Death Definitely Not Snooze-Proof: D

Tarantino is quite unique. His movies all involve interesting character dialogue and development. The subjects brushed by the characters are always out there. Sometimes some of these things combine together to form a masterpiece like Pulp Fiction (A+). Sometimes too much of that is just too damn much to bear. That's precisely the case in Death Proof. The second part of the double-feature theater release (which included already reviewed Grindhouse) was certainly more boring blah-blah than action.

There are two different sets of characters targeted by Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Tarantino spends too much time getting us acquainted with these women. By the time the first batch is murdered, you wish you had been in the car with them. Furthermore, the action sequence that leads up to their death is just too short – if you blink, you missed it. The second batch to be assaulted is developed just as tediously. In this case, Mike doesn't know who he's messing with. If anything, the battle between the man and his victims and their subsequent revenge takes more than just a few seconds – and that's an improvement over the first story.

I rarely fall asleep during a movie. For the first time in a long time, I dozed off for a few minutes during the bar scene. Bonus was I didn't miss a thing. I woke up to see the group of people were doing the same thing they had been doing before my eyes closed. The clever dialogue was just drab. The action was not proportional to the setup. The acting was par or sub-par. The story was not developed effectively. The plot was not good. I wish I could somehow get those 90 minutes of my life back.

Created: 12/5/2007

American Gangster Delivers the Package: A+

This is one of the best movies of the year without a doubt; one of the best I've seen in a while. The acting was superb. Russell Crowe (Detective Richie Roberts) was great, yet he was only playing second fiddle to Denzel Washington's performance (Frank Lucas). The story was gripping and engaging. The dramatization of this series of historical events was superbly pulled off by director Ridley Scott.

The characters were very relatable. Frank Lucas was (is really) a man not unlike any entrepreneur that wishes better for himself and his family. He learned all he knew from his employer and mentor – a small-time Harlem crime boss (more like someone working the borough for a bigger boss). In his dying words, this man complained about the increasing wave of retailers selling direct thus ending the need for the middle man. Frank took that to heart, realizing that the only way to be the boss (the real boss) was to procure his product (heroin) from the source. If you offer a product of better quality at a better price you will capture the market and he did.

The movie portrays the struggles of a good cop navigating through a sea of internal corruption to catch the big fish. It depicts the rise to power of a very intelligent man whose downfall was perpetuated by his associates. Someone who seemed untouchable collapsed under the weight of the empire he created. It is almost a constant that greed, power, and the feeling of invincibility perpetuate the downfall of the biggest and most infamous crime leaders.

But there is so much more to this film. Accurately called by a critic the Blow (A) of heroin trade, the movie details not only the rise and fall of Frank Lucas and his empire, but also how fast and long the tentacles of corruption grew into the establishment. Money buys all and when the getting is good, only those with high moral fiber are left on the outside. This movie delves into the grim reality of crime and corruption. Sooner or later the glitz and glamour bought with dirty money goes away. All the things that money buys come with the huge burden of knowing it could vanish any minute, but even worse, the knowledge that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword. A violent life leads to a violent death (or worse the death of loved ones).

There's even more – Lucas' nephew was a promising baseball player. Through his circles of influence, Lucas gets him an opportunity to show his skills to the Yankees. The kid doesn't show up. His reason: he wanted to follow in his uncle's footsteps. He wanted to be a gangster. And why wouldn't he? Money, notoriety and respect (caused by fear) are all alluring; especially if the perception is that they come at no cost or without much effort. There's a reason why so many people are attracted to a life of organized crime. There is no such thing as easy money. Everything comes at a price.

The movie is chock-full of life lessons. Even in my synopsis I can pinpoint a multitude of clichés. Despite what would seem a repetition of the same ole story with the same ole message, I didn't want this movie to end. And it was long – 157 minutes long. At every turn there was a new dimension to be discovered, a new kink to make things interesting. Even when Lucas had been apprehended, there was much more to come from his collaboration with the government.

There are a few scenes worth mentioning: the raid of the last military transport from Vietnam, the crackdown on the processing operation, and the arrest of Lucas. All of these were great. The arrest sequence – Lucas walking out of church, the streets sealed off by a whole squad of police officers, Roberts making the arrest - sent chills down my spine. A sense of justice served truly overwhelmed me.

I really don't know what else to say other than this is one of my all-time favorites. After the movie ended I immediately wanted to know what has happened to both main characters since – I was completely vested and interested. This is a homerun in so many levels. I liked it so much, I held on to post it as my 100th cube.

