Saturday, March 31, 2007

It's A God Damn Crying Shame

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend about which of your favorite books, video games, comic books, cartoons, et cetera you'd like to see made into a movie?

Of course you have.

You know the part of the conversation when you come to your senses and say something along the lines of "Yeah, I'd really like to see Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew made into a movie, but they'd probably fuck it up like they did with Resident Evil"?

Isn't that a god damn crying shame? We're so used to being disappointed that we'd just as soon give up all hope that something will be worthwhile as even bother to hope for it to be good.

That's why the film industry is a bastard.

Then you have to ask the question, "Well, why do we put up with it?"

The simple answer is that we'd have to back up our convictions that the majority (note that I did not say entirety) of movies these days are shit. Specifically those based on intelligent properties that originated in other forms of media. However, this is next to impossible when a staggering percentage of the movie-going population still throws their money at them regardless of the quality.

And therein lies the problem. As I've stated before (in my rant about films based on the works of Philip K. Dick), we've stopped demanding quality and started accepting mediocrity.

By the way, you can have as much fun watching the Resident Evil movies as you damn well please, but if you actually think that they're an improvement upon, or even a good representation of, the source material, chances are I don't like you.

Sorry, but it's your own damn fault.

Episode 23

Man Of The Year - Let's pretend for a minute that Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is in the running to be the president of the United States of America. Why, you ask? Because that's what the writers of Man Of The Year must have done. Robin Williams plays Tom Dobbs, the host of a political/comedy/news show. When an audience member suggests that he should run for president, he takes the comment to heart and does just that. Before long, he's on the campaign trail with his manager Jack Menken (Christopher Walken), his comedy/speech writer Eddie Langston (Lewis Black), and a few other members of the staff of his show. Meanwhile, a new countrywide standard of electronic voting devices is put into effect by a company called Delacroy. Unfortunately, Delacroy technician Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) has discovered that there's a major glitch in the polling devices, but she's pressured into silence by company bigwigs Hemmings (Rick Roberts) and Alan Stewart (Jeff Goldblum). After Dobbs makes a surprising win based on the flawed poll results, Eleanor's conscience weighs on her to tell Dobbs what she knows. However, after meeting him, she's not sure that a comedian being president is necessarily a bad thing. Okay, did I miss a memo or something? Isn't this movie supposed to be a comedy? I sure thought so. There were some jokes in the movie (none of which I found particularly funny, mind you), but Man Of The Year is much more focused on drama than laughs, and before long I felt like I was watching a thriller. You've got an evil corporation, a scandal in the white house, big dudes in black SUVs and pick-up trucks chasing down, drugging, and trying to kill someone... Seriously, did anyone else expect any of that from the trailers for this movie? I was expecting a fun and fancy free romp along the lines of previous Robin Williams movies such as The Birdcage, or other presidential parodies like Dave. Something that my grandmother would find funny. Instead what I got was something more along the lines of The Sentinel or The Fugitive. Maybe not that intense, but along those lines. In the end, I'm not sure if I disliked Man Of The Year because it was genuinely bad or just because it was so far from what I was expecting, but one thing I am sure of is that I didn't like the movie. It tried to go back and forth between serious and humorous too often, and while my mother (whom I watched the movie with) chuckled a few times at jokes about Angelina Jolie's huge lips and other such pop culture subjects, I didn't laugh a single time. I was too busy trying to figure out if someone had accidentally switched the boxes for Man Of The Year and In The Line Of Fire at Blockbuster.

