Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Episode 12

Unleashed - Let me begin by saying FUCK YES! that I got that out of my system...Bart (Bob Hoskins) is an evil son of a bitch. He's a loan shark with a very persuasive way of getting people to pay him back. If his payment doesn't arrive on time, he merely takes off Danny's collar. Danny (Let Li) is a man who Bart raised from childhood to be a brutal killing machine. He's referred to as Danny the Dog because he is essentially a pit bull. When Danny's collar is on he is completely docile, but he has been trained so that when the collar comes off he is to go wild and beat the living shit out of everyone in the room. All is going rather well for Bart until he pisses off the wrong people and they seek revenge. Believing that his master Bart is dead, and feeling helpless and confused, Danny wanders off and is discovered by an elderly, blind piano tuner named Sam (Morgan Freeman). Sam and his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) take Danny into their home and slowly begin to whittle away at the emotional blocks built up by Bart over the years. Danny is finally beginning to live a happy, normal life when he discovers, much to his dismay, that Bart is still alive. And not only that, but he wants Danny back. When I first saw the preview for Unleashed about two years ago I remember thinking "Hey, that looks like a Jet Li action movie that actually has a plot." I think that'd be the best way to describe this film. Usually Jet Li movies (much less martial arts movies in general) just seem like hollow shells which are used to push action scene after action scene on viewers. Unleashed is quite the opposite. The plot quickly takes over and before I knew it I could care less if Li was going to punch anyone or not. Every single actor, including Jet himself, delivers a spectacular performance, and it's hard not to feel emotionally involved in what's going on on the screen. Then, just when you thought I was getting all mushy on you...the fucking fight scenes in this movie! God DAMN! I like a good fight scene as much as anyone else, but never before have I ever felt like I was getting punched in the face every time an actor in a movie landed a blow. The action scenes were some of the most well done, not to mention believable ones that I've ever seen. This is saying a lot considering that Unleashed was helmed by Louis Leterrier who is responsible for not only the ridiculous film The Transporter, but also the even more laughable sequel Transporter 2. But let's forget about believable for a second. How about brutal? Jesus...I don't even know how they filmed some of the shit that's in this movie. It sure as hell looked like Jet Li was actually leveling people almost every time he hit someone. And the sound effects in the fights were incredible! I can't say that I've ever actually thought to myself in the middle of a fight scene how good the sounds of impact were. I really did during this film, though. Unleashed did several things for me. It showed me what a movie fight scene should look like, it proved to me that Jet Li is not only a martial arts mastermind, but also a credible actor, and most of all it entertained the shit out of me. I mean, have I cursed this much in a review before? Fuck no, I haven't.

Fearless - I probably shouldn't be following up Unleashed with this, but here we go. As a child, the son of a Wu Shu master, Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li) wanted to grow up to be the best fighter in China. He became so overcome by his goal that he became reckless and self-centered. Drunk on wine, he murdered an opposing Wu Shu master, whose students then murdered Huo's mother and daughter. Ashamed of himself he left his home and wandered into the wilderness where he stumbled upon a small farming village where he worked for many years before deciding to return to his home to reclaim his pride and take over his father's martial arts school. Times have changed, though, and the Western world has moved into China. Trying to cripple the will of the Chinese, the Westerners hold a tournament of champion fighters. Huo Yuanjia rises to the occasion, but can he bring victory and pride to his people? Sounds a little stereotyical, huh? Guy gets drunk on power, goes wild, gets depressed, finds peace in the wild, then returns to be the next big thing. If you've heard the word 'anime', then you've probably seen this plot before. However, Fearless gets away with it because it's based on the true story of the real Huo Yuanjia. Despite it's lacking plot, Fearless wasn't so bad. The fights (specifically the one between Huo and Master Chin) are visually impressive. What else should we expect from Yuen Woo-Ping? After all, he was the fight choreographer for The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Kill Bill Volume 1, Kill Bill Volume 2, and Unleased, among a menagerie of others. Fearless was filmed in Chinese, which is how I watched it, with subtitles. I think that this was the first time I'd seen a movie in a different language that had English sprinkled throughout. It was like the revers of watching an English language movie and not understanding the subtitled parts. That was kind of interesting. Aside from the plot, which was nothing special, and the fights, which don't warrant as much enthusiasm as those from Unleashed, which I just reviewed, I'm not sure there's much else to say about Fearless. If you like Chinese culture, fight scenes, and all that jazz, this is a good movie for you to check out. I didn't hate it.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a small time crook who was out robbing a toy store with his pal when they accidentally tripped an alarm. As they flee the scene, a civilian woman pulls a gun and shoots Lockhart's partner. Harry continues running as the cops chase him, and he winds up rushing into a casting session for a new movie. Through a colossal coincidence, the scene he must pretend to rehearse for so that the cops don't realize he's their guy, is about someone who's just had their best friend killed. His actual emotions spilling forth based on the shooting that just occurred, Harry gets the part and is flown to LA where he is teamed up with a real private investigator named Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), who's job it is to train Harry to act like a private investigator for the movie that he's been cast for. Through an even more incredible series of events, Harry ends up actually involved in a murder case, and from there things just get ridiculous. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a sleeper hit for me. Apparently I'm the only person in the world who saw the trailer and didn't think it looked spectacular, so it took me a little while to take notice. It was through the constant insistence of a friend that I finally rented and saw it. Hey, I can't be right one hundred percent of the time...this movie kicks ass! If you read my review of Lucky # Slevin, then you already know that my favorite types of movies are what I've dubbed "comedy of errors with a brain and a hint of action". Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of these. The plot will give your brain whiplash as you're dragged through a series of events that takes multiple viewings to truly appreciate (if not understand). It's funny, it's exciting, it's intriguing, and Robert Downey Jr. is great in it. I never paid any attention to Downey Jr. before, but this film really made me see him for the great acting talent that he is. The same can be said for Val Kilmer, who shows a whole new side to the diverse group of roles that he can play with this movie. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is fun and it will make you think. What more could you ask for? So if you haven't seen this movie yet, follow my lead and take someone else's advice. Go watch it. Now.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Episode 11

