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Finding Bigfoot (2011)
"Finding Bigfoot" is a silly show, but for some reason, I can't get enough of it. If you are looking for a reasoned, scientific look at a group of four open-minded scientists trying to either prove or disprove the existence of the Sasquatch, this show is not for you. As a matter of fact, that show does not exist at all. "Finding Bigfoot" features three true believers and one skeptic (Ranae the Skeptic is reasoned compared to the other three, which really isn't saying that much) who go out in the woods and hear things at night. Now, I'm no expert, but I'm certain there are several nocturnal animals in North America that make noises and night and they are not all Sasquatches, but then again I'm not a Bigfoot expert, so what do I know? That being said, I cannot stop watching this show. The characters that the team comes across are earnest, honest people who mostly do not know what they saw and want answers. The team of Mike, Cliff, and Bobo are nice people who have a conclusion in mind and try to fit the evidence to fit this final idea (not really good science, but I digress), and Ranae usually fulfills the role of the viewer at home who is screaming at the TV "that noise was a deer, not a Bigfoot!" Finding Bigfoot is one of the least objectionable reality shows on TV right now, though maybe that speaks more of the other shows than this--either way, the truth is out there.
The Departed (2006)
"I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me."
The first lines of this movie are said in a monologue by Jack Nicholson's mob-boss character Frank Costello. He starts with, "I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me." This line essentially sums up the movie even before it begins. The Departed is an Americanized version of a Hong Kong filmed called Infernal Affairs, and tells the story of two Boston state troopers--one goes undercover and works against the Costello gang from within (Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan) and one works for the Special Investigation Unit while still on Costello's payroll (Matt Damon's Colin Sullivan). Each one lives in a world of deception, each trying to keep their real motives a secret from their adoptive bosses, each trying to out maneuver the other. The Departed ends up being a 150 minute long cat and mouse game between two guys who are referred to as rats in the entire movie. At first, each takes to their responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm, with Costigan having the more difficult assignment, trying to infiltrate a gang who all knew he was once a cop. As the movie goes a long, we feel the noose tightening around each, as both characters go through moments of dread and loss, until the bloody ending where all of the characters who deceived and schemed ended up getting a suitable punishment. Each character in the movie imposes their outlook on the world on their situations, as each one makes their own luck, so to say, as the first line uttered by Nicholson alluded to. None of the characters are the result of a predetermined destiny, as everyone made decisions on their own and had to live with their results. As Costello said, their environments were all products of their own actions. As far as Scorsese's direction goes, it is as usual top-notch, with quick cuts when quick cuts are needed, a neat opening that gives about as much background information as we viewers could possibly need in a fast-paced 15 minutes before the opening credits even finish, a fine selection of music (almost Tarantino -like in how the music matched each scene), and as much violence and obscenities as you could possibly get in two and a half hours. Boston makes for a fascinating location for a movie such as this--a rich subtext to each character, the possibility for interesting supporting players, and a gritty street life that makes it a poor man's version of New York City, without having thousands of movies made about it already. The one problem with the Boston setting is the accent thing--some of the characters lose the accent then it magically comes back. This is always a concern when it comes to Boston movies. Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen are terrific as high-level police officers, and Mark Wahlberg goes all in with his portrayal of the salty Sergent Dignam. But the real stars are DiCaprio and Damon, each young actors who have really developed into well-rounded portrayers of emotion and gravitas. Yes, DiCaprio may never really leave the Titanic, but here he shows he can act in a subtle, yet strong roll in a Scorsese movie that is almost as good as Goodfellas.
"Germany has declared war on the Jones boys."
