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Premium Rush (2012)
7/10
Scenery is on the menu, and Michael Shannon has a voracious appetite!
24 August 2012
I'll be honest – when I first saw the trailer for Premium Rush I was a bit skeptical. I scoffed at the idea of a thriller built around the premise of a bike messenger delivering an important envelope on time. But you know what? This is one of those rare late summer releases that comes out of nowhere and entertains you way more than you could have expected.

There's no pretense here. No delusions of grandeur. No misguided Academy aspirations. Premium Rush is a film that recognizes the boundaries of its skin and is completely comfortable in it. It's simply a fun, fast, and intense 90-minute ride that's equal parts tension and comic relief.

Rather than potentially spoil any of the details, I'll let you watch the finer points of the plot unravel on screen. Multiple back-stories are told via time flashbacks, so some of the events might get lost in the translation if you're not paying close attention. What you need to know is that the essence of the film rests in following Joseph Gordon-Levitt's bike journey through the streets of Manhattan as he attempts to deliver his envelope with a scene-stealing Michael Shannon and an I-take-my-job-way-too-seriously bike cop hot on his tail.

You'll recoil and cringe as JGL weaves in and out of traffic, avoiding vehicles and pedestrians alike. You'll laugh as the aforementioned bike cop continually regroups and continues his quest. And you'll love to hate Mr. Shannon as he deftly demonstrates his character's impulse control issues.

I've always heard people say how good of an actor Michael Shannon is, but I've never really seen him in anything. I will definitely seek out more of his work after enjoying his performance in Premium Rush. His hypocritical diatribe on how disgusted he is by the lowering of today's standards had me laughing several minutes after he delivered it. I loved this guy!

I also enjoyed what I am branding the "alternate scenario cam" – whenever JGL finds himself in a tight situation, the camera shows him quickly calculating his possible routes and their potential outcomes, many of which end in hilarity and disaster for either Mr. Gordon-Levitt or an unsuspecting pedestrian.

Premium Rush keeps the pace tight and the audience engaged. The camera work forces us right in the middle of the traffic and the blaring car horns, allowing us to experience the tension both visibly and audibly.

The film's main drawback is its abundance of profanity and crass talk. The worst offenders are one f-bomb and more than 10 uses of G-d**n.

Premium Rush never takes itself too seriously, and neither should you. As long as you check your expectations at the theater door then I'm confident the majority of you will find that this film – much like its bike messenger protagonist- delivers.
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Total Recall (I) (2012)
7/10
Gunfights, shoot outs, and eye candy, oh my!
3 August 2012
Considering that much of my youth was invested in films starring Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Arnold Schwarzeneggar, I'm surprised at myself that I've never seen Arnie's original Total Recall, nor have I read the Philip K. Dick short story (We Can Remember it for You Wholesale) that both films are based on. Therefore, I have no frame of reference other than this film itself. That's good for the sake of this review because you're getting a completely unbiased perspective. However, if you're a fan of the original and you want to know how this stacks up then I can't help you.

What I can help you with is letting you know that Total Recallsuccessfully follows the formula of a typical popcorn-munchin' Summer blockbuster. The film finds its action comfort zone early and delivers two hours of non-stop fist fights, shoot outs, chase scenes (both on foot and in futuristic landspeeders), and explosions all amidst Quaid's quest to find out who he is and what he's supposed to do. That's pretty much it. It's fast and it's loud. You've got Colin Farrell duking it out with Kate Beckinsale, Kate trading kicks and punches with Jessica Biel, and Colin wrapping up the festivities with a Bryan Cranston smackdown. All the bases are covered here.

Oh, and of course there's the expected eye candy. I don't think it's too hard to figure out how the production meetings went down:

"All right, so guys are gonna want to see Kate and Jessica beat each other up. Got that covered. But we have to convince their girlfriends to come with them. Make sure Colin understands there will be an extended shirtless scene. Oh, and tell him to start practicing his method of flexing while drinking coffee."

The upside is this is a film that brings to surface my dormant teenage movie preferences. Sometimes cool stunts, well-choreographed fights, and lots of things that go boom are enough to satisfy me, and in that regard Total Recall entertains. It's a 2-hour escape from reality that never slows down long enough to be boring. You can argue that some of the action sequences are repetitive or that it's stuff that you've seen before, and I won't argue back. My only response is, "Yeah, maybe, but cotton candy is cotton candy and I enjoy it every time I eat it." Total Recall Kate

Now the downside is that the film never steps out of its comfort zone. The story was fresh to me, and thus kept my interest, but I couldn't help but feel that the plot could've gone deeper. There's some suspense, but mostly the story is a side item that accompanies the action.

As for the acting, Colin obviously doesn't fill Arnold's frame, but that's not what the role calls for. He's believable enough, but the real standout is Ms. Beckinsale. This is her first role as a villain, and it's obvious that she's fully enjoying it. I've always liked Kate in action roles, and she plays this with just the right combination of menace, sass, and sizzle. And all of my readers who love Mr. Cranston will be happy to know that he chews the scenery in his limited screen time as if it's a 3-day old steak.

If you're looking for a movie experience that's completely original and cutting edge then you're likely to be disappointed. But if you can suspend your disbelief and accept the movie for what it is then you'll enjoy a couple of hours of action-packed sci-fi entertainment. At least I did.
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8/10
The law of creativity trumps the law of gravity
3 July 2012
As a child growing up in the 80s, I was fortunate that my imagination was not burdened by as many technological trappings that plague kids today. Sure, I had my Atari and Nintendo, but beyond that I had a group of creative friends and a few backyards that became various universes. And while I was blessed to have many real heroes in my life, I still had a fascination for a few superheroes that weren't limited by the laws of gravity and physics. Batman and Spider-Man were always my favorites, and I may or may not have had the footie pajamas to prove it.

That sense of wonder didn't end as a child. The magic of the movies can still create a bond with those memories of old when it's done right. On one hand, Christopher Nolan has found a way to expertly filter the Batman universe through the perspective of my adult mind. On the other hand, my inner child still relates to a character like Spider-Man. Not only did I love the fact that he was just a geeky kid who stood up to bullies, but let's be honest – his mask is awesome.

But, like many, I was skeptical about a new franchise so soon after the Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire incarnation. Those films had their flaws (particularly Kirsten Dunst and the lack of any semblance of chemistry between her and Maguire), but the first two were highly enjoyable. Was a reboot necessary? Was it needed this soon? Then I thought about Maguire's stupid disco dancing in Spider-Man 3 and I began to think, "You know what, why not? Let's give somebody else a shot at this." That thought and a couple of promising trailers later, and I was a little more on board. Now I had to be sold.

Consider the sell complete.

Sure, this is familiar territory. So what? Director Marc Webb has found a way to take a story most of us already know and put a fresh spin on it. I have many friends who will probably call me a traitor for this, but I loved Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. In fact, I think he's even more believable than the aforementioned Maguire. He creates a likable, relatable character who is as awkward with the ladies as most of us guys were in high school, and he gives Spider-Man just enough sense of humor without stepping over the line into cheesiness. The scene where he "cowers" at a small knife demonstrates what I mean.

We also get a better glimpse at just how intelligent he is. For example, we see that Peter's web-shooting ability is his own creation, as it was originally presented in the comics.

Garfield's chemistry with Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is handled with both believability and subtlety. I couldn't care less about the absence of Mary Jane. In the comics, Gwen was Spidey's first love, and Ms. Stone portrays her with just the right combination of intelligence and sass.

Rhys Ifans is also a stand-out as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard. He takes a character that isn't as widely beloved as others in the Spider-Man universe, and he creates a villain that is downright menacing at times and sympathetic at others. We get more than just a one-note bad guy with little more than world domination as his goal. Ifans delivers a character struggling with severe inner conflict who has both evil and redemption at his fingertips.

With a budget estimated at more than $200 million, the cinematography and action sequences are as beautiful as you would expect, providing the excitement and wonder that kids and adults alike desire when sitting down to be taken into a different world. And while the film hits all the right adventurous notes; it's the relationships and the actors who develop them that give the film its heart.

Call me sappy, but I couldn't help but feel the film's climax is as heroic as it is thrilling. Not only was I immersed in what was happening on screen, but I was briefly transported to my backyard when burdens were light, stress was low, and imagination was high.

Complain about reboots if you want. Whine about inconsistencies with the original comic if it makes you feel better. As for me, that stuff never bothered me as a child, and it's not something that bothers me now. All I ask for with a movie like this is to be taken to a different world where the laws of gravity and physics matter less than the law of creativity, and The Amazing Spider-Man does just that.

Batman is still my all-time favorite superhero, but Spider-Man is close behind. Even if I don't still have the footie pajamas to prove it.

