Bruno – More Damage than Good? A

After exploding into the movie scene with Borat (A+), comedic genius Sasha Baron Cohen comes back with another of his beloved Ali G Show characters: Austrian gay fashionista Bruno. The formula for this movie is familiar – pretty much the same than as in Borat. There is a mission of sorts that the character is trying to complete and in doing so manages to punk unknowing participants. The movie watcher is likely to laugh, cringe and even fear for Cohen's life.

In my opinion the movie peaks early and then coasts to the end. The highlights are closer to the beginning and the middle of the movie. Towards the end, Bruno manages to inevitably head towards the South and that's when things go from funny to scary. Cohen is a true artist that is willing to put himself in harm's way for his comedy. That's a lot more than can be said about most of his actor colleagues.

Cohen's intentions are clear: to put a mirror in front of society. In showing how people react to the walking hyperbola that is Bruno, I think he does more harm than good though. For beginners, his character is hardly the typical gay male – not by a long shot. Still, some of the people involved in the movie and maybe even some of the audience may think that this flamboyant mess is a typical and average member of a community which is still much maligned. That's the real problem here.

The movie depicts Bruno trying to entice Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) into making a sex tape by making subtle advances and then finally dropping his pants. Paul busts out of the room horrified. There are people out there that think that gay folks are out to have sex with everyone they encounter – this perpetuates that ridiculous thought. Also, while in Alabama trying to "straighten up", he visits a dojo and gets a lesson on how to fight off the physical sexual advances of a gay man (at times coming at him with a dildo in each hand and a strap-on).

These things don't help. I don't think they do anyway. I think a person who knows these things to be ridiculous can enjoy the movie for what it is – a prolonged Punk'd episode with a much more entertaining saboteur. Someone who walks in with some of these preconceptions already engrained is not likely to walk out illuminated.

The movie is hilarious though. The music video that caps the movie is fantastic including Bono, Sting, Elton John and the singer from Coldplay (me thinks).

Created: 9/18/2009

Baby Momma Drama: D

I just don't get Amy Poehler. I don't think she's funny. Maybe her bulging, bulbous eyes are distracting to me. I don't know. Regardless, if anyone else had been playing the part it still would've been a disaster. The movie Babby Momma was a low-brow comedy chock-full with misinformation. If the mission was to make the audience laugh, it barely makes it. I was not that entertained. If the mission was to inform about the trials and tribulations of surrogacy, then this movie is so far off the mark it's scary. Buyer Beware – if you're thinking about surrogacy as an option, DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE.

There are parts and places where the Fey-Poehler duo manages to squeeze out some laughs like they used to in their SNL collaborations. Still, in my opinion, they fall way short of comedy gold. I guess I'm surprised that someone like Tina Fey who I'm sure strives to achieve smart and thought-provoking humor would partake (if not write) this Weekend at Bernie's-type disaster.

Created: 9/18/2009

Rushing August: B-

If you like music and "abandoned children being serendipitously reunited with long-lost parents" movies, then the movie August Rush is for you. The film follows the story of a young boy – a musical savant the product of two musical prodigies – that escapes an orphanage while following the "music." The young actor playing the later AKA'd August Rush, does a great job portraying the character, displaying a blend of innocence, space "cadetedness", and genius.

Other than that, the movie is ridiculously far-fetched, but I guess that's how these things go. Robin Williams makes an appearance as a street children exploiter/caretaker nicknamed "Wizard". Between One Hour Photo (A+) and The Final Cut (A+), he has certainly earned his dramatic creds and that's a great thing to see of someone so talented in comedy and who could've easily been pigeon-holed into those roles forever.

By and large, the movie is not horrible. It is an entertaining, feel-good flick worth a watch if nothing else is on – which is quite often these days.

Created: 8/24/2009

Dem Nazi-killin' Basterds: A-

Inglorious Basterds was classic Tarantino for good and for bad. Long drawn-out pointless conversations abound – some better than others. Violent, yet rewarding - after all who is more deserving of brutality than the Nazis? No one of course. And spoiler alert: the film is not really historically accurate or meant to be that way.

I liked that the movie was comedic - laugh out loud - at times. Brad Pitt plays the role of Lt. Aldo Raine, the head of the Basterds, amazingly. His accent and mannerisms are superb. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa also smacks it out of the park. His meticulousness is frightening.

For what it was, the movie was entertaining, but seemed to drag at times courtesy of that well-known Tarantino magic. It is perhaps too much to ask sometimes for the audience to follow this director through a journey of seemingly endless banter about the utterly insignificant. Although much more restrained than in disasters like Death Proof (D), some of the chatter was pretty pointless and unnecessary to the plot. Still, that's what you sign up for when watching a Tarantino film.

Overall, this was a fairly decent flick – probably not worth a trip to your local theater though.

Created: 8/24/2009

Twitter-like Snippets (to get them out of the way)

Although I consider Twitter an absolutely self-serving way to share stuff that only a stalker would care to know about (and a tool as useless as the male nipple to boot), I will use its "ground-breaking" 140 character limit to review a list of movies I have watched over the past few months.

Pineapple, an Express Stoner Ride: A-

Only a stupid person can choose to live their life as a junkie or a stoner. Such stupidity yielded a funny Pinneapple Express. (126)

It's a Slumdog Life for Us: A

Coincidences galore in Slumdog Millionaire - a tale of love set in the slums of Mumbai, India. Good movie - raw and shocking at times. (134)

Gardening at Night: B+

No doubt we live in a filthy world. The Constant Gardener shows us just how crooked and nasty it can be. Ignorance is bliss. (124)

Cleaning up a Sunshine Mess: A+

I loved Sunshine Cleaning. Excellent acting and difficult subject, but so very real and touching. (97)

Catholics be Damned (again): C+

Angels & Demons may be a better film than its precursor but it failed to hit the mark. I guess Brown's books just don't yield good movies. (138)

Dog Eating Contest: C

"Blah," is the only thing I can say about Perro Come Perro. It just didn't do much for me. Sorry. (97)

Revenge at the Cottage: B+

Last House on the Left is brutal and suspenseful. The plausibility of the events is what makes it so disturbingly chilling and enjoyable. (137)

Jason is (still) Alive: B+

Friday the 13th is back! This is a well-done, fresh new version on the classic terror saga. Still, it's the same old formula. (125)

Play the Game, Skip the Movies: C

The Resident Evil saga is a passable "zombie" series. Apocalypse (2) > Extinction (3) > the Original (1) > Degeneration (4 - CG). (129)

Created: 7/10/2009

I'm no Trekkie, but… A+

I grew up a Star Wars fan. I was born later than the initial Star Trek series and before the resurrection of the franchise through its many spin-offs. I was not and have not necessarily been a fan. Despite this fact, I have watched one or two episodes of the original series in my lifetime. I also know enough about the series to be able to engage in an intelligent conversation about it. After all, Star Trek is as much a part of American pop culture as a very earthly piece of apple pie. So it is not as a fanboy, but as an objective spectator that I give this movie the highest mark. I certainly loved it.

First of all, it was fun. The special effects were stunning. The story was compelling, suspenseful and funny in the right moments and amount. The prequel even pays homage to the original series including Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock in a twist that would reveal the plotline. The movie delivers in every area, but one overshadows the rest: character development.

Because I don't know with absolute certainty I would rather not speculate that the success of the original series was its characters. This movie is, in my mind, wildly successful and appealing because of the character development of the main players and the excellent execution of the parts by these young actors. The movie brings back characters known and beloved by millions. Anything but a brilliant adaptation would've been dismal – either complete ham or heretical butchery. Here, Abrams, the writers and the actors hit a homerun.