The third movie in a movie franchise is a difficult one to make. People who enjoyed the first 2 movies have aspects of the films they love and want to see again, but there is a risk of being repetitive. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade does feature elements of the previous movies that fans would enjoy (Nazis, chase sequences, religious relics, snakes) and brand new elements that appeals to everyone. Brand new to the saga in this movie is Sean Connery's role as Indiana's father, Dr. Henry Jones. An aloof father, consumed by finding the Holy Grail, Connery plays the detached father very well, opening up to Indy only after he thinks he's dead; no one is surprised that Indiana was raised by such a role model. The elder Jones has gone missing, leaving the younger in quest to find him. This adventure leads Indiana on the path to find the Holy Grail as well, trying to retrace his father's steps. This first takes Indiana and Denholm Elliot's Dr. Marcus Brody to Venice, where they meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). A trip through the catacombs of a Venice church and a Bonds-esquire boat chase through the city's canals reveals the truth of Dr. Henry Jones' location, setting into motion a trip through Italy, Austria, Germany, and finally finishing somewhere in the Holy Lands. The Nazis are featured again as the villains, with the full power of the Third Reich chasing down the Jones family. Sallah returns, first trying to protect the inept Brody (perfectly set up by an Indiana speech), then as Indiana's traveling companion who likes to collect camels. This is the funniest of the Indiana Jones movies, with several sly, dry moments of wit, most at the expense of poor Dr. Brody. This movie features planes, zeppelins, cars, tanks, motorcycles, boats, and trains, all of which are the backdrop to this adventure film. On equal footing as the original Raider of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a worthy adventure to (momentary at least) finish off the franchise.
"Hey, Dr. Jones, no time for love. We've got company."
After the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the sequel was inevitable. George Lucas came up with the story and Steven Spielberg again directed this second adventure in the Indiana Jones serial. The high energy and joy seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark has been replaced with a darker, more serious adventure, as Indiana is charged with recovering a magic stone for a village in India who has seen drought and all of the children have gone missing. The beginning of the movie is the high point of the film, with an extravagant musical number in club Obi Wan (oh, that George Lucas and his inside Star Wars jokes), a Shanghai night club where Indiana is closing a deal over artifacts from the Chinese dynasty. Kate Capshaw is the featured singer and the latest "Indiana girl" in this film, a movie that, curiously enough, occurs BEFORE Raiders of the Lost Ark, so the suspense of Jones' fate (if there really was any) is removed, and so any potential love affairs that fail to carry over between movies. Also missing is John Rhys-Davies' Sallah and Deholm Elliot's Brody, instead, we get to see Indy's child helper, Short Round, who's job is to go into tight quarters and say "Doctor Jones" about 300 times. The plot is complicated, as I had to watch the movie a couple of times to get an idea of was actually happening, and, unlike the previous film, most of the movie happens in one place. The famous scene in this movie is the dinner at the palace, where the visitors are treated to chilled monkey brains and other appealing meals. The movie does feature a fantastic scene with an underground rail system that turns into a chase sequence that is filmed well and is enjoyable to watch. This film does not have the whimsy or innocence seen in the other two Indiana movies, and suffers because of it. While still an enjoyable film, it is the least of the three Indiana movies.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
"At least you haven't forgotten how to show a lady a good time..."
Steven Spielberg was supposed to direct Return of the Jedi, but Hollywood politics intervened, and instead, we got the Ewoks. OK, the Ewoks were probably going to be in the movie whether Spielberg was involved with the movie or not, but the weakest of the original Star Wars movies is one of those "What if?" moments, as I think about how the saga could have ended if the visionary director was involved. The primary reason for this thinking is that just two years before the release of Jedi was Raiders of the Lost Ark, a collaboration between George Lucas and Spielberg. The story goes that Lucas and Spielberg were trying to come up with a story for a James Bond movie when it looked like they were going to have a crack at the franchise. Unfortunately for them, the Bond people went a different direction, allowing Lucas and Spielberg to use some of the ideas they had in their mind to come up with the character "Indiana Jones," a swashbuckling archaeologist who escapes the inescapable situations, restores truth and order, and gets the girl in the end. The movie Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first of three adventures following Indy around the world, and the movie that features the best of Indy's girlfriends. Fresh off his Han Solo success, Harrison Ford fell into the role of Jones, as Tom Sellick was originally tapped to play the role. The movie is a series of adventures, ranging from the jungles of South America (who hasn't seen the big ball rolling toward Indiana Jones), to the mountains of Nepal, finally ending the deserts of Egypt. Karen Allen plays Marion, a former lover of Indy's, one that has been jilted in the past. We get the feeling the first time we see Marion and Indy in the Nepal bar that Indiana is the type that has trouble keeping girlfriends, and Marion is the only one he could possibly be with. The movie revolves around Indiana trying to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do, as Hitler wants to use the power of the Ark to win his conquest of the world. Breathtaking adventures, fantastic chase sequences, and a wry sense of humor (the scene where Indiana beats his sword carrying adversary is one of the biggest laughs in any movie I can think of) makes Raiders of the Lost Ark an adventure film that holds even to this day. When the movie ended, I was disappointed that it was over, as I wanted the adventure to continue. It did, later in the decade, with two sequels, with plans for the fourth edition to come out in 2008.
