Tuesday, August 28, 2007


This is pure Rob Zombie. I loved The Devil's Rejects, and was...well...fond of House of 1000 Corpses. It's tough to take an essentially dead franchise, in an essentially dead genre, and make a vital movie. Zombie manages to do this by taking the Halloween empire back to its roots in a foul mouthed, ultra violent remake. I'm just thankful that he didn't make yet another sequel following the likes of such "gems" as Halloween Resurrection, or Halloween H2O, or even Halloween 3 (the one that didn't have Michael Myers). It's still a slasher movie, and not quite as good as the original, but it's nice to see someone have the balls to make an actually horrific horror movie.

For those of you not familiar story, Michael Myers is one of your standard sociopathic serial killers. It started when he was a small boy and killed his sister (and a few others in this version). He is imprisoned for 15 years until he escapes, and goes after his other sister, Laurie. This was Jamie Lee Curtis's breakout role in the 1978 version; this time Laurie is played by Scout Taylor-Compton. In Michael's attempts to get to her, he of course, goes on a murderous rampage through the sleepy hamlet Haddonfield. Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Loomis (played with a comical seriousness by Malcolm McDowell) was his psychiatrist, and is trying to track him down before he gets to Laurie.

This time, the movie focuses much more on Myers' childhood, actually developing his character much more than in the original. It goes into his abusive parents and older sister, and him being an outcast at school. All this desensitizes him, and leads to some violent tendencies, even before it all breaks down and he kills his sister, her boyfriend, and his father. These early scenes are the most disturbing of the movie, with his negligent parents, and a foul mouthed young Michael (played terrifyingly by Daeg Faerch).

It's not even until the half-way point where the obligatory "15 years later" slate appears. Once it gets over that hump though, it starts to go down a little bit. Here it boils down into your typical slasher flick. It's clear he's going after Laurie, but there's no explanation as to why he goes after the other random people. I know there's not supposed to be an explanation as to why a psychopathic killer goes after his victims, but I thought that with such in depth development in the first half, they'd continue along those lines. Oh well, Zombie can't take the high road on everything. It still is a slasher movie after all.

I kind of wish they'd gone with their original plan, and made this a prequel instead of a remake. Focus entirely on his childhood, and leave all the later stuff out. We've seen the slasher thing done to death, and the first half about his youth was so much more compelling (and actually scarier). Faerg and Sheri Moon (who played his mother, and happens to be Rob Zombie's wife starring in all of his movies) were the two best performances in the movie. They had internal conflict, and character arc. I know this may be a bit much for a slasher movie, but they were pulling it off so well.

The first half of the movie is just magnificent. It's difficult to watch, but you're compelled to. The second act, though not nearly as strong, is certainly no worse than any other horror movie you'll be seeing.


The Bridge

In this 2006 documentary, director Eric Steel filmed the Golden Gate Bridge for an entire year. Why? Because the Golden Gate Bridge has the highest suicide rate of any location on Earth. During 2004, when they were filming this, 24 people lept to their deaths from the bridge- most of them captured on film. The movie is a documentary in its truest sense. It isn't an expose, and doesn't have an agenda, it simply explores these cases about who these people are, and why they do this.

When I was first watching this, I was appalled that these film makers could sit idly by and watch people do this. Before condemning them, however, I did a little research, and discovered that whenever there was someone looking suspicious they called the bridge patrol, and ended up saving at least six people. That made me feel a little more at ease watching this movie. Steel focuses on the stories of a few of the people whom he captured jumping off the bridge- including interviews with friends and family, as well as people who were there witnessing it.

In one incredibly rare case, he was able to interview one man who jumped, but survived. It was one of the only cases where he could get a before and after perspective. In another extremely powerful case, there was a photographer standing right by a woman as she was about to jump. He explains how he was so caught up in taking pictures that it didn't even occur to try to rescue her. He managed to snap out of that, and before she jumped, he grabbed her and pulled her back over the railing. This was powerful because it was captured through his photos as she was preparing to jump, and on film as she was pulled back. The same woman was caught several times that year trying to jump, being stopped every time.

This is a difficult movie to watch- already covering a fairly taboo topic, and supporting it with actual suicide footage. I'm not sure about the motivation behind making this movie- it doesn't seem to have exposed, or helping anything. It just appears to be a study as to what is happening. Intercut with the interviews are long, drawn out shots of the bridge. Honestly, I don't know what whole point of the movie is, but it was very emotional none-the-less. In the end, I think this would have worked better as a short subject, than a feature length movie.


Monday, August 27, 2007


The horror movie industry is in a difficult situation- the rampant onslaught of PG-13 horror movies. These are watered down attempts to broaden their appeal. Instead they just produce movies not worthy of being called horror. It seems Hollywood doesn't understand the horror is a niche genre, and doesn't appeal to the masses. If they wanted to do that, they should just all produce Will Ferrel comedies, and animated children's movies. Every movie would gross $100 million easy. If they want to make a horror movie, and make appeal to true fans, they need to go all out. All of this being said, Skinwalkers manages to eek by with a PG-13 rating, and still be a decent horror movie.

Skinwalkers is a movie about two warring factions of werewolves, separated by principles and beliefs. Both of these groups, however, have a common link, Timothy (Matthew Knight). He is the son of one of the leaders of the "bad" faction (Jason Behr), but was raised by his mother (Rhona Mitra) and the rest of his family in the "good" faction. Unbeknownst to Timothy or his mother. he is a werewolf who is to fulfill an ancient prophecy and determine the outcome of this ancient battle- or something like that.

