Saturday, December 29, 2007

What I've Been Watching in 2007: A Year In Review

Of the hundreds of movies released in 2007, I saw a total of 25 films in the theater (one of which I saw twice). In addition to those, I rented 14 more 2007 movies, downloaded 7 others from the internet, and bought one new direct to DVD release this year. Overall that means that in 2007 I saw 47 of this year's numerous and varied films. While I have yet to see every movie that I wanted to this year and I've come nowhere close to seeing them all, it is customary among both film critics and the blogosphere in general to compile a list of the best and worst movies of the year, so that's just what I've done.

Without further ado, I give you the official What I've Been Watching's Best & Worst Films of 2007:


10. Futurama: Bender's Big Score
This was not a theatrical release, which would probably count it out of the running for most peoples' "Best Of" list, but when you get right down to it, Bender's Big Score was simply better than most of the movies that actually played in theaters this year. I've been a fan of Futurama from it's days on syndicated television and ever since the show was cancelled after it's fourth year I have pined for more. Bender's Big Score not only brings back all of the characters that I loved from the show, but it continues Futurama's history of combining, beautiful visuals, hilarious laughs, and interesting concepts. It's like the show never went away.

9. 3:10 To Yuma
The western genre largely died out in the seventies, giving way to an insurgence of science fiction and action movies in the wake of films like Star Wars and Dirty Harry. With as little interest in cowboys as there seems to be in today's high tech world, when a western comes along these days that is as well-made, well-acted, and exciting as 3:10 To Yuma, the world tends to take notice. If you've heard a lot of people talking about how great 3:10 To Yuma is, there's a reason for it: because it's true.

8. Zodiac
David Fincher has been my favorite director for several years now, and there's a reason for that. Every time he directs a movie it is both thought-provoking, beautiful, and enthralling to watch. Even after a five year wait, Zodiac is no exception to this rule. Some movie-goers point their fingers readily at Zodiac's running time when asked why they didn't like the film, but my feeling is that if a story needs more than two hours to be told, who's to stop a movie from telling it properly? After all, it's not about how long a movie is, it's about the quality, and I'd be hard-pressed to name a Fincher film that didn't serve up plenty of it.

7. The Host
Simultaneously a heart wrenching drama, a bellow inducing comedy, and a fear inducing horror film, The Host quite literally has something for everyone. There are so many things to praise this film for that I hardly know where to begin. The design of the movie's monster is amazing, and while the special effects aren't always perfect, the intricacies of it's character will win you over immediately. The story is told magnificently, the visual style is nothing short of amazing, and the way it juggles so many different genres while remaining a solid piece of filmmaking are proof positive that The Host belongs on anyone's list of the best movies of 2007.

6. Ratatouille
Even the most generic and dull titles in Pixar's library of computer animated movies are still some of the best examples of the CG corner of the film industry, so when the story matches the incredible quality of the studio's patented amazing visuals, the recipe is one of success. Perhaps the best of all of Pixar's movies, and most definitely the best looking, Ratatouille is yet another triumph for not only the animation company, but writer/director Brad Bird. Full of laughs, drama, and suspense, Ratatouille is quite literally fun for the whole family.

5. Spiderman 3
Verbally pummeled by the masses and proclaimed an embarrassment to the franchise by millions of former fans, Spiderman 3 has been the subject of more debates in 2007 than perhaps any other single film. While I would agree that Spiderman 3 is a weaker film than both of the previous installments of the series, that by no means should suggest that it is a bad film. With just as much (if not more) action and laughs as Spiderman and Spiderman 2, the third episode of the current Spiderman trilogy is not a perfect film, but despite the few holes in it's plot it manages to far surpass the majority of the other films released this least in my eyes.

4. Superbad
The reason that I loved Superbad so much has nothing to do with Judd Apatow or any of his previous successes and everything to do with it's story and it's stars. The script captures perfectly what a large percentage of high school males are like, right down to the filthy, degrading language that so many viewers were apparently turned off by. Translating the script into onscreen gold are two of the film industry's most promising up-and-coming comedic talents and a cavalcade of hilarious supporting characters. All of the specifics aside though, the reason that Superbad is among my favorite films of 2007 is that it made me laugh harder and more frequently than any movie has in a long, long time.

3. The Mist
Put simply, The Mist is a textbook example of what a horror and/or monster movie should be. Too many films in these genres these days rely on shock value, violence, and gore to get their audiences' attention, when they should be taking a page out of Stephen King's book (literally). Balancing the gore with suspense and the horror with drama, The Mist creates an atmosphere so unforgiving that one can easily forget that they're watching a movie. As a huge fan of monster movies, the sheer joy that I got out of watching the events of The Mist unfold cemented it's place in my list of the best films of 2007.

2. No Country For Old Men
The moment I heard that the writing and directing team behind Fargo and Blood Simple were producing a new crime drama, No Country For Old Men had already taken a few steps toward my best of 2007 list. Not only is this film excellently paced, superbly acted, masterfully directed, and flat-out gorgeous; it's also smart. There is something so rewarding about watching an intelligent film, especially in the crime genre, and No Country For Old Men delivers on this claim in spades. Movies like No Country For Old Men are what the feature film medium was invented for.

1. Grind House
I would have been sold after hearing Quentin Tarantino's name. Add all of the other names attached to this project and it's kind of hard to ignore it. I'm sure that I'll get flak from people for naming this the best film of 2007, considering that in reality it is actually two movies instead of one, but to those people I say, "I paid for one movie when I went to the theater to see Grind House." I've been asked numerous times by numerous people whether I preferred Death Proof or Planet Terror, but I say this as honestly and straight forward as I can: I liked them both equally. They are very different from one another and each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but all taken into account, they're just two halves of one incredible whole called Grind House and that's the way I will always think of this movie. For this reason, Grind House was my favorite film released in 2007.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)


Hot Fuzz

I Am Legend

Rescue Dawn

Sweeney Todd


10. Mr. Brooks
What I had hoped would be a thought-provoking look at the modern day serial killer instead turned into a stereotypical, overdone, flashy piece of crap. Demi Moore stunk up the screen and neither Dane Cook, Kevin Costner, nor William Hurt could do anything to save Mr. Brooks, nor did they particularly seem to want to.

9. The Number 23
Had this film not followed the "How To Pull Off A Twist Ending The Fight Club Way" handbook like every other suspense thriller these days seems to, The Number 23 could have been a great, intriguing film. Jim Carrey is great up until the ending, as is everything else about The Number 23, including the story. Unfortunately somewhere along the way a crucial decision involving the plot was apparently left in the hands of a moron with no ideas of his/her own.

8. Next
Strike one: Nicolas Cage is the star of this film. Strike two: Lee Tamahori directed it. Strike three: someone tried to adapt Philip K. Dick's short story The Golden Man into an action movie. There really isn't a single part of Next that could come close to redeeming it other than Jessica Biel's ass. It's kind of hard to focus on it when Nic Cage is in the room mumbling his way through a script as bad as this one, though.

7. Blades of Glory
Take two genuinely funny actors, get them together in a room with silly outfits on, and then bend over and literally shit the most generic script possible out of your ass for them to act out. What really makes a film worth watching is when it tries to achieve something new and interesting. With that in mind it's really no surprise that Blades of Glory was so terrible.

6. Vacancy
As is the case with literally every single one of the titles in my list of the worst films of 2007, Vacancy suffers most from the fact that it is nothing more than a cheap attempt at capitalizing on something similar that was popular once. There are at least twenty or thirty films about people being chased by murderers that are better than this one.

5. The Hills Have Eyes II
Who should we get to play the hardcore military personnel in our action/horror movie? The most unrealistically beautiful people we can find regardless of their ability to deliver an even remotely believable line of dialogue? Great idea! There's just nothing new here. I'm running out of things to say about these piece of shit movies. They're all the same, and THAT's the problem!

4. The Reaping
If you want to know why this movie is so bad, just watch it and count the stereotypes. If I knew you could make money selling unoriginal scripts like this to movie studios, I would just write one movie about a demonic child and print out fifty different copies with the characters' names changed on each one and make millions.

3. Pathfinder
Unlike several of the movies in my worst films of 2007 list, Pathfinder actually looked like it could have been a good film. Native Americans versus vikings in the dark ages? That could be good. Considering the quality of films like Braveheart and Apocalypto, there's no reason why I shouldn't have suspected prior to it's release that Pathfinder could have been a good movie. Of course, I didn't know who Karl Urban was at the time.

2. Ghost Rider
Nicolas Cage turns into a skeleton, catches on fire, and rides a motorcycle up the sides of skyscrapers brandishing a chain and a leather jacket to battle demons. Need I say more? Well, if you insist: it's directed by the guy responsible for Daredevil.

1. Shoot 'Em Up
I went into the screening of Shoot 'Em Up that I saw with really high expectations, and really, why shouldn't I have? We're talking about a movie starring Clive Owen as a guy who shoots tons of bad guys while protecting an infant from the evil Paul Giamatti. Really the only thing this movie needed to please me were good special effects and a passable story. Could the filmmakers be bothered to provide me with either of those things? Not a chance. The action looks terrible and the story is complete bullshit. I'd rather watch a movie with no plot than sit through that of Shoot 'Em Up again. With such a simple set of parameters to provide me, the consumer, with an enjoyable movie-going experience, the extraordinary cinematic failure of Shoot 'Em Up is simply insulting. Worst movie I saw in 2007, hands down.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)


The Simpsons Movie

Smokin' Aces



So there you have it. Everyone's list is bound to be different, so I'd love to hear how some other people would rank the movies they saw in 2007. Feel free to leave me a comment on this post to list off a few of your own personal best or worst films of the year or just to discuss some of my choices. Before you go berating me for leaving something crucial off of my lineup though, check out the following list which includes all of the films released in 2007 that I saw this year, but which didn't make it into either of my top tens.