"I wanna go fast!"
When looking at the merits of a movie and decide whether it is good or not, one must think of the goal of the picture. Is it a serious film, designed to comment on society, or is the movie's job to merely entertain? I think we all know the answer to this one when it comes to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. This movie's goal is to entertain the audience, make them laugh, make them spend an hour and a half rejoicing in talented comedians doing their job well. And this movie reached its goal. Not only is this movie an above-average sports movie (it even concludes with a big race and a warm and fuzzy winner!), but is also a very funny movie. All I had to do was listen to the reaction of the sold out theater I was in and I knew that most people will find this movie to be very funny. Will Ferrell is Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR driver who makes up one half of "Shake and Bake," with John C. Reilly's Cal Naughton, Jr. being the "Bake" half of the duo. They are childhood friends who have now become teammates on the top NASCAR level, where Cal sets up the play that lets Ricky win almost every race--that is, unless Ricky has already crashed out of it. Talladega Nights follows the same story arc that Days of Thunder did, but is far more entertaining, as Ferrell and Reilly work together to bring humor to all parts of the racer's lives, including a bizarre dinner ritual that includes corporate sponsorship. Sure, the movie slows down for about 20 minutes in the middle to develop plot, but that may have been designed to give us, the audience, a break, allowing us to get ready for the final scenes of the movie. Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G, Borat) plays the French Formula 1 driver who threatens to oust Ricky Bobby as the best driver on the track, perhaps the funniest overall character in the movie. There is not one scene with Cohen in it that isn't funny. After watching this movie, it is clear why Will Ferrell takes his comedies so seriously (watch the extras on the Elf DVD to see Ferrell between scenes, he's not always "on" playing the clown on set)--he gets the results he's looking for. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny pretty much from start to finish, and seeing Gary Cole return to comedy as Ricky Bobby's father will bring back memories of Office Space for a moment, then this new character will win you over.
Lady in the Water (2006)
"Where did you come from?"
When a writer/director has a resume of five films, certain themes emerge. With Alfred Hitchcock, each movie had an innocent man accused of wrong and other themes that carried through each of his films. Some have said that M. Night Shyamalan is today's version of Hitchcock, which is a rather staggering leap--Shyamalan is only 20 of so films behind Hitchcock. But the one comparison you can make is that Shyamalan's movies tend to have similar themes and motifs: nothing happens by accident and loss. Each of Shyamalan's movies feature a character or characters who have lost a family member and have a specific purpose to the story. Lady in the Water is most similar to Signs, as the story features a character, Cleveland Heap (Paul Giamatti), who lost his family but finds as the movie goes along that he has a purpose to the world he is living in. Giamatti's performance is fantastic, though the character has a speech impediment that I found to be a contrivance and unnecessary. As the superintendent of The Cove apartment complex, Cleveland knows all of the tenants and the ins-and-outs of the complex. One night, Cleveland is checking out a night swimmer, when he falls into the pool. He is saved by a mysterious lady in the water, named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), who we later find out is a mythical creature from an Asian bedtime story. This is where the movie either works for you or doesn't work for you. You can either buy the premise that this apartment complex is the site of a battle between the forces of good and bad, or you will not buy it. This will determine whether you enjoy the movie or not. I bought into the conceit, and thought the movie was entertaining, not nearly as good as The Sixth Sense or Signs, or even Unbreakable, but still better than The Village. The movie does delve into some self-referential material, especially in the movie critic character played by Bob Balaban, and it is cute, though I could imagine some rolling their eyes at the last scene we see Balaban in the movie. Will you enjoy this movie? I don't know, it really is up to the individual movie goer. Will you buy the premise? Will you care about these characters? If you do, you'll have a good time. If you don't, then you just wasted 2 hours of your life.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
"Hey, you gonna eat your tots?"
