Tuesday, August 11, 2009


"Get with it. Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars, in a speck on one in a blink. That's us, lost in space. The cop, you, me... Who notices?"

Two reviews in one day? How is this possible? Well, I got a rare surge of creative inspiration at the same time as my co-writer, and decided to review one of my favorite movies of the decade. As you may or may not know, I am a complete mark for anything Michael Mann makes. His characters are always thoroughly sketched, the cinematography is always mind blowing, the action scenes are revolutionary, and the music is always first rate.

This was the movie that introduced me to the brilliance of Michael Mann. A director shooting a movie almost entirely at night, and with the help of HD, the city of LA is added as a character as we follow a hitman and a cab driver through the barren streets of LA.

The premise, is relatively simple, a hitman forces a cab driver to drive him to all of his kills. What makes this movie great is the characters and the interactions between them. Cruise brings a detached, philosophical edge to his character. Every movement is calculated and precise and constantly aware. This is a character you don't often see Tom Cruise play, usually he's charming, emotional and flamboyant, as Vincent, he is cold and calculating, always in control.

The film start unusually, with Jamie Foxx giving Jada Pinkett Smith a ride in her cab. The acting in this scene is tremendous, as Foxx and Smith start with a casual conversation about cab routes and delve into a deeper conversation where Smith shows her characters oft hidden vulnerability and Foxx's character enjoys his momentary role as a man who has things figured out.

The kills aren't actually the centerpiece of the movie. In fact, two of them do not even appear on screen. Instead the conversations between Vincent and Max take the lead. A lesser filmmaker would make this film a two and a half hour breathless chase scene, but Mann realizes where the story is in the script, and it doesn't lie in the exploits of Vincent, but in the relationship between the two man, and the growth of Max.

As informants go missing, and bodies turn up, a night detective, played by Mark Ruffalo(in a role contrary to everything he's ever done) begins to unravel the mystery. Ruffalo's detective and Federal agents get on Vincent's trail leading to the spectacular scene at the night club.

Throughout the movie, Vincent and Max run into a multitude of different characters, all who are solidly acted and have a story to tell. The scene in the jazz club is acted perfectly by all parties involved.

The ending wasn't spectacular, and the subway chase was a little far fetched. But words really don't do this movie justice. It is a great film from every possible angle, the acting, writing, editing, cinematography, was all top notch. I loved it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Dark Knight

I'll steal from Mr. X. and kick this off with a quote:

"Some men just want to watch the world burn."

I've seen this movie multiple times, which makes this the first review that I've posted that I've viewed the movie repeatedly. But, I just watched it again last night and finally enjoyed it to its full capacity. The Dark Knight is like listening to a good cd for the first time, you don't really know where its going, and you know every time you watch it will get better and better as you watch it the first time. Batman Begins was a perfectly made movie, easier to watch, rewatchable, told a good story and had just the right amount of humor. The Dark Knight is an entirely different animal. It is a sweeping, intense, brutal epic. The plot doesn't come together joyfully like the first film, instead, its painful and dark. Some films, despite greatness, are difficult to watch repeatedly because the sheer scope of it is too much to grasp with a casual viewing

The performances are first rate. Every part is played by an established actor and there are few, if any, weak lines in the movie. Heath Ledger goes out with a bang in a role that won't be soon forgotten. Christian Bale plays both characters very well, the reckless, brash Bruce Wayne and the intense, idealistic, brooding Batman. Aaron Eckhart, who won my heart over with Thank You For Smoking is utterly outstanding and perfectly cast.

As much as I loved Danny Elfman's Batman themes of the Tim Burton movies, this theme, by James Newton Howard(I think) is outstanding. Its not as cartoonish, its menacing, and its epic.

I do have some gripes with this movie.

Batman's voice sounds like a thirteen year old making a prank phone call.

I have a hard time believing that the Joker could have planned everything to the degree that he did. From the shootout on the highway to his capture, to the bombs, to the bomb planted in the guys stomach. Few people in the world have that kind of foresight.

