Paranormal Activity (2009)

Has the best horror film of the decade been discovered? Audiences and critics alike have heaped praise on Paranormal Activity as being one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen. Steven Spielberg even claims that while watching the film in his home, the door to his room inexplicably locked from the inside, and he had to call a locksmith to set himself free. The film’s producers set up a viral campaign asking for one million signatures if people wanted the film to get a wide release. In less than a week, the million signature mark was achieved. But is this a case of bandwagon hype, or has something special truly been found in Paranormal Activity?

Paranormal Activity is a lower than low budget film that was conceived by video game designer Oren Peli. The story follows couple Micah and Katie, who have been experiencing some strange occurrences in their new home. Shot from the point of view of the camera that Micah bought to document the disturbances, we are placed directly in the house that is supposedly being haunted by a demon that has followed Katie since she was eight years old. After consulting a psychic who claims to be unable to help them, the couple must do what they can to flush the demon out, or at least just survive.

Expecting a let-down after all the hype, I was pleasantly surprised by Paranormal Activity. Though the all out “scares” were hard to come by, Peli does a great job of creeping out the audience using clich├ęs such as “stuff moving by itself” and “loud noises coming from the other room”. He even finds a way to make the worn out handi-cam gimmick seem new again, just by placing the camera on a tri-pod once in a while. Despite a rather dull first 20 minutes, once the paranormal activity in question starts, it is very hard to look away. Rookie actors Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat (I wonder where their characters got their names from) do a well enough job to keep the eerie tone of the film alive. Their dedication to the roles was definitely essential to keeping Paranormal Activity watchable.

However, the claims of Paranormal Activity being something special are a bit of an over-statement. Though it was an effectively creepy film, I would not say it was unnerving enough to keep me up at night. Shortly after leaving the theater, the effects of the film wear off and you can go about your day undisturbed.

Overall, Paranormal Activity is good enough for an unsettling movie-going experience, and is certainly much better than most of the so-called “horror” films being released today. You also may be interested in knowing that there is an alternate ending to the film online, which is said to be Peli’s original ending before the studio made him change it. My rating (7/10)

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

"We ain't in the prisoner-takin business. We in the kiliin Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin". This line, spoken by Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, should just about sum up Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The "We" in question: eight Jewish-American soldiers (accompanied by German defect Hugo Stiglitz, played by Til Schweiger) that have vowed to deliver 100 Nazi scalps each to their leader, the aforementioned Raine. Their group's name: the Inglourious Basterds. Don't ask about the spelling. It's never explained. These men have made quite the impression on the Third Reich, angering Hitler himself and landing on the radar of "the Jew hunter" Colonel Hans Landa (superbly played by Christoph Waltz). Showing no fear for possible death, the Basterds join a mission called Operation Kino. The mission, being carried out with the help of German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark (a traitor to her own country, clearly), involves suicide bombing a movie theater that happens to be inhabited by the four major heads of power in the Third Reich, including Hitler. Little do the Basterds know that while they carry out their plan, the owner of the movie theater, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) has her own scheme in the works. When Dreyfus was a teenager, her family was murdered by Hans Landa, and she considers this to be the perfect time for revenge. Will either parties succeed in their mission? History says no, but Quentin Tarantino didn't set out to make a historically accurate film.


Recently, I was invited to publish my reviews on the website Naturally, I accepted. Though I will be posting most of my full length reviews there from now on, I will not be abandoning this blog. I will still be posting shorties, second viewings, and I'll probably publish the first paragraph of all full length reviews, with a link to so you can read the rest of it. Thanks for reading everybody!

Bruno (2009)

In 2006, a wave of the most frightening and dangerous disease known to man swept the United States from coast to coast. It affected nearly everyone in some way, and three years later, it still has not fully died out. I am talking of course, about Borat-itis. From the mind of Sacha Baron Cohen, a character came forth that was so naive and lovable that audiences and critics alike embraced him with open arms. As I walked through the halls of my high school, I could not go more than 15 seconds without hearing a poor impersonation being spouted by a student. Claims of "great success" and an epidemic of "high fives" nearly decimated the hallways, and I was unsure if they could ever recover. Now in 2009, Cohen has unleashed a new character that will not be as loved, not be as sympathetic, and (most importantly), not be as quoted as Borat. I speak of Austrian fashionista Bruno, an extremely openly gay television host who is played shamelessly by Cohen. After making a fool of himself at a fashion show, Bruno becomes blacklisted from working in Austria and decides to move to America to become "uber famous". Shot mockumentary style just like Borat, we follow Bruno in his quest through such "get famous quick" schemes like pitching a show to a TV network, adopting an African baby, or making a sex tape with Presidential candidate Ron Paul. Whether he is as quotable as Borat or not, Bruno is a hilarious character, and the film by the same name is equally as funny.

Bruno is a film that is certainly not for everybody. It contains an excessive amount of graphic homosexual intercourse, it is shocking and eye-opening (I'll explain this later), and it includes at least 30 consecutive seconds of close up male genatalia. But for those of you, like me, that just find the comedy in these things, you'll see that Bruno is one of the funniest movies of the year. Any film that can get Paula Abdul to willingly sit down on a "Mexican chair person" and casually carry on an interview is worthy of praise. Bruno's outrageous premise is held together by it's fearless lead, Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen pulls absolutely no punches as he totally immerses himself in his role. Not wavering to homophobic hunters or terrorists, Cohen shows an impressive ability to withstand a dangerous situation just to drag the absolute most comedy out of it. In one scene, Bruno finds himself at a swingers party and becomes locked in a room with a rather domineering swinger. As she whips him repeatedly with a belt, Cohen does not stop the shoot or drop character, but instead jumps out of a window and runs off into the night. Dedication such as that is nothing short of brilliant.

But behind the heavy layer of lubricant, Bruno does have a point to it. This film is the ultimate satire of celebrities, doing whatever it takes to get into or stay in the limelight. Bruno goes as far as interviewing a known terrorist in hopes of getting kidnapped, to become famous. Sure nobody in real life would ever do such a thing, but this obvious metaphor is something that holds a lot of truth. Bruno also takes aim at parents who essentially "sell" their children for a chance at spotlight. As he interviews parents who are willing to let their children participate in a photoshoot, the questions he asks get to be outright insane. "Is your baby comfortable with working heavy machinery?" "Does your baby like the scent of phosphorous?" "Would your baby be comfortable with undergoing liposuction to lose an extra 10 pounds?" Yet all of these questions were met with a "yes" from the parents. Seeing these parents agree to these horrible things is an eye-opening experience. And if those questions weren't enough to convince you that these parents are insane, maybe this will do it. "We have chosen your baby to be dressed as a Nazi Officer, pushing a wheelbarrow, with a Jewish baby, into an oven. Is that OK with you?" "Sure".

Though Bruno is hysterical and creatively satirical, I cannot recommend it to most people. Some of the things seen in this film cannot be unseen, and that may disturb people. Sometimes parents look the other way at R ratings and allow their children to see a film anyway. In this case, parents need to be warned that this film is NOT FOR CHILDREN!!!!! AT ALL!!!!!! UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!!!!!! If you have issues with homosexuality or graphic male nudity, you'll probably want to steer clear of this film as well. However, if you are fine with all of these things and accept the fact that this is just a movie, you'll probably enjoy it. My rating (7.5/10)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

This review will be the first of what I'm calling "Shorties". Every now and then, if I want to post a review but simply do not have the time to devote a full length article to it, or if I want to get it out of the way for another review, I'll write a Shorty. These will be far less detailed than full length reviews, but it will still get my point across (hopefully).

With Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Michael Bay has once again dominated the summer box office. This second installment has been a smash hit, raking in $672 million worldwide in 3 weeks. But is all this attention really necessary? In 2007, Transformers delivered the high octane adrenaline rush a summer movie-goer craves. It's story took a back seat to flashy special effects and a very appealing Megan Fox. So what does Revenge really offer us in terms of originality? The answer is not much.

In this unnecessary sequel, director Michael Bay, along with writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruger, drags us through the exact same film that he released two years ago, but with more Transformers, less plot (I didn't think that was possible), more suggestive shots of Megan Fox, and a little more length. To speak frankly about Revenge of the Fallen, it was a terrible film. No good performances, a terrible script, and noticably long. But who really cares about those things when they buy a ticket for this movie. You want to know about the action. Although the action was fairly impressive, there really wasn't much here that wasn't in the first film. It was more of the same, and it got pretty boring. I am also surprised that there has been no backlash by the African American community about the blatant stereotypes that the writers sprinkled into this film. Two brand new Transformers, Mudflap and Skids, are walking caricatures of all the generalizations of African Americans in our society. I was kind of insulted by it, and I'm white! I couldn't believe this cheap attempt at comic relief. Truly reprehensible.

