Monday, June 21, 2010

6/21/10: To Infinite and Beyond Jonah Hex

TOY STORY 3 (2010) ****1/2
D: Lee Unkrich. S: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Timothy Dalton.

Years before the new regime took the reigns at Disney, Toy Story 3 was in active develop and I believe in early production.  It was to be a direct-to-video release.  One of the first things done was to cease production on the sequel, scrap everything and turn the film over to Pixar.   I shudder to think how that one would have turned out because the film that Pixar has given us is a true Hollywood rarity.   A sequel, let alone a part three, that is not only excellent but is better than the original and the sequel that followed. 

Andy is now grown up and is about to leave for college.  He must decide what to do with his collection of toys, store them in the attic or throw them away.   A series of accidents results in the entire gang being donated to a local daycare center and an all new, funny, smart, touching, thought-provoking and overwhelmingly satisfying adventure begins.

Other than a few story elements, this is a great film.   There are a number of memorable set pieces and one in particular that may very well have you on the edge of despair.   The characters are still just as endearing and engaging as the first day we laid eyes upon them.   Hopefully their adventures will continue.  This isn't being pushed as the last chapter in a trilogy but if it were it would be a fine conclusion.  

This is the film to beat for Best Animated Feature in 2010.

JONAH HEX (2010) *1/2
D: Jimmy Hayward. S: Josh Brolin, Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Aidan Quinn.

The only good thing that will come of this is that you'll probably want to read the comic instead.  I know there's a Jonah Hex film out there but this is not it.   Marginally better than  Ghost Rider and thankfully very short, 81 minutes.

Johan Hex is a supernatural bounty hunter in the Old West.  He has the ability to talk to the dead.  He seeks vengeance against the man who killed his family and scarred him for life.    Sounds like your typically oater with a supernatural twist.

Unfortunately, everyone is wasted in probably would have been better if everyone was "wasted."  Brolin is sleepwalking, Fox if forgettable and Malkovich is yawn inducing.

For 80 minutes, I was bored.   The film makes no attempt to explain how Hex got his powers, let alone clearly explain if the guy actually died or not and came back from the dead.

Oh, well.  Nuff said.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

06-11-10 - Totally '80s Weekend!!! Karate Kid to the A-Team!!!!

THE KARATE KID (2010) ***1/2
D: Harald Zwart. S: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson.

When it was announced that a remake of one the seminal films of the '80s was in the works and would star Jaden Smith, I was more bothered by the fact that the film was skewing too young to the point it would be hard to relate to then that it was being remade in the first place.

For the most part, my misgivings were unfounded as "The Karate Kid" is one of the better remakes Hollywood has churned out in the past decade.   This is mostly due to the performances of Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan.    Jaden holds his own and is as charming and charismatic as his father.   You root for him but unlike the original you don't connect with him.  Jackie Chan, while no Pat Morita and in know way is trying to be Miyagi, is excellent as Mr. Han.  Where the original really delved into Daniel's life and his relationship with Miyagi, here they really make an attempt to help get across the philosophies and teachings of the chinese culture. 

The story is fairly similar to the original.  Young boy is supplanted to a new home and is immediately a fish out of water.  He runs into some trouble with the local bullies and is eventually befriended and mentored by the apartment complex's maintenance man.  Finally, he takes on the bullies in a championship tournament. 

There are elements you will recognize from the original and the subtle twists that were made don't feel forced or showy.   However, because it is a remake and if you are familiar with the storyline you know how things will unfold.  As a result, there isn't any suspense as to how things would unfold. 

I will say that the fights in this one are much more brutal and impactful then any of the ones in the original films, even more than "The Karate Kid-Part II."    It can get a bit awkward seeing a 12 year old getting the crap kicked out of him.  Also, Mr. Li, John Kreese in the original, is far more menacing and unfortunately not enough is done with that other then dropping him into classic scenes such as the order to sweep the leg.    

When it ends I didn't leave with that feel-good swelling of emotion I remember having as a 13 year old but I was still entertained by it.   This is a Karate Kid for a new generation.   One that will probably have the same impact as the original had on the one before it.

THE A-TEAM (2010) ***
D: Joe Carnahan. S: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley.

In the classic '80s hit TV series, a band of mercenaries come to the aid of people who need help taken out some bad guys.   Every week, Hannibal, Face, Murdoch and BA would entertain families as they deliver family-friendly action.

Fast forward to 2010, The A-Team is back, badder, crazier and more violent than ever.  

The film almost serves as a prequel to the series.   Pre-title sequence reveals how the team first came together and how BA's fear of flying came to be.   We see the crime they did not commit and their escape from maximum security prisons.  The film concludes with a modern take on the famous intro.

The leads are well cast and the fact that it's a movie allows them to really chew things up.  Copley's "Murdock" is far crazier than he was in the TV show.   People actually get killed, one of the reasons that I stopped watching the show because as a teen I thought it was getting rediculous that no one was ever killed no matter how epic the crash or explosion.

The film is chock full of action with only occasional inspired sequences but it's stuff we've seen before in countless other films.  Unfortunately it is fairly predictable, the misfortune of having seen too many movies.  

It was great to finally see "The A-Team" on the big screen.    I just wish it was better.

PS - Stay through to the end of the credits.  There's some deleted scenes that fans will greatly appreciate.  They probably wouldn't fit into the tone of the film so it was probably better that they left them out.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

02-28-10: What I've Seen in the Last Few Weeks

D: Francis Ford Coppola. S: Tim Roth, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara.

A seventy-year old man is struck by lightning, miraculously he survives.  What is more amazing is that when he awakens and eventually heals, he looks to be in his thirties.

In this film based on the novel by Mircea Eliade, Coppola pulls out all the stops.  It's almost comes off an experimental film.  It doesn't have the feel of a Coppola film.  I haven't seen this much visual flair in his films since Dracula.