Much offense to George Lucas, this is what a prequel is supposed to be like. Mr. Lucas: take notice - while you found a way to tarnish one of the greatest science fiction sagas of all time, J.J. Abrams and the writers of this installment of Star Trek have managed to revive and invigorate the brand. Is it even possible to draw a parallel between Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker and Chris Pine's James T. Kirk? Nope. I'm just glad the Star Wars prequels didn't manage to soil on some of the other iconic characters like Han Solo and Princess Leia.

This film has laid the foundation for a series of sequels that, if done in similar fashion, will generate a brand new legion of followers. This is something the 3 Star Wars prequels were not able to successfully do. Only time will tell. For now, I'll try to live long and prosper putting aside the force that I've carried with me.

Created: 5/18/2009

Defrosting Nixon: A

I did not think the hatred of George W. Bush could be matched until I watched Frost/Nixon and realized the liberals and the media had it in just as bad for good ole "Tricky Dick." The movie was fascinating. I did not have any idea that these interviews had taken place and how profound they were. Of course, the most interesting part of the movie was the actual interview which leads me to believe that sans the interview, the rest is just garnish. Yes, it sets some context and describes some of the behind-the-scenes eventualities, but yet it's only there as decoration for the main course.

I don't know what the intention for the movie was – what was its agenda, if any. I came out with a much better appreciation for Richard Nixon. How completely irreverent and disgusting of me - I know. Thing is, the movie shows that Nixon is no less human than His Holiness Obama and operated amidst a very different agenda in very different circumstances. There is no doubt in my mind that the Obama administration, like all others before it and after it, will do things that are on the periphery of the law to advance their own agenda. This, of course, does not excuse Nixon, but it certainly makes you wonder if he has been overly vilified.

I must stop before this turns more into a political cube than a movie one. Regardless, it is worth mentioning that it was Watergate and the downfall of Nixon that brought us Jimmy Carter. And it was Jimmy Carter that brought us Ronald Reagan. So if Nixon begat Carter and Carter begat Reagan, I'll take history as it unfolded gladly. Who knows what would've happened in an alternative reality had the Watergate scandal never happened (or never been uncovered).

Created: 5/7/2009

Genius Fighter: A-

As someone who likes to think about inventions and who likes to think about improving products, there is one fear that always props up: patent enforceability vs. the mighty muscle of the corporate establishment. Greg Kinnear, playing real-life inventor Bob Kearns in Flash of Genius, shows why my fears are rooted in reality. A less intense and justice-seeking person would've let the mighty Ford Motor Company steal their idea or accept a pittance for the audacity. Kearns was more than a passionate man on a mission. He knew what was right and what was wrong, and was unwilling to compromise, always putting principle and legacy over money. That all this was done to the detriment of his marriage, his family life and his career doesn't make it commendable, but it shows how strongly he believed in his principles.

I don't see this as an uplifting movie or story of triumph. I see this as a sad reminder that, although not all corporations are evil, there is evil in some corporations. The "little guy" has very little recourse and usually a crumb is all they will see – that's if they get to see anything at all. What can a small player with shallow pockets do against legal teams with virtually endless resources?

Lawyers… don't get me started about lawyers. These are the true angels and demons amongst us. Are they a necessary evil? If there is one lurking you need one for protection. But what if there were none? One can only hope.

So, after it was all said and done, Kearns got his recognition and some money – the money was never his mission. But, to achieve that, he lost so much more – things that he could never get back. He lost his wife and watching his kids grow up. More importantly he lost time. Money cannot buy back the time he spent trying to get Ford to recognize they had stolen his idea. That is the true tragedy. No matter how much he got in the end or that he achieved his goal because the sacrifice was probably too great.

The movie was good. The acting was good. Yadda yadda yadda.

Created: 4/26/2009

Taken at Twilight, Watchmen Forget Sarah Marshall

Just went through another movie-watching marathon of sorts recently – or at least I will bundle these as such. The results: a mixed bag of average to good. From a cult favorite to a teen sensation, the gamut of genres was covered. One thing that stood out about two of the four movies and perhaps worthy of mentioning is a growing trend (no pun) of full-frontal male nudity. I guess this last of R-rated frontiers is being crossed more and more liberally lately. Dr. Manhattan flops around for most of his appearances (digitally anyway) and so does the Night Owl II rather briefly, and I saw way more than I ever wanted to see of Jason Segel. Throw in the young man from The Reader and you have a penile trifecta or a "quadrifecta" even. I guess female nudity is not edgy enough anymore. Who knew?

Watchmen: A+
I am not a comic-book nerd or had ever heard of the groundbreaking graphic novel that inspired the movie. I am a superhero junkie though. I love superhero lore and grew up watching the re-runs of Batman (with Adam West and Burt Ward), Wonder Woman (with Linda Carter), and my cartoon favorites were the Super Friends (earlier) and the X-Men (later).

Nowhere do the ethical dilemmas of superheroes get more tested, dissected and exposed as in this movie (or graphic novel to be precise). Fundamentally, these heroes are all human and in their humanness lay their struggle. The characters/heroes are colorful and dark (if that even makes sense). Their pasts are sketchy; their presents are flawed. The Comedian, the first of the Watchmen to get murdered is by and large the sickest of all. Rorschach, unrelentingly brutal and paranoid, is the obvious product of his upbringing – reminds me vividly of Heath Ledger's Joker. The Night Owl II is your typical Batmanish millionaire with gadgetry up the ying-yang but plagued with Clark Kentish mousiness. Ozymandias, the smartest man in the world, makes his fortune (or some of it) by merchandising the Watchmen brand (action figures, etc) – how eighties, nineties, or millennial of him. And why wouldn't he? He is the smartest man after all. Both Silk Spectres are sexy and tough. And then there's Dr. Manhattan: the most fascinating and most-powerful of all the Watchmen. He's the only one with real super powers. Alas, he's the one who's the least human of all (at least on the surface).

The movie is unapologetically violent and sexually explicit. After all, what is more human than violence and sexual appetite? The visual effects are great. The story pieces together quite nicely, flashing back often to fill in the gaps and to show us the origins of such colorful heroes. I would love to watch it again for, much like in V for Vendetta, there is much social commentary and satire worth combing over. I enjoyed it in all its bloody honesty and glory.

Taken: A-
Travelers beware (especially young American women). If Hostel (A) hadn't already dissuaded young women from venturing off to Europe unescorted, this movie should do the trick. Rather than mutilated in the most extreme of sexual "pay-for" fetishes, these ladies were hooked on drugs and sold to the highest bidder (either as prostitutes or as slaves). Little did the kidnappers know that an angry ex-covert ops (who knows what he was) Liam Neeson was the daddy of one of their victims.

The seasoned actor does a great job. Plot is a little far fetched and the story seems to develop too quickly. Without discounting the effectiveness of the character, he figures things out too easily and too rapidly. These things make the movie seem outrageously unfathomable. Otherwise, the movie is enjoyable. Good action. Good car chases.

Twilight: B+
I didn't find this movie (or story) to be the next big thing. I guess if I were a teenage girl I would feel differently. I'm sure the book is much richer than the movie which to me just seemed as gray as its lighting tones. Vampires have been done to death. Teen vampires not so much – and perhaps that's the allure. I guess this is the new blacksploitation - teensploitation: get an idea tried and tested for decades with adults and repackage with attractive and relatable young characters; market to teens (girls mostly). It worked for J.K. Rowling. After all, Harry Potter was not the first wizard ever written about.

