Archives (2007-2008)

These are reviews that I wrote between March 2007 and October 2008.  They were originally posted to the blog on my myspace page back when I had one.  During this time I had implemented a rating scale that broke down like so:

0-1 star: hated it
2 stars: didn't like it
3 stars: liked it
4 stars: liked it a lot
5 stars: loved it

Looking back, I find some of my opinions absolutely ridiculous (for example:Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not a film anyone would be doing themselves a favor by seeing), others are still pretty spot on.  Either way,  it is fun to see what I had to say at the time.  I also kind of love that the first review I took the time to write was for a Bond flick (Casino Royale)!

All 97 of the reviews below (and the Oscar post) have been archived here without altering their original content.  They have been edited only for formatting purposes only so that they match the rest of the blog.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review - So Much So Fast


So Much So Fast (2005), NR, 87 minutes - So Much So Fast is a documentary filmed over 5 yrs chronicling the progression of a 29 year old man's ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) and it's physical and emotional impact on himself as well as his family and friends.

ALS weakens the nervous system and as that happens, muscles cannot be used and they waste away due to lack of use. There currently is no cure for this disease.

Stephen Heywood was diagnosed with ALS. His brother Jamie quits his job and begins a foundation to research ALS in search of a cure. The foundation went from initial fund raising to opening it's own lab to support the necessary research. When he began the foundation, Jamie had no medical background - just the knowledge he had gained from researching the disease on the internet - but spearheaded a ton of research that had not been previously explored. He attacked new avenues of research with ferver and emotion and almost ran the foundation under (they did receive more donations/funding and were able to continue their research).

Stephen's slow progression from a slight limp to moving with a walker to being confined to a wheelchair to being unable to communicate without technilogical help is mind blowing. His outlook and attitude were, more often than not, optimistic as he burried himself in redesigning his own house and watching his newborn son grow up.

As some of you know, my uncle has ALS. He used to run daily and completed several marathons. Almost exactly a year ago, he went to the hospital with pneumonia. He recovered, but it really speed up the effects of his ALS. Just seeing this film and how much slower the effects of ALS took control of Stephen's life than it did my uncle's is really scary.

**** stars - The movie gives a good 'beginers' understanding of ALS and really does a good job of showing the emotional strain placed on everyone involved. It's not a happy film and there is some language - so consider this your warning - but it is definitely worth watching. On a side note, it's a bit disappointing that a film such as this took almost 3 full years to get a DVD release.
So Much So Fast Trailer

Even with all of the medical advances that have been made over the years with new technologies, very little progress has been made in finding a cure for ALS.
If you would like to learn more about ALS and/or So Much So Fast, check out the following websites:
The ALS Association
So Much So Fast - West City Films


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Review - The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (2008), PG-13, 152 minutes - I'm not sure that I remember the last time that a movie has received this much hype for this long. The last sixth months have been filled with non-stop buzz and anticipation for this latest installment in the Batman franchise. Unfortunately a lot of that chatter has revolved around the all-to-early passing of Heath Ledger back in January due to an accidental prescription drug overdose. The amazing thing is, The Dark Knight delivers on all fronts.

Christopher Nolan builds off the characters and plotlines set in motion in his 2005 Batman franchise reboot Batman Begins. This time around the city of Gotham itself isn't as dark and claustrophobic as it has been in previous installments but this actually helps ground this comic book based flick in what could actually pass as the 'real world'.

The cast as a whole does a great job. From Michael Cain's always insightful Alfred Pennyworth, Maggie Gyllenhaal's Rachel Dawes (more believeable than Katie Holmes in Begins), Gary Oldman's Lt. James Gordon (now commissioner), Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent (a pleasent surprise), Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox (Q from Bond anyone?), and Christian Bale's hard core Batman to Ledger's absolutely unflinching and unhinged take on the Joker. This isn't the Joker our parents grew up with (Cesar Romero from the classic-but-cheesy-as-hell Adam West Batman tv series), or even the Joker that we grew up with (Jack Nicholson's slightly psychotic yet still campy version from 1989's Batman). No, this is an entirely new Joker. Well, maybe not entirely new, this type of Joker has been seen before in the pages of 'The Killing Joke' (graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland) but never before on screen, and it's quite chilling. He's completely anarchistic and is out to show the world that there's a fine line between what is considered acceptable and what is not. He tells his 'origin story' 2 or 3 times, weaving a different yarn each time, adding even more mystery and chaos to his character.

Bale provides a solid portrayal of Gotham's Dark Knight as he struggles to come to terms with what must be done to stop a societal threat such as the Joker. He also becomes only the second person to portray Batman more than once behind Michael Keaton. And while I may be partial to Michael Keaton's Batman (let's face it, we're always partial to the first version of something we see), I may be able to be convinced that Christian Bale as officially taken the mantle as the Batman.

The Dark Knight portrays Batman's shift from being loved and looked up to by the citizens of Gotham and who works closely with the police department to being criticized and hunted (all in the best interest of the city) while also showing the rise and fall of Harvey Dent (Two Face). Much like Batman Begins, a self contained story is presented while leaving room for a follow up without leaving a major plot line unanswered.

***** stars - I'm not a big fan of the growl Bale tends to put on when he's Batman but I can see why it's done (adds to the intimidation factor of an already intimidating character) so I would normally go 4 1/2 stars, but Heath Ledger's Joker is scary good (which makes up for the growling and then some) so I'm rounding up. This isn't only the best Batman movie to date, it may be the best comic book based movie up to this point as well.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Review - Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), PG-13, 110 minutes - Hellboy may not be for everyone, but I was thoroughly entertained by this sequel! Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Jeffrey Tambore (Tom Manning) and even John Hurt (Professor Broom) all return in this comical, emotionally deeper flick from creature extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro.

Hellboy II focuses primarily on the relationships between Hellboy/Liz, Abe/Princess Nuala, and on a smaller scale Hellboy/Manning, and the entire BPRD team/newcomer Johann Krauss (voiced by 'Family Guy' creator Seth McFarlane) and while there is quite a bit of humor throughout it carries a darker tone with it to the end - you can definitely tell this is a del Torro flick from the creature and set designs to the overall feel of the film.

The Troll Market is easily the most impressive set in the film, boasting more creatures in that scene than any scene since the cantina in Star Wars. While Hellboy is set in today's New York, you really feel as though you are in another world entirely.

The Golden Army from the movies title is the force behind the main plotline of the film but really doesn't come into play much at all (one scene towards the end of the film). It basically serves as a guideline for the film to follow as it branches off and explores the various relationships and character development along the way.
Speaking of...I don't want to give away too many details but easily the funniest scene involves, Hellboy, Abe, a six pack, and Barry Manilow...come on, I know you want to see this after hearing that!

**** stars - Props are in order for finally having a couple of scenes with Hellboy running around in his trench coat sans shirt (ala the comics), working Professor Broom into the film despite his being dead (showed up in a flashback to start the movie), for allowing Doug Jones to voice Abe Sapien (David Hyde Pierce did the voice over in the first film), and for getting Seth McFarlane to voice Johann Krauss. I'm not sure I can envision him sounding any other way.


Review - In Bruges

In Bruges (2008), R, 107 minutes - What do you get when you take Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell playing hit men who screwed up an assignment and have basically been banished until their boss (Ralph Fiennes) decides what to do with them? You get In Bruges (and an insane about of F-bomb usage).

For his second film in a row (the first being Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream) Colin Farrell portrays a man who is having a hard time dealing with his actions (he accidentally killed a boy while carrying out a hit on a priest). He's not helped by the fact that he and his partner (Gleeson) are sent to Bruges (Belgium) to await their next orders. Bruges is considered one of the most well preserved medieval cities in the world. Ken (Gleeson) likes it from the get go and wants to do all of the touristy things while Ray (Farrell) finds the place horrendously boring and can't get his mind off of the accidental death of the boy.

It turns out that Fiennes' character (Harry) has some morals despite being the man calling out hits - he believes that Ray should be punished for killing the boy - and tells Ken to take Ray out. Ken can't do it, Harry comes to Bruges to handle things personally and everything blows up from there.

*** 1/2 stars - There is quite a bit of humor in the film (which was evidenced in the original trailer - and often times revolves around the use of the F-bomb), but the movie is darker than I anticipated. Still a decent flick if you aren't offended by violence and language in your movies.


Review - Mongol

Mongol (2007), R, 126 minutes - Mongol was one of this years Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Film (the first nomination ever for Kazakhstan) and the nomination was well worth it. This is a film by Sergei Bodrov that focuses on the life of Genghis Khan, more specifically his early life and what turned him into the man that eventually took over, unified and spread the Mongol empire.

Genghis Khan was born Temudjin whose father was their villages Khan. He loses his father at the age of ten and is exiled after another man takes the title of Khan instead of recognizing Temudjin as next in line to lead. This sets Temudjin's life on a course of events that see him struggle on his own, receive help from an adoptive 'brother', fall into slavery, reunite with his wife (chosen when he was ten), raise a family, and fall into slavery yet again only to be sold to the empire's ruler and made an example of by being put on display for the public to see. His wife Borte springs him from captivity and he sets out to unify the Mongols under the principles that his father instilled in him growing up.

The cast did a great job of portraying these historic figures, especially Tadanobu Asano as Temudjin himself and Khulan Chuluun as his wife Borte.

**** stars - This is a historical epic (as if you couldn't tell) but even if you're not into them this is worth checking out. It shows a different side of a man that the history books portray as being absolutely ruthless. A man who was tremendously faithful to those he cared about and to the way of life he learned from his father.

SUBTITLE ALERT - Be sure you don't mind reading for two hrs before watching this!


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Review - 10,000 B.C.

10,000 B.C. (PG-13), 2008, 109 minutes - I hadn't heard many good things about this movie since it came out in theaters back in March, so when a former roommate told me the other day it was surprisingly entertaining I had to check it out.

Yes it's historically inaccurate with men running around amongst woolly mammoths and sabretooth tigers, but if you can get beyond that and treat it more like a story set in another 'universe' (i.e. Middle Earth or Narnia and not on this Earth as we know it) it is a fairly entertaining and well made film that follows a fairly basic 'fantasy' story line.

A young 'hero' D'leh (Steven Straight) sets off to rescue his beloved Evolet (Camilla Belle) after she is abducted by a traveling pack of warriors. As he follows the warriors the importance of his journey grows in scope as he comes across other villages and tribes who have had women and children abducted by the rampaging group. One night he rescues a sabretooth tiger from a flooding cave and is seen by a local village as the one prophesied by their elders (a man who can speak to the 'long tooth'). With this newly gained respect he begins to gather support and warriors of his own from the various decimated villages and leads an uprising against the 'Pyramid God' - the tyrannical ruler of the land.

As you can see, fairly basic fantasy type story line/elements, but the film looks great. The effects of the mammoths and sabretooth tiger and the massive city of pyramids being built are really well done.

*** stars - 10,000 B.C. doesn't bring anything new to the table but does a good job of executing long standing story elements - even if there's only one recognizable face in the entire movie (Cliff Curtis - Training Day, Runaway Jury, The Fountain, Sunshine, Live Free or Die Hard). Check it out if you've got a couple hours to kill otherwise don't go out of your way.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Review - Hancock

Hancock (2008), PG-13, 92 minutes - Will Smith's latest July 4th weekend installment is pretty entertaining but didn't live up to expectations (at least not in my mind).

Smith plays John Hancock, a down and out superhero who stops crime but in the process usually creates more damage than it's worth. Jason Bateman is the public relations man that is saved by Hancock and sets out to turn the superhero's image around. Charlize Theron is the public relations man's wife who has some sort of past with the hero.

As it turns out Hancock has no recollection of his past, just that he doesn't age, has all these superpowers and woke up in a Miami hospital 80 years ago. Bateman is well on his way to fixing Hancock's image when you're shown just why Theron's been giving Hancock that 'I know you but you don't know me' look. This is where the film slows as all of a sudden it runs off in a totally different direction. Backstories are then explained and the shift doesn't seem quite so odd. The story then sort of comes full circle and the ending isn't too bad.

*** 1/2 stars - This quasi-comic book spoof isn't the huge summer blockbuster that Will Smith has dropped on everyone in the past, but it is pretty entertaining. Heck, it's worth it just to hear Smith's Hancock character say some things that you'd never think you'd hear come out of Smith's mouth ('that's because I'm DRUNK, bitch!')...haha


Review - Wanted

Wanted (2008), R, 110 minutes - OK so I'm a little late with this one as I saw it last week when it was released. I had been pretty stoked to check this out for a while since I had heard that Mark Millar and JG Jones' comic series was going to be brought to the big screen. This is a huge step for comics to film because Wanted is not of the status of Spider-Man, the X-Men, Batman, or Superman. It was a short 6 issue self contained story about a man who really has nothing in life, pretty much always loses and is suddenly thrust into chaos as his life does a complete 180 almost overnight.

Meet Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) who is self described as the 'world's biggest asshole'. He hates his job, he has anxiety attacks left and right, and his best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend. Everything changes when one of the world's top assassins is taken out. This man just happens to be Wesley's estranged father who left right after Wesley was born. His associates then recruit Wesley to take his father's place in 'the Fraternity' (a league of assassins).

The story shows Wesley's transformation from pathetic no-one into hardened killer. McAvoy does a particularly good job making this believable as he goes from stuttering at the sight of a gun and running away to cool, calm and collected as he's making a hit over the course of the movie.

The plot follows the comic series very closely for about the first 30-40 minutes and again at the very end, but the middle and how it gets from point A to point B differ quite a bit. There's a ton of action (some of the coolest bullet-time effects since the Matrix), blood and language but what can you expect from a movie about a gang of assassins? There's a nice little twist at the end, that while it differs from the twist in the comics, works well in this incarnation.

Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman bring some big star power to the film. Jolie's character (Fox) has a large impact on the events in the film although her screen time is much less than you would expect from all of the advertising for the film.

**** stars - I really enjoyed Wanted in the comic/graphic novel format in all of it's offensive glory and the movie gets the gist of it pretty well even with the differing plot lines. Hopefully it will continue to do well after it's opening weekend so that creators like Mark Millar and JG Jones have the opportunity to adapt their properties if they so choose.


Review - Be Kind Rewind

Be Kind Rewind (2008), PG-13, 102 minutes - I was pretty excited yesterday when this came in the mail from NetFlix. I'm a big Jack Black fan and the premise of him running around recreating old movies because he accidentally erased all of the video tapes in his friend's (Mos Def) store due to his being magnetized seemed pretty entertaining.

Danny Glover's video store is in an old part of town and under the threat of being demolished and re-zoned as high priced condos. He's given a chance to turn things around and save his business. So what does he do? He runs off and leaves it to be run by his one employee (Mos Def). Black does his typical 'good friend that you want to kill' thing and all of a sudden you've got a video store with no VHS tapes to rent out. Mos Def and Black set out to re-shoot a couple movies so that they will have something to rent until another solution presents itself. As it turns out everyone loves their takes of the films and demand more and more. The re-enactments in the movie are actually pretty funny, especially the one for Ghostbusters.

The overall story of the local community coming together in support of the video store with a special place in their hearts is nice and all but it doesn't really mesh well with the first half of the movie.

*** stars - If you like Jack Black this may be worth your time, otherwise it's probably not worth an hour and a half of your time.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Review - The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk (2008), PG-13, 114 minutes - I had to put off seeing this for a week because it was the film of choice to view on the way back from the annual trip to Charlotte for HeroesCon (yeah I'm a nerd, but it's not like we didn't already know that). The amazing thing is that all four of us who made the trip thought that this was a pretty decent comic book movie.

While I did have some issues with Ang Lee's version of the Hulk from 2003, I don't tend to bash it as bad as most people I don't think. That being said, this newer reboot of the Hulk franchise is definitely a better movie. There is more action and it picks up pretty quickly with a Bourne Ultimatum-like chase over the rooftops of a city in Portugal that culminates in Bruce Banner's first transformation into the Hulk of the movie. The CG on this Hulk is more detailed and his movements are much smoother and more realistic than the previous on-screen version.

Edward Norton's turn as Bruce Banner is pretty solid I thought. He did a good job of portraying the emotions and the strains that Banner goes through with each change he undergoes. His chemistry with Liv Tyler (Betty Ross) was also much more believeable than Eric Bana's and Jennifer Connelly's in the previous film. It was also nice to see Tim Roth on screen in something other than a Tarantino flick (I know he's been in quite a few, I just haven't seen them). General Ross seemed a little flat which was a slight disappointment because William Hurt is usually so good. The character was still downright cold-hearted but Hurt didn't have the intensity that Sam Elliot did 5 years ago.

There was no 'Puny Humans!', but there was a nice thunder clap and a 'Hulk Smash!' which didn't make the first movie so that was cool. There were also a couple nice little nods to the old tv series (Banner's eyes turning green just before he changes, Banner dropping out of the helicopter and crashing into the ground, and apparently the movie opening mirrored the old tv opening - thanks to Chuck for that, it's been ages since I've seen the tv show and never would have picked up on that).

*** 1/2 - All in all, this is a pretty good fun summer-time flick. It clocks in at almost two hrs, but moves along pretty well. Unlike a lot of other Marvel films, there is no teaser clip post-credits (what could have been used as such was slipped in as the final scene of the movie) so if you do check this out, don't waste your time sitting around afterwards.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ok, so I thought with Iron Man I'd get back to posting some sort of reviews or comments somewhat regularly but that obviously hasn't happened. I'm getting ready to move into a new apartment next weekend and things have been more than just a little bit crazy. I did manage to be pretty productive packing yesterday so I was able to get through a couple movies from NetFlix last night and this afternoon. Since I've got a few minutes I'm dumping a few quick comments on films from the last couple of weeks on you instead of my usual lengthy commentary:

Review - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), PG-13, 124 minutes - I'll get this one out of the way first since it's already two weeks late! If you even remotely liked any of the first three Indiana Jones films, do yourself a favor and check this out! Harrison Ford is great as an older Indy and again gets to match wits with Karen Allen's Marion Ravenwood. Shia LeBouf adds fresh blood to the cast and (in general) turns in a pretty good showing. There are some over-the-top scenes (I REALLY could have gone without the vine swinging), but honestly, what Indy flick doesn't! Cate Blanchett is a pretty solid villainess and John Hurt has an excellent bit as Professor Oxley. The sci-fi element is a little bit odd for an Indy film, but it fits considering the time period the movie is set in (the late 1950's).

