'm blessed with in life. Plus, as Boze observed, Will Smith didn't contribute to the soundtrack for TPOH. What's that all about, homeboy? I loved "Wild Wild West" (the music video, not the movie) and "Men in Black." "Nod Ya Head (Black Suit's Comin')" was awful, and "Switch" wasn't great either, but not contributing at all? Where's your shout out to the industry that got you where you are, Fresh Prince? Where's the collaboration with DJ Jazzy Jeff? That man relies on you for work! Give him a job every once in a while.

If you're in the mood for a guilt trip with no rap song, then check out The Pursuit of Happyness as quickly as you can get it. If not, I'd say stay away from it. It really wasn't as spectacular as people proclaimed it to be when it first came out. Until next time...

Jurassic Park

By Guest Journalist Shaun Bozeman

Just go ahead and admit it to yourself: the 90’s was the worst decade of moviemaking ever. EVER. When you think about 90’s movies what is the first thing that comes to your mind? That’s right…explosions. I guess directors felt if they threw in enough pyrotechnics and crazy-ass maniacal Russians that it would be a hit regardless of the script or storyline.

Not all movies from the 90’s fell into the aforementioned stereotype though and one in particular rose up and changed the world of cinematography forever. I give you Jurassic Park!

(Enter John Williams’s theme song)

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has done the impossible; he has resurrected the extinct race of dinosaur for the entire world to see! For a price of course. Using breakthrough genetic technology Hammond’s team of scientists brought back every child’s wildest imagination and has put them on display in his aptly named Jurassic Park. With the park almost finished, all he needs is some good PR about the park. Enter Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) a world class paleontologist, Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) his PHD student, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) a famous mathematician. These guests could give his park the proper DAP.

On their tour through the island something went terribly wrong. A disgruntled employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight of Newman fame) has sabotaged the automated system for his personal gain. The whole park shut down and dinosaurs ran around unchecked. Our hero Dr. Grant must navigate through the island, back to the main control, reboot the system, and bring order to the park once again all while facing the most cunning predators the world has ever seen. Pretty intense huh?

What is the social commentary did uber-director Steven Spielberg/Michael Crichton (best author since Dickinson) have in mind? Well Jurassic Park conveys the danger of unregulated genetic testing. This has been a common theme in other MC books throughout the years (The Andromeda Strain namely). MC gets this point across mainly through the character Dr. Ian Malcolm. Malcolm repeatedly warns Hammond that nature is a living, changing thing… trying to control it is a fool’s errand. Nature will always find a way type deal. This is foreshadowed beautifully in a particular scene early in the movie. While descending on the island Dr. Grant attempts to buckle up but comes up with two female ended buckles. He then improvises by tying the ends together to strap himself down. We learn later that the scientists bred all of the dinosaurs on the island to be female to keep them from breeding, but they mistakenly add in amphibian DNA while filling in the unknown pieces of dinosaurs DNA. This allows the dinosaurs to change gender in an all female environment.

I would be amiss to do a write up on Jurassic Park and not mention the impact it had on cinematography. Before Jurassic Park , a movie about dinosaurs would have to be shot using animatronics, or claymation or something like that, but SS and his crew pushed the bounds and proved that CGI (computer generate imagery) special effects could carry a movie.

Basically Jurassic Park is the best movie ever made (take that Citizen Kane) so go out and rent/buy/steal/rip it and have a gander. Better yet - read the book and then watch the movie… you won’t be disappointed!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

District B13

Mikey and I had a free rental at Blockbuster recently, so Mikey jokingly picked up District B13 based solely on its cover and suggested it. I had actually heard of the movie before, but it was French. We hesitated, due to the inherent bias Americans have against all things French, but decided to give it a shot. Hey - it was free, and The Transporter took place in France. Plus it was dubbed over in English, so we didn't have to deal with French accents. We figured at least it would be entertaining to watch, and if not watch, then listen to the Godzilla-like overdubs. The movie surprised me. It wasn't the greatest thing I've seen, but it was pretty solid.

District B13 was directed by a guy named Pierre Morel, who was the cinematographer for The Transporter. Luc Besson, the producer for Statham's starring vehicle, was also the producer of B13. Just with that information alone, this movie couldn't be horrible.

It's 2010 in Paris. The story follows our young hero, Leito, who is the landlord of an apartment complex in District B13, which is cordoned off by concrete walls by the government due to its hostile setting. Gangs and drugs run rampant in that particular area, but Leito is a good guy and wants to clean up his district. So he steals 20 kilos of heroin from the local mob boss and douses it with Drano to piss him off. The bad guy, Taha, sends his goons to take Leito down a notch, but using the masterful art of Free Running (or parkour, to those of you who are savvy to such things) Leito escapes. I'm going to go ahead and insert that scene right here for your viewing pleasure. (Also, I'm fairly certain that none of you are going to see this movie since you've probably never heard of it.)

One of the coolest things about District B13 is that it stars David Belle, the founder of parkour. He's actually a pretty good actor. You really felt for him throughout the whole movie. After this sequence, Taha kidnaps Leito's sister Lola and takes her hostage for six months while Leito is in jail for killing a cop (it's OK- the cop deserved it). The film then jumps over to the other main character, a French policeman named Damien who incidentally can also perform parkour stunts extraordinarily well. (Side note: Apparently everyone in France has some sort of training in Free Running.) Damien has to stop a bomb that has been released into District B13, and enlists the help of the only man who knows the area well enough to stop it in time: Leito. The plot was the only part of the movie that I thought wasn't quite up to par. (Hah, I guess that's kind of an important aspect, isn't it? Oh well.)

The movie makes up for it with sequences like the one posted and a couple other really cool chase/fight scenes. Unfortunately, there's not quite enough of them to kick it up into the ranks of the Transporter series. Ladies, you'll probably be bored to tears through this one, especially if you get tired of staring at Leito's shirtless body for the first half hour. Ah yes, this leads me to another reason I liked the film: it's short. The movie only runs 86 minutes, which is really awesome. I've seen so many movies recently where I've said to myself, "This would have been a lot better had they lost that last 30 minutes." District B13 understands what kind of movie it is, and doesn't punish audiences for watching it. I respect that. I also liked the movie because unlike some other action movies I've seen (cough cough...Bourne Supremacy...cough), the camera work wasn't nauseating. Morel very well could have taken this approach, but I for one am thankful they stayed away from what I consider distracting film-making.

Unlike a few other movies that I've reviewed this month, B13 shockingly has an underlying message. I don't know if you guys remember the riots in Paris that happened in 2005 (a year after this movie was originally released), but the reasons for those riots were a lot of the same reasons that people in the movie district of B13 weren't pleased with the government: they had abandoned them as a lost cause because of all the corruption, drug running, etc. The film is set in 2010, which isn't far enough in the future to have the scenario of fencing off neighborhoods be too unthinkable. The message is clear: hey, French government! Step up to the plate and do something about this problem! I'm surprised to see a legitimate political statement coming from a movie that I thought would only be straight action all the way through, but the filmmakers did their job and presented a valid point to their viewers to get their minds churning.