Corpse Bride - Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) and Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) are being forced into marriage with one another by their parents. Upon meeting each other, they aren't necessarily opposed to the idea, but they're still nervous. Victor is so nervous, in fact, that he screws up the wedding recital. After traveling to the woods to practice his vows, he mistakes a skeletal hand protruding from the ground for a good place to try the tradition of placing the ring on his fiancee's finger. Suddenly, the hand, along with the rest of the dead body of a woman in a wedding gown, rises from the dirt and drags Victor into the afterlife. It seems that he's just entered into a sacred bond with a dead woman (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). With Victor's sudden disappearance, a new suitor steps in to take the hand of Victoria by the name of Barkis Bittern (Richard Grant). Desperate to remove themselves from the clutches of their sudden brides and grooms-to-be, Victor and Victoria go to great lengths to be together after all. I gotta tell you right off the bat, The Nightmare Before Christmas this movie is not. Nightmare had lovable, memorable characters. Corpse Bride has a cast of loathsome, dull, and altogether forgettable individuals. Nightmare had toe-tappingly great songs that you didn't mind having stuck in your head. Corpse Bride has a few truly unnecessary and unimpressive musical numbers. Nightmare had an exciting, original story. Corpse Bride would have an original story if The Nightmare Before Christmas didn't already exist. Seriously. The main character is feeling blue. He stumbles into the forest and magically winds up in a different world or locale. Based on this series of events, some terrible mistakes have got to be righted and the day must be saved, which it eventually is (c' though you couldn't have guessed that). Altogether, Corpse Bride left me disappointed. It's hard not to compare this film with it's predecessor, and when that inevitably happens, it just doesn't stand up to The Nightmare Before Christmas. The one improvement that Corpse Bride had going for it was that the animation was slightly smoother, but not so much that it really made a difference. I didn't feel an emotional connection to any of the characters, and thus I didn't really give a damn about what was going on. Usually I'll say that even if I didn't like a movie, it's still worth a watch, but in the case of Corpse Bride, I'd have to say that you're better off just giving The Nightmare Before Christmas a repeat viewing.

End Of Days - The year is 1999. The world is on the verge of a new millennium. It's a time for celebration. Then Satan has to go and screw things up for everyone. On the eve of the new year, word comes down from Vatican City that the spawn of Satan shall be birthed from a human woman. The woman in question is Christine York (Robin Tunney), who Satanists have secretly been keeping their eyes on since the late seventies as the mother of Satan's child. Enter the prince of darkness himself, as played by Gabriel Byrne. He's hot on the heels of Christine, but a really down-on-his-luck New York City cop by the name of Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) isn't going to make things easy for him. Along with his partner Bobby Chicago (Kevin Pollack), Cane is on a mission to save humanity from the apocalypse, whether he believes all the religious babble or not. I was too young to fully appreciate the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was making mindless action movies in the eighties and early nineties. In an effort to make up for lost time, I saw some of his later attempts at action gold like The 6th Day, Collateral Damage, and this film. I recall genuinely liking End Of Days when I saw it back in 1999. Seeing it now, I'm not sure why. End Of Days takes itself a little too seriously. If there were a few more action scenes and a few less dramatic moments, the film would have been a lot better off. It's not without it's moments, though. One of my favorite scenes is one in which Satan takes a piss on the sidewalk, and lights the trail of urine on fire with a cigarette, blowing up a van. There's also a wonderfully ridiculous chase/action scene on a subway train during which Arnold shoots the devil with a rocket launcher. I mean, come on...who hasn't always wanted to see that? Yet, while I can't necessarily say that the bad outweighs the good, the mediocre certainly does. I, for one, am getting really tired of the stereotypically morose older cop who lost his family either to a divorce sparked by his being constantly wrapped up in his work or to an accident ending in the death of his loved ones that usually has something to do with his job. Kevin Pollack does his best to even out the playing field as the comical sidekick, but just doesn't nail it. Add to the mix that the girl they're trying to save is really annoying to the point that I wouldn't mind if they didn't succeed in doing so, and things aren't looking so good. The ray of sunshine here is Gabriel Byrne's performance as Satan. I've seen several Satan's before, and this might be the second best after James Woods' take on the character in the Disney animated version of Hercules. End Of Days isn't great, but it shouldn't completely disappoint you. Hopefully.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Episode 22