16 Blocks - Bruce Willis plays a cop (huh...fancy that...) who's down on his luck. He gets through the day by drinking and feeling sorry for himself. Having just pulled some overtime, he merely wants to go home and slip into an alcohol-assisted coma, but one of his superiors on the force has other plans for him. He's given the job of escorting a young man played by Mos Def to a courthouse 16 blocks from the police station, where he's supposed to give his testimony in a case. No biggie, right? Sure, until every crooked cop in the New York starts chasing them down and the two of them go from strolling down the street to dodging bullets. It turns out that the testimony Mos Def's character is on his way to give is against the same 'good guys' who have suddenly become trigger happy. Among New York's finest are David Morse and David Zayas, who plays Angel Batista on Showtime's top-notch crime drama Dexter (wink wink...go watch it!). My interest in 16 Blocks began as I stood in Blockbuster one day with a copy of Lady In The Water in one hand and a two-for-one coupon in the other. I'd just seen Lucky # Slevin, so I figured another Bruce Willis movie couldn't hurt. And right I was. 16 Blocks begins and ends as a fairly standard action movie with your usual cop stereotypes and lots of running through the streets of NYC a la Die Hard: With A Vengence. The thing that really drew me into the film were the characters portrayed by Willis and Def, and their relationship with one another. It's a little corny, but I think the actors in question did a good job of holding it all together. David Morse also tosses in a good performance as the main "villain" (if you want to call it that). I think he pulls of the bad guy role so well because he doesn't seem like one. It's the same reason that I love Robin Williams in One Hour Photo (more on that in a moment). Not the best action movie ever, or the best Bruce Willis action movie for that matter, but not bad.

Aladdin - Poor kid goes ga-ga over a princess, meets a genie, stops a creepy dude with a mustache and a talking bird from overthrowing the sultan, and transcends the boundaries of social status for true love. I think we all know the plot of Disney's Aladdin. What we don't all know is how I feel about it. Well, let me tell you, I love it. That's right. Aladdin is up there with The Lion King, Robin Hood, and Toy Story as one of my favorite childhood Disney movies. These films really transcend time, meaning that I don't lose any respect for them as I get older. The same cannot be said for some things that I enjoyed when I was a child. The Ghostbusters and G.I.Joe cartoons, which I find it hard to sit through these days, for example. That's the joy of Disney movies. Somehow they all manage to be just as enjoyable for adults as they are for children. Once again, I'm sure this is something we are all aware of. For me, though, what really makes Aladdin so memorable was the genie, whose voice was provided by Robin Williams. It is because of roles such as this one, as well as those in such films as Jack and Hook that I will always see Williams as an all ages personality. Even after seeing his stand-up comedy, which is a far cry from the innocence of Aladdin, and his roles in films like One Hour Photo, Death To Smoochy, and Insomnia, I still feel that his real place is in G-rated roles (however, he was spectacular in One Hour Photo). Also of note are Gilbert Gottfried's voice acting skills as of Iago, the evil, talking parrot. If, by some incredible mishap in the fabric of the space/time continuum, you have never seen Aladdin, I'd advise that you do so. It's good clean fun for the whole family, and it'll really piss you off after watching it to know that Disney has discontinued it's 2D animation department to focus solely on 3D romps such as Toy Story. For the most part these have all been good thus far, but I don't think anyone really wants to see an end to 2D animation from Disney. Oh, and if you get the chance to see either of the sequels to Aladdin (The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves), don't bother.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Episode 10 - The Fog: Old & New

John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) - 100 years ago the small oceanside town of Antonio Bay was founded on betrayal and murder. The six town officials had found the land to build on, but needed cash to start out on. Fortunately a ship full of lepers needed a place to stay and had plenty of money, so they hatched a deal with the town officials to trade their gold for half of the land. All was going to plan until the town officials took all the lepers' gold and set their ship ablaze. The boat sank, as did the lepers, and now one hundred years later the pissed off ghosts of the lepers have returned to the town of Antonio Bay to reclaim their gold. So, yes, this is your stereotypical "ghost pirates looking for revenge" story. But this one's got fog. Where does the fog come into play, you ask? Well that's actually an interesting story. You see, John Carpenter, fresh off the sleeper hit Halloween, was in high demand in Hollywood. Hence, he was quickly snatched up by a production company and told that he could do whatever he wanted as long as it was going to make them lots of money. Carpenter set out to make The Fog, which, despite it's stereotypical concept, was actually based around a good principle. "The less you see, the scarier it will be." This is a technique that was used in many movies before computer effects came heavily into play. Nowadays people are so damn intent on making movie monsters beautifully rendered in CG that they forget that the point of a scary movie isn't to parade a ghoul around in front of the camera. What's scary about that? The trick is to show as little as possible of the creature, allowing the viewer's imagination to run rampant. Perhaps the best example of the proper use of this method is the movie Alien, as even after the climax most first time viewers are still unsure of what exactly they were looking at. Anyway, Carpenter's idea was that we would never actually see a ghost pirate kill anyone. The purpose of the fog was to create a way to realize the movement of the apparitions without actually seeing them, making the movie much more eerie and unpredictable. Unfortunately, test audiences didn't react very well to the first cut of the movie, so Carpenter and co. were forced to go back and shoot about 20 minutes of footage of gory, prosthetic-laden actors jabbing sharp objects into the cast of the movie. What we end up with are some pretty bad cuts and scenes in general. The entire climactic ending was added in after the fact, for God's sake. Anyway, the clever concept couldn't make the movie a hit, and apparently neither could recently discovered scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. However this could be due to the fact that she's hardly in the damn movie, and even when she is, she's got no real reason to be there. In her place as the lead is Adrienne Barbeau, who plays the owner/host of a small radio station run out of a lighthouse on the edge of the town. All in all, John Carpenter's The Fog is a very odd movie. The highest billed actress in the movie is barely in it, the main character almost never leaves the light house, and the ghosts who do all the terrorizing were a mere afterthought. All in all, not John Carpenter's best.