The way this movie escapes the curse of the PG-13 horror movie is that it doesn't try to create a movie like that on today's standard; it is a retro grindhouse flick, and it does it very well. It's a werewolf movie, but it's instead of the goth tinged visual effects heavy Underworld, imagine a Hell Angels toned Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie is violent, sexy, and oh so deliciously dirty. You like you need to brush the dirt out of your clothes after watching it.

The movie becomes a race against time as the baddies chase the goodies, while the goodies try to stay alive until the prophecy comes to pass- all while fighting their own wolven urges. One thing that I think sets this apart from other horror movies, it doesn't have very many horror aspects to it. It's not so much scary, as it is thrilling. In stead of feeding frenzies, all the characters are armed, resulting a several John Woo worthy fire-fights.

By the end it delves into a no holds, two men enter, one man leaves, Thunderdome, battle royale- with werewolves. By this point they invest a bit more in the effects, and it started to fall a little bit, but no big deal. The acting is certainly nothing to write home about, with nobody really worth mentioning, but again no big deal. This movie isn't about the effects, or the acting. It's not really even about the razor thin plot of prophecies and family feuds. It's about creating a cool, stylish, grimy horror movie with a PG-13 rating. With the exception of the much anticipated (and R rated) Rob Zombie Halloween remake coming out later this week, this may be the best we get. Wait till it comes out on video, make some popcorn, and have some fun.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Death at a Funeral

This is the latest British comedy from on-again off-again director Frank Oz. (Probably best known for the Muppets Take Manhattan). This is a superbly dark comedy poking fun at death like only the British can. This movie combines a huge cast, with topics that you really should not be laughing at, but you just can't help it.

Death at a Funeral isn't a terribly original movie. The funeral of the patriarch of a dysfunctional family brings a whole slew of relatives together. Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) and Robert (Rupert Graves) are the man's sons. Martha's (Daisy Donovon) boyfriend, Simon (Alan Tudyk) mistakenly took LSD before the funeral provided by Troy (Kris Marshall). Meanwhile Howard (Andy Nyman) brings the incredibly profane and wheel chair bound Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan), and Justin (Ewen Bremmer) who's only there to hit on Martha. On top of all of this dysfunctionality, Peter (Peter Dinklage) has a secret about their deceased family member and is blackmailing Daniel to keep him silent.

One issue that I had with this movie was that it seemed to spread itself a bit too thin. I honestly had trouble following who all of the characters were. I'm still not sure what all the relations were. Each one of them brings a unique plot and conflict to the story, but there's still nothing very original. It's no different than any other movie that brings a group of people together under a common circumstance. Just imagine this as a British Big Chill without the music.

In general, this movie is very funny, and not terribly long- not more than an hour and a half. The cast acts out these incredibly awkward and hilarious situations with such deadpan seriousness that only the British can. It does occasionally dissolve into the predictable (a tipped over casket), and the low-brow (helping Uncle Alfie onto the toilette), and the just unreasonable (Simon naked for half the movie). These parts are are seldom, however, and generally fairly short.

There isn't anything new with this movie, it's simply a very well executed ensemble comedy. It's standard bill of fare from Frank Oz, on par with his previous movies (What About Bob?, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bowfinger, etc.) It's not a brilliant movie, but worth a rental. It will provide a rather entertaining evening.

Watch the Trailer


Monday, August 20, 2007

High School Musical 2

Well, they're back. It was inevitable. Zac Effron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, and Corbin Bleu reprise their roles from 2006's smash hit. High School Musical was the highest selling album of the year, and one of the most watched made for TV movies of all time. Despite my elitist moniker, it was not terrible. I wish I could say the same for the second one.

In the first one, Troy (Effron), and Gabriella (Hudgens) are a jock and a nerd respectively. Their two paths cross through music, and they end up stunning everybody by taking the leads in the school musical. At first this was much to the dismay of Troy's teammates- including Chad (Bleu), as well as the queen of the school- the unfortunately named Sharpay (Tisdale). Of course in the end everyone was happy, and it ended in an epic school wide song and dance number. The sequel starts several months later as school is letting out for the summer. The whole gang gets a job at a local country club where Sharpay, and her brother Ryan (Louis Grabeel) happen to be members. Sharpay tries to break up Troy and Gabriella's blossoming romance by helping get Troy promoted, and giving Gabriella a hard time. Troy then has to choose between his friends, and a potential scholarship from his new upper-crust connections.

The plot and the acting are awful (but then again as they were in the first one). This is generally acceptable in a musical, since it's often simply a vehicle for the music. This is clearly the case for this movie, as the first musical number starts up less than a minute after the movie begins. The problem is that the music just is not any good this time around. The first one at least had a strong batch of memorable songs. This time, they are forgettable at best, and most are worse than that.

In most musicals, the songs are integrated into the movie, and least have some relevance (i.e. the musical within the musical in the first one). At the very least, the music fits, and the people actually appear to be singing. In High School Musical 2, the music and vocals are so heavily processed, there can be absolutely no conception that they are actually singing on the spot. I actually found myself asking whether everyone could here the synthesized band, or just the people singing.

The bad acting isn't limited just to the singing. Hudgens gives an all smiles performance, begging the question: is Gabriella that naive, or is she just chronically happy? Effron, seemingly too wrapped up in his new role as a tween icon, conveys absolutely no conflict in this role. Tisdale does all right as Sharpay, but I have a feeling that's not a terribly difficult note to hit. I guess it's not all their fault, given lines like "She's got more moves than an Octopus in a wrestling match." Ugh.