Created: 12/5/2007

Lucky DVD: A

I'm still trying to figure out how I missed the movie Lucky Number Slevin. It was really good. I don't remember hearing anything about it when it first came out or when it was released on DVD. The cast of characters is hard to ignore – Bruce Willis, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Josh Hartnett, and Lucy Liu.

The acting was good. The plot was great. Twists and turns make you wonder how a guy could be so unlucky, how he could've gotten into a mess of this size without merit. But in time all the lose ends come together, showing that there is no truer statement than the Spanish proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold."

This is a hidden gem in the DVD rack. If you like twists and turns a la The Usual Suspects (noting nothing is as good as that film: A+), you'll enjoy this movie. I found it clever and fun.

Created: 12/5/2007

Too Much in Zodiac: C

The movie was good because it was based on the real story of an uncaught mass murderer – that's it. The subject was interesting and the acting was good. Regardless, the movie had too many details to keep up with – too many characters, too many names. It was hard to follow where one lead ended and another began.

The movie makes the viewer feel like he/she is going through an exercise in futility that spans a decade. There's a lot of movement and a lot of speculation and a lot of a lot that turn out a whole lot of nothing. SPOILER: half-way into the movie, they find the killer (alleged) – no doubt in anyone's mind. That's all good except his handwriting doesn't match the murderer's and that alone allows the man to remain free. From that point on, there's more of the same, looking for more clues and finding nothing other than more minor details pointing to the same man. Frustrating.

This one started okay and turned into a real snoozer. Some suspense sequences were added in an attempt to make the audience believe the meddling cartoonist (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) was in danger – lame. The film is interesting from a historical perspective, but once the murders stopped, it crashed into a lull.

Created: 12/5/2007

Gridhouse/Planet Terror – exploitative, retro, okay: B+

This Robert Rodriguez film was entertaining – no doubt. That it was a well-funded and well-cast "B" movie made it appealing. The gory effects were nothing short of what's expected from this type of film – over the top. There was not a shortage of blood or slime being splattered all over the place. It was as campy as it could get. The acting, the effects, the plot, the dialogue - all camp.

Freddy Rodriguez was certainly an unlikely hero, but he pulled it off quite well until his late and unspectacular demise. I would've expected something a lot more creative than multiple gun shots to take the main character down – especially in this type of movie. Rose McGowan did a great job as the amputee dancer heroine. Even with a recently removed leg, she had some crazy moves and was deadly with a custom-made machine-gun prosthetic (how did she pull the trigger on that thing?).

Bruce Willis and Quentin Tarantino also make an appearance as infected soldiers (or officers). Even Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas shows up and is one of the first victims to be mauled by the infected creatures (zombies). I bet the cast of characters enjoyed acting in a film like this one.

The movie was edited to display film scratches and any other expected reel anomalies common in a really old, not well-kept movie strip. I felt as if I was really watching something that had been just dug out of the bottom of a dusty chest in some dead man's attic. There were missing sections/reels and all. This effect made the concept come full circle – it made it a legit low-budget-like "B" movie.

One last thing worth mentioning: the movie even comes with its own little faux preview. The only fake trailer to make it to DVD (I have learned the actual theater release had a bunch of these) was for a movie called Machete. It was really campy and truly captured the essence of cheesy seventies exploitation movies. I just read the idea will be developed, shot, and released as a full-feature some time in the future. "They just messed with the wrong Mexican." Pure gold.

I think the concept of producing exploitative movies reminiscent of the seventies and eighties plays perfectly into the Gen-X appetite for all things campy from their (our) youth. What is it about this generation in particular that is so attached to material things and cultural memories from our past? We're the driving force that keeps Ebay in business. I have a stack of Garbage Pail Kids cards I still wonder why I got a few years ago, but can't seem to want to let go. Dementia may be settling in early for most of us. I guess we could blame TV or even Global Warming. Anything is possible.

Created: 11/15/2007

When Trilogies go bad – My "spidey" senses just spotted a dud: D

Spiderman 3 is the reason why some trilogies should never have been made. The movie was a complete disaster. This was without a doubt one movie too many. The previous Spiderman flicks were enjoyable – they had decent plots with interesting villains. This one was a jumbled mess. I really can't peg what was worse, so I will list the top five things that ruined this movie:

1. That bitch Mary Jane with her whining and complaining got on my nerves. She's the most insecure, self-involved actress-wannabe I've ever seen. I wonder how much of the character is pure Kirsten Dunst – probably most. I watched the movie last night and I can still hear her bitching.

2. That tired old bag Aunt May needs to check into a home. Boy I'm tired of her wit and wisdom. If I hear her utter another sentence starting with "Your Uncle Ben," one more time, I'm going to fly out to California and beat her with that dumb beret she wears for a scene in the movie. Lady, your husband died (presumably taking into account movie details) three years ago. It's time to find a sewing circle somewhere and move on.

