Friday, December 28, 2007

Return of the Jedi (1983)

By Solar Sentinel Editor Alan Trehern

It truly ails my heart that we have come to the end of our glorious trip through the Star Wars saga. For all those who have kept up, it has been good, hasn’t it? For those of you just picking it up, make sure to check out the other entries.



Now, here at Ben’s Movie Reviews, to conclude the series reviews of Star Wars, in its 30th year, I present Return of the Jedi

Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.

Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star.

When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…
Originally titled the Revenge of the Jedi, it was soon changed because revenge was not a quality of a true Jedi. The movie picks up a few months after TESB, and Han Solo is still frozen in carbonite and in the palace of Jabba the Hutt. While Lando, Han, Leia and Luke reunite, the dreaded Empire has begun construction on a new Death Star (even though the first one took 20 years to build, apparently they got the job done in 2 years for Death Star II.) After their quick escape and the death of Jabba the Hutt, Luke returns to Dagobah to resume his training with the Jedi Master Yoda. Unfortunately, with his life complete, Yoda is tired and dying. The Force merely kept him alive to train the last of the old Jedi, Luke Skywalker. In what people say is the best of the three death scenes in this movie, Yoda reveals in his last breath there is another Skywalker.

Perplexed, Luke already knows the answer (We all know it’s Leia…Wait, he kissed his sister?!?!). This is when he meets the spirit of Obi-Wan for the last time in the saga. In the book Return of the Jedi, a lot of facts are switched around. Obi-Wan alludes to his battle with Vader (Luke’s father) on some volcanic planet, with Vader falling into the lava and becoming the machine he is today. Ben also reveals that Luke’s mother raised Leia for the first few years, out of sight from the Empire. Luke’s Uncle Owen is also revealed to be the brother of Obi-Wan. (Hmmm…)

Continuity mistakes aside, this movie is one of the last great movies made. It still has that old Hollywood feel to it, and it achieves in telling its story and not hiding it with special effects. (I would say the LAST great movie of old Hollywood would have to be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but that’s a different saga altogether). Luke plays the pure son and manages to return his father to the side of the light, and Anakin destroys the evil that has plagued the galaxy for years. The Ewoks were a little much, but the Rebel battle on the moon of Endor AND the battle against the Death Star (led by Lando "Billy Dee" Calrissian) were a sight to be seen.

As far as acting is concerned, Hamill, Ford and Fischer were a little off their games, considering the great performances they had in TESB. Perhaps they were tiring of the roles, but who knows? Great acts were put on by Ian McDiarmid (who played Emperor Palpatine), Billy Dee as the suave Lando and Admiral Ackbar, notable leader of the Alliance Fleet, and front man for Admiral Ackbar cereal.


I have little else to say about this movie, just that it is the glorious period to the sentence that is the Star Wars saga. I would tell you all the books that further tell the tales of the Star Wars universe, but I won’t. Oh hell, let’s just do it for old times’ sake:

The Truce at Bakura: picks up days after the destruction of the Death Star II

The Mandolorian Armor: picks up days after Boba Fett fell into the Sarlacc pit

Heir to the Empire: taking place years after the Battle of Endor and establishing new adventures

The Courtship of Princess Leia: the fight of Han Solo and the Prince of Hapes over the heart of the princess

Hope you have enjoyed this installment. I don’t know when I’ll be back, that’s all up to Ben and his gang of movie reviewers. Until then, keep reading his site and mine,
The Solar Sentinel.
Luke: “But, Ben, I’m all that’s left of the Jedi…”
Obi-Wan: “You’re not the last of the old Jedi, you’re the first of the new…”

--the last appearance of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Heir to the Empire

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweeney Todd, National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter


I'm not really a big musical guy, so I wasn't all "Lance Hunter Burbank" about this movie heading into it, but Becky (the sister) was fReAkInG oUt about it, so we went to the first midnight showing. I'm sure it's passable as a musical (I obviously haven't seen it in any other incarnation but the film), but I honestly didn't think it needed to be made into a movie. There wasn't any sort of message involved - it was your standard revenge story: The Count of Monte Cristo, emo-style. The trailer was incredibly deceptive in its portrayal of how much singing would truly occur, and I'm sure that's not going to sit well with people "tricked" into seeing this in theaters.