There is so much more to this film then just the story of a man who has somehow tapped into the fountain of youth.  It's fantasy, science-fiction, metaphysical, metaphorical, romantic, fascinating.   It does the film not justice to go into detail about the story and what was great about it.  However, I will say the conclusion leaves you to ponder just what it is you've seen.

The performances were great and I really enjoyed the way Coppola shot the film.  It can at times come off as a bit jarring yet enjoyable.  It's his best film in quite some time.

RIO BRAVO (1959) ****1/2
D: Howard Hawks: S: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson.

This is a classic western that slowly builds up the tension until it is finally released in an action-filled finale.

After taking a cold-blooded murderer into custody, a sheriff and his deputies have to stay on their toes while awaiting the arrival of the US Marshals.  

The Sheriff is played by John Wayne.  I've never seen him looser or less "Duke" like here.  He's vulnerable, makes mistakes but is still a man who'll take no crap from anyone.

Dean Martin is one of his deputies.  He's a struggling alcoholic who is going through severe withdrawals that he fears could cost them in the end.

Angie Dickinson is the woman who's captured the Sheriff's heart.  When I saw her I didn't realize it was Angie Dickinson. 

This film is filled with many great scenes and great performances.   The only drawback, for me at least, was a sing-a-long led by Ricky Nelson.  It felt like a showcase for the singer sensation.

Other than that, it's a rip-roaring western that ranks amongst the best westerns ever made.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) ***1/2
D: Ti West. S: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov.

A college student trying to make ends meet decides to answer a want ad for a babysitter. 

So begins this homage to classic '80s horror films.  This film has the look and feel of an '80s horror-thriller. 

What makes this film so distinct from all of the horror films made in the last 10-15 years is the willingness to allow the film to simmer.    The "horror" element of the film isn't unleashed until the film is nearly over.  When it finally arrives, it is violent, disorienting, bleak, unnerving and dare I say fun.

I was reminded of "The Burning."  Someone days in the beginning but no one dies for the next hour.  It's all about characters and the situations they are in.  When the killing begins, you find you care.  The "House of Wax" remake actually did this too.  One of the reasons why I liked that one when most hated it.

Do yourself a favor and DO NOT watch the trailer for this film.  Definitely check this out if you miss old school horror.

SYNC OR SWIM (2008) ****
D: Cheryl Furjanic.

Synchronized Swimming.   In all the years I've watched the Olympics, this and curling were two events I never bothered watching. 

This documentary follows the 2004 Olympic Synchronized Swimming team from trials through the 2004 Olympics and beyond.

If you love the olympics, you'll love this movie.   It really gives you a sense of what goes on when putting an Olympic team together.  You literally get the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. 

I was rather amazed at just how much strength and coordination is required just to do one element.  I have a new found respect for sync swimmers.

This is a great documentary, see it if you can.

WAITING FOR...BUDD (2009) ***1/2
D: Garry Pastore. S: Vincent Pastore, Garry Pastore, Robert Funaro.

This short feature documentary is a testament to the old adage "The show must go on."

A group of actors put on a outdoor reading of the classic "On the Waterfront."   This staging will take place on the docks of Hoboken where the classic film took place.

The production company receives word that Budd Schulberg, the film's screenwriter, will be attending a performance.   Needless to say, the group is excited.

However, the day of the performance the region's biggest storm hits and a downpour threatens to cancel the show.   With short notice, they find a new indoor venue, have a packed house with very little advertisement and the guest of honor was there to see the show.

As it turns out, this was the last time Budd Schulberg would see his work performed which brought even greater sentimentality to this production.

I would have liked to have seen more about Budd but the focus of the film was about the production.

Still a good film overall.

SHUTTER ISLAND (2010) ***1/2
D: Martin Scorsese. S: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams.

A US Marshall descends into hell when he investigates the disappearance of a dangerous mental patient from an island-based mental institution.

This is another movie that one shouldn't discuss without risking giving away too much.

It was an enjoyable thriller, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane.  It's definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

02-13-10: Wolfman doesn't have nards!

THE WOLFMAN (2010) **1/2
D: Joe Johnston. S: Benicio DelToro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving.

A noble effort by all to bring the classic tale back to the big screen but ultimately it doesn't have much bite.

Lawrence Talbot returns home to investigate the brutal murder of his death.   He encounters the deadly beast, is bitten and according to legend will become a beast himself.

When the visual effects doesn't over rely on CGI they are quite good.  Rick Baker, creator of the legendary make up for An American Werewolf in London, is behind the latest incarnation.  The make up looks great but it loses much when the wolfman changes to CGI for more complex action.

Unfortunately you find that you really don't care at all about anyone and would just assume see them all dead.   There were some pretty cool moments but overall they aren't enough to save the film.

When it ends, you just shrug your shoulders and go hmmm.

It's unfair to compare the film to something like American Werewolf but if you throw out the humor you find characters to you genuinely care about.  If they did that here, the film may have been better.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

02-11-10: A Serious Man Walks Hard into a Mirrormask

D: Jake Kasdan. John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows.

***I watched the 2 hour director's cut which is about 25 mins. longer than the theatrical cut.***

This parody/satire chronicles the life of Dewey Cox from his childhood to his long overdue return to the stage.  It sends up films like Ray and Walk the Line.  Unfortunately, there are way more misses than hits and I barely even mustered a chuckle throughout the film.

Oddly enough, I liked the songs. They were played straight with the exception of one that is loaded with innuendo and that was rather funny.

Because this was the extended cut there certainly was a lot that needed to be cut for pacing.  However, cut it down isn't going to improve the comedy of it all.  As a result, I didn't bother to watch the theatrical version.

MirrorMask (2005) ***1/2
D: Dave McKean. C: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon.

From the imaginations of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean comes this visually arresting, entertaining, dark and fun fantasy that the entire family is sure to enjoy.