**** stars - This is a very 'fun' film. I've already said it - do yourself a favor and check it out.


Review - National Treasure: Book of Secrets

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), PG, 124 minutes - I think I liked the first film better. Helen Mirren was a nice addition to the cast and Justin Bartha (Riley) had his moments but almost everything about this second adventure seemed forced. I watched this with a group of friends and one phrase kep...(read more)t popping up: 'well, it IS a Disney flick'!

*** stars - Entertaining, but nothing spectacular. I guess I just didn't see what everyone else did (I've heard from many people that they liked this one better than the first). I also wasn't a big fan of the treatment of the relationship between Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger's characters.



Review - Equilibrium

Equilibrium (2002), R, 107 minutes - I had to check this out because: 1) I'm a Christian Bale fan, and 2) Reynolds and Fields told me it was a must see. I've got to say it was pretty good. Christian Bale plays the main 'Cleric' (enforcer) in a society filled with people taking an emotion negating drug called Prozium. He takes out his best friend - if he can even be called that since they aren't supposed to emote - for being guilty sho...(read more)wing emotion, then realizes what everyone's missing out on when he misses his own dose of Prosium.

*** 1/2 stars - Decent story fueled by pretty good action sequences. It's got a sort of Matrix feel to it without the slow down bullet photography.



Review - Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl (2007), PG-13, 106 minutes - Ryan Gosling gives another excellent performance and there are quite a few humorous bits. I like the basis of the story - Gosling purchases a sex doll and totes her around town as if she is his actual girlfriend while working his way through some emotional and social issues - but the ease in which the community accepts and accommodates Bianca (aforementioned doll) is a little unbelievable by the time you reach the end of the film (the timeline of all of this just seems kind of lengthy).

*** 1/2 stars - It's a movie after all so I can't hold unbelievability against it too much!



Review - Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York (2002), R, 167 minutes - I've been meaning to check this out for quite a while now as I've grown out of my 'can't stand Leonardo DiCaprio' phase (thank you Catch Me If You Can, Blood Diamond, The Departed) and Daniel Day-Lewis is ALWAYS strong. Sure enough, Day-Lewis didn't disappoint. The man baffles me in how emersed he gets into every single character he plays. I had heard about how violent this was supposed to be and while it is pretty violent it's not nearly as bloody as I would have imagined. DiCaprio plays a boy who's father is the leader of an Irish gang in New York who is killed by Day-Lewis' rival gang leader Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting. The boy is sent away and upon returning to the city as a teenager he falls in with 'The Butcher' with the plans to kill him in revenge. Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C Reilly, Brendan Gleeson and Liam Neeson round out a pretty solid cast.

*** 1/2 stars - Martin Scorsese didn't win Best Director (Gangs of New York didn't win any of it's 10 Oscar nominations), but it's still quite a good film. It's pretty long, coming in at almost 3 hrs. Check out a couple of the bonus features on the dvd. One's from the History channel which was kind of cool because I sure don't remember getting to learn about this stuff in any history class I took in school.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Review - Iron Man

Iron Man (2008), PG-13, 126 minutes - The comic book nerd in me has never been a big fan of the Tony Stark/Iron Man character, but I've been looking forward to this movie since the teaser was released months ago. Not only did the movie meet my expectations, but Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of millionaire playboy Tony Stark actually makes me not dislike the character so much. He really turned out to be the perfect fit, maybe because Stark starts out very similar to Downey in his younger days.

Downey Jr leads what is easily the best collection of actors/actresses in terms of talent that has been assembled for a comic book based movie. He's joined by Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes (Stark's military weapon's liaison buddy), Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane (Stark's business partner who originally built Stark Industries with Tony's father), and Gweneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts (Stark's assistant and the story's love interest) all of whom bring good depth to their characters. Even Leslie Bibb's character (you've seen her in Talladega Nights) is deeper than the initial one night stand she appears to be when her Vanity Fair reporter character open's Stark's eyes to the underhanded business dealings of Obadiah Stane that have placed Stark Industries weapons (produced for the US Military) in the hands of radicals in Afghanistan.

The growth of Stark over the course of the movie makes him one of the deeper characters to have appeared in a Marvel comic based flick yet. He starts as the rich playboy without a care in the world and after being saved by a fellow prisoner in a radical camp in Afghanistan he realizes that everything he has accomplished through his company has hurt an untold number of people. He builds his first Iron Man armor from pieces of various Stark Industries weapon's that the Afghan group has in their camp (they want Stark to build them one of his Jericho missiles) and uses it to escape (while destroying as much of the camp as possible). Once home, he goes about building a newer, sleeker version of the armor that he can use to help track down Stark industries weapon's that have gotten into the wrong hands.

The visuals in Iron Man are great and the dialogue between characters is well written and often times quite humorous. This is the first movie that Marvel Studios produced by themselves and they did a very good job. Director Jon Favreau did an excellent job of moving the story along while implementing a bit of comedy here and there along with the necessary action for a summer blockbuster. There are even a couple bits that would serve as great lead-ins for a sequel (War Machine and Mandarin references), and that's BEFORE the comic book nerd friendly post-credit clip!

**** - I put this up in the upper echelon of comic book movies (i.e. Spider-Man, X-2, Batman Begins). Check it out, you won't be disappointed!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tonight’s Oscars - My two cents

I've managed to get away from posting any movie reviews the last couple of months, but with the 80th annual Oscars tonight I thought I'd share my picks for some of the larger categories (were applicable, I haven't seen all films/performances nominated there's just too many!):

Click on the links if you want more info on the movie or the actor/actress/director.

Best Motion Picture of the Year:
No Country for Old Men - This is probably my favorite flick from the past year. Excellent performances turned in by 3 major characters (Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin). Michael Clayton also had 3 excellent performances (George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton) but Bardem's creepy Anton Chigurh puts No Country over the top.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
Daniel Day Lewis (There Will be Blood) - Day Lewis' oil tycoon Daniel Plainview is the strongest performance of the group that I've seen (never caught Depp in Sweeny Todd - but I've got a hard time believing it could top Day Lewis).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:
Ellen Page (Juno)* - Page's turn as a pregnant teenager is the only one I've seen in this group so I'll do the wholly uninformed thing and go with what I've seen.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) - His villain is hands down the best supporting performance of the year. Tom Wilkinson's take as a lawyer who's lost it (Michael Clayton) would probably win any other year.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) - I'm a big fan of this movie so I may be slightly biased AND I have not seen Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There. Ruby Dee was excellent in American Gangster as was Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton, but neither had the screen time that Ryan did. Ryan's druggie mother of an abducted girl really gets you thinking.

Best Achievement in Directing:
Ethan Cohen, Joel Cohen (No Country for Old Men) - This one is a virtual toss up between the Cohen's and Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood) in my mind but I'll go with the Cohen's because No Country was more suspenseful and that's just my kind of flick.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen:
Diablo Cody (Juno) - I haven't seen The Savages or Lars and the Real Girl, but the script for Juno was well written, quick witted, and highly entertaining.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published:
Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood) - I've only seen 3 of the 5 films in this category, but I'll go with Paul Thomas Anderson here. He deserves to get something for this film.

All of the rest of the categories are the technical/design awards which I won't even try and pick. I will say that if Transformers DOESN'T win Best Achievement in Visual Effects there is a serious problem. Who would have thought that Transformers of all movies could end up with an Oscar!? Also, hopefully the Bourne Ultimatum comes away with one of the editing awards. That movie just kicked all kinds of ass.

I don't think I really went out on a limb on any of my picks (at least in the categories I had actually seen the majority of the nominees) with the exception of Amy Ryan but I guess we'll see here in a couple of hours.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Review - The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass (2007), PG-13, 113 minutes - There has been quite a bit of press/controversy over this movie and it's portrayal of the church, but as most of you know I'm not the most religious person and I'm the last person that will dive headlong into a religious debate (and I'm not going to dwell on these issues here). That being said, I'll state first and foremost that this, more than most movies, is a 'see it for yourself and make your own decision' movie.

I've been looking forward to this for a few months now, even moreso the last couple of weeks after I finished the novel by Phillip Pullman just before Thanksgiving. The religious undertones are not nearly as pronounced in the movie as they are in the book although they still seem quite obvious to me (although I do believe it's toned down to the point that younger viewers won't pick up on it as easily).

The story takes place in an alternate universe, where people's souls are not held within their bodies, but externally in the form of an animal called a daemon. The main character is a girl name Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) and her daemon Pantalaimon (who can change forms but is most often a type of weasel) voiced by Freddie Highmore. Lyra comes to be in possession of an alethiometer (the golden compass which used to be owned by her uncle Lord Asriel) and begins a journey north to try and rescue her friend Roger (Ben Walker) who has been kidnapped and taken to a special research facility funded by the Magisterium. She also plans to find her uncle and return the alethiometer to him (played by Daniel Craig) while trying to learn the truth about 'Dust'.

Along her journey she befriends an aeronaut straight out of the wild west named Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot), an ice bear named Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellan), and a witch named Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green) while trying to avoid a woman who works with the Magisterium named Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman).

The main themes of The Golden Compass are translated from the book to the big screen but unfortunately alot of the character development included in the book was cut out of the film. The Golden Compass is the first in a fantasy trilogy and most other 'epic' fantasy movie franchises clock in at well over 2 hrs long whereas this finishes at just under 2 hrs. I think it may have been better suited if they had stretched the length a bit and included more of Lyra learning how to use the alethiometer. They could have also strengthened her relationships with some of the other characters.

Big names like Craig and Green have very little screen time, but they are introduced as they play larger roles later on in the story line. The timeline of the story is shuffled a bit (but it seemed to work OK). The endings differ quite a bit as the movie fades to black about 2 chapters before the end of the book which should make for a heck of a start to The Subtle Knife should this do well enough to warrant continuing the trilogy on the big screen.

*** 1/2 - I enjoyed it (as I did the book) and I do hope that this is able to escape the controversy, or maybe even use it to generate enough revenue to warrant the continuation of turning Pullman's trilogy into movies. While some people may take offense, it is at the very least thought provoking which makes it a good story in my mind.


Review - Rescue Dawn

Rescue Dawn (2007), PG-13, 126 minutes - Christian Bale gives an excellent performance as Vietnam POW Lt. Dieter Dengler in this film that explores the psychological and emotional strain on a group of POW's that were captured towards the beginning of (and even before the start of) the Vietnam War.

Dengler is overly optimistic when he begins his stay at a POW camp, almost abnoxiously to his fellow POW's who have all been there for a prolonged period of time already. Some share his opinion that they will eventually be let go (although much farther down the line than he thinks) while others believe their getting out is a lost cause.

Steve Zahn also turns in a pretty good performance as fellow captive Duane Martin (who happens to be one of the more realistic/pessimistic prisoners) and becomes Dengler's closest friend in the camp.

After Dengler's capture, the movie hits a bit of a lull brought on by the portrayal of your typical 'ok, how are we going to break out of here?' prison break plotting. While this portion of the movie seems a little drawn out, there are some touching moments (like when Dengler's fellow captives wish him a happy birthday). The film really picks up once Dengler/Martin break off from their fellow escapees because they disagree about what to do now that they are roaming the Vietnamese jungle with only a couple of guns that they were able to steal during their escape. At that point Bale's performance really shows through as Dengler starts to break down mentally and emotionally.

Dengler manages to survive long enough to be rescued and returned to his aircraft carrier (with a little help from his old Air Force buddies) to a heroes welcome. A happy end to a terrible story, all based off of the actual events of Lt. Dengler's life.

*** 1/2 - Bale's and Zahn's performances are strong although it takes a while for them to really shine. It's also different to see a war based movie that focuses on the POW aspect more so than the war itself.


Review - Hitman

Hitman (2007), R, 100 minutes - You're probably thinking 'did he actually PAY to go see that?'. No, I didn't. And in my defense, I had no intention of checking this out until a free ticket came with the copy of Live Free or Die Hard that I bought.

Having never played any of the Hitman video games that the movie is based upon, I have no idea how closely the story line follows the source material but the movie version does gloss over quite a bit.

Timothy Olyphant plays Agent 47 who is an assassin for hire. He's an orphan and was raised to be a killer. The only explanation of his past given in the film is that he 'has no name, where I grew up they gave us numbers'. Which makes you think of a dozen questions that go unanswered throughout the rest of the film. One can only hope that this background information was covered in the games. This isn't like Jason Bourne in the Bourne movies, Agent 47 knows where he came from and why he does what he does.

Dougray Scott plays Mike Whittier, an agent tracking Agent 47 in relation to an untold number of murders, with the all too overdone 'I know him better than anyone else' MO. It's also his most memorable bit since Mission: Impossible II.

Outside of a lack of any character development this plays out as your typical action/shoot 'em up flick. Tons of gun fighting, some physical combat, and the ever present conspiracy. Outside of the rampant violence it earns it's R rating with quite a bit of language and a couple scenes with nudity (provided by Olga Kurylenko, which seems to be the only purpose for her inclusion in the film).

*** stars - It would have been nice to get a little more background info on Agent 47. How did he come to be raised by The Agency? Why was The Agency formed? Again, maybe I've missed information like this because I haven't played the game(s). If anyone knows fill me in a bit huh!?


Monday, November 26, 2007

Review - American Gangster

American Gangster (2007), R, 157 minutes - Both Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe give excellent performances in this film based on 1970's gangster Frank Lucas and the cop that eventually brought him to justice Richie Roberts.

Washington (as Lucas) gives his most dramatic performance since Training Day (for which he won Best Actor) and Crowe delivers an equally strong performance as a cop who is so by the book he has no friends in the department and is can't see the damage that his personal life is doing to his family.

The film starts off with a bang (literally and figuratively) when Lucas (before his rise to prominence) pours gas all over a man in the street and lights him on fire for not paying his boss. Long story short: Lucas' boss dies, leaving much of New York open to other 'up and coming' gangsters. Lucas gets the inside track on importing pure heroin from Vietnam, allowing him to sell a premium product for a much lower cost. He quickly rises to the top of the list in the gangster world without really showing up on the law enforcement radar. He's the people's man, giving back to and supporting the community that his product is tearing apart.

Crowe's Roberts plays it by the book at work (which doesn't get him much of anywhere in his department), but not so much in life and as a result finds his wife filing for divorce as well as a suit for custody of their son. His unwillingness to bend the rules on the job doesn't go unnoticed though as he is tasked with overseeing a new drug unit which he is allowed to build from scratch. He and his men start to seriously crack down on drug movement throughout the city and uncover not just Frank Lucas' organization, but also corruption among the ranks of the NY police.

**** 1/2 - This is the best film that I've seen this year, and it's garnering the strongest Oscar buzz up to this point. Not only are Denzel Washington's and Russell Crowe's parts great, but Josh Brolin (as crooked Detective Trupo) and Carla Gugino (Laurie Roberts) both add quality performances for their short times on screen. There's quite a bit of violence and language, but hey, what do you expect from a film titled 'American Gangster'!


Review - 1408

1408 (2007), PG-13, 104 minutes - Yet another movie based upon a Stephen King story, 1408 manages to be pretty griping and entertaining without any over the top gore or cheesy horror tactics.

John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, an author who writes about haunted hotels and ghost and the like while not really believing in any of it. He gets a tip on a 'new' place to check out for one of his books by postcard. It simply says 'do not stay in 1408' and is on a card depicting the Dolphin Hotel.

Enslin decides to check it out and faces resistance from the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson) who informs Enslin that there have been numerous deaths in room 1408 in the hotel's history and begs him not to stay there. Enslin gets his wish and the rest of the movie plays out showing his experiences in 1408.

I was quite pleased when it turned out that the 'it was all just a dream' ending that appeared to be used ended up not being the case. It was a nice little twist to add to the psychological drama that Enslin was going through.

*** 1/2 - Cusack is once again in a pretty entertaining film. If you like him, definitely check this out. If not, the story and the depiction of the happenings of a single hotel room carry this movie in their own right.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Review - Dan In Real Life

Dan In Real Life (2007), PG-13, 100 minutes - Two words: Steve Carell. Everything that guy does is entertaining and Dan In Real Life jumps to the top of his growing list of movies to check out.

Carell plays Dan, a widowed father of three that manages to fall in love with his younger brother's (Mitch, played by Dane Cook) girlfriend (Marie, played by Juliette Binoche) when she mistakes him for an employee at a local bookstore and asks for his help in finding a book.

Dan and the rest of the family officially meet Marie (to his surprise) and a family retreat turns into an event in which pretty much everything that could go wrong for Dan does. At first he and Marie play dumb, as if they had never met previously. They then turn to attempting to make the other jealous. This is a happy, family friendly movie so you can probably guess how it turns out, but I didn't tell you!

**** stars - The family/Marie/Dan interactions provide quite a bit of comedic relief but emotions shown between Dan and his daughters (his struggles with raising 3 daughters, their loving/hating him) throughout the film give it a lot more depth.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Review - Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone (2007), R, 114 minutes - Ben Affleck my take more than his fair share of crap for quite a few sub-par movies since bursting onto the film scene along with Matt Damon when they wrote Good Will Hunting, but let me tell you, he makes a pretty good leap into running things behind the camera with his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone.