The ending, with the Joker on top of a building, with dogs ready to be unleashed, strikes me to be too much like a videogame. I would've preferred a better ending sequence. It is however, chaotic, and befitting of The Jokers nature.

This movie was supposed to be a part of a trilogy, but with Heath Ledger's death, Christopher Nolan appears to have lost his gumption. I'd love to see these roles reprised again, to see a fitting end to this trilogy. I'd like to see Daniel Day-Lewis under The Jokers makeup, and the continued evolution of the Batman character.

This is an astounding, imperfect, but great movie. If you are one of the few people in the civilized world who haven't seen it, I'd recommend it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I apologize for the break, life's travels have conspired to cut down on my movie viewing time as I've been out of town here and there.

Brick has been on my list of movies to see ever since I saw some of it on HBO, I shut it off, realizing too much had happened for me to make sense of anything and shelved it away.

I like this movie, its very complicated and the characters speak in soft undertones, which results in some lines being virtually indistinguishable. Its also rather complicated, I'm still not 100% sure what happened, but I got the gist of it.

The dialog was clever, and moved along at a pace that rivalled Pulp Fiction. However, I do not know of many high school aged kids that spoke as intelligently, and deeply as these characters. Then again, I'm not sure this film was supposed to be an accurate portrayal of high school. Instead, it was just an applicable setting for the plot. Hell, maybe things are that different down in California.

The deep, sinister underworld this film portrayed was interesting. The performances were strong. The characters seemed too intelligent but were human. The Pin wasn't pure evil, his enemy was your natural high school aged boy who got his way though violence and little else. The "upper crest" girl, the conflicted, real manipulator, was fascinating and well acted.

The performance of the main character, Brenden, was outstanding, compartmentalizing the pain and angst and letting his reasoning and intelligence consistently take over, even when you wanted to wager on which scene he'd finally collapse due to blood loss.

Good movie. A must see. Cheap, but very well put together. Natural camera work and tricks for the special effects.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Into The Wild

This is a very well made film. The acting is tremendous, all the characters are believable, even the bit parts. Its based on a book based on a true story. I liked the way the mood of the movie was constructed. They used an HD camera for at the very least most of the film, if not all of it. Some of the shots were incredible, when you have a film like this, you need the wide, surveying shots, it adds scope, mood and feeling to the film. They walked dangerous ground with the pacing, but it paid off, usually films with a lot of music driven montage sequences seem to drag on and they grow tiresome, the music was a vehicle for the film, and it paid off.

Emili Hirsch I've seen in two movies, one good movie(The Girl Next Door) and one cataclysmic disaster(Alpha Dog). He plays this role perfectly. I liked the fact that Hirsch and Sean Penn portrayed this character not as a hero or some kind of martyr but a man seeking his own way, right or wrong, the movie did not cast judgment or aim to deify the character of Alexander Supertramp, it chose to tell his story. This character wasn't perfect, his foolishness(both in the film and real life) contributed to his eventual demise, he caused his parents endless anguish, but positively effected many people he ran into along his journey.

Hal Holbrook was incredible. I last saw him in The Firm from 1993, gone is his wily mustache and most of his hair, but the sly twinkle is still in his eye and he plays this old, stubborn man with power and truth. I loved the scene where he climbs the hill and then knocks away Supertramp's hand and calls him a dimwit.

Katherine Keener played what she always plays, and plays it well, a wounded, vulnerable, loving women who is still recovering from the past, her husband, Rainey, might be my favorite character in the movie.

At the start of this movie, you envy the main characters idea, it even twinges that urge in you to do the same thing. By the end of the movie you are resting comfortably in a chair, or a couch, and pleased that you are in a home, rather than in the wilderness searching for edible plants.