The story follows Helena as she enters a magical world that can only be a dream...or is it?

She journeys through a world that could only be a dream; bizarre, peculiar, amusing, creepy and dangerous.

She takes on a quest to help save the kingdom and the deeper she goes the clearer things become.

This was a very satisfying fantasy adventure.  In some ways it reminded me of Coraline, which was also written by Gaiman.  I think it would be an idle double feature with Labyrinth.  Check it out.

A SERIOUS MAN (2009) ****1/2
D: Joel & Ethan Coen. C: Michael Stuhlbarg,  Richard Kind, Fred Melamad.

The Coens latest is a black comedy that follows a professor who's life is unraveling before him and he seeks answers as to why everything is falling apart.

This is a funny, dark, sad and sometimes enlightening film.   The circumstances of the events throughout are cringe worthy but feel very real and surprisingly funny.

Only the Coens could make a broken marriage funny.

The picture is well acted, with sharp funny dialogue and a number of memorable moments.

This is up there with some of my Coen favorites.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

02-06-10: ...if you can find them, maybe you can hire The Professionals.

D: Richard Brooks. S: Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Palance.

A Texas millionaire hires four men, each with their own particular set of skills, to rescue his wife who has been kidnapped by a notorius Mexican bandito.

Sounds like your typical western plot, doesn't it?   The Professionals is far from typical.   It's a western filled with adventure, drama, suspense, comedy, morality, romance and justice.   It's kinda like a low-key Silverado, one of my all-time favorite westerns.  Silverado was the high-octane fun adventure whereas The Professionals would be the slow-burn fun adventure.

There are numerous memorable set pieces in the film but I don't wish to discuss them out of risk of spoiling them.

If you have a few hours to fill, this certainly will fit the bill.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

01-31-10: 1900 in 5 hrs. 15 mins.

NOVECENTO (1976) ***1/2
D: Bernardo Bertolucci.  S: Robert DeNiro, Gerard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Burt Lancaster.

This is a very long, slow moving but never boring epic.   At 5 hrs. 15 mins. it's a commitment that is ultimately rewarding.

The story follows two friends, one born to a peasant and the other born to a landowner.   It follows their lives from childhood to adulthood as a social upheaval in Italy begins to take shape around them.  

Across the board the acting is excellent.  Donald Sutherland leaves a lasting impression as a foreman with fascist ties.

The film does lose some steam in the final half hour as it begins to bog down in its politics.  It even goes so far as to have Depardieu break the 4th wall and address the audience.     Its unfortunate that after committing so much time to the film it has a some what weak conclusion.

If you have the time, it's worth checking out.  

Sunday, January 31, 2010

1-30-10: Mel Gibson goes over the Edge of Darkness

D: Martin Campbell. S: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston.

Mad Mel is back with a vengeance. 

After being reunited with his daughter, a Boston detective is thrown into a nightmare journey when someone tries to take him out but ends up gunning down his daughter instead. 

This film is based on the acclaimed 1985 BBC mini-series of the same name. 

I have not seen the original mini-series but the remake felt rushed and would have benefited from having things fleshed out.

The film was directed by Martin Campbell, who successfully introduced the world to the last two Bond actors. 

It's a decent film with a strong performance by Mel Gibson.   However, I'm willing to bet the orginal series is far more rewarding.

01-27-10: An Eastern Western

D: Takashi Miike. S: Hideaki Ito, Masanobu Ando, Quentin Tarantino.

I find it most interesting that this would be one of the most comprehensible Miike films I've ever seen.   His films always leave you scratching your head wondering what it was you just saw.  Perhaps it's the fact that he must adapt to the conventions of the western genre.

A gunslinger arrives in town and steps into the middle of a war between two rival clans.

There are flourishes of Miike's sense of humor found throughout.   However, there was one thing that took me out of the movie.  Quentin Tarantino.  I love Quentin but his presence just stopped the film.  I didn't see some bad-ass gunslinger, I only saw Quentin.  When I think of Mr. Brown or Richard Gecko, I see the characters more than Quentin.  Here it just feels like a cameo that a friend wanted to give to him.

The other draw back is that the film is Miike's first English language film.  All characters speak in English.  This is fine except for the fact that everyone has an accent that can make it difficult to understand what people are saying.  I can only imagine how frustrating it would have been seeing it in the theatre.  I had to turn on the English subtitles.

It's definitely a more conventional Miike film which is probably why it was a bit underwhelming.   It was interesting to see Miike's take on the western genre, it's too bad he didn't let himself go like he does in his other films.

Monday, January 25, 2010

01-25-10: Don't You Forget About Me...Who are you?

D: Matt Austin.

Clearly this is not the documentary that is meant to mark the legacy of a filmmaker who spoke to an entire generation and generations to follow.

A group of filmmakers set out on a quest to get an interview with the reclusive John Hughes, the renowned filmmaker of such classics as "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."   Over a two year period they are able to get on-camera interviews with countless luminaries from the Hughes cannon of films.   It's a damn shame that all this material is put to waste.

What the filmmakers fail to realize is that they shouldn't be the focus of the documentary, which they are.  It should be about Hughes and the impact he had on countless generations of teenagers.  They speak to film critcis, producers, directors, actors, teenagers and so forth to understand the impact Hughes had.  Instead of delving deeper into the subject they go back to the uninteresting adventures of the film crew as they search for John Hughes.

Their actions come off as unprofessional, irresponsible and disrespectful.  One of the crew says that if Hughes says "No" to the interview then that says a lot about the guy.  Get over yourself.  The crew even resorts to a plead of desperation by saying that if he grants the interview they can finish their film.

Well they finished their film and it doesn't work.

Sadly, John Hughes passed last summer.  The filmmakers missed a golden opportunity to change the direction of the documentary and edit it into a love letter to Hughes.  They don't get the interview so the purpose of the film's existence failed.    They should have dropped all of that and concentrated on the interviews and what people thought of Hughes.  You can get an idea of what a man's like by what his peers have to say.  We don't get enough of that and are left with self-indulgent dribble.