Affleck stays 'at home' for his first turn behind the lens as he adapts a Dennis Lehane novel (author of Mystic River) about the kidnapping of a young girl and the ensuing search in Boston. Casting Hollywood mainstays like Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris doesn't hurt either. His brother (Casey Affleck) stars as Patrick Kenzie, a private investigator and acquaintance of the kidnapped girl's mother, who is hired by the girl's aunt to help with the investigation. The family figures that Patrick may be able to gather information from people in the neighborhood that the police would not be able to obtain from the tight lipped community known for protecting their own no matter what side of the law they fall on.

This is a well done mystery/thriller that takes 2 or 3 turns by the time it's done, each time causing you to look at the characters involved in a different light. There is a ton of explicit language (which starts about 2 minutes into the movie) but if you can get by that you will see quite a good flick.

**** stars - Ben Affleck's contributions to good (or at least decent) films (any Kevin Smith flick sans Jersey Girl, Hollywoodland, Smokin' Aces, Pearl Harbor) are far outweighed by the duds (Reindeer Games, Gigli, Paycheck) and his personal life , but hopefully he can build on the potential he shows with this film as a director to gain some positive recognition for the first time in quite a while. And remember, no matter what happens 'Affleck was THE BOMB in Phantoms!' so he's got that going for him.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Review - 30 Days of Night

30 Days of Night (2007), R, 113 minutes - Now anyone that knows me knows that despite being a total movie junkie, I'm really not big on the horror genre in general. Most times I totally bypass such films and on a rare occasion I'll check one out as a rental. I pretty much did a complete 180 as soon as I saw a trailer for 30 Days of Night. Vampire flicks seem to comprise the entire 5% of 'horror' films that I don't write off completely AND 30 Days of Night is based on a comic (and subsequent graphic novel) written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith.

I had always heard good things about the original source material but hadn't read any of it myself until two days ago. I was very impressed and as a result my anticpation for the film grew. That being said, I was quite pleased with the film adaptation of the story of Barrow, Alaska.

Barrow is the northernmost town on the North American continent and for 1 month each winter the townsfolk are surrounded by darkness as the sun goes down and doesn't rise for 30 days. As one can imagine, this just seems like heaven for those creatures of the night - vampires.

The town is quickly under siege by a very animalistic interpretation of the fictional creatures and the town sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his wife Stella (Melissa George) lead a small group trying to survive until the sun comes up.

There is quite a bit of violence and ALOT of blood. The vampire screeching gets a little old, but if you can get by that you will see one of the better vampire movies in recent years.

*** 1/2 - Showing a small group of people hide in various locations in a small town for 30 days in between vampire confrontations drags on a little bit and the screeching is pretty obnoxious after 2 hrs, BUT the faithfulness to the source material (that's what you get when the original author co-writes the screenplay) more than makes up for it in my book. The only glaring difference between the source material and the film is that Eben and Stella are not separated in the comic.

FYI - 30 Days of Night was originally a 3 issue series (which is all the movie covers) after which Niles and Templesmith added two 6 issue series (30 Days of Night: Dark Days and 30 days of Night: Return to Barrow). They are all quite good. If you're into comics at all and haven't read them, check them out.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Review - The Contract

The Contract (2006), R, 96 minutes - I'm not really sure how a movie with both John Cusack and Morgan Freeman came out in the past year and I didn't even know about it, but it happened.

Cusack's character (Ray Keene) and his son (Chris) go on a hike/camping trip for a father/son bonding after Chris is suspended from school for smoking weed. Ray's wife had also passed away from breast cancer a couple of years before and he and Chris had apparently grown apart over that time.

While on their hike, they come across Frank Cardin (Morgan Freeman) who is an ex-special ops agent and current assassin for hire and a dieing cop who had been trying to transfer Cardin from the hospital to a holding cell for his involvement in a previous crime. Ray and Chris take over the attempted transfer from the cop and find themselves the new target of Cardin's crew who are trying to break him out of custody so that they may pull off the job they've been hired for.

Ray does an admirable job of taking the cop's place. As it turns out, he used to be a cop himself. This is touched on once, and then Ray pulls off a couple of maneuvers that tip the scales in his favor. While this helps move the story along, it just seems a little coincidental that an ex-cop just happened to be the one to come across the ex-special ops agent as he's trying to escape from the authorities.

In the end, Ray and his son earn the respect of Cardin and even manage to foil Cardin's original attempt to take out his contracted target (but you'll be glad to know the film doesn't end right there, so I didn't give it away!).

*** stars - It's not the best crime thriller out there, the story struggles and is a bit hard to believe from time to time, but does manage to be entertaining even if Cusack seems a little out of place in this role. Freeman on the otherhand shows that he can play the bag guy just as well as the good.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Review - We Own The Night

We Own The Night (2007), R, 117 minutes - Unlike most other films coming out between now and Christmas (with the exception of 30 Days of Night coming out next week) I was really looking forward to this movie. The trailers gave it a The Departed-like crime/thriller feel while hyping all of the Oscar winners/nominees involved.

Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, and Robert Duvall play the two brothers and father respectively that the story revolves around. Wahlberg is the straightlaced son who follows in his fathers footsteps as a decorated police officer while Phoenix is the renegade son who manages a local club and enjoys all of the excesses that come along with such a position. Phoenix's club is owned by an old Russian whose nephew is a notorious drug runner. Wahlberg orchestrates an unsuccessful raid on the club to try and catch the nephew and is barely survives a murder attempt that is made by the Russians in retaliation.

Phoenix had previously turned down his brother's and father's request to help out their investigation, but feels a renewed sense of duty when he learns that the Russians were behind the hit on his brother. This is all made more complicated by the fact that Phoenix has pretty much disowned his family socially and lives under his mother's maiden name. No one knows that the targeted cops were his family.

It turns out that this doesn't quite measure up to The Departed (which did win Best Picture afterall), but it is probably the best crime/thriller to come out in the past year. Phoenix and Wahlberg give pretty good performances, especially Phoenix's emotional roller coaster. Eva Mendes co-stars as well (Phoenix's girlfriend) and delivers what may be her best performance to date.

*** 1/2 stars - We Own The Night doesn't take any time earning it's R rating as it opens with a pretty hot and heavy scene between Phoenix and Mendes. After the first half hour or so it slows down a bit while Wahlberg's character is recovering from his attack, but gets back on track when he gets out of the hospital and begins working with Phoenix to take down the Russians.


Monday, October 8, 2007

OK, so It's been a good 3 to 4 weeks since I've posted any reviews and even worse than that, in the last couple I posted I hinted at reviews to come. Not to make excuses, but work's been nuts, and my uncle is having health issues and is in the ICU at Roanoke Memorial, so let's just say that any down time I've had, I've been super lazy instead of screwing around on the internet. Anyway, here are those reviews I promised before I about fell off the face of the earth:

Review - Resident Evil: Extinction

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), R, 95 minutes - I'm sure you're thinking 'Why on earth did he go see that? Didn't he learn after the first 2???' Well yes, I did learn, but let me tell you, being bored on a weekend can be a powerful motivator for going to check out a movie even if it isn't going to be an award winner.

This 3rd installment to the Resident Evil franchise pretty much follows it's predecessor's. It's a decent attempt at a cross between a zombie/action flick but it's got some problems. Such as why bother bringing Mike Epps' character (arguably the most entertaining aspect of Resident Evil: Apocalypse) back only to have him killed off after maybe 10 minutes of screen time? Why bother casting someone like Ashanti only to kill her off after 5 minutes of screentime? Why cast Ali Larter (who has been known to be able to throw down - i.e. Heroes) to have her character do virtually nothing for the film? Oh yes, let's kill off Oded Fehr (that guy from RE: Apocalypse and the Mummy) as well.

If they wanted it to be all about Milla Jovavich they didn't need to waste the money on all of the other characters that really didn't do anything. Oh well. This definitely falls into the 'fun' or 'popcorn' movie category but it even lacks a little bit for me in that regard.

*** stars - If you've seen the first two this might be worth checking out. If not, don't bother, the story picks up after the first two films and wouldn't make much sense by itself.


Review - The Kingdom

The Kingdom (2007), R, 110 minutes - Entertainment Weekly pretty much bashed this in it's review a week ago, but I have to disagree with their reviewer. It may not be the deepest movie ever and may not have the most politically correct characters, but I think it does a pretty good job of capturing how many people feel about relations between the United States and Iraq.

The opening credits themselves do a very good job of laying out a timeline of international relations between the two countries which quickly segways into a softball game being played at a housing complex inhabited by Americans. A suicide bomber takes out the game and leaves quite a hefty crater in his wake. Later as the crime scene is being worked on and the few injured that actually survived are being attended to, a second bomb (this time in an ambulance) goes off creating more destruction.

Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman comprise an FBI task force sent to Iraq to help determine who orchestrated the attacks. While they are allowed to be on Iraqi soil, they run into quite a bit of resistance as far as actually trying to solve the crime. The story unfolds, they gain the trust of a couple of Iraqi military police and make progress.

There's quite a bit of action late in the film as Bateman's character is abducted and the rest of the group takes off in pursuit. There are no major plot twists here, but I don't want to give away the end of the film. I will say this however: the last words of the film are pretty powerful, both in how they sum up the initial feeling to such devastation and in how true those feelings may be no matter how much we'd all like to believe that we're above them.

*** 1/2 stars - There's not a whole lot out in theaters right now, so this is definitely the movie to see at the moment.


Review - The Lookout

The Lookout (2007), R, 99 minutes - When trailers first came out for this, I couldn't help but thinking 'how can the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) be the lead in a crime thriller!?!?'. I really didn't have any intention of checking this out mainly because I just couldn't come up with an answer to that question. Well, Ed Brubaker (the spectacular writer on such mainstream comics as Daredevil, Captain America, Immortal Iron Fist, and Uncanny X-Men, as well as his creator owned title Criminal) posted a blog a month or two ago in which he ranted and raved about this flick and how it was just a great crime story. Let's just say that intrigued me more than a bit.

Gordon-Levitt plays a kid named Chris Pratt, star high school hockey player who has the world in his hands. Pratt is behind the wheel of a horrific car wreck in which two of his friends are killed, another severely injured and in which his memory and some brain functions are permanently damaged. Long story short, he falls into the wrong crowd post-wreck and finds himself in the middle of a plot to rob the bank he works at. He struggles with accepting the results of the crash and as a result with how he fits in with his friends and family.

The story is really well done and to my surprise Gordon-Levitt does quite well in his lead role. Jeff Daniels, Bruce McGill, Isla Fisher, and Carla Gugino co-star.

**** stars - I was quite surprised by this, just shows what happens when you write off a film because someone doesn't seem to fit into a role at first glance.


Review - 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

3:10 to Yuma (1957), NR, 92 minutes - This is the film that the newly released 3:10 to Yuma (see previous blog for review) is based upon. There was no listed rating although I'd give it a PG because of what little shoot 'em up old school western type violence there is.

Considering that this film is 50 years old, it is still fairly entertaining. The new 3:10 to Yuma definitely explores the characters and their pasts in more depth, but this version definitely shows the psychological battle between Ben Wade and Dan Evans quite well.

Glenn Ford plays Ben Wade, who runs through this movie entirely on reputation (whereas Russell Crowe's Ben Wade gets his hands dirty), and Van Heflin plays Dan Evans who appears to be a bit older than Christian Bale's version and who does not have a prosthetic leg.

*** 1/3 stars - If you've seen the new 3:10 to Yuma and are interested to see the basis behind the remake, I would suggest giving this a shot. Otherwise, you may not be very intrigued unless you're a big fan of old school westerns. There's less action than the new film and it's a little slower, but the same basic story is there and for a movie made 50 years ago, holds it's own.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Review - 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

3:10 To Yuma (2007), R, 117 minutes - If there's a genre that is about dead in this day and age of huge blockbuster movies, it's definitely the western. That being the case, I was really excited when I first saw the trailer for this film starring two of my most favorite recent actors (Russell Crowe and Christian Bale).

Crowe plays the notorious outlaw Ben Wade and Bale plays a rancher (Dan Evans) who is having a hard time supporting his family. Evans and his sons witness Wade and his gang's robbing of a stage coach as they try to round up their heard of cattle that has gotten loose (part of Wade's crew's heist). After Wade has been captured, Evans offers to help escort him to the nearest railroad station to put the criminal on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison for $200 (which will allow him to pay his debts and purchase seed for crops).

Evans lost his leg during the Civil War and has to prove to his wife and two kids on a daily basis that he can still support the family. During the journey to the train, Wade and Evans partake in a physical and psychological battle. They both envy the other in one way or another despite Evans' not wanting to admit it.

Ben Foster gives possibly his best performance (at least that I've seen) to date as Ben Wade's crazy second in command. There is also an odd appearance by Luke Wilson and other familiar faces include Peter Fonda, Vinessa Shaw, Gretchen Mol, Alan Tudyk, and Logan Lerman.

There is plenty of wild west shoot out action and the story has a nice twist at the end. Crowe and Bale play off of each other very well. All in all this is an excellent new installment to the western genre and will hopefully show that it is still possible to make such a film.

**** 1/2 stars - I saw this over the weekend with my parents in SC while I was visiting. They very rarely go out of their way to go to the theater for a movie but were very interested in checking 3:10 to Yuma out. They generally like westerns (albeit good ole fashioned Clint Eastwood ones) and they both agreed that this was quite good. This is a remake of 1957's original 3:10 to Yuma (which I will be getting from NetFlix later this week). It's also another flick that will be added to my collection as soon as it gets a DVD release.


Review - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), R, 103 minutes - After reading Ed Brubaker's (yeah, THE MAN that writes Daredevil, Captain America, Immortal Iron Fist, and Criminal among other things) blog one day a couple weeks ago in which he suggested checking out the film The Lookout (because he thought it was the best film since this) I decided to add both of them to my NetFlix queue.

Let's just say I'm glad I did. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a unique blend of comedy and criminal thriller in which Robert Downey Jr plays a small time crook named Harry who (due to a series of unforeseen events) is thought to be an up and coming actor and is taken under Val Kilmer's private investigator's (Gay Perry) wing. Downey Jr's child hood crush, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) is thrown in the mix and the next thing he knows, Harry is trying to solve the case of Harmony's sister's death.

The entire movie is is narrated by Downey Jr's character Harry, complete with internal monologue (often times making comments that the viewer would be thinking themselves) which is both quite funny and very similar to reading through an issue of Cable/Deadpool.

There's quite a bit of language, so it's not a movie to watch with the kids, but it is a VERY entertaining film. Val Kilmer's role as Gay Perry is one of his better turns in a movie.

**** stars - I will be adding this to my DVD collection as soon as possible. The crime story is very well done and quite humorous to boot. If you like comedies or crime films this is a must see! (Oh yeah, I've got The Lookout from NetFlix right now so I'll have a review of it up soon)


Review - Spy Game

Spy Game (2001), R, 126 minutes - This action/drama/thriller starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt focuses on the CIA and an internal meeting that they hold to determine whether or not they are going to take responsibility for an agent (Pitt) being caught in the act of espionage in China. Redford plays the ranking agent who worked as Pitt's handler for years.

The gist of the meeting is the powers that be in the CIA are looking for any reason to hang Pitt out to dry as he was not on a legitimate op when he was captured. The interview Redford extensively in their pursuit of this information. I know, I know, it doesn't sound terribly exciting, but it is broken up well with flashbacks showing quite a bit of Redford and Pitt's working history.

Redford shows (that despite it being his last day on the job before retirement) he is on the top of his game as he orchestrates a rescue mission behind everyone's backs while being interviewed and under heavy surveillance.

**** stars - I'm a little biased because I really like spy thrillers like this, but watching Redford put everything together unbeknownst to those who were trying to use him as a pawn is pretty entertaining.


Review - Disturbia

Disturbia (2007), PG-13, 105 minutes - This came out at the beginning of the summer and got Shia LaBeouf quite a bit of hype as a new go to leading man (even before Transformers came out).

LaBeouf plays Kale, a teenager who is placed under house arrest after punching a teacher who makes a below the belt comment about the death of Kale's father (who died in a horrific accident that opens the film). From that point on the film takes a very 'Rear Window' type feel as Kale takes up watching every little thing his neighbors do as a hobby to entertain himself.

As a result he meets and falls for the new girl next door, Ashley (played by Sarah Roemer), who ends up getting in on the spying action for a lack of anything better to do. They quickly see events that lead them to believe their neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse) is a serial killer they have heard about from Texas. They get jumpy as false alarms and paranoia set in before the final altercation with Mr Turner.

**** stars - Disturbia definitely has the Rear Window feel to it but also keeps the same basic type of story fresh with technological updates and LaBeouf who has the personality that just makes you like his characters no matter what.


Review - Fracture

Fracture (2007), R, 113 minutes - This is a legal thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. Gosling plays a young prosecutor with an impeccable conviction record who goes up against Hopkins' wife killing defendant in a psychological battle in the courtroom.

Gosling takes the case as his last assignment working for the state before taking a nice plush job working for a big time firm. Hopkins represents himself in court against Gosling after murdering his wife who was cheating on him. Hopkins commits about the perfect murder and Gosling is about driven insane by the lack of usable evidence against him.

I can't get into it too much more without giving bits away so I'll just say this: Fracture is a pretty good legal/psychological thriller. If you like movies in these genres or if you like Hopkins or Gosling, definitely check this out.

**** stars - Hopkins and Gosling play their characters well. Throw in a little bit of Rosamund Pike and you've got a winner on most fronts.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Review - The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), PG-13, 104 minutes - So here's another older flick that I took in over the last week. When I first saw trailers for this in theaters I thought 'oh geez, why are they continuing with this franchise, the sequel SUCKED!?'. Well my curiousity was piqued when Chris Martin pulled it out to show me how his sound system is working after getting his living room put back together (which is a whole other story that he can tell you!).

