Thursday, December 31, 2009


You’re a real son of a bitch, James Cameron. You know that?

You think you’re so cool. Just waltzing around Hollywood with your huge blockbusters. Creating one of the most successful sci-fi franchises of all time, cleaning up the Oscars in one fell swoop, almost single-handedly handing Mr. Schwarzenegger his political office by putting him in such legendary characters.

Show off.

Then you just disappear for like ten years. You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t make a movie. I can hear you, saying to yourself, “I’m James Cameron and I can do whatever I want. Everyone else can eat crap. George Lucas wishes he was as cool as me.”

And then, out of nowhere, you just drop this movie Avatar into everybody’s laps. Like it’s no big deal. “Yeah, I wrote and directed it. It’s probably got the best special effects to ever be put in a movie ever. Most likely it’ll revolutionize the film industry. And it’s in 3D. But, you know, it’s no big deal.”

God, I hate you so much.

I mean, where do you get off, huh? Maybe the film industry didn’t want to be revolutionized. Did you ever think about that? Maybe we were all doing just fine with our low grade CGI and lackluster backdrops. Maybe everyone in the world didn’t need to have their minds completely blown by some of the most fantastic visuals to ever hit the big screen. Jeez. Think about the rest of us every once in a while, would you?

When you get right down to it, you’re really just a big loser. If you think about it. You spent, what, like three hundred million dollars on this movie? And have been working on it for something like three years? You wrote the first draft of the script back in the early nineties. So I guess this makes your precious movie a labor of love, huh? And then, you actually created a new language for your native blue people. Their own language. Somebody watched too much Star Trek growing up.


You know, I heard you even invented a new camera in order to film this movie in 3D. Is that true? Who does that? Clearly you have WAY too much time on your hands.

I really think you need to be a little more considerate to our needs as consumers. I for one wasn’t ready to have my entire world rocked by what could possibly be the biggest motion picture experience since the Star Wars trilogy. The first time it came out. And there are rumors floating around that you might turn this Avatar thing into a trilogy all it’s own. Which is only going to further justify your role as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. What the hell, man?

Since when was it okay to change the world? What gives you the right?!

Screw you James Cameron. You and the earth-shattering movie you rode in on!




Last night I saw this movie in IMAX 3D. The last time was just in a regular theater. Everything I said above is now multiplied. By a million! Seriously, that was, without a doubt, the greatest cinematic experience of my life. Imagine seeing Star Wars back in 1977. And the dialogue didn't suck. And it was in 3D! Sweet Jesus! It's not fair!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Have any of you ever heard of Steampunk? Apparently it’s a style of fiction, often associated with sci-fi or fantasy, generally set in Victorian England, with a specific attention to being all around bad ass and action oriented. Think Charles Dickens, but fun to read. Featuring steam-powered gadgets either present at the time or fictional evolutions of modern technology. According to Wikipedia it’s been around for like thirty years. Weird, huh? Until Sherlock Holmes, I’d never heard of it either.

The first twenty minutes of Holmes are busy, loud, and abrasive. Introducing the heroes, villains, the general plot, and (most importantly) the world all at once. And all of it wrapped up in thick British accents. It isn’t until the chase seen resolves and everybody calms down do we actually get to catch our breath and realize that what we’re watching is fun, rather than overwhelming.

Once given a chance to get to know these characters, we see how well thought out the movie is. Sherlock Holmes, brilliantly played (as per usual) by Robert Downey Jr., isn’t just a smart, über-observant guy. He’s a nearly autistic, utterly brilliant, complete basket case of a man. Watson, Jude Law (everybody’s favorite Brit), is literally the ONLY man who can contain/deal with his train wreck of a partner and keep him working.

The film also offers us an interesting twist on traditional fight scenes. Holmes, being the weirdo that he is, actually maps out how he’s going to win the fight before he engages it. And, of course, he’s always right. He is the world’s greatest detective. Except, of course, for Batman.

Their villain is a man who conducts black magic, and stuff. Convenient, since his name is Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong. He’s creepy and running some huge conspiracy to totally change the world and insists that he and Mr. Holmes are at the center of it all, forever wrapped up in an eternal struggle. And so on.

The real star of this movie, which brings us back to this whole Steampunk thing, is the city of London in the 1890s. Nearly every action sequence or great act of detective work fully incorporates the gritty, dirty world of the late industrial revolution. A sword fight a top an unfinished version of the London drawbridge. The ragged street folk constantly milling around the background. All of this atmosphere shapes up to be the most interesting character of the whole movie.

All in all, I’d say this movie isn’t a raging success. Despite its twists and turns on the classic vision of an old character, it still manages to just add up to a traditional action movie. But it’s still a good movie and fun to watch. Robert Downey Jr. always carries an irresistible charm to a film and he turns it up high on this one.

He almost makes this character as loveable as Tony Stark.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Serious Man

So, here’s the thing…

I watched this movie like three weeks ago. I kept intending to write a review, over and over again. But, due to a mixture of business and laziness, it just kept not happening. So, as a way to make up for it, I’m going to write my version of a tribute to my favorite (and who should be everyone’s favorite) filmmaking team. Five hundred words be damned!

Not long after I really started to appreciate film as an art form I discovered the Coen Bros. They hit the scene hard with Blood Simple and just kept on hitting it over and over (and over) again. I kept asking myself: “When are they gonna give in? Every filmmaker makes one bad movie. But these guys just keep delivering solid f-ing gold!”

The running streak lasting nearly fifteen years and eight movies could take a man’s head off, it was just that awesome. And unheard of. Consistency of that quality is nothing short of superhuman.

Let’s take a brief look, shall we?

Raising Arizona – One could be tempted to use the term Magical Realism, before it was trendy. And who ever thought Nick Cage could be hilarious? Not to laugh at, but with.

Miller’s Crossing – Eat your heart out Coppola and Scorsese. Every piece of this movie makes you long for a time when filmmaking was this smooth.