3. The villains sucked. The bad guys are such an important part of a hero movie and this one didn't deliver. The Sandman is the classic villain with the heart of gold. Ailing daughter? Accidental shooting? Give me a break. Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) praying out loud in church, directly to Jesus, to kill Peter Parker was the stupidest thing I have ever seen. Is this what religion has come down to for some (whoever wrote this)? The only thing missing was for the character to say "Jesus, for the first of my three wishes,…" What a load of crap. What's better, is Jesus' quick delivery (maybe not a carcass, but at least a tool to do the job). If this isn't an endorsement of Catholicism, I don't know what is. On a related note, there was no explanation why the parasitic alien turned Brock into a Spiderman-like creature (Venom). It was clear the alien amplified its host's dark side, but when did that turn into giving people super powers?

4. Harry Osborn/Goblin Jr. was a joke. The whole amnesia thing made me wonder if I had inadvertently switched to the Soap Network or Lifetime. He starts off trying to avenge his dad, and then a bump in the head turns him into the happy-go-lucky "I love everyone" guy that lives to enjoy his extensive fortune but can't remember anything past his graduation. Then, a botched kiss to that lame-ass Mary Jane brings back his thirst for revenge. A mean Spiderman burns half his face, so he cowers back into his lair. To make things even more dramatic, Spiderman asks for his help to fight the other bad guys (where does he get the balls?). Although he initially tells him to get lost, later BIG SURPRISE, he actually comes through. Eventually he even gives his life for Spiderman. This is the kind of garbage that makes people think that there is no real evil in the world.

5. Finally, the pièce de résistance – Peter Parker as a badass was singlehandedly the most idiotic thing I have ever seen. I get him showing his darker side (although he looked like some goth meth addict), but who knew the dark side of Peter Parker was a cheesy douchebag. The only thing that would've made this more cartoony was playing the "Staying Alive" soundtrack as he strutted down the street (maybe a cane and a feathered hat would've been appropriate too). The scene at the Jazz Club would've been more appropriate in a Leslie Nielsen spoof. The writer and director went to great lengths in the attempt to make us believe this side of the mousy, nerdy character. They failed miserably on every front. Tobey Maguire's range as an actor is not that wide. He can nail the nerd, but he's going to have to work a lot harder to try to sell a badass. I didn't buy it.

In summary, the movie sucked; it was a detriment to the previous two. I am hoping against all hopes that they reconsider doing a fourth one unless they can come up with something to make up for this disaster. Historically, sequels only go downhill, so I am not expecting any miracles. Maybe I should go to church and, in plain voice for all to hear, cash in my third and final wish. "Sweet Jesus, please don't let them waste perfectly good film on a Spiderman 4."

Created: 11/10/2007

A Cube that Brings Objects to Life: A-

I watched Transformers this weekend and was somewhat pleased at the portrayal of one of my favorite childhood cartoon franchises. A fan as a young teen, I didn't much care for the background and the side plots; I just liked the robots and the action. To my surprise (and I will expose my lack of comic book geekness) they were all after a cube – All Spark: a cube that gave life to all mechanical objects, turning them into transformers. I though it was an interesting coincidence. I don't remember this from my youth recollections at all.

Anyway, I have a few beefs with the movie. First, It focused too much on the ridiculous trivialities in Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf) life. The whole scene when he's looking for his great-grandfather's glasses in his bedroom as the Autobots wait for him outside his home is just plain stupid, childish. Here they are desperately in need for an object that can doom the human race and the kid is convincing his parents nothing is going on; he's worried about his dad's lawn and his mom's garden. I just wanted this all to end. It put an unnecessary time drag into the movie. Furthermore, the character played by John Turturro is a complete joke. His portrayal and the ridiculous actions of the other "Sector 7" characters make them look like a bunch of fools instead of government secret agents. These things are great miscues in my opinion. Perhaps it makes the movie more kid-friendly. If that was the intention, they did it much better than George Lucas attempted with Jar-Jar Binx. So at least they have that going for them... which is nice.

On a political rant, what's the deal with the completely unnecessary shot at G.W. Bush? So for less than a two second scene he's lying in the bed of Air Force One asking the stewardess for a Ding-Dong. This serves as a segue for her to go to the storage room, taking Frenzy (the boom box, cellphone Decepticon) with her so he can tap into the plane's computer. Some people just can't contain themselves. They will ridicule the President any chance they get. And although you (or even I at times) may disagree with the President, it's a bit immature to take cheap shots in a film when completely unrelated to the plot. Also, I don't know if it was intentional, but Jon Voight (who played the Secretary of Defense) spoke in a very Bush-like manner. At least he didn't play a bumbling fool.