The Descent - Six self-reliant women decide to go caving in the mountains. Eager to experience the adventure of a lifetime, one of them lies about their destination to the other five, leading them to a previously unexplored cave instead of the mapped locale that they thought they were headed to. All goes well until a cave-in traps them deep below the Earth. Before long, one of women believes that she sees other people in the caverns with them. There are also suspicious markings on the walls that would suggest that someone had been there before, but if that were true, why wouldn't the cave have been documented and fully explored by now? Well, I'll tell you why. Because there are creepy humanoid creatures in this particular cave that like to eat anyone who ventures into it's depths. Before long the six women are separated from one another and must rely on their wits to escape the creatures. You could have probably figured all of that out by watching the preview, though, right? Well, admittedly The Descent is a rather stereotypical claustrophobic horror movie with a simple plot. Girls go in cave, girls get trapped, girls meet monsters, chaos ensues. Et cetera, et cetera. In fact, the only real story element in the entire movie is a flashback sequence in the first few minutes of the film. Don't let this fool you, though. The Descent isn't all bad. The creatures that they go up against create an entertaining threat to the characters, but more horrifying (in my opinion), were the scenes early on where the women are caught in a cave-in. I'm not claustrophobic myself, but the idea of being trapped underground in a confined space, unable to move, is not my idea of a good time. I personally felt more disturbed by these scenes than the ones involving the creepy critters. My big problem with the movie came from the fact that the writer(s) apparently felt that if six people were trapped underground fending for their lives against man-eating monsters, that they'd still be in the mood to hold grudges against each other with enough ferocity to have in-fighting within the group. Seriously, who is running from a pack of monsters in a cave and just has to bitch out everyone else around them for things in their past? My only other real problem with the movie was the very end of the film after the climax. It ended a bit abruptly for my taste. I won't say why, though. Overall, The Descent was worth a watch, but definitely not spectacular by any means. Give it a watch, have some fun, and promptly forget about it. I have.

Beerfest - From the minds who brought us Super Troopers and Club Dread comes Beerfest. When Todd (Eric Stolhanske) and Jan (Paul Soter)Wolfhouse's grandfather dies, their grandmother insists that the boys travel to Germany during Oktoberfest to deposit his ashes. When they arrive, they are led to the meeting place of a secret society that holds annual beer drinking contests. The brothers are humiliated by the award-winning German team and vow to train all year to return in 12 months and claim the championship. Joining their regulation five man team are old friends Barry Bandrinath (Jay Chandrasekhar), Landfill (Kevin Hefferman), and Steve Finklestein(Steve Lemme). Together they endure numerous hardships on the way to their goal of proving that Americans know how to drink. Can anyone say college movie? Sure, it sounds pretty dumb, and sure, it is pretty dumb, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. Beerfest was a lot of fun to watch. Half the jokes are visible from miles away, but the seasoned comedy veterans of Broken Lizard still manage to make them all funny. The stereotypes and idiotic humor of Beerfest could only be made funnier by actually being drunk when you watch the movie. Anyone looking for a plot amidst their humor should probably steer clear of Beerfest and give either Club Dread or Super Troopers (both of which I prefer to this film) a watch instead. However, if humor unencumbered by story elements is your thing, Beerfest is the way to go. I don't really know what more I can say.

Smokin' Aces - Buddy 'Aces' Israel (Jeremy Piven) is a Las Vegas performer with ties to the mob. Very soon, he is planning to share a good deal of information regarding the mob (specifically mob boss Primo Sparazza [Joseph Ruskin]) with the FBI. In the meantime, he's sitting in a protected room in a prestigious hotel with some close friends and lots of prostitutes. The FBI agents in charge of his safety, Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta), are fairly positive that someone will try to collect the one million dollar reward placed on Israel's head, but what they weren't expecting was that instead of someone, they would be dealing with someones. Lots of someones, as it turns out. No less than nine hitmen and women converge on Buddy's hotel room. The problem is that they all happened to do so at the same exact time. The preview did it for me. Lots of hitmen running around trying to kill the same guy. It sounded like a regular Guy Ritchie-style action film to me. As fate would have it, though, writer/director Joe Carnahan had something else in store for audience. What we ended up with were around sixty minutes of build-up for about five minutes of action. My misconception about Smokin' Aces was that it would be a massive chase scene with people running around, guns blazing, trying to kill or protect the same guy. And while that does, in fact, happen (albeit briefly), I found it to be very disappointing. We are set up with the motives at the beginning of the movie. Buddy is saving his ass by spouting off at the mouth to the Feds. The FBI is trying to protect Buddy. Everyone else is trying to kill him. Then what follows are endless scenes of people preparing to either protect or do harm to Jeremy Piven. We are constantly cutting back and forth between four sets of hitmen, the FBI agents, and Piven himself. The suspense builds up so much that I was about to explode by the time that the first round was fired. Then, the action kicks in and a smile spread across my face. I leaned back in my seat in the sold-out theater on opening night and prepared to bask in firefighting delight. Then before you know it, the fighting is over. All the action you see in the trailer is contained in about ten minutes of the actual film. It was really fun and exciting, but just not enough to really satisfy me. I came away feeling that there was way too much build-up for not enough payoff. There are great scenes of dialogue, drama, and humor sprinkled throughout the film, but when all was said and done, I felt like I'd been cheated out of the huge ending that the movie insinuates that you're in for. Now, you can blame my own predetermined expectations for my dislike for the film, but I have got to say that I personally feel like I had every reason to expect what I was expecting. Mayhem. Constant mayhem. While this is not what I got, I didn't completely hate the movie, either. There were lots of entertaining scenes, and a genuinely brilliant twist at the end. In fact, if there wasn't such a disappointing climax, I bet that I would have absolutely loved the movie. It had everything that I look for in a fun action movie other than quite enough action. I've only come across one other person who agreed with my point of view thus far, so by all means go watch the movie and decide for yourself whether it was good or not. For me though, I can think of two words that sum up Smokin' Aces better than any others, and those words are "disappointing" and "anti-climactic".