If I was forced to rate this film, I'd give it a respectable rating. The plot definitely isn't the most intellectually stimulating thing you'll ever see, but the movie understands that and doesn't try too hard to make it work. It just kind of goes with the flow, having some fun along the way. If you don't take it too seriously, and you're in the mood for some action (and Free Running), I think you'll like it. Until next time...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Shadow

I've been dreading writing this ever since I watched this movie a few days ago. I wanted to see The Shadow when it came out in 1994 (putting me at the ripe old age of 9), and I'm pretty sure that's the only age when I would have enjoyed this film. I didn't know who Alec Baldwin was back then.

Holy crap. I just took a gander at Russell Mulcahy's (the director) filmography - no wonder The Shadow sucked so terribly. This guy was responsible for the music videos for "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Video Killed the Radio Star," and the movie Highlander. I think that pretty much says it all.

The Shadow as a character has been around since 1931. He started as a pulp hero in Detective Stories magazine and eventually came into the realm of radio to entertain children and adults alike. The famous catch phrase from the days of radio was "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" While you can almost picture a kid in front of a radio listening to that in the 30's, this doesn't necessarily mean that it translates well to the big screen. In the movie, there were MULTIPLE instances where someone asked the Shadow's alter ego how he knew something to be true, and he responded with a wink, saying "I know" in the cheesiest way possible. I understand that they were attempting to give some respect to the origins of the character, but COME ON. It was one of the lamest things I've seen in a movie in a long time. I'm sure 90% of it was Baldwin's delivery, but that's beside the point.

The movie opens with Alec Baldwin as a brutal murderer somewhere in the Orient. The stereotypical sage old man comes along and trains him to become The Shadow: a quasi-superhero who can literally turn into a shadow so people can't see him and who has mind control powers similar to that of a Jedi. (On a personal note, I think this "power" would be better off just to mess with people than actually fight crime, but that's just me.) He comes to the U.S. and takes on a Bruce Wayne persona named Lamont Cranston, fighting crime by night in the 1930's or 40's. This is where it gets outlandish. The last surviving relative of Genghis Khan makes his entrance dressed in Mongolian battle armor and he (gasp!) has comparable mind control powers to the Shadow. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Shiwan Khan (as he's known in the film) is evil. Using his mind-control power, he enslaves people and dresses them up in the same ridiculous Mongolian armor and has them act as guards. He then tries to create an atomic bomb for the purpose of ransoming the world, but requires the assistance of a scientist (Ian McKellen, Lord of the Rings and X-Men) and his sniveling sidekick (Tim Curry, The Three Musketeers, Clue). Of course, the scientist's daughter is a fair maiden who falls in love with the Shadow, blah blah blah. This movie was so predictable it was painful.

I'm fairly certain that none of you would be crazy enough to sit through this filmic monstrosity, so I'll go ahead and give away my favorite parts. I think the best part was that when Shway Khan or whatever his name is comes back, he mind-wipes the entire city into thinking that a massive hotel has vanished into thin air. You're thinking: "Hey Ben, this sounds slightly cool." No. It wasn't. The hotel was hidden in some kind of invisible force field and everyone just kind of ignored the fact that no one in the city could remember when it was torn down. (Another hologram showed a pile of rubble where the hotel "used to be.")

Giving the movie some credit for originality, they did do one thing right. There was a cool kind of comradery between the people whose lives had been saved by the Shadow. After saving a life, the Shadow doles out a red ring for these people to wear and they join a Fight Club-type faction who doesn't speak about their roles but helps the Shadow when needed. The city has a special set of pipes running throughout seemingly every major street where special Shadow-mail gets transferred to the faction by air pressure, but apparently the city officials don't find these extra pipes strange at all. Ah yes, and I almost forgot another personal favorite. While Batman and other dark heroes don't carry weapons, the Shadow has no problem brandishing two .45 pistols and doesn't hesitate to kill people. He's more like the Phantom than Batman. (Author's Note: The Phantom was a pretty awesome movie. I watched it recently, and it stood the test of time. Kind of.)

The clip below showcases one of the most ridiculous feats of physics ever approved for the big screen. I don't know who decided to give this a green light, but they probably are no longer working in Hollywood. (The particular part I'm talking about comes in the last 10 seconds of the clip, so cut ahead if you're not up for listening to the wince-inspiring delivery of Alec Baldwin and the guy who played Ricky Tan from Rush Hour 2.)

This is another one of those movies that has no social value. It doesn't make any commentary on anything other than the obvious "nuclear bombs are bad" speech. It's not clever. The acting is horrendous. The plot is ridiculous, and not in a good way. I actually preferred Terminal Velocity to The Shadow, and that's a bold thing to say. Also, I forgot to mention that when Alec Baldwin turns into the Shadow, his face changes to look like some older man's face. I guess that's something the director could have been trying to convey: be yourself, don't let your superpowers turn you into someone you're not, blah blah blah. Wow, if that's the best I can come up with, then this movie was worse than I thought. "Who knows the evil that lurks in men's hearts?" I do. The evil is that someone approved production on this movie. Until next time...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Aristotle Factor

I'm not doing a review for this since it's only a trailer. But I figured if there was any place on the Web to put it, this site would be the spot. Enjoy, if you haven't already...

Until next time...

Wild Hogs

by Guest Reviewer Alan Trehern, The Garbage Man

Hello there friends. If you're reading this, then I've been asked back to review a movie Ben would never be seen dead seeing, for some odd reason. Wild Hogs in actuality, was a pretty funny comedy. It's the story of four men and their middle age road trip across the country from Ohio to California. There's only one thing: the road trip is on motorcycles. The great Tripp once said, "Alright already. America liked motorcycles for like three weeks. Did we have to make a movie about it?" As funny an observation as this is, this movie is well worth seeing.The cast is pretty hefty. Tim Allen (Home Improvement, The Santa Clause) plays a dentist who suffers from heart problems. John Travolta (Grease, The Punisher) plays a lawyer married to a super model who divorced him, but he has of yet to tell his friends. Martin Lawrence (Martin Lawrence stuff) plays a husband who took a year off to write a book, but then had to go back to work at the firm because of his tyrannical wife. And, dreadfully, one half of Filliam H. Muffman (Crap, that movie with the retard, and more crap) plays a moronic, annoying computer programmer that provides most of the cheap laughs in the movie. Along with Ray Liota as Jack the psychotic motorcycle gang leader and 40+ hotties Jill Hennessy (Crossing Jordan) and Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, Seinfeld), this movie provides what it set out to deliver.

Contrary to the usual movie review, I will not be discussing camera angles, storyline continuity, or the director's artistic goals (if you want all that and more, check out my review of Robocop 3). I will be discussing character portrayals and musical influences.
First, Tim Allen's role pretty much bit the big one. I'm used to a more confident, grunting, sexist pig Allen that you get from his TV appearances. In this movie he is more timid, weak, and his joke cracking abilities are little to none. Even so, the Tool Man is a good addition to this rag tag group of riders, calling themselves the Wild Hogs.
Lawrence gives the usual black exploitation, with his macho speeches and his "We gonna kick those guys asses" kinda jive turkey nonsense. But still, his part was crucial to the overall comedy of the movie.
Travolta by far delivers the best performance. He's witty, anxious, and a terrible liar. Basically, he's the greatest actor the movie has in its repertoire of thespians. But he isn't:
Now Presenting: Trehern's Award for Trehern's Favorite Actor: John C. McGinley!