Other 2007 Films that weren't the Best or Worst:

28 Weeks Later, 30 Days of Night, 300, 1408, Bee Movie, Black Sheep, Breach, Bug, The Condemned, Death Sentence, Fracture, Good Luck Chuck, Jackass 2.5, Knocked Up, Live Free or Die Hard, The Lookout, Sicko

***All of the information in this post is only accurate through December 31, 2007, after which time my opinions may change due to subsequent viewings.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - November '07

Day Watch
The visual effects in Day Watch are as good as or better than those in Night Watch, this film's precursor. Unfortunately, unlike the last installment of the franchise, Day Watch has a slow-moving plot that manages to be even more confusing than the last time around. Perhaps the fact that so many new and interesting concepts and images were born in Night Watch hurt this movie because it didn't seem to bring much new to the table. It was still a visually impressive experience, most notably during the climax, which finally clears up a few hanging plot threads, but overall it felt stagnant and unsatisfactory.

Kidnapped and held against his will over a long period of time for reasons unknown, a man is finally released and given a limited amount of time to uncover the mystery behind his imprisonment. The mystery of Oldboy is just strange enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen with anticipation, and just average enough to keep you from seeing what you're truly in for. The plot of Oldboy is masterfully woven in such a way that when the answers to all the story's questions are revealed at the film's climax, they hit you in the chest like a ton of bricks. I desperately want to allude to the hidden and eventual tone of the film, but I dare not deprive anyone of the satisfaction (or horror) of witnessing it for themselves firsthand.

From Dusk Till Dawn
From Dusk Till Dawn marks the first occasion that I haven't been completely turned off to a performance by George Clooney, which can most likely be attributed to the script written by co-star Quentin Tarantino, who is (in my opinion) the runaway star of this film. A couple of criminals take a family hostage to cross the border into Mexico and then wind up fighting some vampires south of the border. The first half of this movie is well acted, professionally shot, and masterfully written, reminding me of why it's so fun to watch movies in which the bad guys are the leads. The second half of the movie is cheesy, ridiculous, and over-the-top (in a bad way), failing to provide a viewing experience that is much more worthwhile than any random B horror flick. From Dusk Till Dawn is seriously like two completely different movies rolled into one, making it hard to categorize. Simply put, I loved the first 45 minutes and hated the latter.

Hell Comes To Frogtown
In a post-apocalyptic future, Rowdy Roddy Piper is one of the few fertile men left on the planet and is forced to fight a gang of mutated frog people against his will in order to rescue some attractive young women who he must then have sex with to help repopulate the Earth. That really says it all, doesn't it? The frog effects are sometimes surprisingly good, but usually pretty bad, and oddly enough the same can be said for Roddy Piper's acting. This movie is cheap, absurd, poorly acted, and likely to offend a lot of people, but if you enjoy over-the-top exploitation and/or horror films along the lines of The Evil Dead or The Re-Animator, you're bound to get some enjoyment out of Hell Comes To Frogtown.

The title of the novel upon which Lifeforce is based should at the same time give you an accurate idea of what the film is about and make you smile at it's blunt absurdity: "Space Vampires". Adapted by the men responsible for Alien (Dan O'Bannon) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper), Lifeforce provides an enjoyable ride right up until the ending, which is when the story fell apart for me. The special effects range from laughable to really impressive as people are possessed, explode, and have the life literally drained out of them. Patrick Stewart makes a rather odd appearance in the film as does the well-endowed Mathilda May, who plays a female space vampire who is unabashedly nude for the majority of her time onscreen. Lifeforce has a decent plot, a few good visuals, and some neat ideas, but I couldn't help but get the feeling that the filmmakers never exactly figured out what type of movie they were trying to make; a science fiction/horror or a disaster film.

Deepstar Six
A deep sea research team becomes trapped inside their underwater laboratory with a large, bloodthirsty sea creature. It sounds as corny as it is. I recall loving this movie as a child, but over the years I really romanticized it. The acting is pretty weak, the animatronic monster (the little bit you actually get to see of it) is rather poorly realized, and the plot plods along way too slowly. There is one particularly memorable scene in which a man dies a bloody death due to explosive decompression, but outside of that, there isn't much to see here. A few more scenes with the monster and perhaps a better look at it toward the end would have done wonders for Deepstar Six.

The Tripper
The directorial debut of actor David Arquette, The Tripper is comprised of three fourths comedy (if you want to call it that) and one fourth horror. A bunch of hippies gather in the woods to attend a music festival hosted by Paul Reubens, but their fun is cut short when a psychopath wearing a suit and a Ronald Reagan mask begins killing the attendees in a variety of gory fashions. In my opinion, horror fans looking for a good slasher flick need not apply because The Tripper is more dependent on it's humor and political satire than blood and guts, but then again it's not very funny either, so I'm not really sure who the target audience is supposed to be. The hippie character played by Jason Mewes was the most interesting and likeable of the bunch, but exits the film rather early on, leading to what I found to be a snore-fest for the remainder of the running time.

Barton Fink
In 1941, New York-based playwright Barton Fink is invited to move to Hollywood, California to write some studio films, but quickly finds that working simply for a paycheck cannot compare with working for the personal pleasure of having created something unique and meaningful. I'll admit that by the end of Barton Fink I was completely confused with what I'd just seen, but that is not to say that I didn't enjoy it. Much like the David Cronenberg film Naked Lunch, I wasn't sure exactly what the director was trying to say, but I had a blast taking the stylistic, superbly-acted ride. A quick visit to the forums on IMDb clued me in to what exactly the Coen brothers were trying to say with Barton Fink, and that understanding made me like the film even more than before. Barton Fink is certainly not meant for the casual movie-going crowd, but if you like your movies to make you think, welcome to paradise.

I'll put it right out there: this is one of the five worst movies that I've ever seen. I was lured into Slipstream by Bill Paxton and Mark Hamill, but quickly realized what a dire mistake I had made. In this film, Mark Hamill is one of two bounty hunters who have tracked down and captured a rogue android. Seeing an opportunity to make some money by collecting the android's reward himself, bounty hunter Bill Paxton kidnaps him from his captors and takes off down the slipstream (a supposedly violent wind current that runs for hundreds of miles). The acting in this movie? Shit. The directing? Shit. Music? Shit. Story? Shit. Effects? What effects? There is not a single redeeming thing about this movie. It's confusing, but at the same time it's boring, so you'll never even care about clearing up your confusion. I can't stress this enough: stay away from this piece of garbage.

Blood Simple
The beginning of the Coen brothers' career is anything but humble. Blood Simple is a film about betrayal, revenge, and deadly misunderstandings. Expertly shot and well-acted, this first film from the directorial duo is an obvious precursor to such later films as Fargo and No Country For Old Men. Hence if you like those films, you'll love this one. The suspense and plot twists in Blood Simple had me grinning with delight throughout and the intense climax actually made me giggle with anticipation. Considering that this is the directorial debut of the Coen brothers, I feel like I should have something bad to say about it, but I really don't. Blood Simple is a fantastic film.

Director Stuart Gordon takes yet another shot at adapting an H.P. Lovecraft tale to the screen. Following such horror genre greats as The Re-Animator and From Beyond, Dagon had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, this story about a town of people mutating into fish creatures didn't exactly reach the level of quality that those other films managed. The acting in Dagon is okay and the direction is fine, but the real downfall of the movie are the effects. I can't help but wonder how much better Dagon would have been if Gordon had used traditional effects rather than CG for all of the big monster reveals. Aside from the effects being rather poor, the story plodded along at a snail's pace, so even though the plot was interesting, I felt like It could have been told in a better fashion. All in all, I would only recommend Dagon to diehard fans of either Stuart Gordon or H.P. Lovecraft.

What the hell is this movie? Co-written by the Coen brothers, Crimewave is director Sam Raimi's studio follow-up to the independent horror classic The Evil Dead. If The Evil Dead proved without a doubt that Raimi had what it takes to be a successful director, Crimewave serves only to attempt to prove that notion false. Somewhere between a film noir and an episode of The Three Stooges, Crimewave tells the story of a wrongfully accused man on death row as he relates the tale of how he ended up in his current predicament. Horribly dubbed dialogue, a plot that jumps all over the place from moment to moment, weak acting, cheesy comedy, and poor sound quality are only a few of the bugs that plague this farce of a film. It feels as though this was a crummy independent film and The Evil Dead was a Studio masterpiece in comparison. The only redeeming part of this film is the car chase at it's climax which manages some neat camera shots and a rather humorous fight scene. I think that even hardcore Raimi fans will find it hard to sit through this one.

Tired of your day to day life? How would you like to live the life of a cowboy? Well in this futuristic thriller you can do just that by visiting a western-themed resort called Westworld. Realistic robots in cowboy get-ups allow you the opportunity to have a real shootout without hurting another person, and female androids provide uninhibited wild west style sexual romps. It's all fun and games until something goes wrong and the robots turn on the human guests of the resort. Westworld is a little slow at parts, but just about everything else about it is perfect. A great concept is pulled off via exceptional acting, fun action pieces, and spot-on directing by writer Michael Crichton. Most impressive is Yul Brenner's portrayal of a gunslinging robot with a grudge. Westworld is science fiction at it's best.