Monday, March 26, 2007

Episode 21

Harsh Times - Jim Davis (Christian Bale) is twenty six years old, and until recently, was in the army rangers. Upon returning home to South Central Los Angeles, he resumed a life of drinking all day with his friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez). The one positive thing that he's been doing with his time is going through the motions to become a member of the LAPD. However, when they turn him down he sinks deeper into his own mind, forgetting about all his cares in the world including his career, his future, and Marta (Tammy Trull), the Mexican girl he wants to bring to America and marry. Then a job offer from the FBI gives Jim hope for the future again just in time to pull the carpet back out from under him and drag Mike down as well. Where did this movie come from? Apparently it was released in 2005, but my first encounter with it was a trailer playing in Suncoast Video while I was browsing the racks. Based on the DVD box cover (which looks like it was created by someone minutely skilled with Photoshop), I really wasn't dying to see the movie, but it kept on popping up on internet ads and store shelves suddenly in early 2007. Finally a review on IMDb convinced me that I should give Harsh Times a chance, and it turned out to be a good move on my part. I've seen Christian Bale in several movies, but none of his roles have impressed me as much as this one. He always seems completely committed to the character that he's playing, which is made very clear by the lengths he went to for his part in The Machinist, which required him to become dangerously thin. I enjoyed Batman Begins, Equilibrium, The Prestige, and American Psycho, but Bale's performance as a down-on-his-luck ex-ranger in Harsh Times takes the cake. There was never a moment when I wasn't completely convinced that Bale was Jim Davis, walking his life on thin ice. Matching his performance was Freddy Rodriguez, who until now I was all but unfamiliar with. The most recent film I'd seen with Rodriguez was Lady In The Water, but the role for which I remember him the most is Jose in Dead Presidents. Another performance that surprised me in Harsh Times was Eva Longoria, who played Mike's girlfriend, Sylvia. Honestly, all that I know her from is Desperate Housewives, which I've never even seen an episode of, but I was surprised that I enjoyed her performance as much as I did. There are occasionally scenes in movies that actually get my heart racing because I know that something bad is going to happen and I can't stop it, but not since the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have I gotten this feeling so often during the viewing of a single film. I think that the reason for this is that whereas The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a suspenseful thriller, Harsh Times is just so realistic that I felt like the events of the movie could really be happening to me. Christian Bale really made me feel like I knew Jim Davis personally and that his actions could affect me in some way. This is a perfect example of good acting driving a film. Without Bale's performance, I can see how Harsh Times could be a reasonably unknown/unpopular movie (as it apparently is), but after watching it, I'm not sure why it isn't more well known. It certainly deserves to be.

