Friday, August 28, 2009


Miranda Grey has a good life working with the criminally insane at a mental institution. She is the head therapist and her husband Douglas is in charge of the institution. One night she leaves late in the middle of a downpour and has to take an alternate route home. Half way there she gets in an accident where she sees a burning woman. Three days later Miranda wakes up to find that she is now in the institution because she went home and killed her husband; Miranda insists on her innocence and proceeds to try to find out what really happened while being used by a vengeful spirit and locked in with her former patients.

Gothika is a movie I avoided when I was in film school. I just was not really into Halle Berry after Monster’s Ball, I’m still not the biggest Berry fan. However, I finally broke down and netflixed it when I saw that Robert Downey Jr. was in it, and it was one of his first big films after he was out of prison.

This is an interesting movie. I’d never heard of director Mathiue Kassovitz before but if Gothika is any indication he has a stunningly visual eye; Gothika is an incredibly well shot movie that uses a monotone color palette in a way that somehow makes it pop off the screen. His use of shadows, color, light and movement was the first thing that drew me into the film. Shockingly it was the story and performances that kept me there.

I will be very forward in saying that Gothika is not as original as it thinks it is; while the story is pretty similar to most European/Asian horror, it still has it’s clichéd and predictable moments – the camera movements that clue you into the coming jump, the sound ques, etc. But it does execute them pretty dang well. I actually jumped at one of the jump moments – something that I don’t normally do. But it is predictable, maybe just because I watch so many movies but I was able to figure out a few of the upcoming plot points. It was still pretty entertaining though.

I also found that I liked Halle Berry & Penelope Cruz; both are actresses that I don’t normally enjoy because I think they don’t really do much to add to their characters (other than add sex appeal) but I think Gothika gave them a chance to play different characters and step outside of the pretty girl box. Of course I loved Robert Downey Jr. as well, but we all know that basically goes without saying.

What keeps Gothika from being a really good movie is the end of the film, not the last act but literally about the last 3 minutes of the film. It feels like a studio tack on ending, something that was added because the studio was afraid of Halle Berry’s character having to face up with the dark things that had been done through her when she was possessed. Instead, they literally jump from the denouement where some character threads and questions should be answered to a year later as Penelope Cruz & Halle Berry walk down a street discussing how they are in better mental places now. Everything that you want to see about Miranda, her patients, the doctors and the aftermath of the whole incident is just gone – brushed under an invisible rug and we are in a totally different locale. It feels like a cheat and makes the last hour plus you’ve spent in the world feel like a waste of your time.

If the ending were better, Gothika would be a pretty dang good movie.
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Writer: Sebastian Gutierrez
Miranda grey: Halle Berry
Pete Graham: Robert Downey Jr.
Douglas Grey: Charles S. Dutton
Sheriff Ryan: John Carroll Lynch
Phil Parsons: Bernard Hill
Chloe: Penelope Cruz

Chloe: You are not a Doctor in here. And even if you the tell the truth... no one will listen. You know why? Because you're crazy. And the more you try to prove them wrong, the crazier you'll appear. You are invisible now. Can you feel it?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bad Day at Black Rock

Black Rock is the town that civilization forgot, they like to keep to themselves which is why it’s such a shock when the steamliner stops in their town for the first time in four years and John J. Macreedy gets off intent to spend 24 hours in the town. Macreedy soon realizes that something is lurking beneath the hostility of the towns residents, something that has to do with the man he is looking for, a Japenese farmer named Komoko.

Bad Day at Black Rock is a phenomenal movie, there is no other way to put it. The film itself walks the line between film noir and western and perfectly encapsulates the sense of anger and defeat that still existed shortly after WWII, and the stress of the McCarthy era on the time the movie was made. Surprisingly it deals with one very central theme, racism or how we let our prejudices generalize what we think about someone. This was a very heavy topic for 1955, the era right before the civil rights movement and when people were being questioned about “red” activity.

I have to say I am a sucker for the metaphor that a train or train tracks provide. Typically these symbolically present a sense of destiny, a fixed course that the character or characters cannot move away from, and Bad Day at Black Rock plays off this beautifully. Not only is Macreedy delievered into town via train but one of the pivotal conversations between the villains of the film takes place as they lounge on the tracks. These characters are locked into a pattern, a course that they cannot escape no matter what they try and it will be carried out to its very end.

One cannot help but notice the sheer greatness of Spencer Tracy in this film. He is a one-armed war hero trying to stay alive and uncover a mystery and he is awe-inspiring as John J. Macreedy. He is the kind of character that actors look back at now when they need to play the hard-as-nails good guy, the guy who can make you break out into a sweat before he even threatens to throw a punch.

Bad Day at Black Rock needs to be watched by anyone who has a love for classic cinema or wants to be entertained by a story instead of a concept. This film is a tense under ninety minute experience and you will not regret it.

