Saturday, October 4, 2008

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - March '08

The Legend of Drunken Master
The Legend of Drunken Master doesn't have the same classic feel as the original Drunken Master, but it certainly delivers on the action the same way that it's predecessor did. I was blown away by Jackie Chan's raw physical ability in Drunken Master, but rather than sticking to straight fisticuffs as with that film, Legend moves further into the environmental interaction which Chan became famous for later in his career. The sheer ingenuity of the final fight scene, which involves Jackie performing stunts on real life hot coals, is worth the price of a rental alone.

Alien Nation
The effects look cheesy and the commentary on racism is forced, but Alien Nation has an original enough concept behind it that I found myself really enjoying this film. I wasn't a big fan of some of the hokey characteristics of the movie's alien race, but they weren't so corny as to be completely unbelievable. At it's heart, Alien Nation is more of an 80's crime drama/action flick than a sci-fi extravaganza, which is probably why it works. If you've ever seen a Lethal Weapon film you should be able to handle the dynamic between James Caan and his extraterrestrial counterpart easily enough without letting all of the slime and wacky make-up ruin the experience for you.

Hustle & Flow
Generally I'm not a big fan of Terrence Howard, nor am I a big rap aficionado, but after seeing director Craig Brewer's subsequent film Black Snake Moan and loving every moment of it I felt compelled to check out Hustle & Flow. This movie is sappy, unrealistic, and over the top in just about every single way, but I have to admit that it's a fun watch. In my opinion Terrence Howard gives the best performance of his career herein, and there are a few good performances from the likes of D.J. Qualls and Taryn Manning as well. I am living proof that you don't have to have a deep appreciation for rap music to enjoy this movie, just as you don't have to truly love the blues to have a blast watching Black Snake Moan, so my recommendation is that you give Hustle & Flow a chance the next time you can't decide what you want to rent.

Enemy Mine
Similar to Alien Nation, Enemy Mine is about a human and an alien being who have to learn to get along. In Alien Nation these characters are partners on a futuristic police force, but here they must rely on one another to survive after they find themselves stranded on the unforgiving surface of a seemingly barren planet. The visual effects on display here have fallen victim in many instances to the time which has elapsed since it's release, but there are a few practical effects which should please any fan of 80's sci-fi or horror films. There are points during this film's running time when I got lost in the relationship between the human and the alien, which is a testament to the acting abilities of Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr., but for the most part I'm compelled to categorize this movie as cheese.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
I'm sure that I've mentioned in a previous review or two that I'm not the biggest fan of documentaries, but every now and then I see one which really speaks to me. One such film is The King Of Kong. Honestly, there just aren't enough documentaries out there about topics which I'm really interested in (or at least that's how it seems to me). The King Of Kong, however, tells the story of an everyman (Steve Wiebe) who decides to take a stab at making a name for himself by obtaining the high score in the classic arcade game Donkey Kong. As we all know, every hero needs a nemesis, and that's where Billy Mitchell comes in. Mitchell is a truly detestable human being despite his wrath being limited to something as seemingly unsubstantial as an old video game, but if Wiebe's plight isn't enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen during The King of King, then Mitchell's treachery and deception will surely do the trick.

Raging Bull
When I was younger and I tried to watch Raging Bull, my disinterest in boxing (and all sports in general, really) made quick work of my attention span. After finally discovering the genius that is Martin Scorcese's directing, Robert DeNiro's acting (circa the 70's, 80's and early 90's), and the combination of the two many years later, I felt compelled to give this film another chance. What a difference a few years makes. Jake La Motta's particular story still doesn't particularly hold any real interest for me, but when Scorcese gets his hands on the right story he just has a way of turning it into film gold. Boxing fans will surely find much more to connect with here than I did, but I find it hard to imagine anyone who's given Raging Bull a chance not realizing the incredible talent at display both in front of and behind the camera that was used to shoot it.

The Untouchables
The Untouchables is a classic re-telling of how the FBI brought down Al Capone from the point of view of the man responsible for discovering the loophole which inevitably led to his imprisonment. There are memorable performances everywhere you look in this film from Sean Connery to Andy Garcia and from Kevin Costner to Robert DeNiro as Capone himself. My one real complaint with this film is that what it has in star power it lacks in suspense. Sure, there are exceptions such as the incredibly directed and edited sequence on the stairs of the train station, but during many scenes which I felt should have been the most impacting of the entire movie it was as though poor decisions were made which kept the goings on from reaching the emotional level that they could (or in my opinion should) have. The prime example of this is the scene in which the feds pull a sting operation on the Canadian border. There are people chasing and shooting at one another, but the music doesn't match the tension at all and completely neuters the scene's suspense. Tension aside, there is a good narrative going on in The Untouchables with some entertaining acting, but I'm not convinced that this film should be held quite as high as some people (such as my father) seem to.

Sometimes it's hard to pin down exactly what will make an individual laugh and what won't. The Farrelly brothers' film There's Something About Mary still makes me laugh my ass off to this day. Their previous effort Kingpin just doesn't do it for me though, and I'm not quite sure that I understand why. Bill Murray gives a funny performance and Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid make a good enough comedic pair, but for whatever reason I didn't find myself particularly drawn to this story of an Amish bowling savant and his money-grubbing manager. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I've seen one too many road comedies or that the brand of gross-out humor employed in Kingpin has grown old to me. Or maybe this film just isn't that funny. I didn't hate this film, but I didn't love it either. Kind of indecisive for a movie review, I know, but what can I say? Comedy is a fickle mistress.

Bullitt is known for one thing and one thing alone: it's car chase. So how is said chase? Pretty darn good actually. It's no Death Proof, but considering that it was filmed in 1968 I was very impressed by what the filmmakers were able to achieve. True, they did slip up and leave shots of five hubcaps falling off of the same car, but I'm willing to forgive that flaw because it has honestly become one of the most well known facts about the film and it's pretty fun to try counting them yourself as they eject themselves from the wheels of Steve McQueen's enemies' Dodge Charger. What about the rest of the movie, though? I dare say that if it weren't for the chase scene which I've already covered, Bullitt wouldn't be nearly the household name that it is. McQueen is as good as he ever was, but there are much more compelling crime dramas out there in my opinion. Maybe not ones from the same year, but nonetheless, overall I found Bullitt to be rather middle of the road.

Meatball Machine
I heard the title of this film, saw that it was a Japanese horror flick, and expected an outrageous and enjoyable viewing experience. What I got was certainly outrageous, but not really enjoyable in the least. The plot involves some sort of little creatures which attach themselves to people like parasites and a small group of individuals who track them down and kill them. I know that the plot must be more intricate than that, but I was honestly lost or simply uninterested during most of the dialogue scenes which presumably explained what was actually happening. I've never been one to turn my nose up at low budget practical visual effects, but the costumes and effects in Meatball Machine are more laughable than they are noteworthy. Sure, some of the character designs look neat, but as soon as those characters begin to move around, their prosthetics (which for the most part are meant to look like metal) begin flapping around in the breeze. As with a good portion of the Japanese films, manga, and anime that I've seen, Meatball Machine ends with a showdown between two super-powered individuals. Unlike most of the Japanese movies, manga, and anime that I've seen, this sequence was so poorly shot and achieved that I find it impossible to think of anything good to say about it. Simply put, Ifound next to nothing to like about Meatball Machine.

Shallow Hal
As with many of the Farrelly brothers' films, Shallow Hal's core premise sounds like a simple, perhaps stereotyped one. A man is a bit of a dick until something mystical or otherwise unexplainable happens to him which causes him to change his way of life in sometimes humorous ways. Also as with many of the Farrelly brothers' movies, while that run of the mill premise serves to draw in audiences, it is the surprisingly emotional story and multi-dimensional characters which keep the audience around after the dirty jokes have worn out their welcome. In the specific case of Shallow Hal, Jack Black's character is a male chauvinist whose perception is changed so that whenever he looks at an unattractive woman he sees a gorgeous one and vice-a-versa. As I mentioned at the top of this review, the premise here is rather dull, but when Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow's characters take over and the toilet humor takes a back seat, the plot thrives rather than becoming boring or humorless. From talking to my peers I'm finding more and more that I'm one of the only people who views some of the Farrelly films such as this one and Stuck On You in this light, but for whatever reason I came away appreciating Shallow Hal's story in addition to being entertained by it's comedy.