Popular in the television show Scrubs, McGinley (or as I call him, Dr. Cox) plays a gay cop that finds the boys curled up together under one blanket in the woods. His facial expressions intensify his comedic performances, making you laugh every time he says something, even if it's in dead seriousness. He appears once again in the film at a watering hole, and I am semi-proud to say I have seen Dr. Cox's ass (no I'm not!).
And finally, we get to the bottom of the barrel. Filliam H. Muffman, or as the media calls him, William H. Macy. His role on its own is so bad it can only be compared to a movie just as bad. Let's think...Masters of the Universe? No, that was good. Scarecrow 2 with Ken Shamrock? instant classic. Pokemon 7: The Curse of Dildomon? Hmm...perhaps even worse. Anyway, it was bad.
However, all these performances together made a great film, which is saying a lot. It was a balance of power, or checks and balances, if you will, of comedic personalities. Whoever edited this film or wrote the screenplay, or whatever these film guys do, they managed to use each actors' performance to the film's overall effect.
The other strong aspect of this movie was the use of music. I'm a big fan of classic rock that really hits the nitty gritty. I'm talking "guys in leather jackets with long beards hitchhiking in the middle of the desert" rock. The bands you will hear in this film run along the desert highway of AC\DC, Aerosmith, and I think there might have been some Van Halen in there. There was even the more obscure Mink Deville's Spanish Stroll, which was enjoyable to hear on the big screen. Basically, music make movie better.
So in conclusion, if you enjoy a good hour and a half of comedy and don't feel like going to see one of those 3 and a half hour epics they got coming out of Hollywood's ass every 9 days, then you will surely enjoy Wild Hogs. Don't forget to bring medical tools, because your sides will be splitting.
Thanks again, Ben, for letting me post on the world famous Ben's Movie Reviews. If I'm ever asked back again, I will review the upcoming straight to DVD classic Dukes of Hazzard 2: The First Hazard Was Making This Show A Movie.

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

by Guest Reviewer Alan Trehern

Ah, yes, a Superman movie that I like. Are there any in this world I don't like? Probably not, but this one is up in the top 5 list. Anyway, Superman II: The Dick Donner Cut (Richard's friends call him Dick) is a movie directed by the aforementioned gentleman in 2006, using footage shot in 1977 and 1978 for the Superman 1 and 2 movies Dick planned on doing. However, as most of you know if you read The Solar Sentinel, Donner was fired half-way through Superman II and Warner Bros. hired Richard Lester to take his place. So basically, what you see in Superman II (originally released in 1980) is a hodge-podge of film directed by two men, but only one got the credit. Can anyone spell "shafted"?
On another side note, Marlon Brando (Jor-El) refused to appear in the second movie because of his personal tie to Donner (how cool is that to have a Brando tie?) and Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor) stopped filming after Donner's termination, so if you notice closely in the 1980 version, Hackman himself is rarely visual, and a stand in took his place.

All these stars and lost footage, thankfully, can be found in the Superman II: Donner Cut. However, the story has changed. At the beginning of the film, there is a flashback to the previous events of Superman: The Movie. In one instance, Superman diverts one of the nuclear weapons from hitting California, and sends it into space. This missile explodes out of harm's way, but frees the three criminals of Krypton from their imprisonment in Jor-El's Phantom Zone. Terence Stamp provides a realistic version of the tyrannical General Zod, and Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Jack O'Halloran (Non) provide the bitchy, lesbian white girl aspect and the comic relief, respectively.

However, what I found most appealing about this movie was how the makers went back, saved the film from archives in Africa (I believe) and managed to come out with a decent movie; and in this writer's opinion, a better, more connected version than the original. The events taking place within the film are radically different from its original, delivering many twists that you would not see coming. If you had seen Superman II (1980), without seeing the first Superman movie, you would have been lost. However, with the Donner footage put into place, the stories of the two movies flow together as one whole saga, as it was meant to be.

As to film content, Marlon Brando gives a stern yet fatherly performance as Superman's father. He continuously reminds his son what he was sent to Earth to do, but when Kal-El refuses to take this mantle, the feeling of regret and disappointment is in the old man's eyes. You are even angry at Superman for giving everything up (powers to save humanity) for an old hag like Margot Kidder (Lois Lane). Not only that, but when Superman returns to admit his wrongdoing, Brando admits his disappointment again, making you say "Ha, you deserve that Superman!!"

Christopher Reeve (Rest in Peace) and Margot Kidder take back their roles as Clark Kent and Lane, and a love story is more prominent in this film than its godfather. Donner admits himself that most of the footage used were screen tests, so the dialogue is a little sparce and fluffy. Reeve, however, delivers a more emotional side to the superhero: arguing angrily with his father, having the stuffing beat out of him by the no-name hick in the diner, and then his eventual return to the Fortress of Solitude as the prodigal son. Gene Hackman as Luthor, provides the comic relief and does a good job doing it, since his persona in the film is more solid than in the 1980 version.

All in all, this movie is a good replacement for the Lester version since it provides a better storyline, more relevant footage and the right cast. However, you have to be an avid Superman fan to fork out the $25 dollars (and that's if you find it!) that the DVD costs, when Lester's Superman II only costs a cool $7.50 at the local Target. Although it's a hard find, find it, watch it and enjoy it. As for me, if the editor of this blog approves of this review, I should get another gig reviewing Wild Hogs.

So keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mystic River

I've seen some really awful films this month, but I've seen some great ones alongside them. Mystic River falls into the latter category.

Extremely reminiscent of another well-casted flick, Sleepers, Mystic River is a powerful drama centered around three childhood friends who have drifted apart and a devastating murder that reconnects them. Warning: this movie is kind of a downer. If you're looking for sunshine and happiness, look elsewhere. If you're looking for some intense acting, masterful directing, and a story that will make you feel slightly uneasy, you've come to the right place.

After a disturbing incident on the streets of Boston splits up the childhood trio, the film jumps ahead to when the main characters are in their 30's. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con-turned-family-man. Dave (Tim Robbins) is still haunted by the memories of said disturbing event. Sean (Kevin Bacon) works for the "staties" with his ironically-named partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne). When Jimmy's daughter is murdered, the three men are thrown back together in a hunt for the killers and some redemption for themselves along the way.

I had a couple beefs with this movie. The first and most important is that Katie, Jimmy's daughter, is murdered way too early in the film. The sole reason I say this is because I was distraught that the unbelievably attractive Emmy Rossum (pictured) didn't get more screen time. The second is that this movie was directed by Clint Eastwood, and it wasn't a western. Don't get me wrong, I'm a semi-Eastwood fan: but seriously, this subject matter is getting a little too serious for ya, Clint. You're like 90 years old. Go back to money-in-the-bank western cameos or direct some more westerns yourself. The Western genre has been fading at a dangerous rate in this country since Eastwood has stepped off the scene, and we need it back. This isn't to say that I'm a huge western fan, either. (Although Tombstone was fantastic. Highly recommend it.) It does mean that I don't think entire genres need to be exterminated because a few select individuals don't step up to the plate and do their part (ahem, ahem...CLINT...ahem). Come on, man: Robert Duvall can't do it all on his own.