Honestly, I don't! But I will take the mask...
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Brave (2012)
6/10
The "Pixar magic" is, much like Tom Cruise's sanity, lacking.
22 June 2012
Visually stunning, but substantially lacking, Brave checks in near the bottom of my favorite Pixar movies list, right next to Ratatouille. Sure, the cinematography is beautiful and the effects are top-notch. But this is Pixar. I don't expect anything less. There are simply some parts of the job that you should always do well. Don't fix me a beautifully garnished barbecue platter and then expect a pat on the back when it turns out the plate actually has very little barbecue on it. Brave contains several nice elements, but the "Pixar magic" is, much like Tom Cruise's sanity, lacking.

A lot of my disappointment hinges on the film's inability to meet my expectations, and that fault rests on the shoulders of the marketing department. Whoever put together the trailer needs a lesson on "false advertisement." After I initially saw the trailer for Brave I thought, "Cool. Looks like Pixar is taking the concept of Braveheart, animating it, creating a female protagonist, and making it fun for the whole family. I'm on board! They'll never take OUR FREEDOM!"

Unfortunately, the film takes a weird turn about halfway through and puts its own twist on the ol' "mother and daughter trying to repair their relationship" dynamic. Now before you skewer me and throw me on the grill, please keep in mind that I did enjoy the film. I just never could get excited about it. It starts off slowly, delivers a twist I neither expected nor wanted, and fails to deliver the charm we've come to expect from films such as Toy Story, The Incredibles, Cars, etc. It's a prime example of a one-and-doner – once you've seen it, there really isn't much to warrant an encore viewing.

And one warning to parents – there are quite a few moments that will be too scary and intense for the wee ones. If there is a chance that storms, witches, darkness, and bears trying to maul children could frighten your child then you might want to think twice before taking them to see this. At least a couple of kids started crying at the screening I attended, and one other asked her mom to let her leave the theater.

Anyway, I know good and well that reviewing a Pixar film is about as pointless as carving Jell-O with a Ginsu knife. I could tell you it was the movie equivalent of a shirtless Michael Moore and you'd still go see it. So be it. Thus are the limitations of my influence.
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5/10
You lost me at "Kristen Stewart is fairer than Charlize Theron"
8 June 2012
Underwhelming. Aimless. Disappointing. All words that I've heard my grandmother use to describe my Uncle Larry's life. But these words also convey the snooze-inducing experience of watching Snow White and the Huntsman.

Centered on the implausible – and downright laughable – premise that Kristen Stewart is fairer than Charlize Theron, Snow White lumbers out of the gate at such a slow pace that my interest was immediately disengaged and I soon found it hard to stay awake. The film is peppered with moments of action and fight scenes, but the pacing remains uneven throughout and viewers ultimately receive nothing more than false hope that the story will eventually come alive.

The main problem with this is that all the trailers I had seen were action-packed and promised a dark and thrilling adventure. As such, they certainly served their purpose – I was convinced to pay to see this on the big screen. Unfortunately, the 2 1/2 minutes of jam-packed action we're treated to in the trailers is spread throughout two hours of runtime, leaving a whole bunch of wandering filler.

It's a shame because I was on board for a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale. Unfortunately, the film's lack of imagination caused me to jump ship. The uneven pacing, uninteresting dialogue, and uninspired action all make for one big missed opportunity. Sure, the cinematography is easy on the eyes, and the special effects provide a little fun, but overall the film gives us no real substance, and to be honest, not enough style to compensate.

Theron is great as the Queen. Despite a few moments of some voracious scene-chewing, she takes the role seriously and gives it her all. Stewart, on the other hand, does what she does in every movie I've ever seen her in – act like Kristen Stewart. Therein lies a major problem with the story's narrative – Theron is more convincing as the antagonist than Stewart is as the protagonist. She gives a big speech near the end of the film that's meant to inspire her friends – and I suppose the audience – as she sets to do battle with the Queen, but all it inspired within me were a few giggles. The fact that her pulled back hair and chain mail makes her look like a 10-year-old boy dressed up as a knight for Halloween doesn't exactly make her any more convincing.

Snow White and the Huntsman isn't a terrible movie and it has a few shining moments, but it is terribly unbalanced and the shine quickly fades. You'd be wise to wait for it to hit Redbox or Netflix.
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The Avengers (2012)
10/10
"So awesome." Why be loquacious, when two such honestly efficient words will do?
4 May 2012
"So awesome." Those were the first two words that came to mind as I scoured my brain in an effort to find a fitting description of what I had just witnessed. Why be loquacious, when two such honestly efficient words will do? Come on, what else do you want me to say? The Avengers hits the ground in overdrive, downs a six-pack of energy drinks, and rarely takes a breath during the course of its purely entertaining 142 minute runtime.

Burdened with a glorious purpose, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes his presence known quickly. He comes to earth to rule and leaves Nick Fury (Samuel L. "Snakes on a Plane" Jackson) and his awesome eyepatch with no choice but to revisit the failed Avengers Initiative. The film recognizes that there are a lot of male egos that need clashing and thus wastes no time in delivering exactly what the audience wants to see – 2+ hours of superhero bliss.

As intense and exhilarating as the climactic 40+ minute battle against Loki and his minions is, the hero vs. hero, alpha male vs. alpha male build up is even better. Captain America vs. Thor. Iron Man vs. Thor. Thor vs. Hulk. Hawkeye vs. Black Widow. Come on now. I think I even saw a kitchen sink in there battling it out. Director Joss Whedon clearly thought through the scenarios that fans would want and he flawlessly delivers them with style. A little panache, if you will. Executing the individual battles in a way that does justice to the characters is not an easy task, but the special effects and 7.1 Surround Sound are crafted to perfection.

If you've seen the individual Avenger movies then you know exactly what to expect from the characters. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) cracks wise with his sarcastic humor, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) cracks heads with his magic hammer, Captain America (Chris Evans) cracks nary a smile with his old-school, no-nonsense patriotism, and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), well, he just smashes.

Add Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the former Russian assassin, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a master with the bow and arrow, to the mix and that is a whole lot of superheroes demanding a limited amount of screen time. The good news is Whedon handles this potential problem seamlessly, giving everybody ample time to do their thing and play their part. The biggest surprise, both literally and figuratively, has to be The Hulk. Not only is this the most "realistic" version of the beloved green rage monster that's been delivered to the big screen, but he simply steals every scene he's in.

The Avengers is the kind of roller coaster thrill ride of a movie that takes me back to the magic I felt as a kid every time I walked into the theater and sat down to watch a much-anticipated Summer blockbuster. It's a refreshing blend of humor and action that lets you check out of your reality for a couple of hours and check into an exciting world where good triumphs evil and it does so in marvelously inventive ways.

If you can't enjoy The Avengers then I fear you simply can't enjoy life. Shoot me an email and we'll see if we can't introduce some joy into your world.
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2/10
My, what a bad job you've done!
11 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Dear Warner Brothers, director Hardwicke, and screenwriter David Johnson, What exactly was I just subjected to? I was willing to buy into the potential wrapped within the concept of a dark version of the Little Red Riding Hood story. And when I saw that Gary Oldman was on board as a werewolf hunter I naively thought to myself, "OK, this could work." Then I watched the movie...

Did you blow all the acting budget on Oldman? After rounding up some bigger names who no doubt owed Ms. Hardwicke and/or WB a favor or two, it appears you had to resort to scouting some high school plays with little more than free bologna sandwiches and a credits mention to offer. I'm particularly curious as to what was going on with Billy Burke. Did you agree to give him something stronger than bologna sandwiches? I don't know how else you explain the fact that he spends the entirety of his monotone performance in a complete haze. At least Oldman didn't need the sandwiches as he obviously satiated his appetite with his voracious scene-chewing.

You should be aware that the sub-par acting of the very modern-day looking teenage-ish characters effectively takes the viewer out of the film immediately. It's bad enough that it looks like they shop at The Gap for Medieval Teens and that their hair is perfectly coiffed; was it necessary to give them clunky dialog and awkward "make-out" scenes in addition? It's not all bad though. You might be happy to know that the film did cause a bit of discussion between my wife and me afterward. In the midst of trying to come to an agreement on the most ridiculous scene of the film, we narrowed our choices to the following three:

* The weird 10-15 minute "celebration" scene with the idiotic dancing that obviously served as nothing more than filler.

* The dream sequence featuring all the "my, what big eyes, ears, teeth you have" lines. You did a masterful job at awkwardly forcing this into the film without giving it any real purpose. Kudos.

* The (poorly-rendered CGI) werewolf telepathically speaking to Valerie. If inducing unintentional laughter was your goal then y'all are some goal-achieving sons of guns! I'd be interested in your thoughts on the matter.