The world needs people like Christopher McCandless, idealists who see the world differently and aim to experience it. The real crime would have been if his journey had gone undocumented, if his thoughts went unrecorded. Instead we are enlightened by the film and I'm sure the book by the same name did the same thing. Its a journey that needed to be undertaken by someone, if only to show that not everyone is bound, and some people are truly free.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Riding The Bullet

Sometimes movies adapted from the writings of Stephen King are classics. You think of Carrie, The Shining, IT, The Stand, Pet Semetary and Misery. You forget about every adaptation that has failed. I haven't read Stephen King's version of Riding The Bullet, so all of this may indeed be his fault. But his lack of control on the film adaptations of his work, is "Let them do what they want" attitude can backfire horribly and I can't believe he'd write something so horribly paced. Then again, King is the brains behind Maximum Overdrive.

Riding The Bullet is nothing but a flood of delusions and false scares which soon grow tiresome. After the 30th vision by the main character, you aren't scared anymore, you aren't trying to figure out what is truth and what is in the main characters mind, you simply don't care.

Like most ideas from the mind of Stephen King, the premise is interesting. Like half of his ideas, its poorly executed. A hitchhiker on a deserted road late at night hitches rides with the dead. Seems interesting, but the dead are cartoonish, as well as the whole movie. It appears that they didn't know if they wanted to make a scary movie, or a cartoonish B movie. Riding The Bullet tries to dance the line but fails miserably. This movie would've been served well if half of it had been left on the cutting room floor.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Crucible

Ah, the Salem Witch Trials, the vehicle of vehemence for all haters of organized religion. The Crucible depicts this sad event and shows us the sad ends that people will go to in order to protect themselves.

Some of the characters actions strike you as inhumanely stupid, if not for the fact that they are true. There are very few good characters in this, most characters are privy to the same manic feelings of self preservation. This movie left me not feeling very good about human nature.

The acting was tremendous. The sets were standard, but not really a big part of the town. Winona Rider, a villain for once, was excellent playing a highly intelligent character who played the town like a piano to get what she wants.

Daniel Day Lewis, the hero, played close to the vest early on and I was a bit disappointed, knowing that he usually plays such vibrant and intense characters. By the end, I wasn't disappointed. As an actor, he can make his body react physically to what he wants, if he wants to sweat, he sweats, if he wants his face to turn scarlet, it turns scarlet, if he wants to foam at the mouth(literally) with intensity, he can.

The supporting cast was excellent as everyone turned on each other when they reached the point of desperation where only their own lives matter. There are very few good characters and two of them originally appeared to be the most despicable.

This film was originally a stage play by Arthur Miller, and obviously so, the characters are made for the theatre as well as the scenes. Its a good viewing, although I missed 20 minutes of it because Netflix gave me a DVD that skipped.

This is a good film, it doesn't act as most movies do, where there are good and bad characters, instead its a world of confusion and hysteria, where the best characters are still flawed and are acted to be so, the line between good and evil is blurry, only defined by who will shame anothers name for their own self preservation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Bloody Valentine 3-D and a Rant

My Bloody Valentine was one of the most entertaining horror movies i've ever seen. Was it great? No, not necessarily, but its over the top gore, creative deaths, mystery plot and surprisingly adequate acting made it quite the experience. It helps that it was in 3D, nothing like the sight of a pick axe hurtling toward you.

To extend on that thought, there are two types of horror movies, slashers and scary movies. Contrary to popular belief, its hard to make both. Given how cynical our society is today, its really hard for a movie to be considered "scary". Some people watch The Exorcist now and think of it merely as "over the top" and not frightening at all. Good scary movies walk a delicate line between good, and over the top. I've also noticed a boom in scary movies, for better or worse, i suppose you can thank The Ring for that. Unfortunately, every movie adopts The Rings schitzophrenic cinematography, using special effects as a crutch. Those movies rely on the supernatural as frightening. If any genre has been damaged by the reliance on CGI effects, its that of scary movies. To make a frightening film means patiently building tension with slow and deliberate strokes. Not an overreliance on dreams and flashback sequences. A quality filmmaker should be able to make a good horror film with a camera, good lighting and about fifty dollars. To see how to shoot that patented scene where the killer scours the house in search of his victim that is constantly mangled, watch the basement scene from Spielberg's adaptation of War of The Worlds, words don't do the filmmaking justice. The other type of scary movie relies on the fear of the unknown. Simple premises extended into full length film. Kind of like the simple plot lines of a Stephen King novel.What would happen if a group of cave divers decided to delve a little too deep?What exactly goes on in the unknown that is the heart of australia?What kind of people habitat the backwoods of West Virginia?These are movies that prey on the insecurities of city dwellers. As suburbia widens, the uninhabited places seem more foreign. These movies are needlessly violent, but properly horrifying and all owe a token of gratitude to the fear of the backwoods first predicated by Deliverance.Slasher movies are few and far between these days, mostly because, aside from the first two Scream films, they take themselves too seriously. Friday the 13th on the other hand, knew what it was, and accepted that.