On its own accord (because I'm not one of the girls or women hooked on the series of books), the movie was okay. It was entertaining and figuring out the nuances of these vampires was interesting. Yet, I was disconnected and didn't care if the main characters were viciously devoured by the "bad" vampires. A few scenes were obvious setups for the string of sequels (based on the books) to come. Bottom line: this wasn't unlike any of many vampire movies done.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall: C+
Forgettable. I find myself not laughing at comedies anymore. I don't know what it is. My intuition tells me it's because most of the crap they put out there pretending to be a comedy just isn't that funny these days. This one isn't terrible, but it isn't good either. The appearance of Jonah Hill just after his hit appearance in Superbad added no value to the film and neither did a bunch of other stuff. Once again I must mention the exposed frontal shots of Jason Segel. I guess they were going for the "Oh no they didn't!" nervous laughter here. A couple of musical numbers probably were the highlights (especially the scenes with the puppet opera close to the end). Blah. At least it wasn't bad enough to turn off.

Created: 3/17/2009

Wake up before your oil crashes: A+

I'm no left-winger and I am not a believer in man-made global warming/climate change – that should be clear. Although the documentary A Crude Awakening: the Oil Crash has a mild slant to the left, I believe the evidence displayed is credible, overwhelming, and to be frank quite alarming.

Fundamental to the documentary is the fact that crude is inarguably a non-renewable resource – it will run out. Evidence shows it already has run dry in parts of the world. Did you know that at one time the US was the world's leading supplier/producer of crude? What has happened since?

Momentarily ignore the reality of hydrocarbons as pollutants and the need for a cleaner energy source. Civilization as we know it, progress as we know it, have both been built on the back of cheap and abundant oil. Everything we know stands on the implicit assumption of an uninterrupted flow of cheap oil. Absent that, this is a much different world.

The documentary does much more than scare the pants off of whoever manages to watch the whole thing. It also shows how much we've gotten to depend on this source of energy – how much comes from oil. It also shows how in the 1970's a scientist (forget his name) was shunned by his peers when he introduced the concept of "peak oil." Peak oil describes how past some point any new discoveries of oil in the world will not be able to replace the production from tapped-out basins or compensate for the increased demand for the resource. In a few words, we will (if not already there) be in our way to the end of an era.

The film also spends some time discussing the challenges of alternative sources of energy – all the rage when a barrel of oil was close to $150. How can any solution be a solution when it takes (for instance) one gallon of diesel to produce a half a gallon of diesel? Nuclear resources would run out quickly if we went all nuclear. Conclusion: nothing will be as effective as solar power, yet we are a long ways away from it being a replacement.

Without giving too much away, the documentary is alarming and grim – it's meant to be that. It is also good, backed up with good science, great interviews, and ample evidence. Ultimately it shows that there is no need to politicize subjects to get points across. Ultimately, believing in global warming is not a requirement for desiring exploration into clean and sustainable energy resources. I believe we can all agree that cleaner energy benefits us all… especially if it does not put our country in the mercy of less-than-friendly nations.

Created: 2/24/2009

Catching Up – The Not-so-Good; Round 2:

The thing is this next string of movies is not bad, they are just not great. For the most part they were all watchable and had some pretty decent plots with some interesting topics. So, just because they are not as good as Round 1 doesn't mean that they stink. And without further a due, here they are:

The Reader - Steamy Nazi Pedophilia? Really? B+
Come on. So Kate Winslet is an illiterate ex-Nazi guard that is into the young guys? Okay. Fine. Sure. And then there's the whole trial thing. Okay. And then the meeting many years later. I don't know about this movie. It was interesting enough to watch with some pretty steamy scenes (too many? Necessary?). I guess all in all I felt sad for the guard (Hanna). She wasn't smart. She didn't know any better. She was honest, yet simple-minded. As previously stated, the movie was watchable and brought up some interesting ethical dilemmas, yet it wasn't a home run.

The Incredible Hulk - Too soon? B+
Who knows what the heck the other Hulk film was - the one from 2003 with Eric Bana? This one was a lot better, yet, even with Edward Norton, it wasn't that good. I guess it might be because in my eyes the Hulk will never be much more than a TV series about a guy who gets pissed, turns really big, really green, rips his clothes, and reeks havoc in his never-ending quest for a cure to his affliction. Cue sad music and man hitchhiking down the highway. The Hulk is just not that interesting a superhero to me.

Cloverfield - Godzilla? Maybe not: C+
It was alright. I liked it okay. It wasn't the best ever. Creatures from God-knows-where (maybe a government experiment gone awry) attack Manhattan. People with video cameras documenting a friend's party end up documenting the end of their lives: novel concept. Otherwise, this movie is pretty forgettable.

Reservation Road - Wouldn't want to be either: B+
This movie did an excellent job in developing the feelings of all the affected parties. Great acting. I was uncomfortably put in the driver's shoes. This is another watchable movie barely worthy of a rental. Although the subject was interesting and the acting was superb (has Jennifer Connelly ever done something not worthy of accolades?), this was one of those movies that one can go through life without watching and not miss out on anything.

RocknRolla - Guy Ritchie needs love: C-
I did not care much for this movie. The action scenes were okay, but it was totally forgettable. As a matter of fact, I watched it a month ago and I cannot remember much about it. Poor Guy Ritchie. It is evident from this crappy production that his marriage with Maddie was on the rocks.

Wanted - Fun Despite Angelina: B+
Although I don't care for Angelina Jolie, the movie was entertaining. The effects were decent and it had some pretty funny moments. I liked the story just fine (although it reeked of The Matrix a bit too much, even in the casting) and the final twist was well worth it.

Transporter 3 - Statham Rocks: B
This is the third in an entertaining franchise of kick-ass action movies. There is very little substance here – just fast cars and unadulterated violence. So what? I enjoyed it for what it was meant to be.

HSM 3 - Yes, I know: B+
I'll spare myself any further embarrassment. It was better than the second one, but still not better than the first one. Music was alright. Funny how the other two were released on TV and they wait until the third installment to release in the theaters. How unlikely is this series of events?

Miracle at St. Anna - Spike Lee Redeems Himself: B+
I liked this movie a good bit. It was a very interesting tale of a group of black soldiers that barricade themselves in the town of St. Anna, Italy waiting for ground support. Although Lee laces his film with white vs. black overtones (in the military), he redeems himself by showing how the Nazis were using black imagery as a tool for negative propaganda against the Americans. I believe the movie to be at least historically accurate in this sense. Overall the only reason for a B rating is the fact that the story unfolded rather slowly and was rather anti-climatic. Regardless, I think this is a balanced Spike Lee film,… and that's saying a lot.

Created: 2/21/2009

Catching Up – The Good; Round 1:

Here's the problem – I went dry for a while. No time to write, but enough time to watch a ton of movies. So instead of continuing to put off cubing about them (although most deserve their own cubes), I rather catch up in a few swoops with just a small amount of notes. And so, here it goes the first installment:

Iron Man - The best cast movie ever filmed: A+
If Robert Downey Jr. is not Arms Dealer Tony Stark, then I don't know who else is. What a performance and what a good movie. Despite a pretty lame villain, the birth of Iron Man and Stark's antics were enough to carry the film. The same won't be able to be said about its upcoming sequel. IM2 needs a good villain or else this sequel will suffer the same fate as an ill-conceived Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (C). This film is a definite must-watch – even if you're not a superhero buff.