I can't take too much credit away from Revenge of the Fallen, because it was never really trying to be anything more than it was. It had no aspirations, rather than to be loud and entertain. For that I give it credit. Also, suprisingly, I understood more of what was happening on screen in this film than I did during Public Enemies. For that, I give Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a 5/10

Public Enemies (2009)

From the first scene of Michael Mann's Public Enemies, I knew the ride would be bumpy. As John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is led through the front gates of a prison, the camera jostles up and down in motion with the characters walking, but with extreme exaggeration. After a few lines of mumbled dialogue the cameraman evidently has a seizure while Dillinger and his jailhouse friends stage a breakout. As Dillinger and his buddies, including John "Red" Hamilton (Jason Clarke) and Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), exit with guns blazing, not a moment of it is comprehensible through the frenetic cinematography and abrasively loud gunfire. This is just the beginning of the numerous complaints I have about Public Enemies.

In the year 1933, suave criminal John Dillinger is running wild in Chicago. Robbing banks in "a minute and 40 seconds. Flat." has made him public enemy number 1 for J. Edgar Hoover's (Billy Crudup) FBI. With Dillinger gaining popularity in the public eye for his easy-going demeanor, Hoover is desperate to get the criminal to the electric chair. So he hires Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the man who hunted down and killed Pretty Boy Floyd, to spearhead the manhunt for Dillinger and his associates, including notorious Fed killer Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). But the bulk of the story follows Dillinger in his troubled life, trying to balance his "work" with the love of his life, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).

The number one reason Public Enemies fails is it's writer/director Michael Mann. As I described in my opening paragraph, Mann's choice of cinematography was a poor one. Choosing to use an HD handheld video camera, Mann probably wanted the viewer to feel as though he was standing next to John Dillinger. Instead, I felt like I was watching a cheap re-enactment put together for the History Channel. By placing the camera directly into the actor's faces, a sense of claustrophobia sets in, and it makes sitting still very difficult. If that were not bad enough, during the gunfights, understanding what is being shown to you is near impossible. The camera moved so fast and so unsteadily that I would think one character was being shot, and then later in the scene he'd appear again perfectly fine. After just a few seconds of this home video-esque style, my head began to hurt and I started to feel woozy. Throw in the fact that Mann made the gunshots as loud as a sonic boom each, and I couldn't listen to the film either. During a scene showing the famous battle of Little Bohemia, after 20 seconds I had my head buried in my chest, eyes shut, with my hands over my ears, because I was becoming so uncomfortable. My sight and sound, the two senses one needs to enjoy a film, were actually rejecting Public Enemies.

If that weren't enough, Mann's writing skills were lacking greatly as well. (Though he shares billing with 2 other people, it's easier to just write his name). Though full of slick conversation, Public Enemies just doesn't make sense at some points. For example (nothing I'm about to say is a spoiler): the first 40 minutes of the film, the FBI is looking everywhere for Dillinger, and they frequently say they have no leads. Then in the next scene, while Dillinger is in a hotel room with Frechette, the FBI busts down the door and arrests him. That's quite the magic trick Mr. Mann, but how is it done? How could it be that the FBI can go from clueless to busting down his door in a matter of one scene? Well he doesn't explain it, so keep dreaming. For all I know, they did discuss it briefly, but who knows through the mumbled voices of almost every actor in the film. Anybody who has seen a film with Christian Bale knows that he has mastered an American accent. However, the chore of speaking in a southern accent proved too great the task for him. In one of his worst performances, Bale can't quite speak clearly enough to help out the audience. As a friend of mine affectionately put it, "it was like he borrowed his accent from Foghorn Leghorn, and he forgot to use it sometimes". Couldn't have said it better myself. The starpower of Johnny Depp, who tries very hard to save this sinking ship by giving a good but forgettable performance, can't distract us from the fact this film's screenplay is awful. It is painfully slow during most scenes, and then frantically hurried in scenes where valuable information is being thrown around. No medium was ever found in the script, and so the transfer to the screen was just as bad.

Since Mann chose to "put us in the action" rather than tell us an actual story, Public Enemies was an all out failure. Even if I were to forgive the flaws of the screenplay and most of the acting, I'd still give this film a scathing review because of it's direction. It just goes to show that a cast list alone cannot make a film good. You know what I would like to see? A film based on Baby Face Nelson, played by Stephen Graham again. I felt Graham gave the best performance of the film, and I'd like to see him again in the role. That movie might be good. Public Enemies, not so much. My rating (2/10)

I Gotta Catch Up

I've been on break for almost 3 months now and I am deeply upset with myself. In an attempt at redemption for those lost months, I'm going to write brief reviews of most of the films I've seen in that time. I promise, full reviews will follow.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Talk about starting the Summer off with a whimper. This much awaited prequel to the popular X-Men franchise had so much going for it on paper, but failed to produce anything worth watching. The most disappointing aspect of Wolverine was the shoddy special effects that looked like they were borrowed from an episode of "Smallville". Obvious green screen usage made multiple scenes irritating to watch. There was even a point when my girlfriend, who had slept through half the movie, woke up and immediately said to me, "I can see the green screen". You literally could see where the floor was ending and the green screen was beginning. This is inexcusable for such a highly anticipated summer blockbuster. Hugh Jackman gave his all as the title character, and I applaud him for that. As his brother and nemesis, Sabretooth, Liev Schrieber also delivers a pretty good performance, though was under-utilized. This trend continued with most of the supporting characters in the film as well. Ryan Reynolds, who appears on screen for all of 5 minutes, steals the show as Deadpool, the mercenary famous for breaking the fourth wall. No other performance is really worth mentioning other than Taylor Kitsch, as Gambit. Ever since the X-Men franchise began, fans have wanted to see Gambit on the big screen, myself included. When the time finally came to see the universal favorite, we were handed a terrible performance by an actor who couldn't keep his accent straight. In one sentence, Gambit would be from Louisiana. Then in the next, France. Then just American, but with a speech impediment. All in all, disappointment, thy name is X-Men Origins: Wolverine. My rating (4/10)

Star Trek- This is what summer is about! Though I knew absolutely nothing about the original series, this film version of Star Trek was still thoroughly enjoyable throughout. JJ Abrams, of "Lost" fame, handles the material as a seasoned professional, perfectly balancing cheesiness with tense action. Perhaps the most surprising thing to come from this film was the plethora of great performances. Chris Pine plays James T. Kirk, a young womanizer born from a former Starfleet Captain. Pine does a surprisingly good job as Kirk, fitting the part as if it was tailor-made for him. The most exceptional performance belongs to Zachary Quinto as Spock. In his first big screen outing, Quinto shows an impressive aptitude to really dig into a role. The half human-half Vulcan Spock is a volatile character, and it is shown clearly by Quinto. And since Star Trek is after all summer fare, let me talk about it's blockbuster qualities. Unlike Wolverine, this movie knows how to properly use special effects. As characters fight hand-to-hand with enemies on the hood of a ship, it never even crosses your mind that the scene has been altered by computers. Though the film has some flaws (in it's script especially), it is still a thrilling ride and probably one of the best films of 2009, thus far. My rating (8/10)

Up - OK so, me and Pixar have a bit of a beef. Since I have "grown up", I have failed to be impressed by the movies Pixar released year after year. However, year after year, movie critics from coast to coast praise their films as being amazing and then complaining that animated films don't get nominated for Best Picture. It never fails. I didn't care for The Incredibles. I HATED Ratatouille. I thought Wall-E was OK. When would the time come when I finally agreed with those gushing critics? With Up, that time may have, not arrived, but gotten much closer than before. Finally, I genuinely enjoyed a Pixar film for the first time since A Bug's Life. Not only did this film look amazing (which is usually the only compliment I give to their films), but actually made me laugh and stay interested in the characters. Though the main character was a grumpy old man, I found him to be one of the best characters Pixar has made. The gold star of this film which cemented it's place as a great film for me was a cute talking dog named Dug. Words can't explain how cute and hilarious Dug is. You'll have to see it for yourself. My rating (8/10)

Brick - This film was not released this year, but I just recently watched it. It was a film noir set at a modern high school where Brendan (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a loner, goes deep into the world of drugs and mayhem to solve a murder mystery. The film was written and directed by Rian Johnson, and then edited on his home computer. Even with the noticeably small budget, Brick was shot very impressively and was in all an entertaining film to watch. The screenplay, which can only be described as clever, may have been too smart for it's own good. Johnson, who wrote the film as an homage to film noir, got a little too carried away, having his modern teenagers talk like Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. This was the only part of the film I didn't really care for. I liked how Johnson didn't hold onto the film's secrets for very long. We find out halfway through what is going on, and I appreciated that. I can't stand when films make you wait until the very last scene to wrap up EVERYTHING. Throw in a very good lead performance by Gordon-Levitt, and you've got yourself a pretty good film. My rating (7/10)

That's all for now. A review of Public Enemies will be up shortly. I'm back!