Galaxy Quest
I'm not a fan of Star Trek by any means, but I'm a big enough science fiction geek that enough of it's mythos have rubbed off on me to allow to fully understand and appreciate the satire provided by this film. Then again, as thick as it lays on the Trekkie stereotypes I'm sure that just about anyone can make the connection. What's rather astonishing is that while essentially serving as one huge wink and a nod to the Star Trek franchise, Galaxy Quest actually manages to become a perfectly worthy franchise of it's own. The characters are likable, the humor doesn't require a great knowledge of Trek lore to be funny, the effects hold up in a sort of "you know that we know that you know it's supposed to look kind of fake" sort of way, and the story actually provides a few good thrills. Galaxy Quest will surely never outshine an actual noteworthy sci-fi tale, but it's close enough to being one itself that it's worth noting. I'd recommend Galaxy Quest to anyone who's into comedies, but especially to nerds like myself who are into comedies. Then of course there are the Tim Allen fans (you know who you are...).

Sleepy Hollow
There are Tim Burton lovers and there are Tim Burton haters. I'm a Tim Burton lover. I don't necessarily like all of his films (Batman, The Corpse Bride, etc.), but for the most part I enjoy being whisked away into the fantasy worlds he creates. While many of Burton's films have the same gothic style, it is one which is original to his work and one which I appreciate. That reasoning goes a long way toward explaining why I like Sleepy Hollow. You've got a quirky Johnny Depp character, an attractive, dark love interest (Christina Ricci), a murder mystery, and lots of blood. I'm not entirely familiar with the original version of the tale of the headless horseman, but I'm fairly certain that Burton took quite a few liberties with the story for his film, which is fine by me. The mystery, while not profound by any means, kept me guessing, and all of the slightly off kilter characters had me sporting a wicked grin all along.

Midnight Cowboy
I went into Midnight Cowboy having essentially no clue what it was about. Really, I only added it to my Netflix queue because I recognized the name as being one which people bring up a lot as being a classic. Going in I didn't even realize that this was the film from which the line "I'm walkin' here!" originated. Needless to say, I was rather surprised to discover that Midnight Cowboy is about a small town guy (Jon Voight) who moves to New York City to become a male prostitute. Along the way he meets a lovable lowlife named Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), with whom he proceeds to live in poverty. For all of the biting social commentary that Midnight Cowboy must have packed when it was released in the late 60's, I've got to say that my ignorant Generation X mind wasn't terribly affected by it. Whenever I watch considerably older films about New York City I tend to feel somewhat disconnected from the story because it's not a depiction of the New York that I'm familiar with. The city isn't a complete shit-hole like it used to be and it takes the right story done by the right director to make me feel at home there while I'm watching a film. Something like Taxi Driver ensnared me with it's characters and situations enough that I had no problems tagging along for the ride, but Midnight Cowboy regrettably didn't garner the same effect. I felt disconnected from the story and was often a bit bored, but from an outsider's point of view I can still see the validity of this film. It just wasn't necessarily for me.

Who Am I?
Some Jackie Chan films are better than others. Some have good plots but lack the mind-boggling fights that others have in droves. Then there are those which have stories which are so bad that they make your head hurt, but enough balls to the wall action to make up for their less than perfect plots. Who Am I? is one of the latter. The story involves some sort of rock which can act as a devastating explosive, so of course there are some evil businessmen trying to get their hands on it. Jackie Chan comes to the rescue, but honestly can't do much to save the weak plot. What he brings to the table here instead of the dramatic performance required to save the story is the masterful choreography and pure, unbelievable physical skill which he is known for worldwide. There are a few tussles between Jackie and the bad guys throughout the film's running time, but it isn't until the final showdown on the roof of a skyscraper between Chan and two well dressed combatants that the action in Who Am I? really hits it's stride. As far as fight scenes in movies are concerned you have two categories: CG enhanced fights and old-school wireless, computer-less fights. While The Matrix or some comic book films may have the upper hand when it comes to the first category, in my opinion nothing beats the final fight scene in Who Am I? The choreography is amazing, the fighting itself looks real, and most amazingly, the interaction with the surrounding scenery is breathtaking. Chan and co. actually staged portions of the fight scene hanging off the side of a skyscraper! With no wires! Can Keanu Reeves do that? I think not. I gave Who Am I? a rating of 5 out of 5 stars, but in reality that rating belongs entirely to this final fight sequence. The rest of the movie is just riding on it's coat tails. Seriously, if you like action movies and you've never seen Who Am I?, then you don't really like action movies. No joke.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
As odd as it sounds, I've always wanted to see this film despite never really knowing quite what it was about. I've always thought that it looked interesting, but I never expected it to be quite as good as it turned out to be. What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is technically a touching drama, but I almost prefer to think of it as simply a slice of life film. It's one of those movies which has a lot going on to keep you interested, but isn't necessarily headed toward any particular conclusion that you could see coming. Does that make any sense? The story revolves around a young man named Gilbert Grape (duh) played by Johnny Depp who lives with his two sisters, mentally disabled brother (Leonardo DiCaprio), and extremely obese mother, essentially taking up the role of the man of the house in the absence of their deceased father. When a woman and her daughter (Juliette Lewis) are stranded in the area after their camper breaks down, Gilbert makes his first attempt in years to live a life away from his family with the new girl, but finds that his responsibilities and his personal desires clash a bit more violently than he may have expected. It's really hard to describe what it is about this movie that's so compelling, but suffice to say that within the seemingly unspectacular series of events over the course of the film lies a lot of emotion which I wasn't expecting. Though I may not have the correct words to explain why, I highly recommend What's Eating Gilbert Grape? to audiences of all interests.

Mr. Nice Guy
After obtaining video footage of a drug bust gone bad, a female reporter is on the run from some unsavory individuals. Fortunately for her, she runs into a famous Chinese chef played by Jackie Chan. Chan's character, despite being a kindly cook, always wanted to be a police officer and as such knows his way around a fight scene. Yet another ridiculous set-up for Jackie Chan to kick some ass and take some poorly pronounced names doesn't necessarily sound like much, but as I always say, if Jackie Chan is involved that's reason enough alone to give a movie a shot. Not the best and not the worst Chan movie around, Mr. Nice Guy is simply a fun flick to sit back and watch when you've got nothing better to do and feel like seeing some people getting the crap beaten out of them (and hey, who doesn't like to do that from time to time?). The highlight of this particular action-fest is a fight scene which takes place in a construction site and involves Jackie actually interacting with, and nearly having his limbs chopped off by, actual power tools such as circular saws.

The Cheyenne Social Club
After discovering via a letter that his brother has died, John (Jimmy Stewart) and his fellow cowboy Harley (Henry Fonda) head to the town of Cheyenne to take over the business which he's left them. Assuming based on the name "The Cheyenne Social Club" that the business is a saloon of some sort, John is understandably surprised to discover that the club is in fact a brothel. Taking offense to the idea of running such an establishment, John decides to convert the business into a hotel, which doesn't sit well with the members of the town, many of whom are regular customers of the Club. As you can surely imagine, this film being a western, there are a few bar fights and a shootout or two along the way, but The Cheyenne Social Club is primarily about the humor of the situation John and Harley find themselves in. While I tend to prefer a straight up spaghetti western to a comedic one, every now and then a good film like this one or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is just what the doctor ordered. Likable characters and some raunchy (for it's time) humor make The Cheyenne Social Club simply a fun time in front of your home entertainment system. Not to mention, the duo of Stewart and Fonda is not to be missed.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Random Rapid Fire Reviews - February '08

What can really be said about Commando? You either love this movie or hate it, but whichever side of the table you fall on, you feel that way because it's bad. I'm one of those people who loves this movie, as I do just about any cheesy 80's action film. I know that it's not technically a good film, but with Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering lines like "Let off some steam, Bennet" after impaling an enemy on a steam pipe, I find myself rendered incapable of disliking it.