This is not the way to commemorate the man, watch his films instead.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

01-24-10: Transsiberian

TRANSSIBERIAN (2008) ***1/2
D: Brad Anderson.  S: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley.

Brad Anderson's latest follows an American couple and a pair of strangers they meet on a trans-siberian train from China to Moscow.

This effective thriller is filled with twist and turns that you think you know how they'll play out but when the turn comes it's not what you expected.

Well acted by all, the only real problem with the film is that the some of the sequences of the finale take it out of the level of reality it was able to achieve.   It plays realistically but again one moment just seems to come from a different film.

Overall, it's a fun train thriller.

01-23-10: Legion of Crazy Measures

LEGION (2009) **1/2
D: Scott Stewart. S: Paul Bettany, Josh Lucas, Dennis Quaid.

God has lost faith in man and has decided to bring about the apocalypse.  However, the angel Michael disagrees and seeks to save mankind.

This passable yet predictable thriller derails as it races towards its conclusion.  

A group of strangers are holed up in a diner in the middle of nowhere when the apocalypse begins.   The angel Michael arrives to help them.  He is not there to protect them.  Only one, an unmarried woman with a fatherless child that is about to be born.  To the film's benefit, this child is not the second coming. 

The film is a mash up of Terminator, Dawn of the Dead and The Prophecy.    It has it's moments but overall it really is hurt by the action packed conclusion.   You can't help but watch it and say, that's from this movie and that's from that movie.   The conclusion of the fight between the two archangels is incredibly underwhelming.

If you're into apocalyptic films there's much better out there.  Check out The Rapture.

CRAZY HEART (2009) ****
D: Scott Cooper.  S: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall.

Crazy Heart follows Bad Blake, a country singer legend who's trying to recapture his past glory.  

This is basically The Wrestler of country singer films.

It doesn't have the emotional impact that Aronofsky's film had but it is a fine film nonetheless. 

Bridges is phenomenal and is assured an Academy Award.   He does his own strumming and singing and is pretty good.  This is another role where the actor disappears and all you see is the character.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is the woman who against her better judgment falls for him, Farrell is the country superstar that Blake taught everything he knows and Duvall is Blake's wise old friend.

The film took some shortcuts in the latter half that probably should have been fleshed out.  Instead it comes off as a footnote and doesn't leave as much of an impression on the journey Blake must take.

Overall, a very good film with great performances and great music.

D: Tom Vaughan.  S: Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell.

The first film to be released by CBS Films clearly shows its TV movie roots and there's no escaping that moniker.  This is essentially a made for tv movie that got a bigger budget and bigger stars.

John Crowley is desperately seeking a cure for the terminal disease that has inflicted two of his children.   He reaches out to Dr. Robert Stonehill, a research scientist whose findings show promise.

The film is "Inspired by True Events" so this is not an entirely true life drama.  

It does get sentimental sometimes but doesn't lay it on thick like other dramas of a similar nature.

It doesn't spend enough time explaining the science of it which I would have found more interesting.

Fraser looks like he's attempting to do some quality acting whereas Ford is just phoning it in.

As a TV movie it works as a major feature film not so much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

01-19-20: Another movieless night.

With the tv season ramping back up it looks like I won't make the goal of a movie a day for a month.

Last night, I would have watched a movie but I was more in the mood to play a video game so I threw on NHL 2K7.   I was going for the undefeated season when I lost my first game, my record is 71-0-1.   Lost it in a shootout.

In the very near future I'll be watching Transiberian, Adoration, 1900, Extreme Measures, Crazy Heart and Legion.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

01-17-10/01-18-10: NO NEW MOVIES!!!

No new movies over the past two days on account of The Golden Globes and the return of 24.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

1-16-10: Indiana Jones and the Failures of the Crystal Skull

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was for me the most eagerly awaited film of the decade.  Of all the films and series that I've loved, Indy IV was one movie that I really wanted badly.   When "The Last Crusade" ended I still wanted more.  I even went so far to say that "The Last Crusade" wasn't referring to Indy's last ride but the final crusade for the Holy Grail.    In the mid-'90s, there were rumblings that a new Indy film was in the works.  However, years passed and it didn't look like it would happen.  That was until the mid 2000's.

After seeing the film, I was stunned by how much I didn't like it.   I wasn't alone.  I remember seeing "Iron Man" at the Cinerama Dome and coming out of the theatre the lobby was abuzz with how much people loved this movie.  Everyone was geeking out.  A few weeks later, I saw Indy IV at the Dome and upon exciting it felt like I just came out of a funeral.  The disappointment was so thick you could cut it with a knife. 

I wasn't expecting it to be better than Raiders, I was hoping for something on par with Temple of  Doom.  Not perfect but still an incredibly fun ride.

There was much that bothered me about "Crystal Skull."  I watched it a second time and I didn't enjoy it any more than the first.  Now, over the weekend, I watched it for the first time since it's theatrical release and I was able to narrow it down to what bothered me so much.

Warning: If you haven't seen the film this is spoiler filled.

1. The reveal of the the aliens.
Spielberg should have taken a page out of his own book and withheld the reveal of the aliens until the middle of the movie.  Going in I knew there were aliens involved in some way.  I was very interested in knowing how the skulls came about.   By showing the alien remains in the beginning, I knew that it was in fact alien of origin and any sense of mystery and discovery was ruined.

2. The prairie dogs.
Way too much prairie dog.   The one that appears in the hill in the beginning and the one that appears before Indy after the nuke the fridge seen was fine but did we really need the reactions during the rocket sled scene.

3. Indy's reaction to seeing a flying saucer.
What is no doubt the greatest discovery by mankind, Indy reacted properly.  However, once the ship leaves it feels like it never happened.