Anyway, oddly enough, this was a decently entertaining movie. Lucas Black (that's right, the boy from Slingblade and Friday Night Lights) plays the main character, an American teenager who is sent to Japan to live with his father after he screws up one too many times with the law in the states. A big fan of car racing (the source of his problems stateside), he is introduced to a whole new kind of racing in Japan called drifting. He promptly talks his way into a race with the best of the best, gets smoked, and totally wrecks the care that was loaned to him for the race. He then builds a friendship with the guy that loaned him the car (Sung Kang - seen more recently in Live Free or Die Hard, and War) as he works for him to pay off the debt.

As you might expect, the film builds towards one winner take all race - surprise, surprise, who would have seen that one coming? Despite the fact that it's a bit predictable, it manages to stay fairly entertaining and the last 3 minutes ties it back into the original film with a cameo by Vin Diesel. That in itself made it vastly superior to 2 Fast 2 Furious which went completely off track and followed Paul Wilson's former cop instead of Diesel's character who is the one you always wondered what happened to.

*** stars - nothing spectacular here, but much better than the sequel. Oddly enough, with the 3 minutes that Vin Deisel was back in the story, you almost hope they make a 4th to explore what his character has been through.


Review - Enduring Love

Enduring Love (R), 2004, 100 minutes - I saw a trailer for this a few weeks ago when I was checking out another Daniel Craig flick (Renaissance) through NetFlix. I've liked everything I've seen Daniel Craig in so I decided to check it out.

Craig's character has his proposal attempt interrupted by a freak hot air balloon accident. He and 4 other men who witness the crashing balloon run to the aid of the pilot and his son. One of the other men hangs on longer than the rest and is carried high in the air before finally losing his grip and falling to his death.

After these traumatic events, Craig's character can't help but shake the feeling that things may have been different had he been able to hold on longer. Another one of the men who tried to help (Rhys Ifans - the kicker from The Replacements) tracks him down wanting to talk about the events that they were involved in.

From there the film explores the odd relationship that builds between the two men and the damage that it and Craig's obsessiveness over the accident causes to his relationship with his would be fiance.

Bill Nighy also co-stars as a mutual friend of Craig's and his girlfriend (Samantha Morton).

*** stars - Quite an odd story line from start to finish, but Daniel Craig gives a pretty good performance in the film he made just before Layer Cake (the film that earned him the nod as the next Bond).


Review - Bobby

Bobby (2006), R, 120 minutes - Despite the fact that this movie has many big names and recognizable faces (Harry Belafonte, Nick Cannon, Emilio Estevez, Laurence Fishburn, Brian Geraghty, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Joshua Jackson, David Krumholtz, Ashton Kutcher, Shia LeBouf, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, Jacob Vargas, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Elijah Wood), it just doesn't seem to live up to it's potential.

This is another film that shows how the lives and stories of many different people all meet around a single event (a la Crash or Babel). The main event that ties everyone together is what is expected to be the victory celebration for Robert F. Kennedy's presidential nomination. The problem, is that unlike either of the other two films I mentioned, there is very little connection between any of the characters/groups of characters until the climactic scene when many of them are caught up in (and injured) in the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

The first hour and a half seems to drag on. I have a hard time seeing how it's important to show Shia LeBouf and Brian Geraghty hook up with Ashton Kutcher's hippy character and drop acid instead of campaigning for Kennedy all day. I'm also not really sure why it was important to show so much of the falling apart marriage that brought Demi Moore's and Emilio Estevez's characters into the film.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a BAD film, it just didn't meet expectations. It seemed to me like Emilio Estevez (who also directed) called up a bunch of Hollywood friends and they all decided to make a movie with their pal...which wouldn't be so bad if they hadn't tried to tackle such a topic.

*** stars - I had heard many good things about this, so maybe my expectations were too high. I'm glad I had to wait and check it out through NetFlix instead of dropping $8 to see it in the theater.


Review - War

War (2007), R, 103 minutes - Here we go, a new movie for me to review! After seeing the trailer for this new Jet Li/Jason Statham action flick I decided to take a flier on it and checked it out Friday night upon it's release.

I figured it would be your typical Jason Statham action flick - good fun, but nothing too serious. I also wasn't sure what to think about Jet Li's involvement because it had been said that Fearless was his last martial arts film. What does a martial artist bring to the table if he's not making a martial arts film?

Let's just say I was pleasantly surprised. Li plays a rogue assassin that goes by the name of 'Rogue'. He used to work for the United States government, then went rogue and became a freelance assassin. Statham plays an FBI agent whose partner (and family) is killed by Rogue. Statham picks up his trail three years later when he is back in the area cleaning out both Japanese Triads and Yakuza - playing them both against each other.

Despite not making another 'martial arts film' Li gets in some good hand to hand combat (mostly sword fights) and wields guns like it's nobody's business (which is a little weird coming from a guy whose characters often times refuse to use guns). Statham gives another solid action performance in his portrayal of a man who loses not only his best friend but also his family as a result of his job and his obsession in finding Rogue.

I was admittedly way off base when asked Friday evening at the usual pizza night what I had planned: 'Going to check out what looks to be a good ole' fun shoot 'em up action flick...probably not much in the way of a plot'. There's a pretty good story line to this that I don't even want to begin to ruin. What I will tell you is that the twist in the last 10 minutes is pretty good.

*** 1/2 stars - I'm taking my bias (being a Jason Statham fan since Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) into consideration here and going with 3 1/2 stars. Good action flick, with a better than expected story. Worth checking out...definitely worth checking out if you like either Li or Statham.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Review - The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), PG-13, 111 minutes - OK, so I've been slacking this week and haven't posted any new reviews. I've seen 2-3 movies over the past week and a half or so and the only one really worth going on about was The Bourne Ultimatum.

I've been a huge fan of this franchise since the first Bourne film (The Bourne Identity) dropped back in 2002. The most amazing thing about this franchise is that it actually gets better with each new installment. This is the third (and potentially final) film in the series that is based off of three novels by Robert Ludlum. I actually haven't read these novels (yet), but I've read that the books and the movies vary a bit with the one constant being the same use of titles.

In any event The Bourne Ultimatum manages to complete the major plot points introduced and carried out through the first two films. It also manages to leave one or two points that could potentially be explored should they decide to continue the franchise (Ludlum wrote only 3 Bourne books, but a fourth book was written by another auther after Ludlum's death).

Matt Damon shows his versatility as he comes off of playing an absolute dick that you despise (The Departed), and being the punchline (Ocean's 13), to reprise his role as Jason Bourne - a secret agent who has no recollection of his past or who he truly is - a character that you can't help but root for as he beats, maims, and kills his way towards the truth about his past. Joan Allen, David Strathairn, and Julia Stiles lend some more star power to this installment, continuing the Bourne tradition of strong casts. Stiles' character (Nicky) actually lends some depth to the plot for the first time in the series instead of just being another big name on the bill.

For the sole fact that I'm a big fan of movies staying true to the source material, I wouldn't mind seeing this franchise come to an end here (even if the stories vary from book to screen). At least then it can still be considered 'based upon the series'. While there were one or two points left open, I'm not sure they are enough to explore another film. I also have no idea how the 4th Bourne novel compares to the original three, having been written by a different author. That makes me a little leery of potentially basing a 4th film on it (as of now, neither Damon or the director of the second two films - Paul Greengrass - have been in talks about continuing the franchise). One this is true: IF they should make a 4th Bourne film, Damon HAS to reprise his role, and Greengrass HAS to direct. It just wouldn't work otherwise.

**** 1/2 - One warning: if you haven't seen the first two Bourne movies (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy), do yourself a favor and watch them before this. If you don't YOU WILL BE LOST! If you have seen the first two, do yourself a favor and check this one out! Greengrass proves he's the best there is these days at directing action flicks. It's almost too bad that it came out so late in the summer when people stop hitting the movies so much.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Review - Zodiac

Zodiac (2007), R, 158 minutes - This is a movie that I wanted to check out in the theaters but I missed. It's a look into a still unsolved serial killer case from California in 1969. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards (with hair...GOOSE RETURNS!!!), Robert Downey, Jr, Bryan Cox, and John Carroll Lynch (Drew Carey's brother on his show) are the most recognizable faces in a cast that brings this murder mystery to life.

The film does an excellent job of portraying the wild goose chase that the cops and local papers were sent on throughout the years in their attempt to solve the case. Gyllenhaal is very entertaining as the quiet paper cartoonist who becomes totally absorbed in trying to figure out just who the Zodiac is. Downey, Jr plays the paper's crime reporter who is constantly drunk or high and eventually loses his job because he can't let go of the case (if anyone thought he may not be the right choice to play Tony Stark in the Iron Man film would be proven wrong after this performance - Stark has a history of alcoholism for those not into comics).

**** stars - If you enjoy thrillers or mysteries, this is right up your alley. It's pretty long (a little over 2 1/2 hrs) but it holds your attention throughout.


Review - Renaissance

Renaissance (2006), R, 105 minutes - I decided to check this out after randomly coming across it under Daniel Craig's filmography sometime after Casino Royale came out this past winter. It was finally released on DVD so NetFlix just got around to sending it to me.

This is an animated black and white film set in Paris in the year 2054. Daniel Craig voices the lead character, a cop who is trying to solve an abduction case. The case quickly develops into something much deeper than a simple abduction. The possibility of a genetic blueprint to immortality is thrown in the mix as well.

The black and white nature of the flick makes it a little difficult to keep characters straight at first, but it's a pretty interesting looking film and the story takes a couple twists that makes it enjoyable. Jonathan Pryce and Ian Holm also add recognizable voices to characters.

**** stars


Review - The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie (2007), PG-13, 87 minutes - After becoming the longest continually running animated show in TV history, the Simpsons finally made it the big screen this summer. They also pulled of a plot that could only be pulled off by Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie, and the rest of Springfield's cast of regulars.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) drops a dome around Springfield effectively cutting it off from the rest of the world in order to keep it's overflowing amount of pollution from spilling into surrounding areas. This is all after Homer dumps his homemade silo of pig crap into Lake Springfield pushing the already polluted waters to mutatingly toxic levels.

The movie pokes fun at the government (both current and past), Homer gets a pet pig (if you don't know this from commercials by now, you live in a freakin' cave), Bart is arrested for skateboarding in the nude, they run a 'bottom line' hyping a Fox tv show for the fall, and on top of all of that Bart wishes his father was more like Flanders!

**** stars - I've never been a huge Simpsons fan (although it's always good for a few laughs), I wasn't sure if this would translate well into a feature length film. It's highly entertaining throughout with many memorable lines. If you like the Simpsons, or just like a movie to laugh at and not take too seriously, you have to check this out.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Review - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), PG-13, 138 minutes - Another film in which I broke my personal rule of trying to read the novel before seeing the movie. In this case I figure it's the 5th movie based on a series of 7 books - none of which I have read yet - and I didn't plan on reading 5 books to catch up since I've already seen the first 4 movies. All that being said, and having absolutely no clue how it compares to the source material, I was pretty entertained.

This 5th installment in the Harry Potter franchise is the darkest yet and does a good job of showing just how far 'young' Harry Potter has come since his first year at Hogwart's. He takes on more of a leadership role for the student body while still struggling to determine just why the link between he and Lord Voldemort is so important. He gets a little lovin' (first kiss with Cho) and looses a very close friend (who just happens to be one of my favorite characters from the films).

Because it is just the 5th film in a series of 7 there are plenty of plot lines left open. One of which I really hope is touched on again in the next film - the relationship between Harry and Cho - as it was just left up in the air. They show that Cho's betrayal of Harry's underground teachings were the result of heavy interrogation from Delores Umbridge (played by Imelda Staunton - and quite possibly one of the most annoying and aggravatingly evil villains I've seen), but they never show any exchange between Harry and Cho after that point.

The ENTIRE cast returned in their usual roles Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint all look drastically older than they did in the original, but what can we expect? They're playing the same characters in 7 movies when it's all said and done over a 9 year stretch (the final movie is slated for 2010). In all honesty, they look closer to hardened 5 year students now than they did doe-eyed newbies back in the first film (looking back they all look a bit young in that film to me).

**** stars - Very entertaining. As Michael told me earlier this evening it sometimes it feels like a two and a half our long trailer for the next movie, but I think it would be pretty tough not to since the world knows the story doesn't end here.

I've inherited hardcover editions of the first 5 books and will be able to steal the final two from my sister and mom (once the 7th comes out in a week), so I am looking forward to FINALLY reading the books and no longer being about the only person on the face of the Earth who hasn't gotten through them.


Review - United 93

United 93 (2006), R, 111 minutes - When I had first seen trailers for both this and 'World Trade Center' I really wasn't sure if I was ready to sit through a movie that tackled the most devastating terrorist attach on our country. September 11, 2001 wasn't but 5 years removed when both of these films hit the big screen.

After hearing many good things about World Trade Center I broke down and saw it in the theater, but I missed United 93. While World Trade Center was an emotional look into the lives of those who fought the fires and destruction to save others, I feel that United 93 is a more impactful film.

United 93 takes place almost in real time - almost - from when passengers boarded the flight to when the passengers overtook the flight's hijackers and gave their lives as the plane crashed no where near it's intended target - the capital building.

I added this to my NetFlix queue after it was nominated for two Oscars (best achievement in directing and best achievement in editing) and I'm glad I did. It really does an excellent job of portraying the chaos and emotion that I can only imagine took place.

**** stars - The scene in which the passengers are calling their loved ones to say goodbye is very moving and the passengers bum rushing the hijackers gave me goosebumps. This may not be a film for everyone, but if you think you can stomach the subject matter, check it out it's VERY well done.


Review - Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia (2007), PG, 95 minutes - This was a little different than I expected although I suppose that's what I get for not reading the source material (the original novel) in the first place.

Based on a book by Katherine Paterson, this is a movie that plays on the importance of imagination. I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't seen the movie or read the book so I will just say that although I thought that the film was definitely geared towards a younger viewer base, the 'twist' towards the end was pretty good. I've been informed that had one read the book this significance of the twist is diminished - but then again that's what happens when you already know the story line.

*** stars - It's fairly entertaining and a different twist on the fantasy element. Most fantasy films these days are based entirely (or mostly) in a fictitious universe whereas Bridge to Terabithia takes place wholly on Earth and the imaginations of the two main characters.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Review - Ratatouille

Ratatouille (2007), G, 110 minutes - Disney and Pixar put out yet another computer animated gem with Ratatouille. What happens when a rat develops a better than average taste for food? He uses the just hired trash boy as a vessel for his cooking skills! That just hired trash boy also just happens to be the sole heir to a world famous French chef who left the restaurant unbeknownst to the boy in his will.

Like all other Disney/Pixar collaborations the story unfolds in a very funny and entertaining way. Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Peter O'Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, and Will Arnett provide the voice work for the variety of characters (both human and rodent).

After blowing out the Transformers review I'm keeping this one short and sweet. Ratatouille is a fun, family friendly flick and holding true to Pixar form, starts off with an entertaining animated short. This time around it's about alien abductions.

**** stars - The computer animation looked as gorgeous as ever...Pixar again shows why they put out the best computer animated flicks in the business.


Review - Transformers

Transformers (2007), PG-13, 144 minutes - First of all let me start by saying this is the movie I've been waiting for them to make since I was about 5 years old. Because of that I was very wary of the news that they were making a live action Transformers movie when I first heard confirmed reports a couple of years ago. This is a movie that was just begging to be made, especially in this day and age with the spectacular effects that can be pulled off.

My excitement level has risen and fallen as new information was released over the past year:
- Peter Cullen was going to retain his role as Optimus Prime! (excited)
- Bumblebee wasn't going to be a VW Bug!? (not so much)
- The Witwicky's would play a major role, but not Sparkplug or Spike. (not so much)
- Jazz (my personal all time favorite Transformer) would in fact be in the film. (excited)
- Michael Bay was going to direct (he just blows stuff up!). (somewhat excited, kind of leery)
- The old school transforming sound was actually used when Autobots transformed! (absolutely geeked out)

That being said, despite my colossal expectations for this film, I thoroughly enjoyed it and there's a good chance that by the end of this holiday (Happy 4th!) I will end up seeing it a second time.

The basic plot is not dissimilar from any other incarnation of Transformers over the last 20 years: the battle for power between the Autobots and Decepticons has spread from their home planet of Cybertron to present day Earth. This brings me to the lack of Sparkplug or Spike Witwicky. The Witwicky in the movie is Sam (Shia LaBeouf) and his Grandfather discovered a frozen Megatron in the arctic circle that has since been covered up by the government. Megatron had followed the trail of the 'all spark' (the source of life and power for all things Transformers) to Earth before crashing and freezing in the arctic. Back to present day as both the Autobots and Decepticons have tracked the 'all-spark' to Earth and have descended upon the planet to recover it.

As you might expect, Michael Bay delivers plenty of action and blows up a TON of stuff. The story (while being another variation of the Autobot/Decepticon good vs evil thing) was well done I thought and the dialogue has highly entertaining. Especially LaBeouf, he played the nerdy, overlooked, 'just want to impress the hot chic' role very well. Speaking of the hot chic...Megan Fox plays Mikaela Banes, who knows more about cars and how they work than most guys twice her age...and oh yeah, did I mention she's hot? Sam's introduction to Bumblebee and the Autobots is brought on by his buying his first car because he wants to impress the ladies.