Once you get past the fact that there's TONS of singing, that makes things a little easier. Johnny Depp's voice is not half bad, and even the extremely British Helena Bonham Carter isn't awful because her character isn't supposed to have a beautiful voice. I'm fairly certain that all of the singing is overdubbed (I know for a fact that some of it is; I can only assume the whole thing was filmed this way), and sometimes it's pretty obvious that the leads are lip-synching, as well as they try to hide it from us. There were some good songs in it. My favorite was the one that Mrs. Lovett and Todd sang together; he was singing about seeing his old friends (his barber blades) again, and she was singing about how they could be friends, or something like that. But there were also some really bad ones, like the Mrs. Lovett tangent about the beach and what they would do if they lived together. (Forehead slap). And the supporting characters were kind of cool in a weird way. Alan Rickman was good as the evil judge, and perpetual-minion Timothy Spall played his disgusting character perfectly. Even Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat) wasn't as twitch-inducing as I thought he'd be; in fact, he provided some good comic relief.

Plot-wise, there there were some fairly questionable occurances, but they weren't glaring enough to make a big deal about. I don't want to ruin the experience for the people who actually like(d) the movie. The one thing that really bothered me about the whole production is that there was this huge outcry before the movie began filming about how it was fighting hard to get this "R" rating and it shouldn't be cut down to a PG-13, because there's so much violence and the violence really needs to be there, blah blah blah. So they finally scored the "R" rating, and people (myself included) were kind of excited about that because we thought maybe that would be the ray of light in an otherwise questionable film. We were wrong. The violence, albeit plentiful, was probably the most fake I've seen in a movie that wasn't made specifically for the Sci-Fi Channel. There were throat-slittings galore (the story does follow a barber bent on revenge, after all), but the blood was so fake it became more distracting and comedic than shocking and effective to me.

In my opinion, the only people this movie is for are die-hard Depp fans, Burton fans, or musical fans. If you are one of those people, then you've probably seen the movie by now. If you haven't seen Sweeney Todd yet, I'd personally suggest you keep it that way. You're not missing much.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Director: Jon Turtletaub
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger


If you're a fan of the first movie, then (for the love of all that is good) don't see this one. It's nowhere NEAR as good. I loved the first film - partly because of my love for treasure hunting movies, and partly because of Nic Cage, but Book of Secrets took everything that I liked about the first movie and took the fun out of it.

(Spoilers ahead. Not that the movie isn't so predictable you couldn't figure them out anyway, but still, I'll give the warning.)

THE TREASURE - Some sort of City of Gold, but it's not El Dorado. It's Native American in origin, supposedly discovered in Florida. But (as my Dad pointed out to me afterwards) the city was eventually found in South Dakota! No mention of how the massive city of gold was picked up and moved across the entire country. Not even an attempt at an explanation. It was like they suddenly needed the treasure to be closer to a major national landmark and since they couldn't think of one in Florida (or didn't want to use Kennedy Space Center or Disney World), they moved it and hoped we wouldn't notice. Nice try, filmmakers.

THE STYLE - One of the reasons I loved the first movie so much was because it was a treasure hunting movie, but presented in a cool way. The history of each clue and how it got there was a great way to keep the audience guessing as we followed our heroes across the country in a search for the Templar Treasure. In Book of Secrets, however, the writers didn't try to make the style fresh and new again, but pretty much kept the exact same thing they used in the first one. There were definitely problems with the first movie (how the heck did Nicholas Cage make all of those connections in such a short time?), but because of the style we accepted them and were distracted by the overall cool-factor of what we were watching. This time around, there is none of that to distract us from the glaring logic problems presented to us in the film. The clues are stupid and there isn't really any cool history behind them. And once they find the treasure, it looks almost identical to the one they found at the end of the first one. Whatever.

THE VILLAIN - Sean Bean gets replaced by Ed Harris? Are you serious? Ed Harris should have just keeled over and died at the very beginning, because there is no way that there could be a cooler villain in a movie than one played by Sean Bean (with one exception - Neville Sinclair in The Rocketeer). Ed Harris was a really questionable villain. Supposedly he had ties to the black market and selling of illegal artifacts, and he held Cage and Co. at gunpoint, but saves them in the end because he wants his family name to be a part of something good. What a pansy. I've eaten Chipotle burritos that were better villains than that.