Director: John Sturges
Writer: Millard Kaufman
John J. Macreedy: Spencer Tracy
Reno Smith: Robert Ryan
Liz Wirth: Anne Francis
Sheriff Horm: Dean Jagger
Doc: Walter Brennan
Pete Wirth: John Ericson
Coley Trimble: Ernest Borgnine
Hector David: Lee Marvin
Sam: Walter Sande

Doc: Four years ago something terrible happened here. We did nothing about it, nothing. The whole town fell into a sort of settled melancholy and all the people in it closed their eyes, and held their tongues, and... failed the test with a whimper. And now something terrible's going to happen again -- and in a way we're lucky, because we've been given a second chance.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I will fully admit that I loved Tron as a child but I didn’t remember a thing about it. I knew Jeff Bridges somehow got sucked into a video game and had to fight his way out and that was about all my knowledge other than it thrilled me beyond belief as a kid. As I sat at Comic-Con this year holding my Flynn’s Arcade token and seeing test footage from Tron Legacy I realized I should try again and watch Tron to remember why I loved it.

I love it again.

Tron is a frickin’ fantastic movie that I think was way ahead of its time both in the way it presented computer technology and in how the computer world was carried out on screen. The CGI may be way behind what we can do now, but how Steven Lisberger used the CGI makes the film not dated but instead it’s artistic and quite extraordinary looking. Flynn, Tron and the other programs look like a beautiful mixture of computer, neon and color-washed black & white photographs. It’s hard to explain but a visual treat.

Jeff Bridges is also a joy to watch. I am sorry to say that I don’t see enough of his films. If I had been a teen in the 80’s I probably would have had a crush on him after seeing Tron, but good looks aside he is a great actor that makes Flynn’s intelligence and rule-breaking spirit endearing and adventurous.

I will probably be adding Tron to my DVD collection before long, but I might wait until closer to the release of Tron Legacy to see what fun doo-dads they decide to add to the DVD.

Director: Steven Lisberger
Writer: Steven Lisberger & Bonnie MacBird
Kevin Flynn: Jeff Bridges
Alan/Tron: Bruce Boxleitner
Ed Dillinger: David Warner
Lora/Yori: Cindy Morgan

Ram: You really think the users are still there?
Tron: They better be. I don't wanna bust out of here and find nothing but a lot of cold circuits waiting for me.


Sam Bell is employed by Lunar Industries and is two weeks from ending his three year contract stationed alone on the moon harvesting helium-3 Earths leading power source. While counting down the days Sam begins to see things and after an accident wakes up to find another Sam Bell on the station.

So far 2009 has been an incredible year for sci-fi and Moon is one of the sci-fi films that strikes me as not only great but incredibly unique. The film focused on one character and yet manages to be riveting and propel forward into an ever deepening mystery.

Moon would be nothing without Sam Rockwell. He plays two versions of the same character in the film and you can see the differences in the emotional journey each version of Sam Bell is currently at. Rockwell is an amazing actor and his performance in Moon is a testament to that. Both of the characters he plays are Sam Bell but both feel like different characters – it can be an actor & directors dream or nightmare and in Moon it totally works.

Another performance worthy of noting in Moon is Kevin Spacey, the third main character Gerty who is robot tasked with taking care of all of Sam’s needs. I am always amazed when a non-human character can manage to take on a crucial and emotional role in a story comprised by humans. Gerty cannot emote in a traditional way and it is a testament to the prowess of Kevin Spacey and Duncan Jones that Gerty becomes an important and lovable character.

Director: Duncan Jones
Writer: Nathan Parker
Sam Bell: Sam Rockwell
Gerty: Kevin Spacey

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Signal

Originally uploaded by Jason O'Donnell
Mya, Lewis & Ben are caught in an unfortunate triangle. Mya and Lewis are married but Lewis is controlling and abusive and Mya wants out but can’t get out; Ben and Mya are having an affair and Ben wants her to leave Lewis. Sadly, as Mya goes home to debate this prospect a signal begins to be broadcast – this signal causes people to go mad and begin to kill others. Mya manages to escape Lewis who becomes victim to the signal but Lewis and Ben both begin to fight their way through the destruction in order to find her first.

Until just a few weeks ago I had no idea that The Signal was done by three directors. Three directors on one film is quite a feat; each director chose to focus on one act of the film focusing on one different main character for each act. I have to say that for such an interesting story and production that The Signal is really pretty well done, but not perfect.

What spoils The Signal from being a really great movie is the second act of the film. Act two focuses on Lewis, the abusive husband and his search for Mya. He encounters a few survivors who don’t appear to be affected by the signal and don’t realize that he had been. The tone of act two is very corny, poppy and tongue-in-cheek – very different than the gritty, emotional feel of the first and last acts and it honestly pulls you out of the world of the film. If act two were more tonally fitting with the other acts The Signal would have a shot at being a great film.

This also brings up problem two with the second act – Lewis. Lewis is a completely unlikable character and he is the staple in the middle of the film. I was completely uninterested in his journey. He only worked as a one-dimensional villain, and act two did not do anything to develop him further, it just made him less interesting. It also took the audience out of the world that was falling apart, the world the signal was creating and what we really wanted to see.

Mya was played by Anessa Ramsey. I’ve never seen her in anything before, but I have to say that I loved her performance and her character. I felt she was the biggest draw for the audience in the film. I would love to see her in something else.