The Return Of The Living Dead
Ever wonder what George Romero's horror classic The Night of the Living Dead would be like if it were a comedy? Well, wonder no more. The Return of the Living Dead is Alien scribe Dan O'Bannon's take on the zombie genre, focusing more on the ridiculous situations that would arise from the dead coming to life than the serious and horrifying. Don't worry though, there are still plenty of disembodied entrails, exposed brains, and buckets of spilled blood to be found here (as well as one particularly impressive zombie known as the "tar man"). Set to a punk rock score and starring a band of leather and mohawk-clad youths, The Return of the Living Dead is a great addition to the zombie corner of the horror genre even if it isn't strictly a horror film.

Dead Heat
Remember when action movies in the eighties didn't need to make a whole hell of a lot of sense? Dead Heat is a perfect example of this. The title refers to the fact that a couple of cops (the heat) played by Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are brought back from the dead to bring down the guys responsible for their demise. Joe Piscopo's ridiculous acting was enough for me to recommend this movie, but there are a few other redeeming factors, too. First and foremost is a scene in which all of the dead animals in a butcher shop are brought back to life to wreak havoc. The effects in this scene vary from sad to rather impressive, and until I'd seen it I had never thought that a skinned, headless cow could be so horrifying. Dead Heat is unabashedly cheesy and over-the-top, but the fact that it never quite takes itself seriously is perhaps what saves it from being unwatchable.

Maniac Cop
Like so many of Bruce Campbell's films, Manic Cop's budget is so low that you risk tripping over it if you're not paying attention. The idea is that a police officer has been killing innocent people throughout New York City and Bruce Campbell's character, an unsuspecting patrolman, gets blamed for it. Now he must hunt down the real killer, but when he does it may be tough to convince his co-workers that he's innocent because the actual offender is supposed to be dead. The direction, acting, cinematography, lighting, and dialogue in Maniac Cop are fairly bad, but the story is enough to keep it afloat at most times. As with many low budget movies that save all of their money for the action and effects shots, the scenes in between the (almost non-existant) action are rather dull. The highlight of the film for me was the climax which consists of a chase scene and an impressively shot stunt involving a pier, a van, and one hell of a brave stuntman.

The Man Who Wasn't There
A few times throughout his career, Billy Bob Thornton has proven that he's worthy of the highest praises that an actor can garner. Films that come to mind are A Simple Plan, Sling Blade, and now The Man Who Wasn't There. A film noir in every meaning of the term (including the fact that the entire movie is black and white), The Man Who Wasn't There follows a chain-smoking barber of few words through a series of events involving greed and murder. The Coen brothers have made some classic suspense thrillers over the years, and The Man Who Wasn't There fits perfectly among their previous successes. The acting, dialogue, and even line deliveries from the likes of The Sopranos' James Gandolfini and frequent Coen collaborator Jon Polito just scream film noir. The directing is on par for the brothers Coen, the film is visually stunning in simple blacks, whites, and grays, and the plot is riveting. Do yourself a favor and don't be the man who hasn't seen The Man Who Wasn't There.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - October '07

Here I am again after a two month hiatus with some new reviews. Things are going to be a little different this time around, though. I revamped the blog a few months ago in hopes of revitalizing my motivation to review movies, but instead I just made more unnecessary work for myself. I've still got that little voice in the back of my mind telling me to shower my unadulterated opinions on people though, so I'm here to torture myself and my few readers once more. Here's how this is going to work:

Back at the end of September I signed myself up for Netflix account, which affords me the opportunity to view many of the films I've been wanting to see for the past several years with a great deal of regularity. In the spirit of continuing to review these movies, I'm going to be covering an entire month's supply of Netflix rentals in a single post. With so many movies to get through in such a short amount of time, each review will consist of only a few sentences or a paragraph. Also, despite the fact that I've never bothered to give the films I reviewed in the past a star rating, Netflix prompts it's users to rate every movie they receive in such a fashion so that they can recommend similar titles which might be to their liking. Since I'm already rating these films anyway, I figure I'll go ahead and put those ratings with these reviews as well.

I guess that's about it. Read on and comment if you like.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
Sometimes touching, sometimes preachy, this autobiographical film based upon the autobiographical book by Dito Montiel tells the story of his youth growing up in Queens, New York in the 1980's. Great performances by Shia LaBeouf and Chazz Palminteri keep this film from falling apart and becoming a bit too self-indulgent, while the narration by Robert Downey Jr. feels a bit tacked-on and overly sentimental. Prepare to feel nostalgia for the eighties and leave this film with a pit in your stomach.

The Dead Zone
See my in depth review here.

An interesting departure for director Stuart Gordon, whose movies tend to be of the supernatural and horrific sort. This film is not without it's fair share of horror and dread, though. Follow every-man William H. Macy through the eventful night following the realization that he hates his life and needs to seek change. Occasionally humorous and often uncomfortably disturbing, Macy makes the acquaintance of pimps, whores, con-men, and murderers over the course of a single night in this film based on the David Mamet play of the same name. Perhaps the best word to describe Edmond, both the character and the film, is "peculiar".

Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet's mid-seventies look at the darker side of the mass media makes a number of startlingly accurate predictions about the future of television programming which have come to pass in the decades since it's release. Peter Finch's Howard Beale, a news anchor, begins to lose his mind and proclaims that he plans to commit suicide live on the air. His producers' first reaction to this is to take him off the air, but when word of his outburst gets out and ratings begin to soar, Beale's maniacal on-air displays are allowed to continue. Network dares to ask some pressing questions, and if they'd been as daring in providing their answers, this could have become one of my favorite films of all time.

Down In The Valley
See my in depth review here.

Stand By Me
Stephen King may be best known for his contributions to the horror genre in and out of the feature film industry, but it seems that his more widely loved movies tend to be dramas such as Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption. Stand By Me tells the story of four young boys on an adventure to find a dead body and the trials and tribulations their friendships endure along the way. This film perfectly captures the time period in which it takes place and has some memorable characters and moments, but I can't help but feel that to truly enjoy this film I would had to have seen it when I was, myself, a child.

Hard Boiled
With so many doves, dives, and dual pistols, this film could only be attributed to one man: John Woo. Hailed for it's over-the-top action scenes and modern take on the crime noir genre, Hard Boiled has secured it's place in history as the unofficial birthplace of a new wave of action films that would culminate with the modern influx of CG-enhanced gun-fu movies such as The Matrix. As it turns out, even after all the hype, the only real way to improve upon the action in Hard Boiled is to make use of digital effects and wire work. The action is truly inspirational, but the slow pace between these scenes holds this film back from being perfect.

Glengarry Glen Ross
If you can't stand fast-talkers and extended dialogue scenes, James Foley's adaptation of the David Mamet stage play Glengarry Glen Ross is not for you. However, with a cast consisting of such incredible talent as Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey, Glengarry Glen Ross is hard to pass up. When the higher-ups at a real estate agency challenge all of their employees to compete, with the best salesman at the end of the month to be the winner of a new car, all the rules and a great deal of sanity and common sense go right out the window. With every line of dialogue, each actor continues to upstage the last, but with so much talent carrying an incredibly uneventful and fairly unoriginal plot, the film can only go so far to improve upon the play.

The Deer Hunter
It is generally believed that as time has worn on, films have become more ambitious (often to their own detriment), but for it's time, The Deer Hunter really stepped out of the mold with brutal scenes of violence and terror. Unfortunately, the film's thirty-or-so cumulative minutes of shocking horror are surrounded by two and a half hours of boring, non relevant crap. Robert DeNiro, John Cazale, and Christopher Walken, for all they're worth, could not make the majority of this script interesting if their lives depended on it. After hearing for so long how revolutionary and amazing The Deer Hunter is, I was appalled to find that the first hour of the film revolves around a wedding scene. When the action and excitement finally arrive in the form of scenes which take place during the Vietnam war, they're over before you know it and the viewer is forced to sit through more dull, meaningless scenes that are supposed to invoke deep emotional feelings, but succeeded only in tempting me to use the fast forward button.

Hard Target
Lance Henriksen provides rich men with the opportunity to experience the act of hunting down and killing another human being by kidnapping homeless war vets in New Orleans and sending his clients after them with the weapon of their choosing. When one such unfortunate vet's daughter comes to find out what happened to her father, a drifter with martial arts training aids her in solving the mystery of his disappearance. Yes it's ridiculous and a step down for John Woo, who directed this, his first American film, but taken for what it is, Hard Target is a pretty fun watch. Lance Henriksen is the perfect creepy bad guy, Wilford Brimley is wonderfully wacky as a French cowboy living in the bayou, and there's no denying Jean Claude Van Damme's splits and mullet.

Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai
Saved from a gang as a child by a mobster, Ghost Dog grew up training to defend himself through the teachings of the samurai and now offers his services to his savior as a hitman. All good things must come to an end though, and now Ghost Dog has found himself on the receiving end of a mob contract, forced to fight back against his former employers. The mixture of samurai morals and beliefs with those of the modern day mafia and inner city culture is masterfully pulled off by indie sensation director Jim Jarmusch. Forest Whitaker proves that he can carry a film with facial expressions alone as the outspoken Ghost Dog, and surrounded by such rich characters as those who round out the cast, Way Of The Samurai is an enjoyable, original take on the age-old subjects of pride, friendship, and betrayal.