The Fog (2005) - Can anyone say 'remake'? The 2005 version of The Fog begins much like the 1980 one. It quickly veers into a more dramatic take on the concept, though. Something I liked about this movie more than the original is the fact that they explored the town's past a bit more than the previous incarnation. The secret origin of the town is told in a much better way, hints sprinkled here and there throughout the movie as to exactly what gave way to it's creation. I can't really say the acting is much better, but the fog effects are much improved. The special effects crew on the original movie had trouble controlling their fog, as they had to use the real deal. The remake makes good use of modern visual effects to create computer generated fog which can bob and weave at will, sabotaging boat motors and the like. The ghost pirates looked better as well, actually appearing transparent instead of just looking like zombies. The sad thing is that now that the technology was around to fully animate the fog, they still chose to include the brutal death scenes which Carpenter had originally intended to forego. Maggie Grace takes the place of Jamie Lee Curtis' character, who has a lot more to do in the updated version. Adrienne Barbeau is replaced by Selma Blair, who runs a radio station just as in the original. Unlike the original, however, the station she runs doesn't play slow, melodic music, but instead blasts modern hits like Fall Out Boy's Sugar We're Goin' Down. This movie was, after all, geared towards teenagers. Hence the inclusion of teen heart throb Tom Welling and a scene of some girls taking their clothes off on a boat while some guy films them. You know what? I think I just figured out why almost every scary movie from the last twenty years has been bad...they are made for kids instead of adults. Hm...I may be onto something here. Anyway, as I mentioned, the plot is essentially the same as the original, however then ending is another story. I won't give away the "surprise" ending, but I will say that I thought it was shit. Not only that, but it was confusing shit. And there you have it. My recommendation? Steer clear of movies called The Fog regardless of what decade they were filmed in, or in what capacity John Carpenter was involved with them.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Episode 9

House Of Wax - Six young adults (teenagers, maybe?) are driving across the state (don't ask me which one) to a football game in two vehicles. They stop in the middle of the woods to sleep overnight and set up camp, drinking and having sex like young people do. When a strange truck pulls up to their campsite, one of them gets pissed and throws a beer bottle at the truck, breaking it's headlight and causing it to retreat. The next morning, one of their vehicles won't start, so while four of them go ahead to the game, boyfriend and girlfriend (Elisha Cuthbert and Jared Padalecki) hitch a ride with a creepy guy who plays with roadkill, who takes them into a small town to buy a new fan belt. As they explore the town, waiting for the owner of the garage to return, they stumble upon a Wax Museum that is literally built out of wax, with incredibly detailed wax people inside. As night falls, they are attacked by a psychopath(s?) with a penchant for coating humans in wax, which is why the sculptures are so convincing. Eventually, the other four young'uns realize their friends are missing, so they head back to find them. Blood and guts ensue. You're probably asking yourself, "What in the world would make you want to watch House Of Wax?" Well, the answer to that question, as with many of the movies that I see, would be a recommendation from a friend. My immediate impression of House Of Wax was that since Paris Hilton was in it, it couldn't possibly be good. This was my reaction because if she couldn't even make a sex tape worth watching, what would be the point in watching something she's not nude in? Well, as I quickly found out while watching House Of Wax, Paris Hilton can suck really hard (no pun intended), but if the movie she's in is good enough, she won't make it completely unwatch-able. For the first half hour or so of this movie, it was a pretty standard horror film. Lots of dumb twenty-somethings and a ton of foreshadowing. However, as soon as the first drop of blood is spilled, I was surprised to find that I wasn't watching just any shitty slasher flick. For the most part, the death/gore scenes in House Of Wax are incredibly well done to the point that instead of being comical, they're disturbing. Take, for instance, when all the lights are turned out in a room where Elisha Cuthbert's boyfriend is trapped and as he bangs on the door calling for help, someone opens a trap door on the floor just behind him and slashes his achilles tendon open with a pair of scissors. Another fine example of a teeth-clenching moment is when, instead of merely taping Cuthbert's mouth shut or stuffing a gag in her mouth, the villain super glue's her lips closed. The only truly ridiculous death was Paris', which was as funny as it was relieving, because she was now out of the picture. The acting (aside from Hilton) was overall very good for a teen horror film, and particularly impressive was Chad Michael Murray, who played Elisha Cuthbert's badass jerk of an older brother. There are some great twists and revelations throughout the movie, and the ending employed such a great idea to make it more intense that I was in awe. House Of Wax is definitely worth a watch if you like good horror movies. There are, of course, people who only like bad ones, but they might like it as well.