THE FAMILY DYNAMIC - Diane Kruger reprises her role as Abigail Chase, but she has left Ben Gates because he's too good at what he does. So they don't get together until the very end of the movie. An unnecessary plot device, says I. And they committed the cardinal sin of bringing the whole family along for the ride. Whenever this happens in sequels, it's hardly ever a good sign: this is no exception. Helen Mirren (didn't she just win an Oscar? Then why is she in THIS movie?) plays Cage's mom, next to Jon Voight as the father who returns from the first movie. They get entangled in the search because his mom HAPPENS to be a world-renowned cryptologist and somehow Ed Harris and his baddies make a clone of the dad's phone. I don't know if this is possible, but they did it somehow. Don't ask me how. Anyway, the mom is not needed and definitely doesn't warrant the talents of an Oscar winner in the role.

If you couldn't tell, I'm a more than a little disappointed with this movie. The good parts (basically the parts involving the President) were few and far between, with stuff like bad comic relief from the sidekick (Riley, again played by Justin Bartha) and totally irrelevant phone calls to Harvey Keitel's character (why is he back??) stuffed in the middle. Go out and buy the first one, watch it multiple times, and forget this sequel ever came out. Good call, Mikey. Until next time...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Call To Action

I posted "The Aristotle Factor" on this page a while back, and since it is technically a "movie blog," I feel justified in posting my own movie on this page for those of you who haven't seen it yet. I had to make a movie last semester for a production class I was taking, so here's the finished product. Until next time...

Monday, December 17, 2007

I Am Legend

I Am Legend
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Will Smith


I liked it. That's what some of you are wanting to know, in short, so I'll just tell you right at the beginning. That's not to say that I thought it was the perfect film, because it definitely was not without its problems. But overall, I appreciated it a great deal.

The history of this movie could qualify as legendary, with Warner Brothers attempting to get it into production since 1994. With talks of directors as diverse as Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, and Guillermo Del Toro attached to the project, and actors like Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in negotiations to play the role of Robert Neville, the possibility was certainly present that the whole thing could have been canceled altogether. Budgetary concerns for the studios nearly did just that, with rewrites continuing all the way through filming to get the budget down enough to make the project a reality. Most of the problems came with the logistics of shutting down sections of New York in order to give that eerily empty feel to the city that has supposedly been ravaged by disease. Turns out it was worth it, because I thought that was one of the coolest parts about the movie.

Eventually, Francis Lawrence was signed to direct, a surprising choice as a director since most of his work has been on music videos. He's directed videos for Color Me Badd, Third Eye Blind, Aerosmith, Nelly Furtado, P.O.D, and way more. I never saw Constantine, his only other real movie, but I thought he proved him abilities with I Am Legend. For a huge blockbuster-type movie, there was a real intimacy about this film that came as a result of a few factors. One was Lawrence's direction - his shot selection was spot on and there wasn't ever a time where I thought the movie was hindered by unnecessary scenes. Another was the editing, which was fantastic - the suspense in this film was intense as anything I've seen in recent memory (1408 being a good comparison), and the film wasn't overly long. An hour and forty minutes was a very respectable run time that could have easily been stretched into a two and a half hour epic by other directors. The final thing that really held this movie together was (not surprisingly) Will Smith.

In his first Castaway-type role (he actually cited Tom Hanks' performance as inspiration for the movie), Will Smith proves again that he is one of the most solid actors working right now. For someone who had the normally-inauspicious start of converting from rap to acting, the Fresh Prince has truly come a long way. The story follows Robert Neville, the military virologist who is immune to a worldwide disease, as he borders on insane after being alone for over 1,000 days searching for a cure for the rest of the remaining population, who have turned into flesh-eating "dark seekers" that are really glorified vampires. Whether you're a fan of the zombie/vampire genres or not, you can't deny (well, I guess you can if you want) that Will Smith was excellent in this movie.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)

Sam the dog was another reason why such a big movie like this had such an intimate feel. I'm not even a dog person, but that thing was awesome. Watching the relationship between Neville and his daughter's dog through the first half of the movie, we realize that Sam is one of the few things that keeps Neville from killing himself. The intensity level skyrockets when Sam chases an animal into the darkness, and the first real danger of the movie is presented as Neville goes in after her. This part of the movie was my favorite. They hadn't shown us the "vampires" yet, and everyone knows that the suspense of not knowing what something looks like is a lot scarier than having already seen it. But getting back to what I was saying, the dog (and her eventual death) was a key factor in making the movie so personal because she was Neville's lone companion; everyone relates to the feeling of loneliness and that translates to the audience not wanting Neville to be alone, so to kill off the dog was a huge emotional hit for both Neville's character and the audience.

