Thursday, July 19, 2007

Blogger's Update

You can tell it has been a long time since logging into Blogger when they offer to upgrade from your "Classic" blog template. Is that officially old? Now, Blogger offers Labels, or in other words, categories. What this means for me is that I have to do away with the previous method I was using to separate posts and transfer my posts across sub-blogs. If it looks like there is an inundation with posts, don't worry. I had no choice and cannot edit the dates on said posts.

I will be updating the design back to what it was over the next few days(hopefully).

Top 5 Movies of 2006 That Nobody Watched

Thank You for Smoking

In what can only be described as the best satire comedy in recent years, Thank You for Smoking's hard cynicism delivers with a poignant story of the limits a person is willing to take their morals. However, the movie is not really about the morals, but how the main character is able to spin any topic to go his, and ultimately the tobacco industry's, way. Perhaps the funniest parts of the movie involve the M.O.D Squad--Merchants of Death--which include like-minded spinsters from the alcohol and firearm industries.

Little Miss Sunshine

Out of all the movies this year, Little Miss Sunshine probably had the best cast ensemble. Their dysfunctional on-screen chemistry really makes this movie work and I loved every minute of it. A unique road trip brings out the best and worst of a family that is just trying to make it to a pageant for their little girl, Olive. I can't speak highly enough of this film--expect it to win Oscars.

Stranger Than Fiction

Oddly enough, Stranger Than Fiction plays out more like a novel than a movie. Perhaps this is the reason that it is so wonderful to watch. Will Ferrel pulls out a surprisingly tender performance as Harold Crick, a man trying to save his life from a narrator that he hears in his head. The film really turns around when he meets Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman's characters. Although not out on video, I encourage you to seek this one out at the theaters.

Hard Candy

Hard Candy is a deviously disturbing, engrossing thriller than involves a cast of no more than 4 people. The basic premise is that Hayley, a young 14-year-old girl, is meeting Jeff, a 30-year-old photographer, after talking to him over the Internet. After she suggests going to his apartment, the vodka gets pulled out and she starts making drinks. Everything is going fine for Jeff until he passes out and is tied to a chair. Turns out that Hayley is there for a different reason...and she came prepared to do a certain procedure. Hayley is played by Ellen Page and she is playfully evil in this film, never letting us gain our balance. If you like horror films, this is the one to watch.

Superman Returns

I know many of you may be surprised by this, but let me explain. Superman Returns hit a core audience, but never failed to capture the mass market like Spider-Man. The movies greatest compliment and fault is that you have Brandon Routh, the unknown Reeves-look-a-like. Superman is back after 5 years, Lex Luther is up to it again, and Lois Lane is married. What more do you need to create a deep, sad, dramatically filled movie? Not to mention the likes of Kevin Spacey, who creates an awesome homage to Hackman's Luther, keeps the heavy-hearted scenes in check with wit and humor. Watch this movie, and you'll see why the world DOES need a Superman.

James Bond 007: Casino Royale

Taking into account that I'm not the biggest Bond fan in the world, I was still skeptical to see a blond hair, blue-eyed 007 in the early trailers. Daniel Craig is a great actor, don't get me wrong. I loved him in Layer Cake. But...Bond?! Fast forward a few months; shoot, a few days ago, and I was still skeptical. However, after having read this quote from an AICN review, I immediately perked up.

"Many people are going to say that this film is a direct reaction to the success of THE BOURNE IDENTITY and the sequel, and that’s probably a part of it, but I think the film that is the more direct influence here is BATMAN BEGINS. Watching CASINO ROYALE, you don’t just see one movie unfold. You also suddenly see a real series ahead, a series that you’re eager to be part of."

I understood what it took to reinvent Batman with Batman Begins. Put into the proper context, I now understood what Casino Royale meant to the Bond franchise. This was a launching point, a reinvention, a fresh start. Believe me, after the last couple of Bond bombs, this is a sight for sore eyes.