There are good ideas for sci-fi action films and then there are ideas that sound good on paper but turn out preposterous onscreen. Something like Terminator would be one of the former. Face/Off is among the latter. Sure, having the good guy become the bad guy and vice-a-versa sounds fun, but when John Travolta and Nicolas Cage begin swapping faces and John Woo tries to make an art-house picture out of his shoot-'em-up movie, the film's credibility begins to stretch itself a little thin. There are worthwhile moments here to be sure, but not enough of them for this reviewer.

The Invasion (2007)
To read this review, click here.

The Howling
Despite being a huge fan of monster movies, werewolves, vampires, zombies, and the like have never held much interest for me. I prefer an original creature, or at least an original take on an already established creature. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of original stuff going on in The Howling, but it does have one card up it's sleeve: Rob Bottin. This is perhaps the only time I've ever watched a movie specifically because of the special effects artist who worked on it. The human-to-werewolf transformation scene in this film is the one reason that I will re-watch it again someday. The man who made the title character of John Carpenter's The Thing a visually plausible concept brings werewolves to life in this movie. While I sincerely doubt that anyone else out there will agree with me, that is reason enough to watch The Howling.

Catch & Release
Kevin Smith plays a substantial role in a movie which he didn't write or direct for, if I'm not mistaken, the first time. That made me curious enough to consider watching this otherwise (from my point of view) completely uninteresting film. However it wasn't until I read Smith's book entitled My Boring-Ass Life in which he chronicles the process of shooting the film in quite a bit of depth that I finally committed to checking it out. As it turns out, the film was just as dull, predictable, and yawn-inducing as I'd expected it to be, but it was actually somewhat interesting to note particular moments in the film which I'd previously read about in Smith's book from a behind-the-scenes standpoint. So in other words, don't watch this movie unless you've read My Boring-Ass Life, and even then you should probably think twice before popping in the DVD.

Half Nelson
I enjoy Ryan Gosling as much as the next movie-goer, but I'd have probably passed on watching this film if it weren't for all of the rave reviews that it seems to have acquired across the blog-o-sphere as being some sort of underdog masterpiece. Gosling certainly handles the role of a drug addicted teacher well enough, but I couldn't help but get the feeling that the events of the film were a little hokey. I have no problem believing that there are teachers out there in underprivileged parts of the country who grow a bond between themselves one of their students, but the sentiments in Half Nelson's depiction of one such instance felt forced to me. This is absolutely a well-crafted and acted film, but it's perhaps a bit too self-important for my taste.

Not long ago I was in a Blockbuster Video taking advantage of the "4 previously viewed DVDs for $20" deal that the store runs from time to time. There I stood in the same situation that I always end up in when trying to choose four titles to purchase: I had three movies in my hand that I wanted and couldn't find a fourth which I was interested in. Then I laid eyes on a movie I'd never heard of called Played. The cover of the DVD box prominently featured an image of Vinnie Jones and Gabriel Byrne aiming pistols at me, as well as an inset photo of Val Kilmer, immediately bringing to mind such films as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I figured "Those three guys and the tag-line 'Money, murder,'s all part of the game'? It's got to be worth five bucks." As it turns out I was sorely mistaken, and the first of many reasons that I will list off as to why this movie is a horrible piece of shit is this: combined, Vinnie Jones, Gabriel Byrne, and Val Kilmer, all of whom are featured prominently on the DVD box cover, are onscreen for maybe twenty minutes of the film. "Maybe" being the key word here. Played stars writer/producer Mick Rossi, in his first acting role aside from another credit as "Club Patron #1", as a small time thief who plays a part in a bumbled robbery which ends with him rotting in prison for eight years. When he gets out of the slammer he finds himself galavanting through several unnecessarily confusing intertwining plot threads full of British accents and gunfire on his way to revenge. Let's settle on the word "confusing" for a second. Introducing a new side story with a new British guy in a suit every ten minutes does not a Guy Ritchie movie make. As much as the people responsible for Played may have liked for that to be the case, they've done nothing more with their film than prove that they are nowhere near as talented as the man from whom they were attempting to steal a genre. And speaking of British people, just because someone has an accent does not mean that they are a good actor. Hell, even the good actors in this movie sucked. I think the best performance of the entire film belonged to Vinnie Jones. This isn't to say that I don't think he's capable of putting in a good performance, but we're talking about a movie co-starring Gabriel Byrne and Val Kilmer. The best has yet to come, though. Beyond the misleading box art, beyond the confusing plot, and beyond the heinous acting lie the direction, cinematography, and picture quality. You know when you're watching something like COPS and the show cuts away to a "dramatic reenactment" of a crime being committed? Or perhaps when you were forced to watch old VHS-recorded History Channel specials in grade school featuring sequences which were supposed to take place during the Renaissance or something, but which were obviously filmed in a nice public park somewhere with people in ridiculously fake old timey clothing? Well that is what this entire fucking movie looked like. I could swear that the director found an old camcorder in his parents' closet and decided to shoot the entire film with it. I have never seen a feature film with such horrible picture quality aside from The Blair Witch Project, but that movie was supposed to look like it was recorded by amateurs. Unless I nodded off and missed something, I'm pretty sure that Played was not supposed to come across that way. Seriously though, I didn't fall asleep during Played, but I did honestly consider turning it off at around the fifteen minute mark, which is something I never do. I could go out tomorrow and make a better movie than Played using my camera phone. The only difference would be that I would give Val Kilmer and Gabriel Byrne bigger roles.

Raising Arizona
The first time I watched Raising Arizona I was both bored and confused by it. I had the same feelings about The Big Lebowski the first time I saw that film as well. The second time I saw The Big Lebowski I liked it a little more. The third time I liked it yet a little more, and so on. Now I proudly proclaim that The Big Lebowski is my favorite comedy of all time. After I saw No Country For Old Men in the theater at the end of 2007 I decided that I needed to catch up with some of the Coen brothers films which I either hadn't seen before or felt as though I needed to revisit. Upon re-watching Raising Arizona I'm perhaps just as confused by parts of it as I was back when I first saw it, but in my eyes it has gone from boring to hilarious. The Big Lebowski is still my favorite comedy of all time, but Raising Arizona can't be too far behind. Not to mention, this film is proof that Nicolas Cage could act at one point in career, and that's pretty incredible in and of itself.

The Brave One
When I saw the trailers for The Brave One I thought that it looked dull and predictable. I'm no psychic, but as far as I'm concerned I predicted both of those facts about this film correctly. Still, Jodie Foster managed to (as she often does) hold everything together in the less-than-inspiring plot and kept me interested in her character enough that I was willing to stick with her on her journey through the film's running time. If you've seen The Punisher or Death Wish, you've essentially already seen this film. The main difference is that instead of a gun-wielding vigilante with a skull on their shirt or a mustache adorning their upper lip, this time the vigilante has breasts.

The Last Winter
A horror film about a small team of researchers stranded in an arctic base with some variety of creature which has been unearthed from the ice? Sound familiar? John Carpenter's The Thing this movie is not, but it isn't bad. Despite the obvious similarities it isn't a complete copycat film either. I'd say that I don't want to give away the mystery of The Last Winter, but I honestly don't know that I could if I really wanted to because the movie managed to fairly well confuse the hell out of me. It certainly didn't end the way I expected it to. There is some good suspense here, but one of the main differences between this film and Carpenter's "ultimate in alien terror" is that aside from Ron Pearlman and maybe one other character, none of the personalities in the film are particularly memorable or likable. As such, I didn't much care about what happened to any of them, which neutered my chances of connecting with the story on a personal level. Horror movie fans should give The Last Winter a shot, but anyone else will probably find it to be a waste of time.