Other than that, the movie was good. The effects were superb. The back-story was well explained although it doesn't necessarily tie up to its cartoon/comic book origin. Despite some truly unnecessary elements, the movie worked. It displayed some awesome special effects. The robots were incredibly realistic. The end was fitting, and, as I expected, set the tone for a likely sequel. After the credits, a scene of Starscream (F-22), the only Decepticon to have survived the rumble, flying into space made this suspicion a reality. Further research has shown me that Transformers 2 should be released in 2009. Big surprise.

If you were a fan of the cartoon series and not a purist, you should enjoy the film. Trying to get too technical or too grown up will spoil it for you.

Created: 10/20/2007

Black Snake Moan me some Blues: B

Dang! Samuel L. Jackson is getting' old. Christina Ricci looks crazy hot, crazy, and hot in this movie. One more: what's up with Justin Timberlake's decent acting in decent movies?

The movie is a bit slow in my opinion, but the acting more than makes up for it. Jackson plays a man – Lazarus – whose wife of many years leaves him for his brother. Ricci is Rae, a real-life hermaphrodite that gets an unnatural itching for sex that drives her to any man who's willing to give her some (which means basically any man). And then there's Ronnie (Timberlake) the anxiety-ridden military-bound boyfriend of Rae's.

The movie delves into Rae's character self-fulfilling her destiny. In other words, she has a problem, but instead of fighting it, she gives into it thus turning into the town whore. She doesn't like it, but she doesn't do anything to change this image. The root of her "illness" may come from the fact she was apparently repeatedly molested by her father – a fact known to her mother.

By chaining her to his radiator (after finding her beaten half-to-death in his rural driveway), Lazarus tries to break her from her evil ways. Instead of having his way with her (as anyone else would've), he cures her ailments, dresses her like a lady, treats her like the woman he wants her to be. Theirs becomes a type of "father-daughter" relationship. He takes the chain off but she doesn't stray realizing she has found some normalcy in an otherwise wretched life and a man who doesn't just want to have sex with her.

Lazarus' playing of the blues does much more than just frame the movie. The music really becomes a character in a similar matter (yet a bit less) than bluegrass in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (B). He has the voice for it – but then again, anyone who has experienced pain can sing the blues.

I liked the movie because it showed how much a little encouragement and guidance can do for someone who's life is derailed. It also shows how a person's own negative self-image can project onto others. When you don't give a crap about yourself, no one else will either. Furthermore, the closing scenes taught us that sometimes all we need to ease a negative psychological/physical urge is a reminder of something that has helped us in the past – (Rae's belly chain and Ronnie's need for Rae's embrace). Sometimes all you need is to stick with what works.

Created: 10/15/2007

Good Candy (…but no Requiem): B (…A+)

So I watched the Australian movie Candy starring Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, and Geoffrey Rush. The movie is about a young couple that is madly in love with each other and madly in love with heroin. It documents their struggles with money, their failed attempts to kick the addiction, and what the drug does to their relationship. Although slow at times, it probably does a very good job at exposing how drugs can ruin the lives of so many. In a deeper sense, the movie focuses on the love between the couple – how the willingness to do anything for each other blends into doing anything to get heroin and into trying anything to get better.

Poignant and disturbing at times, this movie could serve as another good R-rated after-school special to dissuade kids from doing drugs. Although I thought the story was good and the movie well acted, it doesn't come close to achieving the long-lasting mental imprints left by Requiem for a Dream (A+) - a movie that will forever remain in my mind as the ultimate drug-use vaccine. If I have kids one day I will certainly make them watch this 2000 film featuring Jennifer Connelly in some of the movies most disturbing scenes. While Candy focuses on one couple and one drug (mostly), Requiem explores the addiction to several substances by several people whose lives are all intertwined. This movie depicts a much steeper and quicker decline into oblivion.

If you need more, there's always Trainspotting (A)…

It's hard for me to understand why anyone would willingly start using drugs – especially hardcore ones. I think these movies do a good job exposing the power that these substances have over their users/abusers – how far they'd go, the things they'd do to satisfy a fix. This, to me, is one of humanity's biggest mysteries. Why would anyone do something so harmful to themselves and others knowing full well that it'd be almost impossible to stop? Perhaps I should dissertate about it in another cube.

Created: 10/15/2007

An Uninspired Breach: B

With all the hype I'd heard about this movie, I guess I set my expectations a bit higher than warranted. Don't take me wrong, the movie is not bad. Based on a true story, Breach delves into the operation that ultimately brought down Robert Hanssen (played by Chris Cooper), the greatest traitor in US history. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill, a young FBI agent who is assigned to monitor Hanssen by becoming his assistant. All in all, the movie is well acted and directed.