Ali G Indahouse - Sacha Baron Cohen reprises his role of wannabe gangster Ali G from the British television program Da Ali G Show. Unlike his role in the show, however, which had Ali G performing interviews with people who were knowledgeable about different topics from sex to politics, Indahouse's Ali G is nothing more than a loser who teaches a class at a local youth center on how to be gangsta. When it is announced that the youth center is going to be demolished, thus leaving Ali's class with no place to meet, he takes his protest to the street. It is there that he is discovered by Chancellor Carlton (Charles Dance), who enlists him as an aid to the Prime Minister (Michael Gambon). Carlton's hope is that Ali G will make the Prime Minister look so bad in the public eye, that he'll be removed from office so that he may take his place. This is your stereotypical Adam Sandler/Chris Farley brand comedy about a moron who ends up saving the day through a series of ridiculous scenarios, most of which are perceived as idiotic only by the evildoer behind the entire situation (in this case, the Chancellor). I was immediately put off by the fact that Ali G Indahouse was an actual movie with a plot and a script, unlike Da Ali G Show or Borat (who is another character played by Sacha Baron Cohen, even making an appearance in this film), which are based around interacting with people who aren't aware that a joke is being played on them by someone of normal intelligence as opposed to the complete fool who Cohen portrays. The movie, while not necessarily disappointing, fell victim to the flaws that all movies of it's kind eventually do. However, Indahouse manages to place itself among movies such as Half Baked and Tommy Boy, which are hilarious despite their shared, over-used central concept. The main reason for this is that the actor(s) in the lead role, like Chris Farley and Dave Chapelle did with the previously mentioned films, takes his part and soars with it. Scenes begin to make you laugh moreso because of the way they are handled by the comedian than because of the situations themselves. As such, for every time I shook my head in disappointment at a stupid and/or obvious joke, I also found myself chuckling at the way Cohen delivered it. Ali G is certainly not for everyone. You must have at least a small appreciation for British culture to enjoy his comedy, which is not to say that Ali G Indahouse is comprised of stereotypical British humor. You must also not be offended by 'offensive' humor, as every scene in this movie is littered with it. To have a good time in front of your television, give Ali G Indahouse a watch and prepare to laugh, but feel stupid doing it.

Lady In The Water - I wouldn't say that I'm a fan of M. Night Shayamalan. If you watch more than two of his movies (Lady In The Water, The Village, Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense), you'll quickly realize that his writing is repetitive and his directing is not bad, but nothing to write home about. I've seen all of his films since The Sixth Sense in chronological order, and thus far have liked every other one, beginning with Unbreakable, and skipping over Signs to The Village. Process of elimination will tell you, then, that I did not enjoy Lady In The Water. In the movie, Paul Giamatti plays the owner/superintendant of an apartment building. Investigating a series of breaches in the rules regarding the building's pool, Giamatti discovers that there is a water nymph living in a small room beneath his pool named Story (Dallas Bryce howard). She's not just any water nymph, though. She's a queen to her people, which explains why there's a wolf-like creature made of grass that wants to kill her before she can be picked up by a giant eagle and flown back to her home called the Blue World. Only two things can stop the grass-wolf-creature. One is Story's guardian, who doesn't know who he/she is, and the other is a group of three creatures who all go by the same name and appear to be monkeys made out of tree bark. There are also other people who are supposed to help get Story home. There's a healer, a psychic, and some others who I can't remember, but don't really seem to be too important. Sound confusing? That's because it is. Watching the special features on the Lady In The Water DVD, I discovered that the plot for the movie was devised by Shayamalan over an unspecified number of nights as he made it up off the top of his head as a bedtime story for his kids. No wonder there are so many confusing and unnecessary plot twists and story deviations in the movie. The way everyone in the movie non-chalantly throws around the names and meanings of all the fantasy creatures and locales, it's almost like half of the time Shayamalan expects the audience to already know the fairy tale before they engage themselves in the film. The other half of the time the characters stand around and discuss what's going on over and over for so long that it's obvious that Shayamalan is trying desperately to keep the audience up to speed, which must have been tough to do because no single plot thread seems to last for more than ten minutes before something completely different takes over and makes you forget what was going on. Also, I'm not sure if M. Night was trying to make a kid's movie or a horror film. The movie is incredibly dark and foreboding, yet the events that occur often seem as though they're geared directly at children who won't care if what they're seeing doesn't make sense. I mean, there's a character in the movie who exercises every day, but only one side of his body so that his left arm and leg are normal while the ones on the right could have rivaled Arnold Schwarzenegger's when he was in his prime. So, before I divulge too many more of Lady In The Water's faults in case anyone still wants to see it, there's one more thing I have to complain about. M. Night Shayamalan almost always includes himself in a small role in his movies, which I think is cool. I like when a writer/director appears in his/her own movies. Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King, and even Stan Lee are well known for doing this, and I usually enjoy their cameos. However, with Lady in The Water, Shayamalan (who is not a very talented actor) placed himself in a role that garnered just as much screen time as any of the other ancillary characters, and in many cases, more. His over-acting became very annoying very quickly. Just one more thing Lady In The Water didn't have going for it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Episode 8

Little Miss Sunshine - A dysfunctional family must spend several days in a van together as they travel to a beauty pageant for young girls so that the youngest member of their group may compete. Along the way they endure many hardships and even a few heartwarming moments. Comprising the cast are Greg Kinnear as the father who fully believes that his self help program will take off and make his family rich any day now, Toni Collette as the mother, and perhaps the most normal member of the family, Alan Arkin as the foul-mouthed grandfather who says whatever he feels like whenever he feels like it, Paul Dano as the rebellious son who has taken a vow of silence until he can manage to make it into the air force, Steve Carell as the gay uncle who was recently released into his sister's care from a mental hospital after attempting to commit suicide, and Abigail Breslin as the young Little Miss Sunshine Pageant hopeful. This film goes up there with Children of Men, The Illusionist, and A Scanner Darkly as one of the recent movies that I've had a great deal of trouble seeing due to it's limited release. As with The Illusionist, I had to wait for DVD before getting a chance to see it. One of the main reasons that I was interested in Little Miss Sunshine was because it appeared that Steve Carell's acting ability was going to be tested beyond the boundaries of slapstick humor. I'm happy to say that he came through with a great performance. However he was just one more piece of the acting puzzle that came together within the movie, because all of the performances were outstanding. The family in the film felt real, which went a long way in making Little Miss Sunshine work. I enjoyed the movie for the most part, although the ending gets a little out of hand, as does a scene at a hospital a little earlier on. Altogether though, it was a strong effort from all involved, and I would highly recommend it as one of the best (if not the best) dark comedies of 2006.