Maximum Overdrive
Maximum Overdrive has the unbecoming distinction of being the only film that writer Stephen King has ever directed. If you've seen the film you can surely tell that King had never stepped behind a camera before this outing, and it should come as a relief to find out that he has never again been allowed the privilege. The film centers around a very good sci-fi concept as every piece of electrical machinery on the planet becomes a killing machine with a mind of it's own when the Earth passes through the tail of a nearby comet, but the worthwhile aspects of Maximum Overdrive end there. As I've mentioned the direction is terrible, but surprisingly (considering that King himself wrote the screenplay), so is the writing. Add to the "cons" list the jumpy pacing, heinous acting, a series of glaring inconstancies, and a lack of focus, and what we end up with is a near-worthless film. Had King decided whether he'd wanted to make a comedy or a horror flick, maybe he would have then been able to figure out a way to hold his movie together with proper pacing and subject matter, but as is the film is simply a mess. Comedy and horror have certainly fit together well in the past (i.e. Tremors, Slither, The Host, etc.), but such was not the case with Maximum Overdrive. In my opinion this movie should have leaned a lot more toward it's scares than it's laughs, and if it had I can imagine it turning out to be a terrifying and thrilling experience like that of the more recent Stephen King adaptation: The Mist. The story is certainly similar, focusing on a small group of people trapped inside a restaurant which is surrounded by evil machinery (as opposed to a small group of people trapped in a grocery store by a mist full of evil monsters). Then again, Maximum Overdrive could have also made a great global scale sci-fi thriller similar to I Am Legend, Independence Day, or 28 Days Later if the story had been set in a city as opposed to the North Carolina countryside. What I'm coming to realize as I think about all of the possibilities that this story could have explored is that in it's current state it is probably the worst movie that could have been made from this subject matter. Any other variation on it's plot, focus, or themes would have been light years better, which brings me to the conclusion that, unlike almost every other film out there, Maximum Overdrive is actually deserving of a remake.

Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore, and Morgan Freeman. I'll bet that you didn't know four out of five of those guys were in this movie. That is if you've even heard of this movie to begin with. Stephen King's stories are well known for being some of the best modern horror literature around, though I don't know that I'd refer to Dreamcatcher as a horror film. It's more sci-fi than anything. There are some suspenseful and/or creepy moments (such as one which takes place in a bathroom between Jason Lee, a toilet, and some toothpicks), but overall I wouldn't necessarily expect anyone to cover their eyes through much of this movie. Some of the CG is pretty atrocious, but there are enough original ideas and interesting, well-acted characters here to make me a repeat watcher of this film.

The Ladykillers
In an attempt to watch every single Coen brothers movie in existence, I had to endure a few which I had no real interest in seeing. One such film was The Ladykillers, but thanks to my own stubborn obedience to my role as a completist, I'm happy to say that I was quite pleased with this movie. The situations are ridiculous, the characters are cartoonish, and the entire charade could be best described as "tongue in cheek", but if you're willing to let yourself be whisked away by the fantasy world that the Coens have created, you may be as pleasantly surprised with The Ladykillers as I was. If nothing else, you'll probably have a good chuckle at Marlon Wayans at some point.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The longer that this film was delayed by post-production debates between the director and the studio behind it, the more my anticipation of it's release grew. The main driving force behind my interest in seeing The Assassination of Jesse James was Brad Pitt, who I generally like and was looking forward to seeing in the role of one of the title characters. As it turns out, Pitt is somewhat overshadowed by the character who shares equal billing in the title, and the actor portraying him; those being Robert Ford and Casey Affleck. Rather than debate who was the better addition to the cast however, I'll simply say that Affleck and Pitt made a great team and managed to keep me enthralled throughout the film's rather tedious running time. If the events of the plot were tightened up a little bit and the movie were a little shorter it may have worked a little better logistically, but it's still an excellent film as is.

We Own The Night
One word: forgettable. To be fair, it's been a few months since I watched We Own The Night, but I can honestly say that this is one of those movies which I had trouble describing the day after I saw it. Not because it was confusing, but because it interested me so little that I subconsciously began blocking it's plot from my memory bit by bit as soon as it had ended to make room for things which I care more about making an effort to remember. The acting is solid, as is the directing, and there are a few memorable moments such as an instance of a drug raid gone bad, but all in all I simply don't have much to say about We Own The Night. It's neither good nor bad. It just is...

Intolerable Cruelty
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: I don't like George Clooney one bit. Lots of people love him, but ask around enough and you'll find that there is a sizable community of people out there who feel that he plays the same character in every movie, and as such classify him as a bad actor. I'm one of those people. Regardless of that fact, Intolerable Cruelty is simply a bad movie. It's supposedly a comedy, but coming from the men responsible for The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona, I feel compelled to argue that categorization. Here's the simple fact of the matter: the Coen brothers have style. This movie does not. I don't know who they were paying off a favor to when they made this thing, but I hope that whoever it is is happy, because he or she has almost single-handedly tarnished a near perfect filmmaking record.

Crap. If there weren't a few semi-fun instances of gunplay being shown off here I would have nothing at all good to say about this film. It wants to be so much cooler than it is. The problem with (essentially) every video game movie ever made is that their writers take a property that must be pretty good if it's managed to be optioned as a film, and then proceed to completely gut the story from the inside out. By the time the thing makes it to the big screen, all that you really have remaining from the original source material is the title. Video game movies have (thus far anyway), on the whole, essentially just served to give sub-par writers a chance to do whatever the hell they feel like under the safety blanket of a recognizable property name. Hitman is no different. Whoever wrote this thing seems to have just been pissed that they didn't come up with Leon The Professional and decided to take a stab at writing his own version.

Gone Baby Gone
This movie is so good that if I hadn't known prior to seeing it that it was directed by Ben Affleck and you'd told me just that after my having watched it, I'd have laughed in your face. Who would have thought that Ben fucking Affleck had something like this in him? Sure, the script is compelling and well written and the acting is superb, but the real triumph here (in my eyes, anyway) is the direction. There are better directors out there to be sure, but I'm still having a hard time believing that Ben Affleck helmed this thing. Wow. Anyway, moving on, Casey Affleck does an exceptional bit of acting, as does Michelle Monaghan. Both Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman have been better, but their performances here are nothing to balk at. Perhaps the best part of Gone Baby Gone doesn't actually come until after the film has ended and you happen to run into someone else who has seen it. The questions which the movie asks are ones which seem to divide audiences with every viewing. Great movies make for great conversations. Gone Baby Gone is proof positive of that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WIBW @ The Movies: WANTED

The Plot: Based on the Top Cow comic book mini-series of the same name by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, Wanted follows twenty-something loser Wesley Gibson as he goes from zero to unlikely hero. Plucked from his boring life by a group of assassins calling themselves The Fraternity, Wesley discovers that his estranged father was formerly the best assassin in the world and that he himself is more suited than he'd ever imagined to take over the throne left by his departed dad. As everyone (except for Wesley, apparently) knows however, some things are too good to be true...

The Review: As a diligent reader and collector of comic books, I found that I was predestined to flock with many of my brethren to Mark Millar's Wanted comics when they came out back in 2004. The story was sort of like Fight Club with superheroes (or supervillains as it were), a concept which I readily devoured having recently discovered other boundary-pushing titles such as The Authority and Preacher. Issues one through five knocked my socks off as I read them, but much to my surprise I found myself extremely disappointed with the sixth and final issue. Despite the quality of the previous five installments of the series, that last chapter of the story threw an unfavorable shroud over the entire saga and Wanted was resigned to the dark, dusty back corner of my memory as an average comic book. Cut to four years later...

As was the case with the Wanted comic book series, I found myself uncontrollably drawn to the feature film adaptation of the story. Despite my so-so reaction to the comic as a whole, the high-flying, balls-out trailers for the movie drew me in like a mouse to a mouse trap loaded with cheese (or peanut butter as the film would have you believe). So did the feature film version of Wanted disappoint in the same way that the comic book series had?

Yes and no.

Wanted starts off magnificently. Just like the comics, the film begins by introducing us to Wesley Gibson as played by James McAvoy. This guy hates his job, he hates his girlfriend, he hates his boss, he even hates his best friend. To put it simply, he hates his life, and the quirky, sarcastic narration his character gives over the opening scenes of the movie appeal to anyone working and/or living in middle-class America. Wesley immediately becomes a likable character with whom the audience can easily associate, perhaps even moreso than with the comic books because here he's not a wannabe gangster. He's just a loser. Much of the credit for Wesley's character goes to Mark Millar and the film's writers, but I give major props to James McAvoy for stealing the show with his portrayal of Mr. Gibson. I'd never seen McAvoy in a film before, but based on this performance I'll be keeping my eye on him in the future. In addition to Wesley's character though, the entire beginning of the film is extremely enjoyable. After meeting Angelina Jolie's character Fox, Wesley is whisked away into an exciting and intriguing life as an up-and-coming assassin. We see him get into car chases, train to fight with both weapons and his fists, and even exhibit some superhuman abilities. So far, so good, right?