So let's recap:
- Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime - FREAKIN' SWEET - if it had been anyone else, I may not have bothered to see this. Ok we all know that was a lie, but I guarantee I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much. Also in a tip of the cap to the original Transformers movie from 1986, Prime uses an energy sword/axe in battle AND drops his most classic line from that movie! (If you don't know what it is, you're not a real Transformers fan)
- Bumblebee is a Camaro and not a VW Bug - At first this bugged me (no pun intended). But the way they worked it into the film was pretty good. There was a old run down yellow bug next to the Camaro at Bernie Mac's used car lot and there was a bee shaped air freshener hanging from Bumblebee's rearview mirror that said 'bee-otch'. Also the change to the new model from an old clunker when Mikaela made a comment about Bumblebee being a run down old car was funny.
- No Sparkplug or Spike - Despite leaving out the two most famous humans from Transformers continuity, they at least kept the title of Autobot sidekick in the Witwicky family.
- Jazz - I LOVED his first speaking line 'What's crackin' little bitches!?' - It just screamed old Scatman Crothers-voiced Jazz. Still bummed that the didn't make him a Porsche, but the Pontiac Solstice looked good too (and at least they got a Porsche dealership in the film when Sam and his dad went car shopping)
- Michael Bay directs - turns out he was probably the only guy that could have brought the larger than life Transformers to the big screen they way they should have. And oh yeah, he still blew up alot of stuff with some sweet effects.
- The old school transforming sound - It really made it into the movie!!! I heard it in one of the later trailers but wondered if it wasn't just a teaser to sway more lifetime Transformer nerds like myself to shell out a few bucks to see the film. It wasn't...it was really there!

There was a fairly long list of recognizeable (if not big name) actors included even if they only had a few minutes on screen. Jon Voight was the Defense Secretary, John Turturro was a 'Section 7' special agent, Bernie Mac sold Sam Bumblebee, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and Amaury Nolasco (Sucre from Prison Break) were Air Force troops, Anthony Anderson was a computer hacker who lived with his grandmother, and Hugo Weaving voiced Megatron.

The soundtrack isn't too bad either, they worked in new Linkin Park, Smashing Pumpkins, and Disturbed, along with a few other songs that were great because of the timing of their use (Bumblebee's radio when Sam is first hitting on Mikaela).

All in all, I had a great time checking this out (me and 18 others - our group got a little out of hand)! This is a definite 'must see' this summer. If a Transformers 'die hard' like myself was impressed, how could you not be???

***** stars - OK, so in reality - story-wise or visually - this is probably just a 4 star flick, BUT since I've been waiting sooooo long for such a film to be made AND it turned out pretty darn good, I'm going to go ahead and stretch it a bit to a full 5.


Monday, July 2, 2007

Review - Breach

Breach (2007), PG-13, 110 minutes - Yet another flick that I wanted to catch ever since I saw the first trailer, but missed it in the theater. NetFlix got this to me the other day and it will most likely be added to my collection in the not too distant future.

Between Breach (based on a true story) and The Good Shepherd, the espionage genre is alive and well. Chris Cooper gives a great performance as Robert Hanssen who was the most devastating spy in US history.

I used to joke that the whole Ryan Phillipe/Reese Witherspoon split was because Phillipe couldn't stomach being the lesser known of the two in the movie industry. While Witherspoon has an Oscar for Walk the Line, Phillipe has had very strong performances in Crash, Flags of our Fathers and now in Breach so I'll have to lay off of him a bit.

Phillipe's Eric O'Neill is tasked with working for Hanssen, essentially becoming his shadow, taking notes on everything he did. The movie focuses more on the relationships between characters and how they play out than on acts of espionage or action and this is where it gains it's strength. The fact that O'Neill was able to keep the wool pulled over Hanssen's eyes is unbelievable when you see and hear how he speaks about the business of working for the FBI. It's just as unbelievable that Hanssen could be the biggest spy in US history by the way he carried on in his personal life.

**** stars - The bonus feature that re-runs an old news story about Hanssen's bust is also very interesting. It's quite early in the new year of movies, but Chris Cooper should get some support for Best Actor by the academy, it really is a strong if not creepy performance.


Review - Shooter

Shooter (2007), R, 124 minutes - By now I probably shouldn't doubt Mark Wahlberg's ability to churn out an entertaining movie. Whether he is a secondary character (nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar for The Departed) or as a lead (The Italian Job, Four Brothers), he may not always be in a blockbuster, but they always end up entertaining. Shooter is no different.

This has a very 'Bourne' feel to it as Wahlberg's Bob lee Swagger is a former military sniper who is hung out to dry on a covert mission and left for dead. He survives and disappears to the middle of nowhere until Danny Glover's Colonel Johnson seeks him out to help with a new operation. Supposedly there is going to be an attempt on the President's life and only someone of Swagger's skill can make the shot. Johnson asks Swagger to mock up a plan for how he would do it so that they can make their best attempt at stopping the shooter. Turns out that Johnson and his crew use the plan to assassinate a foreign diplomat and frame Swagger for the kill. The rest of the movie unfolds as Swagger tries to prove his innocence with the help of his former spotter's wife and a low ranking FBI agent.

I actually got a HUGE laugh when one of the locations popped up on the screen as Athens, Tennessee. For those of you who don't know, that's where the high school I graduated from is (in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE - an hour south of Knoxville and an hour north of Chattanooga). As he and his FBI agent sidekick (played by Michael Pena) pull into Athens, Wahlberg says 'Welcome to Tennessee, patron state of shooting stuff' (it's funny because it's true!!!). They were there to consult a gun and ammunitions expert who was a little out of it in his own right. Anyway, the scene and comment hit close to home and I found it very entertaining.

*** 1/2 stars - Not the most original story, but it was done quite well. Good old Marky Mark turned in another entertaining performance and some of the shots made are absolutely insane. The bonus 'making of' feature is pretty cool as it shows how Wahlberg went through training with a real sniper and they explained how those shots are all physically possible (for any of you doubters).


Review - Live Free or Die Hard

Live Free or Die Hard (2007), PG-13, 130 minutes - I've been psyched for this since I read (about 3 yrs ago) that Bruce Willis had agreed to do it in exchange for the rights to the name 'Tears of the Sun' (which is another good Willis flick in it's own right). I was almost expecting to be let down if only because I had been getting so geeked up for it. Well, it didn't disappoint!

They did a great job of keeping this Die Hard story in continuity with the other 3 films. It takes place in the present day (19 years after the first Die Hard), and John McClain's daughter is now a 20-something who has inherited a disdain for her father from her mother (more on her in a bit).

The plot revolves around our country's dependence on computers and technology. A cyber-terrorist sets off a chain of events called a 'fire sale' in which the stability of the country is destroyed by the shutting down of electrical, financial, and emergency systems. Willis's McClain character is an old school throwback who admittedly doesn't understand all of the high tech mumbo jumbo going on. That's where former 'Ed' lackey, 'Dodgeball' lovesick ex-cheerleader, and current face of the 'Mac' Justin Long comes in. Long provides quite a bit of humor as he usually does, but also plays the helpful sidekick role.

Lucy McClane (John's daughter) - who was last seen way back in the original Die Hard is now grown up and has a lot more in common with her father than she may care to admit. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Grindhouse), she's a tough one and a fighter just like her dad and even tells Justin Long's character to 'grow a bigger set because we're going to need them' as they are being held by Timothy Olyphant's whacked out former government programmer.

**** stars - The story is good, the action is constant (yeah the plane scene towards the end is a little over the top, but blowing up a helicopter with a car...SWEET!!!!), and continuity is kept. Bruce Willis may be older, but he did a great job of bringing John McClain back to life...and he even managed to sneak in a 'Yippee Ki Yay Mother...!'. Oh yeah, I almost forgot - the Kevin Smith cameo as 'Warlock' the computer nerd's nerd was great!


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Review - Surf's Up

Surf's Up (2007), PG, 85 minutes - I got a little bored this afternoon and ran down to the good 'ole cheapy Salem Valley 8 to check this out. I guess this is the second animated penquin movie in the last year or so although I never saw Happy Feet.

It's a basic kid (Cody Maverick - voiced by Shia LaBeouf) has dreams of getting away from home and making it big doing something that everyone around him makes fun of him for (in this case escaping 'Shiverpool' Antarctica by becoming a famous surfer). Lo and behold, a scout stops by and despite not having any waves to ride to prove his worth, he is allowed to make the trip to the big tournament because of his determination.

On the journey, Cody meets another outcast making the trip to the tournament by the name of Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) from Sheboygan and they strike up quite an odd friendship.

The tournament they are going to is a memorial tournament held each year in honor of Cody's idol Big Z (Jeff Bridges). Big Z was the best there was until he got beat in a tournament by a new hot shot named Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader). Everyone thought Z had died in a wipe out but it turns out he just went into hiding on the other side of the island (Penguins living in the jungle!?!?!? - yeah, I know it's an unrealistic animated flick, but that's still weird). Evans is the hotshot who's in the sport for the fame and Cody instantly develops a rivalry with him. As a result he forgets the basics behind all sports - they're fun - and begins to worry too much about scoring/winning.

After Cody learns that the washed up old bum that helped him after he wrecked is his idol he slowly begins to realize that he lost sight of why he started surfing to begin with - for the love and joy of it.

*** 1/2 stars - It's not a groundbreaking story by any means, but it is fairly well done and the characters are well played by their voice actors. The soundtrack is also pretty good including Green Day, Incubus, 311, Pearl Jam, Sugar Ray, and the New Radicals.


Review - The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil (2006), PG-13, 125 minutes - I really have no idea if this even came to theaters around here or not, but teaser trailers for it have been on at least six other dvds that I've either bought or gotten through NetFlix over the last couple of months and it piqued my curiosity. I also figured that a movie in which both Ed Norton and Naomi Watts in it probably couldn't suck.

This is set in the 1920's and takes place mainly in China as Norton's character (Dr. Fane) volunteers to move into the countryside to help battle the spreading outbreak of Cholera.

Dr. Fane and his wife (Naomi Watts) were married despite the fact that they really didn't know each other or have much of anything in common. He was in London for a short time before returning to his research in Shanghai, and she was under tremendous pressure from her family to get married (her mother even drops the 'how long do you think your father will support you bomb).

Despite not having anything in common Dr. Fane tries to do everything he can to make Mrs. Fane happy, but it just doesn't work on any level. At this point they have moved back to Shanghai for his research. Mrs. Fane soon finds herself having an affair with the husband (played by Liev Schrieber) of one of Dr. Fane's acquaintances from Shanghai. The doctor discovers his wife's infidelity and gives her a point blank ultimatum: join him on his journey into the heart of the Cholera epidemic (he had volunteered to go and try to help solve the problem) or he would file for divorce siting her adultery in a very public way. She begrudgingly agrees to go along with him when it becomes apparent that her lover will not leave his wife to be with her. After some time in the countryside she eventually realizes that her lover did not feel the way about her that she did about him and gives up on the hope of ever re-joining him.

The beauty of the film is the result of what initially seemed like a vicious act that would certainly lead to her - or both of their (Dr. and Mrs. Fane's) deaths. Having very little contact (outside of the local convent and a handful of military guards) with any other English speaking people, they finally are forced to get to know each other and talk about their differences. They both find something in the other that they never knew was there and as a result save what was a very troubled marriage. Another obstacle presents itself towards the end of the film but it turns out to be nothing more than a speed bump as they had both matured and had a new outlook on what was important in life having seen the ravages of the Cholera epidemic.

**** stars - I think Ed Norton is becoming one of my favorite actors, he just doesn't seem to make a bad movie. Naomi Watts has her ups and downs, but this is one of her ups. The interaction between these two is what really makes this film.


Review - Afro Samurai

Afro Samurai (2007), TV-MA, 125 minutes - I've seen a few random magazine ads for this mini anime series over the last month or two so I added it to my queue to check out. After letting it sit around on the coffee table for a week I finally got around to watching it today.

The ads make a point of relaying the message that Samuel L. Jackson voices the title character and that the RZA is responsible for the soundtrack - as well they should - but they fail to mention that Ron Perlman brings another strong voice over performance to the table as well.

The series is comprised of only 5 episodes and has a strong Highlander-type 'there can be only one' vibe to it. It starts as a young Afro Samurai (yes, that's all he's known by in the series) witnesses his father cut down in a duel by Justice (Ron Perlman's outlaw cowboy/samurai) for the title of number 1. The whole basis for the series is that there are a series of samurai headbands, which 1 being the best. Only number 2 can challenge number one. Afro Samurai's father was number 1 and the number 2 band went up for grabs when Justice took the title. Afro's entire life is then dedicated to hunting down the number 2 so that he can kill them and then confront and challenge number 1 in order to get revenge for his father's death.

The animation is very smooth and very violent (think a cross between Kill Bill and Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo) and the soundtrack fits the style and feel of the series as well.

**** stars - This was very entertaining, it's just too bad it's so short.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Review - Apocalypto

Apocalypto (2006), R, 138 minutes - Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but he can make some pretty good movies, and he made another one with Apocalypto.

It's another survival-against-the-odds story, this time centering on Jaguar Paw and his fight to get back to his pregnant wife and child after hiding them in the middle of a raid on their village by another tribe.

The movie starts off a bit slow as they show how Jaguar Paw's village hunts and interacts with one another (before being savagely overtaken). It really takes off as he escapes from the Mayan city that he and his fellow captives are taken to and the rest of the film plays out as he takes out those hunting him one by one on his way back to his surviving family.

*** 1/2 Stars - It's a good movie, but it's looooooooong. There are a couple scenes that just seem unnecessary and the beginning could be cut down and have the same effect on character development.


Review - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), PG, 92 minutes - So the weekend got a little more busy than originally planned but here's the promised review of yet another summertime sequel.

Much like the first Fantastic Four movie, I have to place this right in the middle of the comic book movie bunch. This time around the origin story was out of the way and they tapped into one of the coolest comic book characters ever by adding the Silver Surfer.

Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffud, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, and Kerry Washington all return as the story's central characters. Doug Jones of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth fame is the Silver Surfer (with Laurence Fishburne providing his voice).

The movie started off a little slow, focusing on the multiple attempts the FF had in pulling off the Sue Storm/Reed Richards wedding (always interrupted by some tragic event that they had to take care of as heroes). It was a little bit much for me, but once the Silver Surfer made an appearance it really picked up. The Surfer's appearance actually made Doctor Doom's return an acceptable bit of the story I thought (you knew after the first movie that he would be back, it was just going to be a matter of how).

It's been shown in every possible trailer and teaser for this movie, but the scene with the Surfer flying through a skyscraper and coming out the other side very well may be the coolest movie visual of the year.

Of course where there's the Silver Surfer, there must be Galactus right? Right...well sort of. Galactus (Marvel's planet eating cosmic being) is mentioned and appears toward's the end of the movie, but not in any form that would be recognizable to comic book fans. I'm sure this pisses off alot of people, but it actually worked fairly well with how the story was portrayed in the movie. If you look really closely when the Surfer enters the cloud that is Galactus you can see an outline of the classic Galactus head in a reddish-pink color so there's at least a small nod to the character's original design.

*** 1/2 stars - Much like the first FF movie, I didn't have very high expectations going into this movie and much like the first one, I was pleasantly surprised by it. I'm almost tempted to go ahead with 4 stars...Jessica Alba's Susan Storm rocking the glasses looked way better than she did at any point in any of the trailers, but I think the power-switching was a bit overdone and come on, they made Galactus a freakin' cloud!


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Review - Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider (2007), PG-13, 114 minutes - Yet another comic book made into a movie installment from Marvel Studios, Ghost Rider falls right in the middle of the comic book film bunch.

I never read any Ghost Rider comics so what little I know of the character was from friends or the internet before seeing this movie. As a result I can't go off on one of my usual 'it was OK but I didn't like how they did this' rants.

Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by Ghost Rider. Nicholas Cage plays the main character and his alter ego Johnny Blaze. Say what you will about Cage's acting, but the man has been in quite a few huge box office flicks (this one included). I think his odd method of acting fit the part fairly well. Eva Mendes and Peter Fonda also star as Johnny's love interest and Mephisto respectively.

As far as I can tell, the movie origin of the character follows the comic origin of the character fairly closely (which is more than can be said for some of Marvel's previous trips to the big screen). Blaze makes a deal with Mephisto in which he swaps his soul for a cure to his father's terminal cancer. Blaze's father is instantly cured, then meets his untimely demise in a motorcycle stunt. Years later Mephisto comes calling and turns Blaze into Ghost Rider, a demon of the night who hunts down souls for the devil. The movie moves on as Ghost Rider goes against his 'master' and keeps Mephisto's son Blackheart from overthrowing his father's reign.

Yes it's all very far fetched, but what isn't in this day and age of comic book flicks?

*** stars - It doesn't quite stand up to the first two X-Men films or the 3 Spider-Man movies, but comes in above the Hulk, Daredevil (theatrical cut, the director's cut was actually pretty good), and Elektra easily. I'd put it right in the middle with Fantastic Four (the first one, we'll see Friday how Rise of the Silver Surfer stacks up).


Review - Ocean's Thirteen

Ocean's Thirteen (2007), PG-13, 122 minutes - Finally! A third installment to a movie franchise that lives up to the hype (in my opinion). This is the 4th 3rd movie of the summer and unlike Spider-Man, Shrek, and Pirates this not only was better than the 2nd Ocean's movie but it may give the first a run for it's money as well.

George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the gang all return in an attempt to screw over Al Pacino and his new casino's grand opening in retaliation for cutting their pal Reuben (Elliot Gould) out of his stake in said casino's ownership. The only familiar face form the first two Ocean's movie that doesn't return is Julia Roberts. They even manage to bring Andy Garcia and Vincent Cassel back for cameo appearances (the later of which was nice for franchise continuity but wasn't really necessary).

The heist is as 'impossible' and ridiculous as ever (my favorite scene may be when the Malloy bros lead a union strike at a dice manufacturing plant in Mexico), but is done MUCH better than Ocean's Twelve which seemed kind of half assed for the amount of talent involved.

**** stars - Eddie Izzard even gets in on the action as a high tech consultant who Livingston (Eddie Jemison) goes to for some last second help. Just as much fun as the first, 100 times more fun than the second, this is just an overall enjoyable 'heist' flick.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Review - The Forgotten

The Forgotten (2004), PG-13, 91 minutes - I remember watching this once before a couple of years ago (shortly after I started renting through NetFlix I think). I enjoyed it enough that when I was getting groceries the other night and Wal-Mart had it on sale for $6.99 I thought it was too good to pass up.