Lucky Number Slevin - Josh Hartnett is Slevin; a young man who plans to visit a friend, but instead gets caught up in a war between two rival crime bosses: The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). Along for the ride is Slevin's missing friend's neighbor, played by Lucy Liu. Confusion and mystery reign supreme as Slevin attempts to heed the requests of both The Boss and The Rabbi, but the big question is: how is hired assassin Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis) involved in the proceedings? Lucky Number Slevin falls into what could be my favorite genre of film: comedy of errors with a brain and a hint of action (yes, I've taken a few different genres and bundled them into one very specific new amalgamation). Movies such as Snatch, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, GO, and Pulp Fiction also fall into this category. They are all films that wind up so many subplots that by the time it's revealed exactly what's going on, you've been trying so hard to figure it out for yourself that you're still not quite sure you understand it all. They are movies you will want to watch over and over again to relive the hilarity and excitement of what's going on. Movies like this rarely give you a moment to stop and catch your breath, and Lucky Number Slevin is one of them. Hartnett is amazing as the fast-talking, admirable loser Slevin. I loved him in The Faculty (yeah, laugh it up), but he's outstanding in Slevin. Lucy Liu also pulls off perhaps the best role I've seen her play. The only contender would be her portrayal of O-ren Ishii in Kill Bill, but this role is so different that it's hard to compare them. Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman are incredible, but really, when aren't they? And Bruce Willis is...well...Bruce Willis. Give him a gun and it's hard for him not to be good. Also of note on the subject of Lucky Number Slevin is that if you should find yourself in possession of the DVD, make sure to watch the deleted scenes as some of them are pure gold that must have been cut from the final version of the movie due to time constraints, because they were so good that I can't see any other reason why they'd have been left out. Worth a rent or a purchase. I personally can't wait to pick up my own copy.

Flatliners - Four medical students (Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt), led by a classmate played by Kiefer Sutherland, ignore the warnings of their teachers and peers alike in order to prove a theory. The theory in question? Life after death. One by one the students allow themselves to "flatline" under controlled conditions, and after a short period of time are revived from their comatose states. Each experiences visions while "dead", which they initially believe to be meaningless, but as time goes on they realize that they were mistaken. It turns out that horrors from their past have come back to haunt them, and they won't stop until each of them has faced their fears. Sound corny? Yeah, well it kind of is. No wonder you've never heard of it despite the film's high profile cast. The concept of Flatliners is a pretty good one, but the execution is less than perfect. Unlike some movies that are fairly old, but don't feel dated, Flatliners is very eighties/early nineties. From the music to the clothing, I had a hard time taking it seriously, unlike other films from the time that seem to transcend their time period. The visions that the characters had were also a bit cheesy, as were their solutions for ridding themselves of their "ghosts". Nobody really makes a top notch performance, either, but it was interesting to see so many recognizable actors before they were quite so recognizable. If you've got nothing better to do, watch Flatliners, then work out for yourself how you'd make better use of the premise if you'd made the movie.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Episode 7

A Simple Plan - Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) and his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) live in a small town in the country. On a trip to visit their mother's grave, the brothers, accompanied by Jacob's friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), wander into the nearby woods where they discover the wreckage of a small plane. Even more surprising is what they find inside: a duffel bag containing almost five hundred thousand dollars in cash. What follows is a story about trust, conscience, and responsibility as the three men try to decide how best to approach the situation. As things quickly snowball into a series of very possible (though not necessarily probable) events, each man realizes that he must do whatever is necessary to survive. I believe this marks my first review of a movie that I've seen previously. The last time I saw A Simple Plan was probably more than five years ago. I didn't remember much of it, but for some reason the name has always stuck with me. Personally, I think that A Simple Plan is one of the best examples of Sam Raimi's abilities as a director. Just about everyone has seen, or at least heard of his humble beginnings with Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, proving that he's capable of creating something fantastic with little to no resources. I'm also fairly positive that the general population is aware of the Spiderman films, which represent his most recent work and show how grandiose a production he can take on. However, it's movies like The Gift and A Simple Plan that have really convinced me of his talents. A lot of people criticize the Spiderman series for being merely about fight scenes and containing no real plot or character development. I personally don't agree with that opinion, but for people who claim these shortcomings, I suggest they watch A Simple Plan. Every single character in the movie is completely believable and realistic. Credit is due to the actors and the screenwriter, but the performances that Raimi pulls from his cast are incredible. I guarantee that while watching A Simple Plan for the first time you will be asking yourself with every new situation that arises, "What would I do if that were me?", proving how enthralling the movie is. It takes a potential situation that could easily be turned into a farce and digs down to the bottom of the human soul to ask the question "What are we capable of?" I recommend A Simple Plan to anyone who enjoys a movie experience that actually causes you to stir in anticipation. Drama at it's best.