The basic premise of Casino Royale is that James Bond is a new recruit for MI6 and after earning his double oh status, is sent off to the Bahamas on a mission. Bond is reckless, arrogant, and generally doesn't care what happens as long as he completes the mission. He is stripped of his gadgets and given the bare minimum to work with. This produces a dark and gritty Bond who gets beat up, tortured, and put through the paces all the while delivering action that is-in-your-face reality. There are no quick cuts during the fight scenes and we see every drop hit with a driving impact.

Daniel Craig makes all of this work with an intensity that drives the movie forward instead of being dragged along. Gone are the campy humor and ridiculous stunts. Here, everything feels real (even the humor). For instance, the opening chase sequence is all on foot and lasts for about 10 minutes. Never did I feel like I was pulled out of the film. I was engaged and didn't think "well, that would never happen." Basically, you're not going to see Bond driving through an ice castle or hooking up with a girl named Christmas.

Speaking of girls, I was glad to see they went with Eva Green, the blue-eyed beauty from Kingdom of Heaven. Let's just say that if you ever get bored with the story, then you'll have something to look at for two and a half hours. She doesn't feel overly pretentious or self-aware of her role as a leading lady for James Bond. Just as well, Judi Dench pulls in a masterful performance as our favorite ball buster.

If you want to see a reimagining of things to come in the Bond series, then go see this movie. You will not be disappointed. Casino Royale is the best Bond film that I have seen.

The Da Vinci Code

Technically speaking, The Da Vinci Code isn't a very good book. By that, I mean that the writing is contrived and broken. However, the story is so compelling that you continue to wander through the adventure wondering where it will lead you next. Dan Brown's curious mix of fact and fiction created a watershed event. Some have gone so far as to compare it to the adult world's Harry Potter. But, at least the Harry Potter movies didn't leave me bored to tears.

This past month I spent every day playing the Google Da Vinci Code game in anticipation of the movie, which I had high hopes for. Perhaps if Google had made the movie, I might not have felt like I wasted my time.

The Da Vinci Code basically revolves around a plot of covering up what is the true Holy Grail and not what the Church would have you believe. If you can accept that this is just a fictional story and not something trampling on your beliefs, then you are one step ahead of those who would lead you to believe otherwise. My main complaint with the movie is that is treats the viewer like they are a moron and can't follow a simple plot. Everything is laid out for you like you haven't just been watching the same movie for the past two and a half hours. Every single point is laid out for you multiple times and this becomes tiring.

From what I can gather, Ron Howard was playing it safe---trying to appease the book fans too much while alienating the movie fans who have never read the book. All of the characters are just faces on the screen. The only one who has any bearing is Ian McKellen. He somehow manages to bring some life into his character in this dull script. I had high hopes for Audrey Tautou, seeing as this was her first major American blockbuster film. She was, on average...average. Tom Hanks, usually an actor who tries to bring everything to his roles feels like he is just reading cue cards. Even our self-flagellating bad guy, Silas, was only ho-hum.

As far as the cinematography is concerned, I expected something similar to A Beautiful Mind, and what I got was Sci-Fi Channel drivel. Scenes that could have simply been explained with words and an interesting scene involving our main characters were superimposed and merged with flashbacks. Again, this goes back to my original statement that the viewers are supposed morons.

The Da Vinci Code is mildly interesting considering it is mainly just a shell of its printed bretheren. Most would certainly be better off reading the book and having a better time.

[Sidenote: I found it extremely ironic that The Omen trailer played before this movie.]

Brokeback Mountain

Well, I guess you could say I'm back with a bang. After the long hiatus without movie reviews, I'm sure you all have been wandering aimlessly through the dark and lonely theaters. Without further adieu, I bring you a controversial movie about gay cowboys.

Let me first begin by saying that I had no interest in seeing this movie. It is not something that I would normally go out to the theaters and pay $8 to watch. However, I was discussing with a friend how this movie will win Oscars simply because of the controversial themes presented and how Hollywood loves to play the weeping sympathetic. Basically, she called me out by saying that I can't judge a movie before I have seen it, so we both decided to see it to prove each other wrong.