Death Race 2000
The tag-line for this 1975 B-movie classic really says it all: "In The Year 2000 Hit And Run Driving Is No Longer A Felony. It's The National Sport!" Five drivers race across the country at breakneck speeds killing pedestrians with their vehicles for points. David Carradine is the secretive, but incredibly likable hero Frankenstein, and in an early film role, Sylvester Stallone is his arch nemesis Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. The concept is cheesy, the special effects are so-so, and the acting is over-the-top, but if mindless violence and nudity get you going, Death Race 2000 is just the movie for you.

From Beyond
Another in a long line of modernized H.P. Lovecraft adaptations from low-budget director extraordinaire Stuart Gordon, From Beyond isn't as well known as it's predecessor The Re-Animator, but it's worth just as much admiration and fanfare. B-movie master Jeffrey Combs leads the cast as the lab assistant of eccentric scientist Dr. Pretorious, who uses science to tap into another dimension filled with inhuman creatures which are unleashed upon our reality. The special effects in From Beyond aren't top of the line, but as is often the case, their obviously cheap and hands-on nature makes them more enjoyable than those of most of the CG-enhanced movies of the past decade. There are no oscar-worthy performances to be found here, but the cast of zany characters provide a unique and wholly enjoyable viewing experience that only "so bad it's good" horror movies can.

Martin Scorsese is at his best when masterminding films about the human side of organized crime, and Casino is no exception. Robert DeNiro puts in one of his carreer-defining roles, as does Sharon Stone, but the standout performance here in my eyes is that of Joe Pesci. Combined with such great performances, Scorsese's time-tested method of combining snappy editing with perfect music cues and witty narration makes Casino an instant classic. I feel corny saying it, but being bad never looked so good.

Duck, You Sucker
For my money the best westerns of all time are the "man with no name" trilogy as expertly helmed by legendary director Sergio Leone. As such, I find it curious how the person who is responsible for such fun, exciting cinema classics can be the same man who gave us Duck, You Sucker. The name aside, I didn't find much to like about this film. James Coburn is never as likable in this film as Clint Eastwood is in the "man with no name" films, nor is Rod Steiger as entertaining to watch as either Lee Van Cleef or Eli Wallach. The story plods along and changes directions a few too many times for my liking, and even the score by the indelible Ennio Morricone quickly becomes more annoying than memorable. Unless you're a Leone completist, I would steer clear of this train wreck at all costs.

Apocalypse Now Redux
This is a tough call. Apocalypse Now was everything I ever hoped it would be based on the rave reviews I've heard it given throughout the years. Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper are all magnificent. The action, suspense, humor, and intensity were all there in the perfect proportions. Then came the dinner scene with the French people near the film's climax and the heretofore perfect flow came to an abrupt halt. Having never seen the original cut of Apocalypse Now, I can only hope that this scene is either nonexistent in that version or severely trimmed down. What would have been a perfect movie was completely ruined by this needless, boring scene which dragged along for much too long at a snail's pace. My recommendation? Avoid the Redux and watch the original.

A Fistful Of Dollars
A western remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic Yojimbo, A Fistul Of Dollars concerns an unnamed man who wanders into a town divided by two warring crime families. Playing the families against one another for his own personal benefit, Clint Eastwood's character seems to have bitten off more than he can chew right up until the showdown at the film's climax. Launching not only Eastwood's legendary feature film career, but also the trilogy of films starring his "man with no name" character, A Fistful Of Dollars is not only an extraordinary western, but also a downright amazing film and a perfect jumping-on point for anyone looking to explore the western genre.

Night Watch
What this film lacks in plot and storytelling, it more than makes up for in incredibly original concepts and wild visual effects. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good or bad thing, but one thing's for sure, Night Watch is damn easy to look at. The forces of light and the forces of dark have been battling for centuries, blah blah blah. A child is the chosen one who will turn the tides, yakkety yakkety yak. We've seen this story a million times before, but what we haven't seen before are people turning into animals, people fighting invisible vampires, and one long breathtaking shot of a screw coming off of an airplane in mid-flight and falling all the way down through the sky, a flock of birds, and an air vent to eventually land in someone's cup of coffee. Simply put, if you can make it through the dialogue scenes of Night Watch, you will be rewarded with some of the most dazzling visuals and impressively original ideas this side of The Matrix.

For A Few Dollars More
The second film in Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood's "the man with no name" trilogy of spaghetti westerns, For A Few Dollars More is perhaps my least favorite of the series. Up against such titles as A Fistful Of Dollars and The Good, The Bad,And The Ugly, this is not such a bad distinction, though. While it's my least favorite of the trilogy, it's still one of the best westerns I've ever seen. Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef play lone bounty hunters who are forced to team up to achieve their goal of tracking down an elusive thief, but can they really trust one another? This is the question that will plague you right up until the intense climax which, as with both of the other movies in this series, involves a teeth-grindingly suspenseful showdown.

Crimson Tide
Director Tony Scott is best known for directing over-the-top genre-bending thrillers such as Top Gun and Days Of Thunder, and Crimson Tide fits that bill quite nicely. This film takes a horrifying concept involving nuclear war and throws all validity out the window in exchange for cheap thrills and plot twists. Cheap as they may be though, they make for a fun viewing experience. Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington play the two men in charge of a nuclear submarine which has it's communications cut off during a transmission from HQ. Hackman hastily believes that their orders are to fire their nukes, while Washington would rather hold off on the launch until the orders can be confirmed. There's your conflict. I think you can essentially figure the rest out from there.

The Hunt For Red October
Based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, The Hunt For Red October follows CIA agent Jack Ryan, as played by Alec Baldwin, as he attempts to stop a potential attack on the United States by an experimental hijacked submarine under the control of the unstable Russian captain Marko Ramius. Where a film such as Tony Scott's Crimson Tide focuses more on the excitement and action aboard a submarine, John McTiernan's The Hunt For Red October takes more of a realistic, procedural look at how a disaster such as a nuclear submarine attack could be avoided. A bit too long and technical for it's own good, this film fell flat for me despite the noteworthy efforts of both Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery.

I Spit On Your Grave
A true grindhouse film, I Spit On Your Grave follows an independent big-city woman who rents a house in the country for the summer to work on her first novel in peace. Not long after arriving, the woman is brutally raped and nearly killed by four local men who she then proceeds to hunt and enact her revenge on. What makes I Spit On Your Grave a grindhouse film is the fact that instead of insinuating violence, this movie flat-out shows it happen. The rape scenes account for about a third of the film and the revenge scenes account for about another third. This means that more than half of this movie is devoted to bombarding the viewer with violent acts. There are a few parts that manage to be disturbing and a few that are more silly than frightening, but if you are at all squeamish, I Spit On Your Grave is certainly not the film for you.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Episode 60 - Down In The Valley

The Plot: On the way to the beach near her San Fernando Valley home with some friends, a rebellious teenage girl named Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) picks up a young man named Harlan (Edward Norton), who seems to fancy himself something of a modern-day cowboy. Much to the disapproval of Wade (David Morse), her single father, Tobe begins a relationship with the kind, courteous Harlan, who also quickly befriends her impressionable younger brother Lonnie (Rory Culkin). Tobe disregards her father's opinion, as teenagers tend to do, but finds it hard to ignore his wishes after Harlan makes a few stupid mistakes which prompt Wade to forbid him from seeing his daughter altogether. The lovebirds continue to meet in secret, however, until Harlan's careless behavior begins to affect even Tobe's opinion of him. Upset over the possibility of losing of Tobe, Harlan begins to confuse reality with the hollywood western in his mind, but what he quickly discovers is that the laws of the old west don't go over well in modern day Los Angeles.

The Review: Anyone who has read my recent review of the western 3:10 To Yuma should recall my mentioning that Christian Bale has been on the verge of knocking Edward Norton from the top spot on my list of favorite actors for a while now. The truth is that while Bale has been cranking out quality films such as Batman Begins, The Prestige, Rescue Dawn, and 3:10 To Yuma left and right, Norton hasn't had much of a noteworthy presence in any leading man roles lately, the only one of which I've caught being his turn as the title character in The Illusionist. However, just when I think it's all over for Norton, he seemingly slaps me across the face for even considering taking him off of his pedestal with his portrayal of confused urban cowboy Harlan Carruthers in Down In The Valley. The reason that I've always loved Norton as an actor (and much the same reason that I love Bale) is that he can seemingly take on any role, no matter how demanding or unconventional, and completely immerse himself in it to the point that he has transformed almost literally into that character and I never once feel as though he's "acting". And how much more demanding and unconventional can you get than a troubled guy who lives in Los Angeles and honestly believes on some level that he's a genuine cowboy?

The moment that I knew I had to see this film was when I first caught the trailer online and a shot came onscreen of Norton, shirtless in a cheap motel room, brandishing a scowl and a revolver in each outstretched arm. In fact, short of Norton's involvement in Down In The Valley, it is probably a movie that I never would have seen, which is a shame considering some of the other outstanding performances that it contains. First we have Evan Rachel Wood, who I've never seen in a film before, but who has instantly, with this single performance, found a place among the ranks of up-and-coming talents that I intend to keep an eye on. Not only is Wood beautiful, but for being so young (just 17 during the filming of this movie) she demonstrated a range of emotions that had me floored during several scenes. There are scores of actresses in Hollywood who have been acting for years, but who, in my opinion, couldn't hold a candle to Wood. This is a bold statement, but I'd challenge anyone to watch Down In The Valley and disagree with me.