Quasi-ridiculous criticisms aside, the cast and direction of Mystic River did a phenomenal job and their work paid off, making this one of the most well-rounded films I've seen in a long time. This was particularly evident with the death of Ms. Rossum's character. Her death tears at the very souls of the people that knew her. I've never seen death portrayed in such a compelling fashion on screen before. In most movies, people die and it's really not that big of a deal. Sure, their loved ones may cry for a little bit, but they seem to realize that the movie has to continue, so they move on with their lives with only slight glimpses of sadness for the remainder of the film (I'm lookin' your way, Steven Seagal. Hard to Kill ring any bells for ya?). Compared to the amount of emotion elicited from the parents and loved ones of the victim in Mystic River, those "other-movie" characters are heartless. This movie accomplished its goal. It actually had me thinking at one point about how horrible it would be if one of my friends was tragically killed. I know that's a terrible thing to think about, but if a movie can get you to think AT ALL nowadays, it has succeeded; plus, that kind of thinking only serves to make the film all the more personal for the audience and allows them to relate to the emotionally devastated characters, proving the director/screenwriters are doing their jobs.

Those of you who've seen Sleepers will pick up on the similarity. Both films center around a group of boys, their experiences, and then flashes forward to later in their lives where they reunite. Both feature themes of sexual abuse. Both tell moral tales of redemption and revenge. Both star Kevin Bacon. It also had a singular element in common with The Departed and The Boondock Saints*: those annoying Irish-Boston accents that everyone character has to have because they live in Massachusetts.

Besides the aforementioned great acting and directing, this movie serves a much more important purpose in today's society: with all the talent involved in this flick, it's a gold mine when playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

This is another one of those movies where the ending is the most important part, and I'd be doing the film a disservice if I gave it away to you here. Go rent it and see what I'm talking about. The movie is intense, but it's worth it. Until next time...

*For those of you that are fans of The Boondock Saints, you'll be pleased to know that there is new life in the long-anticipated sequel Boondock Saints: All Saints Day. There have been some legal battles being fought over the past four years regarding the rights to the sequal, and now writer/director Troy Duffy has finally secured the rights and is in the process of getting funding for the movie. Last I heard, all the cast from the first one except for Willem Dafoe is returning for the sequel, which is definitely good news. You can hear all this from Duffy's mouth in a video posted on the main Boondock web site here. Here's hoping this gets off the ground and into theaters sometime in the next two years.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

High Fidelity

After shouting the title of this movie for a year during volleyball matches, it's about time I got around to seeing it. High Fidelity felt like a sequel to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. There are a few main reasons for that statement: Cusack broke the fourth wall constantly, the movie was set in Chicago, Cusack's lackadaisical attitude toward the future, his odd friends, etc. Since Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of my favorite films, it's a pretty safe bet to assume that I enjoyed High Fidelity.

I hadn't seen a John Cusack movie in far too long. While he does have a penchant for the over-dramatic, he's still a pretty cool actor. I liked him in Identity and Runaway Jury. In this movie (one of his most beloved performances from what I understand), he plays Rob Gordon, a record store owner who is jaded by a recent breakup. Rob speaks to the camera almost as often as he speaks to characters in the film, and in doing so makes you (the audience) feel more involved with his character and the events on screen than you would in an average comedy. Some girl with a name I can't pronounce plays the unintentionally annoying ex-girlfriend who is still the object of Rob's desire. I don't know what it is about her character, but there's something in the way that she talks that led Branz to dub her a "man-bear-pig." Jack Black has his breakout role as Barry, the record-store-employee-snob who embodies the typical Jables character. Joan Cusack pre-unites* with her School of Rock co-star (JB) as a mutual friend of Rob and Girlfriend McCan'tPronounce. Catherine Zeta-Jones does a fair job with a small role as another of Rob's failed relationship partners.

I think my favorite aspect of High Fidelity was the constant "top 5 lists" that were presented throughout the film. These lists (favorite concoctions of the main character) are compiled for things as ridiculous as "Top 5 Most Brutal Breakups" to "Top 5 Songs About Death" when Rob's ex's father dies. 15 Original Points also go to the High Fidelity screenwriters for coming up with the band names "The Kinky Wizards," "Sonic Death Monkey," and "Kathleen Turner Overdrive."

This movie is obviously a love story at its core. Rob's character development is one of the best in recent memory, partly because his feelings are so universal, and partly because he comes full circle by the end of the movie. The reason High Fidelity is so greatly appreciated as a cult classic is not only because of Bruce Springsteen's dream sequence cameo: it's because the characters are so well conceived. If you can't relate to the jaded Rob, then there is a slew of minor characters that I'm sure you can relate to instead.

I really do see this film as the closest thing Ferris Bueller will see to a sequel. It wouldn't be that far of a stretch to imagine Rob Gordon skipping school with Ferris and Cameron. Cusack does a fantastic job of keeping a certain childish nature to his character, holding on to his past and searching for clues from his failed relationships as reasoning for the failure of his current one. This self-consciousness differs from Ferris' unwavering confidence, but retains the same spirit of being a kid as long as possible. In Cusack's case, this comes from complaining to the viewing audience for most of the film, and using us as a vehicle to work out his emotions on screen. In Ferris' case, the asides are more of an opportunity to showcase his character and present his carefree feelings toward life. Rob Gordon is WAY more emo than Ferris would ever be, as evidenced by multiple scenes in High Fidelity where he is sitting in the rain, moping over his miserable life and his hapless streak of luck with women.

Slightly depressing but funny at the same time, this is one of those movies that you have to be in the right mood to appreciate. Give it a shot if you're looking for a hit of Jack Black and Nacho Libre just isn't cutting it, or if you're a closet Cusack fan and want to see one of his most famous performances. Until next time...

*I made up the term "pre-unites."
1. Pre-unite. v. Middle English, from Medieval Latin preunitus. The term "pre-unite" can be used to reference collaborations between actors/actresses in movies that were filmed before their most famous pairing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Prestige

One of my favorite movies of the past three years, The Prestige is loaded with an awesome cast, a great plot, and directed by one of Hollywood's upcoming visionaries, Christopher Nolan. Everything about this movie was great, and if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading this and go rent (or buy) it right now.

I'm not sure if I'm partial to this movie because of my personal experience with magicians, or if it simply is as awesome as I think it is. All of you who helped me celebrate my 18th birthday will undoubtedly remember the aptly named "Magic," a friend of the family who is a professional magician. It may be the years of him performing card and coin tricks for me when he stayed with our family (leaving me shaking my head and awestruck every time), but I think my personal experiences give me a slight bias toward favoring this film, so keep that in mind as you read on.

Personal experiences aside, there were so many aspects about The Prestige that I loved. The structure of the movie was fantastic; set up like a magic trick, the film itself is divided into three parts: the pledge (where the magician shows you something ordinary), the turn (where he makes it disappear), and the prestige (where the object returns). The film's narrative structure parallels this magical formula and becomes even more brilliantly obvious the second time you see the movie. Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan are becoming my favorite writing/directing tandem of today. They seem to know exactly what to show on screen to keep the tension at its highest point, and they have a knack for picking excellent projects to work on with highly talented actors (which always helps). There were a couple of different things that stuck out to me while watching the movie: one being the aforementioned structure of the narrative mirroring the stages of a magic trick and another being the dueling magicians in the forefront of the story and the dueling inventors on the sidelines, Tesla and Edison. I thought it was interesting that Christopher Priest (who wrote the novelization of the story back in 1995) chose to compare the subplot of obsessive inventors at the turn of the century with the fanaticism of the magician main characters. It also served as the basis for what I thought to be the funniest line in the whole film. Hugh Jackman's character, Robert Angier, is waiting to see Tesla in Colorado Springs hotel when a bunch of burly looking gentleman arrive outside. He asks the bellhop, "Do they work for the government?" and the bellhop responds with a completely straight face, "Worse. They work for Thomas Edison."