Upon watching it a second time, I still like it but it absolutely screams Dark City! Julianne Moore does a great job of playing a mother who is the only person who remembers the existence of her son who supposedly died in a plane crash 14 months earlier. The part that harkens back to Dark City is the main 'paranormal experiment' theme. I don't want to give away any spoilers for either film so I'll leave it at that.

Gary Sinese (CSI:New York, Saving Private Ryan), Anthony Edwards (ER), and Dominic West (28 Days Later, 300) lend a hand to this sci/fi thriller but Moore really carries the film. Not only because she's the leading actress but because she makes her character and her character's emotions believeable.

*** 1/2 stars - If you like thrillers, especially of the sci/fi ilk, you should check this out. I can't quite give it 4 stars because it came 6 years after Dark City and is very similar.


Review - We Were Soldiers

We Were Soldiers (2002), R, 138 minutes - I seem to enjoy most war movies and I've been meaning to check this one out for quite a while.

Mel Gibson, Sam Elliot, Greg Kinnear, and Barry Pepper star in this film about the first major battle of the Vietnam War. Gibson is a lieutenant colonel who leads a battalion of paratroopers into Vietnam to battle 2000 North Vietnamese in the Ia Drang Valley. Elliot and Kinnear also play large military roles and Pepper plays a reporter who was placed with the battalion on assignment.

One thing bugged me about this movie and that was how any American soldier who even thought about standing up or raising his head in battle took a bullet half a second later with the exception of Gibson's character. He walks back and forth throughout battle during the entire movie and doesn't even get a scratch. Not very realistic compared to the carnage that was going on all around him. Besides that I thought this was a good war flick. I liked how it centered around the beginning of our involvement as opposed to later on in the war (i.e. Apocolypse Now).

**** stars


Review - Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso (1988), R, 155 minutes - This movie was a recommendation from Mary and Dan (a couple from my aunt and uncle's Friday night Deli Shoppe crew). They had suggested it a couple of months ago and I finally bumped it to the top of my NetFlix queue.

It's an Italian film that won 'Best Foreign Language Film' in 1990 at the Oscars and is about a young boy and his love of American cinema. The boy's father went away to war never to return (presumably dead) and the man who worked the projection booth at the small town's local theater became his father figure. As the movie goes on there's a very strong 'can't go home again' theme that plays out.

It was pretty good despite being quite slow in a couple of places. All in all I was glad that Mary and Dan suggested it.

**** stars - As mentioned before this is obviously a foreign film and as a result is subtitled. No English dubbing is available so if you don't like reading throughout your movies then you're better off checking out something else.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Review - Night at the Museum

Night at the Museum (2006), PG, 108 minutes - When the trailers for this movie first came out I didn't get nearly excited as most people I know did. I generally like Ben Stiller but something about a museum coming to life just didn't really appeal to me. All I could think of was a book I read in elementary school called 'The Indian in the Cupboard'. Anyway, after hearing many of those same friends talking about picking this up on DVD I gave in and watched it.

I was wrong in shrugging this off from the beginning. Stiller turned in his typical funny performance with an underlying theme of trying to not be a disappointment to his son. The supporting cast was also wonderful. Robin Williams, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs all play entertaining characters based in and around the museum. I particularly thought that casting Van Dyke, Rooney, and Cobbs as the old guard of nightwatchman was a great fit. Owen Wilson even manages to be fairly entertaining in his small (no pun intended) part in the film as a cowboy in one of the miniature diorama displays. 'I don't like being manhandled!' may be the best line in the whole movie!

**** stars - I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. There's a little more to the story than the trailer would imply and it's just a fun movie in general!


Review - Monster's Ball

Monster's Ball (2001), R, 111 minutes - I've been meaning to check this movie out for a couple of years now. It's been hovering around the middle of my NetFlix queue for about as long as I can remember. Every time that it got close to being shipped, I found something newer that I wanted to see more and kept putting it off. I finally got to it again and went ahead and got it this time around.

Halle Berry won the 'Best Actress in a Leading Role' Oscar for her performance, which is probably the most emotional of her career. Billy Bob Thornton and Heath Ledger add to the star power in this film about a woman who has to deal with her husband being executed on death row, the accidental death of her son, and the threat of being evicted all in a short time span.

While Berry's performance stands out, one other performance really caught my eye. Peter Boyle (probably best known as playing the father on 'What About Raymond') plays Billy Bob Thornton's father and is a very hard assed bigot. He played the role very well, which for me was really creepy because the first thing I think of when I see him is 'What About Raymond' (he's obviously had a very long and productive career, that's just what I associate him with).

*** stars - Many people had told me I needed to check this out over the past couple of years. As a result I think my expectations of it going in were pretty high. It was good, but I didn't find anything really special about it. Berry's performance was quite good although I don't know that it stacks up to other recent 'Best Actress in a Leading Role' winners. But on the other hand I don't even remember who else was nominated that year.


Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), PG-13, 168 minutes - OK, so this was the 3rd third franchise installment to drop this summer (can we really call it summer yet?) on the movie front. I'm also going to sound like a broken record to those who have read my other reviews. Once again (like Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third before it) I enjoyed it, but it's not as good as the first two films in the franchise.

The story line isn't as confusing as 'Dead Man's Chest' was, but it's even longer than that second installment was. All of the entertaining 'Pirates' characters return and the special effects were once again spectacular. Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow has a bit of a mental breakdown in Davey Jones' Locker which makes for an entertaining scene, but he lacks quite a bit of his trademark 'backwards talk' where he makes his point by pretty much confusing the heck out of everyone involved. Such a big deal was made of Depp's channeling Rolling Stones legend Keith Richards for the part in the previous movies that they included Richards in the third film as Captain Jack's father. When I first heard of this I was a bit leery, but it didn't turn out so bad as Jack's father ends up being the keeper of the hallowed 'Code' that is referred to throughout the trilogy as the set of rules that keep some order among the pirates of the world.

There is no doubt that it is a Disney film...there are plenty of overly cheesy parts and considering all that happens you end up with as close to a fairy tale ending as you can get. They did a pretty good job of tying up plot lines that were presented throughout the first two films, but there is no doubt in my mind that there will be yet another Pirates movie in the future. Disney has made too much money on these films to stop here.

**** stars - Not quite as good as the first two, but it is very entertaining and is a decent end to the trilogy. Just beware the fact that it runs a full 2 hrs and 45 minutes. Be prepared to readjust how you sit in your seat a few times and think about passing on that upgrade to a large soda that the concession stands always harass you about!


Review - The Fountain

The Fountain (2006), PG-13, 96 minutes - Yet another movie that I was playing 'catch up' on. I missed it in the theaters (although I'm not sure that it was even in theaters for very long - at least not around the 'noke here) so I've been waiting for the DVD release so I could check it out through NetFlix.

Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz star in this sci/fi flick about a doctor (Jackman) and his unrelenting efforts to find a cure for his wife's (Weisz) inoperable brain tumor. As she becomes more and more comfortable with the idea of death (contributed to by her learning of some old Mayan beliefs), he becomes more and more determined to find a way to help her. So much so that he ignores another huge finding that he and fellow doctors came upon while working to cure tumors.

Weisz's character is a writer and her piece of work 'The Fountain' parallels the story line but is set in the distant past and focuses on a conquistador's search for the tree of life. She leaves the last chapter to Jackman to finish and this is where I was slightly confused. There is a third story that parallels the other two throughout the film and it takes place in a more futuristic setting. Is this the representation of Jackman's final chapter? I thought so initially, but then saw the demise of the conquistador play out.

Jackman and Weisz play the main characters in all 3 story timelines which helps lead to the bit of confusion.

What I can say for sure is that it was a very entertaining movie based around the idea of death and the life that oftentimes leaps forth from it.

*** 1/2 stars - I'd really like to give it 4 stars, but I can't quite pull that trigger right now. Maybe if I took the time to watch it again it would be more clear. Anyone else have a take on it? Care to straighten me out? Let me know!!!

Oh yeah, this was directed by Darren Aronofsky and was his first film since 2000's Requiem for a Dream which was a great movie, but not one that you would ever choose to watch a second time around based on it's graphic portrayal of addiction - it's not what one would call a happy film.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Review - Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth (2006), R, 119 minutes - I saw this in the theater when it came out this past winter and absolutely loved it. Needless to say, I picked up the 2 disc special edition last Tuesday when it was released on DVD.

It's been dubbed a 'fairy tale for adults', which pretty much hits the nail right on the head. Guillermo del Toro has such a vivid imagination it's amazing. The 2 disc special edition really drives this point home as the bonus features include a couple different 'making of' featurettes in which he explains why he did many of the things the way he did. When I initially saw this in the theater I thought that there were a couple of unnecessarily gruesome scenes, but after hearing his explanations behind them, they don't seem quite so excessive.

The basic story is about a 10 yr old girl named Ofelia and he quest to fulfill three tasks that are given to her by a faun named Pan (played by Doug Jones - best known for his role as Abe Sapien in Hellboy - he's also the Silver Surfer in the upcoming Fantastic Four sequel). If she fulfills these quests she will prove that her soul has not become 'mortal' and that she is still fit to return to the fairy tale world as the princess (the story goes that she was removed from that world but would one day return). Meanwhile this is all going on during 1944 in war torn Spain.

Pan's Labyrinth was nominated for 6 Oscars this year and walked away with 3 wins (Best Achievement in Art Direction, Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Makeup). It was edged out for Best Foreign Film, Best Achievement in Music written for Motion Pictures, and Guillermo del Toro couldn't quite take home Best Original Screenplay honors.

Overall this is a very well done film and the bonus features on the 2 disc special edition DVD are well worth the couple extra bucks over the one disc version. Guillermo del Toro really lets you into his thought process on certain aspects of the film and you will be amazed by not only his creativity but how he brings it all to life.

**** 3/4 stars - Probably my #2 movie of the past year behind The Departed and just in front of Letters from Iwo Jima. One warning though before I forget: the entire movie is in Spanish, so unless you're fluent or don't mind reading subtitles for 2 hrs, you may want to steer clear (and no there are no dubs on the DVD).


Review - Shrek the Third

Shrek the Third (2007), PG, 92 minutes - This is the second '3rd' movie that I've gone to so far this summer and I walked out of the theater thinking much the same way I did after the first. Like Spider-Man 3, I thought this was pretty good, but not as good as the first two in the franchise.

All of the big name voice actors returned - Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews - and were joined by Justin Timberlake, SNL vets Seri Oteri, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph along with Amy Sedaris (of Strangers with Candy fame).

Shrek deals with the news that he is the next in line for the throne of Far Far Away along with the news that he will soon be a father. The main plot is his search for Princess Fiona's cousin (and only other potential heir to the throne) while Prince Charming gathers together an army of Far Far Away outcasts (Captain Hook, Rumplestiltskin) to attack the palace while he's away.

Once again the humor is geared more towards adults, but as with the first two, it is definitely a family friendly movie.

**** stars - Not quite as good as the first two, but still HIGHLY entertaining...especially when a former ballpark employee lets you in free!


Review - Captain America (1990)

Captain America (1990), PG-13, 97 minutes - So for a while now I've known of this movie that was released back in 1990. I've also been very curious as to just HOW BAD this could possibly be (Dolph Lundgren's 1989 Punisher movie comes to mind!). I had pretty much given up on trying to find a vhs copy of this, but a week or so ago, my friend Chris Martin said he found a copy online and downloaded it. Hardly being able to contain my excitement over this find, I had to download it myself.

This will be quick...unless you're a super duper comic book nerd and just can't harness your curiosity, don't even think of bothering with this! It's TERRIBLE! The Red Skull is Italian! WTF!?!?!? The acting is horrible, the story is actually decent, despite the fact that they screwed with characters so bad.

As far as I'm concerned there were 2 good things about this movie:
1) Ned Beatty is in it...that's right, Lex Luthor's (the Gene Hackman Lex Luthor that is) primary lackey himself!
2) They kept Sharon (Carter) and actually got about all of the aspects of her character's background right...only her last name was Stewart...

OK, so that's more like 1 1/2 good things. Anyway, I was thoroughly entertained by how bad this was. They completely dropped the ball by making the Red Skull an Italian mob boss, and then they kicked it out of bounds by using the Red Skull's daughter as one of his henchmen but having her NOT be Sin!

* 1/2 stars - One star for each good thing about the movie...Ned Beatty!!!!


Review - Little Children

Little Children (2006), R, 130 minutes - I knew only two things about this movie before I got it from NetFlix:

1) Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress at this years Oscars.
2) Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly from the original Bad News Bears) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this years Oscars.

Based on those two things I figured it would be worth checking out. Well, it's not a bad movie, but it certainly wasn't a great one either. It's a movie about the interactions between the adults in a town and how they really don't act much different than a bunch of kids.

Winslet's and Haley's roles were very well portrayed but I had a hard time getting into the rest of the movie. If you're a fan of Winslet or want to check out something a little different check it out, but otherwise you may want to spend your time on something else.

*** 1/2 stars - Average movie in my opinion, but I'll go over three stars based on Winslet and Haley's roles alone. (Oh by the way, Jennifer Connelly is in this and I LOVE Jennifer Connelly, but she plays a fairly minimal role...unfortunately)


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Review - 28 Weeks Later

28 Weeks Later (2007), R, 99 minutes - I'm usually not a big fan of the horror/zombie genre (the only zombie/zombie related flicks in my collection are 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead) but this sequel to 28 Days Later was pretty good.

A US lead task force moves into London and prepares to repopulate it after the outbreak of the 'rage' virus that was behind the first movie (28 weeks after the initial outbreak - hence the name). Everyone is getting moved back in and settled under military supervision when, guess what? There's another outbreak! When I first saw trailers for this I was a bit skeptical...couldn't someone just make a horror movie that didn't have the mandatory crap sequels? If they did make the sequel could they bring the virus back in a decent way (story wise I mean)? And could they do it without bringing back ANYONE involved with the first film?

Surprisingly they've managed to do just that. Story wise, the sequel is superior to the first film in this case. In 28 Days Later, Cillian Murphy's character wakes up from a coma in a hospital and finds that the 'rage' virus had spread across the region. He and a small band of survivors fight their way through infected/zombified people throughout the movie and at the end they escape the military compound and pretty much just walk down the road. No real closure or explanation of any sort, just 'they survived'. 28 Weeks Later is much more story driven. As a result you find yourself caring more for the characters involved and I think it helps in portraying their battle for survival.

A totally new director and group of actors/actresses made this film, and it works out pretty well as this continues the overall story by showing how another group of survivors got by through the initial outbreak. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (director) gets props for including a couple of the eye gouging's that helped make the first film so brutal...a nice little tribute to the original as well as for showing someone so terrified of the infected/zombies that he flat out runs away instead of trying to be the hero and saving his wife. Come on, let's face it, the majority of us would be so damn scared we'd take off...it's about time someone acted that way in one of these movies.

**** stars - Just like the first there are some pretty violent scenes, but the story carries this better than the first. If you like these types of films you won't be disappointed but if not do a little internet research first.

I'm also horribly behind on the movies I have from NetFlix (what with being out of town the last two weeks)...a couple more Oscar winners/nominees. I'll get to them eventually...


Friday, May 4, 2007

Review - Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 (2007), PG-13, 140 minutes - The first of this summer's sequals, this was pretty good. All of the regular Spidey characters are back and a couple new ones (Sandman, Venom, the Staceys) are thrown in for good measure.

I will say I was quite pleased that they kept the original alien life form origin of the symbiote that first turns Spider-Man black and then takes over Eddie Brock to become Venom. The Ultimate Spider-Man 'cooked up in a lab' origin just doesn't quite cut it in comparison.

With all of the new characters being introduced, none of them got a ton of screen time. This was unfortunate in the case of Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard). I've always thought it was funny that a natural blonde (Kirsten Dunst) had been cast to play the redheaded Mary Jane Watson from day one, and now the natural redhead (Howard) plays the blonde. I've enjoyed Howard's couple of other films (The Village, The Lady in the Water) so it wouldn't have hurt my feelings any to see her more.

Despite the obvious physical differences between Topher Grace (Eddie Brock) and his comic book counterpart, I thought he played the role fairly well. My biggest complaint with Venom is that there wasn't ONE shot of the Gene Simmons like tongue that the villain is known for! Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) was ok, nothing great outside of some cool special effects.

Whoever cast J.K. Simmons as J Jonah Jameson originally is a genius. He really nails the look, feel, attitude of the comic book character - his bits were great! As was the usual Spidey flick Bruce Campbell cameo!

I personally wasn't a big fan of emo Peter Parker, but Reynolds tells me that in one of the older monthly runs of one of the Spidey titles when he wore the black costume that Parker actually ran around looking sort of like that. Go figure, Stan Lee knew emo before emo was cool! I'm also willing to overlook that ridiculousness for the sole fact that they included the scene in the bell tower where the ringing bells help seperate Peter from the alien symbiote. I didn't read comics much when I was younger but I do distinctly remember reading the issue where that took place so I appreciate the fact that they kept that scene in the storyline.

They did a pretty good job of tying up major plot lines in the event that this is the last Spidey movie but also left room for ongoing plotlines (Gwen Stacey, the symbiote/Venom - I just can't believe that he was truthfully offed) should they decide to continue the franchise.

*** 1/2 stars - The comic book nerd in me had some issues (emo Peter Parker, tongueless Venom, not enough Bryce Dallas Howard...ok so that has nothing to do with being a comic book nerd, she's just HOT) so I can't quite go a full 4 stars although anyone who enjoyed the first two will most definitely like this one as well!


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Review - Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz (2007), R, 121 minutes - Brought to us by the same guys (both behind and in front of the camera) who brought us the tremendously funny (in my opinion) 'Shaun of the Dead'.