Less impressive than Evan Rachel Wood, but impressive nonetheless, is Rory Culkin as Tobe's younger brother Lonnie. Based on the few films that I've seen the youngest of the Culkin siblings in, it seems that Rory is generally typecast as the shy, quiet kid. His role in Down In The Valley is no exception, but there's no denying that what he does, he does well. In fact, I'd have to say that this was the most impressive performance I've seen from him yet. Finally, we have another in a long line of spot-on performances by David Morse as Tobe and Lonnie's father Wade. For whatever reason, Morse's portrayal of a kind, likable airplane pilot in The Langoliers, which I watched many times in my youth, has stuck with me as the image that pops into my head when I picture his face. However, contrary to those memories, I've found recently with such films as this one and Disturbia that Morse is not only capable of, but pretty darn good at, playing imposing, menacing characters too. For a good portion of Down In The Valley it's not quite clear whether you should be rooting for Wade or Harlan because of the questionable way that Wade treats his children, and David Morse's intense glare and large stature make for some very tense scenes. Overall the casting of this film was without exception, perfect.

To attract such a well-rounded and capable cast to an admittedly odd, genre-bending independent film like Down In The Valley takes a little more than a mere paycheck, and the secret ingredient in this case was without a doubt the script by fledgeling writer/director David Jacobson. In my opinion, outside of shameless comedies, effects-driven action films, and unforgiving, sappy dramas (all of which can occasionally strike a chord with the viewer based on built-in reactions and preconceived opinions alone), what it really takes to make a great film is a good core concept. There's something to be said for good writing, good dialogue, good cinematography, et cetera, but before any of those things can begin to sculpt a quality movie-going experience I believe that a good, original idea is (almost) always required. In the case of Down In The Valley, the original and initial concept was the flame at the beginning of a long fuse which set the film down the path to turning into a great script, drawing in great actors to play it's leads, and inevitably becoming a great movie. That singular concept being the character of Harlan Carruthers and all of the intricacies of his personality and psyche which lead the plot of the film down a series of pathways that I never expected going into viewing it, and which turned out to be great fun to watch. Really, what more can you ask for from a movie than that?

The Verdict: An original idea leading to an interesting, new, and unpredictable plot, a collection of wonderful and vibrant performances by extremely talented actors, and a willingness to take some serious chances with his film earn David Jacobson my praise for this movie. My recommendation? Watch Down In The Valley at the earliest possible convenience.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Episode 59 - The Dead Zone

The Plot: On the way home from a date with his sweetheart Sarah (Brooke Adams), school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is involved in a car accident which leaves him in a coma. Five years later, Johnny awakens to find that Sarah has moved on with her life and is now married and the mother of a ten month old son. That's not all that has changed in the past five years, though. Johnny discovers that he now has the unexplainable ability to see into a person's past and/or future when he comes into physical contact with them. After he uses his newfound ability to help the local police solve a long-running murder case, news shows and people in need of all manner of help begin to hound Johnny, forcing him to relocate and live in seclusion. However, after shaking hands with soon-to-be presidential candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), Johnny catches a disturbing glimpse of the future. Now he must go to drastic measures to stop what he saw in his vision from coming to pass.

The Review: I think that most people would classify The Dead Zone as a thriller, but to me it is most accurately categorized as a science fiction film. Sure, the movie is thrilling, but it relies more on the concept of Johnny Smith's unique powers than it does on the threat at hand. The event that Johnny tries to stop is merely the vessel through which the "dead zone" is explained and showcased to the viewer. As Dr. Willis McNelly said, "The true protagonist of [a science fiction] story or novel is an idea and not a person." In addition, another quote that I am rather fond of regarding science fiction and it's general purpose comes from Philip K. Dick: "If it is good [science fiction] the idea is new, it is stimulating, and, probably most important of all, it sets off a chain-reaction of ramifications in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader's mind so that that mind, like the author's, begins to create. Thus [science fiction] is creative and it inspires creativity..." I personally feel that this statement applies greatly to The Dead Zone inasmuch as through the entire film I was coming up with different ways that the plot could branch out and eventually came to the realization that the possibilities dealing with the film's premise were nearly endless. Hence, if Dick's comment is true, The Dead Zone is an example of, as he puts it, "good" science fiction.

The sci-fi/supernatural concept aside, what really makes The Dead Zone worth watching is the amazing performance by Christopher Walken. These days Walken's name is associated more closely with cow bells and wrist watches stuck up people's asses than it is with quality acting, but what many people forget is that amidst all of the humorous cameo appearances he has been making in blockbuster comedies lately are several decades worth of great dramatic character pieces. His serious performances in films such as King of New York and Catch Me If You Can are awe-inspiring, and his turn in The Dead Zone is no different. Everything from Walken's facial expressions and line deliveries to the uncomfortable silences and his character's limp are perfectly executed and manage to bring a great level of validity to what could have been a rather hard to swallow plot. He grounds all of the events in reality which allowed the (at the time) still up-and-coming director David Cronenberg to concentrate on adding his own recognizable style to the film without having to worry about losing anyone's attention. In other words, he made Cronenberg look good (not that he really needed the help).

The supporting cast is for the most part quite good. Brooke Adams, while only in a few scenes, gives the viewer the feeling that she is really broken up about what happened between her character and Walken's. Sean Sullivan and Jackie Burroughs, who played Johnny's parents, both felt as though they were overacting a bit, but were generally harmless. Herbert Lom was genuinely likable and convincing as Dr. Weizak. As his character progressed and began to show signs of becoming obsessed with and protective of Johnny and his condition, I honestly wanted to see more of him and where he was heading, but in the end he served is purpose well enough. Anthony Zerbe was interesting to watch, though his character's demeanor seemed to take a 180 degree turn at one point just to further the plot, and Tom Skerritt appears briefly as a police officer toward the beginning of the film, though he isn't given much to do, which is a shame. Finally, we have Martin Sheen as the brash senator-in-the-running Greg Stillson. Sheen's performance was fine, but what I was most amazed by was how similar his voice is to his son Charlie's. I swear that if I closed my eyes during the movie I would have pictured Charlie Sheen delivering those lines instead of his father.

All of my problems with the film, which are minor ones at best, are related to the script as opposed to the acting or direction. The beginning of the movie felt a bit rushed and ambiguous. It's almost as though the screenwriter wasn't sure how to introduce Johnny Smith's new abilities to the audience; a problem that I find odd considering that the film is based on a book by Stephen King. Having not read the book myself, I suppose there's a possibility that it's opening is equally as poorly written as that of the movie, but my bet is that this fault can be placed solely on the screenwriter's shoulders. Another slight problem that I had with The Dead Zone is that the first half of the film felt somewhat disjointed from the second half. The first fifty minutes or so revolve around the origin of Johnny's abilities and then jumps right into a murder mystery which wraps itself up much quicker than I'd expected. From that point we jump to a new location with all new supporting characters and a completely new plot and antagonist. In this way the film almost feels like two episodes of a television show combined to form a feature film, but it's not so jarring that it ruins the viewing experience. In fact, I may just be overanalyzing the film in an attempt to find some flaws.

The Verdict: I hesitate to say that The Dead Zone is a movie that anyone and everyone would enjoy, but if you like to have a good think both during and after watching something, chances are you'll like it. As Philip K. Dick would say, "Joy is the essential and final ingredient of science fiction, the joy of discovery of newness."

Episode 58 - 3:10 To Yuma

The Plot: After the most recent in a string of robberies committed by his gang, notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured by the authorities in a small, dusty town near the home of humble farmer Dan Evans (Christian Bale). Desperate to earn enough money to save his home in the wake of a railroad which is being built over his property, Evans volunteers his services to help transport Wade to a train station several towns away where he will be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison. Along with railroad tycoon Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts), veterinarian Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk), local lawman Tucker (Kevin Durand), and aging gun for hire Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda), Evans and Wade set off for the train station unaware that they are being followed by multiple parties. One is Dan's son William (Logan Lerman), who disobeyed his father's orders, leaving his mother and younger brother alone on the farm in search of adventure. The other is Wade's gang, now led by his right hand man and pistol expert Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), who is intent on rescuing his partner in crime. As they near their destination, Evans and Wade grow a unique bond that neither of them seems willing to accept, but which may soon decide both of their fates.

The Review: I'm not sure that the average moviegoer truly appreciates the western genre. Maybe this is just me waxing poetic, but with so many westerns out there (and believe me, there are a lot of them), and with such colorful characters as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood commonly associated with them, it seems to me that there are entire generations of people who shrug off the western as a throwaway male fantasy genre. I grew up watching and enjoying westerns such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sons of Katie Elder, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with my father, so in the rare occasion that a promising new addition to the genre comes to theaters, I'm usually pretty excited. Of course in the case of 3:10 To Yuma, it also helps that Russell Crowe and Christian Bale play the two main roles on opposite sides of the law. Tell that to just about any male and he'll be chomping at the bit to see how said conflict plays out.

In recent years Christian Bale has risen the ranks of my list of favorite actors working today and currently has long-time favorite Edward Norton teetering on the edge, about to lose his lofty position at #1. Bale has an uncanny ability to play any role, no matter how intricate or varied, and make the transformation completely convincing without ever leaving me questioning his performance. A perfect example of this is his portrayal of Dan Evans in 3:10 To Yuma. Evans isn't your normal badass cowboy, but rather a somewhat meek individual with a problematic past who has trouble demanding respect from even his own children. Throughout the course of the film he has to rise to several difficult occasions and really shed his skin to become something he's not. Conversely, Russell Crowe's character starts off as that age old wild west standard of a hard drinking, gun running tough guy, but peels back the layers of his personality over time to let both the viewer and Bale's character into his head to see what kind of a person he really is. Both men fill their roles perfectly and, sharing the majority of their scenes together, are constantly stealing the show from one another.