The old Monty Python Flying Circus television show is a model of brilliance and frustration: hilarious skits about anything and everything, always ending before the skit came to its natural end. Sure, the punchline was delivered and just about everything funny about the subject had been performed, however, I always felt cheated by a quick cut, the line "And now for something completely different," and then a new sketch would begin. I bring this up because the opening parts of Napoleon Dynamite reminded me of Flying Circus and their painfully unfinished sketches. There is humor still in these opening scenes, waiting to be mined, but instead, we are whipped ahead to the next scene, going through the same process again. Take, for instance, the scene where Napoleon (Jon Heder) first meets a Mexican immigrant, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), at his first day of school. Napoleon is impressed by Pedro's bike, leading to the two new friends to try "sick" tricks with the bike. Pedro leaps off a ramp and gets "like 3 feet of air, or something" (in actuality, it was about 3 inches, but Napoleon was duly impressed), then Napoleon crashes and burns trying to do the same thing. Suddenly, we've moved on to the next scene in their lives. I would have preferred just a bit more of that scene. If just felt like we moved on before the joke was over. Maybe I'm nitpicking. Or maybe my disappointment is in the fact that there was plenty of potential comedy here to find, and only a fraction of it comes through the film. The movie itself is harmless, occasionally hilarious (the scene where the farmer shoots a cow got the biggest laugh from me), and potentially insightful into the high school community. I'm not really sure what the final analysis was of high school (was it a good thing that Napoleon finally found acceptance from his peers by doing a dance that is supposed to make the movie audience laugh at him?), but the movie does show the outcasts in school and how they go through life. The best performance in the film is by Tina Majorino, who plays the shy and plain Deb. She does a great job of playing a reserved and awkward high school coed who does of feelings for one of the movie's characters. Her emotions come through the picture easily. The motives and feelings of the other characters are sometimes harder to figure. The Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) and Kip (Aaron Ruell) characters are more problematic. Uncle Rico is living in the past, and Kip is living online. They both are socially awkward, more so than even Napoleon, yet at the end of the film, they kind of get what they want, even if it means forgetting where they came from. This movie shows life in Idaho and has its roots in followers of the Morman Church, and is perfectly safe for families to watch, though Kip's online conversations would be more than PG if we could only look at that computer screen. Or if your family is a fan of cows, as there's a whole lot of steak in this film.
Ocean's Twelve (2004)
"Come on, he's one guy, and he's French."