Barton Fink – I don’t think even the Bros knew what they were making with this picture. It’s bizarre and terrifying. And John Goodman is a badass, through and through.

The Hudsucker Proxy – A live action film that looks and feels in every way exactly like an old Looney Toons episode? How the hell do they do that? “You know, for kids!”

Fargo – Black comedy has never been so hilarious. And black. Why Steve Buscemi never won an Oscar for this keeps me up at night.

The Big Lebowski – Some would call it their opus. I’m inclined to agree. There are no words to describe this movie. Either you’ve seen it or you’re not cool.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Not my favorite, but still a great one. If anyone ever doubted George Clooney’s ability for comic timing, watch this.

The Man Who Wasn’t There – Another incredibly bizarre contribution. But one that leaves you deeply disturbed and strangely uplifted all at the same time.

Then came Intolerable Cruelty, a Coen Bros take on a rom-com. Cute, occasionally funny, but not the type of stuff you’d expect from a power-house team like these guys. And what about The Ladykillers, you ask? To be honest, I’d rather not talk about it. Remaking a movie that wasn’t all that great to begin with into a movie that’s feels so overblown and lackluster… sigh.

Only to be followed up, three years later, by their adaptation piece, No Country for Old Men. They won a bunch of much-deserved Oscar’s for it. And it was a great film, don’t get me wrong. The complete lack of musical accompaniment can only be interpreted as sheer brilliance. But there was a hint of disappointment in the back of my throat. An adaptation, really? You guys are so capable of mind-blowing yarn-spinning of your own, why do you get all the attention for a story you didn’t make up?

Burn After Reading was overrated. Yeah, I said it. With a similar, comedy-of-errors feel that was so successful in Lebowski, it became clear they put way too much stock in the cast to carry the movie, rather than make up for it with the script.

But it’s okay. I still have faith. You know why?

A Serious Man.

And thus, we begin the actual review…

The thing about these guys that I’ve always loved and admired so much over the years is their capability to concoct such original material, so brilliantly and artfully conceived from start to finish, and yet so very recognizably theirs all the time. Brilliance like that doesn’t come along everyday.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to get a return to form for these guys. This is old school Coen Bros right here.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg - never heard of him? Me either) is a Jew living in sixties mid-west America. And his life SUCKS. That’s the story in a nutshell. Any more explanation would require lengthy description that takes up too much time.

The cast is filled with unknowns. A couple faces you might have seen on TV here and there. Uncle Arthur is played, wonderfully, by Richard Kind, also known as that guy on Scrubs and Spin City.

The dialogue feels like a warm blanket, familiar and free-flowing. Not to imply that the story is uplifting. It’s quite the opposite. However, you can’t help but smile when you hear that snappiness of old. The deconstruction of a man’s entire life has never felt so rhythmic and smooth.

I’ve read people saying that perhaps this movie was the most “personal” film the Bros have put out yet. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. They did grow up as Jews in sixties mid-west America. And maybe the scene where Danny, Larry’s son, stands on the stage for his own Bar Mitzvah, stoned to the gills, frozen and unable to recite the scripture is autobiographical. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. But who knows. Who cares?

The only thing I didn’t like about the movie was the opening scene. An older Jewish couple, somewhere in Europe, a long time ago, encounters a ghost, try to kill it, and get a curse put on their family. Or something. I think this was supposed to be the justification for Larry’s undoing. His family received a curse way back when. But it just felt disjointed. The Bros have never needed an otherworldly reason to make some epic black comedy before. Why would they need one now?

And make no mistake, this is an epic black comedy. Of biblical proportions.

So, anyway, go see it. Or wait for video. It’s not a big screen must. But it is still a must. And go see every other movie the Coen Bros have ever made, if you haven’t already. Because they are what good film is all about.

I heard through the grape(internet)vine that one of their later projects is The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. One of my favorite books. I’d rather they make something of their own, but if they’re gonna adapt a book, it might as well be one as good as this. And they’ll do it justice. The Coen Bros have proven that much at least.

God bless em.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

It would seem that someone has asked Hollywood a question: Can we make an avant-garde artsy film out of kid’s movie? Let's ignore for a minute that this person, whoever they are, has never see WALL-E, and notice that two of Hollywood’s most applauded artsy young directors answered the call. Wes Anderson (Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling Limited) offers us a claymation version of Roald Dahl’s book Fantastic Mr. Fox, set to come out around Thanksgiving. And Spike Jonze gave us Where the Wild Things Are.

I’ve always been a big fan of Spike Jonze. Adaptation is, in my humble opinion, one of the best movies of the decade. Being John Malkovich was an intensely successful mind-bender. And then… oh wait. That’s it. And both of those movies were written by Charlie Kaufman.

Nobody that’s seen his old music videos from the 90s can disagree that Spike has an incredible gift for visual conception. Said gift is very much alive in Wild Things. But, well, let’s see… How can I put this best?

Maybe I’m a purist. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe the world is changing around me, and I’m not ready to deal with it. But I’ve always been of the opinion that when you’re making a kid’s movie, you should at least attempt to make it appealing to children. I watched a few of the featurettes on TV and the internet about the movie. I heard Mr. Jonze say countless times that “it’s important not to look down on kids.” And in the process, he made a movie that sails so high over kids’ heads, I don’t think it can even see them.

While I agree children are very capable of perceiving and experiencing emotions that adults often don’t give them credit for, they also like things like slapstick, stupid humor, and all around silliness. Three things which this movie is completely lacking.

I get where he was going with it, I do. The monsters represent various personality traits of the psyche. The general conflict present is the feeling of helplessness and loss of control that every child experiences while growing up. And all the pain that can cause. But, goddamnit, I remember that book being a lot of fun to read. This movie, however, is not fun. It’s downright depressing.