Ice Age: The Meltdown - I am a strong believer in the idea that animated movies don't have to be, and shouldn't strictly be geared toward children. Hence, I watch just about any Disney movie that I can get my hands on, especially if Pixar is involved. It's no different for the competition, either. I saw the first Ice Age and enjoyed it quite a bit. Ice Age 2 wasn't quite so pleasing, though. Manny the wooly mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Dennis Leary) are back along with a few new characters. This time, instead of fearing the ice age, the problem they face is it's end, which threatens to melt the glaciers and flood the valley in which all the animals live. I'll forgive the chronological mishap that allows the same animals to be around for the beginning and end of the ice age since we're dealing with talking prehistoric creatures. Before long, the group is on a journey to find a safe new place to live. Early on in their trek, blatantly displaying the central theme of the movie, Manny is made fun of by other animals due to the fact that he's the last of his species. Not really something I'd think you would make fun of someone about, but hey, we are talking about talking mammoths here. So of course the gang stumbles upon a female mammoth. This is all well and good, but I was honestly very annoyed by her voice, which was provided by Queen Latifah. The catch? Having been abandoned at a young age and forced to grow up with possums, Ellie the mammoth thinks that she is, in fact, a possum. A plot thread that quickly becomes annoying. I guess what it all comes down to is that I didn't like Ellie's character at all. Actually, come to think of it, I was annoyed in the same way with Toy Story 2 when a new female character was introduced just to cause problems. She eventually grew on me, but Queen Latifah wasn't so lucky. Outside of the events involving Ellie, it bothered me that Sid and Diego, who were equally as important as Manny in the first Ice Age, played obvious second fiddles to him in the sequel. They were each given half-assed subplots to keep them busy which felt like no more than filler scenes. Sid provides comic relief, and Diego provides...well...something for Dennis Leary to do with his time, I guess. The climax is action-packed and heart-warming as is expected from movies such as these, but overall I was very let down by Ice Age 2. The first one's fun though, so if you haven't, I'd give that one a try.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Episode 6

Miami Vice - Based on the television show of the same name from the 80's, this film follows Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx through...well...some kind of police case. Normally I begin a review with a brief plot synopsis, but while watching Miami Vice I was not only confused by the events of the movie, but also bored by them. Not a winning combination. Hence, my recollection of what exactly happens during the course of the plot is a bit fuzzy, but let's soldier on, shall we? My initial disappointment with Miami Vice came when I realized that the villain wasn't played by Naveen Andrews as I had been told, but by this guy instead. Add to that minor misunderstanding that every other thing Colin Farrell said was so hard to understand as it was either mumbled, spoken in a strange accent, or both, and we're not off to a good start. Next, the movie was much too long. Cop movies need one of three things to justify any length exceeding about an hour and a half. Comedy, action, or a good plot. Unfortunately, Miami Vice was all but devoid of any of these. No comedy here, so you can scratch that one. As I can recall, there was really only one scene that qualifies as 'action' in my book, which was located at the very end of the film in the climax. Good plot? No. Plot? Maybe. I don't know. I was so fucking bored that if there was a plot it certainly wasn't good. Other little problems I had were as follows. The director of photography seemed to have a lot of fun filming things that had absolutely nothing to do with what was going on in a given scene. There were excessive sex scenes, not to mention two coed shower scenes. One with Farrell and one with Foxx. Speaking of Farrell and Foxx, neither of them made me give a shit about them for a single moment of the movie. There didn't seem to be anything redeeming or even human about either character. They each had one expression for the entire length of the film: stone-faced. I'll cap this review off with a quote. Warren Ellis, when asked by someone on a forum, "If you can't trust Michael Mann to make a watchable movie, who can you trust?", replied simply, "You didn't want to cut an hour out of HEAT?" In short, steer clear of Miami Vice unless you're in need of some good deep sleep. The only way I managed to stay awake the whole time was by MST3K-ing the movie after about the first 20 minutes.

Feast - Allow me to run down a brief history of worthwhile monster movies from the last thirty years. "Thirty?!" you ask? "That could take forever!" Actually, it really couldn't. Keep in mind that I said 'worthwhile'. Here it is in chronological order: Alien (1979), John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), Aliens (1984), Predator (1987), Tremors (1990), and Slither (2006). The eighties had us covered pretty well. The big two (Aliens and Predator) were there in full force, as was cult classic The Thing. The decade was preceded by Alien less than a year earlier and capped off with Tremors less than a year after it's end. Slither, however, clocks in much, much later leaving me to wonder "What happened to the monster movie genre in the fifteen years between Tremors and Slither?" Some people might be inclined to mention films like The Relic, Phantoms, and Mimic, which, while entertaining in their own right, are laughable in comparison to what the eighties gave us. You could even try getting away with bringing up sequels such as Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, and Predator 2. Sorry, but these pale in comparison to their predecessors. And if you so much as bring up Alien Vs. Predator you deserve a swift kick in the throat for your sad display of ignorance. I have to admit, not much did happen in the monster movie genre between 1990 and 2006. Not much other than Feast, that is. You probably haven't heard of Feast, which makes sense as it was a fairly low budget film that was produced during the third season of the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck produced Showtime network program, Project Greenlight. Regardless of the movie's small release and non-existent press coverage, first time director John Gulager takes the creature feature genre and smashes it out if the park! Focusing more on the horrifying series of events than the creepy critters themselves, Feast delivers grotesque shock after shock, many of which are in fact so shocking that you'll find yourself laughing not out of disrespect or disapproval for what you're seeing, but simply because you won't believe what you're seeing. The film begins modestly by introducing all of the characters, who form a hodge podge group of patrons and staff at a bar in the middle of an unnamed desert. Suddenly, in a kick start like I've never seen in a movie before, a man crashes into the bar covered in blood and toting a large gun. Holding up the severed head of an inhuman creature he proclaims that vicious monsters are bearing down on the watering hole and that he's there to save them, only to be decapitated by a creature seconds later. Right off the bat this leaves the viewer, as well as the characters in the film wondering, "Oh what?" And that's the question you'll be asking yourself over and over for the next hour and a half. The cast of Feast, comprised of mostly unknown actors, but also featuring such recognizable names as Henry Rollins and Jason Mewes, pulls off the stereotypical 'terrified, irrational victim' better and less stereotypically than in just about any other movie of it's kind. Of course, I'd be hard pressed to name another movie of 'it's kind'. This is a must see for monster and/or horror movie fans who don't have weak stomachs. I'd also recommend it for anyone who wants to have a damn good time. One more movie for the 'worthwhile' list above.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Episode 5