If you aren't familar with the story behind Brokeback Mountain, it is essentially a film about two men who meet while working in Wyoming and unexpectedly fall in love with each other. But, since this is 1963, it isn't exactly the best idea to display these feelings to the world. These two men seem to lead normal lives by getting married and having kids, yet they cannot stop longing for each other and they meet several times a year for "fishing trips" to Brokeback Mountain, their only place to express how they feel.

Here's the good: the cinematography is excellent. Ang Lee certainly knows how to bring the best of his film experience to capturing the rustic landscape of Wyoming. Also, the musical score was great too. It was simple and effective but not overpowering.

Here's the bad: I never really cared. It was hard for me to become emotionally involved with this movie because, one, I found the "love" scenes to be harsh and aggressive. King Kong had more emotion and he was a giant ape. Secondly, there was never really any conflict through the movie. When there was conflict, it was short-lived and generally empty of meaning to the rest of the movie. Lastly, Heath Ledger's accent could use some serious work. I had trouble recognizing what he was saying because he mumbled throughout the entire movie.

Here's the ugly: it is slow, tedius, and boring. After some time had passed in the movie, I glanced at my watch and noticed we still had another hour to go. I felt like it was almost time to end the movie and we were really just getting started.

So after all of this, why is it getting so much critical acclaim? Maybe because it is the politically correct thing to do. But, that can't be enough to consider this an Oscar-worthy flick. I have seen other movies dealing with these themes and I can say that this is nowhere close to matching them. Check out "Kissing Jessica Stein" if you are curious. All-in-all, Brokeback Mountain took the boring story of a man and a woman and just replaced the woman.

Charlie & the Choclate Factory

When I first heard that they were making Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, I was immediately turned off. After all, Gene Wilder's performance in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is dearly loved and revered by movie-goers the world over. So, how can one truly come to appreciate a different take on what is considered a childhood favorite? This is what director Tim Burton and screenwriter John August (better know for his excellent work in Big Fish) set out to tackle and I must say I was surprised by its sweet, yet dark flavor.

What is immediately apparent in Charlie is that this movie stands on its own. For lack of a better descrition, this is not a remake. August takes much of his inspiration directly from Dahl's books, interpreting what he calls a "timeless" story where the Golden Rule never ages. Meanwhile, Burton utilizes an almost entirely set-built production. Throughout the movie, bright colors, wide angles, and imagination takes center stage on what I consider the quintessential Tim Burton film. Everything from certain aspects of the town, to Wonka's factory is entirely built on one of London's largest sound stages. It truly adds a certain tangible element where fiction and reality are blurred, leaving the imagination to focus on the story and characters at hand.

Speaking of chracters, there are two that I would like to specifically touch on. First whom is Willy Wonka. I know many of you are doubtful that Johnny Depp could pull off what is needed for Wonka, so let me lay your fears to rest. Depp is not Gene Wilder, nor does he attempt to play or recreate that personality in any such way. Instead, he is much more eccentric, and well, downright goofy. I found myself laughing at nearly all scenes involving Wonka, silently applauding the superb acting pulled off by Depp. The next character I wanted to detail are the Oompa Loompas. So, how does Burton decide to handle these iconic characters? Why, give the job to one man. That's right, one man, Deep Roy, singlehandedly played every single Oompa Loompa you see onscreen. To top it off, the whole thing works. Its almost creepy at sometimes, but then I came to enjoy their appearence in the musical numbers. Also, the only musical outburts in this movie are those performed by the Oompa Loompas. No more cheesy songs from Granpda Joe or Charlie's mom. For the fans of the books, know that the composer Danny Elfman, was 95% faithful to the lyrics written by Dahl and each song has its own style.

As I was watching Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, I couldn't help but feel that the movie feels so familiar, yet is so much different that the departure is within the grasp for those willing to take a risk. Certainly, the backstory on Wonka is a big risk, but I believe it pays off in order to complete the chracter and story arcs lain before us. I'll just conclude that I haven't had this much fun watching a movie, nor laughed as much, in a good while.