The monsters spend more time moaning and groaning than they do enjoying themselves. Their world is slowly falling apart and they’re freaking out about it. Why would any kid want to watch that?

Strange that someone with such deep roots in Jackass could make a movie that lacks any sense of letting loose and going nuts for a while. Even the “wild rumpus” that Max announces is a let down.

There are very few occasions I find myself wishing a production studio would intervene with a clearly talented director. Jim Jarmusch, for example. There’s such a strong foundation there, but the director gets so caught up in the dream of his vision, he forgets that the rest of us aren’t up there with him.

I’m not saying the movie is a complete failure. But don’t take your kids to see it. They won’t forgive you.

Paranormal Activity

I was sixteen when The Blair Witch Project came out. And it scared the shit out of me. I’ll never forget the epic conclusion. Heather and Mike running through that old house, screaming their heads off. Heather comes into the basement, finds Mike in standing in the corner, the screaming stops and her camera hits the ground. The dirt floor flashes in and out of focus. When the screen went black I literally got up and ran out of the theater.

Ten years later…

The screen is graced with Paranormal Activity, a film so unabashedly similar it almost seems like a joke. How could somebody practically remake a movie as unique and stand-alone as Blair Witch? But here we are, and there it is. And as the movie runs its course, the similarities only continue to stack up. Shaky cam, improvised dialogue, awkward angles, long drawn out suspense sequences. The list gets longer and longer.

But here’s the thing: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Paranormal Activity was, in fact, a much better movie than Blair Witch!

I know, I know. It’s hard for me to believe too. I certainly didn’t want this to be the case, but here we are. Granted, it didn’t shake me to the bone quite like its predecessor, but I’m not sixteen anymore. Thank god.

The plot: Katie and Micah (pronounced Mee-kah) live together. Ever since she was a little girl Katie has been haunted by a ghost. Something she failed to tell Micah before moving in. When creepy things start happening around the house Micah gets the idea to buy a video camera and keep a record of their attempts to figure out what exactly is going on. When they contact a psychic he informs them that she’s actually being stalked by a demon, not a ghost. Which is not his field of expertise. Needless to say, shit goes sour from there.

What makes this a better movie than Blair Witch? It’s called Simplicity. Witch had some genuine moments of terror laced through it, but large portions of the film are spent building characters and subplots between the three hikers. Not to mention a slew of other people smattered all over the first twenty minutes, mostly providing humor, rather than building suspense.

Paranormal keeps it slim and trim with no other characters than Katie, Micah, and the psychic (who’s only in the movie for about five minutes). The camera never leaves the house, except for a few brief moments shot in the backyard. We are stuck in this house, with this demon, just like the film’s protagonists.

The overall success of the movie is the constant curveballs thrown for us. Nighttime is not always the right time for scary shit to happen. And, unlike Witch, only the demon is invisible, not his actions. Sheets blowing, possession, shadows cast, and (my personal favorite) Katie being dragged out of bed by a hand you can’t see. I definitely lost some sleep over that one.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say. Except when it’s the sincerest form of just being better.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Do you ever watch artsy movies and feel like there are pieces missing? Like a key scene somewhere along the line accidentally ended up on the cutting room floor? Or maybe like everyone in the theater, and on screen, seems to be in on a joke--except for you? I used to think this phenomena was a result of me “just not getting” the movie. Internalizing the confusion, because it must be my fault. I wasn’t Sophisticated enough to follow the style. Therefore, I was missing things.

Then I saw a few David Lynch films.

I started to realize that most art films are like this intentionally. Most viewers get a strange satisfaction out of not getting it. Like they’re being challenged, or something. It is either a conscious decision on the part of the director to leave things open-ended, laziness, or (a lot more likely) just bad filmmaking.

John Krasinski’s (everyone’s much beloved Jim Halpert from NBC’s The Office) directorial debut is a combination of all of these. With a nice little touch of novice on top. However, let’s be clear… this is not a bad movie. It’s just confused.

Heavy with heartfelt, occasionally humorous monologues, the movie feels much more like a play than a movie. With no scene taking place outside of a set larger than my living room (lots of them are in fact living rooms) John, puts the pressure of his actors to take up space on the screen. And they do. There is not a single bad performance in the movie.

The major flaw is that none of these actors are given a chance to interact with each other, and so no chemistry or real excitement is built anywhere.

The other major flaw is how he skews the timing and pacing of the movie. Since, as I said, most of the movie is just monologues, it’s hard to tell what time it is or when these things are taking place. But apparently the timing is important, because our main character, Sara (Julianne Nicholson, yeah, that chick from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) is getting over a breakup… maybe. It’s hard to tell until the end.

The overall plot, I think, is a college girl, Sara, decides to interview a bunch of men about women. Not all of these men realize they’re being interviewed. Sometimes she’s just recording their conversations or conveniently placed monologues. For the most part she tends to focus on guys who are neurotic or self-centered. The actors do a really good job of making these characters feel surprisingly familiar.

Jim, sorry… I mean, John, of course, saves the best monologue for himself. He proceeds to explain all about how a random hookup has completely changed his life and perspective on women. I won’t spoil it for you. But he does, and very successfully so, manage to not be Jim Halpert. Regardless of how hard it is for me to see him as anything else.

Which is pretty damn impressive.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Toy Story & Toy Story 2 in 3D

In a preview for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, another movie I’m quite excited about, a reviewer announced that it was “proof that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on heartfelt animation.” (Josh Horowitz, MTV)

This made me think.

Is it fair to call what Pixar does a monopoly? One certainly can’t argue that Pixar is the best at what the do, heartfelt being only one of the words I would use to describe them. But being the best isn’t a monopoly. I’ve, personally, never heard any stories of Pixar buying out or blocking any other potential animated releases from hitting the theaters. Hell, they only put out one movie a year, if that. Every other studio spits out a constant barrage of half-assed and humdrum animation. Kid stuff, you might say. What Pixar does is art.