This 'buddy cop' flick does a wonderful job of parodying cop/action flicks while still managing to give it it's own plot line and feel. It's kind of hard to explain unless you see it, but it doesn't spoof things in the way that the 'Scary Movies' or the 'Naked Gun' films did, it pokes fun at films like 'Bad Boys II' and 'Point Break' while paying homage to them in a weird way.

Both Simon Pegg and his real life best friend Nick Frost are absolutely hilarious throughout and writer/director Edgar Wright brings the same feel to Hot Fuzz that he did to 'Shaun'. It also never hurts to have British accents abounding as it just adds to the hilarity of the dialogue.

**** stars - If you liked 'Shaun of the Dead' or just want to check out a funny movie, this is a MUST SEE.


Review - American Beauty

American Beauty (1999), R, 122 minutes - I've been meaning to check out this former 'Best Picture' winner (as well as 4 other Oscars) for quite some time.

Kevin Spacey gives a wonderful performance as Lester Burnham (fictitious character, no relation - but go figure huh?), a man who is having a mid-life crisis. He can't stand dealing with his wife any longer and his daughter thinks he's a middle aged creep. Spacey took 'Best Actor in a Leading Role' for this portrayal and you can see why as he runs a full gammet of emotions throughout as he decides he needs some major changes and then employs them.

There's even a nice little twist at the end. Throughout the movie hints are made that Lester will be killed, but it doesn't turn out to be who you would think or even for what motive you would assume.

**** stars - It's a little slow but the story is excellent and Spacey's character is pretty entertaining (guess it comes with the last name!).


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Review - The Queen

The Queen (2006), PG-13, 103 minutes - I got this through NetFlix for the same reason I checked out 'The Last King of Scotland' a week or so ago: all I had heard since before the Oscar's was how good Helen Mirren's turn as Queen Elizabeth II was.

Like Forest Whitaker's performance Mirren's was wonderful and it is easy to see why she walked away with Best Actress in a Leading Role honors. Her portrayal of the Queen's inner conflict over how to best mourn Princess Dianna's death is very heartfelt. The struggle between whether to keep her feelings private and her family protected from the press or to publicly mourn in the way that not only her country but the world demanded.

I will no doubt take all kinds of flack for this, but the scene in which the Queen walked outside of the gates and saw all of the flowers and gifts that the public had left in Dianna's memory where she asked a little girl if she wanted her to place some flowers by the gate and the little girl replied 'no...these are for you' was particularly touching and was the closest I can remember coming to crying at a movie.

I don't remember too many specifics about the time surrounding Dianna's death, but it was very interesting to see an interpretation of the 'inside story' and how it affected the royal family and government.

**** stars - Overall I was more pleased with 'The Queen' than 'The Last King of Scotland'. While both lead performances were fantastic, I feel 'The Queen' was a more rounded film that was strengthened by other good performances (Michael Sheen - the Underworld films, Blood Diamond and James Cromwell - 24, The Green Mile, The General's Daughter).


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Review - The Venture Bros. Season 2 DVD

The Venture Bros. (NR), Season 2 DVD (13 episodes) - After picking this up this past Tuesday upon it's release, I've finally had a chance to get through all 13 wonderfully entertaining episodes that comprise season 2 of adult swim's The Venture Bros.

For those who may not be familiar with the Venture Bros., it is a cartoon that runs during Cartoon Network's adult swim block (so it's not suggested for anyone under 14 - there's your rating since the set is 'not rated'). It has a very Jonny Quest/Hardy Boys feel to it and spoofs just about anything imaginable. It revolves around the Venture Bros. (Hank and Dean) who live with their scientist/inventor father (Dr. Venture) and their bodyguard (Brock Sampson). They are continuously being pestered by their 'arch nemesis' The Monarch (complete with full butterfly costume and all). The characters are great and the stories ridiculous, and yes, Brock Sampson will sound VERY familiar (Patrick Warburton - Seinfeld, The Tick, Family Guy).

Surprisingly there is quite a bit of continuity involved and the back stories of the characters are very detailed as well - not really something you would expect from a show that mocks most everything. Speaking of continuity, Season 2 picks up where season 1 left off, so you should check out the first season before delving into this new release. If you want a teaser of what's in store, a clip from season 1 is on my main page under my favorite tv shows.

Outside of 24 this is currently my favorite show on tv. The only problem is that each season is fairly short (13 episodes) and they don't air re-runs too often. It'll will be a tough wait for season 3 even with seasons 1 and 2 in my collection!

**** stars - Go Team Venture!


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Review - Smokin' Aces

Smokin' Aces (2006), R, 109 minutes - I saw this in theaters and I was pleasantly surprised by this movie so I picked it up on Tuesday when it was released on dvd. The commercial is pretty much spot on when the New York Times says that this movie is 'blam blam, blam, blam, expetive, expletive, plot twist, FBI, expletive,blam, blam, role credits'. There is quite a bit of action, violence, killing, and second tier actors.

Ryan Reynolds and Jeremy Piven are the closest things Smokin' Aces has to a lead character and the supporting cast of Andy Garcia, Common, Alicia Keys, Ray Liota, Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, and others provide pretty entertaining characters as well.

When this was released, I figured that it may be a decently entertaining film based on all of the 'not quite big name' people involved. Ben Affleck is offed after about 35-40 minutes so it's got that going for it! Bateman is onscreen for maybe a total of 5 minutes but his character is highly amusing. Piven plays a strung out Vegas magician who has gotten mixed up in mob activity and has had a hit put out on his life. Reynolds is the 'main' FBI agent trying to contain the situation.

The plot twist toward the end of the film is pretty good and adds more depth to Smokin' Aces than just being a shoot 'em up action flick.

**** stars - This is what I call a 'fun' movie. The story line isn't the deepest in the world, but there's a good twist and the characters are pretty entertaining. I personally like the way Reynolds' character ends the film.


Review - The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland (2006), R, 121 minutes - This was my one movie for the week from NetFlix (I was supposed to get American Beauty as well, but the dvd was cracked and I'm waiting for my replacement). I wanted to check this out after hearing so many great things about Forest Whitaker's performance as former Ugandan President General Idi Amin Dada (which he won the Best Actor Oscar for).

It was a little different than what I had expected. The film focuses mainly on James McAvoy's (Chronicles of Narnia) character (Dr. Garrigan) and shows how he becomes one of Amin's advisers. Amin hires Garrigan as his personal doctor shortly after Garrigan gets to Uganda to work at a clinic to provide healthcare for the local people. Before he knows it Garrigan is one of Amin's most trusted advisers despite the fact that neither one of them has any political experience. The end of the film informs you that Amin and his regime killed over 300,000 Ugandans during their reign, but this is never really shown in the film. Many killings are alluded to, but never actually get any screen time so it doesn't really sink in that these actions were so widespread.

Whitaker's performance as Amin was excellent. The way Amin could go from joking around to being terrifyingly serious at the drop of a hat (often times in mid conversation) is disturbing and I can't really imagine anyone else bringing this character back to life.

**** stars - The way the story was presented didn't really do a lot for me, outside of Forest Whitaker's performance this is a very average film. Normally I'd say 3 stars, but Whitaker's role forces me to bump it up to 4.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Review - Pathfinder

Pathfinder (2007), R, 99 minutes - Karl Urban (LOTR, Bourne Supremacy, Doom) plays a Viking that was left behind by his people when they left North America after pillaging the Native Americans they encountered after first landing there 500 yrs before Columbus. Natives found 'Ghost' (Urban's character) as a child and raised by the village that found him. 15 yrs later the vikings returned and Ghost almost single-handedly takes out the Viking horde in defense of his adopted people.

If I hear one more person say it's not 'historically accurate' I'm going to kick them. It's based on a film and a graphic novel. That's right a novel, a work of NON-FICTION! And as Reynolds pointed out, since when has there ever been historical documentation from this time period???

*** stars - This wasn't as good as I had hoped, but it wasn't unwatchable either. I tend to like different films of this ilk (time set action/adventure/war flicks) and as a result may have gotten more out of it than others would. I can't give it below three stars because it was entertaining even if it gets a little drawn out in a couple places.


Review - Babel

Babel (2006), R, 142 minutes - So this was the NetFlix movie for the weekend and I must say, while it's quite a good movie, I don't think it's near as good as 'Crash'.
It works in much the same way (converging story lines amongst 3-4 sets of people), but Crash also played on people's biases as well as their actions.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were the big names in this film although much stronger performances were turned in by others. Both Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi were nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (which neither won). This got so much Oscar hype, I think I actually expected more from this film than I actually got. The link between the Japanese girl and her father to the rest of the people in the film was pretty weak and just about unnecessary if you ask me.

**** stars - This really is a good movie and if you haven't seen it you should check it out. It didn't live up to all of the hype I had heard about it (my apologies to Michael - I know he was a big fan) but I'm not going to let that sway my rating. If you haven't seen Crash either, that is a definite must see.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Review - Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007), R, 86 minutes - I'll just get this out of the way from the get go. If you don't already have some appreciation for the adult swim cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force and it's sheer stupidity and lack of sense don't go see this movie. If you have heard of it and want to educate yourself more before sitting through the hour and a half version, check Cartoon Network's adult swim schedule and watch a couple episodes first (it usually airs LATE nights on weekends). It tends to be crude and somewhat offensive at times so here's your warning!

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie! I've been looking forward to checking this out for a few weeks now but had wondered how well a 15 minutes long cartoon that very rarely makes any sense or gets anywhere would translate to a feature length film. Well my questions were answered last night. The people at adult swim and Williams Street Productions succeeded by doing just what they do for 15 minutes on a show by show basis: provide outrageous characters, ridiculous dialogue, and a plot line that when things are all said and done pretty much leaves you back where you began.

The theater was laughing throughout but one of the most funny parts had to be the initial opening that mocked the old time 'go get snacks from the concession stand' bits (you know where the food would dance and sing). One set of snacks looked all innocent and did the typical dance and song (albeit the song was very much 'R' rated) while another set of snacks threw down Metalocalypse (another adult swim cartoon) style. I'd actually love to see this part again because the entire theater was laughing so hard we surely missed half of it.

From there the movie goes on to explore the origins of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Something about Egypt, NewYork, Jersey, an excercise machine that will bring the end of the world, and a flying watermelon.

All of the popular secondary characters make appearances (Carl, Dr Weird and his assistant, Oglethorpe, Emery, Ignignokt, Err, MC Pee Pants). There's even a cameo voice over by Bruce Campbell (Chicken Bittle) along with cameos by Space Ghost and Brak.

There are some interesting questions raised by the end of the movie. Will more demonic excercise machinces really be 'born'? Is Frylock really a woman? Where the Aqua Teens really created by a slice of watermelon? Who knows, but when it's all said and done, the Aqua Teen universe is back where it began - you have no idea what these characters are or where they came from - and somehow (just like the cartoon) it doesn't matter because the journey was too damn funny to care.

**** stars - I don't know that I'll pay to see this again until it comes out on DVD but I'll be picking it up then for sure...absolutely hilarious!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Review - Harsh Times

Harsh Times (2005), R, 120 minutes - It may be called 'Harsh Times', but this could just have easily been called 'what stupid people do when good things slap them in the face'. Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez star in this crime drama that appeared in trailers to be similar to 'Training Day'.

I've found that most of what I have seen Christian Bale in to be decent so when the trailers came out depicting this as a 'Training Day' type of film I figured it would be worth checking out. I missed it in theaters and finally received it from NetFlix today. I should have been clued in by the 2 1/2 star average rating on NetFlix that this may not be as worth while as I had hoped.

Bale plays a borderline crazy ex-military main character who is in the process of applying for a job with the LAPD. He's denied and goes on a drinking binge with his best friend (Freddy Rodriguez) who is out of work, mooching off of his wife (played by Eva Longoria). After a night of boozing and smoking up, Bale gets a call from the DEA inviting him in for preliminary testing (drug test, psych eval, etc.).

Bale manages to mask his piss test enough to pass and is offered a position within the DEA. How does he celebrate? By going on a boozing and smoking binge with his buddy (Rodriguez) who at this point has managed to land a pretty decent (and legitimate) job through an old friend. At every turn, when something positive happens to a character in this film, they go out and get bombed/wasted. You'd think they were in high school or college again.

Bale's character is pretty much a jackass from the first minute of the movie making it hard to really get into the movie during the first 45 minutes because you can't relate to the guy in any way. You don't feel bad for him because he keeps doing stupid things that only hurt himself in the long run.

This was written, directed, AND produced by David Ayer. It was his directorial debut and is great proof why tackling all three positions is not something that most people should try.

Freddy Rodriguez gives a fairly good performance as the best friend who tries his damnedest to talk some sense into Bale on numerous occasions to no avail. He is probably the only redeeming value to this movie. The story itself would have worked a lot better if you could actually feel for or care about what happens to Bale's character (which is about impossible because he's such an ass).

** stars - It almost hurts to dip below the 'average' 3 stars, but this not only was not what I was expecting (that's not always a bad thing) but the first thing you see that you even care about as a viewer doesn't happen until a good 45 minutes into the movie. If you're looking for a gritty crime/drama check out Denzel Washington's 'Best Actor' performance in the aforementioned 'Training Day'. This one just isn't worth the time.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. This has got to set the world record for the most uses of the words DUDE and DAWG. They begin and/or end about every sentence with one of the two...great scripting eh?


Monday, April 9, 2007

Review - School for Scoundrels (2006)

School for Scoundrels (2006), PG-13, 101 minutes - Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder co-star in this remake of a 1960 British comedy.

Heder plays the role he's been type cast into since he broke out with Napoleon Dynamite (the lovable loser) and Thornton plays a man who teaches a class for losers in self confidence and assertiveness.

It really is your typical middle of the road comedy. Thornton steps in on Heder's love interest (Jacinda Barrett) and the movie progresses from there as Heder tries to win her back. There are some funny and amusing moments, but nothing to really differentiate it from any of the other 'lovable loser' movies that are taking over theaters the last few years.

It would be nice to see if Heder can pull off any other role. He does this pretty well so who knows if anyone will give him the chance to grow as an actor. Did I really just say that? I don't know, take away his Napoleon Dynamite 'GOSH!' and the wig, he's pretty much been the same guy in all of his movies (haven't seen Just Like Heaven, but somehow I doubt that's any different).

*** stars - entertaining, if you need a laugh if may be worth a rental, but I wouldn't put at the top of the list of 'things to see'.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

Review - The 300 Spartans

The 300 Spartans (1962), NR, 114 minutes - I added this movie to my NetFlix queue after reading that Frank Miller decided to write his 300 after watching this film. It was made in 1962 and after watching it there were many aspects of it that were definitely influencial not only in Miller's graphic novel, but also the movie adaptation.

The main story is basically the same. Miller took made quite a few changes when it came to character design (for example neither the Ephors or Ephialtes are horribly disfigured in this original version). While some changes were made, there were also quite a few visual similarities. Some of these may be historically accurate, some may not - but they were nice to see none the less (the bright red Spartan cloaks, the upward pointing arrow on the Spartan shields, the dress of Xerxes' Immortals). The design of Xerxes' Immortals in 'The 300 Spartans' carries over into the design of Xerxes' messenger in 300 whom drops the 'our arrows will blot out the sun' line as well as getting his arm chopped off. The final stand of the Spartans in which they are all circled carries over also.

It was also nice to hear a couple lines that stood out both in the graphic novel and the new adaptation ('return with this shield or on it' and 'our arrows will blot out the sun' 'then we will fight in the shade' are both in this original telling of the story).

Due to the fact that it was filmed 45 years ago, the battle scenes are relatively weak and because if this seems to move along a bit slower. When it comes right down to it, it tells the same story and that story is worth telling or seeing. I was intrigued when I heard that this was a major influence in the creation of 300 and it definitely shows on many levels. This probably isn't a movie that a lot of people would sit through nowadays, but if you're anything like me and enjoy checking out old films that have influenced newer works you may get a kick out of this.

*** stars


Review - Grindhouse

Grindhouse (2007), R, 189 minutes - If you like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, or any of their films (disregard this statement if the first thing you thought of was Spy Kids), you will be thoroughly entertained by Grindhouse.

Tarantino and Rodriguez set out to pay homage to the old school gross out exploitation double features that had their heyday in the '70s. They were very successful! Complete with trailers for other films (the best of which was Machete - which is actually being looked at to be made into an actual movie in 2008 - see imdb.com), missing reels, grainy quality, and missing audio, Grindhouse really pulled off the B flick feel. There is a TON of violence and plenty of pretty nasty, disgusting scenes which in my mind are only tolerable because they were done in classically bad B flick quality. If they had been done more realistically with today's technology I probably wouldn't have made it through the movie.

Rodriguez's 'Planet Terror is almost 2 hrs long by itself, and Tarantino's 'Death Proof' is a little more light hearted in nature (as light hearted as you can get having Kurt Russell run people down in a stunt car).

There was one part in 'Death Proof' where the sound cut out and a bar popped up on the right side of the screen with a visible audio track look to it. After about 5 minutes of no sound someone from the theater said they were trying to fix the problem. I personally think the sound was purposely dropped for a segment to help achieve the desired feel of the film (what with missing reels and scratchy video) and that the theater didn't realize it was supposed to be that way. I may be wrong. If anyone else has seen this, let me know if you had the same experience (at the point where the girls are talking to the guy about taking his car for a test drive). Even if it WASN'T meant to have no audio for a stretch, it definitely added to the B flick experience overall.

I'm generally not one for graphic movies, but I really wanted to see how well Tarantino and Rodriguez pulled off their double feature. I'm not sure if I'll pick it up on DVD when it comes out, but it was a really fun movie going experience (especially at the somewhat run-down Salem Valley 8)!

**** stars - Based on the movie(s) alone level I'm thinking 3 stars, but the overall presentation and success of actually creating what they set out to, swings my appreciation for it up to 4 stars.