Like so many movies in this genre, it climaxes in ::gasp:: a talent show. If only that's all conflicts were resolved in real life. Of course everyone makes up, and learns a valuable lesson by the end. Stay true to yourself, friends are important, etc. Everybody is happy, until High School Musical 3 that is. This movie wasn't good, but I'm sure it will be a hit among the same demographic as the first one. I would feel bad for the people stuck in this schlock. I would wager that they're going to be doomed to spending an entire career in Disney Channel movies (not everybody can break out like Shia Lebeouf). I need to stress that I would feel bad, except for the fact that these roles will probably lead to many albums, and many High School Musicals to come.

Watch the Trailer


Talk to Me

Don Cheadle gives an Oscar worthy performance in this biopic about famed radio personality Petey Greene. The movie follows Greene from his time as a disc jockey in prison, to his hiring at WOL-AM in Washington DC. From there he took his gift of "telling it like it is," and became the voice of the people. His thrust to stardom, however, cost him his health, and his relationships- especially with his close friend and manager- Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejifor who also delivers a performance the academy would do well to take note of).

The movie is divided essentially into three parts. The first act is Greene's struggle to win over Hughes, and the two of them trying to get Greene on the radio. This involves them having pacify the owner of the station, Martin Sheen. This section ends with him almost single handedly turning the station from an out-of-date relic into a relevant voice of the African American community. Unfortunately, Hughes won't let Greene's fame stop there, and helps him burst onto the national scene. This leads Greene down a road to self-destruction, and the destruction of their relationship.

Greene took over the role of WOL's morning DJ in the late sixties, a time when the city was a powder keg of racial tension. This came to a head on April 4th 1968, with the assassination of Martin Luther King. Washington literally exploded into riots, and in what I considered the climax of the movie, Greene spent the night on the radio listening and talking to people, trying to diffuse the situation. He played a major role in pacifying the city, and cemented his importance.

Taraji Henson also deserves being noted in her role as Vernell Watson, Greene's girlfriend. She plays the role so comically over the top, that you can't help but love the character. Even Cedric the Entertainer, who I normally don't care for, does a fine job in is turn as "Nighthawk" Bob Terry, another DJ at WOL.

There is an inherent problem with biopics, however. Usually, the story that the person is famous for runs out long before the end of the person's life. This was indeed the case for Petey Greene. He fell out of the spotlight after his infamous Johnny Carson appearance. This happened a good ten years before his death, but Kasi Lemmons (who also directed the wonderful Caveman's Valentine) spent over 15 minutes on this resolution. That's a tough call, because it's almost a requirement for a posthumous biopic to have content all the way to the end. This results in the movie dragging towards the end- a very common affliction for biographical movies.

This is a fine movie, telling the story of a highly over-looked, but very important cultural figure. It dragged on a little bit too long, but the acting more than compensates for this. Don't be surprised if you see this movie up for several nominations.

Watch the Trailer


Sunday, August 19, 2007


This could be for the late nineties what Dazed and Confused did for the mid seventies (except Superbad is a little bit more extreme). Every so long a movie comes along that is truly iconic, and I think this may be one of those movies that sums up a generation. I've seen two teenage comedies in the last week, Superbad and Bratz. I could not think of a single person who could possibly relate to Bratz, whereas I could not think of a single person who could not relate to some part of Superbad.

Judd Apatow has to be one of the hardest working people in show business. For the past year every Apatow movie I'm seen is preceded by trailers for the next one he's involved with. This can all be a little misleading, however, seeing as he neither directed nor wrote Superbad (It was directed by television veteran Greg Mottola, and penned by longtime Apatow collaborators Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. This isn't a problem, though, since it is easily the funniest movie that has come from that crew.

Jonah Hill stars as Seth, and Michael Cera stars as Evan, two best best friend seniors who lacking a better term, are losers. The movie takes place over the course of a single day, as the two of them try to work of the courage to approach the girls they like, and somehow actually get invited to a party (under the impression that they are providing the alcohol). Said alcohol will be obtained by Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who is in possession of a fake ID with the hilarious moniker- McLovin. Just McLovin, no first name.

One thing about movies from this group, is that they are apologetically extreme. Most teen comedies try to aim for a PG-13 rating. I think every Apatow movie thus far has received nothing tamer than an R rating- clearly because of the language. Every other word uttered in this movie is either profane, or sexual. As realistic as the conflicts were in Mean Girls, the language is even more dead on in Superbad.

Seth and Evan spend a terrible night trying track down alcohol, and realizing their love-lives, all while coming to terms with the idea that they are going to different schools next year. Fogell/McLovin had a slightly more interesting evening. After the liquor store he was trying to buy booze at was robbed, he goes off on a joyride with the two police officers (Seth Rogen and and Bill Hader) who responded (evidently they felt a connection with McLovin). These scenes were the funniest in the movie.

No, this isn't Shakespeare. It's the story of three desperately uncool high school seniors in their last ditch effort at enjoying their childhood. Their exploits may not be the most realistic, but the characters themselves are- and they're so damn funny, with a Bootsy Collins and Van Halen infused funky soundtrack. This is one of the best movies so far this year, and the funniest one in the past several years.

Watch the Trailer


Friday, August 17, 2007

Top 10 Zombie Movies

Occasionally I like to do fun little countdown lists. I'm currently working on my top 100 most thrilling movies, but in the meantime, here's my top 10 zombie movies.