Milk (2008)

"My name is Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you!" This quote may not mean anything to most of us today, but when spoken by Harvey Milk himself in 1970s San Francisco, this was a battle cry that meant hope for homosexuals everywhere. To this day, the issue of homosexuality has been prevalent in our society. Great strides have been made to settle the dispute, but none have birthed a final conclusion. Intolerance of homosexuals became a past time for some Americans, and Harvey Milk was the man looking to find those people another hobby.

Milk is the true story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay man elected to a public office. Forced out of New York because of his inability to live his lifestyle freely, Harvey took to the road with his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) in search of a haven for homosexuals. The two arrived in San Francisco only to discover just as much prejudice crawling through the city as anywhere else. Determined to help the world realize that all men are created equal, Harvey runs for office multiple times but comes out on the losing end. Despite losing Scott because of the chaos of politics, he kept pursuing office and eventually won a seat as City Supervisor in 1977. Contending with the views of fellow Supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin), Harvey now had to face a huge threat that endangered the jobs of millions of homosexuals: Proposition 6. Led by State Senator John Briggs, Proposition 6 called for all homosexual teachers at public schools to be fired in order to prevent them from teaching their students to be gay. This absolutely absurd claim sparked huge uproar in the gay community, specifically from Harvey Milk. Chronicling his life from his move to San Francisco to his murder (not a spoiler, as both his death and murderer are revealed about 4 minutes into the film), Milk is a fantastic film that teaches us about the life and teachings of this pioneer in history.

It is almost impossible to determine where one should begin to discuss Milk. With such flawless execution in every aspect of the film, it seems unfair to start one without talking about the other. Writer Dustin Lance Black, who received an Academy Award for his Best Original Screenplay, did a terrific job of not simply stating facts about Harvey Milk's life but telling a story that dug emotions from the deepest trench of my soul. To admit something about myself for a moment, I am not exactly what you would consider a "sympathizer" of the homosexual lifestyle. However, Black's perfect blend of realistic drama and occasional humor (Dan White: Can two men reproduce? Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying!) made me connect with each and every character and start to think of things in a new light. Director Gus Van Sant complimented Black's writing beautifully with an eloquent style that was not in the least bit showy. Subtle and simple camerawork did not fancify the story but simply enabled it to be told in a direct matter for the purpose of entertainment and enlightenment. Van Sant, whose films have been hit and miss (a shot for shot remake of Psycho counts as not just a miss, but a complete and utter misfire that made Alfred Hitchcock weep in his grave), is at his creative best here by being as least creative as possible.

The piece de resistance of Milk is the one who not only brought the words, but the man, to life. I am referring to Sean Penn, who won his second Academy Award for Best Leading Actor for this role. My initial reaction to Penn winning this award was one of disbelief and anger, because although I had not seen the film yet, I had heavy doubts that he could have been much better than Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Having seen Milk, I can say both men were equally worthy of winning the award, and the reason it was granted to Penn was probably due to the fact that Hollywood is a liberal place. This does not take merit away from Penn's performance, which was nothing short of outstanding. His contribution mixed with Van Sant and Black brought the era to life and put me right in the center of the action. What is perhaps most surprising about Milk is that there were a number of supporting performances that were just as praise-worthy as Penn's. Josh Brolin delivered a very powerful performance as Harvey Milk's executioner Dan White, earning him an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. White, a man bent on protecting the sancitity of traditional family life, perhaps even confused about his own sexuality according to Milk, feels his world begin to unfurl as he starts losing support and he watches Milk start to gain some. His morals and ethics are shook to the core, and Brolin displays them easily for us to see. But to just give Brolin a nomination for Supporting Actor seems unfair to Emile Hirsch and James Franco, who both gave exceptional performances. As Harvey Milk's close political advisor and fellow gay activist Cleve Jones, Hirsch encapsulates the role and helps keep the movie afloat in scenes that in other hands would have sunk. The most unexpected performance of Milk was that of James Franco, whom I have never seen in a good dramatic role. I was shocked to find that while watching the film I had completely forgotten it was Franco and I just felt like I was watching Harvey Milk and Scott Smith. Perhaps there is a future for him in serious films after all.

Admittedly, my general views on homosexuality have not changed much since watching Milk, but I have gained a better understanding of the situation. The very idea that this film resonated with me at all should give you an idea of how powerful it's message was. One can only wonder that if this film was released a few weeks earlier, would the recent Proposition 8 have passed in California? Something tells me that if everybody watched this film, whether the ideas stuck or not, the immediate reaction would have been to vote "No". This is all a relative thought, however. If you are a strict, God-fearing person, this movie will not affect you at all probably. But if you are like me and your feelings about homosexuality come from your own mind rather than a book, you may be more inclinded to succumb to the bias of Milk.

Clocking in at just over 2 hours, I was never bored with Milk and felt that I could have watched it again immediately afterward. To those of you who are concerned about watching men kissing other men, I assure you that at no point does the film become uncomfortable to watch, as long as you have a mature mind about you. Whether you watch Milk as a historical text or a vessel of entertainment, you are guaranteed a terrific experience from a truly brilliant movie. My rating (10/10)

Adventureland (2009)

In 2007, director Greg Mottola made a huge dent in the world of comedy with the hit Superbad. With the assistance of writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, he delivered one of the funniest films of the year and still kept it sincere underneath the loads of vulgar language. In 2009, Mottola went out on his own and wrote and directed the film Adventureland, a project probably very close to his heart because he worked at the real Adventureland long ago. For his sake, I hope this was not an account of his actual experiences there. Not only was this film about as funny as stubbing your toe on the refridgerator, it was overrun with whiny characters that pulled no sympathy from me.

It's 1987 and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) just graduated from college. Before attending Graduate school at Columbia, James wants to spend some time in Europe in hopes of losing his virginity to an easy foreign girl. But when the cost of his trip increases unexpectedly, James is forced to find himself a summer job to pay for the difference. Enter Adventureland, the local amusement park where James' friend Frigo (Matt Bush, the kid from the AT&T commercials, and the only funny part of this film) works. After a brief interview with park manager Bobby (Bill Hader) and his wife Paulette (Kristen Wiig), James begins his thrilling career as a game shack attendant. Life looks bleak for James until he is spotted by Em (Kristen Stewart), another game attendant. The two spark up a friendship that soon turns into romantic feelings for James. But Em's chaotic home life and an attractive musician mechanic named Connell (Ryan Reynolds) jeopardize James' chance of making this summer one he will remember forever, in a good way at least. Falsely advertised as a comedy, Adventureland is a drama chronicling the life of a post-graduate loser in Reagan era Long Island.

Adventureland did have one aspect going for it in it's favor. It was a realistic film in how people, specifically younger generations, interacted with each other in their awful job environment. The awkward and somewhat gloomy nature of these poor souls was a truthful account, so in that respect Mottola did a great job at writing. However, this brings up a serious problem in the film. Real life is not all that funny. In Superbad, the friendship between the two main characters was real, but events in the film were heavily exaggerated to accommodate the comedy of the film. In Adventureland, everything that happened was practical and thus much less funny. Mottola left little room for comedy and instead put heavy effort into developing his characters. In a dramatic film, character development is key. There needs to be a significant amount of it in order to draw an audience in. However, a comedy does not need nearly as much attention put in to the characters. In a good comedy, such as Superbad, the very beginning of the film introduces us to exactly who our main protagonists are. As the film progresses, subtle actions inside the comedy reveal more and more about the characters, but we are never force fed the material. Mottola takes this short 5 minutes of character introduction and stretches it into a full hour. Because of this, there is no light-hearted interlude between the moments we meet our friend James and the main issue of the film. It is drama through and through, and I was looking for a comedy.

Perhaps the biggest disease that Adventureland suffered from was the fact that it was a character driven film with boring characters and lackadaisical actors. Jesse Eisenberg plays the soft spoken intellectual James in a static way that is reminiscent of Michael Cera. Both emit an air of pathetic awkwardness, and neither ever really raise their voice beyond a certain level. The only difference is that Michael Cera is actually funny. Line after line Eisenberg delivers with the same "enthusiasm", and never once did he bring a smile to my face. Much like Paul Rudd's character in I Love You, Man was embarrassing to watch, Eisenberg overplays the quirkiness of his role and never shows the maturity that his character supposedly gained. The lone bright spot as far as performances go belongs to Kristen Stewart, who may have actually been too good for her role. The confusion and mayhem that was Em's life is brought forth with stunning strength though Stewart's performance. I say she may have been too good for this role because since everybody else was so awful and she was so spot on, the gap between was uncomfortably recognizable. However good of a job Stewart did though can be overlooked by the fact that she too, has not a single comedic line in Adventureland. So far, we have a comedy with two main characters. One is pathetically unfunny despite his best efforts, and the other is straight-laced and meant to amp up the drama. Forget good performances, somebody say something funny! It was here that the supporting cast contributed hugely to the film. Matt Bush as James' pestering friend was by far the funniest aspect of Adventureland, but was unfairly underutilized. I have seen Bush in a few TV commercials and I was glad to see that he transferred well onto a big screen. His future in the film industry will hopefully long, despite his upcoming project, Halloween 2. And of course, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig deliver as always but are, like Bush, rarely on screen. Martin Starr, as James' game shack mentor Joel, provides little to nothing to film, and may as well have been dropped from the script entirely.