I don't think there is a scene that can be considered "filler" in the whole movie. Every aspect of the story is on a crash course to the inevitable twist ending, which some people consider the film's weakest point. When I walked out of the theater, I must admit I thought the twist was a cop-out, but after seeing it again, it's the only way they could have done it without bringing some sort of supernatural aspect into it, and we all know how that turns out. The movie takes place in the early 1900's, so the costumes and everything represent Victorian England. Luckily for the audience, the movie isn't really a "period piece" and therefore doesn't RELY on the costumes/settings and divert our attention from the most important aspect of the film: the story.

Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine were all phenomenal. Scarlett Johansson, as hot as she may be, was by far the weak link in the cast. The story required a super-hot assistant to distract the magician's audience while he was performing; it's a shame that the same effect happened in real life and the assistant did nothing but distract us from the excellent acting of the rest of the cast.

There were some awesome visual metaphors in The Prestige. The most prominent of these was when Angier was walking through the snow to meet up with Tesla in Colorado Springs. The camera shows Angier, dressed impeccably from head to toe, trudging through the snow (leaning on his cane to account for his limp) toward the electrified gate. The use of mise-en-scene here is perfect for the situation: a man crippled by his own obsession wandering through the stark, deathly winter toward shock and electrocution is subtly captured in a few camera shots. The snow is nearly blinding to Angier, recounting another Nolan film, Insomnia. Another good example of visual representation of what's happening on screen is when Angier finally is able to garner audience applause after performing "The Real Transported Man" near the end of the movie. He had been using a double the whole time, and was forced to take his bow beneath the stage while his double received the hard-earned applause that Angier deserved. This feeling of success and achievement was captured on film using a high-angle shot from Angier's perspective, high above the audience as they look up in amazement and clap for him. There are some other examples (the Chinaman's "devotion to his art" comes to mind), but I digress.

After seeing this movie once, you really do want to see it again (ala The Sixth Sense). The physical signs leading you toward the twist ending are so blatant after you know you're looking for them, and that is the sign of exceptional film-making. On a scale of "suck" to "amazing," I'd give this one a solid "rockin'." Until next time...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Casino Royale

The recently-released-to-DVD Casino Royale brings Bond back to the world with force. As opposed to the "I don't want to mess up my hair" Bond of the Pierce Brosnan days, Daniel Craig comes in swinging as a rougher, tougher James who isn't afraid to F people up who get in his way.

For the record, I'm a 007 fan. I've seen nearly all of the 21 Bond films. I even enjoyed Pierce Brosnan's rendition of the character. I mean, he's the Bond we grew up with. GoldenEye was one of the greatest video games ever made, even if the movie didn't garner that same glamor. Sadly, though, the Bond franchise has steadily dropped since 1995, with horrific releases like Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day leading the downward spiral. (The World Is Not Enough was slightly better, but didn't come anywhere near the brilliance of Bond's glory days with Connery and Moore.) Brosnan's witty demeanor and suave charm were all well and good, but audiences were growing tired of heinous computer graphics (Bond surfing on a tidal wave? Are you kidding me?) and boring, predictable one-liners ("I've never had Christmas in Turkey." - The World is Not Enough). Martin Campbell returned to the franchise with a new outlook, and I like the way the future is looking for James Bond.

Also for the record, I was not a Daniel Craig fan until I saw Casino Royale for the first time in theaters. In fact, I was in definite opposition to Craig playing the role. I had no clue why the guy who was in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider deserved the chance to be the next Bond. I thought that Clive Owen would have been a much better choice, but then I heard that Clive himself shot down the role after it was offered to him, which makes me love that guy even more. I even thought that Jason Statham would have been a cool Bond, but realized that he has much more of a cult following with films like The Transporter series and Crank, and he doesn't need to rely on international moneymakers like Bond to make a living.

Daniel Craig is a breath of fresh air as this era's favorite super-spy. His hardened looks and rugged physique (how gay does THAT sound?) lend well to the representation of the character in this revamping of the franchise. On a small side note, I'm also a fan of these current revitalizations of film franchises; Batman, Superman, Bond, etc. all have done a great job in making these films more serious and losing all the over-the-top ridiculousness that previous incarnations have instilled into the pop culture vein. Don't get me wrong, camp can be fun sometimes, but when films rely on it to succeed (and it's not The Transporter), it's probably going to fail.

For those of you who haven't yet seen Casino Royale, the plot follows Bond as he gains his famous "00" status and searches for a man named Le Chiffre, a terrorist stock market broker who intends on blowing up a jet in Miami and other nefarious things in order to make a quick buck. After Bond foils this plan, Le Chiffre plans a high-stakes poker game at the aptly named Casino Royale in Montenegro, and Bond connives his way into it with the help of Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green).

This film was noticeably slower than I would have liked, but I still thought it was really well done. I'm not embarrassed to say that I prefer fast-paced movies to slow ones. They don't ALWAYS have to be fast paced (as evidenced by one of my favorite movies of all time being The Shawshank Redemption), but in "action" films like this, they really should continuously flog your senses with stunts and lighten up on the filler. In any case, I really enjoyed Craig's performance and I thought the plot was entertaining, especially considering the novel was written back in 1953 and the screenwriters attempted to stay true to that story (for the most part). Also, with the recent "poker craze" of the past decade, I'm sure the screenwriters were itching to cash in on that in a major motion picture (Rounders aside, of course). This new revamping of Bond didn't utilize any of the standard gadgets that Bond fans have come to love, either. That was half disappointing and half refreshing at the same time. I didn't want the movie to lose its down-to-earth appeal by ruining it with a lot of cheesy gadgets, but I wouldn't have minded a FEW thrown in there.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the opening scene in which Bond chases Sebastien Foucan through Madagascar, highlighting free running in motion. I'm amazed at what these guys can do, and it was really cool to see a little part of that on display in such a high-profile movie like Casino Royale. I was pretty sure that Kovar and I invented the sport, but apparently there have been people in Britain and France doing it since the early 80's. I hear there's a French film called District B13 that came out last year and features free running pretty heavily, so I might have to check that one out in the near future. I'll let you know how that goes.

If you haven't seen it yet, do so. If you're a Bond fan, then you'll enjoy it. If you're not a Bond fan, then you'll probably enjoy it because it's not quite like other Bond movies. So you're pretty much in a win-win situation. I know these words are rare, but here they are: I can't wait for the sequel. Until next time...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Captain Blood

Captain Blood is a 1935 black and white movie starring Errol Flynn. Branz rented it from the UCF library and demanded that we watch it, and after you read this plot line, you'll see why I didn't refuse.