The Shawshank Redemption - Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a man sent to prison for the murder of two people sometime in the 1940's. Whether or not he actually committed the crime is unknown, but also unimportant. After being locked up, Andy begins forming a series of relationships with everyone from other inmates, who he befriends, to the prison guards, whose taxes he offers to do in exchange for certain rights and better treatment. Andy becomes the heart and soul of the prison, along with Red (Morgan Freeman), who has been on the inside for quite some time and is the man to talk to if you want something. Over time, as Andy gains the trust of every single person inside the walls of the prison, he also gains a way out. It's tough to write a synopsis for The Shawshank Redemption, because while I can describe the events of the film, the real plot is in the details. The emotional ride that the viewer takes alongside Andy Dufresne is one that many believe to be unrivaled in modern cinema. It's a movie that gives you such a feeling of joy and hope that immediately upon completing a viewing, you will want to start watching it all over again. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman deliver the standout performances of their respective careers that all performances prior to and since have been measured against. I have to be a bit vague in reviewing this movie for two reasons. One, which I already mentioned, is that it would be impossible to express the heart of The Shawshank Redemption in a paragraph or two of text. The other is that I would hate to ruin the experience of watching the movie for the first time for anyone who's never seen it. Simply put, if you haven't seen The Shawshank Redemption, you just don't know what it's like to enjoy a film.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Episode 20 - Revolver: A Tale Of Hardship

Revolver - Jason Statham plays Jake Green, a career gambler. For the past two years he's been making tons of money the only way he knows how: taking people's money from them right in front of their faces. Before that? He spent seven years in solitary prison sandwiched in a cell between two men whose faces he never saw, and whose voices he never heard. The only contact that the three of them had with one another were notes passed in books. These two men were incredibly intelligent and shared many of their conning secrets with one another before mysteriously escaping, leaving Green behind to live out the remainder of his sentence in confinement. When Green finally finished serving his time, he returned to the place where he'd hidden all of his money before being taken away, only to discover that it's been stolen by the two men he never met. Hence, he started over and made his new fortune. Cut back to present day, and we find Jake up to his old tricks. Tricks which end up getting him in a lot of trouble. After humiliating crime boss/casino owner Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta) in front of his peers in a game of chance, Jake finds that a hit has been placed upon his head. Obviously in over his head, he is forced to entrust his well being to a pair of lone sharks named Avi (André Benjamin) and Zach (Vincent Pastore). Their assistance, however, doesn't come without a price, and before long they've squeezed every last penny out of Jake, just to turn around and loan large quantities of the cash to their clients. When Avi and Zach begin enacting their plans to take down Macha, Macha's plans to take out Jake become more intense. Before long, Jake doesn't know who he should be more afraid of: Macha, or Zach and Avi. Convoluted plot involving lots of crime and Jason Statham? Who other than Guy Ritchie could be responsible for this movie? With films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch under his belt, I was eagerly awaiting his next stylized, twist-filled masterpiece. Does Revolver fit the bill? To be completely honest, I'm not really sure. Allow me to explain. Lock, Stock and Snatch are two of my all time favorite movies. They both fit into my favorite genre, which I have begun referring to as "comedy of errors with a brain and a hint of action"; a genre which I would also place the films Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lucky .. Slevin into. Revolver is less a comedy of errors and more of a very serious crime drama/mystery. It's always hard to categorize Ritchie's movies as they tend to involve lots of different tones and themes throughout. To put it simply, Revolver, while always interesting and intriguing, was rarely exciting. There were moments, such as one scene involving a hitman (or more specifically a hitwoman) in a restaurant, that had me literally giggling with anticipation, but not nearly as many as some of his previous movies. The plots he devises are also usually very confusing and involve a lot of threads revolving around separate characters. Again, Revolver is like this, but to a lesser extent. In essence, upon my first viewing of Revolver, it seemed less like a Guy Ritchie movie and more like a really good movie by someone else. Don't get me wrong, though; there are some very obviously Ritchie-esque scenes. Then again, there are some very un-Ritchie-like scenes as well. For example, there was a scene that involved visual effects that looked as though they fell somewhere between rotoscoping and traditional animation. I've heard some people liken it to the animated sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1, but aside from the fact that it's animation, I don't really see the connection. Tarantino used animation to imply a certain mood and tell a back story. Ritchie used animation for...well...I'm not really sure why, but what he does with it is interesting, and while seemingly unnecessary, I wouldn't say that it was a bad choice. Overall, Revolver was not at all the movie that I was expecting to see. The trailers made it look like it would follow the same path as his previous efforts, and I had plenty of time to watch them as the movie came out in Europe in 2005 and still hasn't been released here in the states. In the end, I was desperate enough to see the movie that I simply downloaded a DVD quality copy of it. I tried waiting, but there's still no US release date for theaters or DVD. I even briefly considered purchasing a region-free DVD player just so I could then buy a European region copy of the DVD to watch. That's how much I wanted to see the movie. In the end, I'm happy with my decision to download it, but I will be first in line to buy a copy if and when it is released here in America. As far as the film itself goes, while It didn't quite meet my expectations, it was an engrossing film. In fact, I'd say that it's even more confusing than his previous films, which I admittedly required multiple watchings of to fully understand. I look forward to re-watching Revolver in hopes of taking it in more thoroughly and possibly enjoying it even more. And even if I don't like it any better the next time around, Ray Liotta's incredible (seriously...incredible) performance should keep me entertained.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Episode 19