War of the Worlds

Directed by Steven Spielberg, War of the Worlds is a stunning remake of H.G. Wells's classic that pits the entire human race against an alien army hell bent on destroying us in place of themselves. Told through the eyes of one family, Spielberg shows us fear, determination, and outright panic in many situations where they are just trying to survive. War of the Worlds is a darker tale interwoven with outstanding talent on both sides of the camera.

We start out the movie with Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) who is a simple working man, divorced, and going to spend a weekend with his children (no, I'm not talking about Katie Holmes) whom he never sees. Soon, however, a huge lightning storm brings more than just bad weather, but an unexpected invasion. Throughout the entire movie, the devistation and destruction is action packed, only stopping to breathe towards the final act. The surround sound is some of the best sound I have ever heard in a movie--it had my seat shaking, it was so powerful. Now that is how you play a summer blockbuster. Also, lets not forget Dakota Fanning. She is perhaps one of the best child actors I have ever seen. Fanning never fails to amaze me in her seemingly mature talent, being only eleven years old. (If you doubt me, check out Taken, a mini-series now on DVD). Her performance sets the bar for panic and fear in the movie. Maybe some of this credit can be given to Spielberg, known for transforming Drew Barrymore in E.T. into a loveable little girl on-screen.

Speaking of Spielberg, I am continually amazed by his technical expertise in filmmaking. There is one shot in the movie that I didn't catch the first time--it took a second viewing to catch it because of its subtle, yet powerful nature. Cruise and his family are trying to escape the invasion, making their way through the crowded interstate in a van. If you see the film, pay attention to what the camera does: it pans, rotates, goes into and out of the van with such fluditiy, I wonder "how on Earth did he do that shot!"

However, there are a couple of details that mar the performance of this otherwise good movie. First, is the lack of an overall picture. Yes, the movie is very focused and straight-lined, but I wanted to get a sense of the invasion and its ultimate result, especially at the end of the movie, which brings me to my next problem. I felt that the film could have used 10 or 15 more minutes to resolve and wrap-up the story.

So, ignoring the rather flat ending, War of the Worlds is a great movie that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good summer movie.

Batman Begins

I'll just go ahead and get this out on the table right now: Batman Begins is the best comic book movie out there. It is the best Batman movie out there (although, after Batman & Robin, anything would be better). If you thought that Marvel was the king of all comic book movies, then prepare for the king to be overthrown. In one fell swoop, DC Comics has claimed its stake with what will hopefully be an endearing series of movies.

Many of you may know that Chrisopher Nolan is the widely acclaimed director of Memento. Also, many of you may know that David S. Goyer is the outstanding screenwriter for Blade. Throw these two talented men together to come up with what is easily the darkest, grittiest, and most meaningful Batman movie to grace the silver screen. Nolan decided to skip the theatrics and get to the heart of what makes Bruce Wayne the Batman. The story mostly surrounds the situations on how he became Batman and his motivations for doing so. The previous iterations never really seemed to capture this, and Batman Begins pulls this off flawlessly. Nolan also chooses to focus on the fact that everything is not perfect when he starts---the bat cave is just a dingy old cave, his ride is a tank/car, and his suit needs work. Still, it never would have worked without Christian Bale.

Christian Bale is my Bruce Wayne now. It used to be Michael Keaton ("I'm Batman...I'm Batman"), but Bale surpassed my expectations and threw his character into such a demonic and angry conotation, that I knew why Bruce Wayne wanted justice. The supporting cast is equally as impressive. Gary Oldman plays Lt. Gordon, Michael Caine is an outstanding Alfred, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, and Cillian Murphy. All very important to the story and the screenwriters make sure that we never lose focus on the world that we are immersed in.

Without knowing it, this is the Batman that I have wanted to see since 1989. I find it ironic that the title for this movie sums up what should have happened years ago. Batman Begins truly gives us a fresh start and a good foundation to build on.