The Dark Knight - Sorry Jack, you're no Joker: A+
To close out the super good superhero category: this Batman sequel is unbelievable. Heath Ledger did what seemed impossible – he topped Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Not camp, not silly, Hedger's last stand produced a dark psychopath that managed to change the perception on this, the most-notable of Batman's foes. The movie was great – full of action, twists and turns. There was tons of game theory in practice - mostly prisoner's dilemma. I'm likely going cube a journal entry I did for an assignment in my Strategic Management class related to this subject and movie specifically. I think Bale is also an excellent cast for this role. This film manages to outshine the original (Batman Begins: A+). Director Christopher Nolan hits another one out of the park. One issue though: there was really no need for Two Face. The movie was whole without that sequence. It felt rushed and under-developed.

Lars and the Real Girl - Utopia: A+
I loved this movie. Lars lives in the kind of place we should strive to construct as a society - a completely non-judgmental and supportive environment. The guy is weird. Everyone knows it. Yet, they decide to embrace his differences. Touchy feely; I know. Oh well. It was a truly genuine movie about a genuine individual and Ryan Gosling played the part perfectly.

Gran Torino - Eastwood at his best: A+
I want to grow up to be this guy: an unapologetic curmudgeon. Despite a suspect supporting cast, the movie was pure gold. Eastwood's racially charged epithets and one-liners were enough to make one laugh uncomfortably and constantly. I liked the movie and the message. It is a crime that he didn't get nominated for an Oscar.

Created: 2/21/2009

Some children are from Mars: A

The Martian Child starring John Cusack is a heart-warming tale of a young widower who takes on the challenge of becoming the foster parent to an awkward boy. The sci-fi author, a "different" child in his own right, warms up to the boy he did not want to take home in the first place. The story that unfolds is one of pure parental love and understanding.

The movie is excellent in dealing with the emotional burden carried by the child and the reason for his strange behavior. The acting is superb. John and Joan Cusack play the parts just right – as if they really were siblings (insert drum roll and laugh track here). The boy, Bobby Coleman, is amazing. Obviously a ridiculous proposition, but the movie is done so well, the audience can't help but question the child's planetary origin. He acts the alien part, which is refreshing. A child's imagination is unbound and it is well displayed by his character.

I liked this movie for many reasons. There's a scene where David (Cusack) states that he doesn't know about bringing a child to this world, but he wouldn't mind caring for one who's already here (brutal butchered paraphrasing I/m sure). That's a remarkably selfless act of kindness that often comes to the forefront of my mind. Part of me wishes I could do what David did. Part of my life is missing what he got.

Created: 9/5/2008

Hard (to swallow) Candy: B-

This is a very very very disturbing movie about a young girl (Ellen Page) who pretends (maybe) to be 14 to lure in a presumptive predator pedophile. The movie starts with the two's exchange in a private chat just before their first meeting. Awkward and uncomfortable situations just manage to get worse as the plot unfolds. Through the giddy flirtations of a girl pretending to be older through adult conversation, she convinces him to take her to his place. He offers very little to no resistance to her advances.

Once there, as he "impresses" her with his place and professional work (he's a photographer), things take a turn for the worse. Upon letting her fix both of them screwdrivers for a couple of times, he passes out. The man played by Patrick Wilson – an attractive guy that would have no problem getting dates – wakes up tied to a chair realizing he'd been drugged. What starts then is the tense unraveling of the girl's reasons for being there.

Without getting into the events that unfold as the girl tortures this man, physically but mostly mentally, the movie dissects a very disturbing subject. The movie is rough to watch. There are a few parts that breach the threshold of reality (how does a small girl manage to lift a 170lb man's dead weight onto a noose at least nine feet of the ground?). The director does an awesome job at displaying the emotion the actors so well portray. With the vast majority of movies headlining dozens of starts and thousands of extras per film, it's refreshing to see just two people acting their hearts out. It felt more like a play that a movie. Sandra Oh makes a very brief appearance as the nosy neighbor that is not nosy enough.

Without getting preachy, if this doesn't scare the mental illness off of pedophiles, I don't know that anything will. Although the movie was good, I would definitely not recommend it as a date movie or a film to relax to. This one is one rough and sobering pill to swallow – especially for men.

Created: 9/2/2008

George Lucas is not God: D

So once again George Lucas plays the almighty God and resurrects one of his legendary franchises only for it to die a painful death at the hands of its fans. That anyone would consider the new Indiana Jones movie - Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull - a good flick is a laughable proposition. The movie is a piece of crap. Although Harrison Ford keeps well for an octogenarian, it's not enough.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that Shia LaBeouf (or "LaDouche" as called by a friend of mine after watching the debacle) was a disaster. There are multiple things wrong here. For one, the tough guy, rebel without a cause character would've been better played by someone who can grow some facial hair and who could arguably throw a punch if he needed to do so. The scene with LaBeouf riding his motorcycle to the train station was a classic joke. I almost fell out of the chair laughing it was so bad. What are they trying to sell here? The young actor may very well have a very bright future ahead of him, but he's no heir to the Jones legacy. This kid is more a whiney, paranoid suburbanite than a tough, rugged archeologist. And it really doesn't matter how well he communicates subconsciously with monkeys and how gracefully he travels on vines like Tarzan. Lucas you've screwed up once again.

But that was not all. There's plenty more to pool from. But instead of focusing on the minutia that made this movie more a Looney Tunes cartoon and less an adventure movie, I will narrow it all down to the scene that turned me off from it all. Not long into the movie, after a very intriguing setup, Dr. Jones finds himself fleeing his Russian captors. He stumbles into an eerie village full of mannequins. It didn't take too long for the audience to identify he'd run right into a nuclear testing site. As alarms go off in the background, the good professor panics and manages to find refuge in a refrigerator. Well, it would've been hard to imagine his survival, but a quick glance of the camera to a spot in the door of the machine confirmed it was made of lead. This was somehow supposed to ease our minds. Of course, we all know lead protects from radiation. That's great. But what about the blast? That's where this gets good… and by good I mean ridiculously stupid. Well, after the explosion, mushroom cloud and all, pulverize the town, immediately incinerating everything in contact, the scene cuts to a location far away from the town. A split second later, a refrigerator falls from the sky. Who pops out, not a scratch on him, not a bone broken? You guessed it. As I am not a chemist nor a biologist nor a medical doctor, I did not know that not only was lead a good way to block radiation, it is also an incredible shock-absorber. This small refrigerator was tossed perhaps 500 feet horizontally and there's no telling how high up in the air it got. All of that, and upon a solid landing on a mound of dirt, its voyager was completely unharmed. We should start making cars and airplanes out of lead. That'd be great. The Chinese must know what's cooking with the lead-based paints on children's toys.

Okay, perhaps the idea of a link between the Nazca lines and alien visitors is too good to ignore, but for God's sake do it justice; don't cheese it up. I was seriously disappointed. The ending had Spielberg's name written all over it. The only thing that was missing was the Encounters of the Third Kind synthesizer playing in the background.

First the Star Wars Trilogy and now this. George Lucas please do us a favor and don't revive Howard the Duck or THX 1138. Or maybe do so. I guess if you screw up your previous good movies, maybe you can improve your sucky ones. Do you not have enough money? Do you need more? Do you have an urgent need to sully your legacy? Are you guilty of your success? Do you think you're all powerful and all knowing? For the love of Jar Jar Binks, stay in Skywalker Ranch and never come out – that is unless you have a new idea or a new saga you wish to begin. For now, please cease and desist from making another Indiana Jones movie. I beg of you.

Created: 6/2/2008

An Orphanage of Horror: A+

Seldom does a good scary movie come along and that's why The Orphanage deserves props. Benicio del Toro produced this Spanish film and that was one of its selling points. Its great reviews were the only other reason necessary for picking this unknown (to me) foreign film. It was excellent.