In conclusion, I would probably find the film to be quite intense and scary if I were a sheltered 9-year-old girl with no true sense of fear. And the romantic subplot would have hit on all the right angles if... well, if I manage to think of a demographic it would appeal to I'll get back to you.

With the economy as bad as it is, surely you can agree that movie-goers deserve better than this, no? How can you as a business - in good conscious - expect your customers to spend time, gas money, and $10+ a pop on such an inferior product as Red Riding Hood? Have you seen gas prices these days? Come on, the least you can do is offer a "money back guarantee." At one point (correction: it was at about three or four different points), my wife turned to me and said, "This is just stupid." Audience exclamations such as "Well, that was awful!" and "Are you kidding me?" would seem to indicate that you'd be hard-pressed to find many who disagreed with that assessment.

Anyway, back to my original question - what was I subjected to? I said adieu to two hours of my life in order to watch something that doesn't even measure up to a Sy Fy Original! An explanation would be much appreciated.

Sincerely, A frustrated movie-goer
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5/10
Smallville + a bigger budget + Twilight = I Am Number Four
18 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Based on the NY Times best-selling novel by "Pittacus Lore" (an alias for the memoir-fabricating James Frey and Jobie Hughes), I Am Four kicks off the cinematic proceedings with an intense and creepy jungle chase scene and an intriguing - albeit fairly unoriginal - concept.

The planet Lorien (COUGH krypton COUGH) was destroyed, and nine of its alien children were sent to earth. Why earth? Who knows. Perhaps earth's atmosphere is the most similar to Lorien's? A race of 7-foot tall humanoids called the Mogadorians are hunting down the children one at a time. Why? Beats me. Because we wouldn't have a story otherwise, I suppose. All we're really told is "they're a race who chooses to decimate rather than colonize." So be it.

Anyway, due to some sort of spell the Mogadorians are forced to kill the nine remaining Lorien kids in the proper order. Who established the order and how? No idea. Wouldn't you be pretty ticked off if you were Number One and became aware that you were chosen to be killed first? Perhaps the numbering system is completely random. Otherwise, that's a pretty jacked up system. "Hmm, little Billy seems to be a little slow upstairs, and that lisp sure ain't doin' him any favors. Let's make him Number One." Regardless, numbers one to three are now dead, so the story focuses on Number Four.

Number Four's desperate attempts to fit in lead to yet another blown cover, and he and his guardian Henri must once again relocate - this time to the small town of Paradise, OH. Following the film's somewhat promising start, the story takes an ill-advised detour and bogs down in a teenage romance marsh. It's at this point that Number Four (AKA John Smith) falls in love, defends a nerd against bullies, and begins to discover his unique abilities (known as legacies).

This blatant drawing from the well of the Twilight series' formula might giddy up the hearts of teenage girls, but males with an ounce of testosterone will grow increasingly restless as they await the arrival of the action that the film's trailer promised.

That arrival comes in the film's third act in the form of a deus ex machina known as Number Six (Teresa Palmer) who proceeds to kick a satisfying amount of rumpage against the backdrop of CGI and special-effects. The last 20 minutes will most certainly entertain the majority of audiences, but the drive there should've been smoother and more evenly-paced.

Dialogue is weak, character development is practically non-existent, and the underdeveloped backstory creates too many questions that lead to frustration rather than intrigue. Granted, this is an origin story that's specifically designed to kick-start a franchise, but a little more self-containment would have been appreciated.

One of the film's biggest transgressions is the misuse of Timothy Olyphant as Henri. We're told that he's a Lorien warrior, and as such you'd expect him to join in the butt-kickery. Unfortunately, he's only involved in one fight and is inexplicably kidnapped (done off-screen to mask its implausibility) by a couple of out-of-shape alien conspiracy theorists. His role is more of a babysitter for Number Four than a warrior/guardian who dispenses valuable training and wisdom.

The film presents a seed or two of hope that the franchise can improve with each installment, but will its identity crisis allow it to do so? Attempting to be all things to all teenagers could backfire if it fails to create loyalty amongst any one demographic.

Teenage audiences and those who don't consume themselves with the story's many flaws will be more forgiving than I. Perhaps your expectations will be exceeded, but there's a good chance you'll be either underwhelmed or disappointed. Wouldn't you rather risk a dollar at Redbox than $10 a pop at the theater? Don't say I didn't properly inform you.
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The Tourist (2010)
4/10
Director von Donnersmarck needs to be Donnersmacked
10 December 2010
Considering the fact that Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are two of the biggest stars in the world, you may have at one time flippantly claimed, "I'd pay $10 just to watch them read the phone book!" Well, if you decide to ignore my advice then you'll have the chance to put the equivalent of that theory to the test if you lay down your hard-earned dinero to see The Tourist.

Displaying the focus of an attention deficit schizophrenic, The Tourist weaves its way through an odd mixture of romantic, comedic, and mysterious elements. I have no problem with a film that embraces multiple genres, as long as it can do so effectively. The problem with this film is I was never sure what type of reaction the film wanted to evoke. The romantic orchestra soars one moment, we're treated to a few slapstick shenanigans the next, and then comes the brooding minor key to remind us that there's a mysteriously mysterious mystery afoot! I would not have been shocked had Rowan Atkinson made an appearance.

Plus, the "climactic" twist isn't as clever as it thinks. I suppose one might be forgiven if he or she finds it cutesy, but even if you do fall for it, by the time it arrives your interest will be too detached to care.

Eliciting little more than a few chuckles and a whole lot of apathy, The Tourist makes its mark as one of this year's most pointless and useless films. I can't single anything out as being truly awful, but neither can I think of a single reason why you should consider spending $10 a pop on a film that offers absolutely nothing new to the cinematic universe. The Italian backdrop is nice to look at, and Jolie and Depp are adequate, if not dynamic in their chemistry, but it takes more than the visual image of Depp traversing rooftops barefooted and in grandpa's pajamas to be deemed worthy of my time.

Entertain, engage, educate, or humor me. That's all I ask. The Tourist decided to go with "none of the above," therefore I encourage you to think twice before making this your selection.
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Balls of Fury (2007)
5/10
The jokes suffer from the "Kate Moss, Heather Mills McCartney, and post-2000 Muhammad Ali Syndrome."
30 August 2007
Taxi. The Pacifier. Herbie Fully Loaded. Let's Go to Prison. Night at the Museum. If this list of movies is an accurate representation of your DVD collection, then my friends, you either have a young child in the house or a strange fetish for average-to-below average comedies. Or "absolutely dreadful" in the case of Jimmy Fallon's Taxi. *shudders* I'm still trying to erase memories of that steamer from my mind.

Other than being part of the aforementioned pathetically sad DVD collection, do you know what else each of these movies has in common? They're all written by Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, the duo who wrote, produced, and directed Balls of Fury. Are you trying to decide whether or not this is a film worthy of your time and money? Please let my above revelation stand as "enough said."

In all honesty, what can you expect when you take a poor man's Jack Black and give him the starring role in a poor man's Dodgeball? A little thing I like to refer to as "not much." Dan Fogler gives it the ol' college try, but perhaps the material is to blame for his mostly forgettable performance. He delivers a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, but by the time he's lip-synching to Def Leppard you'll be asking yourself, "So who's this guy, and why is he doing a bad karaoke impersonation of 'Jack Black Meets Sam Kinison'?"

I will give Balls of Fury three credits - 1) Maggie Q is adorable, 2) The film rightfully never takes itself too seriously, and 3) It's nowhere near as filthy as I expected. At the top of my notebook I wrote, "Balls/Genitalia References" and I was set to keep track. I just knew they were going to fly off the screen fast and furious, especially judging by the "a huge comedy with tiny balls" tagline. So I was quite shocked when the grand total was only one, and that one was merely Maggie Q's character disgustedly relaying an example of the comments she was forced to deal with from male players.

What more can I say about a film whose crowning achievement is, "Well, I didn't expect much, and it wasn't the worst movie I've ever seen, so whatever"? That certainly doesn't send you rushing to purchase a ticket, now does it? It'll be on TNT or TBS soon enough so just have patience and watch a few legitimately good comedies in the interim. There'll come a time when you're flipping channels, nothing else is on, and you'll cruise across this. You can decide then whether you want to sit through all of it. The end result will likely be a long email thanking me for saving you $8.

Before I commence, let me once again bring attention to my above "poor man's Dodgeball" quote. I overheard several disappointed people say, "I thought it'd be like Dodgeball." What's that? Yeah, they said it in unison, Wisenheimer. Now shut up. The consensus? It's not even close. So if that was the opinion you formed after watching the trailer then dismiss that notion immediately. It's an interesting concept that probably contains about ten minutes of solid comedic material.