4. Karen Allen's performance.
Marion Ravenwood has lost her balls.   Marion was a spunky, fiesty woman in "Raiders".  We know she could hold her own in a fight.   Here she's pathetic.  She was kidnapped, threatened to be executed, her family could be killed at any moment yet she is so damn happy and smiling.

5. The Mac Triple Cross
Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.   The triple cross was just annoying.   It was fine when he finally revealed himself as a double agent and put the audience back on their side but to twist it again was just lazy.

6. The ants carrying the russian.
It would have been fine if they just left the russian to be devoured but the fact that they had to carry him back to their hill was just bad and even more so because of poor CGI work.

7.  The entire natives attack scene.
A tribe attacks the party when they enter the temple.  They try to runaway but I briefly captured before Ox unleashes the power of the skull.   Why did this scene exist?  Was it to beef up the action and suspense?  Was it to show the affect the skull has on the natives?   It was a pointless action sequence that could have been left out.

8. The Tarzan and the monkeys scene.
Wow, this scene was so bad.   What made it worse was when the monkeys were attacking the russians.   This was a low for the Indy franchise.

9.  Why is the Last Crusade theme used at the end?
The theme that plays while the four adventurers debate how to get off the mountain is the same theme that played after Indy, Henry, Marcus and Sallah left the Grail Temple.  Why was this reused?  Lazy work on Williams part.
10. The Red Menace Plotline
This plot point was hinted at but was never touched again.  It was rather pointless.  In the motorcycle pursuit it's the KGB that's chasing Indy and Mutt not the Feds.  In fact, we never see the Feds again after their interrogation.  


I hope the next and probably last Indy film returns to the roots of the original.

1-16-10: 2010 at the movies is off to a good start!!!

DAYBREAKERS (2010) ***1/2
D: Michael & Peter Spierig.  S: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Defoe.

In the near future, mankind has been over run by vampires.  The remaining humans are captured and harvested for blood.   But what happens when the blood supply runs out and there are no humans left?  

This vampire film was surprisingly good.  

It can almost be taken as a commentary on the issue of cure versus commerce.   If pharmaceutical companies are making billions on medication would they rather cover up the cure to keep the money coming in or would they take the ethical high road and help cure the sick.  

It's a fun, bloody and fascinating look into the vampire culture of the modern era.

THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) ***1/2
D: Albert and Allen Hughes. S: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson.

In this post-apocalyptic western, a man is carrying a valuable possession and is on a mission to carry it out west.  Along the way he crosses paths with Carnegie, a man who wants his parcel by any means necessary.

It's no secret that the package that is being delivered is the Bible, the last existing Bible on the planet.   Eli wants to carry the Bible out west while Carnegie wants to use it as a weapon. 

This mixture of Mad Max, samurai films and spaghetti westerns was a fun and entertaining ride.   Denzel held his own as an action hero.   The reasons why Eli is carrying the Bible west seems apparent but it's not.   The film doesn't bow down to convention and the action is not as over the top as one would expect. 

It's worth checking otu.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

01-15-10: 20 movies in 14 days

No new movies today!!?!?!?!?!?!

I did however see 20 movies over the first 14 days of the year.

I'll be seeing a couple new ones over the weekend.

Friday, January 15, 2010

01-14-10: Guy Ritchie's Revolver

REVOLVER (2005) **1/2
D: Guy Ritchie. S: Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore, Andre Benjamin.

Guy Ritchie brings us another gangster pic, except more convoluted, more confusing and not very fulfilling.  Bottomline, it doesn't make any sense which really affects the overall enjoyment of the film.

This is one of those films where you can't really say what worked and what didn't because it will give away too much plot.

Jason Statham gets out of prison and returns to town to settle a score with a casino kingpin.  In the process, he meets up with two men who "offer" their assisstance to get the job down.

It was an interesting film that sadly didn't come together in the end.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

1-13-10: You Sunk My Battleship!!!

THE SEVENTH SEAL (Det sjunde inseglet) (1957) ****
D: Ingmar Bergman.  S: Max Von Sydow, Nils Popper, Bibbi Andersson,  Bengt Ekerot

A knight returns from the Crusades, to a land ravaged by the Black Plague,  a shell of a man.  He seeks answers to help bring him perspective and understanding.  He's been shaken by the Crusades and needs to know there is purpose and meaning to it all.

Upon his return he finds himself in a chess match with the Grim Reaper.  As long as they play he is permitted to continue on his business but when the game ends it is his time.

We follow Block on his quest and the many citizens he meets along the way.

This is a truly haunting film.   It is at times fascinating and even funny.   Thought provoking and full of religious allegory without being preachy.

The film is open to interpretation which is sure to be different for every viewer.   Forget the parodies you may have seen, it's time to see the film that inspired all of them.   Damn right!!!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

01-12-10: The Burden of Ones Dreams

BURDEN OF DREAMS (1982) ****
D: Les Blank.

Burden of Dreams takes an unflinching look at the herculean effort it took to film Werner Herzog's classic film Fitzcarraldo. 

Like Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Fitzcarraldo was plagued by environmental, casting, logistical and location problems.   It's amazing everyone made it out alive.

One of the fascinating events that transpired was Herzog had to recast the film after five months into production when his lead grew ill and could not be medically cleared to return to finish the film.

It's better to just watch it and if possible watch it after you've seen Fitzcarraldo.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1-11-10: Sunshine Cleaning of My Best Fiend

D: Christine Jeffs. S: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Clifton Collins, Jr.

Who'd have thought crime scene clean up could be funny. 

A single mother does what she can to send her son to private school by starting up a crime scene cleaning service with her sister.

There is much more to this film then a dark comedy about cleaning up after dead people.  It's a funny and touching comedy-drama about the struggles people go through to keep a family afloat and reconciling the past. 

The acting is good with particular note to Clifton Collins, Jr.  The man's a chameleon and turns in another great character.