The Fall

What a spectacular movie; filled with spectacular visuals and characters, all the creation of a little Romanian girls mind.

This movie is a testament to a lost idea of film making. Filmmaking that doesn't rely on the tight shot or CGI, but instead on shots, sets, lighting, colors and location. A film like this should be seen just to see a film done the right way.

The plot isn't strong, but its more of a vehicle for the spectacular images. Lee Pace is great. The girl is great, although I had difficulty understanding her some of the time. Lee Pace wore his characters misery on his face, but moments when he truly enjoyed the girls company showed that the character wasn't always this morbid.

This is a movie that dazzles the eyes and relaxes the mind. Its a treat that should be viewed time and time again.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


This movie sucks. No other real way to put it. It has an interesting premise, "Kids take shrooms on a camping trip in Ireland and try to distinguish the weird shit that happens to them from hallucinations or reality".

This film may have been shot in Ireland, i haven't checked. But you really can't tell. It could've been shot in the backwoods of Maryland. If you are choosing Ireland as a setting, use Ireland, I'd like to see something that makes Ireland Ireland other than a red herring to the inbred locals which causes the viewers to start having nightmares of the Wrong Turn series(at least there we felt like we were in Appalachia).

Of course, the main character is a woman, with her own set of problem and likes the token "perfect guy"(no one will match up to Ted in Friday the 13th Part III and his sweaters in this department). The rest of the characters are window dressing, the horny couple, the stoners, the bitch, all there.

The shrooms scenes are lacking, they could've done a lot more and the characters don't act any different once they've taken the shrooms other than "seeing things".

It ends with a lot of running around and screaming, a weak back story and an even weaker surprise ending that stretches continuity ideas to the absolute brink.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Da Vinci Code

Due to the publicity and the fact that less intelligent people took the Da Vinci Code for fact, I avoided this movie for some time. I also didn't like Tom Hanks with long hair, but thats just aesthetic concerns.
I finally watched the movie and it was a good show. However, when unfurling a mystery, there comes a point when enough is enough. The audience is no longer how asking how deep the rabbit hole goes, instead they are asking when the rabbit hole will end. The plot is interesting and the film is made with that trademark Ron Howard touch; which means its easy to watch.

I did like the fact that the french characters actually spoke french. Ron Howard, one of the ultimate audience pleasing directors, made the audience actually have to read subtitles! You rarely see this for any extended period of time with a big budget film like this. It has always bothered me that the Nazi's would speak English when amongst themselves. It also allowed Jean Reno, a fabulous actor who is hamstrung when forced to speak english, to actually be able to act and speak in his language.

Tom Hanks was servicable, you could tell he didn't have much of a character to work with. He was the buffer between the plot and the audience, there to explain and translate everything that happened. They tried to add character by having him be afraid of enclosed spaces, maybe he had a better character in the actual book, I don't know.

The other actors were fine, no one performance stood out. Ian Mckellan stood out because he had the most colorful character to work with. Everyone else was a one trick pony despite an outstanding cast.