What ultimately happens when you stretch that over an hour and a half? Unfortunately, the jokes suffer from what I like to call the "Kate Moss, Heather Mills McCartney, and post-2000 Muhammad Ali Syndrome." In other words, they're flat, lame, and they pack no punch. Let's see them put THAT on the DVD cover.
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The Reaping (2007)
5/10
Welcome to "the Paycheck Club," Ms. Swank...
4 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Are you in the mood for an entertaining, intense supernatural thriller with religious themes featuring an Oscar winner who faces a crisis of faith? Well, good news - Signs is currently on DVD. However, if you're looking for that in The Reaping then you might want to go ahead and lower those expectations and prepare to not be blown away.

Responding in a post-screening interview to the movie's tagline ("What hath God wrought?"), God emphatically declared, "Oh, I wrought the 10 plagues in the Old Testament, all right, but you ain't laying this on me!"

I've decided that "it somewhat kept my interest" is no longer excuse enough for me to give a thriller of this nature a passing grade. Slow-paced, non-scary, and convolutedly confusing to a fault (due to Swank's inexplicable "visions"), The Reaping takes the potential of applying a Biblical story in modern times and wastes it with a pedestrian effort that offers nothing new or original to the genre.

Admittedly, some of the special effects showcasing the plagues are visually interesting, and the atmosphere is appropriately dark, but unfortunately, there is no effort to combine emotional impact with the CGI. Rather than disturb audiences with a little eye-covering, skin-crawling aftermath of the plagues, the movie is content to just check 'em off the list. "Drop some frogs into the bloody river!" "Done." "Good, what's next?" "Flies?" "Bring it! We've got eight to go and only 60 minutes left to do it in!"

Consequently, this inability to dig beneath the surface of its visuals is what detached my interest. In other words, the film just didn't grab me. Some strange dude in the seat behind me did, but that's a whole other level of disturbing. I was never scared, I only felt brief moments of tension, and I felt not a single iota of interest in any of the characters. Come on, guys, give me an incentive to care!

You can't even bother to provide a handful of pandering-yet-effective jump scenes? Where's the excitement? Where's the intrigue? Where's the foreboding fear? I just sat there waiting for something ... ANYTHING ... to happen, and a climax filled with a transparent plot twist and Shyamalan-esquire "hey, here's what was really happening!" flashbacks doesn't count.

Close out the festivities with a groan-inducing "oh great, there's gonna be a sequel" final scene, and I'm totally left without a single compelling reason to recommend this even to the most hardcore fans of the genre. Thanks for flippin' us the bird, filmmakers, we really appreciate it.

The Reaping is very lucky to make it to theaters. It's a Mary Stuart Masterson-for-Hilary Swank substitution away from premiering on Lifetime. If I were you then that's where I'd wait to see it.

THE GIST

The Reaping is a simple story about a woman with lost faith who is forced to confront an age-old cult and all the plot conveniences and contrivances that come along with that. It fails to capitalize on its potential, thus failing to make this anything more worthy than a rainy day rental.
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Zodiac (2007)
9/10
The fear of the real and the unknown...
2 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Dark. Moody. Atmospheric. All words to describe a candlelight dinner with Johnny Betts. But these words can also be used to accurately describe David Fincher's latest foray into the serial killer genre.

Zodiac has been on my "most anticipated" list for quite some time, but having watched many documentaries and read several articles on the subject, I couldn't help but wonder how the film could completely keep my interest when I already knew so much about the material. Plus, we're all aware that the case officially remains unresolved, so are we to resign ourselves to accept an unsatisfactory conclusion?

It took no more than the film's chilling opening scene to cast my fears aside and glue me to the seat for 158 minutes. My familiarity with the source material actually heightened my enjoyment because I was surprised at how accurately the film depicted the events. I recognized names and details that I wouldn't have otherwise.

I also feel that not definitively knowing the Zodiac's identity adds more suspense to the story. We're introduced to a number of suspects, and since this is, in part, one man's interpretation of circumstantial evidence, we're allowed to assume that any of the suspects could be the mysterious killer. It's a plot device that effectively keeps the viewer in a constant state of unease.

I know there are multiple theories on the Zodiac's identity, so you can argue that the film ends on an anticlimactic note. But the movie does have focus, and it presents a compelling case against one of the suspects in such a way that it delivers as much closure as you can expect.

The actors are great (especially Downey and his welcome comic relief), the atmosphere is foreboding, and the investigative process is engaging. It may run a little long for some, but I didn't mind the runtime at all. It's a fascinating case, and I wanted all the information the movie was willing to give me.

Zodiac is the kind of film that sticks with you. I was at a friend's house late after the screening, and when I arrived home I saw a lone car's headlights appear from up the street. My heart began to race a little as I hastened to my door. I knew then and there that a new Zodiac killer was in the vicinity, and I had no time to tarry.

It's been a while since a movie instilled that sort of realistic dread, and I don't know if that's a good thing, but it's certainly a sign (no pun intended) of the film's success in heightening our awareness of what kind of real-life monsters might be lurking in the shadows.

THE GIST

Zodiac gives viewers an excellent combination of nerve-racking suspense and desperately obsessed police procedural work. The majority of viewers with even the slightest interest in the case should be riveted. Those of you with a severely small attention span should probably stick to Norbit instead.
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6/10
Everything is indeed hotter down South
2 March 2007
I'll be honest with you; this is not the type of movie that I'm usually drawn to. All you have to do is watch the trailer and read the plot summary to figure out where you stand. But just to continue this honest streak, I have to admit that Jackson and Ricci are so good in their roles, that they were able to pull me into the story and keep a grip on my interest.

Combining a sweltering Southern setting, blood and guts blues riffs, and a little unexpected Bible imagery, Brewer has definitely given this film a style of its own and an atmosphere that's as effective as the actors in telling this strange little tale of love and redemption.

Though its aspirations run higher, there's no denying that the film has its moments of exploitation. Ricci's half-nakedness for 75% of the film is testament to that. Those of you with more delicate palates might experience a little discomfort watching this, and understandably so. It's raw. It's ugly. It's dirty. Even Brewer agrees that this isn't exactly for everybody.

And that's what makes this such an odd movie to pin down. On one hand, I don't think I'd ever have a need to see it again. But on the other, I'm kind of curious how my opinion might be affected via a second viewing. Did I really like it? Or did I merely appreciate the effort and success in Brewer's ability to tell his unusual story in his own unconventional way? It's definitely a film that inspires discussion ... and a wide variety of adjectives. Strange. Over-the-top. Interesting. Unique. Uncomfortable. Take your pick. All these things combine to make it the theatrical experience that it unashamedly is.

It feels like a gritty, twisted blues song come alive on screen. It's a character study, and if you have any hope of enjoying it then you must accept the fact that the film doesn't shy away from showcasing the underbelly of a very disturbed young woman and the path she's traveling.

No, it's not for everybody. But love it or hate it, I feel safe in saying you likely won't see anything else like it this year. Proceed at your own caution. Just remember, everything is indeed hotter down South.

THE GIST

Black Snake Moan is the type of film that makes you stop and examine your audience before deciding who to recommend it to. It features very solid acting, a great atmosphere, and a strangely different story. But it also gets a bit sick and twisted at times and has no problems doing so. Take my words to heart and then go with your instinct on this one.
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Casino Royale (2006)
8/10
Daniel Craig IS Bond. End of discussion.
17 November 2006
If you've listened closely then you've heard the whining and complaining from the Bond purists regarding the selection of Daniel Craig as the next Bond. "But he's blonde!" "He's not handsome enough!" "He's not enough of a lady's man!" Y'all need me to call you a wah-mbulance? Get over it, crybabies. Daniel Craig IS Bond. That's right; I said it.

To be fair, I'll point out that I have no real allegiance to the Bond franchise. I'm too young to remember much about Sean Connery's forays, and I mostly rolled my eyes at the cheesiness of Brosnan's attempts. I don't despise Pierce as Bond, but come on, remember his ridiculously fake CGI surfing? He was one step away from punching out a shark.

But Daniel Craig? Now here's someone I can buy as an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. He's a tough, no-nonsense guy who kills without blinking and doesn't let it bother him, because, as he points out, he wouldn't be very good at his job if he did.

If you want somebody who looks like he just stepped out of a hair salon then maybe he's not your ideal, but give me a guy who actually looks like he's been in a fight or two. If I saw Craig walking down the street? I'd think twice before messing with him. If I saw Pierce Brosnan? I'd be more inclined to ask what hair conditioner he uses.