Even with two incredible actors in two equally interesting lead roles, I somehow found myself most interested in the character of Charlie Prince, Ben Wade's second in command. Although there were constantly engrossing scenes playing out between Bale, Crowe, and the other men leading Crowe to his destiny, I was constantly wishing for more scenes with Ben Foster. Though few, all of his scenes popped right off of the screen and grabbed my imagination. Wearing a primarily white outfit to contrast the grays, blacks, and browns of everyone else's, and seemingly taking no shit from anyone, Prince was a refreshing change from the somber attitude of much of the rest of the film. Yet while he wasn't in the movie as much as I may have liked, this fact proved to make his character all the more interesting because of the way other characters referred to him when he wasn't around. From the first time someone in the film calls him "the hand of god", referring to his deadly speed and accuracy with his dual pistols, a bit of a reputation for the character was born that I couldn't wait to see fleshed out in a bloody battle. Having seen Foster's acting chops wasted in an over-the-top role in Hostage and on a throwaway character such as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand, it was a treat to finally see someone let him create his own onscreen persona, proving that he's got what it takes to play with the big boys.

The rest of the cast of 3:10 To Yuma is rounded out with performances that, while good in their own rights, are dwarfed by those I've already mentioned. Logan Lerman caught my attention in the role of Dan's son William as an up-and-coming actor that I'll have to keep my eye on. Alan Tudyk and, to a lesser extent, Dallas Roberts provide a bit of comic relief without overdoing it. Peter Fonda oozes contempt for Crowe's character with whom he's had an ongoing feud for some time, and Kevin Durand does a splendid job of making the viewer hate him, which is precisely what he was there for. Then, in a surprise cameo as a surly fellow named Zeke, Luke Wilson puts in perhaps one of the best performances I've ever seen from him. True, he's only in the film for a few minutes, but he manages to drop the dopey innocent guy facade that's riddled every role he's ever played and tries his hand at being a badass, which I must admit I enjoyed.

The premise of the the movie is simple enough. The good guys escort the bad guy to prison (or in this case the train that will deliver him to prison), and encounter a few snags along the way, culminating in a doozy of a shootout at the climax. It's not rocket science, but it gives the actors in the film plenty of time to strut their stuff, which proves to be the real draw behind seeing this movie: the performances. 3:10 To Yuma isn't chock full of action, but that's not really what westerns are about. They're all about bravado, friendships, and trust in your fellow man. Don't worry though, as I mentioned, there is quite the gun battle to close out this film, and while I was initially slightly put off by the ending, I've come to realize that it really makes sense in the context of the rest of the plot that preceded it, and I had only momentarily fallen into the ignorant trappings of judging a movie based on it's genre.

The Verdict: 3:10 To Yuma has proven to be one of the truly satisfying films of 2007 thus far. If the stellar cast alone isn't enough to convince you to see this movie, let my recommendation be the one to set you over the edge: go see 3:10 To Yuma because simply put, it is a great film.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Episode 57 - Good Luck Chuck

The Plot: During an innocent game of spin the bottle as a child, Charlie "Chuck" Logan (Dane Cook) is cursed by a jealous young goth chick to be unlucky in love forever. He thinks nothing of it until years later when it comes to his attention that every woman he's ever had sex with has found true love with, and gotten married to, the next guy they dated after him. Now a humble dentist, Chuck is convinced by his life long best friend Stu (Dan Fogler) that he should take advantage of all the beautiful women lining up to have sex with him in hopes of reaping the rewards of "good luck Chuck". Happy to oblige, Chuck is eyeballs deep in the fairer sex until along comes the gorgeous, but ridiculously clumsy Cam (Jessica Alba), who he immediately falls madly in love with. However, just as he's about to seal the deal with his new dream girl it occurs to Chuck that if he makes love to Cam she will fall for the next man who shows an interest in her. It's now up to Chuck to find a way to break his curse so that he doesn't lose the love of his life.

The Review: It seems like when it comes to Dane Cook there are three categories of people: those who love him, those who despise him, and those who have never heard of him (which usually means that your kids love him). I used to be an adamant Dane Cook fan, and while he's fallen a few slots on my list of favorite comedians in recent years, I'm still oddly attracted to just about anything he's involved with. Watching him in the recent thriller Mr. Brooks convinced me that Cook isn't cut out for playing serious, dramatic roles, but having previously seen him in Employee of the Month, Good Luck Chuck just served to further convince me that he is perfect at portraying the lovesick average Joe in stereotypical romantic comedies. In the case of both Good Luck Chuck and Employee of the Month, Dane Cook is just about the only thing that made these movies worth watching. They are the same old predictable crap that the likes of Adam Sandler and Matthew Perry have been churning out for years, and just like his predecessors in the genre, Dane's knack for physical humor and hitting comical beats with perfect timing manage to make for some overall forgettable, but surprisingly entertaining films. The key to making a movie like Good Luck Chuck work is getting the audience to rally behind the lead and grow to like him, which, as Cook has shown with his stand-up career, is something he's good at.

While the lead in Good Luck Chuck succeeds in keeping the audience entertained, the supporting roles for the most part fall flat. Jessica Alba's character was obviously written into the script with a note reading "Actress must look good in her underwear, but that's about it." Any moderately talented, yet beautiful actress in Hollywood would have carried the role of Cam just as well as Alba, but she admittedly looked good doing it, so I guess the casting director did his or her job correctly. The stereotypical fat, comical-relief sidekick/best friend character Stu fell victim to two glaring problems. First, he was horribly (and did I mention stereotypically) written. Second, he was played by someone not even remotely as funny as the lead. Not only did Dan Fogler not hold his own in Good Luck Chuck, but he somehow managed to make Dane Cook less funny in almost every scene they shared. Whenever he was onscreen, Fogler brought the comedy to a stand-still. I can't blame this entirely on the actor, though, as the character was obviously only in the movie to provide Chuck with ways to come to obvious conclusions through poorly written exchanges of dialogue. The only other notable character is Cam's brother/co-worker Joe (Lonny Ross), whose only purpose in the film aside from providing Jessica Alba with the occasional bit of uncharacteristically philosophical advice seems to be spouting off the standard array of pot jokes that have come to be expected from comedies aimed at teens and young adults.

There isn't much to be said about the plot of Good Luck Chuck. It's nothing that anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past twenty or thirty years hasn't seen before. Boy meets girl, boy does something stupid, girl breaks up with boy, a montage of some kind takes place, and boy wins back girl. I hate to overuse the term stereotype in this review, but we're even treated to the heinously overused "guy has to race through an airport to stop the love of his life from jetting off and leaving him forever" ending once again. The only truly shocking and/or remotely original aspect of this film is the abundance of breast shots. I haven't seen so many different pairs of nipples in a single film since the co-ed shower scene in Starship Troopers.

The Verdict: In closing, I can't justify recommending Good Luck Chuck to anyone, but if you're considering watching it, I'm sure there are worse ways that you could spend 96 minutes.

Times, They Are A-Changing

As you may have noticed, there haven't been any new rants or reviews in about a month. The truth is I hit a creative wall, and it's been a long time coming. Writing movie reviews is something that I love doing almost as much as watching movies, which is the reason that this blog exists. However, it is also a time consuming process that is often unrewarding. When I spend anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours or more writing a blog, post it, and get no feedback of any kind, I don't feel horribly compelled to continue spending my time in this fashion. After all, why keep writing reviews if nobody's reading them? I already know how I feel about the films I watch, so the purpose of this blog is to inform other people of what my opinions are on the subject so that perhaps they can be introduced to a new cinematic experience or discover a new favorite actor or director. I can't blame people for not reading and/or responding to my posts, though, because that would be unfair and rather childish. Instead, I've been forced to rethink and alter my original plan of attack. What I've Been Watching isn't going anywhere, but there are going to be some changes.

First of all, I will be posting reviews less frequently. Until now I had been making an effort to review every single movie that I watch, which can sometimes number upwards of seven per week. As such, I was forcing myself to write reviews rather than to take my time and do the job right. I'm not apologizing for any reviews that I've written in the past as I stand behind everything I've posted here, but there's always room for improvement, right? From now on I will be writing reviews based on two things. I will continue to review films that I see in the theater so as to provide others interested in catching them before they've left the cinema with my opinions on them. Aside from that I will only be writing reviews for movies that strike me, upon watching them, as worthy of being reviewed. This will all depend on my personal feelings toward the movies in question and my mood at the time of watching/writing.

Second, I've changed my review format. In place of the ambiguous run-on blocks of text that riddled my previous posts, I will be separating each review into three sections: The Plot, The Review, and The Verdict. The Plot will contain shorter synopses than I usually write as some people have expressed a disinterest in reading a synopsis at all. The Review will contain the largest chunk of each post with my thoughts on any aspects of the films that I feel are worth noting. Finally, The Verdict will contain a short summary of my feelings on the movie being reviewed and will generally state whether or not I would recommend it to others.

Hopefully these changes will make the experience of both reading and writing What I've Been Watching more enjoyable for all parties involved. While I intend to focus on one review per post from now on, I will also continue to post multi-film theme reviews (such as several of the same genre or multiple titles by the same director) from time to time. Also, I will continue to write rants and lists as they come to me, though as always there is no set schedule for when these will appear.