The Illusionist - Edward Norton plays Eisenheim The Illusionist. As a boy training to be a magician, Eisenheim was poor, but at least he had the love of Sophie (Jessica Biel). Unfortunately he was forbidden to see her as she was well above his social standing. One fateful day Eisenheim left his home and disappeared. Ten years later, after traveling the globe, Eisenheim returns to Vienna and begins performing in a local theater. It isn't long before he discovers that his childhood sweetheart Sophie is now engaged to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who soon grows a great dislike for Eisenheim. Enter Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), who Leopold tasks with keeping Eisenheim at bay. This becomes difficult, however, when Sophie turns up dead. I found it odd that The Illusionist, a film about a turn-of-the-century magician, would be coming out so close to the release of The Prestige, a seemingly similar film. In fact, the two began a sort of rivalry in my mind as I wondered which I would prefer. The Prestige had an obviously more substantial budget as well as several great actors and a director whose previous films I'd quite liked. Then again, The Illusionist had it's fair share of good actors, and I'd been looking forward to seeing a new movie from Edward Norton for some time as he's one of my favorites. I saw The Prestige first, and quite liked it, so things weren't looking good for The Illusionist. However, while it is more of a love story than The Prestige, it certainly holds it's own. Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Rufus Sewell are an amazing trio in the film. I was aware of Norton and Giamatti's abilities as character actors from their previous roles, but knew essentially nothing of Sewell. He was right at home with them though, it would seem, and he added the perfect villainous element. While The Illusionist seemed more concerned with romance and drama than magic, Eisenheim's tricks maintained an eerie quality that kept me very intrigued. The Prestige focused on explaining how the magic worked, but The Illusionist just let the magic be magic, often without explanation. The two films are so similar, and at the same time so different, that it's hard to choose which I liked better, and while I did prefer The Prestige, The Illusionist is well worth seeing.

A Bug's Life - Flik (Dave Foley) is an ant. He enjoys inventing and discovering things, and he has a bit of a reputation of being clumsy or absentminded. Nonetheless, he must help the rest of the ants that reside in the ant hill gather food. Much of the food isn't for the ants, though, but is instead for a gang of mean-spirited grasshoppers lead by the aptly named Hopper (Kevin Spacey), who have threatened to kill the ants if their food isn't prepared by the end of the growing season. Unfortunately, Flik accidentally loses all of the food that he and his fellow ants have gathered for the year. At this point, it is much too late for enough food to be accumulated to appease the grasshoppers before their arrival, so he opts to take responsibility for his actions and venture into the outside world to find assistance standing up to the grasshoppers once and for all. During his quest he meets a group of circus bugs who he mistakes for hired muscle. At the same time, these circus bugs misunderstand Flik's proposal, thinking that he wants to hire them to perform their act instead of defend his community. Returning to the ant hill, Flik raises everyone's hopes before realizing the horrible mistake he's made, and he must think of a solution before the grasshoppers show up looking for to quench their appetites. Now, I admit that this story seems like a bit of a stretch, even for a company that has brought us movies about living toys and talking cars, but once you get past that, A Bug's Life is just plain fun. As with all of Pixar's movies, they've managed to devise a story that is just as enjoyable for adult viewers as it is for children. Admittedly I got around to seeing this movie a bit late, so the CG isn't quite as good as it would have been if I'd seen it a few years ago, but that's trivial, really. I've loved Toy Story since it first came out, and I'd seen each of Pixar's other films fairly close to their release dates, except for A Bug's Life. Going back and watching it, not so much out of a desire to see a movie about ants as a desire to have seen every one of the Pixar films, I'm kind of surprised that I didn't see it sooner. Particularly because of all of the voice talent involved. Just about every voice in this film belongs to someone famous. Along with Foley and Spacey, A Bug's Life stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, Bonnie Hunt, John Ratzenberger, Brad Garrett, and Hayden Panettiere, who has recently come into the spotlight as a character on the show Heroes (and who was only eight years old when she did A Bug's Life). Overall, I'd have to say that if you've enjoyed any of one of Pixar's movies, that you'll probably enjoy this one as well.