Like last year's Batman Begins, Casino Royale has reinvented a franchise. This is a darker, edgier Bond. 007 with a couple of extra shots of adrenaline. Sure, the action scenes require a small suspension of disbelief, but they deliver, and it's nice to be able to see where the budget went. Other high-dollar blockbusters should take note (COUGH Superman Returns COUGH).

You know what else I liked about the movie?

"Eva Green's rear end?"

Well, yeah, but that's not what I was talking about.

"Daniel Craig's rear end?"

What? No! Why would you even say that? Get out of here. Sheesh. I also liked that Bond was required to do most everything on his own. He had to use his mind, strength, and combat skills to get the job done. There isn't an abundance of fancy little gadgets and invisible cars. I like the basis in reality.

"Well Johnny, in your wise and omnipotent opinion, what would you say were the movie's weak points?"

Good question, observational reader. The movie runs a little long at almost 2 1/2 hours. I felt things started to drag during the third act when they spent a large amount of time focusing on the romance between Bond and Vesper. We're talking long stretches of Bond on the beach and in bed, telling Vesper his desire to give up his profession for her. Yeah, yeah, we get it - now give us some action!

A better integration of the action and slower scenes would have helped the pace move more briskly, so a runtime trim wouldn't have hurt my feelings. No big deal though. From a pure entertainment perspective, this doesn't disappoint.

If the "purists" are still out there whining and complaining then ignore them. Daniel Craig has done something that Pierce Brosnan never accomplished - he's made me look forward to the next installment in the series. I think we've found a new, legitimate action hero. Thanks, Mr. Craig, you've shown me that Bond can rise above sexual escapades and cheesy one-liners. Bravo!

Hey Pierce? Enjoy making Mrs. Doubtfire 2. Your services are no longer required. You may go now.
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Harsh Times (2005)
6/10
Go ahead and give Bale an Oscar nomination
10 November 2006
Harsh times? That's an understatement. Depressingly harsh times might be more accurate. Or wrist-slittingly harsh times, perhaps. Not only are the times within the movie harsh, but so is the time it takes to view this. That doesn't mean it's a bad movie. It's not - it's well-done. But it's just hard to watch. Or harsh to watch. All right, I'll stop with that - I promise.

What to say, what to say. Not yet having mastered the art of mind reading, I have no idea what you expect from this film, but there's a good chance you're not going to get it. Unless you expect a good performance from Christian Bale. Otherwise, this is a movie not easily recommended.

You just have to be in the right kind of mood to watch this much depravity and this much ugliness. You know, similar to watching The View. The film never allows you a moment of comfort or hope. There's no joy here. Nope. You need to go ahead and prepare to squint your eyes and grit those teeth. Get ready to be jarred from your seat a couple of times. Anticipate being angered by the characters' decisions and their inability to do simple things that could get them on the right track. It makes for a frustrating experience, but in all fairness, that was David Ayer's intent.

You might also want to keep in mind that this is not a plot-driven movie. It's a character study. And the characters aren't very likable - a trait that is amplified by their very annoying "homeboy" talk. Bale and Rodriguez drop the word "dude" almost as much as they drop the "f" bomb, and it just feels ... awkward. I expected Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott to show up looking for their car.

It's all, "Yo bro, we gonna chill or what, dude?" "Yeah dude, we gonna chill tonight, bro." Back and forth, back and forth. I guess I got used to it because it bothered me less as events moved along. Bale eventually convinced me that he just might talk like that. Or maybe I managed to zone it out. At any rate, it's very noticeable, and quite distracting at first.

Speaking of Bale, he has to be given major credit for taking a character who should be completely unlikable and making me feel sympathetic towards him. He compelled me to keep watching. Jim Davis is constantly simmering. He's a freight train waiting to derail. And you sit there and wait for the catastrophe.

The guy's a psycho, but he knows how to play the system like a piano. Psyche tests? Urine tests? Lie detector tests? He's got 'em mastered. That's why, despite his instability, he's able to put himself into a position to get a job with the Federal Government. He's scary. You don't know what he'll do next, and there's a chance he'll explode at any minute, but you want to be watching if and when it happens, no matter how harsh it is.

Oops. I promised, didn't I? Sorry about that.

THE GIST

If you're a huge Christian Bale fan and you want to see him deliver a strong, Oscar-worthy performance, then you'll definitely be sold on his performance, but I would suggest saving this for a rental. Honestly, it's best to have the option to pause it and step away from the movie for a while if need be.

If you're in the mood for something fun and entertaining that will remove you from the troubles of your world for a couple of hours then stay far, far away from Harsh Times. Even if you end up enjoying the film there's a good chance you wouldn't be able to bring yourself to sit through it again. It's just too rough.
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8/10
A compelling collision of fiction and reality ensues.
10 November 2006
If you're looking for a "Will Ferrell comedy" where he runs around acting stupid, screaming at the top of his lungs, and basically annoying the (Fergie's Music) out of me then you need to keep on lookin'. What I'm about to say will soon become a cliché, but this is a different role for Ferrell, and I happen to think that's a good thing.

Is "subduedness" a word? If so then that's what Ferrell brings to Harold Crick. *pulls out the dictionary* Cool, it is a real word! Just a slightly awkward one. Fine, we'll say Ferrell underplays this just enough to make Harold the sweet, innocent hero that he is required to be for us to cheer for him to find that alternate ending. Better?

Harold seems like a tough guy not to like. Until you find out he's a tax man. Plus, he's a little obsessive. He counts the strokes when he's brushing his teeth. He knows the exact number of steps he must take to reach the bus every morning. He takes a 45.7-minute lunch break and a 4.3-minute coffee break. Everything is a routine, and he relies on his wristwatch to keep him on track.

Contrast that with the woman he's sent to audit - the tax-evadin', anarchy-lovin' bakery owner Ana Pascal (played by the extremely personable Maggie Gyllenhaal). It's a match made seemingly, well, not in Heaven, so when they start to have feelings for each other you really don't expect to buy it. But you know what? It works! The romance is simple and subtle, and surprisingly believable.

But the meat of the story, the ol' sauce on the steak as grandpa used to say, revolves around Harold's efforts to figure out from whence the voice in his head is coming. Whereas I'm about to initiate some efforts to find out why I just used "from whence." Harold really needs to figure out what to do once he hears her talk about his death. Is his life a comedy or a tragedy? Can he change his fate, or should he resign himself to accepting what appears to be inevitable?

I can hear you now (you crazy voice in my head!) - how do you take a story about a real-life man who slowly learns his life is some weird product of fiction and make it work? How do you deliver a satisfying ending to such a perplexing structure? Well, I had the same questions. I didn't know if it'd pull it off, but it does, and all I can say, without giving too much away, is the proof is in the viewing.

A viewing experience that is unique in how it takes so many elements of different genres and figures out how to make them work together. There are laughs, there's drama, there's fantasy, and as I mentioned earlier, there's a little romance as well. In fact...

*puts down man card*

Ferrell gives Gyllenhaal a gift that inspired the most amount of "awwwwws" from the audience that I've heard at a movie this year. I have to admit, it really is a sweet moment.

*picks up man card*

I liked the structure of the story, and Emma Thompson's narration is handled in such a way that it adds a little mystery and keeps you guessing how the story will wrap. I was even impressed with some of the visuals in the film, specifically the manifestations of the numerical analyses in Harold's mind.

The first 2/3rds of the movie set everything up so well that I was really scared of a disappointing payoff. I wasn't necessarily rooting for a "happy" ending; I simply wanted a satisfying one. If it were true that Harold must die for the book to be Emma's masterpiece, then sell me on it. However, if Emma could figure out an alternate ending, then sell me on that.

As always, I won't reveal what happens. I recommend you watch it and find out on your own. So I'll just sum up my final opinion this way - sold.

THE GIST

You might be disappointed if you want another over-the-top Will Ferrell comedy. However, those of you in the mood for a less annoying side of Ferrell, a mix of drama and comedy, and something a little different and inspiring should consider giving Stranger than Fiction a chance.
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The Grudge 2 (2006)
4/10
Save your money, else you'll be the one with a grudge.
13 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Hey! The Grudge 2! What up, man? I have a friend I would like you to meet. The Grudge 2 meet Johnny's Worst of 2006 list. Johnny's Worst of 2006 list meet The Grudge 2.

What's going on here? I was under the impression that this was supposed to be a sequel to The Grudge rather than a remake. If that's the case then why does it do nothing but rehash the original? This floater doesn't even feel like a movie. It's just a 90-minute soundtrack of the weird contortionist chick making that annoying croaking sound.