From the very beginning the setting was incredibly unsettling: an old house – previously an orphanage. Why this couple/this woman had to go back there to live was beyond me? I get they wanted to help other kids, but give me a break. I'd never set foot in that place again. The idea of an old cavernous house for a few people has never quite registered for me. Nothing hides more scares than a big, old, empty house – especially one with a sordid past.

The whole plot sets up quite nicely. Ghosts, especially children's ghosts, are very creepy. Add to that a twisted tale of mischief or even children's cruelty gone awry and its subsequent avenging and you have a very good mix. A sιance, which could've easily flopped, added to the suspense. But the story alone was not enough to make this a great scary movie. The acting was real – nothing too dramatic or over the top. The direction and editing were superb – hitting the right marks where necessary. The whole thing came together very nicely, producing a scary movie with a (one could say) happy ending.

Created: 5/24/2008

There should've been Blood that Night: C and C-

I continue to wonder why some movies are made. Although they are based on stories – with a beginning, a plot, and an end – that doesn't make them worthy of film. There are so many good stories worthy of film-adaptation – why these? One word summarizes two movies I recently watched, "Blah." They both were completely boring and absolutely pointless. There should've been blood at the studios when these films were green-lighted. Who makes these decisions? Who is sleeping with who to get these movies done? I guess that's what makes finding a good movie such a refreshing event. In a sea of mediocrity few movies rise to the top. These two flounder despite their big budgets and big-name headlining actors.

There Will be Blood was the better of the two, but by a small margin. I liked the film only from a historical perspective. The acting by Daniel Day Lewis was good although a little over the top. Everything else stunk. So the guy buys land, and gets oil out. He has to deal in this one main instance with a young, crazy church pastor and his devout flock. His son (who is not his son) goes deaf from an oil blast. He becomes a millionaire recluse. He kills two people – one of which is that pastor in the final scene of the movie. The end. I gained nothing but a small amount of knowledge on the early days of oil exploration. It was an absolute waste of time. I even dozed off a couple of times and that hardly ever happens.

We Own the Night was a real disappointment. With Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, and Robert Duvall I expected much better. It was billed as the story of two brothers at opposite ends of the law. What I got was a story about a brother who's a cop and one who turns states. He did this so quickly into the movie (after his cop brother had been shot) that I couldn't get over the fact that I'd been misled. I was expecting a duplicitous character out of Phoenix and got a guy that did the right thing quickly. There's nothing wrong with that, except that it doesn't make for a good movie. Fast forward, and at the end, after helping take down the Russian mobsters he used to work for (as a club manager nothing more), Phoenix's character graduates from the Police Academy and becomes a cop. There were a ton of things that could've made this story better, yet they were absent. This one was a real dud.

Created: 4/21/2008

Gone Baby Gone Not too Soon: A+

Good movies manage to blur the line between what's good and what's evil, what's right and what's wrong. The movie Gone Baby Gone does just that with such subtlety you don't even realize that you're swaying from one side to the other. By the end, you may know where you stand, but you won't be able to tell conclusively if that's the right or wrong position.

Kudos go to director Ben Affleck for the telling of an excellent story. This is the second Casey Affleck movie I've seen in a week and I've been impressed by his acting. Where his older brother cannot seem to be able to shed the pretty-boy, Matt Damon sidekick image, his brother just lets the acting do the talking. Playing a baby-faced "tough" hired into a dangerous child abduction case, he has to manage to prove himself among street thugs and cops who can't get past his young image. He does so by being fearless. He earns the respect of others by displaying toughness and ruthlessness. At the end of the day, he sacrifices his life over and over again for what he feels is the right thing to go. As sometimes happens, the right thing to do is such only in the eyes of the beholder.

Along with excellent acting by Affleck, Ed Harris gives a great performance from beginning to end. The cast is completed by a Morgan Freeman – one of the best actors around in my opinion. He plays the chief of the child abduction unit of the Boston PD. Other lesser known actors also pull off great performances of what can only be considered a very gripping and emotionally charged film.

Another good thing about the movie was that it tied all loose strings. I thought it was over when the little girl was pronounced dead. It wasn't. Then, I thought it was over when the child molester was killed. It wasn't. It was over when everything had been explained and taken care of – each conclusion even building up to its own peak. It felt as if the movie had two or three climaxes. Unlike other films that drag and can't seem to find their end, this one was the complete opposite.

Instead of talking any more about the movie, I'd rather spend a minute talking about the subject – what's right vs. what's wrong in this case. "Who deserves a child?" is a question I've asked myself repeatedly throughout my adult life. Conceiving a child is easy – people make that "mistake" hourly it seems. The earth is covered with unwanted children. The earth is twice covered with unfit and/or unready parents. Not one, the other, nor the combination of both necessarily gives anyone the right to take a child away… does it? Is there a moral responsibility to look out for the child's best interest? Whose is it? What is best for the child? Who can conclusively say what is? Is there such a thing as a perfect situation for a child? Is there a perfect home life? Where does one draw the line?

Sometimes bad things happen for the right reasons. Sometimes the right thing is often the wrong thing to do. The question of deserving children and undeserving parents has certainly been one that has been around forever. There are an abundance of examples of horrible parents who wanted kids and great parents who accidentally got them. What determines a good parent after all? Is it measured by the success of a child? Is it measured by their dedication, vigilance, and instruction? Is it measured by the environment they create and harbor? Isn't overdoing these things just as bad for the child? Where is the balance? Who is the judge? How much of the child's formation is bound to his/her own genetic predispositions?

These questions have both overly simplistic and extremely complicated answers. It's easy to determine what would've been the best decision once the cards have been played out and if we could know with certainty the alternative outcome. Hindsight is 20/20. We must every day make decisions that may undoubtedly change our futures. Many times once a path is taken, there is no turning back. Children strive despite adverse conditions all the time. Children fail under the best of environments as well. All factors that most influence childhood are almost impossible to study because there is no perfect control for duplication. No two children are exactly alike. Knowing statistics and statistical results, strong correlation between parents' involvement and successful development could be significant, but minor to another untested/untestable factor.

(SPOILER ALERT) In the movie, upon finding the abducted child in an inarguably better setting with more fit parents, Patrick (Affleck) feels the need to do the right thing and return the little girl to her unfit mother. His girlfriend begs him not to do it – threatening that she will leave him. He does what he thinks is right and she leaves him. The little girl ends up with her mother, who returns to her "unfit parent" ways. Nothing changes. Every side has a good argument on why their solution is the right choice for the child. Ultimately, the only judge of what was the right alternative is time. Knowing that a different path can't be played out in reality, the only thing to compare against is "what ifs" and that is a very dangerous, slippery-slope of a proposition.

These complicated questions are played out in the movie. The characters are real. The thought of removing children from unfit parents is real. One cannot come away from this film without taking a good hard look at what being a good parent means and how far one would be willing to go for the welfare of a child.

Created: 4/17/2008

The Assassination of my time by Jesse James and the coward Robert Ford: D

The title is as long as the movie - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The acting was good; the story… not so much. I don't know why, but I was not incredibly impressed with this one. Robert Ford, the coward, sought to elevate himself by killing (or betraying) his friend and idol Jesse James. End of story. The rest is just the over-development of these two and other less important characters. The movie went on forever, and upon the death of James, I thought there'd be the relief of a timely end. I wasn't so lucky. The movie continued to depict Robert Ford's rise and fall from prominence and his subsequent death.

After all was said and done, the movie turned into the glorification of an outlaw. Even Pablo Escobar had a family and did good deeds for the needy. Does this make him an honorable person? Does this make his death less good? No way. Like him, Jesse James died as he lived. He got what was coming to him.