It can be argued that Adventureland was not meant to be a comedy in the vein of Superbad but rather a touching coming of age story. This statement I can live with, but respectfully disagree. This film has been marketed vigorously as a hilarious follow-up to Superbad so that is exactly what I expected. Marketing this film as a comedy makes about as much sense as marketing Schindler's List as a great date movie. But judging Adventureland as a coming of age tale does not help it much. Because of the dismal acting and irritating characters, the journey into manhood didn't interest me in the slightest. The final resolution to the film is predictable and conjured not a single emotion from me. The characters themselves showed little emotion to any situation presented to them. They simply looked bored, and that made me bored with them.

Adventureland is a very long 107 minutes that is only good for a few chuckles and one solitary worth while performance. Greg Mottola has fallen victim to the sophomore slump, falling well short of the expectations brought about by Superbad. To those of you who may complain that I am being unfair by comparing this film to Superbad, let me say this. Adventureland as a lone film was boring, not funny, and a waste of $8. My rating (2/10)

Special (2006)

This was a movie I watched a while ago and it just popped back into my mind today. I discovered this film accidentally, and I am glad I did. I had my television on Reelz Channel and a show called Secret's Out with Leonard Maltin came on. I was about to change the channel when he began talking about this film. It intrigued me, so I looked it up.
Since I haven't seen it in some time you will have to excuse my brief and vague discussion of it.
This independent film is the touching story of bored meter maid Les, who is searching for something else in his life. In an attempt to perhaps make his existence a little less mundane, Les volunteers to take part in an experimental drug test. But soon after his first dose, Les discovers a shocking side effect to his medicine: super powers...sort of. Believing he was given these powers for a reason, Les goes around town dressed in all white walking through walls, reading minds, teleporting, and doing all the things that superheroes do. Even though his friends don't believe him, Les begins to feel that he has something he had never had before: a purpose. This is an inspirational tale about a simple man that appeals to all of us.

Main character Les is played beautifully by Michael Rappaport, who is mostly known for his work on television (you may know him as Donald Self from Prison Break, or the father on the short lived Fox series The War At Home). Rappaport portrays the everyman Les with ease and in turn delivers a deeply heart-felt, profound performance that truly resonated with me. This is the only leading role Rappaport ever had and he tackles the feat with the fluidity of a household name. It's just a shame that this film probably doesn't even exist in the mind's of 97% of Americans.

Sure the production value is low and I could have probably recreated the cinematography with a hand-held camera, but this was not a film to look at superficially. Who among us can say they have not felt utterly unnecessary in the grand scheme of the world? What are the chances that you can actually make a name for yourself and be known to even just a few people that you don't know yourself? There are people this fortunate, but it does not happen to everyone. It is this frightening thought that may act as a spark plug for many of us, causing us to do something that could make our future a little less predictable. Then again, some of us, actually most of us, may avoid the risk and simply accept the cards we have been dealt. Special shows the story of a man who represents the former, and after seeing it, you can decide for yourself if the decision was a wise one. Maybe Les' story will inspire you to try something new, and see where it leads you.

I implore you to seek out this film. I am not promising the greatest film you have ever seen, but just a simple film with a huge heart, which is something we all need to experience one day.

Se7en (1995)

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, and pride. These are the seven deadly sins as written by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, updating the work of Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th century. These cardinal vices are said to be the seven most objectionable sins a man can commit. However, for the 15 centuries this list has been around, mankind cannot seem to abide by the rules. Millions and millions of people everyday, including myself, indulge in these sins, and feel no immediate consequences (what awaits us in the afterlife, we can never be sure). Perhaps we should look upon this as a blessing, for if everyone in the world that committed one of these sins was chastised for them at once, there would not be much of a population left today. For this, we should thank our lucky stars that we do not live in the world of Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt). Mills has just transferred to a dark, ominous, unnamed city that oozes all things evil. For his first case Mills is paired up with Detective William Somerset, the very man he is replacing, to investigate the strange murder of a morbidly obese man found with his hands and feet bound and his face down in a plate of spaghetti. When another seemingly unrelated murder is discovered, the detectives start to suspect that they are dealing with a serial killer who chooses his victims based on the seven deadly sins. With five more murders to expect, Somerset and Mills have to piece the puzzle together before they, or someone they love, gets hurt. Although the story is unique, Se7en is executed ineffectively and leaves the viewer wanting more (not in the good way).

A friend of mine once described Se7en as "if Fight Club had a baby with Saw, you would get Se7en". For the most part, this is a fairly accurate description, but don't be fooled. Mashing two really good movies together does not always create a great movie. In this case, it churns out a a very average movie that aspires to be something unforgettable. Director David Fincher, famous for Fight Club and recent Best Picture nominee The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (I think he has a thing for Brad Pitt), adds his noticeable touch behind the camera, but without the strength you'd expect. Given the film's unpleasant subject matter, it would make sense for the setting to be a generic rainy city that shows no light, or no signs of hope for its inhabitants. But there is a difference between dark and pitch black, which Fincher sometimes forgets throughout the film. If he wanted to give Se7en the feeling of a film noir, he should have just gone ahead and done the entire movie in black and white. Fincher was not a bust at the position of director, but simply made some mistakes that hindered Se7en's progress. Some scenes were shot superbly, one in particular when the SWAT team and Mills and Somerset discover the victim for Sloth. This scene was one of the few that I felt truly captured the ugliness, grittiness, and severity of this created world.

Se7en may not have succeeded as a whole, but there was one moment in the film where everybody involved surpassed brilliance. The people in particular are director David Fincher, screenplay author Andrew Kevin Walker, and the casting directors of the film. I am referring to the reveal of the serial killer, aptly named John Doe. There is one scene in Walker's terrific screenplay (one of the few things of this film that was terrific) where Somerset and Mills sit at a bar discussing the situation at hand. Somerset turns to Mills and says, "If we catch John Doe and he turns out to be the devil, I mean if he's Satan himself, that might live up to our expectations. But he's not the devil...he's just a man". At that point the viewer thinks this is just a message Somerset is relaying to Mills. Time passes in the film, and we reach the point when Joe Doe presents himself. Fincher sets the camera on Doe's legs and shows nothing more. The anticipation grows because you cannot wait to see who they got to play this maniacal freak. Did they get a tall, lurching actor with a booming voice and a built upper body? Is it an unknown actor done up with makeup and prosthetics to seem deformed? No, it was just...well actually, I'd prefer not to say. It ruins the surprise. But when the camera finally moves up and shows John Doe's face and you discover that it is _____ ______, you understand exactly what Somerset was talking about. This was nothing more than a plain man, one that you would see riding the subway or walking his dog. It just goes to show you that appearances can be deceiving.

Staying with the idea that appearances can be deceiving, the most disappointing aspect of Se7en was the below average acting from a stellar cast. Seeing the names Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman on the poster can trick a viewer into thinking they are watching a film with terrific acting, but alas, it is only a trick. Pitt in particular does little to really invent his character Detective David Mills. More or less, he seemed to simply recite the lines as he read them off the script. At the end of the film, when Mills is faced with a particularly difficult decision, Pitt's acting slips into near comedy as he just contorts his face trying to look emotional. He might as well have been saying, "Oh wow look at how emotional I am being right now. Don't I just look so conflicted?" No, he just looked foolish. Morgan Freeman does a better job with Detective Somerset, but still doesn't put his best foot forward. With Freeman, most of his acting in Se7en came from his countenance. Unlike Pitt, whose face is too young and smooth, Freeman exudes the feeling of a man who has spent way too much time in this unforgiving city. He is tired of the senseless crimes he is forced to investigate, and he wants out. Aside from his face, though, Freeman is a standard addition. The one performance in this film that was complete was that of the man who I'd prefer to keep unnamed, so like his character, I'll simply call him John Doe. Doe's interactions with Pitt and Somerset are truly unsettling. His calm, even voice matched with the simple face will confuse you, because you won't believe that such horrible crimes were being committed by this man. Doe's screen time is hardly enough, and I would have liked to have seen more of him.