Children Of Men - The year is 2027. It's been eighteen years since all women on Earth suddenly and mysteriously became infertile. Eighteen years since a child has been born. That means that the youngest person on Earth is eighteen years old. The world is going down the shitter. Riots, poverty, and starvation run rampant in the shadow of the realization that mankind may be a hop, skip, and a jump from extinction. The only place on the planet that holds at least a semblance of control over it's population is Britain. Just when it seems that all hope is lost, a small group of people discover a girl who is eight months pregnant. Knowing that she isn't safe in, the group entrusts her life to Theodore Faron, asking that he escort her safely to another group of people who call themselves The Human Project. What ensues is the most gripping, emotional, and fantastic movie of 2006. I have two words for Children Of Men. An enthusiastic "Holy shit!" Every single thing about this movie is great. The story is great. The acting is great. The directing is great. Every single thing about this movie is great. As I've already given you the story, now I'll cover the actors. Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, and Michael Caine all do spectacular jobs in tis movie. I don't know how else to say it. Clive Owen is especially wonderful as the man who has perhaps the fate of humanity thrust onto his shoulders. He takes everything in stride and is always completely believable, and never over-emotional. I believed he was Theodore Faron for every single second he was onscreen. Even more incredible than the acting, though, was the directing. Quite simply, I've never before seen directing like that which was in this movie. Alfonso Cuarón kept my eyes open for the entire two hours over which Children Of Men took place. The things that stand out the most about the direction of this movie are the very long takes which are used very often. Sometimes the camera doesn't cut for minutes at a time while incredibly intricate scenes play out. If you've ever played a first person shooter video game before, you will most likely get a familiar feeling from some parts of Children Of Men. Following characters and events around, often low to the ground, weaving between objects, the camera makes you feel like a character in the movie. The use of this technique is really shown off in the climax of the film during a chase/war scene with multiple explosions and lots of gunfire which spans a demolished street and the inside of a run down apartment building. I'm not sure of the exact length of the scene, but the camera follows the main character of the movie through at least seven minutes of unbelievable events without cutting a single time. It is perhaps the most incredible feat I've ever seen performed in a movie...ever. Children Of Men is a must see, and I for one cannot wait to purchase the DVD when it comes out to see what sort of special features there are involving the filming of the movie.

The Inside Man - It's a Clive Owen double feature today, apparently. The Inside Man is about an incredibly intricate bank robbery performed by a group of criminals led by Clive Owen. Attempting to keep the situation under control is the NYPD's detective Frazier as played by Denzel Washington. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that this isn't just any bank robbery. The involvement of bank manager Christopher Plummer and his fast talking hired lackey Jodie Foster ups the ante, as does the very intricate and original means by which the criminals handle the situation. Lets see...what else... Well, as we all know from watching movies about police officers, the main cop has to be on thin ice with the precinct in some way, which Denzel certainly is as he's under investigation for some kind of crime involving his girlfriend's brother. Also in the cliché pile is the fact that Denzel is planning to propose to said girlfriend very soon. Lets all hope he doesn't die. I'm not saying that that does or doesn't happen, but that's certainly what director Spike Lee wants you to be thinking about the whole time. I enjoyed The Inside Man as a bank robbery movie. The other aspects of it really didn't do much for me. In fact, some of them annoyed me a bit. For example, the over-emphasis of Lee's feelings on racial discrimination and inner-city living felt much more out of place here than I'm sure they did in He Got Game, Malcolm X, or Mo' Better Blues (the other three movies he teamed up with Denzel for). I could have really done without the blunt moments of heartfelt racial politics when what I was really watching the movie for was to see if and how Clive Owen was going to rob the bank, and who exactly the title's deftly named "inside man" was going to turn out to be. The way it all goes down is pretty darn cool, though, as well as original, as I stated before. The specifics of what they steal, and especially what Plummer's character is so worried about were less rewarding as I basically guessed what his deal was right from the get go. That's probably just me, though. Overall, a decent movie. As a footnote (since he was one in the film) Willem Dafoe's in there as well.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Episode 4