The first thing that threw me about Wanted is the method which The Fraternity uses to decide who needs to be assassinated. This doesn't really ruin any plot points or twists, so I'll just come out and say it: they use a loom. Yes, a machine used to weave fabric out of yarn. When this was revealed in the film, in my head I was literally asking myself "What the fuck?!" This idea makes no sense at all. It simply comes off as silly and either uninventive or over-imaginitive, I'm still not sure which. The loom idea certainly didn't come from the comic books, so there's only really one place that it could have come from. That place is the crazed mind of director/co-writer Timur Bekmambetov.

One of the main draws behind Wanted for me was the promise of massive amounts of eye candy and action, which have come to be expected from Bekmambetov based on his previous films Nightwatch and Daywatch, both of which had previously wowed me with their visuals. The problems with both Nightwatch and Daywatch were that in addition to the very cool ideas and visuals in those films, there are also some very peculiar and confusing ideas and visuals which sort of sour the experience. In those movies however, the plot and events within are so odd to begin with that even when some story element or visual nears insanity, it still manages to somehow fit into place. In the case of Wanted, though the film does toy with some outlandish themes and concepts, wildly crazy ideas such as a loom that can magically predict the future and tell you who deserves to die for crimes they've yet to commit feels completely out of place. This is only the first of many plot points which detracted from Wanted's overall worth to me, though.

For me, as soon as Wesley became a full-fledged, functioning member of The Fraternity, the film took a turn for the worse. Gone by this point is the quirky narration, over-the-top humor, and relatable character. Once Wesley is turned loose into the world to track down his father's killer, the tone of the movie goes from fun and light-hearted, yet exciting, to overly dramatic and dark. The plot goes from original and entertaining to stereotypical and uninspired. Even the action scenes from this point forward, which certainly looked good, felt bogged down by the dull tone that the movie had by this point taken on. In a nutshell, I just stopped caring about Wesley and his plight. McAvoy's performance remained impressive, but the events he was involved in ceased to hold any real water for me. In the same way that the ending of the comic book series had let me down, Wanted fizzled out at the end. The only real difference is that while I really liked the first 5/6 of the comic, I really only enjoyed the first 2/5 or so of the film. There are a few moments following the film's climax in which it tries to recapture the fun, comedic approach that it had taken back in the beginning of it's running time, but by this point it had already strayed too far from that tone to bother attempting to capitalize on it again for me.

The Verdict: Despite many huge divergences from it's source material, the feature film version of Mark Millar's Wanted unfortunately falls into the same trap that it's predecessor had: a disappointing ending. The opening of the film and many of it's actors, concepts, and sequences were impressive to say the least, but I can't escape the feeling that all of the best aspects of the movie had been expended by it's halfway point. Had the film's entire running time embodied the fun, exciting, relatable nature of it's opening scenes, Wanted would surely be among my favorite films of 2008. As is, it has already found it's rightful place in the dark, dusty back corner of my memory alongside the comic book series off of which it is based.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Vantage Point: A Retrospective

Vantage Point is one of those movies that deserves for you to catch the last twenty minutes on cable some five or six years from now. At this point you'll think to yourself "I remember when this movie came out. It looked pretty dumb, but it had that guy from LOST in it...oh yeah, Matthew Fox. I wonder what he's been up to since that show ended...Maybe I'll add Vantage Point to my Netflix (or whatever similar service exists in the theoretical future I'm predicting here) queue." Then you'll add it to the bottom of your queue, only to discover it there about a year and a half later, after it has slowly and silently crawled it's way up into your top fifteen, and you'll leave it there because you remember that one time several months ago you caught part of it on TV and you must have had some reason for adding it to your queue.

After a few weeks it will show up at your house and you'll leave it sitting on the coffee table for days, not really all that interested in watching it, at which point you'll consider sending the movie back without doing so. But then you'll perhaps meet a girl (or guy) somewhere, take them on a date, and end up back at your apartment. Of course, you'll quickly realize that you have nothing in common with one another as you look over your DVD (or at this point, roughly seven and a half years in the future, Blu-ray) collection together and bicker over the selection, your guest insulting all of your favorites like A Clockwork Orange and Big Trouble In Little China while singing the praises of whichever moronic summer comedy starring a former SNL "star" came out the previous year which he/she wishes you had on hand to watch.

Unable to decide on one of your own movies, you spy the rented copy of Vantage Point sitting on the table in the living room and suggest that the two of you watch it. Your guest hasn't seen it and neither have you, so you pop it in and sit through it quietly. When the movie ends the two of you will remain on the sofa of your home/apartment, an entire cushion between you, and make awkward conversation about how weird it was that the same series of events in the movie happened over and over as you try to explain that it was actually somewhat daring of the director to take this approach with his film, before he/she makes some excuse to leave which you honestly don't mind accepting as this relationship obviously isn't going anywhere and you'd just as soon go to sleep alone as try to coerce your guest into the sack.

The next morning as you drink coffee in front of your television, you'll eject Vantage Point from your next-gen (or by this point "modern-gen") player and stick it in it's return envelope for mailing back to it's rental company of origin. As you glance at the stereotypically uninventive, photoshopped artwork on the disc while placing it into the protective sleeve which you'll soon place among the rest of your outgoing mail, you'll stop and think to yourself, "Well, it wasn't a great movie, but it was probably the best part of that entire date."

And that, in a nutshell, explains my feelings on Vantage Point some three or four months after having watched it. At least I got my viewing of it out of the way by seeing it in the theater instead of having to go through the unrewarding charade I've unraveled above.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The Plot: Humanity was going about it's day just like any other when something suddenly began to happen. Along the eastern United States, beginning in Central Park, New York, people began killing themselves en masse. As they attempt to escape the areas affected by the threat of unknown origin, a science teacher (Mark Wahlberg), his wife (Zooey Deschanel), their friend (John Leguizamo), and his daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez) slowly begin to piece together who and/or what is to blame for the happening.

The Review: What say we begin with a brief history of writer/director/producer M. Night Shayamalan's career? I've never seen Praying with Anger or Wide Awake, but I would bet that if you asked any average movie-goer what Shayamalan's first movie was, they'd answer "duh, The Sixth Sense". Without a doubt, that is the film which put Mr. M. Night on the map. I saw this movie when it came out back in 1999 and was lucky enough not to have the now well known twist ending ruined for me beforehand. I thought that the film was just okay. I didn't catch up with 2002's Unbreakable until after it arrived on DVD, but thoroughly enjoyed it for being an original take on the superhero genre. Signs also passed me by until it's release on home video, but came highly recommended from a few friends. As it turns out, to this day I still don't like Signs because of it's "twist" ending, which I view as being less of a twist and more "right out of left field". The trailers for The Village piqued my interest and it turned out to be the second of Shayamalan's four straight thrillers that I really liked. Oddly enough, the two which I enjoyed (Unbreakable and The Village) seemed to be the same two that weren't very popular with the majority of viewers. Then came Lady In The Water, which, following the unpopular The Village, only served to further bury Shayamalan's career under an ever-thickening layer of critical disapproval. In other words, it sucked. Cut to 2008 and the impending release of The Happening. I love a good mystery, especially if there is a possibility that science fiction will play a role in it, so the trailers for The Happening immediately captured my imagination. Not to mention, if the trend of my liking every other Shayamalan movie were to continue, after Lady In The Water I was due for an enjoyable time at the movies. So, did The Happening deliver?

Not entirely.