Check it out if you're looking for something to watch.

MY BEST FIEND (1999) ****
D: Werner Herzog.

Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski have had a tumultuous friendship.  From this friendship have come some remarkable films such as Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Cobre Verde and Nosferatu.

This documentary is a fascinating look and tribute to Herzog's friend Klaus Kinski.  An actor that many deemed a certifiable maniac but a powerful actor in his own right.

If you thought Christian Bale's rant on set was bad wait until you see Kinski's on the set of Fitzcarraldo where he lays into a production manager.

Is Kinski a nut or is he a true genius?  There are moments where he's clearly insane.  However, there are moments of tenderness, calm, retrospective that may lead you to believe that he's the ultimate method actor. 

He's without a doubt an egomaniac who is at his best when he's incited before a scene.   The scenes that are shown contain some powerful acting that borders on genius.

Herzog and Kinski's relationship is a very fascinating one.   They clearly care about each other and at one point Herzog contemplates having Kinski killed.  Their passion translates on screen and we're the better for it.

Underneath all the bravura is a man who totally understood his craft to the point of insanity.  

This is a fascinating film about an intriguing man.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

1-10-09: Return to Sleepaway Camp

D: Robert Hiltzik. S: Vincent Pastore, Paul DeAngelo, Michael Gibney.

Another '80s franchise returns and it should have been left buried.   Unlike recent films, this is a true sequel and not a remake/reimagining/reboot of the original.

When a new camp opens, a counselor becomes concerned when campers start dying and the MO points to a killer from his past.

Normally in a horror film, you are presented with at least one character you can get behind, someone you hope survives.  I could care less about anyone in this film and would be perfectly fine seeing them dispatched.  

There is a put upon, picked on, fat kid who you are suppose to be sympathetic towards but of course you are being lead to believe that this is in fact the killer.  This kid is so damned annoying that I would have no objection to slapping the crap out of him and join the other campers who belittle him.  The kid has no redeeming qualities that you just want to see him die.    Now the people who pick on him are just as annoying so you want them to die too.

As a straight up horror film it was terrible.  As a self-parody it wasn't very funny.  It's best to just skip this one.


01-09-10: Following the Stagecoach to the Triumph of the Winchester House

FOLLOWING (1998) *****
D: Christopher Nolan.  S: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell.

It's not often that a director's first feature turns out to be a gem and a sign of things to come.  

Following is about a man who follows people around just to observe where they go, what their routine is, purely innocent stuff.   That's until he takes it further.

That's all I say about it.   The film is a precursor to Memento in that it jumps around in time and the viewer must piece together the story.   Memento, the story was told in reverse order.  Following it is disjointed yet very coherent.

This great film warrants a second viewing only to see the pieces of the puzzle come together.

STAGECOACH (1939) ****
D: John Ford.  S: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell.

This rousing western adventure follows a group of travelers on a stagecoach that is bound to enter dangerous territory. 

The characters are rich and memorable.  From the put upon stagecoach driver to the drunk doctor.  From the fugitive seeking revenge to the gambler.  

This film features one of the best action set pieces put on film, especially since this pre-dates Raiders of the Lost Ark.    The action takes place on, around and under the stagecoach as it's being pursued by the Apache.

Like many Ford films, it features breathtaking views of Monument Valley.

It's a fast paced adventure that's worth taking for a ride.

D: Leni Riefenstahl.

This is not only a very well made film but also a very effective piece of propaganda.

The film documents the Nuremberg Party Rally of 1934 and it has a cast of thousands.

I'm not sure who the film was made for.   Was it to rally the Homeland?  Was it an attempt to paint the Fuhrer in a different light? 

Hitler comes off as very charismatic and impassioned man.   It's not difficult to see how someone would come under his spell. 

It's a fascinating look at a one-sided view of one of the darkest chapters in human history.  

One thing this film did manage to do is make me want to visit Germany.  There are some truly stunning vistas and structures that I would love to see now and how they've changed.

As a film it is powerful.  As a propaganda piece it's deplorable.   But it's begs the question, in 1934 when this was released did they know then what we do now?

D: Mark Atkins.  S: Lira Kellerman, Michael Holmes, Patty Roberts.

There are two things that saved this film from a * star review.   It had some creepy moments and despite the fact that the denouement was clearly lifted from another film I thought it kinda worked.

Right at the start I thought I was in trouble.   The house was CGI.   Great!  Super low budget and they can't even afford a house to shoot in.  

The story follows a family who are looking to getaway and move into a secluded house in the woods.   Little do they know, this place is haunted. 

The reason for the haunting I thought was rather hokey.  Apparently it is loosely based on the myth that surrounds the real Winchester House.   The ghosts of the victims of Winchester rifles haunt that house, supposedly.   The film probably could have worked better if they dropped that and made it a simple haunting.

This film is far from original as you can see elements from Poltergeist, The Others and The Sixth Sense just to name a few.

It has a handful of effective moments but not enough to sit through the whole thing.

Consider it a nice try that ultimately failed.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

1-08-10: The Children and their burning hug of desire.

THE CHILDREN (1980) *1/2
D: Max Kalmanowicz. S: Gil Rogers, Martin Shakar.

Ah, the '80s.  A time when countless horror films were released with the most outlandish plots.  The Children is one of them.

I wasn't entirely sure if I'd seen this one or not.  I remember the bus going into the cloud but that's it.  After watching it, I definitely hadn't seen it.

A schoolbus with a few children on board drives directly into a mysterious white cloud.   Going in they were singing the praises of their bus driver, coming out they were THE CHILDREN.

For no reasonable explanation, as a matter of fact not one is ever given, the exposed children have turned into zombies and have the ability to burn the flesh off anyone they come in contact with.  Most endearingly they do so whilst giving out free hugs.  I suppose this is one of those films that you forget the plot and enjoy the ride.  Unfortunately, this is not a fun ride.  It could have easily been 20 minutes shorter.