Dr. Peter Blood (Errol Flynn, who was something of a pop culture icon in those days) is a physician who is wrongfully imprisoned for tending to the wounds of a rebel against King James' rule in 17th century England. After being sold into slavery with a ragtag group of rebels, the crew escapes slavery and turns to piracy, leading swashbuckling lives of adventure and excitement, perpetually on the run from the sadistic Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill, of Murder in the Zoo fame). Clocking in at just about two hours, this movie was WAY too long and the pacing was excruciatingly slow, but it must be taken into account that this was the way films were made back then. It took a full hour before there was any swashbuckling whatsoever, and that's the only reason that I wanted to see it.

Some of the action scenes (especially the sword fighting) look incredibly amateur and fail to stand the test of time, but later in the film when the pirates are firing cannons at other ships and boarding them to take over in a massive free-for-all, it actually gets pretty sweet. Heavy on the dialogue, Captain Blood is Errol Flynn's first leading role in film and his the start of an illustrious career of one of the most iconic actors of the 20th century. I'll take this opportunity to tell you what little I know of Errol Flynn, as he was quite the character back in the day. This guy was the Russell Crowe of the 30's and 40's. He was a heavy drinker, a womanizer, and he was known to rough people up when the situation called for it. He was also charged with statutory rape of TWO seventeen year old girls in 1942 (our old buddy Errol was 33 years old at the time); hilariously enough, a group banded together to support him and named themselves the American Boys Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn (ABCDEF). The charges were dropped and our hero went back to his decadent ways, increasing his legendary status as a ladies man and providing the basis for the phrase "In like Flynn." Known for hanging out with such studs as Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, Flynn was living the good life. He was also "preposterously endowed" as legend has it, and the size of his package has been referenced in many modern pop culture mediums, including films, Looney Tunes cartoons, and books. Here's a quote of his I came across: "Any notion that a woman's mind is nobler, purer, higher, more decent, cleaner or anything else gentler or superior to a man is pure delusion." I think it's safe to say that he would have approved of the mantra "All Male, Just Like in the Workplace." This guy was a living legend. I really wish I could have been a part of that ABCDEF group.*

Captain Blood actually had a great deal of influence on the Pirates of the Carribean movies. As I was watching it, the similarities between the films became too many to ignore. Everything from loose storyline to specific places such as Tortuga and tactics such as loading the cannons with debris other than cannonballs in the huge naval battle at the end of the movie is clearly adapted for use in the Pirates movies. I'm sure this is the case for countless other films, but it was interesting for me to see a film that a current franchise so obviously paid homage to (especially since Captain Blood is really F-ing old).

I'm sure none of you will ever see this movie, and that's OK. You're not REALLY missing much, and Errol Flynn has been dead since 1959, so this isn't exactly modern stuff we're working with. In case you're jonesin' for a taste of pirate action, check out this 10 minute clip from the final battle at the end of the movie. There's an exceptional explosion at the 3:35 mark, and some acting that would make Keanu look like Brando. Until next time...

*(Note: While this writer does not emulate the lifestyle and intolerance of women that Errol so wondrously represented, I certainly appreciate his reckless abandon and predilection for excess - he was an icon on and off screen, and I respect that.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Zack Snyder's 300 is an incredibly hyper-stylized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. However, if you're aware going in that it's not going to be your history professor's account of what happened in 480 BC, you'll enjoy it a lot more. The movie isn't really shooting for the realism of, say, Alexander, and it embraces its graphic novel origins. It does a great job of hyping up the most famous elements of the legendary historical event while keeping the audience visually entertained with fantastic cinematography; even if you're not a fan of the storyline, as a film fan you'll appreciate the originality of how the movie looks on screen.

Let's go through the standard stuff before we get to the meat of this review. Gerard Butler (the titular character from 2004's Phantom of the Opera) portrays King Leonidas of Sparta, a warrior leader who defies his government and takes 300 of his best soldiers to fight against the oncoming attack of the Persians. The character of Leonidas is not necessarily an overly complex one: half of him is a battle-hungry Spartan, while the other half is a sentimental husband and father looking out for the safety of his home country. Since the film is based on a graphic novel (with much of the film taken frame by frame from Frank Miller's work), you can't really fault Butler or the character for being one-dimensional. He does a good job bellowing war cries and showing pity for his fellow warriors in their times of need, but aside from that it was a pretty average performance on his part. Rodrigo Santoro plays the Persian King Xerxes, a skinny, gold-covered, multi-pierced, self-proclaimed god who demands that the Spartans and their army stand down. His deep voice doesn't match up with his emaciated body (reminds me of the lead singer for The Calling: remember them?), and he remains off the battlefield rolling in his decadence while he sends his soldiers and slaves off to fight. This provides a stark contrast to Leonidas, who leads the charge against the enemy and battles alongside his men on the field. Lena Headey (The Merlin TV mini-series and The Brothers Grimm) is Queen Gorgo, wife of Leonidas. Once again, the character is pretty one-dimensional, but she does a decent job of not showing too much emotion (Spartans don't show weakness) at her husband's departure; she also fights a legal battle in the council to send the entire army out to support Leonidas' decision.

For those of you who don't know, my minor is Classical Studies, a.k.a. Greek and Roman civilization and mythology. I've spent the last two years taking classes about the societies of Greece and Rome and learning the in's and out's of stories like this one. Although 300 is obviously not aiming for realism, they did manage to get a surprising number of facts correct about the legendary event and the societal aspects of the time. The opening shots to the film describe the training process for young Spartan boys, and these depictions were as accurate as Steve Kerr's three-point shot.* There were some key phrases in the "mythology" of the event (keep in mind, these have been documented by historians as actual fact) that were used in the film accurately as well. Some of these include:
1.When Xerxes asked the Spartans to surrender their arms and was answered with the infamous Spartan response: "Come take them." (Today, this phrase is the emblem of the Greek Army.)
2. Dienekes' dialogue with a Persian messenger regarding the "arrows that will blot out the sun" and the Spartans will "fight in the shade."
3. The narrator of the film utters another famous line toward the end of the film. This line is emblazoned on the burial mound of the Spartans at Thermopylae today, and reads "Go tell the Spartans, passerby, that here, by Spartan law, we lie."
4. The scene toward the beginning of the film in which the Persian emissary arrives in Sparta demanding an offering of "earth and water" from Leonidas and his people as a sign of submission. Historically, Leonidas replied "dig it out for yourself" and threw him into a well in the city.
Quotes aside, I thought 300 did a great job of mixing historical integrity with a comic over-exaggeration of events; it wasn't perfect, but it was fun. Another really cool aspect of the film that I'm grateful for was the way the filmmakers showed (more importantly, didn't show) the distance from Sparta to the battlefield. There weren't unnecessarily long scenes of the soldiers trekking across the mountains to reach their destination or any drawn out set-up devices that took forever to get the plot going (see Alexander, Gladiator and even Troy, to some extent). The beginning of the film wasn't exactly a Bond opening, but it wasn't slow, per se. There was a good balance to the pacing which I appreciated as a moviegoer, and I never checked my watch during the 117 minutes I was in the theater.