This movie is essentially one big question, that question being "what is causing the happening?" I'll start by saying that I will not be spoiling the answer to that query. However, I will say that one of the main problems that this films detractors have with it is the big secret. I, on the other hand, have no problem whatsoever with the cause behind the events of The Happening. I thought that it was a very original concept (though coincidentally quite similar to one other movie that has come out in recent memory), and had that been the only aspect of the film that it's non-fans were concerned with, I would be calling everyone who didn't enjoy The Happening a bunch of pretentious doo-doo heads. It is true that the film's "culprit" is a bit of a tough pill to swallow, but in my opinion it's really no different from George Romero asking his audiences to believe that dead people can come back to life, or Wolfgang Petersen expecting viewers to believe that a single monkey could cure the plague unleashed in Outbreak. It's certainly no less believable than a former baseball player beating the shit out of glasses of water that were left lying around the house by his sister because she's got a weird personality quirk in order to kill the aliens who are trying to kidnap their brother who just so happens to have an illness which protects him from the poison gasses they can spew from their wrists all because Mel Gibson's dead wife's last words were "swing away" and he remembered them at the exact moment that his family was attacked in M. Night Shayamalan's own movie Signs. And let's remember that after The Sixth Sense, that's probably his most popular film (at least it is according to sites such as Rotten Tomatoes).

So to bring that topic to a close, no, I didn't think that the big revelation of The Happening was a disappointment. To me it brought back memories of the kinds of horror stories that you can read in the old EC and Warren comics from the 50's to the late 70's and early 80's. Those comics stretched the boundaries of believability to be sure, but it was all for the enjoyment of the reader. Replace "reader" with viewer and you've got the same situation with The Happening in my eyes. Does that mean that anyone who's not a fan of this film is a pretentious doo-doo head, then? No, it doesn't. As it turns out, there are plenty of other reasons for people to complain about The Happening that don't directly relate to the movie's core concept.

I can't speak for anyone else when I say this, and based on what I've been reading around the web I certainly don't speak for very many people on this subject, but I thought that the acting in The Happening was overall very good. I've been hearing a lot of negative comments about Mark Wahlberg's performance, but I quite liked him in this role. What I didn't necessarily like so much were some of the lines and/or scenes that he was working with. A lot of the dialogue in The Happening felt very forced and out of place, but I thought that Wahlberg did the best he could with what he had and did an great job of giving the audience a main character that they could get behind and root for. On the other end of the spectrum, I couldn't stand Zooey Deschanel's character. She plays Wahlberg's wife, and almost every time she opened her mouth I wondered why Mark's character hadn't divorced her yet. She was whiny, annoying, and a generally unlikable person. This says something for Deschanel as it is impressive that she could create a character that had such an effect on me, but I was generally just pissed off every time she opened her mouth. One specific thing about her character that bugged the crap out of me was that she had problems showing her emotions to others, but more than once she openly talked to people about her fear of showing her emotions, which seemed to contradict the fact that she was supposedly so unable or unwilling to express how she was feeling. John Leguizamo has impressed me a few times over the course of his career, but tends to just be a rather meaningless addition to any cast. Here, I actually liked him quite a bit and felt that he brought something to the table. The last of the four main characters in The Happening is a young actress named Ashlyn Sanchez who plays Leguizamo's daughter. It's not hard for child characters to annoy me in movies, and I was often annoyed by this little girl. She did serve her purpose though, and since she was sharing most of her scenes with Zooey Deschanel's character, most of my hatred was usually aimed squarely at her instead of her young co-star.

So I liked some of the acting, though not all of it, and I enjoyed the basic concept of the film. Does that mean that my feelings on The Happening are positive overall? Absolutely not, and I'll tell you why. The acting and directing here range from passable to above average, but most of this movie's hang-ups come from the script. As I've already stated, I liked the basic premise, but the story was far from solid. The decisions of the characters often felt as though they were only trying to further the plot. That is, of course, how you make a movie work, but those decisions have to feel natural enough that they don't call attention to themselves. Too often things just seemed to fall into place or work out a little too perfectly, not necessarily for the characters, but for the filmmakers. For example, after some of our survivors reach a small house in the middle of a field the owner gives them one single piece of information about the house. Five minutes later, that single piece of information turns out to play a major part in the story. It just felt as though Shayamalan was force-feeding me things to make his movie work. The same fault comes into play multiple times as the characters begin to discover the big secret behind the events occurring around them. As I've said, the premise of The Happening is a bit out there, but instead of coming up with smooth, interesting ways for the characters to begin to put the pieces of the proverbial puzzle together, they instead simply happen to run into a strange fellow who has a theory about what's going on which just happens to be exactly what is in fact going on. Again, I felt as though M. Nigh was just throwing answers at me instead of weaving them into the plot.

Then there's the suspense. Or should I say lack of suspense. Large chunks of the population are being forced to kill themselves by some unseen force and I was hardly affected by it. Admittedly, I was pretty enthralled when some construction workers began throwing themselves from the roof of a work-site, but aside from that moment and perhaps one or two others, this "thriller" didn't do a whole lot to thrill me. The atmosphere just wasn't there. When I think about what this movie should have made me feel like, titles such as Alien, The Mist, and John Carpenter's The Thing come to mind. Instead The Happening felt a bit more like the film Tremors. There's nothing wrong with that movie, and in fact I love Tremors, but it's pretty light-hearted for a movie about giant killer worms. In the same way, The Happening is a bit too light-hearted for a movie about everyone suddenly turning suicidal and stabbing themselves in the neck with big needles. Tremors totally worked because it was meant to be an action/comedy/sci-fi romp, but The Happening is supposed to be a dread-inducing disaster movie. At least that's what the trailers led me to believe. But then, by definition trailers are meant to make the film in question look good. The trailer for The Happening succeeded. The movie itself didn't.

The Verdict: So many great things could have been done with the concept behind The Happening, but M. Night Shayamalan either didn't bother to explore those possibilities or just didn't do them justice. Mark Wahlberg tries his best to save the weak script he's been provided, but ultimately fails to do so. A few cheap scares aside, this film fails to earn the R rating that it was boasted as being the first Shayamalan film to receive. I liked the idea behind this film, but for this reviewer, a repeat viewing of The Happening won't be happening anytime soon (pun most definitely intended).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - February '08

Child's Play
While I have always loved horror movies, I tend to be more of a fan of monsters ripping people to shreds than weirdoes with knives chasing after cheerleaders, which is why I never bothered with the Chucky films before. I figured that it was about time I finally see this film though, since it's one of the classics of the genre, and much to my surprise I came away loving it. Perhaps this is because Chucky is as much a monster as he is a psycho with a knife, but I think it's mainly because the movie's plot was so original and the special effects were so well done. I've always been a huge fan of practical effects in movies, and considering that Howard Berger, one of the best modern special effects and make-up guys in Hollywood worked on this film, it's no wonder that Child's Play was so visually pleasing. However, gore and explosions do not a great movie make (though they do help), and what surprised me the most about this movie was the story. Sure it had some cheesy dialogue and revolves around a ludicrous concept, but the filmmakers managed to walk an incredibly thin line between humor and horror so well that everything worked perfectly in my opinion. I finally see what all the fans of this film have known since the eighties, and let me tell you, it feels good.

Jackie Chan's First Strike
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jackie Chan movies are only as good as their fight scenes. So how are the fight scenes in Jackie Chan's First Strike? Pretty damn good. The main one that comes to mind takes place in a large hall of some sort with a balcony that looks as though it's being prepared for some sort of party or gathering. The most notable portion of this fight involves Jackie fending off a horde of bad guys with staffs by wielding a regular, garden variety aluminum ladder. If you've seen this action sequence before, you've surely never forgotten it. As far as fight scene props are concerned, the ladder in this sequence is absolutely one of the most inventive and entertaining objects that Chan (or any other action star, I would wager) has ever used in an onscreen battle. The only word I can think of to describe this fight scene is "breathtaking". The other action sequence that immediately comes to mind when I think about First Strike is the climactic underwater battle. I've seen my share of similar sequences, most of which are slow and boring, but with the inclusion of sharks, Jackie's patented brand of comedy, and some ingenuitive choreography to the equation, the submerged tussle between Chan and some tough guys in a water tank at an aquarium is easily the most exciting and entertaining underwater fight I have ever witnessed. The only thing that First Strike is really missing, as is the case with many of Jackie Chan's films, is a worthwhile story, but if you're a fan of the Chan you should know well enough by now that the plot isn't the reason why these types of films are worth watching.