There was simply too much going on in this film, too many layers, ulterior motives and betrayals. The actors knew too much about everything and events had a timing only available in movies. Its worth a watch, but really failed to suck me in.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Hustler

Before reading this review, please be aware of the fact that for a multitude of reasons I skipped a good twenty minutes of the movie.
This film is widely known as a classic, and with the cast put together, Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Piper Laurie and Jackie Gleason, its not hard to see.
However, aside from the pool scenes, I found it hard to get into this movie. Although it ran over two hours, I wondered about the depth. At certain times the movie screamed its points at you, at other times it tried to be too subtle. I found it hard to root for Paul Newman's character, the only admirable character in this movie was Minnesota Fats. I know it was a heroes fall type of movie going in as well as a brooding portrayal of hustling, and we are supposed to be rooting for Paul Newman at the end, but the brashness, the boldness and arrogance of his character didn't lead to me rooting for him. I liked the stoicness of Minnesota Fats and the brutal honesty of George C. Scott's character.
This is one of those movies, like a classic book, that is best read or viewed once, and let that be it. I don't feel it renders multiple viewings. The performances were all outstanding and Newman did far more with the character than the script gave him. Good movie, but not the spellbinding classic I was anticipating.

Friday the 13th

You will soon notice that I have a thing for horror movies, specifically the slasher genre. So naturally I took to the cinema last Friday to view the latest in my favorite slasher series. Jason Voorhees, with the ominous hockey mask and aversion to any means of death, has long been a favorite of mine. Michael Myers was a silent, gentle killer, Freddy Krueger was loud and obnoxious, Jason is vicious, positively vicious.

To prep myself for the new Friday the 13th I Netflixed part IV and part VII, two of my favorites from the series(with part III close behind). These movies, although deeply flawed with terrible dialog and wooden acting, had a special charm, and Kane Hodder was especially good behind the mask in Part VII.
But, I digress, the first thing I noticed about this new movie was the dialog. The college kids talked like college kids, when they drank, they actually acted drunk, when they got high, they actually acted as if they were high. So many movies have their actors overact everything while drunk and underact everything while high.
Another positive was that these were actually actors and actresses I recognized, very few in the previous movies (Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover and Kevin Bacon) actually had a career. Friday the 13th movies used to be for terrible actors looking for work. Now, with horror movies booming, people are actually choosing to take on these roles.
This isn't to say there is deep character development, in a 90 minute movie centered around killing, you don't have a lot of time for that. But the stoner was a good stoner, the jerk was a good jerk, the hero was a good hero and the rest were believable until they got wacked.
It was funny. Legitimately funny, with lines that you actually remember. Some movies you can tell the cast enjoyed themselves, and this was one of them, nothing was awkward, it was natural.
Now, my gripes...

I didn't like Jason's complicated tunnel system, where did this come from? This was supposed to be a vacation spot with cabins, not an underground mine shaft.
And you are telling me nobody boarded up Jason's old house after his mother died? Nobody got rid of his bed? Auctioned off the belongings of the home?
Jason doesn't keep prisoners, I don't care how much they remind him of his mother. How does keeping captain someone who looked like a younger version of his mother satisfy him? The mother he knew was far older than that and psychologically doesn't fill that "I miss mommy" void.
The last line "Jason, its time to meet Mommy! In hell!" was cringe worthy, and a big cringe at that.
The opening scene, while entertaining, lasted too long and the rest of the movie felt rushed. We meet all these characters and all but one are brutally murdered.
Yeah, the old sleeping bag murder, you know they have zippers on the inside of sleeping bags as well, was she so paralyzed with fear she couldn't move?
The early Friday the 13th movies used to excell at something utterly lost in film today: single extended shots. In an era of quick cuts and tight shots, its nice to watch those old scenes where the director let the camera roll and left the actors with the responsibility to put the scene together. Although this version used the "Camera comes up from behind the unsuspecting character" that was a staple of all the movies, the only action was the movement of the camera as the character sat blindly awaiting their death. I would've liked the filmmakers to harken back to the old days for just one extended shot.

Overall, it was highly enjoyable, I would've liked more creative deaths rather than the machete, I thought the arrow through the boat drivers head was a nice touch. But it was too much machete work from a guy who made his name shooting harpoon guns and popping eyeballs out. Maybe after seeing My Bloody Valentine 3-D my expectations for creative deaths are just way too high. This is a good popcorn flick, good to see in a theater with the right audience, or good to put on at a party.