Although I haven't seen any TV specials on the making of the film, someone told me that there was some sort of innovative new camera system that Zack Snyder set up for a couple of the fight scenes in the movie. Those of you who have seen it will know exactly what I'm talking about when I describe it, and those who haven't probably won't get it, but bear with me. During the aforementioned fight scenes, apparently Snyder attached three different zoom lenses on the end of the camera set-up so he could cycle through them at will. When we actually see it on screen, it looks like a very fast zoom (almost a jump cut) to a closer or further away picture, but in fact, the lens is just being rotated so another one comes into focus. Once again, I personally haven't stumbled across this or been able to confirm it, but it sounds pretty cool to me. It definitely worked for the scenes in which it was used, especially in tandem with some slow motion effects to make everything more epic.

Overall, the cinematography appears pretty innovative. I can't remember seeing a film that LOOKS quite like 300 does. Frank Miller's Sin City film adaptation had a little of the same vibe coming from it, with the outstanding use of black and white with splashes of color, but this movie doesn't rely on color for a gimmick. Don't get me wrong, color undoubtedly adds to the feel of different scenes throughout 300 (neutral colors contribute to the natural, earthy feel of the flick), but it doesn't have near the effect that it does in the stark contrast of Sin City. It seems like every third time I mention cinematography I say something like "this film has a gritty feel to it," but 300 utilizes this aspect more than any other film in recent memory. There is a grainy quality about the film stock used (or it was added in post-production, either way) that psychologically informs the viewer that they are seeing something that happened in an era long past.

(Semi-spoilers ahead. You should pretty much know what happens since this is a historical event we're talking about. I'm not really ruining the ending for you. It's like telling you the end of Titanic is that the boat sinks.)

I heard from Jared that there was an uproar about whether this film supported President Bush or bashed him, and I decided to just see it for myself and see what I thought the film represented politically. Apparently the creators deny the fact that there are political undertones to the film, which I'm going to go ahead and say is a bunch of BS. There's no way that you can make a movie about war in America today and NOT be making some sort of commentary about the current war that our country is fighting. My thoughts on the film's political stance are more balanced today than they would have been a couple of years ago, and keep in mind that I currently don't associate myself with any political party and I'm extremely apathetic when it comes to politics. I think the main meat of the movie was in support of President Bush and his decision to go to war. The parallels of 1. Leonidas rallying his troops to stop an invasion before it happens, running into trouble with the council and the bureaucratic resistance that follows, leading the charge against the ultimate enemy who sits back reveling in his hordes of stolen goods and sending his soldiers out to fight (but staying hidden himself), and protecting the ideals of democracy and 2. President Bush doing the basically the same thing in his War on Terror can't be ignored. However, I also think that the movie attempts to tell us that the current war is futile. I say this for one main reason: the Spartans lose the battle. They stand up for what they believe in and fight for democracy, but they do it without the support of the government and the Spartans just don't have enough power to take down the seemingly endless onslaught from an enemy that, for all intents and purposes, has a never ending flow of soldiers heading right for them. Ultimately of course, the Greeks end up winning the war against Xerxes, but the filmmakers don't SHOW that part of the story. Granted, they allude to it at the very very end, but they stop the action pretty much right after the last Spartan falls on the battlefield. This leads me to think that they feel like the battle against terrorism is a never-ending one that has no clear winner when it's all said and done. Lives are lost on both sides, and there are such massive amounts of terrorist sects that it's nigh impossible to eradicate them all (who gave the U.S. that job, anyway?). Those were the initial feelings I got from the film; maybe on a second viewing I'll get a different vibe. Only time will tell.

300 is an action movie, to be sure, but there are more compelling issues in the plot besides the kill count. You just have to dig deep enough through the Persian corpses to find them. Until next time...

*Steve Kerr's career three-point percentage was .454, the best in NBA history. For the purposes of my simile, however, this percentage seems slightly low. In hindsight, the film was about 90% accurate when it came to the training scenes.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Terminal Velocity

Charlie Sheen in a skydiving film. I'm sold.

Terminal Velocity wasn't good, by any means. But it wasn't bad, either. It was frighteningly average in every way. Directing, acting, stunts, explosions, camera work, music...everything. It was the epitome of a mid-90's summer action flick. 1.) Not too much plot, but enough to make you not question the film's overall legitimacy. 2.) A male lead who is a badass "I'm too cool to do anything but wear a leather jacket THE ENTIRE MOVIE" ladies' man and happens to have brown hair. and 3.) Foreign villains who are just in it for the money.

This movie was so average that I'd almost consider it a parody. Then again, with Charlie Sheen films, you can never be too sure. I really have no idea what kind of statement the director was trying to make with this movie. When I took that film class last semester, I learned that every director makes a point with every film that he/she directs. For the life of me, I can't figure out what this one is. I'm pretty sure that my film professor failed to take mid-90's action movies into consideration when he told me that. Can there really be a solid point (other than to entertain, of course) to films like this? I'm sure some sort of BS could be made up on the spot like "improving Russian and American relations, while attempting to educate younger audiences on the history of the Cold War and attempt to prevent another such occurance from happening," but I'm not writing a paper for class and I'm not trying to fill that ever-empty last half page of an essay. I'm writing this to entertain you and to give myself something to do, and I'm not going to BS you. I don't write things just to take up space, and I certainly don't write things that I don't believe. (What's the point of that?) Anyway, I've gone on this rant to prove a point: I'm not really sure what Terminal Velocity is about, and I don't think the director knew, either.

I can't even type up a summary without sighing at how sensationally mediocre the plot is. Charlie Sheen (The Three Muskateers, Young Guns) plays the aptly named Ditch Brodie, a renegade skydiver with an attitude problem and an ego the size of Josh Vanderpool's ears. Nastassja Kinski is the mysterious Russian spy with the heart of gold. James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos") plays a really awesome character, the District Attorney Ben Pinkwater who searches for the truth behind a skydiving mishap turned fatal. He is really fidgety and nerdy-looking, and he pulls it off pretty well considering how comfortable he fits into the Tony Soprano role a few years later. I hesitate to give you any more plot points, since that'll pretty much give away everything in the movie (can you tell it's not that great if THAT'S all I tell you and if I say anything else I ruin it?), so I'll stop right there for those of you who are dying to get out and catch Charlie Sheen in full throttle mode.

I'll make a concerted effort to go into more detail and depth with my next few reviews. The films that I've been watching lately haven't been kind to me in that regard. My apologies to you die-hard readers out there looking for a little bit more...all in due time. For now, all I can do is direct you to my Blood Diamond review, because that's the longest one I've written in a while. As for whether or not I though this film was worth seeing: I'd say watch Drop Zone or Cutaway instead. Both of those have similar plots and are a lot better executed. Until next time...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Cave

"Beneath Heaven Lies Hell...Beneath Hell Lies...The Cave."

With a tagline like that, how could I NOT watch this movie?

I knew what I was getting myself into with this one. I knew that it wouldn't be Oscar-worthy, knew it wouldn't have good acting, a good plot, or anything worthwhile about it. Sometimes you just need to see movies like The Cave in order to appreciate really the good films out there. Granted, I had JUST watched Jaws 3 not even an hour before I caught this flick, but we had it recorded on the DVR and it was just going to take up space until we watched it. Eventually it had to go. So I figured "what better one-two punch than The Cave and Jaws 3?"

Turns out any one-two punch other than Crossroads and Gigli would have been better. The one cool thing about this film was the cinematography; there was a really gritty stubble-like effect to the grain of the film that looked pretty sweet. Sadly, this effect only appeared in the opening scene (a flashback), so it disappeared as quickly as it came.