Most of the time. I won’t get into Cars.

But as I was saying, “Monopoly” is not a fair word to use when describing Pixar. I would use something more like: “Awesome,” or “Bad-ass,” or, to keep it simple, “The Best.”

Which brings me to the Toy Story duo…

As you probably know already, Pixar has been kind enough to re-release Toy Story and Toy Story 2 as a double feature for a limited, two week engagement. And in 3D no less! With Toy Story 3 on the way next summer, I figure the point of this release was to re-introduce a new generation of kids to its prequels. Part 2 is ten years old after all.

Good god, that makes me feel old.

So the question is, after ten to fifteen years since their original release, how do these movies hold up on the big screen? And in 3D no less?

The answer: Better than ever.

Just about any movie Pixar makes can be described easily as Timeless. Every time I watch one I could be five or ninety-five and it wouldn’t make a difference. They are just an incredible amount of fun to watch.

There isn’t quite as much “adult” humor packed into these movies as some of the later stuff. It’s no secret who the target audience originally was. But the advantage of these films is the story telling. At ever step these toys just seem to get deeper and deeper into problems, and always have a clever, usually hilarious, often adventurous solution. The car chase climax of the first movie brought chills up my spine as Woody and Buzz rocketed off towards the moving van. And Jessie’s remembrance montage of her old owner Emily in the midst of number 2, still brings tears to my eyes. It’s just quality film making, regardless of who the target audience is. Or was.

So yeah, maybe Pixar does have a monopoly after all. But not over the kid’s movie industry. Their’s is a monopoly much harder earned and continually defended after almost fifteen years. It’s a monopoly on my heart.

And that is what makes them the best.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I’ll admit, my expectations were about mid-level. Something along the lines of Kung Fu Panda. Cute, occasionally funny, and some brief moments of originality. But all in all, nothing particularly special.

And what a pleasure to be completely proved wrong. This movie was AWESOME! And not just from the perspective of a kids movie, but all in all a really great flick. We’re talking Pixar quality, people. That’s not an honor I like to hand out.

In fact, I never have before. No other computer animated movie, from any other production company, has ever come close to standing next to movies like Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc.

Until now.

The plot line is pretty simple. A kid named Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) who doesn’t fit in likes to invent things. Problem is these things he invents always seem to get him into trouble. One day, as a young man, he invents a machine that turns water into food. Things go haywire, the machine ends up in the sky, and it starts raining cheeseburgers. And so on.

But the magic of this movie isn’t in the story. It’s in the incredible attention to detail of packing humor into nearly every opportunity that presents itself. Like a poster of Nikola Tesla bearing the label: “Rockstar Scientist!” Or Flint’s constant single word narration of his progress montages: “Motivating!” “Researching!” “Painting!” Or just the little things, like the town’s cop (voiced by Mr. T) whose chest hair tingles whenever danger is a foot. You can’t help but laugh at stuff like that.

What really ties the movie together is the top notch animation. You really experience the range of emotions from a world where food falls from the sky. Who wouldn’t want to sit in a restaurant with no ceiling, hold out your plate, and wait? And when things go haywire, and the food gets giant, there’s a background of fear behind all the visual gags of giant meatballs and sushi rolls destroying one building at a time.

How close this movie was to the book, I couldn’t say. I did read the book, when I was like seven. So it’s pretty safe to say I don’t remember. But, whether or not it matters? That I can answer: No, it doesn’t. Because the movie is entertaining enough that you could really care less.

All I can say is that I hope movies like this are a coming trend. Silly, slapsticky, packed with jokes, and a whole lot of fun to watch. I don’t care if they are kids movies. If they’re good, they’re good. And I know I’ve talked about this before, but it really helps when the humor is self-contained rather than an incessant barrage of pop culture references that will be out of date in a couple weeks.

Should you go see this movie? Yes. Do you need a kid to go see it with you? No. You’ll find yourself laughing your ass off, one way or the other. Just like you did when you saw all those Pixar movies.

Monday, September 14, 2009


There have been a few points this year when my five hundred word goal on every review seems a bit too long. One would think it’s an easy goal, just five hundred words, anybody can do that, right? Well, go see Extract and tell me if you have that many words to say about it.

I very much wanted to enjoy this movie. Having followed Mike Judge’s career with a great amount of enthusiasm over the years, I was more than excited to see he was offering up another morsel of Americana. It’s hard not to love the spin he puts on every day life. We’ve all found ourselves quoting Office Space at one point or another. King of the Hill (may it rest in peace) is what good TV should be: Surprisingly familiar characters with humor being driven by their personalities, rather than laugh tracks and stupid jokes. And who of my generation can say that Beavis & Butthead wasn’t anything short of groundbreaking?

If you’ve never seen Idiocracy, his previous film, you’re missing out. It’s equally funny and terrifying. Try it out. Not a perfect movie, by any means, but I’ve never seen one quite like it.

So imagine my disappointment when Extract fell so flat. More than anything it’s just uneventful. One could make an argument that the movie is trying to capture the humdrum life that the main character is stuck in, but I’ve never been a big fan of arguments like that. You go to the movies to be entertained, not bored. No matter the justification.

Beyond that, it’s hard to come up with more to say about the movie. Jason Bateman is hard not to like. JK Simmons is another one of those actors who can’t not be funny. The various players of the factory floor, the film’s premiere stage, are expectedly familiar. But the show is pretty much entirely stolen by Ben Affleck. I don’t know if anyone saw that coming, but all of the most entertaining moments of the show feature him.

All in all, don’t bother seeing this in the theater. It won’t be there long anyway. Wait until it’s playing on Comedy Central some afternoon a couple years from now. Kill a couple hours, get a few chuckles, etc.