My issue with the movie is perhaps caused by the notoriety of the story. Pulling off a film in which everyone knows the ending is quite a task. Phillippe's character is deceived at first, being led to believe that he's monitoring Hanssen because he's a pervert of sorts. It would've made the film a lot better had not we already known what they were after. Discovering the facts with Phillippe would've been ideal, but I was way ahead and therefore it just made me impatient.

Even once the facts were known to all, I knew that Hanssen would eventually be caught, so I just wanted to get there. There were few (if any) detours from a very predictable outcome. The director tried to accentuate Hanssen's duality by making him an ultra-devout (almost ridiculous) Catholic – deeply interested in making church-goers out of all people. If this part of the story is not accurate, they certainly took it too far. Furthermore, for one of the smartest, spy-counter-spy operatives in the world, Hanssen was very sloppy in the end and came down very easily. Maybe the movie attempted to make the point that, in some deep level, he just wanted to get caught.

The movie was worth watching, but it wasn't anything extraordinary.

Created: 10/9/2007

No cracks on Fracture: A+

Anthony Hopkins returns to a villainous role in this movie. He portrays a very wealthy structural engineer that discovers his wife is having an affair. After he verifies the extramarital relationship, he proceeds to kill (or attempt to kill) his wife. The first policeman to enter the scene, the negotiator, was the man having an affair with his wife. A very smart Hopkins had every single aspect calculated to ensure getting off scot-free.

The movie explores the cat and mouse game between Hopkins' character and the prosecuting attorney, played masterfully by Ryan Gosling. Gosling an LA District Attorney has just landed a high-paying job with a big law firm at the start of the film. He takes the case thinking that with overwhelming evidence it'd be easy to put Hopkins away. He was wrong. After he realizes he's been played with, Gosling puts his future on the line to do the right thing in the attempt to put away a bad and smart man.

The legal and psychological dance between those two characters is very well executed. What looks like an inescapable attempted murder, suddenly becomes a very cleverly planned alibi playing off legal technicalities.

Perhaps what I enjoyed so much was the film was the match of wits between the two main characters. Hopkins played a certainly fascinating man. A broken heart and his appetite for revenge after being betrayed turned him very quickly into a calculatingly evil man. Was he always evil? Nothing leads us to believe that this otherwise charming man was inherently evil, but the quick change might indicate in him some inherent latent tendencies. Gosling's character cannot stand to lose a trial. He's sick of working for no money and can't wait to get to his newly-acquired high-paying job, yet he can't let a guilty man – this guilty man – walk.

Note I really liked the "perpetual motion-type" gadgets Hopkins' character had in his office and at home. These are certainly some contraptions that I would much like to own and display – true works of both art and physics rolled into one. Very cool stuff if that's what you're into I guess.

There's a little of everything in this movie: law, crime scene investigation, police drama, etc. I was hooked from the get go. Great acting and a great story keep this movie together all the way until the end. This is a must see.

Created: 9/28/2007

Superbad = Supergood (and Halloween is no Halloween): A+ (and C)

First and foremost I will say that I only watched the first 40 minutes of Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, the John Carpenter classic slasher that introduced us to Michael Myers more than 20 years ago. If the start of the movie had any indication on how it would develop and end, I'm glad I left. First and foremost, it was hard to stomach young Myers not being a complete speechless psychopath devoid of all emotion (even at a very young age). Although a true sociopath, the young kid is chatty and even sweet at times – even with a mask on. By the time he had made it to the loony bin, I'd had enough. His interviews with Dr. Loomis were almost comical. I may rent this when it comes out on DVD just to see if, in an outside chance, it got better. This was a definite step back for Rob Zombie.

Now, on to the gravy. So after leaving one theater after a "false start" of sorts, we walked down the hall to the movie we really wanted to watch: Superbad. A couple of different friends had recommended it – both using the word "crude" as a caveat to their accolades. Yep – the movie was crude, but it was pure genius. So this is not a movie you'd recommend to your parents, but it's definitely one you'd want to watch with friends. To say that the movie is full of foul language would be the understatement of the century. To say that the movie is outright dirty would also be a complete downplay.

This coming of age tale tells the story of three friends' trying to get laid by supplying some alcohol to a party. The adventures they live together through that night are nothing short of gut busting hilarious. The dialogue truly carries the movie – especially anything that's uttered by Seth, the lovingly and unapologetically chubby character played by Jonah Hill. The other two kids that complete the starring triumvirate, Evan (Michael Cera) and Fogell/McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), are equally great.