As you peruse the blog, please feel free to leave comments with your opinions of my reviews and/or the films being reviewed, as well as recommendations for those which you'd like to see me address. If you prefer the new review method that I've adopted, please let me know that as well, as it will encourage me to keep up the standard of quality that I'm attempting to deliver.

Thanks for stopping by.

- Rian

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Episode 56

Death Sentence - Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) is an average man with an average life. He has a loving wife (Kelly Preston), a good job, a nice house in suburbia, and two sons named Brendan (Stuart Lafferty) and Lucas (Jordan Garrett). In high school, Brendan has become a pretty good ice hockey player with hopes of going to college in Canada to pursue his dream of playing professionally. His dream is cut short, however, when a gang attacks the gas station that he and his father have stopped at on the way home from a game. As part of new member Joe Darley's (Matt O'Leary) initiation into the gang, he is forced by the others to kill a random person. It just so happens that that random person is Nick Hume's son Brendan. Seeing the murder take place, Nick tackles the perpetrator as he escapes and removes Joe's mask before losing him. Not long after, Nick is able to pick his son's killer out of a line-up, but not satisfied with the punishment which Joe will receive for the crime, Hume decides to let him go free. Fueled by anger over the loss of his son, Nick follows Joe and this fellow gang members as they leave the courthouse, and later that night returns to the scene, killing Joe Darley. Little did Nick know, Joe was the younger brother of gang leader Billy Darley (Garrett Hedlund), who wants revenge for the murder of his brother. After he discovers that Nick was responsible, he and the rest of the gang track him down and begin to make his life a living hell. Pushed to the edge in defense of his family and his honor, Nick Hume must now go to war with an entire inner city gang, but does he have what it takes to protect what he holds dear? Not the most original film ever conceived, Death Sentence's story of revenge and retribution brings to mind previous movies such as The Punisher, Kill Bill, and about half of the action films released since the early eighties. Honestly, this movie isn't much different from any of those others, but that's not to say that it isn't without any redeeming qualities. First off, Kevin Bacon is great in Death Sentence. Outside of a particularly poorly directed scene which takes place in a hospital, Bacon's performance is very visceral and surprisingly believable given the circumstances of the plot. Not only is he believable, but also just fun to watch as he mows down a series of gangsters. The gangsters themselves are incredibly stereotypical, but I suppose that there really is only one type of modern gangster to draw reference from, and that is the highly tattooed, constantly angry lot that we get in this film. Bacon's onscreen family is much more believable than many that I have seen in the past, coming off as the imperfect, but overall loving family unit that is the universal standard throughout most of America. In a relatively small cameo as a black market weapons dealer, John Goodman delightfully plays against type, proving once more what a versatile range of personalities he can bring to a project. By far my least favorite character in the movie, Aisha Tyler's Detective Wallis is everything that Goodman's character isn't: unoriginal, unbelievable, and stale. The first non-horror film from Saw and Dead Silence director James Wan, Death Sentence carries over a lot of his directorial style to the action genre. While this film isn't necessarily meant to scare viewers, it maintains a certain level of the onscreen violence and brutality that Wan first showcased in the original Saw, and which had a number of the women behind me in the theater screaming throughout. While I don't necessarily think that this is an overall good thing, it certainly made for a few impacting death and fight scenes. With a sub-par concept and generally unoriginal direction, Death Sentence is by no means a must-see movie, but definitely one that I would recommend when looking for something fun to watch with your friends.

For Your Consideration - It all began with a little film called Home For Purim. When rumors begin to circulate around the set like wildfire that washed-up actress Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara) may be in the running for an Oscar award based on her performance in the film, the cast and crew couldn't be happier. In fact, before long the word has gotten out to every news show in the country, much to the surprise of many who have never heard of the small film. Everyone begins to take notice, however, when Hack's co-stars Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) and Callie Webb (Parker Posey) are also rumored to be nominated for Oscars. With all of the buzz going around concerning the film, it's financial backers including Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge) convince studio executive Martin Gibb (Ricky Gervais) to make some alterations to the movie in order to make it more accessible to a wider audience. Changes made much to the dislike of Lane Iverson (Michael McKean) and Philip Koontz (Bob Balaban), the screenwriters of the film. In a matter of days the set of the small, independent movie is swamped with talk show personalities such as Cindy (Jane Lynch) and Chuck (Fred Willard), the hosts of an Entertainment Tonight-esque news show, and what used to be a modest film about an obscure Jewish holiday has been transformed into a cheap grab at award nominations. All that is left to be seen is whether or not there was ever any actual truth behind the rumors that Marilyn Hack and her co-stars were ever in the running for Oscar nominations at all, or if they just got caught up in the Hollywood machine. For Your Consideration is the latest mockumentary-style film from writer/director/actor Christopher Guest, whose previous films include Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, and A Mighty Wind, and co-writer/actor Eugene Levy. While I say that it is a mockumentary, this isn't one hundred percent true. Unlike a film such as Best In Show, the characters never talk straight into the camera as though being interviewed, but the similar tone and obvious and frequent ad-libbing by the actors makes it a close fit for the genre. Technically though, For Your Consideration is a normal comedy. The majority of the cast is comprised of the same familiar faces that anyone who has seen any of Guest's other movies will recognize. Fred Willard fits into his usual doofus who doesn't realize how stupid he looks archetype, Catherine O'Hara is over-dramatic in almost every scene, Eugene Levy is a conservative weirdo, Parker Posey is arrogant and full of herself, Jennifer Coolidge is an airheaded bombshell, Harry Shearer is a sweet but clueless fellow, and Guest himself is a quiet oddball. These are all repeat roles in some sense, but ones which are welcomed by fans of Guests work. New to the mix is Ricky Gervais, whose background in quirky, oft-ad-libbed humor with television shows such as The Office and Extras makes him a great addition to the cast. So with all of the pieces in place for another classic Christopher Guest comedy, why didn't I love For Your Consideration? Probably for the same reason that I didn't really like the previous A Mighty Wind. That reason being? I have no idea. Best In Show is one of my favorite comedies of all time, but A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration just haven't really done it for me. It may be because I love all of the characters in Best In Show (which was the first of Guests films that I saw) so much that it's impossible for me to like them again when they're placed in different scenarios, but I'm not sure why that would be. I cannot say that For Your Consideration (or for that matter A Mighty Wind) is a bad film, because it's probably at the same level of quality as Best In Show, but for whatever reason I just didn't think it worked quite as well. There are plenty of funny moments for anyone who likes Christopher Guest, mockumentaries, or comedy in general, but in my case I didn't laugh nearly as often as I have while watching some of Guests past films.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Top 25 Films of the Last 25 Years

In 2006 Entertainment Tonight asked their resident film critic Leonard Maltin to commemorate his 25th year working with them by compiling a list of 25 of his favorite films. However, instead of simply picking his 25 all-time favorite movies, they asked him to name his favorite movie from each year for the past 25 years, beginning in 1982 and ending in 2006. Taking a cue from Maltin's list, I've compiled a list of my own favorite films by year. For some years it was hard to find more than one movie that I felt was worth mentioning and then there were others with seemingly too many great films to pick from. Keep in mind that, while I'm doing my best to catch up, I haven't seen nearly as many movies as Leonard Maltin, so there are surely some good ones that I'll be neglecting as I haven't gotten around to watching them yet. I thought about waiting until I'd seen some more of the seminal films that are out there before compiling my list, but I figure that I should either do this now or wait another 25 years, so without any further excuses I present my list of the Top 25 Films of the Last 25 Years:

1982: John Carpenter's The Thing
runner-up: Poltergeist

1983: Christine
runner-up: Videodrome

1984: Ghostbusters
runner-up: The Terminator

1985: Back to the Future
runner-up: Brazil

1986: Aliens
runner-up: The Fly

1987: Predator
runner-up: Full Metal Jacket

1988: Die Hard
runner-up: Akira

1989: The Abyss
runner-up: Back to the Future Part II

1990: Tremors
runner-up: Total Recall

1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
runner-up: The Silence of the Lambs

1992: Alien 3
runner-up: Reservoir Dogs

1993: Jurassic Park
runner-up: The Nightmare Before Christmas

1994: Pulp Fiction
runner-up: Clerks

1995: Se7en
runner-up: Toy Story

1996: Fargo
runner-up: Primal Fear

1997: LA Confidential
runner-up: Cube

1998: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
runner-up: The Big Lebowski

1999: Fight Club
runner-up: The Matrix/American Beauty (an unavoidable tie)

2000: Snatch
runner-up: Memento

2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
runner-up: Frailty

2002: The Rules of Attraction
runner-up: Spiderman

2003: X-Men 2
runner-up: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

2004: Spiderman 2
runner-up: The Incredibles

2005: Sin City
runner-up: War of the Worlds

2006: Children of Men
runner-up: Slither

2007 (thus far): Grindhouse
runner-up (thus far): Superbad

* To view Leonard Maltin's list, Click Here.