Using the talents of more than one director is hard, but it’s worth watching. I do recommend The Signal. I found it a very entertaining film and one I will probably watch it again.

Directors & Writers David Bruckner, Dan Bush, & Jacob Gentry
Mya Denton: Anessa Ramsey
Lewis Denton: AJ Bowen
Ben Capstone: Justin Welborn
Clark: Scott Poythress

Ben: Clark, I don't know who or what started it, but we all sure as shit signed up for it. We made ourselves vulnerable. When Mya left last night, I turned the TV back on and there it was. It was replacing my thoughts. But then the sun came up. I see it. It's a lie. The signal; it's a trick. Change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds
Originally uploaded by AsceticMonk
I don’t recall ever having as fun a time at a war movie as I just had at Inglourious Basterds. Inglourious Basterds is a wonderful contradiction as a film. It is set in a historical event, but does not follow history. It is an action film, but it delivers consistent laughs. It has great characters, but they are far too exaggerated to be real. It is fully restrained, but fully Tarantino.

As I’ve waited and prepared to watch Tarantino’s latest work I began to hope that Tarantino would have fun with World War II – not that I don’t respect the people that fought for our freedom, but Tarantino is not the director that would make Flags of Our Fathers. The tagline of this film was “once upon a time in Nazi occupied France” and I hoped it would be just what that promised – a WWII fairy tale. It was.

Tarantino makes no pretensions about being historically accurate. He made the kind of movie about Nazi’s and the allies he wanted to see – Tarantino made a spaghetti western about the Nazi occupation of France. He even had music by Ennio Morricone. Tarantino managed to still capture beautiful performances, strong characters, moving moments and wonderfully exaggerated action. All of these things are Tarantino, and yet this film was somehow more polished and cultivated than anything he’s done before.

Now that Tarantino has landed on the linear story line I hope he stays there. I appreciate all of the ways Tarantino tells his stories, but I have to admit that I used to think Tarantino couldn’t tell a cohesive story and that was why he felt the need to disjoint them. I am so glad to say that now that I have seen two linear films by Tarantino I was wrong. No matter how Tarantino tells his stories he tells them brilliantly and makes them incredibly entertaining.

Inglourious Basterds is wonderful, but part of that wonderful aura is Brad Pitt as The Apache. Oh dear goodness I wanted more of the Tennessee Nazi scalper. From the moment he appears on screen he steals the show and is just the best character you could imagine. He is tough, hard, whimsical and a fantastic Nazi killer. He deserves his scalps.

I am going to see Inglourious Basterds again. I know I am. If nothing else because I am fascinated that finally, finally Tarantino made a film so reflexive that the third act actually takes place in a cinema…

DirectoR & Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Lt. Aldo Raine: Brad Pitt
Shosanna: Melanie Laurent
Col. Landa: Christoph Waltz
Sgt. Donowitz: Eli Roth
Lt. Hicox: Michael Fassbender
Bridget von Hammersmark: Diane Kruger
Frederick Zoller: Daniel Bruhl
Hugo Stiglitz: Til Schweiger

Lt. Aldo Raine: You probably heard we ain't in the prisoner-takin' business; we in the killin' Nazi business. And cousin, Business is a-boomin'.

The First Wives Club

I just have to say that I am in love with this movie. I don’t think three leading actresses could have had more chemistry than Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn. If they were 20 years younger I’d cast them as the next Charlie’s Angels. These women are seriously the reason that I watch this movie.

I also have to say that The First Wives Club is incredibly well written. The leading actresses are incredibly talented, but if they didn’t have great comedic lines to deliver all that this movie would be is great chemistry between the leads.

Hugh Wilson has not directed much after The First Wives Club but one notable film afterwards is Blast From the Past - another film I love. This tells me that if Wilson directs more comedies they quite possibly might be my cup of tea too.

Elise: You think that because I'm a movie star I don't have feelings. Well you're wrong. I'm an actress. I've got all of them!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

True Blood: Season 1

I watched True Blood season one again. I still love it though I honestly could do with the amount of sex in the show being toned down. We get it, they love to show the true definition of fang banger and Jason Stackhouse is a man-whore.

I am actually quite excited to see where the show goes after such a good adaptation of the first book because there is no way they are going to stick to it all. However, I think the real moral of this story is that I need HBO so I can just watch the seasons as they happen.

The Time Traveler's Wife

Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel. He cannot control where he goes or when he comes back. Clare Abshire has known Henry since she was six years old and he was an adult; he time traveled into her past because in the present they are married. Clare fell in love with Henry as a result of his time traveling, and yet it is the time traveling that keeps them from being together.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a confusing concept, but a beautiful romance at heart with an incredibly unique take on time travel. While the film is a lot softer and definitely can’t cover as much as the book I still found it to be touching and a very human story.

The biggest strength of The Time Traveler’s Wife is definitely its leads. Without the strength and talent of Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams the film would fall flat. This film has to cram an incredibly complex and truncated story into such a small period of time that there is no way Robert Schwentke could have made this movie with leads that could so easily pull the audience in to empathize and care for them. McAdams and Bana have a great chemistry together and were incredibly believable as two people incredibly in love with one another.