What makes this movie so good is that the characters (if not also the situation) are so incredibly relatable. Any guy who ever had an awkward moment during their high school experience can find something in this film to take them back to those times. And I say "guy" because this is a movie that will appeal much more to men – especially due to its crudeness. It is also about three boys and their relationship with girls, but mostly with each other.

Watch this movie. It will become a classic to define this generation much as the Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles defined mine. That said, be prepared for a testosterone filled shot of juvenile humor. Although there is some substance to the movie (the relationship between the two main characters as they approach being separated by college is well developed), it is all about outrageous fun.

Created: 9/15/2007

300 – Déjà vu all over again: A

Before I talked to a friend about this movie, I thought it was absolutely great. My opinion hasn't changed, but now I cannot deny that a lot of the elements from this movie appear "borrowed" from other films. If you took the basic story of the Spartan army of 300 men facing a full-fledged Persian invasion, and the movies Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, and Gladiator, and threw them in a blender, you'd get something really close to the movie 300. That said and acknowledging that parts of the movie will seem awfully familiar it still made for a really good flick.

The cinematography is great. The battle scenes are excellently captured. The slow-motion action and highly digital content added an extra level of detail and sophistication missing from a "like-movie" like Braveheart for example. This movie was artsy, but still remained true to its action genre.

At its core, the movie delves into the subject of fighting for freedom – for sovereignty more than for independence in this case. King Leonidas and his army are willing to pay the ultimate price for the Spartans to remain free from Persian rule. While on battle, the politicians left behind jockey for power – discrediting their King's fight. All this rang a sense of familiarity – all too similar to current affairs. It seems we have become lulled into believing our freedom is a given – we take freedom for granted. There's never a lack of politicians trying to spin unpopular conflicts to their advantage. It seems the more things change the more they stay the same.

The movie is good. I enjoyed it despite being an artistic embellishment of history. Even if it was clearly influenced by other well known films, 300 is well worth watching. If for nothing else, it is good to be reminded that time after time, in real history (not only in fiction), a few brave souls are always willing to sacrifice their own lives to preserve or obtain freedom for others.

Created: 9/15/2007

No "Doh!": A+

If you're a Simpsons fan, you'll like The Simpsons Movie – end of story. It was well done – over the top with plots and guests and so many of the other things that have led millions to watch year after year (even through a couple of rough seasons). It was funny. It was shocking – even if Bart has been no stranger to nudity, he has never been shown in all his glory until now. At the sight of the Bart's penis, Ralph Wiggum divulges a sudden interest in boys - classic.

The movie has the feel of an extended episode – of course that's expected. Regardless, throughout the film I never felt shortchanged. It was written very well – it didn't seem too long or too short. Despite having seen the Simpsons do it seems like everything over the past two decades, the movie felt fresh. It also had an edge that had long been lost by the animated series. As a TV sit-com, the Simpsons are tame in comparison to more current, edgy adult cartoons such as Family Guy and American Dad. The movie brought back some of that lost spunk. It was great.

If you like the Simpsons (or used to like them), go watch the film. You won't be disappointed. If you're not a fan, maybe this film's genius will be lost on you.

Created: 8/15/2007

DVD Lately - Con, Kill, Sacrifice, Eat, Hide

Color Me Kubrick: B
John Malkovich portrays a character that masterfully cons everybody around him into believing he's the recluse film director Stanley Kubrick. Like star struck sheep the people that fall in his web buy into all his rhetoric and help indulge his alcohol and cigarette addiction. This is a classic con story that would be hard to believe if set in more current times where fame equals notoriety and information (pictures) is so readily available on the internet. In today's and tomorrow's world a con as such would be virtually impossible to pull off. The movie was okay.

Alpha Dog: A-
Good flick taking a peek into a So-Cal subculture of well-off young adults leveraging their social status to become drug traffickers. As expected, some money goes without getting paid, some people get pissed, some violence ensues. Then, a rash decision: a kidnapping. The plot delves into the humanization of the involved parties leading to a very predictable end. Regardless, well worth a rental.

Apocalipto: A+
This Mel Gibson film is brutal on purpose and unapologetic about it. If anything it serves as a reminder of the savagery and majesty of the Pre-Columbian tribes that inhabited the Yucatan peninsula in particular. Of course the movie was deemed controversial because Gibson has been pegged as an anti-Semite monster. They say he had to go out of his way to spin these ancient cultures as brutal savages who were thankfully "civilized" by the Catholic Conquistadors. I call foul on his critics. There is enough documentation to back up the claims of these ancient cultures's savagery. Great movie – but prepare to be disgusted.