A sound on which I'd recommend you not get me started. It was kind of creepy the first time I heard it, but I've heard it about 12,367 times since 2004, so it's pretty much run its course. And it's made even more annoying by the 20 people in the audience who thought it'd be funny to imitate the sound whenever there was a quiet spot in the movie. Sigh.

Folks, YOU'RE NOT FUNNY SO JUST SHUT UP! I promise you, EVERY SINGLE TIME that a character was walking slowly through an empty room (which is approximately 97% of the movie), somebody in the audience would start it up, "Uhhhhkkkkkkuuuuuhhhhhkkkkkk." Yes, I know that's a horrible way to replicate the sound with letters, but you get the gist. So then some dude in the audience would giggle, and not to be outdone, deliver his own rendition. I was very close to just walking through the audience and punching random people.

I told you not to get me started.

There's absolutely nothing about The Grudge 2 that I can recommend. There's not a single original scare or idea in the entire film. There's not one memorable acting performance. Are you a Sarah Michelle Gellar fan? Welp, enjoy her two minutes of screen time and one line of dialogue. Are you an Amber Tamblyn fan? I hope you can deal with the fact that she's given nothing more to do than walk around looking like she's suffering from a pinched nerve. Can you believe the story (if you can call it that) is even worse than The Grudge's?

At least the original was fairly creepy and boasted a few effective jump scenes. I didn't jump once during this lametrosity (yeah, I made the word up, deal with it). That's right. Not a single time. The "scares" are so manufactured and they are so blatantly telegraphed that there is absolutely no shock value once the "gotcha" moment arrives. Watching this movie is like playing a good game of chess - you're always four or five scenes ahead.

There are also some weird scenes thrown in that make no sense whatsoever. One that immediately comes to mind is a scene where a girl drinks a gallon of milk and then begins to regurgitate it back into the jug. Huh? I say HUH?!?! The audience laughed. I shook my head and sighed. There was a lot of that during the movie. Laughing. Sighing. Head shaking. Falling asleep (I did twice).

The movie even makes a 1/5th-hearted attempt at a plot "twist." Wow. It's so bad that I don't think we should even dignify it by labeling it a twist. Did they really think anybody would be surprised at the revelation of who was hiding under the hoodie? Please. It was as shocking as Elton John coming out of the closet.

And of course the ending goes the whole non-closure "look, we might have another sequel" route. As soon as the credits rolled the audience booed. My sentiments exactly. Had the audience paid money for this turd burger then things would have most likely gotten violent, and I would've gladly led the charge.

We learned from The Grudge that there's a Japanese belief that when someone dies in a powerful grip of rage, then a curse is left behind. Much like a Ben Affleck movie, it's a "stain" that forever becomes a part of the place where the death occurred. Well, in The Grudge 2 we learn that when a horror movie covers its budget during its opening weekend then its sequel will be rushed out, and more often than not it will be as bad as this and will leave a stain on any theater where the movie shows.

THE GIST

If you're a total wimp and never saw The Grudge then this might provide a few cheap scares. But I strongly recommend saving your money, otherwise, there's a good chance you'll be the one walking out of the theater with a grudge.
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6/10
Better than a movie with both Horatio Sanz and Jon Heder has any right to be.
29 September 2006
Let's take a trip back in time, shall we? All the way back to August 29, 2006 when I unveiled my wildly hilarious and alarmingly accurate Weinstein Company Fall/Winter Preview. If you'll recall (and I'm sure y'all have my previews memorized), I was NOT looking forward to School for Scoundrels. For the sake of those who are too lazy to click on the link above, here are my initial assumptions:

"Sigh. Do we really need more Jon Heder movies? Plus, how good can a movie with Horatio Sanz be? My guess - not very. Ah well, Billy Bob Thornton and David Cross are in it, so maybe it has potential. Let's check out the trailer...

Huh. Is this supposed to be an unfunny 're-imagining' of Rushmore? That's certainly the vibe I'm getting. I think I laughed once, maybe twice during the trailer. Johnny's setting his expectations at LOW on this one. Can we sue the studio for including 'hilarious' in the synopsis and not delivering? FALSE ADVERTISEMENT!

Or maybe this is one of those rare films that's keeping the jokes out of the trailer and saving them for the film. Oh wait; Jon Heder and Horatio Sanz are in this, never mind."

Welp, let's examine my comments in light of the fact that I've now seen the film.

* Horatio Sanz' role is small enough for him not to do any damage (except to any chairs he sat in during the filming).

* Jon Heder still remains a one-trick circus act, and I pray I never see the guy in tighty whities again, but he's tolerable.

* David Cross' role is basically nonexistent, but the rest of the supporting cast is very good and elevates this to a level that Heder couldn't have managed on his own. Jon Glaser (the curly-haired dude from Conan O'Brien) steals every scene he's in. The movie is worth at least a rental if for nothing else other than the line, "There's no doubt in my mind that you'll be murdered." It's all in Glaser's deadpan delivery.

* Man, there's a whole lot of ugly in this movie. Juan Guzman, Horatio Sanz, Jon Heder, AND Billy Bob Thornton? They sure aren't given the ladies much enticement to see this, huh? This gives The Night Listener (Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh) strong competition for 2006's Ugliest Cast.

* As predicted, Billy Bob's presence does indeed help the proceedings, especially with condemnations on self-help books such as, "You can't help yourself because your self sucks." Good point.

* It does borrow the "teacher and student going after the same woman" theme found in Rushmore (and other films), but that's pretty much where the similarities end.

I'm not telling you to run out and pay full price to see it because this certainly won't appeal to everybody and I don't want anybody ganging up on me for giving this a blanket recommendation, but I will admit that it's much better than a movie with both Horatio Sanz and Jon Heder has any right to be.

There are some slow stretches, jokes that fall "Kate Moss flat," and the two leads fail to bring the movie's biggest laughs, but hey, there are laughs to be had, and that's good enough for me. If you're like many of the people who have told me, "I can't stand that Napoleon Dynamite dude" then it's probably best if you don't risk it.

THE GIST

School for Scoundrels doesn't demand to be seen on the big screen, but there are enough laughs to warrant a rental. If you insist on seeing it at the theater then make it a matinée, lower your expectations, and enjoy.
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The Guardian (I) (2006)
8/10
Interesting look at an under-appreciated group of heroes
29 September 2006
I was looking forward to The Guardian, but when I walked into the theater I wasn't really in the mood for it at that particular time. It's kind of like the Olive Garden - I like it, but I have to be in the right mindset to thoroughly enjoy it.

I'm not exactly sure what was dampening my spirit. The trailers looked good, but the water theme was giving me bad flashbacks to the last Kevin Costner movie that dealt with the subject - Waterworld. Plus, despite the promise Ashton Kutcher showed in The Butterfly Effect, I'm still not completely sold on him. Something about the guy just annoys me. Probably has to do with his simian features.

It took approximately two minutes for my fears to subside and for my hesitancies to slip away. The movie immediately throws us into the midst of a tense rescue mission, and I was gripped tighter than Kenny Rogers' orange face lift. My concerns briefly bristled at Kutcher's initial appearance due to the fact that too much effort was made to paint him as ridiculously cool and rebellious. Sunglasses, a tough guy toothpick in his mouth, and sportin' a smirk that'd make George Clooney proud? Yeah, we get it. I was totally ready to hate him.

But then he had to go and deliver a fairly strong performance and force me to soften my jabs.

Darn you, ape man! Efficiently mixing tense, exciting rescue scenes, drama, humor, and solid acting, The Guardian is easily a film that I dare say the majority of audiences will enjoy. You can quibble about its clichés, predictability, and rare moments of overcooked sappiness, but none of that takes away from the entertainment value.

I had a bad feeling that the pace would slow too much when Costner started training the young guys, but on the contrary, the training sessions just might be the most interesting aspect of the film. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers are heroes whose stories have never really been portrayed on the big screen, so I feel the inside look at what they go through and how tough it is to make it is very informative and a great way to introduce audiences to this under-appreciated group.

Do you have what it takes to be a rescue swimmer? Just think about it -you get to go on dangerous missions in cold, dark, rough water, and then you must fight disorientation, exhaustion, hypothermia, and a lack of oxygen all while trying to help stranded, panicked people who are depending on you for their survival. And if all that isn't bad enough, sometimes you can't save everybody so you have to make the tough decision of who lives and who dies.

Man, who wants all that responsibility? Not me! I had no idea what it was really like for these guys, and who would have thought I'd have an Ashton Kutcher/Kevin Costner movie to thank for the education?

Not only does The Guardian do a great job of paying tribute to this rare breed of hero, but lucky for us it also does a good job of entertaining its paying customers.