Despite all the negatives of Se7en, I would say there are just enough positives to balance them out. But a fair warning to all of you. There are lots of disturbing, realistic images in this film that you may not enjoy. Also, if you are not a fan of depressing endings, you definitely will not enjoy this film. At 127 minutes, Se7en does lag a bit, but like I said, there are just enough positives to recommend this film. My rating (6/10)

Crank (2006)

Do you ever feel like you just need a break from the world? Do you ever just want to leave and go to a place where things don't make sense, and nobody questions it? Do you want to see a man inject himself with an overdose of Epinephren and then go on an adrenaline fueled rampage through an entire city? If you answered yes to all of those questions, I have the perfect remedy to feed your need for senseless violence. Crank is a film so out of the realm of realism that your brain may freeze from all of the impossibilities. Jason Statham, a name synonymous with "awesome", stars as Chev Chelios, a professional hit man who has run into a problem. A rival killer has injected him with a mysterious poison that will kill him if he lets his adrenaline drop too low. Set on getting revenge before he dies, Chelios does whatever he can - driving through a mall, Epinephren shots, sex in public, the usual - to keep his heart racing. But don't worry about the plot. The plot is completely irrelevant. Crank is chock full of amateur camerawork, horrific writing, dismal acting, and overall inconceivabilities...but damn is it a good time.

It is pointless to discuss the technical aspects of a film such as Crank. It would be like trying to find a new perfume fragrance at a farm. You can try all you want, but you won't be happy with what you find. What Crank offers you is an exhilerating thrill that never ceases to be ridiculous. Rookie writers/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor be sure to never lead us on to thinking this movie was meant to be taken seriously, and that is why it is such a success. Although their directing repertoire consists of only shaking cameras, poor CGI, and countless jump cuts, they keep the action going and actually make Crank watchable. Plus, it always helps to have the number one tough guy in Hollywood today headlining your film. It could be said that Neveldine and Taylor have created the perfect men's movie: violence, sex, violence, loud noises, Jason Statham, and violence. Deep down, I think even the most refined man secretly wants to see a guy cut off another mans hand that was holding a gun, and then pick up the hand with the gun still gripped in it, and shoot the man with the gun with his own finger on the trigger. Not in real life, of course. That would be disturbing if it was real.

Much like Jean Claude Van Damme and Sylvestor Stallone before him, Jason Statham has made a name for himself in the world of over the top action flicks. This olympic diver turned archetypical Hollywood bad-ass first made his mark on the action world back in 2002 with The Transporter, and he has yet to lose his touch. In Crank, Statham simply does what he does best, and that is beat people senseless all while talking in that guttural, rough voice. Like his movies before this one, we are basically treated to The Jason Statham Show, because it is his mere presence that keeps us wanting to watch more. Crank is essentially just the next movie in a long series of films that I call Jason Statham Beats The Crap Out of People. Since this movie came out in 2006, he has starred in four more action films, and has five in development credits, one of which is a sequel to Crank. Statham is a man in high demand, and why not? Men want to be him, and according to my girlfriend, women definitely want to be with him. There are a few co-stars in this film, but they really don't matter. Amy Smart seemed like she was wandering around some movie sets, seeing if anybody needed a part filled, and they just grabbed her and tacked her in here. She only had about 12 lines in the entire film, and I probably could have delivered them better.

Chances are that if you want to watch Crank, you do not care about who is in it, how well they did, how the story is, or who directed it. You just want to know if this film is going to excite you and make you feel the rush you crave. The answer is a resounding "YES!". At a quick 87 minutes, you have just enough time to enjoy your energy high without crashing from an overdrawn story. Crank does not take itself seriously, and offers quite a few laughs that should keep you happy too. Who ever said that a movie has to be good, to be good? My rating (7/10)

2001: A Space Odyssey -- Is the Fourth Time the Charm?

2001: A Space Odyssey has been widely renowned as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Despite rocky reviews upon its first release, it managed to carve itself a place in history, gaining credibility as time rolled on. 2001's unique look at what the future may behold (the film was made in 1968, mind you) has surprised audiences to this day because of its accuracy. Nearly every technological impossibility in the film has become not just a possibility, but a probability in our near future. With the help of author Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick set out to make "the first good science fiction film", because he believed everything to that point was garbage. I haven't seen many science fiction films from before 1968 so I cannot comment on his statement, but when I first saw 2001 I did have something to say: "2001: A Space Odyssey was TERRIBLE". I hated this movie such an intense amount that it hurt my head to think that Stanley Kubrick made it. The film dragged along at such an indolent pace that I truly believed I had died and was now enduring what I thought was the tenth circle of Hell.

That was the first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. A year or so later I received the Stanley Kubrick DVD set for my birthday and with it came the dreaded Hell movie. When I finished with the rest of the set I decided that maybe I should try again. After all, it did seem like the film you would need multiple viewings to appreciate. So I popped it in, got through about one hour, and that's when things went black. Before I knew it my mother was waking me up on the couch, the TV still on with the DVD menu on screen. I threw the movie back in its case and considered it a victory that I fell asleep before I had to watch the entire film. Another few months had passed and I was bored as sin. So I figured hey, I'm already as bored as I can get, the only way I could go is up. So this was 2001's chance to redeem itself for me. Once again I put the movie in, and hoped for the best. I got about as far as I did the second time, and then I got up out of my chair, walked to the DVD player, contemplated smashing it with a baseball bat, and then simply decided to take the movie out and put it away. You may be asking why I keep subjecting myself to this film and just accept the fact that I hate it. If you know me, you know that I am a huge Stanley Kubrick fan. I love basically all of his films, and I frequently express how much it annoys me that he never received an Oscar for writing, directing, or producing. However, his one Oscar win was for Best Visual Effects for, you guessed it, 2001. So basically, I wanted to love the movie that gave my favorite filmmaker his only Oscar. I loved all of his other non-winners, it only seemed right that I should love the one that did win. So that's why I watched it a fourth time.

Today, much like the day when I watched this film the third time, I was bored beyond words. But I was in a good mood, and felt like watching a movie. I went through my collection of 250+ DVD's and came across my Kubrick set and saw 2001. I thought to myself that I would give it one more shot, and just this one more. Now that I've been in this class for a bit and actually know how to identify good filmmaking, maybe the experience will be different. From the beginning, a difference was noticeable. I wasn't squirming, I wasn't fast forwarding, and I wasn't crying in agony. I didn't even notice that it took almost 26 minutes for the first word of dialogue to be spoken, and that a total of 88 minutes of the film was silence filled with classical music. After the film ended I was surprised to feel that...I liked it. I didn't love it, I didn't think it was great, and I still didn't understand most of what I just saw...but I didn't hate it anymore. The meaning behind the film, the danger of technology, actually interested me this time around possibly because I've matured. I started to think about the question, are we allowing technology to get out of hand? Can these advances backfire in our future?

When the movie first begins, we see the dawn of man, which was basically a bunch of guys in ape costumes. If you can ignore that, you see what Kubrick was really trying to show us. This was our most primitive form. This was a world filled with danger, where it was either kill or be killed. In a single frame cut, we jump from the dawn of man to a space station in outer space, showing how quickly technology can creep up on us. As the movie progresses we feel that since that time a million years ago, we have grown as a race. But in the end, main character Dave Bowman has to revert back to the kill or be killed mentality and put an end to the humanistic computer HAL. So no matter how advanced we become, our instincts will always be the same and really nothing has changed.

Still, I found parts of 2001 to be overly drawn out, especially the ending when Bowman is traveling hyperspeed through space and we see an orgy of colors parade across the screen for about 10 minutes. Not to mention the countless questions left open to interpretation by the filmmakers. This is something that could be fun for some people, but to a point it gets frustrating. Arthur C. Clarke once said (regarding his collaboration with Kubrick) "If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered". I think this is a smart way of saying "we wrote this, but we didn't think it all the way through, so we are going to have you think about it". I like to believe that rather than my favorite director is a jerk.

So after the fourth try, I finally like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe after some more viewings I'll grow to love it. But let's just go baby steps for now.

Tropic Thunder: A Second Look

If you have not read my first review of Tropic Thunder please go to August 2008 in my archive.

The summer of 2008 was a great season for comic book films. Not only did every single superhero flick flourish at the box office, but most of them received critical praise as well (with the exception of Hancock). With all that success revolving around action films, the summer really needed a comedy to round itself off and make it a truly memorable one. Late in August, I reported that Tropic Thunder was the film that fulfilled that need. I mentioned how the performances of Robert Downey Jr, Tom Cruise, and Brandon T. Jackson saved the film from it's somewhat flimsy story. The Academy went as far as to nominate Downey Jr for Best Actor in a Supporting Role as the 81st Oscar ceremony. Even now, I feel this nomination was well deserved as Downey Jr really nailed that role down to a T. Tom Cruise also received a Golden Globe nomination with Downey Jr for Supporting Actor in a Comedy, which was a bit much, but after all, it's just the Golden Globes. Either way, it was not just me that felt some of the performances in Tropic Thunder were praiseworthy.