So now on to my problems with the movie. I Am Legend fell into the same category as countless other films because the monsters weren't nearly as scary after you've seen them for the first time. They were too reminiscent of The Mummy for my tastes (with the extending jaws and the constant growling). There was one part in particular that I remember being really tense: I jumped when a creature came out of nowhere and sideswiped Neville, but then it got right on top of him and started gnashing its teeth, and I was immediately bored with it because it wasn't scary. Neville didn't seem to be in any real danger since he couldn't be infected. Granted, they could have eaten him or something, but we all knew that wasn't going to happen, so it took away from the urgency. Another major problem I had was first pointed out by either Jeremy, Josh, or Zach, I can't recall which: where was the radio broadcast of the Vermont survivor colony? Was Neville the only one with the technology it takes to transmit a signal? I find that kind of hard to believe. The appearance of Anna and Ethan toward the end was kind of a strange jump in the storyline, too. How did Anna fight off the infected when she rescued Neville from his suicide attempt? I thought Neville's reaction to them was relatively calm for someone who hasn't seen another uninfected human for three years. Also, it wasn't abundantly clear whether he knew about the Vermont colony or not. Either way, he obviously refused to leave his "ground zero," but when he tried to convince Anna that everyone was dead, I still didn't know if he knew they were there and was trying to convince himself that he should stay or if he truly thought everyone else was dead and gone. Finally, the colony in Vermont had a huge wall (some might even call it a "Great Wall") that sequestered the survivors inside their habitat. I don't know about you, but I saw the Infected jump and climb like nobody's business when they were trying to get into Neville's house, so I don't think that wall was doing anyone any good. If they could travel by night until they reached that wall, there is no way they wouldn't ravage that entire compound until there was nothing left. These are little problems, I know, but they still kind of bugged me.

With all that said, I liked the religious questions posed toward the end, when Neville has his awakening and sacrifices himself for Anna and Ethan to escape. While pretty formulaic, this still gives Neville an excuse for a purposeful death, which he lacked before his visitors arrived. This also ties in with other main questions the film presents: the more palpable "what would I do in that situation?" and "how do you survive like that?" questions, along with the more philosophical and social "what does this say about our society?" and "are we capable of unwittingly doing something like this?" The only other huge problem I have with the logistics of the storyline comes right after Neville's sacrifice: he tells Anna and Ethan to wait until dawn to come out of hiding in his basement laboratory, but he neglects to take into account the fact that there is no light that comes into that area. The Infected clearly saw the pair go into hiding (they were watching through a glass plate) and could have easily waited until they opened the door (or even forced themselves in) to kill them in the morning. If we are to believe that the Infected are smart enough to mimic the traps set by Neville, which are pretty elaborate I might add, are we really supposed to believe that they'll just magically forget that there is a supply of food (aka. Anna and Ethan) hidden behind a wooden door five feet away from them? Hmm...

I Am Legend was exactly what I thought it'd be - good. It would have been right at home with a July 4th release, bringing back the "Big Willie Weekend" with style. In a summer that broke ticket sale records with three-quels galore, it would have been a fresh take (albeit another remake) on some subject matter that actually poses a few valid questions to the moviegoing audience instead of simply entertaining them. Until next time...


Trivia: The bridge scene that serves as a flashback in the movie was the most expensive New York City shoot to date. It involved a crew of 250 people, a cast of 1,000 extras (including National Guard members in full combat gear), required the permission of 14 government agencies, took six days to shoot, and ended up costing $5 million.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…


It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy.

Evading the dreaded Imperial Starfleet, a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker have established a new secret base on the remote ice world of Hoth.