THE GIST

Moviegoers wanting an inside look at what it's like to embark on a daring rescue mission in the middle of the ocean might want to give The Guardian a chance. I saw it for free, but had I paid I would've felt I had gotten my money's worth.
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Flyboys (2006)
7/10
Impressive dogfights and aerial action ensue
22 September 2006
"Hey Johnny! You saw Flyboys, right? May I ask a couple of questions?"

Yeah, but make it snappy. I've got a life to get back to, and I ain't exactly getting' paid for this.

"You all right? You seem a little testy."

Yeah, sorry. I was just listening to Ray LaMontagne's Jolene. Great song, but man, it'll make you slit your wrists if you're not in the right mood. Please, continue.

"So this is based on a true story?"

Pretty much. There's only one real name used in the movie (Jean Reno's Capt. Georges Thenault), but the rest of the characters are composites of real-life WWI pilots. Beware of "Internet geniuses" (AKA "keyboard warriors") trying to show off their unjustified self-supposed wisdom by complaining that they don't think there were black fighter pilots in WWI.

If they'd bothered to do about two minutes of research then they would have learned that the character of Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis) is probably the most complete parallel to a historical character. Skinner's real-life counterpart, Eugene Bullard, fled to Scotland, worked as a boxer in Europe, joined the Lafayette Escadrille, and became history's first black fighter pilot. Take THAT, Mr. Type-First-Ask-Questions-Later!

So while names may have been changed (for what reason, I don't know), the filmmakers maintain that the majority of the movie (approximately 90% if you believe the press notes) is based on real characters and actual events.

"How's the movie?"

I really enjoyed it. Sure, it's somewhat predictable, it enlists the help of tried and true clichés, there's not much depth beyond the story's surface, and there's an obligatory romance that guys will have to tolerate, but the film knows not to linger too long and is always quick to jump back to the fantastic action.

If you want a comparison then think of it this way - Titanic is a romance with ship-sinking action thrown into the mix, whereas Flyboys is an action film with a little romance thrown in. I prefer the latter.

"You liked this more than Titanic?"

Yep. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio's overly round, perennially prepubescent face disturbs me, but I digress. The aerial cinematography and dogfights are so impressive that if you have any interest in seeing the movie at all then it definitely should be seen on the big screen. The Zeppelin scene especially can't be done justice on a paltry home entertainment system. I'm telling you, you won't be able to distinguish between what's real and what's CGI.

I also liked most of the characters and the inherent humor that results from their interactions. James Franco is on the cusp of becoming a major star.

"How does this compare with other war movies?"

To be honest, I wouldn't classify this as a "war movie" in the Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down sense of the phrase. Rather than preach one way or the other about atrocities or necessities of war, Flyboys simply sets out to give us a brief glimpse at a forgotten group of heroes from a war that Hollywood has neglected for the past 40 years, all while entertaining audiences with a unique look at the aerial combat that military and aviation historians have come to call "the last gentleman's war."

If you want a more in-depth historical study regarding the events portrayed in the film then I'm sure there's a documentary or two out there. If you're just in the mood to watch lots of cool stuff go boom then Flyboys is the best the Fall has to offer. There aren't many "action" films that are safe for family consumption, but this one passes with *wait for it* flying colors!

*ahem*

I apologize for that.
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Gridiron Gang (2006)
7/10
Ignore the cold-hearted critics
15 September 2006
Prepare to hear whining and complaining from movie critics who fall outside the boundaries of this movie's target demographic by a good 15 - 20 years: "This is so predictable!" "What a bunch of clichés!" "We've seen it all before!"

You know what? I'm not going to argue with those points. I don't deny that this is a by-the-numbers sports drama. "You can do it" speeches fill the air, inspirational music soars high, and anybody well-versed in this genre can easily call the shots. Come on, did you really doubt that there'd be a jerk opposing player that we'd be forced to hate? Are you naive enough to wonder if he'll get his comeuppance by the movie's end?

Gridiron Gang is a movie that understands who its audience is, and it plays them like a fiddle. But you know what else? I don't care. The audience absolutely loved it. Biggest crowd reaction of any movie I've seen so far this year. They cheered when the gang got a touchdown, they grimaced at every painful tackle, and they chanted for Johnny Betts to take his shirt off. Hey, I thought it was a little out of place as well. But who am I to deny my fans?

Now I'm not saying this is a movie of the year contender, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not ashamed of that, and I'm not going to apologize for it. I'll even go so far as to admit that there were a couple of scenes during which I got a little choked up - the only time it's happened this year.

Yeah, I said it. You got a problem with it? My biker boots (size 11) and I would be more than happy to discuss the issue. If you can turn an indifferent eye to the scene near the end involving Rock's mother then you, my friend, are a cold, cold man. Or woman.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for inspirational sports movies, especially when they star an actor I like - and I really like The Rock. His charisma and natural screen presence are undeniable, and he even displays some impressive acting chops here. The man gives us real tears - from BOTH eyes. Take that, Ashley Judd!

Not every film has to be a deep, insightful masterpiece of epic proportions with layers and layers of social commentary and "vertiginous fluidity." Some movies are simply made to entertain. What's wrong with giving the audience something to cheer? You know, there are still a few moviegoers out there who want to go home happy and inspired.

If you fit into that category then you won't have any problem ignoring the familiarity of Gridiron Gang. The wonderful mixture of humor and drama will suck you in and have you rooting for these kids to overcome the odds.

If you've got a "Mr. Potter heart" then do us and George Bailey a favor and stay home. The theater will be more pleasant without your curmudgeonly ways.
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Crank (2006)
More comedy than action = disappointing
1 September 2006
Crank is definitely a crowd pleaser. The audience I saw this with was laughing and clapping throughout. If you aren't easily offended, and you love movies that thrive on absurdity, excess, and a lack of desire to be taken seriously, then Crank will certainly entertain. And while yes, I was fairly amused, I have to admit my disappointment.

After all the comparisons to Speed (the press kit doesn't shy away from making these proclamations), I was expecting wall-to-wall action. For me, Speed and The Rock represent the best that 90s era action flicks had to offer. After all the build up, I was expecting Crank to be the standard bearer for the 21st Century. Unfortunately, it doesn't come close.

In fact, this is almost more of a comedy than it is an action movie. Sure, there are some truly funny moments, but I wanted more balance. I really like Jason Statham (he's got charisma to spare), and one of the coolest aspects of the guy is his ability to pull off highly-entertaining, well-choreographed fight scenes. So where were they in this movie? Just when I thought Jason was about to open up the ol' proverbial 6-pack of Heinekicken, we'd be given a generic gunfight instead.

I was genuinely surprised at how few big action sequences there are. A lot of the movie just consists of Statham running around looking for something funny to say or do. Granted, I do that frequently in public in a desperate attempt for attention, but during the movie I sat there thinking, "OK, so when is the REALLY cool stuff gonna happen?" Like I said, this will please plenty of people (particularly teenage boys), and I was never bored, but this just isn't the movie I was expecting or wanting it to be. Ignore any and all claims that this will be Statham's signature film. The Transporter (with all of its flaws) still holds that title.

Oh, and if you're easily offended then I feel obligated to issue a big warning - you can probably find more redeeming moral qualities in Paris Hilton than you can in this movie. I'm not ashamed to admit that at times it was a little too vulgar for my tastes. Feel free to call me a boy scout if you wanna try to be cute, but I just think you should know that you're gonna get 80 minutes of a hit-man taking drugs, having sex, chopping off body parts, and killing people at a high rate of speed. Not your cup of noodles? Well, now you know. And if you take your child to this then I'm calling social services. Don't think I won't.

If you do decide to go see this then I have one suggestion to make that will save you a lot of embarrassment. Yes, the title of the movie is Crank, and yes Jason Statham is the star, but please, I beg of you -when you step up to the ticket window do not say, "I'd like to see Jason Statham's Crank please." I felt a little twinge in my back just now due to how far I had to reach for that joke, but I really think it was worth it.

I might take a cue from the movie's premise and start writing my reviews in a similar style. Give myself an hour to finish the review and if my typing drops below 80 words a minute then I die. Could prove to be pretty exciting, and hey, maybe I can convert the idea into a movie.

THE GIST

Crank will have its audience, and it will please them greatly, but it isn't the kickstart to the action genre that I was expecting it to be. There aren't enough spectacular action sequences to demand that it be seen on the big screen.
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5/10
Not as cheesy as I was hoping for
1 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The beautiful thing about Snakes on a Plane is that its title automatically and immediately removes all pretense. It intentionally screams, "I'm a bad movie, so criticizing plot and acting is a waste of your time!" Hey, I love the philosophy. If your movie is ridiculous then swing for the fences and embrace the cheesiness that your title will not allow you to avoid.