10. Zombi 2 (1979)
This is not even all that great of a movie. It's Italian, and Italians love their Zombie movies, and Lucio Fulci did not disappoint. A yacht floats into New York Harbor abandoned. The ship owner's daughter and a journalist venture off to a South Pacific Island to discover a hot-bed of zombie activity. Even for a zombie movie this film is pretty bad. It's on this list for two scenes. One of the most squeamish scenes ever put on film- the infamous long drawn out impalement of a women on splintered wood through her eye ball (you think it's going to cut away, but it just doesn't). And a fantastic scene with a zombie fighting a shark.

9. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
This Wes Craven directed movie is barely a zombie movie, but it's a such a good movie in general that I had to put it on the list. It involves an anthropologist who visits Haiti to investigate rumors of zombies. Here he finds a cult using drugs to induce a death like state. It's so effective that it fools doctors into declaring people dead, who are later dug up and turned into slaves. This isn't so much a straight up zombie movie, but it is super creepy, with a terribly disturbing and foreboding ending.

8. Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetary Man) (1994)
Italian director Michele Soavi contributes the #8 movie on my list. This one stars Rupert Everett as a cemetery guard, who must kill the dead again- as they rise within a few days of being buried. He has gained a stoic acceptance of this role, until he falls in love with a widow who had come to visit her husband. Soon she dies as well, but of course, she won't be dead for long.

7. Army of Darkness (1993)
Saim Raimi's genius finish to the Evil Dead trilogy. This takes the comedy and the absurdity of the first two (which are actually kind of the same movie) and expands it to a new extreme. Bruce Campbell's Ash is transported back in time to fight an army of skeletons trying to get the Necronomicon. With chainsaw and shotgun in hand (I do mean "hand" because he's short on a second one) he goes to work on this army of the undead.

6. 28 Days Later (2003)
This movie changed the whole game of zombies. They were no longer the undead, but instead were infecting by some sort of virus. This results in fast moving pissed off zombies looking to kill anything they can. The opening scenes with Cillian Murphey wandering around an abandoned London are incredibly creepy and powerful. Danny Boyle took a genre I had thought to be dead, and made it undead again.

5. White Zombie (1932)
This is the movie that truly started it all. Most credit Night of the Living Dead, but as you can see, this one came 35 years earlier. It stars Bela Lugosi as Monsieur Beaumont, who tries to win the love of his life, but inadvertently turns her into a zombie. This has none of the brain eating and gore that became a standard in zombie movies. White Zombie deals strictly with a emotional ramifications of what happens when someone becomes lifeless.

4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
This is the birth of the modern zombie. These zombies were violent and thirsted after human blood. Most of the movie takes place in a single farmhouse that a group of survivors has barricaded themselves in. Much of the tension comes not just from the zombie hordes awaiting outside, but from the turmoil and conflict that arises between the characters inside. In an ahead of its time idea, it features an African American as the hero, which is one of the causes of tension inside the house.

3. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
This is George Romero's sequel to Night of the Living Dead. It takes the claustrophobia of a single farmhouse, and brings greater scope. Now the whole world is affected, and the survivors hide in a shopping mall- again in a nearly hopeless situation. This couples with the terror, some brilliant social commentary on blind consumerism. The zombies, despite being dead, gravitate towards the shopping mall. It functions as a haven for the survivors, and a lure for the zombies. You don't get much more scathing commentary than that.

2. Dead Alive (A.K.A Braindead) (1992)
Peter Jackson's early movies were all violent, and completely outlandish. This is perhaps the most wild of them all (except possibly Meet the Feebles which featured an all puppet slaughter fest). This movie is about Lionel, a dedicated son to an oppressive mother. When she gets infected by a disease and dies, she comes back to life. Lionel does everything to protect her, even when it means turning half the town into zombies. Everyone in the movie suffers incredibly violent deaths, and it is rumored that it used more fake blood than any other movie in history. The final scene alone used 300 liters. At its heart, it's just about a simple son learning his independence (ha).

1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This movie is perfect in every way. The heroes in this movie actually act like real people would. If I saw a zombie for the first time, I'd think it was just drunk too. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost make this a genius comedic movie. It skewers Zombie movies, while paying homage to them. It's done by a group of people who genuinely love the genre. Everything about this movie is just perfect.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Factory Girl

After watching a whole slew of really bad Summer bombs, I decided to take a step back and watch a movie I thought may actually be good. Factory Girl is about the relationship between Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller), and Andy Warhol (Guy Pierce). The movie follows them as Edie joins Andy in his "The Factory" the studio the where he created his art house hit films staring Edie. Essentially the movie tells her story as she is thrust into stardom, the only true star in a sea of superficiality.

This is, of course, a revisionist story, but since I don't really know the true history, I can't attest to how accurate it is. One thing I do know is that her relationship with the Bob Dylan character (played with mediocrity by Hayden Christiansen) was entirely fictional. This isn't really important, though. At its core, it's about Edie wrestling with her fame, rebelling against her parents, and being used by Warhol.

Miller and Pierce both play their roles magnificently. Pierce captures the performance the Warhol himself created. Everything is chic, and oh so pretentious. Every word mapped out to support his outsider art personality. Miller portrays the glowing on the outside, empty on the inside Sedgwick. There are certain scenes where she genuinely captures the horror that she must have been feeling, having all her innermost feelings and secrets stripped from her and shown on screen. Jimmy Fallon plays Chucky, one of Edie's oldest and closest friends. He falls into the art scene, and in the end manipulates Edie more than anyone else. The only genuine person around her is the unnamed Dylan character that Edie falls for. In one wonderfully uncomfortable scene, he visits Edie in the factory, and makes Warhol feel out of place in his own studio.