The evil lord Darth Vader,obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space…


Here we are again, space travelers, for the fifth installment of a seven part series commemorating the 30th anniversary of the STAR WARS saga by me, author Alan Trehern.

Readers, you are in for a real treat tonight because on the page is one of the greatest movies to date, and the best movie in the entire STAR WARS saga:
My fellow blogger, Ben Pearson, can atone to the following statement: “TESB is the best acted, best edited, best story and best special effects of any of the Star Wars movies.” I stand by that statement and would take a bullet in the thigh to defend it. Directed by Irvin Kershner, this 1980 sci-fi epic continues the tale started in A New Hope, following Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa and their battle to stop the Galactic Empire.

We find our heroes stationed on the remote planet of Hoth. Luke gets lost within a frigid snow storm, where he meets the ghost of the late Obi-Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan tells him to travel to the Dagobah system, where Yoda can train him in the ways of the Force. The Empire soon finds them, and Darth Vader, “obsessed with finding young Skywalker”, makes the trip personally.

Our heroes escape. Luke and Artoo travel to Dagobah and find Yoda,
the great Jedi master and one of the most innovative characters at the time. I have delved slightly into the legend of Yoda in previous posts, so now I will discuss the actual development. Yoda is a Muppet, basically, voiced and maneuvered by Frank Oz and his mannerisms are so life like and his facial contortions so real, that his puppet heritage is lost, and you really see this strange creature from another planet. I don’t know if it’s because of Oz or the direction of Kershner, but this aspect of the movie is clearly one of its strong suits.

Further, the acting is phenomenally better than its predecessor, without all the awkward pauses or crappy one-liners. (Alright, there’s a couple one-liners.) It really feels that the actors (Hamill, Ford and surprisingly Fischer) took their roles seriously and actually jumped into character for once. TESB still has that spirit or adventure, science fiction and drama all wrapped up, which it unfortunately loses in Return of the Jedi. Hamill provides the gut wrenching scene when he finds out the man he hates most is indeed his father, yelling in the wind tunnels of Cloud City. Ford composes his role dashingly, giving the “ole’
Errol Flynn, debonair Solo pirate” effect he always manages to do. Even Fischer (Princess Leia) gives her best performance (and I must say doesn’t look half bad) as her character grows closer and closer (involuntarily, of course, because she was forced to travel in the Falcon because the snow pile blocked off her Rebel cruiser. Then they’re attacked by Imperial Star Destroyers and forced to base on the planet Bespin, where the Empire catches them anyway. ) to Han Solo.

Now that I mention Bespin and Cloud City, let’s consider the great new additions to the Star Wars universe. First, probably the blackest character in the Star Wars movies, Billy Dee Williams takes the role of Lando Calrissian, a Solo-esque archetype that had previously owned the Millennium Falcon, but had lost it to Solo in a game of Sabacc. His potential is fully realized in ROTJ, but in this installment, he is the leading cause of Solo’s capture and Skywalker’s defeat at the hands of Darth Vader. Only thinking to protect his colony, Lando faced the decision of betraying his friend or being killed by Vader, along with thousands of other people. I don’t envy you for a second, Lando.

Another great addition is Boba Fett (first
appearing in the Star Wars Christmas Special [1978]), who captures Solo, freezing him in solid carbonite for secure transfer to Jabba the Hutt (the crime lord Solo had smuggled goods for). Silent but deadly, Boba Fett and a group of bounty hunters (including Bossk, IG-88 and Dengar) are employed by the Empire to hunt down the Rebels. Fett succeeds. (To see further adventures of Boba Fett and his ultimate spanking of other bounty hunters, check out The Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy. I’m currently reading Book I, and it is tasty.)

These events (Solo’s capture, Skywalker’s defeat, the Rebels’ loss on Hoth and the revealing of Vader’s identity) all set the stage for the penultimate conclusion to the greatest trilogy of all time. Good direction, special effects, editing and acting all add to the enjoyment of this movie, and I really regret Kershner not having his hand in the Star Wars pot more often. But what happens between TESB and ROTJ? How does Luke and Leia track down Boba Fett? How does Vader’s hunt for his son further torment him? And who the hell is Dash Rengar? Find out in the sixth installment of Ben’s Movie Reviews: The Star Wars Saga: Shadows of the Empire…coming soon.