I met Mike Judge once. Back in Seattle, 2005 I think it was, at he and Don Hertzfeld’s touring Animation Show. I shook his hand and told him King of the Hill was a great show. He said, “I think we’ve got one season left.” That was four years ago, and I just watched the series finale last night. I’m gonna miss that show.

Every filmmaker is allowed one bad movie. Let’s just hope this is Mike Judge’s lowest point. The man’s just got too much to offer on the American experience to fall by the wayside yet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has handed us an interesting philosophical question: Is gratuitous violence and bloodshed acceptable if the ones being killed are Nazis? Surely, as his argument goes, they’ve earned it. For the atrocities committed, the millions they slaughtered, we can let go of our pacifism temporarily. Look at it like a zombie movie: It’s not wrong to kill them if they’re already dead, right? It’s an interesting question. I for one have no real solid opinion on the issue. I’m reviewing a movie.

The first thing that caught me off guard with this film was the misleading nature of the previews. I was led to believe that Brad Pitt would be the bright shining star and all the action (of which I was expecting lots) would be glorious and bloody.

I was wrong.

Brad Pitt gets only about half of this film. And throughout his portion he’s sharing the screen with all of his Basterds. The rest of this film is largely the story of a young woman, a French Jew, named Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent), sole survivor of a massacre on her family. The paths of these two characters never quite cross. Not on a personal level, anyway.

As I should have expected, the film isn’t a non-stop thrill ride with blood dripping off of every frame. It’s mostly dialogue. Groups of people, varying in size, sitting in a room talking. We all know (including the characters on screen) it’s going to end badly, but we’re just going to wait it out as long as we can. Tarantino’s attempts at building suspense aren’t a complete failure, but certainly not traditional. His usual snappy dialogue is somewhat lost in this film. Mostly because it’s about 75% in either German or French. And snappiness doesn’t translate into subtitles.

The language authenticity, however, does give the film a fair amount of credibility. I always cringe at movies like Valkyrie. Supposedly an all-German cast, played by either Tom Cruise or a bunch of British guys, and everyone’s speaking English. Kind of pathetic, if you ask me.

And while the film does deliver on blood and guts, it’s usually in short bursts. Also, seemingly, much more realistic. But the conclusion will either leave you cheering, or feeling a bit dirty on the inside. Probably both, like in my case.

My step-father once said, when asked if he would go see the movie Titanic, “Why? I already know how it ends.” Inglorious Basterds, however, does not feel the need to maintain such a close connection to the truth. World War II plays out in a completely different way in this film.

The last few seconds of the movie give us a shot of Brad Pitt’s face as he congratulates himself (for what I won’t say), commenting: “You know, I think this one is my masterpiece.” I couldn’t help but hear Tarantino saying these words through him. And he was wrong. Basterds is no Pulp Fiction. What ever will be? But it’s still a damn good movie.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

District 9

District 9 is not your average movie.

Of course, that statement comes from the perspective of a guy who pretty much never watches foreign films. No, not because I have anything against them. Mostly just because, the way I figure it, there’s so many movies out there, and they’re so expensive to see in the theater, that you’ve got to narrow it down. You know what I mean?

So I don’t see foreign films. Sue me.

But, again, District 9 is not your average movie. It seems to function on it’s own will and motivation, rather than playing up more traditional sci-fi plot lines.

First off, in the first twenty or so minutes of the movie, it can’t seem to decide if it’s a mockumentary or a traditional fiction story. It flip flops back and forth between people talking about the history of the alien arrival and this guy Wikus (pronounced Vikus) going around telling a bunch of aliens they’re being evicted from their shithole they call a home.

But it sounds like I’m knocking the movie. In fact, it was quite refreshing to see a different approach to the theme of First Contact. Rather than the more American approach of an all out invasion--bombs a-blazing, famous buildings destroyed, millions of people dead, etc. This film approaches it from the angle of the aliens having the disadvantage. But rather than being wiped from the face of the universe, they’re forced into a ghetto and expected to eat our trash.

There’s symbolism in there. Probably. I’m not very good at that kind of thing.

It is good to know that South African film (or at least this film) doesn’t skimp on action. There has to be a solid 20 minutes of non-stop action towards the end of the film. And the special effects are top notch. I loved the perpetual images of the huge spaceship just hanging there over Johannesburg, like it was just part of the skyline.

The best part of the film, however, is in the alien weaponry. Or, more importantly, the special effects delivered by the usage of these weapons. We’re talking human bodies popping like water balloons. You can’t help but chuckle at the effect of it. Maybe you can. But I couldn’t.

Then this guy Wikus, played by Sharlto Copley (I’ve never heard of him), is pretty much the only real (human) character in the movie. He does a pretty damn good job of a guy who’s been infected by some kind of alien tech, slowly turning into an alien, and being hunted by a multi-national corporation for the purpose of exploitation. That’s the plot, in a nutshell, by the way. And Sharlto plays it well.

So, overall impressions…

Definitely worth seeing. Not a perfect movie. But guaranteed to deliver more original content and ideas than anything else you’ll see this summer. Possibly all year.

Unless you watch a lot of foreign films. Maybe this kind of film making and content is pretty common in other countries. I wouldn’t know.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Harry Potter & the Half-blood Prince

Let me get something out of the way, right off the bat. I’ve never read the books. There, I admit it. I just bring it up because it is important you understand my view of this movie. It is unaffected by a prior knowledge of all the events to take place and constantly being annoyed by the stuff they’re leaving out. Can we move on now?

Okay. I’m glad that’s over.

This movie is badass. I’ve followed all six of the movies so far and Half-blood is probably one of the best to date. Not including Prisoner of Azkaban. Because that one was amazing. This one actually captured the world of Harry Potter and delivered a super-fun, sometimes creepy, often hilarious adventure.

Order of the Phoenix (the last installment) was, honestly, a little confusing. I got the impression that the story line of that book was a culmination of a bunch of sub-plots from previous books that the corresponding movies just decided to leave out. I doubt that the screen-writers/directors ever thought the film series would ever make it this far. So they just put in the easy stuff. But there they were with movie number five, caught with a story that didn’t make sense, so they crammed everything they could into a brief period of time. And it left me confused.