That being said I was not thrilled with the direction that Robert Schwentke provided. While the film was not badly directed this is a film that could have been played with, stylized and been stamped with more than just the typical breezy direction that a romance movie typically gets. There was nothing about the direction of The Time Traveler’s Wife that stood out and made me want to see more of Schwentke.

I would not buy The Time Traveler’s Wife as I am not a sucker for romantic movies, but I do think that it is going to hit a core audience (especially women) who adore a good romance and definitely be remembered.

Director: Robert Schwentke
Writer: Bruce Joel Rubin
Richard DeTamble: Arliss Howard
Henry DeTamble: Eric Bana
Clare Abshire: Rachel McAdams
Gomez: Ron Livingston
Dr. Kendrick: Stephen Tobolowsky
Alba: Hailey McCann

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

I grew up with G.I. Joe. I played with my brothers action figures, I watched the cartoon and when we played as the Joes I wanted to be Scarlett. I even remember the last issue of the comic, when Joe got shut down because of the military down sizing during the Clinton administration. So trust me when I tell you that I do have sufficient credentials to speak as a geek and fan of G.I. Joe.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is silly, over the top and very exaggerated. Duke & Ripcord are inducted into an elite team known as G.I. Joe led by General Hawk because they happen to be guarding a high priority shipment that Baroness attempts to steal and as luck would have it Duke knows Baroness’s identity. What ensues is the first cat-and-mouse game between Joe & Cobra.

Along with my childhood love for G.I. Joe I think a lot of my love for this film comes from my love of Stephen Sommers. Sommers directed The Mummy & Van Helsing - two of the most fun films I’ve seen in the past decade. He turned Brendan Fraser into an action star. The movies he makes are stylish in a good way, and the kind of popcorn film that makes me remember why I first fell in love with the escapism the movies provides – and the best part is unlike some of those kinds of films I don’t feel like I have to check my brain at the door.

G.I. Joe does have some obvious flaws. Though there is a plot to the film it is a bit fuzzy to say the least, and you really can’t think too hard about it or it might start to crack. But dang is it fun.

Growing up Scarlett was my favorite Joe as she was the kick-ass girl I wanted to be. The only problem with the portray of Scarlett in the film is that Rachel Nichols played her as far too soft and feminine. Scarlett may be the major female resident of Joe, but she is though as nails, a deadly accurate shot, incredibly faithful to Snake Eyes, and basically not overtly flirty or feminie. In the film she seemed to be all about the hair flips, giggles and being a southern bell. Whether this came from Sommers or Nichols it doesn’t matter, I felt like reminding them both the whole movie that Scarlett can be sexy without being girly. Sienna Miller as Baroness blew Scarlett away in this film.

On a personal note I was also freaked out by Snake Eyes costume. While I LOVE the character and think Ray Park did a great job as my speechless hero it was the mask that got to me. The visor was cool, the body was great, but the fact that the mouth was built into the mask was just a little too much for me. It literally covered his lips. Give me back the mouth covering mask he had in the comic books, the one he’d lift to do anything that required a mouth. It’s not like he needs it to give long expository monologues. In the comic he only says a few words and they are usually in private, to Scarlett – he doesn’t need to have a mask tailored to his lips.

To truly get the most out of G.I. Joe you have to go in expecting nothing more than to have fun. Sommers didn’t make the film to redefine action or the war movie, or even to compete with Michael Bay. He made the movie to pay homage to great, fun characters we grew up loving and to just let us have a good time at the movies.

Director: Stephen Sommers
Writers: Stuart Beattie, David Elliot & Paul Lovett
Heavy Duty: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
McCullen: Christopher Eccleston
Cobra Commander: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Storm Shadow: Byung-hun Lee
Scarlett: Rachel Nichols
Snake Eyes: Ray Park
President: Jonathan Pryce
General Hawk: Dennis Quaid
Breaker: Said Taghmaoui
Duke: Channing Tatum
Zartan: Arnold Vosloo
Ripcord: Marlon Wayans
Sergeant Stone: Brendan Fraser

General Hawk: Technically, we don't exist. We answer to no one. And when all else fails, we don't.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

District 9

I wish I could say that District 9 is an us vs. them alien movie because that would mean I could easily quantify it – but it’s not. Sure, the whole us vs. them theme is in there, but it quickly gets turned on its head as the typical protagonists and antagonists trade traditional roles and instead just become engaging characters.

What makes District 9 so unique are the two lead characters. Wikus is a private industry drone who gets promoted by his father-in-law within an organization called MNU which has been in charge of the aliens who reside within District 9; Wikus is spineless, dorky and just a wallflower – his redeeming factor is that he is naively innocent and madly in love with his wife. Christopher on the other hand is one of the aliens (aka prawns) in D-9 who is considered a gangster, he desperately wants to go home and is also a father. Christopher and Wikus dislike each other equally and both trade places as the sympathetic lead and the hostile one.