Cinderella Man

Like most of movie-goers out there, I knew nothing of Jim Braddock's story. Even after researching him and his fights, I still didn't know enough that made me think this movie was going to be nothing more than a canned Hollywood movie. In many ways, it is a canned experience, but I loved every moment of it. And, as you may come to find out, this could very well be Ron Howard's best piece since Apollo 13.

We follow Russell Crowe who plays Jim Braddock, a successful boxer before the Great Depression hits. Once that lands on the country, he is plunged into financial trouble and his struggle is to mainly keep his family afloat. Only when his former manager, Joe Gould, gives him a chance at a comeback can Braddock begin his journey to become the "Cinderella Man". In a time when the working man could get a leg up on the world, it gave hope to those who had none. That, at its core, is the moral message to Cinderella Man. Boxing is just the vehicle Braddock uses to, no pun intended, fight his way through the hard times.

The acting is some of the best you will see this year. My vote for Best Supporting Actor goes to Paul Giamatti for portraying the outgoing, no holds barred manager Joe Gould. Everytime he was on-screen yelling at Braddock from the corner or trying to convince the boxing big-wigs, it felt real. That's when you know you've hit the mark.

In the end, most people will want to compare this among the other boxing movies out there. I say, go ahead and let them. Cinderella Man may not be a Rocky type of boxing movie, but it has heart and, so far, it definitely ranks up there among my top movies of the year.

Blockbuster Online vs. Netflix

I don't know why it has taken me so long to sign up for an Internet movie rental service, but my only guess could be that I was waiting for the right time. Right time for what, I have no idea. Following, I will detail the pros and cons of the two big online movie rental programs.

----Blockbuster Online----

To begin my adventure, I decided to start with Blockbuster Online to see how different they were from Netflix. After two attempts to sign up successfully, I was online and already filling up my queue. Undaunted by the fact I wasn't able to start immediately, I put that all behind me and began to enjoy finding movies that I have wanted to see but somehow passed me by. After adding two dozen movies to my list, I continue to use their website. All the while, I notice the website is a little cluttered. There is this huge section devoted to your queue. Why this needs to be on every page you look at is beyond me, but Blockbuster felt its important, so I move on.

The next day I recieve an email telling me that movies have shipped. I can't help but be excited as I browse the selections, ignoring my work, and still add movies. Now, some of you may be saying that all of this sounds great. However, I have yet to tell you why this was the honeymoon period which led to my downfall and disgust with Blockbuster.

The entire reason I initially chose Blockbuster over Netflix was because they have an extra feature: 2 Free In-Store Rentals each month. Wow, what a deal right? Wrong. You can only use the coupons if you do not have any online rentals at home. Basically they have to recieve your online movies before you can use your coupons. They also expire.

Blockbuster is VERY slow in processing and mailing. Those movies they said were shipped on Wednesday? I got them on Saturday. We'll get to how this is a bad thing when I describe Netflix. Not only were they slow, they seemed to change the status of my queued movies. A movie I had at the top of my queue was available "now" but in the span of eight hours moved to "short wait" and then to "long wait".

After my two week trial was close to over with, I said "Forget it! I'm done with this service." That's when I decided that anything would be better than this and I was right.


The second half of my adventure for the quest of The One Ring...ahem...sorry, wrong review. After my letdown with Blockbuster, I knew there was only one choice and that was Netflix. Signing up was effortless and their website was well organized, clean, and quick. So much of a drastic change, I began to wonder how Blockbuster, a giant of a corporate chain, could not afford better web designers. Nevertheless, I was pleased.

So, in order to test the waters, I began transferring my useless Blockbuster queue over to my new golden ticket. Every single movie I added was available. Like a dog unwary of his new master, I started adding more movies to attain some idea of Netflix's availability status. So far, I have not had to wait for a movie.

The shipping! Oh, the glorious shipping! After filling my queue, I was told it would be a max of three days to recieve my movies. Two days later my mailbox was full. Let me tell you, there is a huge difference between two days and four days.