Until then, watch these movie before the year is up. You’ll feel better that you did.

Safe journeys, space fans, wherever you are…
WARNING: Watching the Star Wars movies may cause increased feelings of patriotism, sexiness and all around coolness. Please consume carefully.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Awake; Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Awake
Writer/Director: Joby Harold
Starring: Jessica Alba, Hayden Christensen, Terrence Howard


Go into this movie with no expectations at all. I almost guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised. This is a hell of a debut for writer/director Joby Harold, who puts together this film with the feeling that he's directed many times before. Man, I really respect people who write and direct their own stuff. Anyway, in case you don't know, the movie is about Hayden Christensen's character who is supposed to be asleep during an operation he's having - but the anesthetic doesn't work. He's temporarily paralyzed, but can feel and think as if everything was completely normal. That's the basic premise. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you can stand a few hours of those surgical shows on TLC then you'll be fine. I liked this film a lot; it was intense when it should have been and the character development was great. In those aspects alone it reminded me of 1408 (which not everyone liked, but Awake isn't getting particularly good reviews either. Once again - go in with no expectations). I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers didn't try to throw us any supernatural curveballs or add anything mystical or maniacal in order to explain plot points or character's motivations for their actions. It was very logical, and that was a breath of fresh air in a genre filled with cliches and over-the-top cheap thrills and scare tactics. The movie was also unusually short - only an hour and eighteen minutes. That alone would be the only reason I'd maybe recommend this for home viewing. A lot of films are almost not worth seeing in the theater these days unless A) it's a movie that NEEDS to be seen on a big screen (ala Transformers) or B) you're one of those people that loves to watch movies regardless. I happen to fall into that latter category (and I'm sure a lot of you do as well), so as always I'll leave it to your discretion whether you should check it out now or wait a couple of months until the DVD drops. A small side note - I really like the poster for this movie. It reminds me a lot of the poster for The Prestige.

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney


This one surprised me, too. I figured an 83-year-old director might not be exactly on top of his game, but I have to give Lumet some credit: he knows what he's doing. The guy has directed some classic movies in his time, including 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead definitely has that "independent" feel to it, eliciting fantastically intimate performances from every cast member. The leads in the movie were phenomenal; Hoffman and Hawke (sounds like a sweet law firm) should team up more often in these types of situations. They play brothers who are in some serious debt and decide to rob their own parent's "mom and pop" jewelry store. Naturally, they know the place inside and out since they've been around it all their lives, so they figure it's a win-win and nothing bad could happen. It'd be an incredibly boring movie if it was that easy, so after the robbery goes awry we realize that Marisa Tomei's character (naked for a good portion of the movie), who is married to P.S.H., is having an affair with the other brother, Ethan Hawke. Oh, how the plot thickens. From there it turns into a well crafted modern noir with a seventies flair, if that makes any sense to you. There's no smoky back alleys or black and white silhouettes, but a lot of the conventions of noir (desperation, recklessness, getting in deeper than you anticipated, etc.) come into play and make this really exciting to watch. As an audience, we also get the vibe that Lumet shot this movie the same way he would have shot it (stylistically) if he were shooting one of his famous masterpieces of the 60's or 70's. Everything technical about the movie was solid, but it was the acting that took this thing to that proverbial "next level." Interesting bit of trivia, though - while it may have the feel of a movie made thirty years ago, Lumet actually shot the whole thing on high definition video and thinks that celluloid (aka film) will be dead in five years, calling the process a "pain in the ass" when working with film over digital.

Albert Finney (the dad in Big Fish) was riveting as the broken father of the two brothers, and Rosemary Harris (Aunt May from the Spider-Man series) stepped in to play the mother. Even Marisa Tomei, who won a controversial Oscar for her performance in My Cousin Vinny, was great as the wife caught in the middle of the family. And as Joe so eloquently stated, she "sure has aged well." Well said, sir - I couldn't agree more. I haven't seen such intense performances since The Departed. Good luck trying to find this movie if you're interested in seeing it - we had to resort to a local independent theater in Gainesville to check it out. And aside from the opening sex scene, excessive language, cold blooded murder, and rampant drinking, this is the perfect movie for the kids as the holiday season approaches. Until next time...