District 9 is partly so original because of how Neill Blomkamp decides to present it. Blomkamp intersperses documentary footage and interviews through the narrative of the film, a technique one could say he borrowed from Cloverfield if it wasn’t how his short film was told. I also must say that Blomkamp used the documentary technique much better than it was used in Cloverfield. Perhaps what struck me most about the technique was the Blomkamp wasn’t married to using the cinema verite/documentary technique for his whole film. He masterfully switched between that and the third-person story telling that we as an audience are so familiar with and he did it flawlessly.

I may not be able to define District 9 in any traditional science fiction way but that in no way decreased my opinion of it. Quite the contrary in fact, it makes me respect and love it more. Good sci-fi should always be different and should always be breaking barriers, that’s part of what the genre is about and Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp understood this perfectly.

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Wikus Van De Merwe: Sharlto Copley
Dirk Michaels: William Allen Young
Tiana Van De Merwe: Vanessa Haywood

Monday, August 17, 2009


Jonathan Trager & Sara Thomas are two strangers in New York madly trying to Christmas shop when they have their meet-cute over a pair of black cashmere gloves. While the two flirt and eventually go to coffee together Sara refuses to believe John’s insistence that they met for a reason until some happy accidents begin to make her think that perhaps this is kismet – but she won’t fall for it. So Sara writes her number inside a book and says she’ll sell it to a used book store, and makes John write his number on a $5 bill on the condition that when either of them finds the other’s number again they’ll know fate wants them together. A few years pass and neither one finds the other, but both are engaged to great people and can’t shake the memory of meeting each other. The weekend before each of their weddings they decided to test fate and see if they can force destiny into finding each other again.

Serendipity is a silly movie, but it is very close to a modern fairy tale and I think that is why I love it – John Cusack & Kate Beckinsale are of course a major reason as well. Kate & John have a great onscreen chemistry which is really important as they actually are apart for most of the movie – this really is a different version of Sleepless in Seattle but the way it is executed makes the film feel entirely fresh.

I think this might be the movie that placed Jeremy Piven on my radar. Serendipity was before Entourage and all the roles that Ari Gold brought him. Piven plays Dean Kansky, Jonathan’s best friend and best man who is also an obit writer for the NY Times. He is all attitude and everything the supportive best friend should be. To quote the film Dean is a “jackass” and it’s a ball to watch.

I used to think that Serendipity was a Christmas movie and watching it again I am not quite sure why. The film may be set during the holiday season, but that is incidental a framing for the meet-cute. I enjoy this movie and the only thing I would change is to give Cusack and Beckinsale more screen time together.

Director: Peter Chelsom
Writer: Marc Klein
Jonathon Trager: John Cusack
Sara Thomas: Kate Beckinsale
Dean Kansky: Jeremy Piven
Lars Hammond: John Corbett
Eve: Molly Shannon
Salesman: Eugene Levy
Halley: Bridget Moynahan

Dean: You know the Greeks didn't write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: "Did he have passion?".

Son of Rambow

Will Proudfoot & Lee Carter are two little boys whose life couldn’t be more different. Lee lacks any and all parental supervision, instead he lives with his teenage brother. Will on the other hand lives with some of the strictest rules around as his family belongs to a religion that doesn’t even allow him to watch TV. When Lee blackmails Will into helping him with a short film he is making Will catches his first glimpses of how the rest of the world lives and the character that changes his life – Rambo.

Son of Rambow was not the light hearted movie I thought it would be – it was better. Writer/director Garth Jennings merged comedy and drama in this story that wasn’t a coming-of-age tale, but instead a story of family and the bonds that help make us who we are; it perfectly captures the job and trauma of being a child and the magic in between.

I have to send out kudos to Bill Milner & Will Poulter who play Will and Lee; they are very young actors but they carry the film deftly and none of the adult actors distract from them at all. I am excited to see if both of these boys continue in acting.

As much as I loved Son of Rambow I find it hard to describe. I think this is partly because the film touches on a lot of subjects and a lot of my interests – so much in fact that it feels difficult to pull out just a few things about it after one viewing. One thing I adored was how Jennings pulled Will’s art and fantasies into reality as Will’s imagination was allowed to expand. The techniques he used, and the way it was merged with the realism of the rest of the story made Will all the more endearing.

I am excited to see this movie again and I dare those of you that make movies not to laugh hysterically at the clapboard Lee makes out of his fingers.

Director & Writer: Garth Jennings
Will Proudfoot: Bill Milner
Lee Carter: Will Poulter
Didier Revol: Jules Sitruk

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayser: Season 1

I honestly think that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best shows that has ever been on television. I know that many of you shake your head at the idea of a teenage girl who kills demons and prevents the apocalypse over and over again as being a ground breaking show, but trust me it is. What is so amazing about Joss Whedon’s Buffy is that he was unafraid of pushing boundaries, evolving his characters, and making unpopular decisions. All of this lead to a show that remained fresh, original and engaging for every episode that aired.