Even the recommendations are more accurate than Blockbusters. Plus the fact you can add a friend and look at their rated movies or queue. The only downside to Netflix is in the rating system: there are no half stars. If that's the only bad thing I can think of, it's pretty obvious which service is better.

----Final Verdict----

In the end, I have to choose Netflix because they provide a much smoother experience. The shipping speed, website ease-of-use, and overall satisfaction leads me to give my nod to it. Sorry, Blockbuster, you can't topple this movie pioneer.

Star Wars Episodde III: Revenge of the Sith

Okay, people, this is the movie that so many have been waiting for. The culmination of George Lucas' vision and the entire reason we waded through the first two prequel movies. Honestly, I don't even know where to begin.

To say that Sith is the crowning achievement in Lucas' career is a huge understatement. In many respects, it seemed as if he wanted vindication to prove his worth as a filmmaker after the average showings of the first two prequels and I believe he has silenced many of those hardened critics. Now that we have that out of the way, lets get to the question on everyone's mind: Is it good?

Yes...very good. From the moment the movie begins, it is non-stop and relentless action. Rarely does it let up to give you time to rest before you are thrown into another situation which deepens the plot even more. Speaking of the plot, it covers all bases to set up Episodes IV, V, and VI. To be sure, it brings a greater appreciation and complexity to the past movies. Several times, I sat in awe wondering if this moment could be topped, only to be silenced yet again with a greater moment. I haven't felt this way since Empire. For you Star Wars fans, you know what that means.

All of the light saber battles are spectacular and truly trump anything done before. The movie is so rich with physicality you can't help but be sucked in by its gripping darkness. Also, the movie is an emotional ride that slowly slips you into hell along with Anakin. Lucas has finally made me care about the characters with gut wrenching effectiveness. Not to mention that Hayden Christensen's acting is much better than his previous efforts, though not perfect. Natalie Portman delivers one of the best lines in the movie. Ian McDiarmid stole the show. Yoda is still cool.

I am both happy and sad. Happy that the movie was what I had hoped it would be; Sad that the saga has ended. Only Star Wars could make me go to the midnight showing to stand in a line that wraps around the building. I can't wait to see this movie again.

Kingdom of Heaven

Let's forget for a moment, that Hollywood intends to be historically accurate in anything it does. If I wanted to see an historical saga, the History Channel, not LaLa Land, would be my main avenue. With that said, Kingdom of Heaven is as epic as Gladiator without all the gory battles. Going into this movie, I didn't expect it to be as thought provoking as it turned out to be. Maybe I was expecting Gladiator for the Crusades.

KOH is set in 12th century Europe and Middle East with the main focus for the Muslim and Christian struggle for Jersualem (which, oddly enough, sends an echo to the present day). If you have been following this movie at all, you will know that this has been the source of much controversy surrounding the release. Is this objectification of our current struggle against Muslim terrorists? Is it too offense to raise tensions between our cultures?
Put your fears to rest, hate mongers. Kingdom does no such thing. I found myself wanting to quote Rodney King: "why can't we all just get along?" The script plays a perfect balance, almost effortlessly, with epic battles, dialog and romantic struggles. But it seems to drag and become confusing with its many characters.

Orlando Bloom plays a young blacksmith who is recruited by his father, Liam Neeson's character, who in turn knights him and various events play out from there. The first half of the movie tends to drag on seeing as there is so much to set up. Many factions on both sides want war, while the current King settles for peace. While we are talking about characters, I must say that I didn't find Bloom to carry a strong presence. That respect goes to Liam Neeson. While his role is short-lived, I found myself constantly wishing he would somehow appear to finish the film off.

Cinematically, Ridley Scott does not disappoint. The man knows how to direct a film, that's for sure. While the movie may be a little long without a foothold to keep your attention at every span, it does present a fantastic movie experience.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Oscars and Hollywood pat themselves on the back

I find it extremely hypocritical that the actors and directors of Hollywood are patting themselves on the back for their support of promoting a better environment. I wonder how much better the environment would be if those actors didn't own 8 cars and had their own private jets.