But here's my problem. For the average movie the following statement would be at least somewhat of a compliment (or less of an insult), but in regard to Snakes on a Plane, it's a disappointment - the movie isn't as bad as I was hoping it would be.

Oh, there's plenty of fun to be had. The movie starts a little slow, but once the snakes get loose on the plane, effectively turning the movie into "snakes on a (choose a body part)," moments of out-loud laughter abound. If you're the type of person who can laugh at snakes attacking people in ridiculous ways, that is. You have to be willing to tap into your juvenile sense of humor, and I was along for the ride.

But once the third act arrived, everybody focused way too much on figuring out how to land the plane, and the snakes took a back seat. Or would that be a window seat? Bwahahahaha! *ahem* My apologies. I wanted more deaths by snakes! I wanted things to get even more and more outlandish!

You see, as the movie rolled along I kept thinking of crazy scenes or actions that would be perfect, but I couldn't help but be disappointed when my ideas were never explored. For example, why have a kickboxer on the plane but not have him deliver at least a single roundhouse kick to a snake? Now THAT is the kind of silliness I wanted more of. Can you imagine how good this could have been if Chuck Norris had co-starred? Man, a snake attacking Chuck's beard only to be repelled by its beard-like powers would have been pure gold.

And where are all the bad, cheesy, pun-laced one-liners? Sure, we got "Make it fast. Time is tissue," but overall this isn't nearly as quotable as I had hoped. Come on, couldn't Samuel L. throw us a little, "It's time to kick some asp," to savor or something? I want cringe-inducing dialogue! Here, let me treat y'all to another example that would have been perfect. Picture the scene...

Everybody is running around the plane, freaking out. Somebody off screen yells, "Snakes! On the plane!" Then the camera focuses on an old man with a cane, wobbling down the plane aisle, doing his best to flee the snakes. Samuel L. Jackson's partner would then turn to Jackson and say, "Looks like he has even bigger problems - he's got shakes on a cane!" Then Jackson would give his partner a turned-up-nose glare the likes of which is usually reserved for horrific smells. The line would rock, but Jackson's silent response would totally sell it. Everybody goes home happy. But alas, the film didn't dare get that campy.

Another problem with Snakes is that "bad cinema" is usually at its best when it isn't intentionally trying to be bad. Take A Sound of Thunder, for example. That movie is one of the biggest $80 million disasters to ever hit the screen. But it's also one of the funniest bad movies I've ever seen at the theater. There's just something magical about people putting a lot of effort and money into trying to make something good only to have it turn out painfully bad. When Hollywood jobs are lost because of how big a failure has been delivered then that's when the real fun begins.

When you're delivering cheesiness with a wink and a nod to the audience then you've gotta go all-out over-the-top. Just inserting a few "f" bombs and some nudity merely to get an R rating isn't gonna do it.

I still don't know if the movie's original intent was to be bad, or if that was just a byproduct of the Internet hype. Did the filmmakers realize that no one was going to take the film seriously so they decided to do a little re-shooting and THEN play it as an intentionally cheesy movie? After all, Snakes on a Plane was only a working title and at one time it was going to be changed to Pacific Air Flight 121.

Movie executives and Jackson's agent were in favor of the title change, and that's what leads me to believe that everybody initially wanted to play this straight until they realized they couldn't turn back.

I have to give Samuel L. Jackson credit though - he refused to let them make the title change. "That's the only reason I took the job: I read the title," he told Collider.com. "You either want to see that, or you don't." That pretty much sums it up.
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Snakehead Terror (2004 TV Movie)
3/10
I was rooting for the fish
1 September 2006
Nothing trumpets a movie's irrelevance louder than the inability to remember anything about it a mere few weeks after watching it. Seriously, when I started to review this I had to stop and recall whether or not I'd actually watched it yet. I thought I had, but I couldn't remember a thing about it. I finally found my notes and after reading through them all the craptitude came flooding back. I wish I had just kept those memories hidden in the recesses of my mind. Kind of like the "gym teacher incident" of '88.

This actually isn't as putrid as you might expect. But please don't take that statement as an endorsement of any kind. It's just one of those generic, low-budget movies that manages to avoid being horrible but is just too mediocre to be any fun.

There are a few moments of unintentional hilarity though. You gotta love when a teenager gets killed and his friends immediately vow revenge on the sea creature that introduced their buddy to his demise. Within a couple of minutes they're laughing and bumping fists as they set out to "even the score." Good job of completing bypassing the mourning period, guys! I'm sure y'all will have no problem defeating some creature (on his own territory, no less) that has the capability of killing humans.

Note to my friends: if you're ever killed by a shark or something then I hope you'll understand if I don't dive in the water and attempt to take the thing on by myself. I'll have to defer to the proper authorities in that case. Nothing personal.

I think my favorite part is when the teenagers are in a boat and one of the girls shoots at a snakehead fish but she shoots the engine of another boat instead, causing an explosion that kills one of her friends.

The remaining friends vowed revenge on her, laughed, and bumped fists. Or not.

Oh, and Carol Alt is another in a long line of hot biologists in bad monster movies. Gotta love the reliance on such clichés!

Welp, that's about it. The movie bored me, this review is boring me, and there's really not much else to say about it. Skip this one. I guarantee you that watching it will not add anything positive to your life. You won't be entertained, you won't walk away a better person, and you won't tell anybody, "You know, I'm really glad I watched Snakehead Terror." I simply cannot think of a single reason this might be worthy of 90 precious minutes.

THE GIST

If you happen to see this on TV one day then I highly recommend that you just keep on flippin'. I've seen worse, but this simply has nothing to offer. It's only for those of you who are really desperate for a bad movie.
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Frankenfish (2004 TV Movie)
4/10
Not nearly the cheese buffet it should have been.
1 September 2006
Let's just face facts here - no one sits down to watch a movie called Frankenfish and expects a good movie. If somebody does, well, he most likely doesn't have the ability to read this review anyway and thus won't be offended by anything I'm about to say.

Now I don't know if this is a positive or a negative, but amazingly, Frankenfish is not nearly as bad as you'd expect. In other words, it's easier to watch than a shirtless David Hasselhoff photo session. The problem is that in an effort to avoid being as bad as humanly possible, the movie never lets itself achieve the level of cheese it could and should have.

For example, when I hear the term "Frankenfish" I want a fish that's been pieced together from several different species. A shark snout here, a dolphin fin there, the eye of a bream, something really freakish like that. So the revelation that we're just dealing with genetically-altered fish is a bit of a letdown. However, the film is not without its highlights. Just check out some of this stellar dialogue:

"I should've never dated swamp girl."

"His head is missing!"

"So I guess we're having filet-of-swamp monster."

"You look good for a girl covered in fish brains."

My guess is they visited local elementary schools and let 5th graders submit lines they thought would be cool to use in a "stupid fish movie."

Basically, this is another "creature feature" with production values resembling that of a home video, hot chicks as scientists (I'm not complaining), characters acting nonchalant over other characters being killed, and characters just generally acting stupid.

For example, these morons are stuck on a houseboat. It's dark. It's murky. A gigantic fish is swimming around looking for people to eat. So what does one guy do when he sees movement in the water near the edge of the houseboat? Why he leans his head over the edge, of course! Characters like that deserve to die. That's all there is to it. Seriously, are we expected to root for the fish? Because I'm sure not going to throw my support behind characters that are this clueless.

And you gotta love the brains (or lack thereof) of two of the survivors at the end. After all the Frankenfish are killed (oh, I'm sorry, I hope I didn't spoil the movie for you), they decide to go check on their friend who fell off the boat during the totally unexciting chase scene where the fish was hunting them. After the guy and girl smooch (of course), the guy replies that the point where their friend fell off is "not too far of a swim."

Um, in an ALLIGATOR-INFESTED SWAMP?!?!? Genius.

On the plus side, I was actually surprised by two of the deaths, and K.D. Aubert is looking pretty hot, so I was able to actually sit through the entire film. Though I must admit that I did make use of my good friend Mr. Button quite a bit. I'll have to introduce you sometime. You've probably heard of him. Button. Fast Forward Button. Sometimes goes by FFW Button. Trust me, when it comes to movies like this he'll quickly become your friend as well.

Now, what I really want to see is a movie called Frankenfurter! Hmm, you know what? I just thought of my next Movie Mark Original! Check back soon for full details on that...

THE GIST

Frankenfish is one of those movies that can only be recommended to people who like to get together with friends and watch really bad, low-budget films just so they can make fun of them. I just wish it wasn't stuck so firmly between like and love. No wait, that was Billy Vera. Frankenfish is stuck between "mediocre" and "not as bad as most Sci-Fi Originals." It should've swung for the Velveeta fences.
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