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle - I'll say one thing for this movie: they picked the right fucking subtitle. This movie takes the place of True Lies at the top of the list of action movies that are so outrageous you can hardly sit still while watching them. The shit they do in this movie is ridiculous! For example, we all know how tall a dam is right? Maybe not exactly, but we know they're pretty dam tall (Get it? Dam tall?). Regardless, I really don't think there's a dam tall enough for someone to drive a truck off of, then while in mid air launch a helicopter out of the back of said truck, catch your three buddies on it in free fall, and fly away safely. Then again, when this instance happened in the movie the entire scene was shown in slow motion. Maybe that had something to do with the characters being able to pull this off. Ooh, or how about racing dirt bikes on a course riddled with huge jumps and doing tricks as you soar through the air in order to dodge bullets being fired by a guy who, after also going off a jump, lets go of the handlebars of his bike, soars upside down above it, pulls out two guns, fires off several rounds at you, puts the guns away, re-positions himself on his bike, and lands with ease. Yeah, I do that all the time. My favorite part of the movie, though? Probably the hard rock cover of Elton John's song Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting by Nickelback's Chad Kroeger. Anyway...enough sarcasm. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu reprise their roles from the original Charlie's Angels as female spies who can do just about anything even remotely imaginable, regardless of what gravity or simple logic may have to say about it. Unfortunately, not reprising his role as the girls' right hand man Bosley is Bill Murray. Instead, we're forced to watch Bernie Mac desperately try to be funny in his place throughout the movie, which he fails to accomplish. Crispin Glover returns to once again play the "thin man", but if you blink you may miss him as he maybe has six minutes of screen time. Speaking of brief appearances, look hard enough and you'll catch glimpses of Shia LaBeouf, John Cleese, Luke Wilson, Matt LeBlanc, Robert Patrick, Bruce Willis, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, The Pussycat Dolls, Pink, and Jackass' Chris Pontius, among others. Demi Moore is surprisingly hot in the role of the villain, but even more entertaining as a bad guy was Justin Theroux, who stole the show as Drew Barrymore's scorned, Irish, faux-hawk sporting ex-boyfriend who she put away for murder. You may remember that a few years ago McG (the film's director) was rumored to be helming the new Superman movie. Having seen Charlie's Angels 2, I kind of wish he had. Sure, it probably wouldn't have been as respectable as Bryan Singer's version, but at least it wouldn't have been so boring. If you can get past the fact that not a single event that takes place in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle could ever concievably happen, and if you aren't bothered by the fact that the plot is exactly the same as that of Mission Impossible, you should be able to laugh your ass off in disbelief at what you're seeing on the screen as you watch this movie.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Episode 3

Strangers With Candy - Based on the television show of the same name (which I'll state right now that I've never seen), Stangers With Candy tells the story of a 46 year old junkie played by Amy Sedaris as she is released from prison to begin her life anew. Literally. When Jerri Blank is released from prison she immediately travels to the home she grew up in to find that her father has divorced her mother, remarried, fathered a new son, and gone into a coma from which he seems unable to wake. Inspired by her father's physician, Jerri decides that going back to high school and re-living her youth as a respectable young woman will somehow wake her father from his coma. Principle Blackman, played by Greg Hollimon, accepts Jerri into his school in hopes that she'll be a worthwhile addition to the science team who must win a contest to keep the school board from cutting the institution's funding. Of course the plot is a stretch, which is no surprise when you consider that the creator/writer of both the show and the movie is Stephen Colbert who is most well known for his Comedy Central-housed fake news show The Colbert Report. I'm not faulting the movie for it's ridiculous plot, though, as it's only hope of achieving any laughs is to be as dumb as possible. There were as many instances during the course of watching Strangers With Candy that I shook my head at how stupid something was as there were instances that I laughed out loud. Very early on in the film you realize that it will be impossible to take it seriously, so you might as well just suspend your disbelief and let yourself laugh. The plot thickens when a rival to Stephen Colbert's science teacher character is introduced in the form of Matthew Broderick. Both science teachers are competing for the same school, which quickly dissolves the plot thread in which the principal must worry about losing his funding and instills a new story revolving around the grudge held between Colbert and Broderick. Considering that Strangers With Candy is a relatively low key, small-budget movie, I was surprised by some of the cast members present in the film. Along with Broderick, the movie stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Dan Hedaya, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and most surprisingly Sir Ian Holm. Clocking in at a modest hour and a half, Strangers With Candy is a very bearable movie for when you're just in the mood to laugh. The principal alone (who was my favorite character in the film) provides numerous ridiculous circumstances which you'll find it hard not to at least chuckle at.

Pulse - First off, is anyone else getting sick of creepy pale people with long black hair hanging in their faces who move sporadically and stare at you in scary movies these days? The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse...there's so many of these movies these days that they seem to be forming their own sub-genre of horror films. Especially when you consider the other little thing all of these movies have in common. They are all adapted directly from Japanese horror movies or Japanese horror manga. In some cases, both. As with all the others, Pulse attempts to use the same formula as it's predecessors while changing the rules slightly to make it a bit different. Four friends are shocked when their mutual pal Josh becomes really depressed and hangs himself. The guy who ends up with the suicide victim's used computer (LOST's Ian Somerhalder) discovers that Josh had the will to live sucked right out of him by ghosts who travel through electrical currents like viruses because some computer hackers accidentally let them loose from a radio frequency that is apparently compatible with Satan's DSL connection. In essence, pissed off spirits who want to be alive again travel through your electronic household devices and steal your soul. Afterwards you become an empty shell of a person causing you to A.) commit suicide, B.) get sucked into a wall and leave behind a black stain, or C.) spontaneously explode into a cloud of black dust. The thing is, it seems pretty random what will happen to you, which was one of my problems with the movie. It's like the writers couldn't decide how they wanted everyone in the movie to die, so they just made it completely random throughout the movie. Based on where the story eventually ends up, I'd say that the people behind Pulse had a pretty good idea which would have done well to separate it from the other movies that are just like it, but they never really took it as far as they could have. I found the movie frustrating to watch because it moved at a snail's pace until the last fifteen minutes or so, scenes and events seemed to occur at random, and the concept never really ended up making any sense. Okay, let's say that I'm down with the idea that ghosts come out of my computer and eat my hopes and dreams. Why the hell can covering your doors and windows with red duct tape keep the ghosts out of my room? It doesn't make a damn bit of sense why duct tape keeps out an entity that needs an electrical current to get to you. And why does it have to be red? Can you tell me, because apparently the writers of the movie can't. If you couldn't tell by the healthy dose of sarcasm in this review, I don't recommend seeing Pulse. You're better off watching The Ring, which is far better than this movie, or The Grudge, which is also better, but not as good as The Ring.