Truth be told, I don't usually care for westerns much. Only really good ones the likes of Unforgiven and 3:10 to Yuma make the cut. This one didn't have the same allure. It was long, slow, and boring. If you are not a fan of the genre, I'd pass on this movie. The under tones of liberal ideology (good and evil are in the eye of the beholder) were enough to make this movie reprehensible. What do we have when there is no distinction between what is good and what is evil? Who is the hero and who is the villain? Is there anything like that anymore? Is every evil action caused by circumstances and worthy of forgiveness and even admiration? What a world we live in.

Created: 4/7/2008

30 Days of Vampires: C

This is a new movie showcasing the Bram Stoker-created monsters: vampires. Cleverly ideated, these creatures fall upon a town in Alaska that, once-a-year, endures 30 days of darkness. This guarantees the creatures, which speak a foreign language (I would guess Romanian), a full month of feasting.

The movie is clever. A terrified guy from the ship the vampires were traveling on was sent ahead to do their bidding and virtually disconnect the town. Cell phones were all stolen and melted (which is a bit ridiculous), the satellite connection center was disabled, power was stopped, etc. The dark town had gone completely dark. The greedy vampires reminded themselves to sever the heads of their victims (so they wouldn't turn into vampires and share in their exploits).

A few things were particularly silly about this film. With very few days to go and after surviving getting caught or killed, there's a constant need for some people to move from location to location. With a day to go, they decide to move. When the town is being set on fire by the vampires, the snow is not melting and leading lady Stella is still under a car freezing – seems highly unlikely. Then, the whole "hero sacrificing his life" for his girl is plain stupid considering the short amount of darkness remaining at that time.

I could not get over the stupid things about this movie. It was not without a few scares, but overall it was neither terrifying nor good. Vampire movies have been done to death, but at least this one tried a new approach – making the vampires monsters that can't change back and only susceptible to sunlight (or UV rays apparently). That's the only redeeming quality of this film. Everything else is pretty blah.

Created: 4/7/2008

No Gorillas in this Mist: A-

After watching another Stephen King short-story made into movie, The Mist reminded me of why I liked reading his stuff so much. The novella, as I remember it, had no ending – the crew wandered into the mist without conclusion making the reader wonder about their collective fates. The movie had an ending. Of course, I wondered if they'd do justice to the story – if the end would be fitting, good, and worthy of the story. Here's an assessment: the ending made the movie.

Here's a story about a rapidly-moving mist that brings with it creatures from another dimension – violent insect-like animals hungry for human flesh (it would seem). Some are small like insects, some are larger than dinosaurs – all are absolutely horrific, worthy of a Stephen King nightmare. Within a grocery store, the writer creates a microcosm of society. In extreme fear, people will flock to anyone who can provide answers or even some semblance of comfort and hope. In this case, the masses move towards the crazy religious zealot. That doesn't end well.

There's not much to this story – it's a short-story after all – yet it transitions really well into a movie. Mist – creatures – barricaded people – fear – stir-craziness – survival. There's a revelation that the government (an armed service branch) was experimenting with something and they opened a portal to another dimension which in effect brought in the hungry alien invaders. Other than that, the movie is just the tale of the lives of a man and his child who go to the grocery store after a stormy night and find themselves under siege by aliens, and, subsequently, their neighbors.

But then, there's the end to the movie. Written by the Director and Screenwriter Frank Darabont, this part certainly brings the story together. Truth be told, with only a few minutes from its conclusion, I saw it coming. Nevertheless, it was brilliant. I will not spoil it.

The movie is good, yet not the best movie ever made. It's a fun watch with some good creepy moments. The story develops quickly. Character development is adequate – you quickly grow to love and hate some of the main players. I certainly enjoyed it.

Created: 4/7/2008

The Dark Side of the Moon: A+

The Ron Howard documentary In the Shadow of the Moon was simply amazing. In it, a handful of the surviving 24 men, the only ones in history who ever visited another planet (the moon), tell their own story. It was a truly inspiring feat that seems so distant now – almost unattainable. These are true earth heroes that united the planet under in one single act. For a brief moment in time, the entire humankind embraced the achievement as something so incredible that it made all forget about petty nationalistic differences. For the first time in recorded history, the earth was one (well except maybe the ruling comrades of the Soviet block – I bet they were pissed off).

It's hard to say there is any footage of important historical events that has not already been burned into my mind. Somehow, this film had tons and tons of significant high-resolution video I'd never seen. I got chills when I heard Neil Armstrong say those profound words as he stepped into the powdery surface of the moon, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." I cannot recall how many times I've seen that clip or heard those words before - hundreds of times for sure. It still fills me with incredible American pride.

There's something about the seven Apollo missions that made it to the moon (eight tried – "Houston we have a problem" might ring a bell) that have made them fall off the radar. Why? This was an impressive human achievement the likes of which we have not attempted since. Landing a robot in Mars is huge, but robots are not people. What ever happened to the dream of space colonization? We've been to the moon. Why don't we go back? We have an international space station. Why not set up a settlement on the moon?

For anyone who looks up into the space and wonders about the infinite universe above us, this film will prove incredibly entertaining. For those who keep their feet grounded on this earth, but let their mind wander to distant galaxies, this film will be inspiring. I love documentaries, and this one was pure greatness.

Created: 3/27/2008

Sex in the time of Cholera: B+

So I feel bad that I waited until the movie based on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez classic novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, made it to DVD. I have reason to feel bad – my sister is in it. She has a role – a speaking role no less. She appears in two scenes: in the beginning and near the end of the movie. It was a treat to see her on the screen – quite a surreal experience I must confess. So am I biased in my review?

The movie was not bad. It felt that there was a lot to cover, so at times the film felt rushed. At times it felt as if things important to the story were missing (I have not read the novel mind you). The story was good, but seemed awfully hard to believe. It seemed difficult to achieve the complex character of Florentino Ariza – a person so in love that he seems oblivious to the world around him. Javier Bardem played the older Florentino and, despite being an excellent actor, he couldn't pull it off. Maybe no one could've. The childlike infatuation seems forced and unnatural on an adult. An idealized mind would get it and would likely ponder on the romanticism of it all. Blah!

The character, to balance his mad love, becomes a gigolo – having his way with apparently every woman he lays eyes on. By the time he's in his latest years, he confesses that more than six hundred ladies have made his bed. It's a surprise -a miracle even- he didn't catch something or impregnate anyone. The nicest surprise was to see that my sister was nowhere near the sometimes-quite-graphic sex scenes. Perhaps the movie lost most of its fans with the final sex scene. There is nothing beautiful about two seventy-year-olders having sex – specially when the director boldly goes as far as showing us a full frontal of the aged Fermina Urbino (the object of Florentino's affection). It was disgusting. If old people want to have sex – they are in their right to do so and I applaud them for it. Regardles, I, for one, don't want to be a spectator. Some things are best left unseen.

As a side-note, the acting of John Leguizamo (Lorenzo Daza) was horrible. He was a complete cartoon. He played the characted so over-the-top is was ridiculous. Was it meant that way? I guess. Leguizamo is a good actor so I couldn't imagine this type of over-acting being anything but deliberate. In my opinion this was a sure miss.

In conclusion, the film was not horrible – it wasn't great either. I can see how the accents and other things might've easily turned off your typical audiences. The richness of Garcia Marquez's prose can never be done justice by a film. There are so many nuances that are strongly tied to the Colombian culture and the coastal region of the country that would be impossible to translate to film, into another language, or even understood by another culture. Therein you'll find the beauty of some of his novels and some of what was missing from the film.