Friday, April 6, 2007

Review - The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd (2006), R, 168 minutes - Yes that's right, The Good Shepherd clocks in at almost 3 hrs! When I saw that on the sleave from NetFlix I almost hesitated because I wasn't sure if I could stay awake for that long (and one of my biggest pet peeve's is stopping part way through a movie that I haven't seen before).

This was directed by Robert DeNiro (who also played a high ranking CIA agent) and stars Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. Matt Damon plays the well intentioned young CIA recruit who really is perfect for the position because he really doesn't open up to anyone. I've never been a big Angelina Jolie fan. I personally think she's completely overrated both as a box office draw and a sex symbol although she does play Damon's wife in this movie fairly well.

Damon is recruited out of Yale to work for the CIA during WWII. He's shipped off overseas and has very little contact with his new wife for the next five years (missing the birth of his son in the process). Damon eventually returns home where he continues to work on surveillance and monitor certain open cases for the CIA. The distance that has grown between he and his wife is obvious and he struggles to become a father figure for his son. The movie does a very good job of showing the struggle Damon's character has juggling his CIA position with his personal life (what little he has).

Unlike other recent movies that jump back and forth between time periods, The Good Shepherd does a really good job of telling you what time period you're looking at on screen both by showing dates and by the differing ages of Damon's son at those times. This is nice because it makes it a lot easier to follow.

While it's not the fastest movie film in existence, it does hold your attention as the story manages to move along without ever really getting hung up on anything pointless. This is a very good 'spy' flick and well worth checking out (as long as you've got 3 hrs to kill!). If you're not into the spy or mystery genres, don't bother.

I missed this one in the theater but at almost 3 hrs long it may be better that way. At least at home I could pause it real quick to get a bite to eat. I really enjoyed it and will most likely be adding it to the dvd collection in the not too distant future.

**** stars


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Review - Blades of Glory

Blades of Glory (2007), PG-13, 93 minutes - Will Ferrell and Jon Heder co-star in this comedy that mocks the sport of ice skating. It's your typical sworn enemies become best friends in the interest of mutual gains story. While this provides plenty of dumb laughs, it's not nearly as good as Ferrell's last 'sports' outing Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. If you like Ferrell or Heder or just stupid comedies in general, check it out. If not don't waste your time!

*** stars - provides laughs, but nothing spectacular.





Review - Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond (2006), R, 143 minutes - I saw this in theaters back in the fall/winter when it originally came out. It was released on dvd a couple of weeks ago and I picked it up, but just got around to giving it another viewing today.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, and Jennifer Connelly all star in this thriller/drama about conflict diamonds. Hounsou portrays a man who's life has been torn apart by the conflict in Africa. DiCaprio is a former military man who is now a mercenary in the illegal smuggling of diamonds. Connelly is an American journalist in Africa working on a piece about the turmoil in general.

Hounsou finds an enormous diamond while being put to work as a slave and DiCaprio attempts to help him find it so that he can sell it and find his family (of course DiCaprio has his own selfish reasons for finding the diamond as well). Connelly gets thrown in the mix and DiCaprio and Connelly fall for each other (can you blame him? I know I've always had a thing for Jennifer Connelly!).

Anyway, there's quite a bit of violence and a couple scenes with children being used as soldiers by the underground armies are disturbing but it's a very good film. It was nominated for 5 Oscars although it didn't win any (Hounsou for best supporting actor, and DiCaprio was nominated for best actor for this role - over his role in The Departed).

**** stars - All three 'stars' give good performances. Hounsou has been in quite a few movies but this is EASILY his most heartfelt performance, and definitely his best since Gladiator).


Review - Children of Men

Children of Men (2006), R, 109 minutes - This is another that I saw in theaters but have watched this weekend after picking up the DVD. Clive Owen is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. It seems just about anything he's in is pretty entertaining.

This film is set in the not so distant future of 2027. There has not been a child born in 18 yrs and the world has pretty much gone to hell (yes more so than it already has). Clive Owen tries to help get a young pregnant refugee woman to a group called 'the Human Project' after being recruited by Julianne Moore (his former wife or lover - they never say for sure). They both used to be political activists and went their separate ways after losing their son in an accident. This is the first human pregnancy in ages and it has huge social and political implications.

While Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine received top billing for this film, Own is the one that carries it as both characters played by Moore and Caine have very little screen time before being killed at different points of the journey to get the pregnant woman to safety.

This also was nominated for Academy Awards (3 in all) but like Blood Diamond did not take any home.

**** stars


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Review - Infamous

Infamous (2006), R, 110 minutes - This is the second movie in the last year and a half that told the story of writer Truman Capote and his time researching the murders of a Kansas family. Capote gets to know the two killers through extensive interviews and befriends one (played here by Daniel Craig - yep the same guy who played Bond in Casino Royale).

The previous film was called Capote and Phillip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the title character. In this version, Toby Jones tackles the character although not quite as well. The best performance in this movie is given by Craig, who plays Perry Smith. I think he gives Smith a deeper and more scary portrayal than his counterpart in Capote.

The book that resulted from this 'research' was titled In Cold Blood and was a best seller for Capote.

Like Capote, this is not the type of film I would ordinarily rent but when I saw that Daniel Craig was involved I was intrigued. Both films revolve around Capote and his eccentricities and his getting to know Smith. They aren't terribly exciting, but I did find them interesting.

This wasn't a bad outing but if you're going to sit through the two hrs of this story, I would suggest Capote over this. It's a shame that Hoffman's turn as Capote and Craig's portrayal of Smith weren't in the same film.

*** stars) - As I mentioned, it's OK, but Capote is the better of the two.


Review - An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth (2006), PG, 100 minutes - WOW.  I've waffled on watching this for a month or so now. Anyone that knows me knows I'm not a very political person. I had heard many good reviews for this but shied away because Al Gore narrates the entire 100 minutes. I was afraid that he was just latching onto a controversial topic in order to gain press. I couldn't have been more wrong.

As it turns out, Gore began his environmental concerns back in college after one of his professor's showed his class some disturbing field data he had gathered on the amounts of CO2 in our atmosphere. I've also never been a huge nature freak (tree hugging hippie) but after seeing this documentary (it's basically a film adaptation of Gore's touring presentation on global warming) you can't help but be concerned about our environment. The most disturbing thing is that our country that we (generally) take great pride in, is not only the largest cause of the issue at hand but it has also fallen way behind in implementing plans to help counteract the damage that has been done.

The presentation does a great job of stating the issues at hand. It does then proceeds to introduce opposing arguments and questions and quite successfully shoots them down.

I may not go run out and buy a hybrid or battery operated car, but you can bet that my eyes are a bit more open than they were an hour and a half ago.

Everyone should watch this. Even if your not politically minded or a tree hugging hippie.

***** stars - Oh yeah, props to Gore for slipping a Futurama clip into his presentation!


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Review - Half Nelson

Half Nelson (2006), R, 106 minutes - I have heard/read quite a few good things about this movie over the last couple of months as it won a couple of Independent Spirit Awards and even got Ryan Gosling a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Gosling gave a very good performance as a teacher at an inner city school who doubles as a basketball coach and has a terrible drug/alcohol addiction. After one game he gets high in the locker room when he believes all of his players are long gone. One comes back to use the restroom and she finds him blitzed out of his mind. Oddly, the two become friends and attempt to look out for one another (to varying degrees of success).

He's the teacher who actually gets through to the children but has all sorts of issues outside of the classroom and she's the youth pretty much growing up on her own as her brother is in prison and her mother works double shifts about every day to make ends meet.

There is a very powerful scene towards the end of the movie in which the girl (running drug deliveries for a 'family friend' - the guy behind the reason why her brother is in jail) ends up selling to her teacher as she didn't know who the delivery was for.

This is worth checking out. It's not a happy movie by any means, but it's no where near as depressing as 'Requiem for a Dream'. The relationship between teacher and student is very well done and Gosling deserved every bit of the Oscar hype he received, even if he didn't come away with the award.

**** stars


Review - TMNT

TMNT (2007), PG, 90 minutes - When I first saw the teaser trailer for this months ago, I wasn't sure if I wanted to check it out or not. As opening night (last night) got closer and closer, I found myself very intrigued at this attempt to revive a franchise from my youth. With the trend over the last few years to take everything old and make it new again I really didn't have very high hopes going in. As a result, I was pretty entertained by a decent story, decent animation, and amazingly 4 turtles and their supporting characters whom pretty much acted just as I remembered them.

Laurence Fishburn provides the narration and Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Chris Evans, Ziyi Zhang, and Kevin Smith (those are just the familiar names) lend their voices to the characters in this film. Stewart is the main protagonist whom as it turns out isn't quite the bad guy you think he is when the movie starts out. Buffy herself voices April O'Neil and the Human Torch (Evans) voices Casey Jones - two of the more recognizable supporting characters from the Ninja Turtles mythos.

I thought the computer animated turtles ended up looking pretty good although they didn't mesh quite as well as I had hoped with animated human element (very similar to the top heavy Mr Incredible from The Incredibles).

They managed to make an entire movie that revolved around a threat other than the Shredder. There is actually an entirely new villain for this story. The Foot Clan does make an appearance, and there is the hint of a possible Shredder return should this do well enough to produce a sequel.

As you would expect, there's a very good dose of ninja action (there's even a scene where Splinter gets in on the butt-kicking). I also like the use of classic rock's 'Black Betty' during one scene and a remix of P.O.D.s 'Light's Out' in another.

Overall, I'd say this is worth checking out. Especially if you're like me and have a bit of comic book/'80's cartoon nerd in you!

*** stars


Review - 300

300 (2006), R, 116 minutes - Ok, I have actually seen this movie twice now. Once on opening night two weeks ago (when it was absolutely packed and we could only get seats in the 2nd row and couldn't see very well as a result) and again this afternoon (I wanted to check it out from a decent vantage point). Both times I left the theater more than entertained.

This is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller that is loosely based on the historical events of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. I had VERY high hopes for this movie going into it as Frank Miller is one of the greatest comic book writers of all time (especially when it comes to his own personal material - Sin City, 300) and a personal favorite. Just like Sin City did before it, this was everything I had hoped it would be and more.

The entire movie was shot in front of green and blue screens with the backgrounds added in digitally afterwards (like Sin City), and once again this process was successful in conveying the feel of the original work (comic).

Unlike Sin City however, this is not filled with an all-star cast of actors/actresses. The main character - King Leonidas - is played by Gerard Butler, probably best known stateside for his role as the Phantom in 2004's Phantom of the Opera. The only other even vaguely familiar faces belong to Dominic West (Hannibal Rising, The Forgotten) and David Wenham (LOTR, Van Helsing). Rodrigo Santoro from Lost plays the God/King Xerxes although I never would have placed him without seeing the cast list on www.imdb.com.

There is a ton of action and violence (albeit computer generated blood spurting violence) throughout the entire movie. It is very faithful to Miller's graphic novel. There was one noticeable difference: Gueen Gorgo (played by Lena Headey) has a much more important role in the movie than in Miller's original story. I think the change works quite well though. It does slow the pace of the film down once or twice, but it adds alot of depth to a character that pretty much appeared on only one page originally.

If you like action/history/war films (even if they are loosely based on reality), Sin City, or anything Frank Miller in general, you have to check this movie out. I enjoyed the hell out of it and will definitely be picking it up as soon as it comes out on DVD.

***** stars


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Review - Deep Cover

Deep Cover (1992), R, 107 minutes - This was recommended to me by my friend Renee at work. She and her boyfriend finally got around to seeing The Departed the other day and she was telling me how they absolutely loved it (I told her so!) and that it kinda sorta reminded them of this movie. It's from 1992 and stars Laurence Fishburne (credited as Larry - so you KNOW it's old) and Jeff Goldblum.

Fishburne plays a cop who goes undercover in order to eventually take out major drug importers. His superiors continuously push him to get deeper and deeper in and he does, eventually becoming a main player in the region's drug trafficking.

Unlike the Departed there is just one undercover (Fishburne) but he becomes more of an anti-hero which works well. If you like crime/thriller flicks, check this one out. It may be a little older but both Fishburne and Goldblum give pretty good performances!


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Review - Hollywoodland

Hollywoodland (2006), R, 126 minutes - This is about one of the most well known unsolved mysteries in Hollywood history - the death of George Reeves, the man who brought Superman to the tv screen. Ben Affleck plays Reeves and Diane Lane Reeve's mistress (the wife of the then MGM president) , and Adrien Brody the private investigator who is hired to look into Reeves' death. It does a good job of showing a couple of the different theories as to what actually happened and how there is evidence to back up either one. It's not the blockbuster you may think with the cast that it has, but it is entertaining and is easily Affleck's best performance in a few years.




Review - Sherrybaby

Sherrybaby (2006), R, 96 minutes - This is not typically the kind of movie I would choose to rent but I find myself liking Maggie Gyllenhaal more and more in each movie I see her in so I checked it out. Gyllenhaal plays Sherry, a woman just out of prison for theft/drugs and shows her struggle to get acclimated with the real world once again. Part of this struggle is trying to reconnect with her daughter who barely remembers her and has been raised by Sherry's brother and his wife. Right about the time I was getting fed up with the main character's lack of drive to do the necessary things required to get her daughter back, I was hit with a scene that shows just what may be the thing that pushed her over the edge in the first place. At this point you do feel bad for her as you realize she may have made the wrong decisions many times, but can easily see why she started down that path. Anyway, the closing scene with her brother is quite touching and shows a lot of growth for the character. This is definitely not a happy flick, it's not great, but it's not bad either. Gyllenhaal gives a pretty good performance, but unless you're a fan of hers this probably isn't a must see.


Review - Casino Royale (2 Disc Widescreen Edition DVD)

Casino Royale (2006), PG-13, 144 minutes -For those of you who don't know by now (aka those of you living in caves), this is the latest entry in the long running James Bond franchise and is based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel (of the same name). This was a 're-set' of sorts for the franchise as they went back to when Bond first earned his double-O status.

In this (the 21st) Bond installment, James Bond has to track down an international financial broker (who is a financial advisory for many of the world's terrorist) named Le Chifre and must try to keep him from winning a high stakes poker game that will allow him to regain the money that he was supposed to invest for one of his clients (but which he invested in a very high risk scheme that blew up in his face).

Daniel Craig and Eva Green star as both Bond and the premiere Bond Girl respetively and the banter back and forth between their two characters is extremely entertaining. With a length of over two hrs and 20 minutes it does get a little bit slow at times (but seriously, how are you going to make hands of poker exciting???), but there are enough action sequences and bits of dialogue to more than make up for the length. One such sequence is a foot chase in which Bond follows Sebastian Foucan through a crowded market area and consctruction site. The moves Foucan makes as he navigates his way through the obstacles are unbelieveable. Foucan is the co-founder of 'free running' which is talked about as a 'new' sport, but I have a hard time calling it a 'sport' - it's running over and through things as opposed to around them while throwing in some acrobatic moves - physically challenging and good for you? Yes. Sport? No. But whatever, it makes for a very entertaining scene.

There was quite a bit of press about the new Bond. Personally I think Daniel Craig did an excellent job of portraying the younger Bond (on a side note, the movie that cemented Craig as the new Bond is Layer Cake and is well worth checking out). We also find out why Bond never had any emotional attachment to any of the seemingly hundreds of Bond girls that came previously. Speaking of which, Eva Green I think, has easily become my favorite of the Bond Girls. She is the closest thing to an equal we have seen in a Bond film and has a much deeper background than her predecessors. She didn't revolutionize the Bond Girl or anything but she is the closest thing to a 'new kind of Bond Girl' that we've seen (see my rant in the bonus features below).

I purchased and watched all 20 of the previous Bond films as they released the 4 box sets around Christmas, and I can say that this is easily the best overall Bond film since Goldfinger (still THE BEST Bond movie ever in my opinion). They went back to the basics of Bond and were VERY truthful to the original novel (well once you get through the first hour that effectively sets up the events that actually occurred in the novel, which was relatively short and is a quick read). There are no super gadgets, no invisible cars, no jet packs, just a good story that's presented well with no gimmicks and good action scenes.

As much as I love Craig's role on the character, I'm waiting until his second run with the character to vault him to the top of my best Bond of all time list (a spot still held by Sean Connery), but I will slot him in at a very solid #2 for now.

I would highly recommend checking this out if you haven't already.

DVD Bonus Features: There are three features (Becoming Bond, James Bond: For Real, and Bond Girls are Forever 2006) and the music video for Chris Cornell's theme song. Becoming Bond and James Bond: For Real are looks at the announcement of Craig becoming the new Bond and the making of the film respectively. Bond Girls are Forever 2006 may be the worst DVD extra I've seen in quite some time. There was a feature similar to this in one of the Bond Ultimate Collection Box Sets, but was done alot better. First it's hosted by Maryam d'Abo. Never heard of her? Oh yeah, that's because she was quite possibly the most pathetic Bond girl ever, from one of the two worst Bond movies of all time - The Living Daylights (thank you Timothy Dalton for giving us such crap). She interviews past Bond girls (including the one from the other of the two worst Bond films ever - Licence to Kill) and they all say how their character was the one that 'changed' Bond Girls. Oh please, they all turn to mush at the sight of Bond and very rarely ever develop into anything more than a one night stand. Granted part of this is due to the nature that becomes Bond after the story in Casino Royale, but seriously, none of your characters were cutting edge, so give it up! The bits of interview with Ursula Andress (Dr. No) and Honor Blackman (Goldfinger) were diminished by the raving's of the other far less entertaining Bond Girls in the feature, which is really pretty disappointing.

Anyway, check Casino Royale out, but I'd avoid the Bond Girls are Forever Feature. Besides that it's a very entertaining DVD set that is the franchise's best installment in quite some time (apologies to Pierce Brosnan, his were pretty good, but got a little too gadgety for me there towards the end).

Damn, this got ALOT longer than I intended...I'll try and tone it down a bit the next time around!

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