Hannibal Rising: F
It has been a long and painful dive since The Silence of the Lambs. Actually that's not completely accurate - Red Dragon was entertaining. Otherwise though, this Hannibal Lechter franchise has gone from bad to worse. This prequel in particular tries to explain how the notoriously charming and manipulating cannibal came to be by exposing his early life in Lithuania and subsequently his young adulthood in France. The movie was boring, painstakingly monotonous. I only kept watching because of some type of respect for the character Anthony Hopkins so well played. By the end of the movie, there was little in me that could connect the two Hannibals. This movie is not worth the paper the script was scribbled on.

Fay Grim: F
This is a sequel to the movie Henry Fool. Perhaps not having seen the original left me at times wondering what was going on and why I should care. After it was said and done, I'd wasted a couple of hours of my life and I still didn't care for any of the characters. It's a shame that Indie royalty Parker Posey would waste her talent on this film. I'd pass on this one too.

Created: 8/2/2007

1408: A

This, for one, is a Stephen King story that wasn't messed up on its way to the screen. And it's not that there haven't been a bunch of good ones – there have certainly been a good dosage of them throughout the years. The Green Mile (A+), The Shawshank Redemption (A+), Carrie (A), The Shining (A), amongst so many others have made the leap very well. Others like Sleepwalkers (D), It (C+), Hearts in Atlantis (C-), even Dreamcatcher (C), have not and that's the point. Perhaps because of the breadth of his works one can expect some things to work and some not. Another reason could be that King's scary stories just don't cross-over as well as his non-scary ones do – perhaps a lot of his terror is so inherently internally developed that only the written word can do it justice. This movie, for a change, worked quite refreshingly well.

As in so many Stephen King works, the main character is a writer who has quit smoking but still holds on to a cigarette tightly almost as a security blanket. This author in particular, Mike Enslin (played skillfully by John Cusak), is known (if not well at least somewhat) for his books on the most haunted hotels, gravesites, and miscellaneous locations. He's a true skeptic that, despite having written many books on the subject, has not yet been spooked or approached by anything from beyond the grave. Then, one day, he hears about room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in NYC from a very inconspicuous postcard – one unlike anything he's used to receiving in the mail.

Fueled by curiosity, the man tries unsuccessfully to reserve that particular room for an overnight stay. An intense pushback that followed by the hotel's manager (Mr. Olin) – one Samuel L. Jackson – only makes Enslin want to spend an evening in the hotel room even more. After a little dance of back and forth in which Olin vividly describes all the gruesome and non-gruesome deaths at the hands of the room, he gives in and allows him to stay the night.

What follows is a psychological (and real) battle between the room and the writer. The once skeptical author – who has strong reasons for being that way – is quickly submerged into a whirlwind of horror. The room is indeed an evil entity intent on dismantling Enslin's sanity. The room transforms over and over again, it brings specters from the past, it meticulously prays on the writer's weaknesses. Near the end, it offers Enslin a way out – one probably served to all the other victims of room 1408 – death. He doesn't bite and instead squares up against the room in a final showdown, miraculously getting out. In the process, he also manages to reconnect with his estranged wife. They live happily ever after. The end.

Yes, this is the tic-tac version of the movie and I omit some very important details, but there's no point to sit here and tell you exactly what took place. It was a good movie. I was scared out of my seat a couple of times. The visual effects were good – not overly done – not multi-million dollar budget either, but adequate. The characters were well developed, at least for what was the outcome of a short story. Overall it was a very well executed adaptation.

Okay, here's my complaint: what was it about the author's dad? He is mentioned a few times – twice in the context of the author's first novel – a fictional work nothing like the books he's become semi-famous for since. Then, the room brought his dad into play just briefly – just enough for us to see him, but it leaves us wondering what the whole deal was. I will likely read the story later to find out what this whole side-plot was about. If this is anything like any other Stephen King story, I know a lot – even perhaps the answer to my question - was skipped on its way to the reel.

So I went back and read the short story that the movie was based on. I have to admit I was grossly mistaken when I expected from it answers to some of the movies unresolved quetsions. The story - a real short story (30-40 pages) - was just a shell of the movie, a Cliff's Notes version of the film that didn't even delve into some of the most interesting plots. This actually makes its adaptation to film so much more remarkable. What was a tepid, uninspired story became a much deeper, vivid, interesting film. This was a refreshing change for the better.