It's tough, because despite how intriguing the story is, the script is not all that strong. Warhol seems to talk almost exclusively in one liners, and it seems that every line Sedgwick has to outline her inner turmoil. The entire script is carefully composed, and would normally fall flat. However, in the context of this pretentious time, with these pretentious characters, a pretentious script seems to work. It does sound like the deliberate dialog that the characters might actually have spoken.

This is an emotionally driven tale of Edie as she leaves her affluent family and enters the art world head first. She gets used up, and thrown out. The more she loses grip on reality, the more it comes crashing down on her. It paints Warhol, and that whole scene in an absolutely negative light- in a world of anarchy with Warhol as the twisted self-serving ring master. Factory Girl is a heart-wrenching story with Edie Sedgwick stuck in the middle.

Watch the Trailer


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Daddy Day Camp

Cuba Gooding Jr used to be good. As Good as it Gets, What Dreams May Come, he even won the Oscar for Jerry McGuire. What happened to him? Snow Dogs, Norbit, Boat Trip, and Daddy Day Camp are what happened to him. This poor man needs to fire his agent, or whoever convinced him to take a role in this sequel that even Eddie Murphey passed on.

This is Fred Savage's feature directorial debut. This comes after spending his whole life on TV, and nearly a decade directing for the small screen. He should have stayed there. After the success of his "Daddy Day Care" business, Charlie Hinton (Gooding), and Phil Ryerson, (Paul Rae) buy an ailing camp ground and try to revitalize it. In an entirely unoriginal plot, the camp filled with misfits is pitted against the rich "Camp Cannola." Lance Warner (Lochlyn Monroe), who runs Camp Cannola makes Biff Tannen look like a Rhoads Scholar. Or how about Charlie's wife (Tamala Jones), who's willing to risk bankruptcy to support her husband's pipe dream? Do these sound like realistic characters, even for a children's movie?

It seems that there are two variations on comedy in this movie. Toilet humor, and people screaming very loudly. Within two minutes of each other, there is a skunk spraying gag, a vomiting gag, and an exploding toilet gag. It's filled with scene after scene of balloons filled with liquids of varying colors and consistencies exploding on people. Funny, huh? As the movie progresses, the characters just get louder, whether it's Hinton on the archery range, or during a raid by the other camp. These comedies need to learn that loud does not equal funny.

The acting on all fronts is terrible. It sounded like they were reading the script for the first time. I feel bad about saying this, but the kids were awful as well. It seemed as if they were asking every single line, completely unsure of themselves. They didn't sound like kids, they sounded like poor actors trying to act like kids. It's a shame.

I know this is a children's movie, and I shouldn't judge it on the same level as other movies. I did in fact hear scattered laughter from the young-uns, and of course it preaches the idea of tolerance and being yourself, but honestly- it's just a rancid piece of cinema. There are many movies that promote the same ideas to the same demographic, that are so much more enjoyable. With this role Cuba Gooding may have complete descended from the Oscars to the Razzies.

Watch the Trailer


Monday, August 13, 2007


Fresh on the heels of Hostel II, Captivity is the latest in the new Torture genre- possibly started several years ago by the first Saw movie. Before this movie was released, there was a batch of billboards in Los Angeles that depicted some fairly graphic images. This advertising campaign was met with public outcry, which only helped After Dark Pictures promote this as "the most controversial movie ever made." Genius. But it takes a lot for a movie to live up to billing like that- and Captivity does not.

Almost immediately after the opening sequence, Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert), a world famous model, is abducted and confined in a stereotypical non-descript chamber. After a underwhelming escape attempts, it's revealed that she is not alone. One room over is Gary Dexter (Daniel Gillies), a cross-country car courier. They form an realistic relationship under the circumstances, and work together to try to escape.

Captivity blends aspects of both Hostel and Saw, even throwing in a few throwbacks to the grandaddy of all creepy movies- Seven. Captivity, however, doesn't allow for the twisted irony in Saw and Seven, of using a sinner's sins against that person. There was at least a higher motivation behind those murders, instead of simply for entertainment. This is more of the straight ahead torture of the Hostel movies.

The movie started to lose my interest, but around the hour mark, it dissolved into a series of twists and manipulations. Some of them were interesting, but many were just unbelievable. It's a shame the acting did nothing to help the believability of this movie. Cuthbert is...okay, and so is Gillies, but most of the supporting cast is just awful. I know I'd have trouble acting with lines like
"It's Greek, it says..."
"How do you know it's Greek?"
"Because I speak Greek."
"What does it say?"
Are exchanges like that really necessary? And that's just one small example of the terrible dialogue filling this movie.

There is very little shocking material in this movie. There are no outstanding twists. The investigative portions are worthless. There are nearly no redeeming qualities to this movie. Saw was a decent movie, but I would gladly have given it up, if it meant there was nothing to inspire movies like Captivity to ever be made.

Watch the Trailer


Bratz: The Movie

OMG!!! JKLOL!!!! Oh no they didn't- I'm pretty sure I've seen this movie before, and that was Mean Girls. The only difference is that Mean Girls was good- really good. This movie is bad- really bad. It takes one ten second gag from Mean Girls (the seating arrangements in the cafeteria), and makes an entire movie out of it. It loses all of the feelings of conflict and isolation that made Mean Girls so good.