But Half-blood is all caught up now. Ready to deliver some sweet visuals and general entertainment all around. I always enjoy the cameos they slip into these movies. Jim Broadbent (who you guys would know as That Old British Guy Who’s In A Lot Of Movies) was delightful as Horace Slughorn. Being old and British must really put him at an advantage.

Speaking of cameos, Michael Gambon plays Dumbledore now. And by now, I mean that he’s been playing Dumbledore since movie number three. Four freaking movies have gone by and I thought Ian McKellan was playing him the whole time. And now I find out that Ian McKellan has NEVER played Dumbledore! My mind is completely, utterly, and totally blown.

England, stop spitting out old white actors that all look the same. It’s not fair.

But back to the movie. Despite a lack of Ian McKellan, everyone does a fantastic job. The movie as a whole is probably one of the best movies of the summer. Probably the most charming quality of the movie over all is it’s running humor. Unlike say the Transformers movies, where humor is simply made at the expense of women and minorities, and completely out of context with the movie as a whole. Half-blood keeps a steady vein of comical teenage angst and woes that keep the movie fun.

And to top it all off, I went to the midnight showing of this movie. What shocked me more than anything was how many people were there. We are quite literally talking about THOUSANDS of people. When the movie ended, from the time I stood up until the time I unlocked my bike took me a full fifteen minutes! Isn’t that crazy? I had no idea the Harry Potter movies were such a phenomenon. Guess you learn something new every day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It’s no Borat. I think we can all agree on that. But what could be Borat? I mean, that movie was freaking brilliant. Am I wrong? No. I’m not. Ever.

However, it is still a pretty damn hilarious movie. The plot line has a few weak points. The structure seems oddly familiar to its predecessor. And this time around you feel like you’re in on the joke, rather than scratching your head trying to figure out just how real this movie is. But it’s still pretty damn hilarious.

Brüno is a fashion reporter on “the most influential fashion show in any German speaking country… except Germany.” He’s flamboyant, aggressive, and, obviously, kinda stupid. He shows up to big-time fashion show wearing a suit made entirely of Velcro, madness ensues, he loses his job. So Brüno moves to LA in hopes of becoming a star in America. But without much talent to speak of, things don’t go quite as he had hoped. The whole movie consists of him trying to leap over one obstacle or another to get to the top of the Hollywood food chain.

A lot of the interviews and mechanisms he uses are old hat by now. He manages to get either a celebrity or a politician cornered into an interview and he goes out of his way to make them incredibly uncomfortable. Kinda played out. But then again, when Ron Paul freaks out after Brüno tries to seduce him… pretty damn hilarious.

Personally, I’m surprised he can still get people into interviews. Hasn’t everybody heard of him by now? Apparently not. Certainly not the “Gay Converter” minister he manages to get a hold of. Or the Hollywood agent who’s marketing him out. Or any of the people in the focus group for his proposed new TV show. Or any of the people in the talk show audience he attends. Leave it to Sacha Baron Cohen to find (and exploit) all of the stupidest people in this country.

Which is his charm, after all.

The movie does drag a bit. Which is funny, because it’s not even ninety minutes long. But the gay jokes and penis suggestions get exhausting after a while.

Exhausting is actually a good word for it. I don’t think one person can handle that many penis jokes with out just getting overloaded. Probably the funniest part of the movie was an extreme close up of a penis dancing around. This is a real penis, mind you. Not a cartoon. And on the screen my wife and I saw it on, this thing was probably about six feet long. That’s not something you’ll soon forget.

Brüno is worth seeing. And you will laugh. But it will also make you want to go rent Borat and laugh at that movie all over again. Homophobia just isn’t the hot button issue it once was. Xenophobia/cultural-racism is so much sexier.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Perhaps I should preface this posting with a little bit of a disclaimer. It was the midnight showing, there were certain levels of intoxication, and I was sitting in the front row. I just feel like it’s important for all of us to be on the same page. That being said, let’s get on with the review.

I can sum up the whole of Transformers 2 in one quick statement: It was better than the first one.

Now, I’m sure you’re finding yourself a bit confused right now. “But Asa,” you’re saying, “the first one was so bad. I mean, sure it had some fun action sequences, but the uneven blend of serious action and ridiculous attempts at humor did not balance out. At all! How on earth could a sequel be better?”

And I’ll quietly soothe you, “It’s okay. I know. I couldn’t agree more. And yet, somehow, I find myself believing it.”

Do you remember the weakest part about the first Transformers movie? Aside from all the pathetic humor that distracted away from the overall plot of the movie. The weak part was that there hardly was a plot. These guys over here, they’re the Autobots. The guys over there, they’re the Decepticonz. They like to fight. A lot. And that was about it. Sure there was something about an Energon Cube, but not even the Transformers seemed to know what it was.

Transformers 2 actually had a plot line. One that was relatively easy to follow. (“Relatively” being the key word here.) Apparently, Transformers have been coming to our planet for a long time. They are scattered all over in search of their energy source known as Energon. The Autobots try to live in harmony with the planet, while the Decepticonz think it would be easier just to blow up the whole thing. There’s an ultimate energy source know as the Matrix Key that can do a lot of stuff, including destroy the universe. And, as fate would have it, Sam (Shia) is the only person who knows how to find it. And thus, the battle begins.

What I liked about this story was that it captured a sense of mythology. There was a lot of history implied in the plot and that tends to make things more interesting. These kinds of twists and turns are the things that keep me reading comicbooks. They don’t always have to make sense, they just have to keep me interested.

However, all that being said, it’s important to create a distinction. This still isn’t a good movie. The action sequences are muddled and confusing. The dialogue is ridiculous. And Shia screams out main characters names at the screen as if he’s attempting to be the next Charlton Heston. (Those shoes are far too big for you, kiddo.)