Now one of the worst things about this is the score.  The score is by Harry Manfredini, the legendary composer behind the music of Friday the 13th.   That was a great score, how can this one be bad?  Because it's the same score!!!  Cues are lifted and some note-for-note.  I've heard of composers reusing some themes in different films but this was lazy and rediculous.

Anyway, this film was rediculous.   Clearly this one will have greater entertainment value if watched with friends and given the old MST3K treatment.   Unless you get a kick out of children being shot, dismembered and zombified then this is right up your alley.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

1-07-10: Righteous Kill or How the Trailer Was Better than the Movie

D: Jon Avnet.  S: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino

After I saw the trailer for this I was looking forward to it.  It was about time that these two icons paired up again.   They are two veteran cops who are clearly not beyond bending the law in the name of justice.  You get that from their behavior and banter.   They are put on the case when a serial killer starts icing the scumbags of the city.  They need to move fast before they strike again and things become more sinister when they suspect it's a cop.  Will our heroes catch the bad guy?   Looks like a simple but fun piece.

This is not the film I just watched.  The trailer and the film it marketed was far better than the one released to theatres.

This film was a mess.   This review may contain spoilers.

At the onset we are shown what appears to be a video confession by one of the cops.   Clearly something sinister is up.  Going in you were expecting this to be about two cops in pursuit of a killer.  Now you know one of the killers is one of the cops.  Any hope of suspense has evaporated.   You simply have to wait to see how this all comes together.

When it appears to be things are going to made clear they try to pull a fast one which falls flat.   When the reveal occurred I just shrugged, I really didn't care.

The film is poorly structured.   Neither suspenseful or overly interesting.  You have to icons just exchanging banter that doesn't ring true.   Sure the chemistry is there but these guys deserved a much better script.  

I watched the bonus content on the blu-ray and I was more interested in the real-life stories that cops were sharing about police corruption.

Again if you want to see the best version of this film watch the trailer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

01-06-10: Mining the depths of your moral conscience.

THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943) *****
D: William A. Wellman S: Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan.

After the murder of a rancher, a posse is formed to find the killers and enact justice whether those found did the crime or not.  Once again Henry Fonda plays the moral conscience of the audience.  

This powerful drama looks at the horrors of the mob mentality, the definition of justice, the abuse of power, the courage to do what is right and the power of one's own conscience. 

The film doesn't strike a false note leaving you flustered, angry, upset, saddened and in the end demanding justice.    At only 75 minutes, this is a fast film that will have a lasting impact upon viewing.

01-05-10: The Triad Saga Continues

TRIAD ELECTION (Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai) (2006) ****
D: Johnnie To.  S: Louis Koo, Simon Yam.

The one thing I love about these films is that the guy you find yourself rooting for is just as malicious and violent as the other guy. 

Triad Election picks up two years after the events of the first film.   Another election is at hand, the current Chairman refuses to give up his power while two others are are looking to be elected.   The road that all parties take to assure their victory is a violent path full of backstabbing, betrayal, corruption and some moments of humor.

This film is the purist example of the old adage about absolute power.   Consider this a spoiler, there's a character who wanted to uphold the traditions of the election that have been passed down from generation to generation.  When that's threatened he will do what's necessary to protect that tradition.  However, when tradition gets in the way of what he wants, tradition be damned. 

This is a worthy sequel to the original.  It's not better than but definitely an equal.  I for one am looking forward to the next election.

Monday, January 4, 2010

01-04-10: Johnnie To's Election

ELECTION (Hak se wui) (2005) ****

D: Johnnie To  S: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai.

This is an action-packed Triad film but not with the type of action you'd expect.   There are flourishes of violence here and there but all the action comes from the drama.

A Hong Kong Triad is about to elect a new chairman, one is well respected and the other is a hot-headed loose cannon.  When the latter believes he will lose the election he takes matters into his hands, actions that could start a full out Triad war between the factions.

The film delves deep into honor, loyalty, respect and betrayal.  It's a fascinating look inside the Triads and how law enforcements deals with them. 

The moments of violence are unexpected, not over-the-top and feel very real.

It's well acted and is one of To's best films.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

01-03-10: Terry Gilliam's latest

D: Terry Gilliam   S: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole

Terry Gilliam's latest tells the tale of a traveling side show and the trouble that ensues when they come across a man with a mysterious past.

It would be a disservice to the film to reveal too much plot info so I will not do so.

The film is visually striking but it just doesn't connect with the audience.   The fantasy sequences are vintage Gilliam, the only difference is they are now presented in CGI.

There is alot that goes on in the film.   In particular, how we perceive and see ourselves in our own imagination.

The performances are good with the exception of one.

It's worth checking out if you're a Gilliam fan.    Non-fans may be interested but their attention my wear thin before it all ends.

1-02-10: From the steps of the Museum of Art to the Steps of Odessa

D: John G. Avildsen  S: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Tommy Morrison

When "Rocky V" was originally released it wasn't well received.  Many regard it as the weakest entry in the franchise, I don't entirely agree with that assessment.   I've had friends say that's not what they wanted to see, Rocky in the dumps.   No one liked Tommy.   The whole storyline with Rocky Jr. seemed weak on account of Sage's acting. I'm not saying it's not without it's flaws, but as a character driven story it is better than Rocky IV.   Rocky films are at their best when they don't make the fight the central part of the story, it's the characters we want to see.   Rocky IV did that and while many consider that the best one, I believe it's the weakest entry. 

In "Rocky V", Rocky is forced into retirement due to medical complications and is bankrupt thanks to some misguided money dealings by Paulie.  Rocky takes a young fighter under his wing and trains him.   Meanwhile, his family begins to grow distant.

I had no idea a director's cut of this existed until recently.  I think it's pretty well known that after the film was done, Stallone took over in the editing room and more or less made the film his own.  Avildsen actually released his cut online a few years ago. 