Logan Browning, Janel Parrish, Nathalia Ramos, and Skyler Shaye play Sasha, Jade, Yasmin, Cloe- four best friends just starting high-school. Their hopeful starry eyed dreams are shattered when Meredith (Chelsea Staub), the student council president, drives them to join separate cliques and breaks of their friendships. Potential for genuine conflict? Hardly. They're back together before the half hour mark. The rest of the movie is spent split between revenge against Meredith, and their attempts at spreading their inter-clique diversity around the school.

It's been a while since I was in high-school, but I don't remember it being like this- at all. I think High School Musical even had more truths in it. Bratz just rips off everything. It continues harvesting Mean Girls all the way down to the talent show, and it even references the MTV show "My Super Sweet 16." Nothing draws more attention to a movie's own self-awareness than being featured on a TV show. And a dog named Paris that follows Meredith around? Are dogs even allowed in school?

The five lead actresses are awful. Just terrible. I think the performances would have been more convincing if they had been given by the Bratz dolls themselves. That's actually an interesting prospect. For some reason Jon Voight is in this as the principle and Meredith's father. I couldn't fathom what possessed him to appear in this cesspool.

I'm not sure who this movie is targeting. I would assume it would be the audience that would watch "My Super Sweet 16," but I'm not sure. Maybe the same crowd that enjoys the Avril Levigne peppered soundtrack. Again, I'm not sure. Possibly fans of director Sean McNamara's other work- a whole plethora of Disney Channel shows and kiddie movie sequels. (Anybody see his crowning achievements Three Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain?) My only hope is that they come out with a sequel. Maybe Homies: The Movie- based off those toys that cost a quarter in restaurant lobbies. There's a reason this is on IMBD's bottom 100 movies of all time.

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Rush Hour 3

Hahahahaha. Sorry, I was just thinking of the trailer for Superbad that preceded the movie. Unfortunately, that was the funniest part. Brett Ratner brings us the third installment of the Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker partnership. I honestly do not remember the premises of the first two movies. Something about Asian assassins I think? Maybe a crime syndicate or two? I dunno, I'm pretty sure that's what this is about anyway.

Of course Chan and Tucker reprise their perennial roles of detectives Lee and Carter to thwart yet another batch of crime lords- this time in Paris. This results in another rendition of the obligatory "Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth" line since they're dealing with a language neither of them know. This results in one of the few funny moments, when an elderly nun is interpreting insults between them and a suspect.

The other scene I actually enjoyed was an original car chase between a batch of motorcycles and a taxi. This was actually pretty exciting. The thrills and the humor take a break from the movie until the outtakes over the credits. The outtakes were actually pretty fun, since they show a lot of the stunts that go into the movie. As usual, Jackie Chan is very impressive, but it's still evident that he's getting older- he's in his 50's now. A lot of the stunts were green-screened in this movie. Oh well, even the best can't be jumping from building to building forever.

As for Chris Tucker, I'm pretty sure they could have taken footage of him from the first two, and simply edited it into this movie. I don't think there was a single original line of his in this outing. In fact, I'll bet he has enough canned phrases built up that he'll never actually have to work on another movie in his life. Must be nice to be that formulaic. In a completely odd twist, Roman Polanski had a supporting role in this. Roman Polanski?!

I'm prepared to put Ratner in the same league as Michael Bay now. Both of them make terrible, huge budget movies- though Bay still has the edge in the amount of money he can throw around. Almost everything each of these directors is gold at the box office, however. Rush Hour 3 is going to be no exception.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) directed this new German thriller. There are no jump out at you scares in this, just a long twisted plot, with the main character's actions difficult to fully wrap your mind around. It's interesting because much of the movie is utterly absurd, but in the context of the world that's created, not terribly out of place.

Perfume is split up into two acts, the first being the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's (Ben Whishaw) childhood, and early working life. It's established that he has an uncanny sense of smell- perhaps the best in the world. After a series of grueling jobs, he finally becomes apprenticed by Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) a master perfumer. Grenouille helps Baldini recapture his glory by creating an endless stream of fantastic perfumes, and in return, Baldini helps in his ultimate quest- to preserve scent. Grenouille wants to capture the scents from everything- especially in what becomes the focus of the story; the scents of women.

In the second act, Grenouille has learned everything he can from Baldini, and sets off on his own to the perfume capital of the world- Grasse, in hopes of finally learning how to capture scent. Here is where the movie starts to take a dark turn, and Grenouille starts murdering women in his experiments to gather scent and create the perfect perfume. Alan Rickman joins the cast here as Richis, the father of Grenouille's ultimate goal, Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood).

This is a thriller in that it's a story about murder. The audience is never in question as to who is doing it, however. The tension more lies in the question of whether Grenouille will finish his masterpiece before he is found out. Sometimes it's difficult to really care, however, because he is in general an unlikeable character. Grenouille is so driven by his obsession that it doesn't even seem to occur to him that he is killing people. A character like that- especially a main character, is very difficult to empathize with.

There are only occasional times in the movie where Grenouille really has any depth. There is a scene early on where he is in complete isolation, and realizes he has no scent of his own. This is where he starts to contemplate his own existence. Here there are feelings of isolation resulting from being a societal outcast. Unfortunately, after that scene this topic is not really touched on again. Ultimately, the movie ends with a rather unsettling, yet unsatisfying conclusion.