Last month, I finally bought Tropic Thunder hoping it would be just as funny the next few times around, and I was a little disappointed. Not a significant amount, but there was a definite letdown. All of the performances I once praised were still great and I feel like I will always give them high marks. Downey Jr was just as brilliant to watch the second time as he was the first. Cruise's foul mouthed movie executive Les Grossman was still an outrageous character that provided lots of laughs and that little extra bit of satire. However, all of the negative aspects of the film that I pointed out in my first review became much more evident and harder to avoid this second time around. The problem with comedies is that there are very few of them that have the ability to last. A joke that could have you rolling in stitches the first time you hear it may not even coerce a chuckle out of you the second time. In Tropic Thunder, I remembered most of the jokes of the film, and Downey Jr's performance, although still terrific, was less surprising as the first time. So sadly, there wasn't much opportunity for me to laugh out loud during my second viewing of this film. Instead, I kept noticing how Ben Stiller and Jack Black were uncharacteristically bland and one dimensional. I really noticed how it took the film a very long time to get rolling out of the starting gate. When I saw it in theaters I noticed this as well, but not to this extent.

Tropic Thunder
was no one hit wonder though, and I don't mean to imply that. Even on second viewing there were numerous laugh out loud moments and once again, great performances. The biting satire commenting on why actors make some decisions in their career is scarily accurate and still a potent theme. And since the direction can't change from one viewing to the next (only the way you view the direction can differ), the action sequences were still well put together with the perfect blend of violence and comedy. So although it may not be the ideal comedy that will live on forever, and it will probably do nothing else but diminish even more over time, Tropic Thunder is still a good experience, although less of one than I originally thought. My new rating: (6.5/10)

RocknRolla (2008)

So what is a Rock-n-Rolla? The marketing campaign for this film circulated this question through every possible medium, causing a terrible case of "annoying fake British accents" amongst our friends and family (a condition similar to "Borat-itis"). Before RocknRolla was even released, people were buzzing with fake British enthusiasm to find the answer to this question. However, when the film was finally released, we discovered people didn't so much care about finding the true meaning of a "Rock-n-Rolla" as much as they did masquerading as a British person. This is evidenced by the fact that RocknRolla only made about $6 million and never broke into the top 10 at the box office. Even I, who was a fan of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, didn't bother seeing this film. It's a good thing I didn't waste my money. RocknRolla tries to be as fun and charismatic as its predecessors, but falls into a veritable mine field of movie faux pas.

RocknRolla is not a sequel as I may have led on, but simply a film in the same vein as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. After deviating from the "multiple storyline" gimmick since 2000, writer/director Guy Ritchie returns to the form that made him famous for his latest film. Sadly, the eight year break seems to have gotten to Ritchie and he was unable to bring himself back to his heyday. RocknRolla loosely revolves around Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), the self-proclaimed King of the Old School who runs most of London. Lenny is currently trying to make a deal with some local Russians, and as a token of affection Russian head Uri Omovich (Karal Roden) allows him to hold on to his lucky painting. To Lenny's dismay, the painting is stolen from his home by his estranged son, rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell). While he searches for his junkie offspring, Lenny and his confidant Archie (Mark Strong) must also keep relations with the Russians running smoothly, keeping it a secret that he lost Uri's beloved painting. Unfortunately, tensions rise as the shipment of money between the two parties continually gets stolen by One-Two and Mumbles (Gerard Butler and Idris Elba), two crooks who were tipped off by shifty accountant Stella (Thandie Newton). As the story progresses, everyone's world begins to fold into everyone else's, meeting at an end that was more of a whimper than a bang. Much less cohesive and interesting than his previous efforts, Ritchie wastes his opportunity at a comeback on this scrap heap.

To some degree, RocknRolla is a pretty film. Not in terms of the events sprawled out on the screen, but rather in how Ritchie and cinematographer David Higgs show what is being done. The use of somewhat dirty coloring conveys the grimy feel of the world these no good characters are living in. Ritchie also sometimes redeems himself with a clever filming style, specifically in one scene as One-Two and his partner Mumbles are being chased down by some unstoppable Russians. The rest of the film however, is a total loss and an incomprehensible mess. The smash-bang execution that Ritchie perfected in Snatch was obviously short-lived, as was his ability to spin an engaging story from his mental yarn. The mostly central story following the whereabouts of a missing painting is hardly enough to keep the viewers eyes forward. Even a ten year old who just drank seven Red Bulls would start to get bored. Ritchie fails to create a single memorable character from his basic, bland script. Even as I'm writing this, I frequently have to visit the IMDb page of this film to remind myself of the character's names. I can't even remember if Stella, the accountant, worked for Lenny, Uri, both, or neither. You could say that this is no more than the fault of my own memory, but I argue that Ritchie didn't do a good enough job to plant these faces in my head as he did in Snatch.

In both of Ritchie's previous multi-story films, the plot is driven by a maniacal kingpin who has "commoners" groveling for mercy. In RocknRolla, this role is stepped into by two time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson, a consistently impressive actor that most recently knocked me out with his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin in the HBO mini-series "John Adams". To my chagrin, Wilkinson brings the biggest disappointment of the film in the form of his surprisingly weak performance. An intimidating kingpin Tom Wilkinson does not make, so much as a man who is just a jerk. The characters in RocknRolla may have feared Lenny Cole, but that is just because the script told them to. As a viewer, I was as daunted by Cole as I would be of a Pomeranian with a mean streak. In Snatch, Ritchie created a villain that truly induced fear and with the perfect performance of Alan Ford, the character Brick Top was one to remember. Lenny Cole is a boring scoundrel with no lasting power. Even Cole's growing opponent Uri was portrayed in a rather tame manner. With the exception of one scene that shows his power, Karal Roden never gets the opportunity to show how devilish his character is. The supporting performances from the entire cast, including Thandie Newton, Gerard Butler, Jeremy Piven, Mark Strong, and Ludacris, are all nothing but exercises in mediocrity. The only showing anywhere close to being worthy of celebration is Toby Kebbell's drugged out, hyper-violent, comically apathetic Johnny Quid. His character's farcical behavior gives RocknRolla a slight ray of sunshine in an otherwise dank cave. However, his talents are grossly under-utilized and for most of the movie we are subject to the flat stories of the other characters.

RocknRolla could have had a place on my DVD shelf for years to come right next to Ritchie's other accomplishment's, but instead I will never have it enter my home again. It's unnecessary length is the final straw, closing in on two hours. Snatch was by no means short and was only ten minutes shorter than RocknRolla, but it was at least filled with things to appreciate. If you want to watch a caper flick that's fast paced and highly satisfying, watch Snatch. If you want to watched a caper flick that tries to be quick but instead gets bogged down by it's stale story, watch RocknRolla. My rating (3/10)

81st Academy Awards

The Academy Awards were held yesterday and so we finally have the definitive answer to which film is the best of the best of 2008. Although I don't agree with some winners, for the most part there were not many surprises. The ceremony itself had lots of potential to become the most enjoyable Academy Awards in a very, very long time. Hugh Jackman's energetic and hilarious opening number really started the show off with a bang and gave me hope that things this year would be easier to watch. But of course, you can't have an Oscar ceremony without several boring, unnecessary montages. This year they decided to create a different montage for every genre of film. The only one worth watching was Judd Apatow's comedy montage starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as their characters from Pineapple Express. Turns out the skit was actually a lot funnier than Pineapple Express.

The second absolute disaster and by far the worst change made to the functionality of the ceremony was the presentation of the acting awards. Rather than have two people come out and introduce the nominees with clips of their performances, we were instead forced to endure an introduction to the FIVE presenters, and then listen to ALL FIVE PRESENTERS give long and uninteresting monologues about the nominees, and then NOT SHOW US A CLIP. Who was the bright light that thought of that idea?! Not everybody gets to go out and see most of these films, so they enjoy seeing the 10 seconds clips. But no, the Academy basically just said that if you didn't see the film, then screw you. Wouldn't you have been a lot happier if you got to see Heath Ledger's performance shown one more time? Atrocious.

And lastly: Sean Penn?!?!?! I cannot fathom how Sean Penn could have possibly been better than Mickey Rourke. Granted I haven't seen Milk, but I did see The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke actually brought tears to my eyes. I had to force them back to keep them from rolling down my cheeks. The last time I cried at a film, I was 7 and watching Air Bud. Plus, Penn has already won an award. If the race in an acting category is that close, the scale should tip in favor of the person who hasn't won an award yet. That could just be how I feel about it, but I think it makes sense. Anyway, here is a list of basically all the winners at the 81st Academy Awards.