The first season of Buffy was only twelve episodes and was ordered on the new WB network as a mid-season replacement. Buffy was based off an utterly forgettable movie with the same name and very few people expected it to do well but somehow it lasted not through just one season, but seven. The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rough to be sure; the show had no budget, the cast was unknown, and it was obvious Whedon didn’t know if he’d get a second season so he did his best to build season one in a way that was self-contained and more than made up for the movie version that was taken out of his hands.

I loved every episode of Buffy’s first year at Sunnydale High, and I am so glad that Buffy, Xander, Willow & Giles became a part of my own high school experience.

Creator: Joss Whedon
Buffy Summers: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow Rosenberg: Alyson Hannigan
Xander Harris: Nicholas Brendon
Rupert Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Joyce Summers: Kristine Sutherland
Principal Snyder: Armin Shimerman

Giles: We're at the center of a mystical convergence here. We may, in fact, stand between the Earth and its total destruction.
Buffy: Well, I gotta look on the bright side. Maybe I can still get kicked out of school!
Xander: Oh, yeah, that's a plan. 'Cause lots of schools aren't on Hellmouths.
Willow: Maybe you could blow something up. They're really strict about that.
Buffy: I was thinking of a more subtle approach, y'know, like excessive not studying.
Giles: The Earth is doomed!

Iron Man

Iron Man is one of those movies that I can throw into my DVD player no matter what mood I am in and I know I will enjoy it and be entertained. However, I sill haven’t seen Captain America’s shield in Tony’s workshop! If you know where it is please tell me!

I know I watch this movie a lot, but I have to say that I don’t care. I really watch a lot of movies – as should be obvious to the people that read this blog. So it’s not like I watch this movie every night and am absolutely obsessed with it. This weekend alone I watched three movies in the theatre…so I guess what I am trying to say is that you just have to put up with it – I’m going to keep watch Iron Man.

Tony: I just want you to reach in, and you're just gonna gently lift the wire out.
Pepper: Is it safe?
Tony: Yeah, it should be fine. It's like Operation. You just don't let it touch the socket wall or it goes "beep."
Pepper: What do you mean, "Operation"?
Tony: It's just a game, never mind.

Julie & Julia

Picture 4
Originally uploaded by Nishka
Julia Child helped define American gourmet cooking, and lived an incredible life all around the world, Julie Powell worked in a cubicle in New York and didn’t know how to elevate her life into something she wanted it to be. After a suggestion from her husband Julie decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s cook book in one year and write a blog about it. As Julie learns more about cooking & Julia she begins to learn more about herself and soon becomes a sensation across the internet.

I have to start this by saying that I adore Nora Ephron, and while my directorial style is nothing like hers I think she is a great female filmmaker and writer. Julia & Julia is the kind of film that Nora Ephron can take and make it into something special, much more special than what it would be in anyone else’s hands.

Going into Julie & Julia I trusted Ephron’s prowess as a writer & director but I was worried that dividing the film between the beginning of Julia Child’s cooking career and Julie Powell’s modern life would split the films focus too much and as a result it would feel disjointed and we’d never manage to connect with either character. I have to say I was surprised. Not only did Julia & Julie’s stories manage to mirror each other’s beautifully, but I instantly fell in love with Julie and actually came to adore Julia Child.

The biggest surprise in this movie for me was Stanley Tucci as Paul Child. I would have never pictured Stanley Tucci & Meryl Streep as an onscreen couple but they worked perfectly and Tucci was just adorable as the doting husband. If Paul Child was anything like Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of him it is no wonder Julia fell for him and the two managed to stay together until the end of their lives.

One caution I will put out there for anyone that sees this movie is do not go in hungry! You will definitely leave hungry and you may not survive if you go in already wanting to chow down. I honestly want to try some French food now and I have no idea where to go for it.

Director & Writer: Nora Ephron
Julia Child: Meryl Streep
Julie Powell: Amy Adams
Paul Child: Stanley Tucci
Eric Powell: Chris Messina
Sarah: Mary Lynn Rajskub

Paul Child: What is it you REALLY like to do?
Julia Child: Eat!

Becoming Jane

Jane Austen was not your typical English girl for her era; she was reaching the age that society deemed she’d need to be married or she’d never be married, she had suitors she didn’t want, and she wanted to write. However, soon Jane meets Tom Lefroy, an impulsive poor lawyer and the two fall madly in love. Their romance meets rejection at every turn and Jane begins one of her most popular novels Pride & Prejudice based on the experience.

Becoming Jane is yet another in a long line of Jane Austen movies, though the obvious bent in this particular film is to show the similarities between the life of Jane Austen and her fiction. While I cannot say this film is a failure, as obviously what occurs in the film is framed on Austen’s life, but I can say that the film was not as engaging as I hoped it would be.

What struck me as strange was that one of the issues I had with Becoming Jane was an issue I had with Brokeback Mountain: the two romantic leads meet each other and without any real impetus or motivation besides the writer needing a story beat, they are suddenly, madly, deeply in love and we as an audience are asked to buy it. It’s instantaneous, they are friends then suddenly one character kisses another and the next thing we know they are professing their undying love. My problem is that this moment doesn’t play as genuine because it comes out of left field and it’s the moment that the rest of the film hinges on.

Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy are two actors I could watch in just about any role and they are also fantastic in Becoming Jane. I’m not sure they had a great romantic chemistry in this film, but both are enormously talented and made their relationship onscreen work.

While I don’t think that Becoming Jane was a waste of my time, I do think that if I want a Jane Austen fix I will just watch a version of Pride & Prejudice.

Director: Julian Jarrold
Writers: Kevin Hood & Sarah Williams
Jane Austen: Anne Hathaway
Tom Lefroy: James McAvoy
Mrs. Austen: Julie Walters
Rev. Austen: James Cromwell
Lady Gresham: Maggie Smith

Jane: My characters shall have, after a little trouble, all that they desire.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Soloist

If you have seen The Soloist you know that it is in fact a message movie. If you read this blog you know that I loathe message movies to the very core of my being. However, if all message movies were more like The Soloist I would not hate message movies like I do.

The Soloist does what a message movie should do. Instead of beating their message into the audience every few minutes and making the actual story and characters of the film secondary, Joe Wright & Susannah Grant found the way to make their message resonate to the viewer – they focused on the characters and where their journey was taking them. By participating in their journey we not only connect with Steve & Nathaniel, but see the problem of the homeless population the way that Steve sees it and this is what makes The Soloist an effective message movie.

In my initial review of The Soloist I stated that I was slightly upset that even though the film is as beautiful as it is that the ending was a slight downer. Since that review I have seen the film two more times and I no longer feel that the ending of The Soloist is a downer. In fact, I think quite the opposite. The ending is not uplifting but it is inspiring; Steve & Nathaniel both end the film in a new and more enlightened place in their lives and their journey with one another will continue. It is a natural ending, and one befitting of the real-life plight of Nathaniel Ayers.

I am glad I have been able to add this masterpiece to my collection. I can only hope that when awards season comes around that Joe Wright, Robert Downey Jr, and everyone else on this film are not swept aside.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Smokin' Aces

Buddy “Aces” Israel, Vegas magician & with big time mob ties, is holed up in Reno trying trying to live the high life while waiting for his attorney to broker a deal with him for the FBI that will allow him to squeal on his mob partners without doing time. FBI agents Carruthers & Messner have been sent to get Israel upon hearing that mob boss Primo Sparzza has put out a hit on him and are racing against time to get there before assassins and hit men from across the country converge on Reno to collect on Sparazza’s reward.

Going into Smokin’ Aces I really didn’t expect a thing, but I came out loving this movie. Joe Carnahan may not have made a crime classic like The Untouchables but what he did make was an engaging, unique action movie full of eclectic characters that keeps you entertained and guessing straight through to the end of the movie. This movie is a heck of a ride to go on, and is greatly enjoyed on repeated viewings.

The Tremor brothers in Smokin’ Aces are part of what makes the movie so memorable for me and are a great addition to the pantheon of cinematic siblings along with the Hanson brothers. The Tremor’s are audacious, insane, disturbing, deadly and oh so much fun. These characters are so demented in their behavior and appearance that I honestly was not aware Chris Pine was one of the Tremor’s until it was pointed out to me. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.
The Tremor’s also have quite an interaction with the character Ben Affleck plays, and in my opinion it’s one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Affleck plays Jack Dupree, a bail bondsman whose team is hired to bring Israel in on a warrant, and while they prep his team meets the Tremor brothers. The scene is over the top, crazy and unexpected but somehow downright hysterical.

I really love Smokin’ Aces. I think it is a stylish film with more than just a sense of style behind it.

Director & Writer: Joe Carnahan
Richard Messner: Ryan Reynolds
Donald Carruthers: Ray Liotta
Buddy Israel: Jeremy Piven
Jack Dupree: Ben Affleck
Pete Deeks: Peter Berg
Stanley Locke: Andy Garcia
Georgia: Alicia Keys
Sharics: Taraji P. Henson
Darwin Tremor: Chris Pine
Jeeves Tremor: Kevin Durand
Lester Tremor: Maury Sterling

Carruthers: You've got to be careful when doing your stakeouts. I did one for... I was on one for six months. I gained, like, 20, 25 pounds. You keep eating this crap...
Messner: Well, that's not my problem, though. I don't gain weight. I tried.
Carruthers: That's 'cause your 12 years old.


Paul Sheldon is a romance writer tired of writing his heroine Misery. Annie Wilkes is a former nurse who is Paul’s number one fan. After finishing up his latest non-Misery manuscript in the country he ends up in a car crash during a blizzard and Annie rescues him; Paul is badly injured and bed-ridden and Annie assures him that once the phones are restored or the roads are plowed she will get him help. However, as time wears on it becomes evident that Annie has a psychotic fixation with Paul and when she discovers that he has killed off Misery in his latest novel she holds him hostage while forcing him to write Misery’s resurrection.

Misery is one of the creepiest films I have ever seen anchored by two of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her depiction of Annie Wilkes and I have to say that the award was earned; Kathy reaches a level of insanity that shouldn’t be possible in a sane member of society and I think that it is up there with the performances of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight or Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest - it’s chilling.