During the Summer of 2001, Ocean's Eleven, a remake, was unlike most remakes of the early 2000s. It was fresh, it was lively, it was fun to watch. Steven Soderbergh, who has directed some very heavy movies (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Solaris) brought us two hours of con-man entertainment that had very little to do with the premise of the original Rat Pack film from the 1960s other than Danny Ocean led 10 other thieves to rip off a Vegas casino. The pace, the plot, and the fun I had while watching Ocean's Eleven made me want to see Ocean's Twelve very much, hoping this would be the movie that bucked the sequel trend of the 2000s. While I was not expecting Godfather II or The Empire Stikes Back, I was at least hoping for a serviceable sequel, one that at least kept the life and energy of the original flowing through the characters and the scenes of the movie. By now, you should be getting the feeling I didn't feel it from this sequel. While Ocean's Twelve is not a bad movie, it just does not live up its predecessor's. Perhaps it was the genius of the fun little movie Ocean's Eleven that this movie just looks so different and less entertaining. Ocean's Twelve's first mistake? They make the good guys losers in the first scenes. Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who had $160 million stolen from him in the first movie by the band of 11, finds out who stole the money and gives them 2 weeks to return the dough, plus interest, or it's "game over." This gives the movie makers and excuse to send the crew to Europe, to new fancy locales with new music and characters to meet. The plot is unimportant, as it just serves to allow each character a chance to scheme and plot some impossible scenario, and the acting is solid. George Clooney knows more than he's letting on as Danny Ocean, Brad Pitt knows even more than Ocean as Rusty Ryan, Bernie Mac likes his nail salons as Frank Catten, Matt Damon shows a nice comedic touch as Linus Caldwell, and, well, I could go on about the cast, but I wont. The newest additions to the cast are Catherine Zeta-Jones as an international thief expert and Andrew Cassel as the Night Fox, the designated bad-guy in the film. His motivations are juvenile but keeps the plot moving. The ending is border-line confusing, as the ultimate motivation for everything in the movie becomes clear only after the last scene of the movie, or possibly after a repeat viewing. As I said, this is not a bad movie, especially for those who enjoy a good caper movie, but perhaps the overreaching breadth of the movie made it difficult to capture the fun little moments of Ocean's Eleven, or allow much humor, or allow the banter we saw in the 2001 movie. Maybe it was the different tone of the movie, but those who loved 2001's Ocean's Eleven may see something good in Ocena's Twelve--though don't expect a great time.
The Producers (2005)
"Where did we go right?"
The Producers, the 1968 version, is perhaps my favorite movie, at least comedy, of all time. It's a close call between Mel Brooks' loving salute to his favorite Nazi and Dr. Strangelove for the top of my comedy leader board. I never saw the Broadway production of The Producers, written by Brooks, except for the few scenes shown in a classic Curb Your Enthusiasm episode last year, so when I walked into the theater to see the movie version of the Broadway musical, I was going in with a clean slate, as far as the singing and dancing was concerned. As far as the story goes, I basically have the entire movie memorized. From the throw-away lines first uttered by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, to the ultimate result of Springtime For Hitler, I knew what was coming, and I knew it would be funny. So I concentrated a lot on how well the song and dance numbers supported the story I loved so much. For the most part, the singing and dancing was just fine. The most impressive of the 8 or so song numbers that made it to the movie shows an office filled with unhappy public accountants, and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) telling us the viewer why he wants to become a Broadway producer. He is wooed into the business by Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), who was once king of Broadway, but now has fallen on tough times, where he shows are so bad, the theater has installed a sign that goes from "Opening Night" to "Closing Night" before the end of the first act. While going over Bialystock's financial records, he discovers a play that flops could make more money than a play that does well, sending the two on a quest to produce a sure-fire flop. This leads them to Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), a former Nazi who wrote a loving salute to Hitler. The producers also consult the man regarded as the worst director on Broadway, Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and his common-law assistant, Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), who may have been together for too long. Their appearance, though, brings on perhaps the funniest song of the movie, "Keep It Gay," where you have to hear it to believe it. Bialystock and Bloom also hire Ulla (Uma Thurman) as their secretary, even though she speaks very little English, but her Swedish assets woo her bosses into giving her a job. The songs are good, though do add to the overall length of the movie. If you are a musical fan, you'll love the fact they kept most of the songs from the play in the movie, but others may feel it slows the movie down a bit. The ending could have been shorten a bit too, it just felt like everyone has having such a great time that they kept adding to the final scenes, just to make sure it never ends. The movie plot is almost scene-for-scene the same as the original movie, though one main character (Dick Shawn's off-the-way funny LSD) does not make it into this new version, possibly because no one would ever be able to match Shawn's performance for the original. Fans of the original movie will appreciate this version overall, but may quibble with the performances of Land and Broderick. I didn't like the whiny, feeble version of Bloom in this movie, and Lane's Bialystock is fine, but not Mostel, as we knew it could never be. One problem? Nathan Lane has too much hair. His comb-over looks reasonable. The musical numbers look like they are right out of Broadway, they look wonderful and sound wonderful too. And here's the most important part: Mel Brooks did not mess up his original genius. Now, if only he could get Mostel and Wilder to sing again, we may have something.