But let’s not forget the most important thing about the film. As it would seem, all women are whores, idiots, and the butt of all jokes. All of them. In the Transformers world, that is. Not my opinion. Seriously.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Hangover

Under normal circumstances, I try to let a day or two pass before I review a movie. Really let it sink in. But in the case of The Hangover I'm anxious to get this down before I forget the movie entirely.

That's right. Unremarkable.

I was pretty into seeing this movie. It was the only film in the latest batch of blockbusters that seemed appealing at all. With the cost of tickets these days, I want to know that I'm not making a big mistake before walking into the theater. Sure, we all strike out sometimes, but that's the breaks. Hangover was not so much a strike out, more of a walk.

Following the same premise as Dude, Where's My Car? (one of my personal favorites), four guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party and get hammered. They wake up the next morning to discover a trashed hotel suite, a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom, and no memory of the night before. Oh, and the groom-to-be is gone. So you could call this Dude, Where's My Best Friend? (I died a little inside when I wrote that.)

There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie. It has some laughs. Ed Helms is always a funny guy. He turns down his character quite a bit for this movie, not at all like his role in The Office. The other guys I didn't recognize, so I can't comment on previous performances. The guy with the beard (Zach Galifianakis) plays the weird one, with much more weird than funny. Bradley Cooper plays the “asshole” of the bunch, but doesn’t really deliver with the laughs you’d expect from said character cliché. And Justin Bartha, playing the groom-to-be, isn’t in three-quarters of the movie anyway, so who cares?

Did any of you see I Love You, Man? The Hangover reminded me a lot of that movie. A good cast, a good concept, some genuinely funny moments, and an all in all unremarkable movie. I think in the case of both films, the creators put way too much stock in the cast’s ability to be hilarious, and didn’t bother to build up a humorous script or an engaging story. I Love You, Man had the advantage of Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. Two guys who know how to be funny. The Hangover… not so much.

There are some laughs. Don’t get me wrong. But to be the #1 movie in America two weeks in a row? Really? Is this a sign of the times? I’ll say that the blockbuster bill for this summer doesn’t get me particularly excited. Two movies based on toys. One of which is a sequel. Harry Potter does look pretty awesome though. You can definitely look forward to my review of that.

In conclusion, if the fact that my last two paragraphs of this review aren’t even about the movie I’m reviewing don’t give away anything, I don’t know what will.

And once again, IMDB is reporting a sequel. When will it end?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a really good bad movie. And not the kind of good bad movie that was originally intended to be a serious, genuine film. Like, say, the movie Fear, starring Mark Wahlberg. But the kind of good bad movie that from step one, you know the director said to himself: “I’m gonna make a really kick ass bad movie!” For example, Drag Me To Hell, starring Alison Lohman.

I know, I know, everybody likes to get down on Sam Raimi for making Spiderman 3, but give the guy some credit. He did make Spiderman 2 after all. And Army of Darkness. And while we’re on the subject, Spiderman 3 really wasn’t that bad! Sure, it was campy and that whole dancing scene was kinda weird. But the special effects were awesome, the super-hero fights were kick ass, and that whole dancing scene was also kinda hilarious. Cut the guy a break.

Drag Me To Hell is a very different kind of movie than any of the Spidey flicks. It’s much more like it’s predecessors, the Evil Dead trilogy. Setting out to make a movie that tells you from the very beginning that it’s going to be scary. But every time it gets scary, you find yourself laughing instead of screaming. Not because the movie is bad, like any of the Saw series. No, this movie is carefully crafted to just be a tremendous amount of fun.

If I had been, say, twelve years old today and went to see this movie, my life would have changed. I would spend months raving about it to my friends. Buying a promo t-shirt online. Ravenously waiting outside of a video store the day before it came out on DVD. Fortunately, my obsession for film has taken on a much healthier, more productive turn.

Probably my favorite thing about the movie was the balance they struck between conservatism and just plain old gross. On the one hand, you have a film that isn’t particularly bloody. Sam is skillfully showing just the right amount of violence and gore to keep you from being offended/hang onto his PG-13 rating. But on the other, you have a creepy old lady puking maggots all over the star-hot chick’s face. (Not the only face-puking scene in the movie.) And when such a balance can take place, and be exposed with craft and attention, you have yourself art.

By using the term “art” (not a word I like to throw around a whole lot), I’m not saying this movie will change the face of modern cinema. Sam Raimi already did that back with the Evil Dead trilogy. Or even be hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. But it can’t be denied it was a labor of love. I’ll probably show my kids this movie, one of these days. When I have kids.

It’s not really fair to call a movie an “instant cult classic” if everyone agrees that it’s awesome. Because then it’s just a classic. No cult about it. And that’s a fact.


Is it a good or bad sign to cry like a baby within the first five minutes of a movie? Because this movie hits the ground running with the heartfelt, tear-jerking fun that Pixar is just so good at. Leaving me with an all time personal best of three scenes in the movie that brought tears to my eyes. Only continuing an almost unerring streak (let’s not talk about Cars) of leaving me with a sense of emotional exhaustion and a goofy smile plastered on my face.

Cry #1: The opening montage, spanning the life and relationship of Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Edward Asner) and his wife Ellie. Exploring their mutual desire for adventure, and the inevitable fate of life getting in the way. This scene packs multiple punches, but should all be counted as one. When Ellie discovers at the doctors office she can’t have children and all the sweet things Carl does to cheer her up. The multiple super-cute shots of the two of them getting old together. And of course, when her health fails and Carl ends up alone, with nothing but a house they built together and a big pile of memories.