The plot wasn't too terribly conceived: a team of scientists exploring the Romanian mountains find a new cave system under the ruins of an old church and hire some American spelunkers to take them down and check it out. Little do they know that this particular cave system is filled with hellish monsters created by a parasite species which exponentially evolves its hosts into winged demon creatures. This sounds semi-cool, and I think it could have been a decent movie if the filmmakers approached it correctly.

In my opinion, there were way too many characters for the story that was being told. There were like 9 people down in that cave, and I honestly can only tell you the names of the two main characters - brothers who went by Jack and Tyler. Every other character was about as bland as you could be: there was absolutely no attempt at character development, backstory, or anything that would have made us feel sympathetic for the characters at all. I have no idea how this movie made it through the screening process into a Hollywood production.

The computer graphics for the monsters were passable, but you know in Signs how once they showed the aliens it was kind of downhill from there? Same thing in The Cave. And since they didn't have the audience feeling for any of the human characters, the monsters were the only thing they had going for them.

Was the movie scary? Not really. Was it innovative? No, as evidenced by the fact that this came right on the heels of The Descent in theaters, and it's practically the same thing. I'm not really sure how I feel about Hollywood doing that whole "let's release at least two films at the same time, taking place in practically the same world, with basically the same plot line and see which one makes more money" thing. Some prominent examples:

Tombstone and Wyatt Earp in 1994 and '95 - biography of Wyatt Earp's life and adventures.
Babe and Gordy in 1995 - talking pigs.
Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998 - end of the world, disaster, etc.
A Bug's Life and Antz in 1998 - animated talking ant kid movies.
Dark City and The Matrix in 1998 and '99 - dark, sci-fi thrillers.
Mission to Mars and Red Planet in 2000 - I think you can guess what these were about.
Aeon Flux and Ultraviolet in 2005 and '06 - sexy women sci-fi tight clothing resistance movies.
The Prestige and The Illusionist in 2006 - magic films set in the 1800's.

I guess I think it's a good thing that Hollywood is doing this, as annoying as it may appear, because it provides us (the audience) with a little variety to choose from. If we don't want to see that magician film with Ed Norton, we can see that magician film with Hugh Jackman instead. It's all about personal preference. There are countless other examples of this phenomenon in Hollywood over the past 20 years, and I can't really think of a downside to it. If anyone feels differently, you're entitled to your own opinion and I don't want to hear about it. Hah. Just kidding. But not really. But seriously. I'm joking. But really, I've got them in the back.

Back to The Cave. Not being able to relate/feel for/care about any of the characters was what hurt this film the most. I think they had the premise for a potentially awesome horror flick, and they let it slip right through their fingers. The only cool parts about the cast were that Eddie Towne from "Tilt" was in it, and there was a dude by the name of Morris Chestnut in it also. Needless to say, leave this movie alone and go watch season one of "Tilt" on DVD instead. Until next time, amigos...

Jaws 3

I know, I know: this is getting ridiculous. The quality of films that I've seen so far this month has been pretty dismal (with a couple of exceptions). I'm sad to say that this post and the following post won't improve the quality factor in any way.

The following is all you need to see to grab the general gist of this film.

(P.S. - Watch the first 30-35 seconds, then wait until the whole thing has loaded and skip ahead to the :45 second mark. You owe it to yourself.)

There IS one piece of information that slightly redeems what you've just seen. The original theatrical title for this film was Jaws 3-D, and the tagline was "The third dimension is terror." This implies, of course, that what we've just seen is nowhere near as cool as the 3-D effect in the theater would have been to the audiences way back in 1983. However, relying on 3-D effects alone absolutely cannot save a horrifically acted, horrendously conceptualized, poorly executed train wreck of a film. Joe Alves gave it his all in the only movie he ever directed. He came up short of anything other than a moderately entertaining piece of crap.

The cast in this movie was almost as pitiful as the storyline. At SeaWorld, a new section of the park is about to open. Mike, the engineer who designed the new addition, happens to be the oldest son of Roy Schneider's (the cop in the first movie) Brody character, and his younger brother John comes to town to visit him and his girlfriend. After John meets a water-skier who works for the park, the foursome must fend off a great white shark that has infiltrated the park before its killing spree gets out of control. Of course, as is the case with nearly every shark film I've ever seen, it's not just one shark: The big mama/daddy shark shocks everyone when it makes its appearance. Haven't these characters seen Shark Attack 3: Megalodon? Crikey. (Author's Note: I'm well aware that Megalodon was not available in 1983, but it SHOULD have been.) Throw in the British TV News Superstar who wants to film the whole thing instead of just KILLING THE F-ING SHARK, and you've got yourself one heck of a plot. Dennis "Dragonheart" Quaid plays Mike, some joker who couldn't act his way into Knock Off plays John, and Lea Thompson (the mom in the Back to the Future franchise) is the water-skiing bimbo who gets quasi-naked in the water with a guy she met earlier that same night. (Sigh.) What a classic.

Normally, I like to give at least a LITTLE depth to these reviews by throwing in commentary about what I think the director was trying to accomplish, cinematography, etc. but this movie just doesn't lend itself to analyzation in any capacity. If you're looking for further information on this film, just watch the clip above again and you'll realize that you shouldn't be. Until next time...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Under Suspicion

I'm going to keep this post relatively short because I know that none of you have ever seen this film. What a great movie. Next time you're at Blockbuster for an hour and a half searching aimlessly for something decent to watch, give Under Suspicion a try. This amazingly acted drama has some fantastic scenes in it and the chemistry among the cast is nearly palpable.

Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost and the Darkness, Predator 2) directs a star-studded cast of Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane (The Punisher), and Monica Bellucci (The Matrix sequels) in this indie drama. Surprisingly, he succeeds in bringing the story to life. You can tell that this is a project that the actors involved have great respect for: it doesn't have a large budget, the story is very centralized around four major characters, and it takes place in about a four hour period. It's almost got a stage-play feel to it; and it works. With actors as awesome as Hackman and Freeman, you can pretty much just sit back and let them do their thing. Morgan Freeman (how old is this guy nowadays?) plays a detective trying to solve the rape and murder cases of two 12-year-old girls in Puerto Rico. The outstandingly ominous Gene Hackman is the high-ranking partner of a law firm questioned about the crime. Tom Jane's character, the wild card young detective, could have used a little more depth to him, but Jane pulled it off well for what he was given. Bellucci, as in most of her roles, does nothing more than breathe sexily through her lines and look hot - not surprisingly, she does this well.

There's one particular aspect of this film that I liked a lot, and it made it stand out from all the other films of this type that I've seen before. When Freeman is questioning Hackman about his whereabouts the nights of the murders, the movie switches to flashback format. What's cool about these scenes is that Morgan Freeman's detective character appears in the flashback with the people who were actually there - he's observing the situation as it was told by the person being interrogated. This is reminiscent of scenes in Boondock Saints in which Willem Dafoe's cop character attempts to piece together what happened at a crime scene from just the evidence left behind. His character also places himself in the scene as it happens. Cool stuff.

Although this was based on a French film (and we all know that French people suck), Under Suspicion is a good story with an excellent cast and a mediocre director. With these powers combined, it turns out to be a great film that explores the depth of relationships and personal secrets no one wants uncovered. Until next time...