Created: 3/27/2008

Saw Them All: A+

Now four, the Saw saga continues in the last installment even after Jigsaw's death. The plot is simple; a talented engineer sickened by humanity and lawlessness takes justice into his own hands. Each of his victims (most of them scum and criminals) is trapped by a contraption that mirrors their evil deeds. The victims must decide to inflict on themselves some incredible pain to survive or to die a sometimes equally painful death. Jigsaw sees this as the ultimate life-changing decision. As time progresses it becomes increasingly easier to sympathize with the killer. Ultimately (in most cases), he's bringing justice to bad people who had been able to beat the system and walk free, sometimes to commit more crimes. He's a vigilante with a twisted and bloody sense of justice and redemption.

The movies are gory and bloody and sick, but they are masterpieces of horror. There are twists and turns in every corner. As Jigsaw falls ill, the torch is passed along to others. In the last movie, as he's dead or dying (the timing is off on purpose), he begins recruiting yet another to further his agenda. Jigsaw's motives and background are also revealed. The fourth movie serves as good closure for a great series. True, the door is left open for more, but with the master dead a fifth movie would be a ridiculous stretch lacking the sympathy earned by the mass murderer. Despite his sadistic techniques, it's easier to side with Jigsaw than with some of his victims. In pain, agony, and despair, they are exposed to be monsters in their own right. The audience hovers between feeling empathy and disdain for the victims – they get what's coming to them in many cases. That's what makes the series so good. It's like falling in love with the persona and charisma of a Hannibal Lechter despite his atrocities.

I might, one day, with a tough stomach watch the whole series beginning to end. It is worth enduring the gore and brutality to string together all the events that lead to the torch being passed. This series should go down as one of the most successful and well-written horror franchises in cinema history. Unlike classics gone bad (like Halloween, Psycho, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc), this series tells a continuing story that remains true to the purity of the original. Each movie stands alone on its own right, yet the whole series is much more than a blood fest. Finally, we've gotten a horror series with depth - it's been a long time coming.

Created: 3/4/2008

No Vacancy: B-

When Vacancy hit the big screen, I was interested in seeing it. The trailer looked very Hitchcock-esque. Not feeling particularly strong about it once it came out on DVD, I let it slip. I was surprised to see it on one of the premium channels and couldn't pass the opportunity (plus nothing better was on).

I liked the movie okay. It wasn't great, but it provided some good scares. The tension between the couple before the events in the hotel was unnecessary. I guess their kid died and their marriage had subsequently and virtually ended. This was too much and absolutely irrelevant. Replace that by the wife (Amy – Kate Beckinsale) being pissed at her husband (David – Luke Wilson) for getting them lost and you have the same effect. Once they realized they were in danger, everything else went out the window.

There were a few things that didn't quite register with me. Why didn't the killers just walk in through the front door, or come in through the bathroom trap door and start their mutilation while they had a chance/before the two had enough time to sketch a plan of escape? After all, they had keys and the two victims were completely trapped. Why would the couple leave the phone off the hook once they placed the 911 call instead of hanging it? It's the same motion. Putting down the phone would make no less noise than hanging it up. Why once they had made it to the gas station, did they not just run into the night or look for their car to split? I guess they wanted to see if the cop would help them, but I would have not taken a chance. And about the cop… he recognized, in a split second, he was currently in the same room that the one in the snuff film playing on the VCR. Mind you, it was dark and it took Amy and David a few minutes to come to the same realization when the room was well lit.

More. Once in the attic, that the manager didn't hear Amy's shrieks and sobbing in a quiet night is ridiculous. Furthermore, that she was able to fall asleep after all that was completely unbelievable. Who are they trying to fool? The suspense built every time Amy walked by the dead hotel manager was unnecessary unless they actually meant to give us one last scare. Those scenes made me ponder if I were in the same situation I'd fire a pop to the head after he was down to erase any chance of a come-back. That David survived the stabbing in the gut was laughable considering there would've had to have been hours of blood lost.

The two made the same rookie mistakes made by every victim of a horror movie. They certainly deserved to die. Alas, it seemed like both of them survived. And for a suspense/terror movie, the body count was negligible – even when counting the three bad guys. I'm not counting the main participants in the other snuff films as current of course – there's no telling how many people had died there before our two heroes showed up.

The film was mildly entertaining, providing a couple of spooks and tense moments here and there. Overall it was good enough to watch on TV, but would've been disappointing on DVD and much worse at the theater. I'm glad I waited.

Created: 2/18/2008

Eastern Promises not delivered: C-

I liked A History of Violence (A) so I was inclined to watch Eastern Promises to see if the chemistry between director David Cronemberg and Viggo Mortensen would produce another success. It didn't. The story lacked depth. Not being one to be shocked by graphic violence, I thought they overused it. The movie went so far it looked like a "B" slasher flick at times. Gore for the sake of gore is worthless and does nothing but demean the quality of this type of film.

I didn't care for the baby or his dead mom – somehow, the whole point for Naomi Watts' (Anna) tangle with the Russian mob didn't register. More than anything else, the movie turned into an expose of the Russian mafia. And then, as explanation for the man's inexplicable compassion towards Anna and her predicament, we learn that the character played by Mortensen (Nikolai) is an undercover cop. Lame.

Sorry, but this film was not good. Although the acting made up for a lot, it certainly could not rescue the movie. I was only marginally entertained. When a movie involves so much violence and the possibility of any of the characters being brutally murdered, it is crucial for the audience to care for them. In this case, I didn't give a rat's behind one way or the other what happened to any of the characters. That speaks volumes.

Created: 2/18/2008

The Hottest State of Memories: A

My heart has been broken just once. The pain was indescribable – simply something I don't ever want to experience again. The Hottest State took me back to that time and place in gut wrenching fashion. The main characters William and Sarah, played by Mark Webber and Catalina Sandino Moreno, partook in a series of events that were reminiscent of my experience in many levels.

When love hits hard, everything changes. When it turns quickly and without explanation, it's impossible to let go. The couple quickly moving in together and their trip to Mexico reminds me of a December break, years ago. When William gets back to NYC, four weeks after Sarah's departure, and gets the "I need some space" line, I was transported to the end of January/beginning of February. His subsequent attempts at reigniting a relationship took me back to the rest of February (for the most part). It was impossible to watch the unraveling of their relationship without thinking about those feelings of helplessness, that emotional meltdown. That the movie focused on William's experience made it even more real to me. He was me and nothing that Sarah said would make sense to him as nothing I heard at that time made sense to me. In our minds, we'd found our "other half" and there was nothing that could make us believe otherwise, nothing would allow us to let go. Thankfully, our stories turn out differently.

I like the movie for what it did – accurately portray a set of emotions so raw and obsessive that they are hard to understand if they haven't been experienced. The acting was good. Ethan Hawke, the director and writer, made a cameo as William's dead-beat dad - the person somehow responsible for William's inability to deal with a broken heart. Laura Linney made an appearance as his mom. Michelle Williams played a minor role (his friend) as well – completely unnecessary. One thing though – I get that Sarah was a struggling singer trying to make it big, but by the time the film was over I was sick and tired of hearing her sing. Catalina Sandino Moreno is not a singer and although she's not particularly horrible, it had had enough of her song early in the movie.

The story was incredibly relatable and that was its most important attribute. Otherwise, it can certainly seem like a talk-fest of self-involved characters. I guess liking or hating this movie all boils down to being able to relate to William and his feelings. If you've ever had your heart broken, this film will likely bring back some painful memories.