Cry #2: The young boy Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), who accidentally tags along on the house-balloon-sailing trip, gets a chance to show some depth of character. He shares that his dad is never around to help him with all of his scout badges. That the woman who insists he bugs his father too much isn’t actually his mother. And that if he gets the final badge he needs, his dad will be there at the award ceremony. This explanation of his family is intentionally vague, and all the stronger for it. Watching the vulnerability on Russell’s face, and the realization on Carl’s… Man.

Cry #3: The handoff of a sacred memento from Carl to Russell in the conclusion of the movie. I’m trying my best not to spoil it. Not to say this moment isn’t expected or particularly surprising when it happens. But the way these two guys stand together at the end of the film makes you remember what movie magic is all about.

However, let’s not forget about what makes Pixar movies stand so high above all the rest. The fact that they are freaking hilarious. Rather than relying on pop culture references and potty humor (which have their place, don’t get me wrong), these guys put in genuinely funny, timeless jokes that keep you laughing. Dug, the dog, (voiced by Bob Peterson) will have you rolling on the floor. Capturing the actual essence and mindset of a golden retriever can’t be easy. Not to mention having to do it with words. But for anyone who has ever owned one of these dogs, you’ll recognize him instantly.

While Up is certainly not Pixar’s best movie to date, what it does have, which all of them have (yes, even Cars), is a story which is completely different. They’re not reinventing the wheel with cool new animation. They’re constructing an entirely different mode of transportation. Like flying a house with thousands of balloons.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Despite what you might be led to believe from the previews, this movies’ saving grace is not Christian Bale. Nor is it the (hopefully) final revival of a franchise that is now 25 years old. What keeps this movie from being a complete waste of time is that the action, quite literally, never stops. Some 2 hours of explosions and fight scenes and robots always manages to keep you just at the edge of wondering why you spent $10 to sit in this theater.

I was too young for the first Terminator film, being all of 2 when it came out. I did finally catch it on TV one night a few years back. It served its purpose. I can see why people liked it. The second film was one of my first R rated movies, and I remember coveting it like the grail. The special effects of the time were impressive. No one can dispute that. Hell, even number 3 had some pretty cool stuff. The story was surprisingly well crafted. The twist at the end was brilliant. In all honesty, the only thing working against it was Arnold. But, and I’m sure we can all agree on this, it should have just stopped there.

The tv show? Really? After about 2 episodes I couldn’t keep up. The plot got all convoluted. Time travel has a way of doing that to popular entertainment. A slim budget kept the show from having any real action. And then it got moved to Friday nights, which is a death note for any show. Summer Glau is totally hot though. Yeah she is.

So let’s get down to the new movie. Ultimately, my biggest problem with the film is that it’s an outdated idea. Much like the style of filming, it just feels dusty. Maybe I’ve been reading too much good science fiction as of late, but I find myself wondering things like: Who is Skynet (other than a self-aware super-computer bent on destroying all humans)? Why does it want to destroy all humans? Has no one in the future heard of an electro-magnetic pulse? And why, for the love of god, do all of these robots have teeth? It’s not like they’re planning on eating anything.

Again, however, there are some pretty badass action sequences. The huge robot thing that’s capturing prisoners, for whatever reason, is a lot of fun to watch. And I’m a big fan of fixed camera action. When the helicopter crashes and all we get is a view from inside, that’s awesome. During a similar scene in Cloverfield, I damn near crapped my pants. But that brings up my ultimate point about the movie. Nothing about it feels new. It’s all just a rehashing of an old franchise, digging out used ideas from other movies in an attempt to breathe new life into a future where machines are trying to stomp the breath out of us.

And, of course, IMDB is reporting a sequel in the works. Who’s surprised? Because it sure as hell ain’t me.

Star Trek

Sometimes I wish I had a better vocabulary. Or at least spoke German, since in that language you can pretty much make up any word you want. Or so I’m told. Because if these tools were available to me, I could give you a one word description for the unified sensation of peeling your jaw off the floor, picking your brains of the poor guy sitting behind you, and sloshing out of the theater in the three inches of water left on the floor from crying tears of joy all through the movie. So I’ll have to settle for a collection of words: Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

That’s right. This movie is A---MAZING!

When I first heard about a new Star Trek film, I was pretty skeptical. I mean, who wasn’t? Here they are relaunching a series that could quite possibly count as one of the most dated pieces of fiction in all the 20th century. Why didn’t they just forge new ground and start a new storyline within the confines of the overall Trek continuity? That makes sense, right? There have been how many new TV shows based on it? Five? Make up some new aliens, a cool new ship, some new charming captain. But no, Mister JJ Abrams insisted on remaking the old stuff. New Kirk and all.

JJ, I take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about you. Granted I haven’t said a whole lot. But still, consider it all taken back.

Start to finish, high quality stuff. An excellent cast, ripping special effects, a brilliant script, a convenient twist that allows you to make as many sequels as you please without pissing off any traditional trekkies, and a super-hot green chick!

Even Eric Bana was awesome in this movie. Granted, he probably catches a lot more flack then he deserves. I think myself, much like everyone else, can only think of how terrible of a movie Hulk was whenever his name comes up. But that’s not Eric’s fault. Blame Ang Lee. Captain Nero wasn’t as well developed as he could have been, but Bana sure makes him as creepy as he needed to be. If not more. He won’t win an Oscar for it, but maybe he’ll win Best Villain on the MTV Movie Awards.

Seriously, my only problem with this movie was that I wanted more Simon Pegg. But I guess that’s what the sequel is for.

This movie is a celebration of everything Star Trek as a TV and film dynasty has ever stood for. Even my wife liked it. And she hates science fiction!

While every other summer blockbuster this season is designed to reboot, rehash, or reanimate old franchises in the name of making money with explosions, Star Trek, is a film about the love of film, action, adventure, and randomly throwing in super-hot green chicks. It isn’t often that you get a film that not only delivers action and sweet special effects, but also gives hope and solid role models. Do yourself a favor and watch the hell out of this movie. Over and over and over again. For the children. Of the future.