The scenes between Dustin Hoffman and Whinshaw are the best in the movie. The dynamic the two of them have- Hoffman being the stern master, and Whinshaw being the genius but ignorant student- are brilliant, and even more tense than the later parts of the movie. Unfortunately, this relationship is done before the movie is half over. I wish the second act could have been on par with these early scenes, but it just wasn't.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

New Academy Guidlines for Animation

There is a new rule being considered regarding the eligibility of movies for best animated feature for the Oscars. A new clause may be added saying that to be eligible a movie cannot start with live action, and simply use technology to augment that performance. Essentially this means that movies using motion capture techniques will not be considered animated movies. This would mean that both Monster House, and Happy Feet would have been ineligible to win last year. This has important implications this year as well, as the upcoming Beowulf movie is created entirely using motion capture.

What is the problem with Motion Capture? There are traditional concepts of animation that were developed in the earliest years of the genre. Some of these important techniques include squash and stretch (an objects ability to distort in an exaggerated manner), Anticipation (a character's behavior leading into an action), overlapping motion (different parts of an object moving differently), and many more. These concepts are all exaggerated, making realistic and entertaining motion. Motion Capture, on the other hand, simply takes data from an actor and transplants it onto a model. This results extremely subtle expressions and movements. Putting these movements on animated characters can have unpleasant results.

There was a theory devised in the 70's by Japanese robiticist Masahiro Mori called the Uncanny Valley. It was originally conceived pertaining to robotics, but applies perfectly to 3D animation as well. Essentially it tracks the relationship between realism and empathy. As a character's realism increases, a person's empathy towards that character also increases. This relationship only exists to a certain point. When a character is very nearly life-like, but not quite, the empathy level drops into a valley, before rising again at 100% realism. There are a number of reasons for this. When something is very nearly life-like, but not exactly, it becomes creepy. One common concept is to reference zombies. Reanimated corpses are humans, but they're not living. This concept played out in the Stepford Wives, where female robots were made to replace the women of the town. It's eerie because as life-like as they are, something was slightly off.

Regardless of the reason for this phenomenon, it can be seen in movies such as the Polar Express. The characters are incredibly life-like, but something is slightly off. The results are just creepy. Another example was last year's Monster House. The performances the actors give are so subtle that they just don't work on the animated characters. It's impossible to exactly match how a person would act, since we see other people every single day. This is what makes animators different from traditional actors. Screen actors can make a wonderful performance with the most subtle gestures and emotions. Animators, on the other hand, need to exaggerate everything. When you see an animator acting out a sequence to reference, the performance is beyond comically exaggerated. When you see the same actions on the final character, however, they fit. This is why animators really are actors for their characters.

There are certain negative implications with this new rule, however. Pixar has always been a firm opponent of motion capture, relying on straight animation for all of their movies. With their movie Cars losing last year to Happy Feet, they could not have been very happy. They may have been using some of their newfound clout stemming from their partnership with Disney to try to stack the category back in their favor. Even though I firmly feel that motion capture results in inferior animation, I sincerely hope that this is not the reason for this new rule.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


Once is a musical; but don't worry, it's not Hairspray, and it's not Rent. Think more along the lines of Lost in Translation, except the lead characters sing. Once is a beautiful and heart-breaking story about a struggling musician, and a cleaning woman as their quests for themselves and for love bring their paths to cross. The music serves as a unifying theme between the characters- and no fears, there's no dance numbers.

Glen Hansard, lead singer for the Irish band The Frames, stars in the unnamed male role. He also wrote the music for the movie. He is a vacuum cleaner repairman by trade, but plays on street corners and records his own music at night. The fuel for his music?- a lost love of course. Markéta Irglová stars as the cleaning woman separated from her husband, and living with her mother and daughter. The two of them happen upon each other one day and follow a week-long relationship through music and self-discovery. Outside of a few glimmering and hopeful moments, they're relationship never becomes romantic.

Director, John Carney, used to be a member of The Frames, before he moved into film. Carney paints some amazing scenes in an almost documentary feel. The movie is shot completely with hand-held cameras (even tremendously complex crane shots were still hand-held). One amazing scene has Hansard and Irglová playing a song together in a music store. As the story progresses, and climaxes with the two of them recording an album with a band of street musicians, the soundtrack just gets better.

Like Lost in Translation, many complain that nothing happens in this movie- well, a little bit more happens in Once. This isn't important though. It's all about character development, which can sometimes be much more interesting than plot development. You really get the feeling of who these people are, and what they're feeling. In many heart-wrenching scenes, you genuinely feel like these characters are real. What does the title mean? It could be any number of possibilities. Is it one chance to reach your dreams? I'm more inclined to think that you're true love only comes once in a life-time. Who that is in the movie is up for even more debate.

This really is a wonderful movie. The characters are perfectly developed, and the soundtrack works so well it still brings tears to my eyes a week later listening to the CD. This is a fairly simple, low budget piece of cinema, but the characters and the music combine to create a near perfect bit of film-making.

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Copying Beethoven

This is another movie that had been playing at the Athens Film Festival this year, but unfortunately, I was not able to see it. Now that it is out on video I was finally able to see what I was missing. I must say, that it was worth the wait. Copying Beethoven is a fictionalized account of the great composer's last years. It opens four days before the premier of his 9th symphony as a new transcriptionist is hired to help him. The only catch is that it is a woman. The movie follows Beethoven's relationship with her, and others around him, all while struggling with his deafness and madness.