Who doesn't love the movie Office Space? My guess is that the only people who don't are those who have never seen it. Then again, who hasn't seen that movie? It plays at least once a day on Comedy Central, it seems. Why do I bring up Office Space? Because ever since I first saw and fell in love with that film years ago I've been eagerly awaiting a follow-up feature from writer/director Mike Judge. Skip to the year 2006. A little movie called Idiocracy soars so far enough below the radar that I'm not even sure it ever had a theatrical release, because the first time I heard about it was when I saw a copy of the DVD sitting on a shelf in Blockbuster. Admittedly, despite my appreciation of Judge's Office Space, when I read the plot synopsis of Idiocracy, I was a bit turned off. An average Joe (played by Luke Wilson) is cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the future to find that he is now the smartest person alive because society has been dumbed down by laziness, fast food, and cable TV to the point that even one of the least intelligent people in modern day is a genius by comparison. I was skeptical to say the least, and as it turns out, my initial reaction was almost spot on. Idiocracy was fairly idiotic. Yes, there were some funny moments and original concepts, but all in all I just wasn't interested in jokes about the president being a gangster and TV shows dedicated to people getting hit in the balls. The film's core was an intelligent idea, but it was surrounded by so many MAD TV-style jokes that I found myself rolling my eyes rather than rolling on the floor with laughter. Idiocracy isn't the worst film I've ever seen, but Office Space it is not.

Though it is shortened to simply "Supercop" in America, the full title of this film is actually "Police Story 4: Supercop". Honestly though, the name change doesn't bother me much because this films doesn't really feel like much of a sequel to the first two Police Story films to me. Sure, it's got Jackie playing Inspector Chan and Maggie Cheung as his hapless girlfriend May, but the action and tone of this film feels a little less serious than it's predecessors if that makes any sense. Think about how the original Die Hard featured some pretty off the wall action sequences, but when Live Free Or Die Hard came out it took the action to a whole new level of un-believability. Well, to me the same thing has happened here. This by no means means that Supercop is a bad movie, just that it feels different from the Police Story franchise to me. The easiest difference between this film and the first two Police Story films is of course the addition of Michelle Yeoh to the cast as Inspector Yang. Her character marks the first instance in which Inspector Chan has had a partner or sidekick, but Yeoh fits into the mix fairly well. Her character's super-serious nature only adds to the humor which Chan's films already tend to have, and she handles herself extremely well in the midst of the action that we've all come to expect from a Jackie Chan film. As for the plot, Yeoh's Inspector Yang teams up with Inspector Chan to help bring down a drug lord, who at some point during the plot takes May captive. The highlights of the action here are the (literally) explosive battle at the drug lord's hideout in the jungle and the climactic set piece atop a moving train.

As a big fan of horror movies and a major comic book nerd, it only seems natural that I would eventually track down and watch Creepshow, a film comprised of short horror segments based upon the EC comic books of the 40's and 50's. As it turns out though, having seen the movie, I would have much rather spent the 2 hours of it's running time actually reading some of those old comics that Creepshow was an homage to as opposed to sitting through the film. I found moments of worth throughout Creepshow's five short segments, but overall felt that it failed to invoke the same feeling of delight and admiration while watching it that I tend to have when I look through the ratty old horror and sci-fi mags that I have at my disposal. The first segment (starring Ed Harris) was definitely the most dull of the lot in my opinion, and thus a rather poor way to begin the movie. The second segment, which stars writer Stephen King and feels more comical than horrific, was probably my favorite. The rest of the segments were just fairly forgettable (a statement proven by the fact that as I type this I'm having trouble remembering what they were even about). I like the idea of anthology films and I love the idea of paying homage to EC comics and their other pre-comic-code brethren, but in my opinion Stephen King and George Romero largely missed their mark with Creepshow.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
To read this review, click here.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
To read this review, click here.

The Omega Man
As I continue to make use of Netflix as a way to catch up on all of the classic films from the past that I've missed out on the joy of watching over the years, I would have undoubtedly gotten around to sitting down with a copy of The Omega Man eventually, but in all honesty, the recent release of I Am Legend (a remake of The Omega Man) bumped this film up a few notches on my list of cinematic priorities. Audiences seemed fairly divided by I Am Legend, but I find myself more personally conflicted in my feelings on The Omega Man. The core concept is classic material by this point considering that there are now three different adaptations of the original source material spanning more than 40 years of Hollywood's history. In a post-apocalyptic setting, one man (sometimes accompanied by a canine companion), be it Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, or most recently Will Smith, must make a stand against varying types of vampires, zombies, and or cult members to keep the human race from going completely extinct. As far as those villains are concerned, I think that The Omega Man has the weakest threat of the three cinematic versions of this story. The "bad guys" here are essentially albinos who can't go outside during the day and want to destroy all technology and live like the Amish. They're less threatening than the inhuman creatures of The Last Man On Earth or I Am Legend, and in my opinion that is The Omega Man's biggest downfall. I love all of the scenes of Heston's character trying to survive on his own and essentially going on with his life, but any conflicts he is involved in just seem silly based on the foes he's confronting. All in all, The Omega Man is a very watch-able film, but it's not without it's flaws. Unfortunately, while I enjoy all three films based on Richard Matheson's original novel I Am Legend, I don't honestly feel that any of them have done the concept the full level of justice that it so obviously deserves.

Body Snatchers (1993)
To read this review, click here.

The People vs. Larry Flynt
I'm not sure just how much of Milos Forman's film documenting the life of Hustler Magazine founder Larry Flynt is true and how much of it is fabricated to make the narrative more wild and entertaining, but I don't really care, because whatever combination of fact and fiction he used to tell his story is, it's perfect. I love a good "true story" movie; especially if it's about an extremely unique person such as Larry Flynt. Part of the fun of watching a movie like The People vs. Larry Flynt is being able to live vicariously through the lives of people who are much more interesting than you'll ever be. Watching Woody Harrelson throw an orange at a judge and knowing that it may have actually happened in the real life of the person he was depicting just made for a fun viewing experience. Speaking of Harrelson, while I've seen him in numerous films before, I don't think I've ever liked him as much as I did in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Not necessarily because I liked the person he was playing, but because this role required a lot of dedication from it's actor and I could totally see the work that Woody put into it. Edward Norton and Crispin Glover were welcome additions to the cast as they're both great character actors, and even Courtney Love was (I thought) exceptionally good in her role as Flynt's love interest. This movie could be a tough sell to some people depending on their views and ability to sympathize with an often unsympathetic individual, but for my money, watching The People vs. Larry Flynt is a great way to spend two hours and nine minutes of your time.

Crime Story
Crime Story is somewhat of an enigma to me. The main star of the film is Jackie Chan, but there are hardly any fight scenes or stunts to be seen. There is a chase here and a quick tussle there, but overall this movie focuses way more on plot and drama than any of Chan's other films that I've seen. This is especially curious since this movie came out in 1993, well before Chan's more recent string of less-than-impressive films in which he can no longer pull off the stunt work that he used to be able to. I'm in no way opposed to a Jackie Chan vehicle with more plot than punches though, so I'm willing to accept the fact that this movie is rather dry in the action department, but the simple fact is that without all of the flips and kicks to keep the audience entertained while sitting through a Chan film, the story has to take over and do most of the heavy lifting, which it does not really do in this case. I admit, the quality of the acting was overall better in Crime Story than in most of Jackie's more adrenaline-driven films, but the plot was just as simple as any of those others. Chan is a cop who's trying to track down some kidnappers and discovers that there's a traitor in his midst. There were no real twists or turns to speak of either, which led to my feeling that the film dragged a bit too much between the very rare fight sequences. The climax in the burning building isn't bad, but if you're looking for excitement, try out some of the other films in Jackie Chan's library of kung-fu flicks.

This film was one of the biggest indie sensations of the 90's, which I've been well aware of for years, but it wasn't until I heard director Kevin Smith state on his podcast that it was the film that inspired him to make movies that I decided to track it down and watch it. The simplest way for me to describe my feelings on Slacker is to say that if I were Kevin Smith, I'd probably still be working at the Quik Stop because the only thing that this movie inspired me to do was hit the fast forward button, which I almost did multiple times while viewing it. I was with the film for the first fifteen minutes or so as I wondered where the movie was going and when the plot would kick in. As it turns out, the plot never kicks in (because there isn't one) and the movie goes nowhere. All Slacker is is a series of conversations between random people about random things. Person A talks to person B for five minutes, then person B leaves and goes to talk to person C, then person C leaves and goes to talk to person D, and so on and so forth up until about person X or Y. There was just nothing about this movie to keep me interested. I'm sure that there are several other people out there who, like Smith, see some artistic merit or deeper meaning to this film, but I'm just not one of them.