Best Animated Feature - Wall-E

Best Achievement in Visual Effects- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (should have gone to The Dark Knight)

Best Achievement in Sound Editing- The Dark Knight

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing- Slumdog Millionaire

Best Original Song- Slumdog Millionaire for "Jai Ho" by A.R. Rahman

Best Original Score- Slumdog Millionaire - A.R. Rahman

Best Achievement in Makeup- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Achievement in Costume Design- The Duchess

Best Achievement in Art Direction- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Achievement in Editing- Slumdog Millionaire

Best Achievement in Cinematography- Slumdog Millionaire (should've gone to The Dark Knight)

Best Adapted Screenplay- Slumdog Millionaire - Simon Beaufoy

Best Original Screenplay- Milk - Dustin Lance Black

Best Achievement in Directing- Slumdog Millionaire - Danny Boyle

Best Supporting Actress- Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Supporting Actor- Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight

Best Actress- Kate Winslet for The Reader

Best Actor- Sean Penn for Milk (should've gone to Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler)

Best Picture- Slumdog Millionaire

In Bruges (2008)

Bruges - (pronounced Broozh) city in Belgium

Have you ever been to Bruges? Well I haven't. When looking up a place to vacation, my family isn't looking at the brochure that says "Visit beautiful Belgium!" The city of Bruges is a medieval town with beautiful buildings and canals, but if you aren't held over by sightseeing, you probably won't want to go there. They don't even have a bowling alley. Being so obscure and unknown to most, it turns out to be the perfect place to, I don't know, hide out a couple of hit men who messed up their last job? That's exactly what Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) decided to do. After an unnecessary victim was claimed on their latest hit, Ray and Ken (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) are ordered by Harry to hole up in the little known city of Bruges in Belgium. While Ken has no trouble enjoying the gorgeous scenery, Ray hates everything about the city as he frequently expresses in rather vulgar terms. It could be that Ray is just upset because it was he who made the mistake on the job, and the guilt is destroying him on the inside. Not even a date with beautiful Belgian girl Chloe (Clemence Poesy) or a comically racist dwarf (Jordan Prentice) could cheer him up. After a few days in Bruges, Ken receives a phone call from Harry, and we discover that the reason the two men were stationed in the secret city is not as simple as it seemed.

Even after reading the plot synopsis, I'm going to venture to say you still don't quite know what to expect from In Bruges. I wasn't too keen on seeing it after hearing what it was about, but good word of mouth brought it to my DVD player. I've never been happier to give a movie a chance. I could talk about In Bruges for an hour and never would a negative word cross my lips. Beautifully written, the film is endlessly witty, darkly hilarious, and sincerely devilish. Writer-Director Martin McDonagh won an Academy Award in 2005 for his short film Six Shooter and he could be on the fast track to earning his second win for In Bruges' original screenplay. McDonagh's script has the ticklish punch you'd come to expect from a Coen brothers black comedy. Every line in In Bruges is relevant and comes back to say "hello" later on in the film. Don't let your ears drop for a second because you're likely to miss something that could make you laugh afterward. If his writing wasn't enough, McDonagh's direction is spectacular. The city of Bruges is laid out before you with stunning beauty and succeeds as not just a setting, but as a character in the film as well. The city serves as a prison to central character Ray, or even an eternal hell. No matter what he tries to do, his sins continually bring him back to Bruges.

But a script is just a bunch of pieces of paper if it doesn't have the actors to give it life. Colin Farrell gives the best performance of his career as morally affected hit man Ray. Before In Bruges, I had never seen Farrell in anything I had enjoyed (besides one episode of "Scrubs"). But in this role, he shows terrific ability that I've never seen from him before. Farrell does not simply have to play some tough guy executioner, but portray one that has a revelation about the true meaning behind his crimes. At times Farrell is drop dead funny, and then at the drop of a hat becomes the face of anguish and the epitome of guilt. Farrell received a Golden Globe for his performance and it was an accomplishment well-earned. Co-star Brendan Gleeson deserves equal praise for his turn as Ray's pal Ken. Ken has to make sure he keeps Ray's head above water and prevent him from doing something he may regret. Gleeson does an exceptional job of showing us how difficult it is for his character to make the decisions he is forced to make. Dealing with both the depressed Farrell and angry Fiennes, Gleeson's character is the middle piece that provides a balance between all the players. Rounding out the terrific ensemble is two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes as the temperamental boss of the duo that have caused him much grief. If Farrell and Gleeson weren't enough, Fiennes arrives halfway through the movie to add an entirely new aspect to the film. The moment his character arrives in person, the pace of the film kicks into another gear. So if you were getting bored of the sentimental displays of affection between Ray and Ken (even though they are not boring, very short, and are not maudlin in the slightest), you immediately became engaged again. Fiennes gives a fine performance that helps drive In Bruges to it's wonderful conclusion.

Behind the dark comedy of In Bruges there are some powerful underlying questions. What is Heaven? What is Hell? What exactly decides whether or not we make it into these places? While in a museum Ray and Ken come across a painting of The Last Judgement by Hieronymous Bosch. Throughout the film Ray openly despises everything he sees in Bruges, but when he sees this painting, even he is taken aback by it. Ray and Ken then begin to discuss the matter of the after-life, and how they feel they will be judged. Ken says he does not believe in places to go after death, but Ray has a line about ending up in purgatory, that "in betweeny one", that really stood out and had major relevance to his character. "You weren't really s*** but you weren't that great either". It's vulgar, it's short, but the truth behind it is unyielding. Disregarding Ray for a second, think of yourself. Would you consider yourself to be a great person? Do you feel you have done enough deeds in your life to warrant the status of a "great" person? Or, have you been, well, in a nicer way of saying it than Ray, crap? Would you say your existence has had no benefit on the human race whatsoever and if anything you've only made things worse? I'd certainly hope not. Yet I would say most of the human race falls in the middle of those two standards, including myself. So what are we to expect? Stuck in purgatory forever, dealing with absolute nothingness? And where exactly are all these places? Is Hell an actual set location or is just one place we really dislike, like Bruges for Ray? Or maybe I'm making a big deal out of a simple line. Your decision.

I was afraid of saying it before, but after viewing this film again I feel it is something I must say. In Bruges is one of my favorite films of all time and if it didn't fly so far under the radar back in February of 2008, it would be considered great by all. There are plenty of digs at Americans, but they aren't too bad and they are actually pretty true. There's even a moment when Harry insults our culture by saying even in killing people we are less civilized than the rest of the world. In Bruges is not long at all and you may even want it to go on longer once it is over. With so much to love, I can hardly think of anybody disliking this film. And if you are like me, you may put Bruges on your vacation list one day. After seeing how pretty it looks on film, I want to know what it's like in person. Maybe I'll find Ray there. My rating (10/10)

My Top 25 Favorite Films Of All Time: 5-1

Here you go, my top 5 favorite movies of all time. I mentioned that numbers 25-6 are likely to change over the years, but I highly doubt these are going to drop out of the top 5 any time soon.

5) Saw (2004)- Even though it spawned less than average sequels, the first Saw was one of the most original horror films I had seen in years. It accomplished something that I never thought was possible: create a killer that the viewer actually, well, agrees with. John Kramer was a nice average Joe who just wanted to help people and all he got in return was an inoperable frontal lobe tumor. As Jigsaw, he spread a message that is one you can actually be sympathetic with. "Those who do not appreciate life, do not deserve life". Although it is a bit extreme, it makes a whole lot of sense doesn't it? Not like Freddy Kreuger or Jason Voorhees, who are formally dead people coming back for revenge. That doesn't make any sense. What I really liked about Saw was that although there were numerous deaths, the movie focused more on the mystery than it did the killing. The sequels lost sight of this and became all about the gruesome aspects of the plot.

4) Young Frankenstein (1974)- This is how spoof comedy is done! I see movies nowadays like Disaster Movie and Epic Movie and it makes me ashamed to be an American. Only because it sickens me to think movies like that could be made and actually make money! It doesn't paint a nice picture of the American people. Those movies call themselves spoofs but I just call them disgraceful. Mel Brooks was and will always will be the king of the spoof comedy, and Young Frankenstein is his crown jewel. Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman are priceless and although I've seen the movie about 20 times, they still crack me up.

3) The Shining (1980)- Hands down the best horror movie of all time, period, end of story, no ifs ands or buts about it. Stanley Kubrick's mastering of the tracking shot gave the film the eerie sense of creeping evil around every corner, and it scares the living daylights out of me. Jack Nicholson's diabolically insane Jack Torrance is the epitome of horror. Even though Shelley Duvall over-acted her role a disgusting amount, Nicholson countered it by being perfect. Kubrick captured the essence of what truly horrifies people and executed it flawlessly. Watching people get killed is not what is scary, but rather the sense that someone is about to be killed. There is only one on screen murder in The Shining, and it is quick and done rather tastefully.