300 - It all starts with a dickhead named Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Xerxes believes that he is a god to be worshipped by everyone on the face of the planet, so he sends his servants around to gather offerings from every settlement in existence. He didn't count on Leonidas (Gerard Butler), the king of Sparta, being so stubborn, though. Leonidas is so offended by Xerxes' demands, that he murders the servants who asked for their offering. Knowing full well that Xerxes wouldn't take kindly to this, Leonidas attempts to round up a sizeable army to confront him when he arrives with his hordes. The Spartan high counsel doesn't see eye to eye with Leonidas, though, and denies his request for military action. In the wake of this decision, Leonidas rounds up 300 of his most loyal men to follow him into battle of their own will to defend their home. What follows is a knock-down-drag-out series of intense battles between 300 Spartans and a seemingly endless sea of warriors under Xerxes' control. It's kind of tough to see the trailer for 300 and not want to see the movie. I was interested in the film for the action scenes, essentially, but had no particular interest in the story. I've never been a huge fan of Frank Miller, whose graphic novel this movie is based upon, but figured that wouldn't much matter because there were sure to be some good dismemberings involved. And god damn I was right about that. 300 starts a bit slow, but is by no means boring. However, once the action starts, you can hardly catch your breath. Wave after wave of men are poured on top of the Spartans, only to see them come out on top of each and every battle. Some people criticize the film for using too much slow motion, but I found that it made the action much easier to take in at times. Considering that essentially everything that you see on screen except for (some of) the actors was created using green screen and computers, viewers are constantly bombarded with incredible effects that couldn't be achieved with standard special effects. The blood splatter, as trivial a component of a scene as it may seem, was wonderfully handled in every battle and brought a lot to the experience. The tactics that the Spartans employ in battle are often ingenuitive, and always entertaining, as are the various types of opponents against which they are pitted in battle. It can be argued that 300 is nothing more than a mindless fight/action movie, but I don't think that that's entirely true. There are simple subplots that serve to change up the goings on a bit. In the end, my only real problems with 300 are trivial. The thing that I liked the least were scenes during which some characters competed during battle much like Legolas and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies. All in all, as long as you don't fall asleep before the action starts, you should find yourself on the edge of your seat for the rest of the film.

Babel - What do an American couple vacationing in a foreign country, a deaf Japanese girl who desires acceptance, a Mexican immigrant babysitter on the way to her son's wedding, and a couple of boys in India with a rifle have to do with one another? That is the very intricate question that the film Babel provides an even more intricate answer to. I'm going to tread lightly with this film's review so as not to ruin any of the twists, turns, or connections to be found within. If you've seen the movie Crash, then you can sort of get an idea of what Babel is like. It is a movie about people who seemingly have no connection at all, but it shows how their fates are all intertwined. Crash did something similar to this, but Babel takes it a step further by introducing the language barrier. The film takes a look at the way that communication, verbal and emotional, plays a part in human interaction. It dissects four different cultures and throws them together, offering the viewer situations to make up their own minds about. Personally, I was very moved by Babel. I felt like I connected with each and every one of the people put through trials during the movie. There were points that I felt anger, sadness, and confusion right along with the characters themselves. The chances of events similar to those outlined in the movie occurring are nearly impossible, but they are presented in a way that can make you realize that while these exact events are far-fetched, things like this probably happen every single day. My life isn't changed for having seen Babel or anything, but it was a viewing experience that really made me think, which doesn't happen very often. My parents watched the movie shortly after I did. My father didn't like it, as I told him that he most likely wouldn't. He doesn't want to think while he's watching a movie, and the only way that he ever feels any emotion during one is if it involves war, which he feels a connection to because of his father's involvement in World War II. My mother enjoyed the film, but complained that there were too many questions left unanswered. While she didn't dislike the movie, she obviously missed the point completely. Again, I'm afraid, I'll have to amend the list of my favorite films from 2006, because Babel is a wonderful movie that I would recommend to anyone reading this. Marvelously written, wonderfully directed, and powerfully acted.