Quiz Show
A man who genuinely wants to give his best shot at being a winner on a popular television trivia game show is initially appalled at the idea of being allowed to cheat by the producers of the program, but eventually settles into a life full of lies and deceit, becoming the biggest bread winner ever to grace the small screen. The man in question soon learns that no good thing can last forever, however, when the studio executives decide that it's time for hie reign at the quiz show champion to end, which leads to the discovery by the media, and the public in general, that his entire run on the show was a scripted ruse. Based on true events that took place during the 1950's, Robert Redford's Quiz Show is entertaining, but not necessarily what I would call a solid film. The pace of the film dragged a bit for me at times, and I honestly felt that the running time (which is in excess of two hours) could have been trimmed a bit. The story being told is very interesting, perhaps even moreso if you're aware that the events taking place really (in some capacity at least) happened, but I could have done without a small amount of the movie's unnecessary exposition. If Quiz Show had chugged along at a bit more brisk of a pace, I feel as though I would have been able to enjoy it a bit more, but short of that critique, there's not much to complain about. The directing is solid, the plot (as I mentioned) is interesting and entertaining, and the acting is top-notch (particularly in the cases of both Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro).

The Lawnmower Man
I'm not sure if it was the peculiar title or the abnormal artwork on the front of the VHS/DVD packaging for The Lawnmower Man, but for some reason I've always wanted to see this movie. It certainly couldn't have been much else that drew me to it, because up until the moment that I pressed play on my DVD player I really had no clue what the hell this film was about. What is it about, then? A scientist (Pierce Brosnan) working with an unprecedented new virtual reality technology loses touch with his life and becomes too wrapped up in his work, experimenting on a simple-minded yard-worker (Jeff Fahey) in his free time. By the time the scientist realizes the consequences that could come from his work, his test subject has transformed from an unassuming simpleton into a megalomaniacal freak of nature. The main thing that one must remember when watching The Lawnmower Man in this day and age is that back when it was made, this film was employing the use of cutting edge visual effects. The visuals are fairly laughable and hard to take seriously nowadays, but if you can wipe the condescending grin off of your face long enough to become engrossed in the plot, The Lawnmower Man is actually a pretty decent science fiction/cyberpunk movie. There are some interesting high concepts at work which are constantly battling the cheesy acting and poor special effects, and unfortunately the acting and effects come out on top a bit more often than the intriguing concepts and story. Don't be fooled by your eyes though; there is some validity to what's going on onscreen.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Over the years I've always felt that I owed it to myself to see the original 1968 version of Planet of the Apes because it's such a classic, iconic, and well known film, but I honestly never had much interest in it. Part of the reason for my disinterest is probably that I (along with, I assume, everyone else of sound mind in the world) knew what the twist ending was already. Still, as I said, I felt obliged to see the film since it's a classic, and I honestly came away from it a bit surprised. Not by the twist ending of course, but by the fact that the movie was so damn enjoyable despite the fact that the climax had been spoiled for me years prior to my viewing it. The main misconception I'd had about this film, it turns out, is that it hinged on the final shot and the now famous line therein, but what I'd never realized until I actually saw the movie is that it has so much more worth throughout the entire running time than just those last sixty seconds or so which everyone knows about. The plot in general was much more interesting and gripping than I'd imagined it would be. A lot of very intriguing concepts involving the future of the Earth and communication between species are touched upon. The main conflict of the film isn't just apes versus humans either, but instead it focuses around a battle of logic over pride and tradition. In simple terms, Planet of the Apes was just a lot smarter than I expected it to be. We're not talking about Stephen Hawking here, but if you've always thought that Planet of the Apes was just about big monkeys whipping Charlton Heston and dragging him around on a leash, you (just like I did) have another thing coming. Also, the make-up effects looked a lot better than I expected them to for 1968, which accounts for an extra added thumbs up from me.

The Hudsucker Proxy
If you want to look at their catalogue of work in fairly broad strokes (and when I say "fairly" in this case, I mean "very"), the Coen brothers seem to enjoy making two specific types of films: crime dramas such as Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, and No Country For Old Men, and crime comedies such as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty, and The Ladykillers. Looking at this trend, there are only two Coen brothers movies which I don't really feel fit into either of those categories based on the simple fact that neither of them really center around crime as a focal point. Those films are Barton Fink, which is a straight-up (though rather heady) drama, and The Hudsucker Proxy, which I would simply call a comedy. The Hudsucker Proxy is also the only movie I can think of which cries out for me to describe it as "charming". There's just something so likable and innocent about this film. Perhaps it's the main character (played by Tim Robbins) who acts like a big kid with a positive outlook on everything despite the questionable environments he tends to occupy, or perhaps it's the fancy-free directorial style of the film which is obviously very well thought out and professional, but at the same time gives the events of the movie an air of fantasy, almost like a fairy tale for adults. The plot focuses around a small town man who, through a set of rather (unbeknownst to him) diabolical circumstances arranged by his boss (who is played by Paul Newman), ends up being set up to fail as the sudden head of a massive corporation, but who unexpectedly thrives in his position of power. There are a lot of very specific scenes, themes, and reasons that I could cite as to why I think that everyone can enjoy, and should see, The Hudsucker Proxy, but just suffice to say that it is an excellent film on every conceivable level.

Porko Rosso
From Hayao Miyazaki, the mind that gave us Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa, Howl's Moving Castle, and Spirited Away, comes the story of a 1930's fighter pilot with the head of a pig. That's right. After watching the spirits of his fellow pilots ascend to heaven after they were all killed in a particularly bloody air battle, Porko Rosso is cursed to have the head of a pig. This affliction may be embarrassing, but it doesn't stop him from being the best pilot in the skies. Porko continues taking odd jobs to keep himself in food, drink, and supplies with which to fix up his famed red plane, but when he's in need of some major work on his ride, he flies into unfriendly skies to acquire the aid of an old friend and a spunky young aircraft designer/mechanic. Of Miyazaki's other films, I've only seen Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa, and Spirited Away. I wasn't crazy about Spirited Away (although it looked spectacular), but I quite like the other two, and Porko Rosso stacks up right beside both of them as some of the best 2D animated films that I've seen in recent memory. The story is interesting and entertaining, there's a healthy dose of humor that hits it's mark every time, the characters are unique and lovable, the action is thrilling, and the animation is absolutely beautiful. The one aspect of Porko Rosso that I was a bit disappointed by was the voice acting. Most of the voices were fine, but I specifically had a problem with Michael Keaton's performance as Rosso himself. In general I really like Keaton as an actor, but he just sounded as though he didn't really give a damn about what he was recording to me in this case. It wouldn't be such a big deal, but since he was providing the voice of the films main character I was a little annoyed with his performance. Aside from that though, Rosso is a wholly enjoyable film that I can't wait to watch again and again.

Romance & Cigarettes
When I received a text message from a friend recommending that I watch a movie called Romance & Cigarettes based on the fact that at one point during the film Christopher Walken fights some police officers while in the midst of performing a choreographed musical number, there was absolutely no way that I could avoid immediately adding said film to my Netflix queue. Much to my delight, the sequence in question plays out just as I'd anticipated based on the summary given to me via text message, but as for the rest of the film, I most certainly cannot say that I expected just about anything else that occurred during it's running time. Written and directed by actor John Turturro, Romance & Cigarettes is indeed a musical. It's story involves a man named Nick Murder (James Gandolfini) whose marriage to his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) begins to fall apart when she discovers that he's been having an affair with a whimsical younger woman named Tula (Kate Winslet). Honestly, aside from the previously mentioned musical number starring Christopher Walken, I can't think of a whole lot about this movie to rave about. However, at the same time I know that it must have some other redeeming qualities because I did manage to enjoy myself while I was watching it. The plot may sound simple and stereotypical enough, but the addition of singing and dancing places this film into a whole different ball park from where I'd expect it to reside. I suppose that the best way I can sum up the experience of watching this movie for other interested parties out there is with the phrase "expect the unexpected".