In my opinion, it is better than the theatrical version.  First thing that stands out to me is that the temp track used Conti's and DiCola's themes.  None of that hip-hop stuff that I found annoying at the time.   For example, in the theatrical cut the hip-hop version of "Take You Back" is heard when we see the Balboa's moving back into the old neighborhood.  In the director's cut, it's the original version.    Vince DiCola's training theme was used over the montage for Tommy's rise to the top.

The issue of the brain damage that Rocky suffers is now more prominent.   There's a touching scene where Rocky tries to explain to his son that his mind is not what it used to be.   In another, during the medical examination scene Rocky tries to express his frustration at the thought of retirement but he starts to stutter because he's having difficulty thinking. 

The most significant change in the film is the street fight which is now underscored by Conti's themes.   The fight seems more real and has more weight to it.   The fight is not choppily edited and has a sense of progression as opposed to the fight we see in the theatrical cut.   Throughout the director's cut, Tommy continues to bring up respect.   He looks for respect when he fights Balboa.  In the end of the fight, Tommy clearly loses but Rocky offers him his hand.  Tommy takes it, he got his respect.   Sure he lost but now he knows his worth.  In the original cut, you don't get that.   Yeah, Rocky kicked your ass, kiss off. 

If they kept in much of the dialogue and kept the original fight, it may have been better received.

It's certainly worth a look.

Check it out!

D: Segei M. Eisenstein   S: A cast of thousands!!!

Potemkin is a propoganda tale about the events that ultimately lead up to the Bolshevik Revolution.

It's visually arresting, epic in scope and powerfully told. 

This film contains one of the most memorable, terrifying and awe-inspiring set pieces every committed to film.   The Odessa Steps sequence is a sight to behold.    You may recall DePalma's "The Untouchables" paid homage to this sequence in that film.    The power of seeing the woman carrying her child up the steps is haunting. 

At 74 minutes long, the film is packed to the brim with action and drama. 

It's definitely worth seeing.

Friday, January 1, 2010

When movie watching meant something.

Back when I worked in a theatre in NJ, we actually did what we could to ensure everyone had an enjoyable movie going experience.

The standing policy was "No Children Under 6 Admitted into PG13 or R Rated Films after 6pm".   Ushers would actually do theatre checks every 15-20 minutes into the feature.   Projectionists would actually ensure that everything is framed up when the previews start and check that the feature is in frame when it starts.

Since coming to LA, I haven't seen anything like this anywhere with the exception of the No Children Under 6 policy at a few theatres.

The theatre checks were done to ensure that picture and sound looks good, as well as ensure proper audience behavior.  When was the last time you saw an usher tell people to be quiet?    Or the last time someone told someone to stop texting?

When a feature starts, it's the projectionists job to make sure everything is properly framed.  If the previews are off by a sprocket, they need to check that the feature is in frame when it starts.   I've never seen this done.  When I was a projectionist, I would make sure the trailers are in frame before walking away to start the next film.   When walking by I'd check to make sure the feature is in frame.  Countless times from the Arclight to Burbank, I have not seen anyone make a framing adjustment during the trailers which led to the film being out of frame.   It's not my job to get up and walk all the way back to the lobby to ask some one to fix the framing.   Just because the picture is on the screen and no frame lines are visible doesn't mean the picture is centered.   The New Beverly is the only theatre I know of that corrects the framing as the feature goes.  They have older prints and are always at the ready to fix any problems. 

Another thing that really pisses me off is Pacific's policy, which includes the Arclight,  to only issue readmissions in lieu of refunds.   I had a friend who was trying to make a show, Defiance,  but finally texted me that they won't make it in time.   The feature had just started.  When I told them that they said if you had come out they would have refunded it.  I said you're telling me I'd have to miss part of the movie to take care of this.   It's there policy.   Incidentally, the theatre was the Grove and I still have that pass.  I haven't been back there in over a year, nothing there to see that I can't see elsewhere.

The movies are what people are paying for, if you're gonna half-ass when presenting them they should just assume watch them in the comfort of they're own home.

01-01-10: From the heights of Scorsese to the depths of the toilet

THE KING OF COMEDY (1983)  ****1/2

D: Martin Scorsese.  S: Robert DeNiro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard

This is a dark, funny and at times uncomfortable black comedy about the dangers of celebrity and obsession.    This is definitely one of DeNiro's best performances.   Like Taxi Driver, you are just waiting for him to blow up.  When he does, it's not what you expected.    DeNiro plays an aspiring stand-up comic who will not accept no for an answer.   It's taken me forever to get around to watching this one and I was not disappointed.   The thing I found most fascinating is that throughout the film we see moments of Pupkin's imagination or is it madness.   In today's society the conclusion of the film may raise some interesting questions.  Released in 1983, the end would seem outlandish however in present day it is very plausible as outlandish as it may seem.   So it begs the question, what did we see at the end of the picture? 

TROLL 2 (1990) 1/2*
D: Drago Floyd. S: Michael Stephenson, Connie McFarland

I have heard about this film's reputation as being one of the worst films ever made.  In fact, a documentary was made about it "Best Worst Movie" which I must now see.   Going in I knew it was going to be bad but so bad that I fell asleep at one point.   Yes, when I woke up I rewound it and finished it.   The film is a sequel in namesake only.   It's about a boy who must convince his family that they are in danger before it's too late.   Horrible acting, atrocious dialog, terrible direction and the list goes on.   I wonder if when they were making this film did they know they were making a bad movie or were they playing it for laughs?  There are moments where the acting is so over the top you have to think they can't be serious.  Can they?  As a film, it's really bad.   95mins felt like 2 1/2 hours, not including naptime.   However, there is one saving grace.  This is the kinda film you want to have your friends over to watch and just go all MST3K over.   You're guaranteed to get more enjoyment out of it then if you were to just watch it as is.