James Caan is no slouch either. He has the equally hard task of being the victim in this film and walks between pain, paranoia, gratitude and determination with great aplomb and not a moment feels false. It is incredibly hard to play the straight man to such a irregular character like Annie Wilkes.

One thing I did not expect from Misery was the comedic elements added by the town sheriff and deputy; they are an old married couple who obviously don’t see much action in their area and instead banter like the old couple they are. I feel in love with them immediately and thought they brought a nice relief to the otherwise nail-biting story-line.

I am still in shock that the writer and director behind Misery are the writer and director behind The Princess Bride. While I think that William Goldman and Rob Reiner are immensely talented people there could not be a film more diametrically opposed to The Princess Bride than Misery.

Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: William Goldman
Paul Sheldon: James Caan
Annie Wilkes: Kathy Bates
Buster: Richard Farnsworth
Virginia: Frances Sternhagen
Marcia Sindell: Lauren Bacall

Annie: God came to me last night and told me your purpose for being here. I am going to help you write a new book.
Paul: You think I can just whip one out?
Annie: Oh, but I don't think Paul, I know.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Devil Wears Prada

Andy is one of the newly graduated individuals looking for her big break and is shocked when she gets it – she is hired as Miranda Priestly’s assistant at Runway, the world’s premier fashion publication. If Andy can survive a year under Miranda’s intense scrutiny and flair for the dramatic she can get hired at any publication she applies for. However, Andy quickly realizes that to survive at Runway means some large changes in her life; from her fashion sense to her attitude Andy is forced into a new world that she doesn’t fully understand yet and attempts to discover where the line between ambition and selling your soul truly lies.

The Devil Wears Prada was one of the biggest surprises for me the year it came out. I expected a garden variety chick flick and was shocked to find a genuinely great movie that I would want to see over and over again. From the fashion on the screen, to four uniquely memorable characters I could not get enough of this movie. Perhaps, I identify with Andy Sachs because I too am looking for my big break into an impossible industry, but I think this is a great movie.

What I actually remember most about this movie, and think is one of the most brilliant things it could have done is the marketing strategy. Though the film had a built in audience as it is based on a best selling book, and Meryl Streep guaranteed a certain box office cache, the moment the first trailer for The Devil Wears Prada hit it became a sensation, and it spawned a trend.

The trailer for the film was a scene from the film. Not just any scene mind you but one of the most memorable scenes in the film, the scene where Miranda first arrives to the office and you see the entire staff of Runway whip into a frenzy of subject terror as Andy watches in wonderment. It was brilliant. It not only set up the film perfectly, but gave you a taste of what the film would be like if you went to the theater to see it. I know more people that went to this movie after seeing the trailer than I can say for any other movie of its kind.

Along with being a witty and well made film The Devil Wears Prada is a film filled to the brim with good performances and memorable characters. This is definitely a film to see.

Director: David Frankel
Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna
Miranda Priestly: Meryl Streep
Andy Sachs: Anne Hathaway
Emily: Emily Blunt
Nigel: Stanely Tucci
Christian Thompson: Simon Baker
Nate: Adrian Grenier
Lily: Tracie Thomas
Doug: Rich Sommer
James Holt: Daniel Sunjata

Miranda Priestly: Do you know why I hired you? I always hire the same girl- stylish, slender, of course... worships the magazine. But so often, they turn out to be- I don't know- disappointing and, um... stupid. So you, with that impressive résumé and the big speech about your so-called work ethic- I, um- I thought you would be different. I said to myself, go ahead. Take a chance. Hire the smart, fat girl. I had hope. My God. I live on it. Anyway, you ended up disappointing me more than, um- more than any of the other silly girls.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Luna Lovegood
Originally uploaded by Cassie D.
After a second viewing I have to say that The Half-Blood Prince is edging its way to being my favorite Harry Potter film. The main reason for this is the adaptation. Somehow, this one managed to be the truest to the book yet is missing very memorable elements from the book. It’s a strange contradiction but it is so well written that the director and actors were able to concentrate on the relationships and world instead of complicated events and other-worldly experiences.

I am excited to see how Steve Kloves manages to pull together two movies out of The Deathly Hallows - that is an incredibly complicated book and in my opinion a perfect end to the story of Harry, Ron & Hermione.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Dark Knight

Every time I watch The Dark Knight it holds up. It is just as tense, thrilling and masterful as the first time.

What I have to compliment Nolan and crew on most of all is how well they stayed to the mythos behind Bruce Wayne & the Joker while making the story their own. They spent the time alluding to enough of the comic book cannon that fans feel vindicated and honored rather than ignored; it’s something that only Christopher Nolan and Jon Favreau have done with the characters they’ve been given. No one has ever done this with Superman, and only slightly so with Spiderman, and a whole slew of other characters.

I hope Gary Oldman was not guessing at Comic-Con when he said the third film would begin filming next year. I want them to make a movie as great as the first two but I am quite anxious to see Bruce Wayne on screen again.

Harvey Dent: The famous Bruce Wayne. Rachel's told me everything about you.
Bruce Wayne: I certainly hope not.