Created: 7/5/2007
Last Edited: 7/9/2007

Christian Bale debunking Kevin Spacey? A+

Upon the heels of watching the movie The Machinist (A-), I figured I’d write something about an actor that has really become one of my all time favorites - Christian Bale. Although the mentioned movie wasn’t one you’d like to watch when tired (it has a tendency to be slow and lulling), it is impossible to avoid the sacrifice this actor made for the part. After losing more than sixty pounds, Bale looked like the shell of a human being – like a holocaust survivor. It was truly sickening and powerful to see what can only be described as a walking skeleton on screen. I won’t spoil the ending, but the escalating paranoia gets resolved quite nicely in the end – the mind is a terrible thing. Although the movie could be rated from good to bad depending on your current energy level and state of mind, Bale was superb in it.

Although I have heard of some of his flops like Reign of Fire, the movies that I have watched were he plays a starring role have been excellent. His acting has always been top-notch. He is Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins(A+). In the "matrixy" Equilibrium (A+) he plays a character so much like Neo, so well that it makes me wonder how much better that trilogy would’ve been with him instead of that Keanu dude. I actually found out he played the kid in Empire of the Sun (A+) - another awesome film. Even at a young age he was knocking them out of the park. His character/s was/were flawless in The Prestige (A). Who can argue with his delivery of an American Psycho (A)? He nailed the nineties corporate yuppie to a tee.

How refreshing it is to see a good actor performing in good movies. Maybe Kevin Costner should talk to this guy’s agent. As for Kevin Spacey, one of my most favorite actors, I have to say I have been disappointed with some of his latest works. Although I still think his acting in The Usual Suspects (A+), Glengarry Glen Ross (A+), L.A. Confidential (A+), and American Beauty (A+) among others is undeniably best-in-class, he’s been in a bad-mediocre movie slump for a while now. So, in conclusion, Bale edges Spacey… open to further revision.

Created: 6/4/2007

Is Pan’s a labyrinth of the mind? B+

A fantasy movie that’s absolutely not for kids - that’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Don’t be fooled by the fairy-tale aspects of the story. There is enough visible, almost tangible violence and human suffering to make the most tough-gutted viewer shriek in disgust. The torture scenes are almost too much to bare. If anything is certain about the script is that it leaves no room for interpreting the Captain’s evil heart. You will not feel one bit of sympathy for what happens to that animal. As a matter of fact, you’ll end up wishing him much worse.

Okay, I guess there’s enough evidence to support that all the fantasy elements in the movie didn’t just occur in the little girl’s mind – yet, I still wondered. The faun did give her the magical root that temporarily cured her mother and the Captain did destroy it – that alone proves some kind of real contact. I guess I was expecting the "it was all in her head" typical movie cop-out. After going through the movie mentally, I guess that theory is improbable, which makes it an honest fantasy... still...

Although interesting and intriguing, the movie failed to deliver. It seemed to oscillate between being a war movie and a dark fairy tale. I was left wanting more of one or the other or both. The visual effects were awesome. I didn’t dislike the story or the way it was told. It just seemed like the Tic-Tac version of a good thing. Could it be that I’ve gotten used to the trilogy, multiple-movie delivery the likes of the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean? Was I left wanting more because they compressed the story to one movie instead of three or four? Has Hollywood messed me up that bad? Hard to tell. Still, I felt there was at least two good storylines that were quickly blended together, never given a chance to fully develop.

Created: 6/4/2007

I caught "the angry:" B+

Last weekend I went to the movies with friends and watched 28 Weeks Later - a sequel to the 2002 indie hit 28 Days Later. The movie started off where its predecessor left off – Great Britain has been afflicted by a highly contagious virus that drives people insane with blood thirst. For some odd reason, the sole purpose of the infected is to seek and attack (and inevitably infect) the healthy. This is a zombie movie – let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it isn’t. The infected are only distinguishable from movie zombies because they can be killed without being shot in the head, they move a heck of a lot faster, and don’t necessarily only care for brains. Like their undead inspirations, they relentlessly swarm their victims until killed and grow in numbers as they convert victims into their own kind.

Enough background. The movie was fun – enjoyable – much like the first one except with a more entertaining dimension to it. The military involvement made it a far more interesting movie than your typical zombie movie. The imagery of a militarized, vastly-unpopulated London was also done very well.

A few movie takeaways:
Rules are made to be followed
Civilian life can and should be sacrificed for the greater good during extreme situations
Never underestimate people’s studipity
Sometimes the best policy is a hard reboot

A few movie holes:
The helicopter pilot didn’t know jack about the kids and should’ve shot them at first sight.
The infected seemed to only attack the uninfected yet when dad got infected he ravaged an infected mom. I don’t get it unless he had to vent his anger at someone and she was the only one around
The dad zombie was a little too smart and somehow managed to curb his appetite for destruction so he could focus in finding his kids – not buying it.

Created: 5/30/2007