Saturday, December 29, 2007

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)


Hot Fuzz

I Am Legend

Rescue Dawn

Sweeney Todd


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)


The Simpsons Movie

Smokin' Aces



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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - November '07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - October '07

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

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

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

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

The Dead Zone
See my in depth review here.

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

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

Down In The Valley
See my in depth review here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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