** My choices for 2007 are based on the selection of films released on or before Monday, August 27, 2007.

*** I have omitted Kill Bill from the running because it's two parts came out in separate years. Together they would undoubtedly be on this list, but separated I had to go with some other choices.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Episode 55

Superbad - Best friends Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) are high school seniors with about two weeks left until graduation who have to deal with the fact that, having gotten into separate colleges, they will soon be parting ways. Not exactly the most popular guys in school, the two of them have high hopes of losing their virginity before moving away to college. A perfect opportunity to score presents itself when they find out that a popular girl named Jules (Emma Stone) is having a party and they are invited. The catch is that Seth let it slip that he would be getting his hands on a fake ID and Jules has given him $100 and asked him to pick up alcohol for the party. In reality, Seth and Evan's nerdy acquaintance Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is the one with the fake ID, so now Seth must rely on a guy that he doesn't even like very much to take Jules' money and seal the deal. In a similarly sticky situation is Evan, who has promised to pick up a special bottle of vodka for Becca (Martha MacIsaac), the girl of his dreams, and doesn't want to screw things up by not coming through. Everything seems to be going according to the plan until Fogell is involved in a robbery at the liquor store and police officers Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Seth Rogen) arrive on the scene. Evan and Seth panic, leaving Fogell behind and continuing their quest for alcohol. As the night goes on and their time to acquire the booze begins to run out, Seth, Evan, and Fogell embark on hilarious journeys that may just change their lives forever. My only real attraction to Superbad was Michael Cera, whose dry comedic stylings I fell in love with on the show Arrested Development. I had assumed that the film would be funny, but I had no idea that it would be as hilarious as it indeed turned out to be. Superbad is the first comedy that I've seen in the theater since last year's Borat, which I claimed that I had laughed harder and longer at than any other movie that I'd previously seen. Having seen Superbad, that record may again be broken. What makes this film so funny is not just the great cast of character actors themselves, but their ability as a whole to mesh their comedic timing together so well. Cera, Hill, Mintz-Plasse, Hader, and Rogen are all great comic talents by themselves, but when you put them together it's almost impossible not to laugh your ass off. The basic premise of Superbad is not all that different from other comedies such as American Pie or Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle in which a group of young guys go on some kind of quest or adventure and hilarity ensues, but it is the slight nuances that really set it apart from these others. The intricate back-stories of some characters, the strange personality quirks of others...there are a million little details thrown into the story that make it much more grandiose and fleshed out than the precursors of the "sex comedy" genre. Not to mention, beneath all of the cursing, vulgarity, and dick jokes, there is a very relatable sub-plot involving the relationship of two best friends who have to come to terms with the changes going on in their lives and how they will affect each other. Also on the topic of relatable elements, I have never seen a movie before in my life, comedy or otherwise, that genuinely captured high schoolers and high school in general so well. There are plenty of films that show the camaraderie between students and the segregation of the different archetypes of young people, but the thing that no other movie about high school has never done quite like Superbad is to realistically translate the way the students talk. It's just a fact that teenagers in general have dirty fucking mouths, but movies like American Pie have always seemed to stray from showing it. It is sometimes jarring to hear the way the young characters in this movie use vulgarity and swear words in combinations such as "suck dick at fucking pussy", but to me it always rang true to reality. In fact, despite the obviously ridiculous and unbelievable turns that the plot of Superbad sometimes takes, I really feel like it properly translates how it feels to be a kid these days. I've been in situations in the past that mirrored multiple scenes from the film which felt totally genuine. For example, the feeling of awkwardness when going to a party where you don't know anyone or the crazy shit that goes through your head when you're tempted to steal something from a store. On every possible level I found Superbad extremely enjoyable. I laughed through the entire running time and can't wait to see this movie again.

Rescue Dawn - Based on real events, Rescue Dawn follows the story of United States fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale). On a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War, Dieter's plane is shot down by the enemy. Surviving the crash, Dengler narrowly escapes immediate capture, using his training to survive in the jungle. Before too long though, he is tracked down and caught by the a group of Vietnamese soldiers before being taken to a local town where he is tortured using a variety of cruel techniques. When he refuses to say anything about himself or his mission, Dengler is led to a small prison camp where he is kept alongside a group of about five other men, some of whom have been in captivity for over two years. Learning the habits of the guards and timing his actions with the rainy season in Vietnam, Dieter plans an escape from the camp. However, before he can execute his plans he must convince his fellow prisoners to join his cause, which proves more difficult than expected as some of them have reservations about taking any risks with the guards. When rumors begin to make their way through the camp that all of the prisoners will be executed in the next few days, Dieter's plans are rushed into immediate action. Relying on his cellmates, Dengler makes a break for freedom, but even if he make it out of the prison, how long can he possibly survive in the harsh, unforgiving jungles of Vietnam? As long as there has been cinema, it seems, there have been films about war and escaping from prison. Often times these two premises have been combined, and at first glance Rescue Dawn is no different. Take a second look though, and director Werner Herzog just may make you think otherwise. Having already helmed a documentary about Dieter Dengler's plight and finding the story so fascinating that he felt the subject would make a worthy narrative film, Herzog was obviously the perfect person to helm this project. You can feel how much he cares about the material when watching it. There is an incredible feeling of realism in Rescue Dawn that I've personally never quite gotten before from a war movie (not to say that this is a war movie, but moreso a movie set during a war). This is mostly due to Herzog's attention to detail and serious approach to the topic, but equal shares of the credit for this film's successes must go to the cast. Christian Bale has fast become one of my favorite actors, and his role in Rescue Dawn is a perfect example of why that is. He is an incredibly versatile actor. He can play anyone from a corporate psychopath to a futuristic rebel to a gentleman magician, and even Batman, all seemingly with the greatest of ease. All of the emotions that the viewer feels in Rescue Dawn are derived directly from Bale's performance, often being sparked by a mere facial expression. Adding to the intensity of many scenes during the middle of the film are the performances of Bale's fellow prisoners. Steve Zahn, who is usually more of a comedice than dramatic actor, puts in a great performance as another American pilot named Duane. Also very impressive is Jeremy Davies as the slightly deranged and malnourished Gene. There are many moments during Rescue Dawn that will make you feel as though you are in fact watching a documentary as opposed to a narrative movie, which I think works to the film's advantage. It's very easy to get caught up in what's going on because it is filmed in a sort of sterile way as opposed to the flashy directing of other war films like Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, which seem to focus more on accentuating the action than the story. This is not always a bad thing, but it certainly wouldn't have suited the story behind Herzog's film. Perhaps the only thing that I wasn't completely satisfied with about Rescue Dawn was the ending, which I felt strayed from the mood of the rest of the movie a bit. It's certainly a satisfying conclusion, but if I had to complain about something, that would be it. Since Rescue Dawn is often very bleak and filmed in a very realistic fashion, not everyone will be able to truly enjoy the experience of watching it, but I think that the knowledge that what you're seeing really happened is enough to at least make the events of the movie interesting to just about anyone.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next - A smalltime criminal named Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has landed himself in prison yet again. In order to get out of the slammer he convinces the prison staff that he is crazy and is shipped off to a mental institution. Once there, Randle thinks that he's going to live an easy, carefree life without being confined to a cell, but soon discovers that life in the nut-house isn't going to be the walk in the park that he'd expected. Despising authority figures, Randle immediately gets off on the wrong foot with nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who works with the patients daily. Nurse Ratched is a stern, cold woman who appears to want to help the people in the institution, but generally treats them like children, which Randle believes is actually working against the therapy which she is trying to provide. Over time Randle stirs up the daily goings-on at the institution more and more by requesting that he be allowed to watch baseball games on television and other seemingly small gestures. The scope and intricacy of his ploys grows in the coming weeks, making life in the institution more and more interesting. The sheer fact that he wants to do things differently begins to liven up the other patients and seems to garner results in making them less irritated and more personable, but nurse Ratched cannot see past her own ego enough to realize that not only is it possible that Randle is right, but that he himself may not actually be mentally disturbed. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is considered a classic by many, which certainly made my expectations for it pretty high. Seeing the film for the first time, it wasn't quite able to meet those expectations, but that is by no means to say that I didn't like the film. For whatever reason, Jack Nicholson has never really been one of my favorite actors, but I think that his portrayal of Randle McMurphy may now be my favorite of his roles. The demands of the role seemed as though they came rather naturally to Nicholson. His job in the movie was essentially to try to have fun and argue with authority figures, which he does in a way that makes for some very memorable and entertaining scenes. He becomes a real leader for the seemingly aimless group of patients at the mental institution where he finds himself, and his relationships with some of these characters are really what allow the film to have the strong impact that it leaves the viewer with. Primarily, of course, is his friendship with the chief (Will Sampson). Other memorable roles in the film were played by Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, and Danny DeVito. One role that garners a lot of attention, it seems, is that of nurse Ratched. While I do think that the character is important, I honestly wasn't the biggest fan of Fletcher's portrayal of her. I think that this may have something to do with the writing, because I almost feel as though she didn't really fall into the role as the real antagonist of the story until the climax. For the majority of the film she just seems like a small hurdle that Randle must overcome from time to time instead of the true force to be reckoned with that I think she was supposed to be. Then again, I guess most people don't feel the same way as me on this topic. While the film was heartwarming and comedic at parts, I think that I really needed a stronger feeling of opposition to Randle to get the triumphant feeling out of him that he deserved at parts. Of course, the lengths that the hospital goes to to calm him down become quite devastating, but as the characterization of "the man" keeping Randle down, nurse Ratched just didn't cut it for me. As I said, it could have been the actress, it could have been the writing, or it could have been a combination of the two. I find myself looking for other things that I had a problem with in the movie, but I can't necessarily pinpoint anything, which is why I get the feeling that my high expectations for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are really what ended up being it's downfall. As I said, I enjoyed it, but I honestly don't really see what it is about this film that places it so high on so many peoples' lists of favorite films. Case in point, it's spot at #9 on the IMDb's Top 250 films list. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a memorable movie watching experience that I think anyone can enjoy, but I guess my advice to those who have yet to see it is don't put it on a pedestal like I did until you've seen it and can form your own opinion.