Created: 2/18/2008

I don't like Westerns, but Yuma Delivered: A+

Westerns make me thirsty. The dust and the sun and the dirt - there's something that I just don't like about them. Regardless, there are films that transcend these dislikes. Such as Unforgiven (A+), the remake of 3:10 to Yuma accomplished just that. The story delivered where so many others fail. When it comes to movies, it's not about the scenery or the time setting or the special effects or the headliners or the budget, it's a good bit about the acting, but mostly it's all about the story. Without that, you have a multi-million dollar pile of dung the likes of Spiderman 3.

Christian Bale was once again money in the bank. This time he was accompanied by heavy-weights Russell Crowe and Peter Fonda. The movie was framed by the story of a slick, charismatic stage-coach robber, Ben Wade (Crowe) – his exploits, apprehension, and subsequent delivery to a train on its way to a Yuma penitentiary. Underneath it all, there's the story of a one-legged loser, Dan Evans (Bale). Here's a man that owes money to the local "investor"; a man that lives and dies by the fruits of his farm – a farm being punished by a long drought. A victim of circumstances he has nothing and to the eyes of most, specially his family, he is nothing. His eldest son, only fourteen (William Evans played by Logan Lerman), is extremely harsh towards his father. He gravitates towards a confident and skillful Wade over his weak father.

When Wade was captured, a near suicide mission was commissioned to escort the man to the train station that would deliver him at the penitentiary. Money was a factor, but Evans joined the posse for so much more. Through the eyes of his son he saw himself as a complete loser that couldn't even provide for his family – he was nothing they could be proud of. He needed to right that wrong.

The movie then follows the treacherous journey to the train station. Hour after hour the posse dwindled in size as adversity claimed lives at every turn. The savage side of Wade was clearly evident, although his humanity came through often. The character was masterfully played by Crowe. Several times in the movie – especially in the end when the main characters were waiting in the hotel room to make their final run to the station – the events ran true to current times. The gang offering to pay strangers for their support; Wade willing to pay Evans for his freedom – all spoke of common crime boss tactics. "The more things change the more they stay the same." Money cannot buy everything. This man's mission was less about money and more about leaving behind a legacy of bravery. With his son unexpectedly tagging along the way, he placed that atop anything else. Wade achieved that and more.

The movie ends with a mad dash from the prisoner and captor to the train among raining bullets. Wade's posse was ruthless and relentless – specially a very interesting and unusual character: Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). I won't spoil the end scene, but I have to say the story does not unfold with the now common "twist ending." You see the end coming a mile away, but it doesn't matter. Wade, a vicious criminal, understands Evan's purpose and makes good. The final scene is incredibly powerful.

It's hard to distance this movie from American Gangster. In this case it is Crowe who plays the criminal and who once caught and once the dust settles decides to do the right thing. These two movies both humanize and expose crime bosses – on one hand they are ruthless killers and on the other they are compassionate human beings. It's easy to depict a murderer or a criminal in only one light, it is powerful and hard to make an audience both despise and relate to, understand such characters. Both these movies did just that without missing a single step.

Created: 2/8/2008
Last Edited: 4/7/2008

Get to know Juno: A+

Great film! Great pro-life message. And no, I'm not going to get on a pro-life vs pro-choice tirade, but it's good to see viable and sound alternatives to abortion positively spun on film. Moving on… the story is gripping. The dialogue is witty – hilarious at times. The characters are relatable. I loved it. This is the Little Miss Sunshine (A+) of this year.

So, high school girl gets pregnant by friend, decides to give child up for adoption, selects and meets couple, endures pregnancy, delivers, the end. Simple storyline yet full of interesting little twists and turns that explore the complex relationships between high school friends, married couples, parents with their children, and teenagers with adults.

Spoiler awkward moment: during the scene when Jason Bateman's character unloads the divorce news on Juno, he seems to leave out there the possibility of wanting something "more" with her. There was a little too much touching going on. His character moved from cool to sleazy in a split second. The scene was played out so well by both actors you could feel the whole movie theater become uncomfortable.

This is a real classic. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and plan to go back and see it again – something I have not done in a long time.

Created: 2/1/2008
Last Edited: 4/21/2008

Sickly DVD Marathon - Disturbia a Stranger like Bender, but no Harsh Hairspray

So I was bitten by the throat and cold bug which set the stage for another DVD marathon. After all was said and done, the lineup turned out to be pretty "blah" overall.

Disturbia: C-
Shia LaBeouf plays a troubled teen (over-used combination of words – aren't all teens troubled?) confined to his home (ankle monitor) that turns into a Peeping Tom out of boredom. The movie is so boring at times, I started to stare out my window in hopes of finding something more interesting. It attempts to be Hitchcockian, but falls short. Suspenseful at times, the film fails to venture into interesting areas (killer going out with Kale's mom, make the viewer doubt the murderer's guilt more, etc). Perhaps the PG-13 rating doomed the movie from the start. I was not impressed, although it was not incredibly horrible either.

Perfect Stranger: C-
Talk about a far fetched mess. The movie was fine (bearable) until the end, when the writer decided to throw in a really cute and unexpected twist. It didn't work. The movie attempted to be clever, but it wasn't. The character played by Giovanni Ribisi went from being a long-time friend and associate of Halle Berry to become unhealthily obsessed with her. It just wasn't easy to swallow the sudden change. Totally vanilla.

Futurama – Bender's Big Score: B+
I love the TV series Futurama. This was nothing more than a really long episode. It was fun. It tied well into the history of the series. The humor I'd known and appreciated from the TV show was intact. The made-for-DVD movie had enough twists and turns to keep you wondering what'd come next. I liked it fine.

Harsh Times: B
Here I was expecting brilliance and came away with nothing more than good acting. Christian Bale again delivered. He played an honorably discharged ex-military man back from Iraq looking for a job in law enforcement. More than a way to get money, he wants the job to be able to marry his Mexican girlfriend and bring her to the US. He also wants a legal outlet for penned up violent tendencies. Freddy Rodriguez also stars, playing a character that is Bale's best buddy – a weak-minded fool that puts his marriage and life on the line for his friend. The movie lost me when the fates of the two men seem to have changed for the better. All things seem to be falling into place and yet the two continue down a road of self-destruction. Perhaps the movie is a testament to how ridiculously stupid some people really are. I found it a bit unbelievable that after a string of implausible good breaks (all in a row), the two characters (Bale mainly, but Rodriguez's by coercion) can't realize their lives have turned and that it's time to move on, to mature. Of course, Bale's character is insane and that may explain most of it. The movie was okay – nothing spectacularly brilliant. The acting was superb though.

Hairspray: A-
At the risk of sounding like a campy purist, John Travolta is no Divine. Of course, Divine never acted in Hairspray (the musical). This is perhaps my only complaint about this movie. I've seen the theater production of this John Waters movie-turned-to-Broadway-musical and thoroughly enjoyed the tunes. Nikki Blonsky played a great Tracy Turnblad - she was made for that part (that part only). All the acting, dancing, and singing were great. Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad was excellent. It is worth mentioning that the genius behind the original, Mr. Waters himself, made a cameo appearance as a flasher (very appropriate character choice in my opinion) in the opening song sequence. The cast is full of notables: Amanda Bines, Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jerry Stiller, James Marsden, and the now musical staple Queen Latifah. Criticizing the script would be criticizing the theater production, and that wouldn't be fair for this forum. Regardless, the adaptation of the original film to the stage was excellent – always remaining true to Waters' customary satire. The transfer from the stage back to the screen was well done, gaining latitude and depth without losing anything. This film was thoroughly enjoyable.

Created: 12/18/2007