Ed Harris completely immerses himself in the role of Beethoven, like his turn as Jackson Pollock. I would not have known it was him until the credits. This movie just enhances Harris as being one of the greatest modern actors. Diane Kruger stars as Anna Holtz, the transcriptionist. She is a promising composition student, stuck in a field and an era where almost no women succeed. She sees helping "The Beast" Beethoven as a magnificent opportunity, but struggles to handle his violent mood swings.

Joe Anderson contributed his talents in the slightly tacked on role as Karl Van Beethoven, Ludwig's nephew. He provides a counterpoint to Harris, but doesn't do much further the plot. Matthew Goode plays Martin Bauher, engineer and Anna's love interest. He represents the conflict between the new developing world (Beethoven calls him an "Iron Man"), and Anna's desires for music. Again, he does not play an overly important role, just to enhance the conflict between Anna and Beethoven.

The story flows very uniquely in this movie. Essentially, the movie climaxes during the premier of the 9th symphony. Agniezka Holland directs this over ten minute scene more exciting than almost any action movie I have ever seen. Anna helps Beethoven conduct from behind the scenes, with different parts ranging from epic to sensual. This is the turning point for almost every character in the movie, and certainly the climax. The only catch is that there is still 45 more minutes. This is a perfect supplement to Beethoven's views on music, when he tells
Anna that she must stop thinking about beginnings and ends, and just let the music flow. Spending so much time on the falling action and resolution is like and extended, and very subdued coda. This has even sparked arguments that the movie is not about Beethoven or Anna, but simply about the music. Like Beethoven himself, the characters are just vessels for the music.

This movie is by no means another Amadeus (one of my favorite movies of all time). It certainly does hold its own merit, however. Harris captures this role with astounding power, and Kruger plays Anna as a fragile product of the era, with immense hidden strength. Besides, the soundtrack alone is enough to enjoy this movie.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

I Know Who Killed Me

I Know Who Killed Me almost had potential to be good. Almost. It started out being a psychological thriller in the same vein as Silence of The Lambs. It got confused, however, trying to shove too many incoherent ideas together into one movie, all while trying to please the crowd going to see this movie because of Lindsay Lohan. In the end, it just does not work.

First of all, I'll start off on something positive. Contrary to all of my expectations, Lohan did a fairly good job. She had a very difficult role playing the dual roles of Aubrey Fleming, and Dakota Moss. Yes she plays two characters again, but this is not the Parent Trap. One is the glowing child of a suburban family, and the other is child of a drug addict who strips for money. The catch- they're supposed to be the same person.

I'll try not to reveal anything that isn't shown in the trailers, so I'll briefly go over the plot. Aubrey Flemming is kidnapped. She appears several weeks later, but thinks her name is Dakota Moss. This is where the true mystery, and the potential of the movie comes into play. Are they really two different people? Does Aubrey have post traumatic stress? Is she caught in an alternate personality she created? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not terribly important, and not all that interesting.

First of all, there are not one, but two or three full length scenes of Lohan dancing in an exotic club. Couple these with a sex scene between her and Brian Geraghtry and you know where priorities of the film-makers were. Not only that, the movie frequently descends into the torture/captivity genre with some very graphic scenes. This waisted time results in very little plot development until the last 20 minutes. The movie sets up an intriguing mystery, but does almost nothing with it until rapid fire revelations right at the end. Honestly, the movie is stuck in neutral for over half of its nearly two hour running time.

This movie just suffers from a lot of potential going nowhere. It mashes a series of fairly good ideas together, but never actually develops them into any sort of depth. If you like mysteries, and are willing to sit through an otherwise very mundane movie, you might like. It you like Lindsay Lohan, you will most certainly like this. If you prefer good films, stay clear of this one.

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The Simpsons Movie

I must admit that I was rather skeptical of this movie, especially after the disastrous Aqua Teens adaptation. The Simpsons Movie on the other hand, was extremely funny, and kept with the spirit of the show. I have been a fan of the show for as long as I have been watching TV, and the movie was the perfect step to the big screen. David Silverman, veteran Simpsons director (He was actually behind the pilot episode back in 1989), directed the movie exactly as it should have been done. It feels like an extended episode, but with much higher production values.

The story, which was written by a team comprised of all the legendary Simpsons collaborators (including Matt Groening himself, Mike Scully, and Ian Maxtone-Graham), does not have the disjointed feel that many screenplays written by a committee often posses. This could be a result of the over 150 drafts that the script went through. The premise deals with an overly polluted Springfield that gets sealed off from the rest of the country. Now the Simpson family must rescue their town. Yeah, kinda weak, but after 18 seasons, they've done everything. I think what makes this work is that it continues the underlying theme of the show, with this truly dysfunctional family barely holding together, and the continually strained marriage between Marge and Homer. Essentially the movie, and the show in general, are about Homer screwing up his family, and coming through in the end. They don't stray from this winning formula for the feature.

Of course all the core cast members (and even several that have since retired from the show) are back to lend their voices to the movie. It has the feeling that they were able to spend much more time recording the voices here than for the TV shows. The performances are polished, and spot on. The only thing more polished than the voice talents, is the directing. This is one of the aspects that I think made the movie so well. It's a lighthearted comedy, but the directing and cinematography are epic in scope. The seriousness in the look of the movie makes the characters and situations even that more absurd.

Of course it's not the greatest movie ever made. It's not much more than an extended episode of a long running TV show. Somehow, they still managed to make it fun, and at least moderately fresh. If you are a fan of the show, see it. You will not be disappointed. If you don't watch the show, you'll still probably enjoy it. I was only left with one question, how did it take them 18 seasons to make this movie?

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