2) Memento (2000)- Story-telling at it's finest. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's tale of a man with short term memory loss searching for his wife's killer is intriguing and perfectly executed. The unique style in which the story is told has never been paralleled, making it a true masterpiece. After 10+ viewings, Memento remains potent and effective

1) A Clockwork Orange (1971)- I don't know if you figured it out yet, but I am what you would call a "Stanley Kubrick fan". There is no argument in my mind that A Clockwork Orange is among the greatest films of all time. The first time I watched it, I was shocked. I was shocked that the content of the film was able to be released in 1971. This was pretty intense by today's standards. After some research I discovered that A Clockwork Orange was originally rated X, incited riots, and caused Kubrick and his family to receive numerous death threats. I guess it wasn't as accepted as I thought. Small fact: 1972 was the first year Jack Nicholson presented the Best Picture Oscar. Although he was a rather small name at the time, no highly regarded actor would present the award on the off chance A Clockwork Orange won. They did not want to be associated with the film. So, Nicholson was asked and he accepted. If you ask me, there were two atrocities that took place at the 1972 Academy Awards. 1- Malcolm McDowell was not even NOMINATED for the Best Actor Oscar. That has to be the most egregious snub in Oscar history. 2- The French Connection beat A Clockwork Orange for Best Picture. I've seen The French Connection. It was unbearable. And it wasn't because I didn't want to like it because I didn't want it to be better than Clockwork. I truly found it impossible to watch. After reading the novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, I only grew to love the movie even more. In the translation to film, Kubrick only lost the meaning of the film in that he left out Chapter 21. Other than that, it was a perfect translation and an absolute masterpiece. I've introduced multiple people to A Clockwork Orange and they are all glad I did.

That concludes my list. I hope you find something that we have in common. Following is a list of runners up that just missed out on being in the Top 25.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)- Johnny's charisma and the adult fairy tale plot are extremely entertaining to watch, but Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley make parts of the movie (and both sequels) unwatchable.

In Bruges (2008)- Excellent film with excellent performances by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson and an excellent script with an excellent resolution. Just, excellent. The only thing keeping this out of my 25 is that I've only seen it once, so I don't know if it has lasting power.

V For Vendetta (2005)- The character V is down right cool and his cause is one to believe in. My only qualm with the film is its length and its lasting power. After a few viewings I wasn't as in love with it. I still think its enjoyable and I watch it when it's on, but I wouldn't call it a favorite.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)- My relationship with this film is really strange. The first time I saw it in theaters I was like, "wow, that was amazing". I loved everything about it. I loved Burton's style, Depp's performance, the music, and hell I even liked Helena Bonham Carter (I do not care for Helena Bonham Carter). The second time I watched the film, I discovered I did not like it nearly as much as the first. I was close to even saying I didn't like it. Then I watched it a third time, and it was amazing again. I watched it again recently, and it was just OK. So I guess depending on my mood, this movie could make the list, but it is far too volatile to be placed on the list permanently.

My Top 25 Favorite Movies Of All Time: 15-6

Hey everyone. This is the second half of my list of favorite movies of all time. I'd like to reiterate from the first post that this list is highly tentative and will most likely change over time. But at this moment, the list is correct.

15) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)- Perhaps the best adventure film of all time, this Indy flick is my favorite of the franchise. Perhaps it's Sean Connery's delightful accent.

14) American Psycho (2000)- Christian Bale is terrifying and hilarious in this satirical look at the world of yuppie businessmen.

13) American History X (1998)- The captivating performance by Edward Norton and the sensitive subject matter made American History X one of the most enjoyable movie watching experiences of my life. It also presents an answer to the question of how far people are willing to take racism before they realize it isn't helpling anyone. The first half of the film almost justifies the reasons for racism and actually convinces you that it is OK. But in the latter half of the film, after Norton gets out of prison, reason enters his mind and thus fills the movie sending a powerful message to the audience. If the ending doesn't leave you feeling like you just got punched in the gut, you are made of stone.

12) Hairspray (2007)- Yea that's right, you got a problem with that? I've seen this movie 10+ times and I still like it just as much as I did the first time. Shutup. I am not!

11) Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)- I dare you to watch Anchorman and not sprinkle some lines from it into your daily life. I remember when this first came out everybody and their mothers was speaking in a deep voice and saying things like "Milk was a bad choice!" It didn't even have to make sense in context, but we'd say it. It also marked the beginning of Judd Apatow's reign as the King of New Comedy.

10) Full Metal Jacket (1987)- This time Kubrick takes on the Vietnam War and, as usual, he delivers with something special. Taking you from the moment someone arrives at boot camp all the way into battle, the atrocities of war are evident throughout. Vincent D'Onofrio's final stand of insanity is heart stopping, and poor Matthew Modine never did anything worth watching again.

9) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)- "Ni!"

8) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)- Talk about a fantastic ending. There is never a better feeling than when good overcomes evil and everything is put right in the world. Probably because this never happens in real life, so when we see it in a movie, we eat it up. If it wasn't for Forrest Gump, this movie would have won the Oscars it deserved. Don't get me wrong, I liked Forrest Gump, but only like the first 2 times I saw it. I've seen Shawshank about 8 times and I still love it.

7) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)- I don't care if author Ken Kesey refused to watch this movie because it changed so much in the translation to film, I could watch this movie for him and let him know that it's fantastic. As a matter of fact, I found it to be an improvement on his book. Take that, Mr. Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest became the first film since It Happened One Night in 1934 to win the big five Academy Awards (Best Screenplay, Actress, Actor, Director, and Picture). And come one, you gotta love Jack.

6) The Dark Knight (2008)- Yea I know it's still early and that in a few years I will probably drop The Dark Knight on the list, but for now I'm still crushing like a school girl on it. Like Iron Man before it, The Dark Knight proved a superhero movie doesn't always have to be thought of as a mindless action flick. I find it to be one of the best crime epic's I've seen, and I am looking forward to hearing Heath Ledger's name announced as winner of the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award on February 22nd.

Come back tomorrow for the SUPER RIDICULOUS CRAZY CONLUSION OF MY LIST!! Nah it won't be that crazy, but come back anyway.

My Top 25 Favorite Movies Of All Time: 25-16

Hello loyal readers. I felt like posting today but I didn't feel like doing a full on review. Instead, I thought I'd have some fun and create a list of my top 25 favorite films of all time. Now this list is highly tentative and will most likely change soon. But right at this moment, as I type this, what I have now is what I truly feel. You will see a wide array of movie genres here and some of the films may surprise you. My top 5 favorite films were judged based on entertainment value, lasting power, and technical achievement. Movies 25-6 are based more on entertainment value and lasting power. I didn't judge them all based on technical stuff like directing and writing and things of that nature. I decided that to stretch this experience out and to keep you from having to read one super long post, I will just list numbers 25-16 today.

25) Paths Of Glory (1957)- Stanley Kubrick's second major film about the cruelty of man is not just thought provoking but a thrill to watch.

24) The Birdcage (1996)- Two words: Agador Spartacus. Hank Azaria's legendary supporting role is just the icing on the cake of this hilarious movie that has had me laughing since I was a little boy.

23) Secret Window (2004)- It's not the most original psychological thriller, but even after numerous viewings I find myself more than satisfied by the resolution. Revenge is a sweet, sweet thing.

22) Iron Man (2008)- One of the biggest blockbusters of 2008, Iron Man was one of the greatest superhero films ever made. It proved that a big budget action flick could be both intelligent and unabashedly fun. It also helped revive Robert Downey Jr's career...big time.

21) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)- Michel Gondry's exploration into the agonizing world of love is engaging throughout and filled with top notch performances. Jim Carrey at his absolute finest.

20) Ghostbusters (1984)- Ah Ghostbusters, my first love. Well, the first movie I ever loved. My big brother groomed me to like this movie when I was extremely young and it just stuck. I used to have the outfit and a proton pack and everything. I miss childhood. Nevertheless, the movie is still hilarious. Don't worry about the sequel. Even Bill Murray said he didn't like the sequel.

19) The Big Lebowski (1998)- "That rug really tied the room together". Enough said.

18) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)- Another Kubrick gem, this satire garnered 4 Oscar nominations including Best Writing, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture. You are guaranteed to laugh at at least one of Peter Sellers' 3 great performances. Dr. Strangelove is also the movie that brought the famous line "Gentleman you can't fight in here, this is the war room!"

17) Fight Club (1999)- I can't believe I went 10 years without seeing this movie. After the first time I watched Fight Club, I was mildly impressed, but I didn't get the hype. I watched it again the following day and I realized that "wait a minute, this movie is friggin GREAT!".

16) Clue (1985)- This could probably classify as a "guilty pleasure" of mine, although I don't feel guilty about it. I've seen this movie about 9 times and I still love every minute of it. If you love the game like I do, this movie is going to be in your list as well.

Check back tomorrow (probably) for numbers 15-6!

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange