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Silent Hill (2006)
A review for the clueless who didn't know this is an adaptation of a videogame
17 October 2019
Yea I live in a cave. Not only am I over a decade late to the Silent Hill party, but I had no idea that it is an adaptation of the famous 1999 PlayStation game Silent Hill. If this describes you as well then read on because it might help you enjoy this flick more.

Silent Hill the movie has a distinctly cold, brooding vibe similar to the classic supernatural mindbenders like The Others, The Sixth Sense, or even going way back to The Shining. That is, it immediately puts us in a surreal state of mind, cut off from reality (in this case an abandoned ghost town) where anything can & usually does happen.

Where it gets crazy and possibly disorienting to newbies is when it incorporates some of the videogame elements which are never really explained. The terrifying monster Pyramid Head just sort of appears without any context, and similarly the famous Nurses From Hell scene happens almost randomly. These are excellent scenes, but still a bit disorienting if you're trying to relate everything to the narrative that's unfolding.

The story itself is about a woman searching for a child in the creepy ghost town of Silent Hill, and it becomes a sort of dysfunctional Alice in Wonderland type tale with random gruesome episodes and good scares, but underneath it is a consistent plot which slowly reveals itself. One unique angle worth mentioning is that this movie is almost entirely a female cast. I thought that was a really interesting diversion from the standard horror flick where men dominate the story as both heroes and villians. Here our protagonist is a strong female lead--not quite Sarah Connor Terminator 2 strong, but definitely not a squeaking damsel in distress. The antagonist is a female as well, a very creepy matriarchal character whom you totally wouldn't want to meet at Sunday brunch.

Just be prepared that not everything ties neatly into the story (due to the videogame elements), and that's my only real criticism. However, if I watch it a 2nd time I'll be better prepared, as I hope you are after reading this! Silent Hill is a great flick with some terrifying moments, nice creative gore (ever see someone get their entire skin ripped off? tune in) and a satisfying story with a really interesting twist. Definitely worth checking out.
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The Reaping (2007)
Forgive me father for I have seen a bad movie
3 October 2019
First let me say it's not that bad. I just couldn't resist some bad wordplay in my title. All the same, despite its excellent potential, "The Reaping" didn't quite sprout. And so The REAPING remains a GRIM reminder of how a good story can meet its death. Although this Biblical apocalypse is not PLAGUED with a LOT of problems, it does have a few. (Lot referring to the Old Testament dude who knocked up his daughters. And ok I'm done with the bad puns. For now.)

The story is about a faithless miracle debunker (Swank) who takes a job investigating some bizarre phenomena resembling the Biblical plagues. As a parallel story she is haunted by the traumatic past which caused her to lose her faith. As these two stories converge, she begins to lose her faith in faithlessness (huh? just roll with me) and that's when things really heat up.

Who doesn't love a religious thriller? The Exorcist. The Omen. And my favorite: The Prophecy starring Christopher Walken as a very naughty Angel of Death, to say the least. Here we have The Reaping, but aside from sticking with the tradition of using a two word title that begins with 'The', this film doesn't give us the same meticulously crafted mood piece like the others. Instead it seems to fall back on a bunch of clichés rather than establishing itself as a true original.

We get the creepy little girl darting around, never giving us a good look or any hint as to her role until the final act. I understand the filmmakers' approach to building suspense, but really how many scenes can you have of Hilary chasing the girl around, only to lose her into thin air? Similarly, at least half the movie is simply a sequential reveling of the different plagues: 1) blood, 2) frogs, 3) lice, 4) dead cows, 5) pestilence, 6) boils on people's skin... and only at #6 does the story begin to reveal itself, finally committing to a direction. Normally I wouldn't complain about such a long setup--and indeed the aforementioned Exorcist has, by today's standards, an extremely long setup before anything supernatural happens--but the problem with "The Reaping" is once it does commit to a direction it feels so rushed with so many things crammed into the last 20 minutes that you're left thinking... "wait, did anyone think this through?"

Unlike the other aforementioned religious thrillers where the first half sets up the premise and then the 2nd half gives us a slow, careful, powerful showdown between good and evil (the whole point of a religious thriller), here we get so many plot twists and unnecessary shock scenes that it loses its momentum and instead turns into another forgettable pop horror flick whose goal seems to be to deliver the most "ahh gotcha!" revelations on celluloid. It's a shame because the same story, told more carefully without the rushed gimmicks and 23 surprise reveals, could have been on par with the the classics.

Instead, we end up with an ok flick, entertaining, not bad by any means, but definitely not living up to its tremendous potential. As others have noted, this is a decent popcorn flick or something to watch if you find yourself awake at 2 am with nothing else to do, like mending your torn socks or something. As they say, you REAP what you SEW.

Wait what?? That was my worst pun ever. Maybe they'll hire me to write the sequel.
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Heavy Trip (2018)
Great flick, not just for metalheads
2 October 2019
"Heavy Trip" joins my list of movies about a specific genre of music that everyone can enjoy even if you don't know, or even hate, the genre. Other films include the Japanese "Swing Girls" (swing & old school jazz), the American indie "Patti Cake$" (rap) and of course the ones that started them all, the Christopher Guest music mockumentaries "A Mighty Wind" (folk) and "This Is Spinal Tap" (hard rock). How do these films work so well? It's because foremost they introduce funny, quirky, loveable losers whom we can all associate with, regardless of musical taste, cultural origin or language. When done right, the story of the artistic underdog is universal.

Here we are introduced to 4 of the loveable-est, loser-est underdogs who ever cranked their amps to 11. The main character "Turo" is a long-haired metalhead who can't seem to get on stage without vomiting like a possessed demon girl. He is joined by his bandmates "Pasi" a freakish bass genius who's 1 pocket protector short of Einstein, "Jynkky" a drummer who's so hardcore he keeps the beat even during heart failure, and the guitarist "Lotvonen" who draws inspiration from the sounds of reindeer carcasses being ground into hamburger.

(Quick note about reindeer mutilations and the sort. All animal action is hilariously fake, including one wrestling scene with a crazed wolverine that is quite obviously a stuffed prop. No animals were sacrificed, nor actual reindeer blood spilled, in the making of this film. I hope.)

What follows is a cute, quirky, quasi-surreal unfolding of events surrounding the efforts of their band "IMPALED REKTUM" to make it to a metal festival in Norway, including but not limited to, attacks by rival lounge singers, questionable cops, a few rocket launchers, sword wielding Vikings, and perhaps even death itself. Do they ever make it to the show? Tune in and find out.
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Crash (I) (2004)
The #2 Feel Bad Movie of the 2000s
2 October 2019
"Crash" is a superbly made film. The actors are first rate, the camera style is engaging, and production value is tops. And despite all this, I would never recommend it to anyone. Why? I'll explain in my 4th paragraph but first let's talk about the story.

This film follows the lives of a dozen or so people over the course of 2 days all living in Los Angeles. The opening scene gives us the aftermath of some ambiguous tragedy (the titular "crash"), and the next scene flashes back to "yesterday" and shows us the events in these people's seemingly unrelated lives, leading up to that opening moment. If you've seen "House of Sand and Fog" (the #1 Feel Bad Movie of the 2000s), you'll recognize an identical sort of chronology and foreboding tone--so similar that I wonder if the Crash filmmakers were somehow involved in House as well. Both films are very powerful and effective at what they aim to do, and that is, simply put, to disturb us.

Disturb us it does. Within the first 15 minutes, we see things that are so disturbing to the pit of our souls that I almost shut the movie off twice. Racism, hate, justified racism, justified hate, brutal stereotypes. The film masterfully shows us not only the worst quality of humankind but it scrutinizes the reasons why humans are this way. There's no good guy/bad guy; it's all bad guys. The first 15 mins is designed to make us hate almost every character, if not every race. By showing the atrocity that each race supposedly inflicts on the other, it paints us a Hatfield-McCoy cycle of hatred that has no known origin. It just exists and burns hotter. Non-whites are subverted by white society, so they exact revenge by committing crimes against white people which in turn causes the white police to hate and abuse non-white people who in turn become criminals against white people. The cycle of hate is not only explained but validated in a well-crafted, brutally told, highly disturbing way.

Which leads me to the 4th paragraph where I explain why I would never recommend this film. It's because IT JUST MAKES YOU FEEL BAD. For nearly 2 hours you get the same feeling you get when you watch too much cable news. And just as psychologists warn that watching too much news leads to depression, I would say the same can be said of films like this which, like the news, expose and scrutinize the absolute worst of humanity.

But then one might say that films like this are necessary to inspire change. Normally I would agree, and I'm sure that that's the intent of the filmmakers here. But let me ask you: who needs to change? Answer: racists and bigots. But are racists and bigots really going to be watching "Crash", stroking their beards and saying "Golly, I need to stop being a racist"? Probably not. And that is the film's undoing. By taking a heavy, ponderous, complex look at racism and hate, it alienates the fury-driven haters who most need to grasp this message. And instead "Crash" merely preaches to the choir, making the choir feel gawd awful lousy about the state of the world.

The film attempts to lead us to redemption, and there is at least 1 truly powerful scene of triumph that's worth the price of admission. However, other subplot resolutions seem a bit contrived, if not completely unnecessary, such as one character's climactic tragedy & epiphany which was so random I literally burst out laughing (the moral of the story being: don't wear socks indoors!). Ultimately "Crash" tries to tie things up neatly with a positive message, but it's precisely this neat tie-up, simultaneously with every sub-plot, that feels a bit contrived and ultimately unbelievable. At the risk of cutting out half the award-winning cast, perhaps the film should have focused on just 1 story & resolution, rather than pulling the "Fantasy Island" formula of having half a dozen stories wrap up neatly in the last 10 minutes.

Ultimately, despite its excellent presentation and first class acting, "Crash" couldn't sell me on its optimistic spin and instead left me feeling pretty horrible about the reality of living in a world where racists don't often have magical transformations. If you understand what I'm saying, you might want to skip this flick because, regardless of how it ends, the subject will just make you feel bad.
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Lola Versus (2012)
Fun drinking game: take a slug every time Lola has sex with some guy and says "I'm so messed up!"
1 October 2019
The plot: Lola gets dumped by her fiancée and uses that as an excuse to become a sl*t (thank you, imdb profanity filter), ruining the lives of every male in her orbit, and somehow she plays the victim, all set to a forgettably vapid indie soundtrack.

My opening sentence tells you everything you need to know. If you're a fan of this genre (cute girl acting clueless with her life and having a lot of random, regretful sex) along the lines of the abominable tv show "Girls" written by Lena Dunham, then you will adore this film. Everyone else will have a reaction ranging from mild annoyance to extreme irritation.

Believe the negative reviews. This is an excruciating experience. The only reason I watched as long as I did was I was hoping Lola would contract some horrific fresh-eating STD from having unprotected sex with strangers. Then I'm sure she could play the victim in the hospital as she has sex with all the orderlies. 2 stars out of 10, only because I reserve 1-star ratings for films where the director abuses animals. That didn't happen here, but if you watch it with your dog then you may be guilty.
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Two Lovers (2008)
Finally, a love story about normal people
29 September 2019
I use the word "normal" to mean "real world normal", meaning NOT perfect. These people have issues, they don't know necessarily what they're doing with their lives, they are on medication, the film begins with a suicide attempt. And yes, in the real world this is certainly more normal than chasing through an airport to a swelling symphonic soundtrack and declaring a perfectly rehearsed monologue to the person you love, followed by rapturous applause from everyone at the gate. "Two Lovers", while lacking in the sort of clichés and melodrama that makes theatergoers all starry-eyed, delivers one of the best love stories I've seen on the big screen.

Don't be fooled by the title; this is not a steamy tale of infidelity and illicit passion. It's about a person who is faced with a mostly theoretical choice between 2 lovers. We've all been there. Whether you're married, in a new relationship, playing the field or just dreaming "what if", in matters of the heart there's the sure thing, and then there's the crazy impulsive route.

Jonquin Phoenix plays "Leonard", a man whose life recently underwent an upheaval and who simultaneously meets 2 women: "Sandra" who is the sure thing (Vinessa Shaw) and "Michelle" who is the crazy route (Gwynneth Paltrow). As the relationships slowly develop (very slowly, at a real world pace), we start to see the conflict not in terms of passion & romance but in terms of life choices.

Refreshingly, Leonard is a character who knows what he wants from the beginning, so the audience isn't insulted with annoying "what should I do" scenes. Rather, Michelle is the one who represents the unknown, speculative bet in Leonard's world. As the story progresses, all of Leonard's actions are consistent with his feelings, and it's just a matter of seeing how things will play out. Again, this is such a great, unusual, non-Hollywood approach to love stories which, if you really analyze your own experiences, is probably much more in line with the way you handle yourself.

Despite this stability of the main character, the story remains unpredictable right up to the final minute. No sappy airport chase scenes here, but I guarantee you'll be riveted in the final act. If you want to see a story that you can apply to your own love life, regardless of your situation, check this out for some deep insight.
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Sunshine (2007)
Like Alien without the Alien
28 September 2019
If you're a fan of Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece "Alien", and not just for the creature and exploding guts scene but for the psychological tension and slow, unstoppable momentum of dramatic storytelling, then you owe it to yourself to check out "Sunshine".

The story is set in an ambiguous future with an equally ambiguous crisis looming: the sun is dying. We follow the mission of an 8-person crew as they attempt to pull off yet another ambiguous plan to deliver a bomb that will reboot the sun. All of this is mentioned in the first 10 minutes, and that's really the last we hear of the science behind it all, and this WORKS. Why? Because if we dwell too much on the science (of this or any scifi tale) we ruin our enjoyment of the storytelling. So just as we should enjoy H.G. Welles' story of a preposterous time machine, or Edgar Allan Poe's story of riding a balloon to the moon, we should just swallow it and have fun. The point of any good scifi story is to state the premise up front, and if the audience buys it then go for throttle up.

Enough of the story, let's get into why this flick (as well as "Alien") is so great. It's an intense character study, and each of the characters is given a distinct personality for us to chew on. Inter-crew conflicts and relationships are immediately felt even without explanations (bear in mind that these people have already been in space for years by the time the movie starts). What follows is a very psychological drama that skirts the edge of madness for each of them. As if to restate this theme, the film includes one character who is a psychologist in charge of the crew's mental health... what a great component that almost no scifi films (or even NASA missions) acknowledge. In space you can go batty.

And if you're paying attention, by the time the film reaches its frenzied climax, you understand the bizarre, unpredictable or psychotic actions of these people who have been floating in the middle of space for years with the incalculably stressful burden of saving the world from extinction.

Again I can't help but compare "Sunshine" to the excellent "Alien" (which you MUST see if you haven't already) which is a similar character study dealing with a handful of astronauts dealing with a crisis in the isolation of space. That and a sausage headed monster with an appetite for people's faces, but that's beside the point. If you like psychological scifi, don't hesitate to check out these films. Also, in this vein, check out Soderbergh's psychological mind trip "Solaris" and the excellent "Moon" starring Sam Rockwell as a guy who's stuck working the mother of all graveyard shifts: alone on the moon for 3 years. These aren't necessarily action-packed pulp scifi with a lot of ray guns, but even better, they tell riveting dramatic stories that'll light up your brain as if you're staring at the sun. Sunblock SPF 25 not required.
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The B-Roll Exotic Marigold Hotel
27 September 2019
In filmmaking, "B-roll" refers to supplemental footage shot after the main actors & crew clock out, and it is used as filler to pad the main "A-Roll" story. Footage of random people, clouds, traffic, or in extreme cases elephants constitute B-Roll footage, and it is usually set to some bouncy but forgettable song for a few minutes between the real action shots.

I don't have the patience to sit with a stopwatch, but I guarantee you that "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is at least 50% B-Roll footage, and that's pretty atrocious. If you watch this movie, be ready with your remote so you can fast forward as soon as you hear the bouncy forgettable song kick in.

Why is this so important to mention? It's because it encapsulates the spirit of this entire film. Evidently the producers decided that they can impress us with a bunch of great actors and a ton of B-roll, even though the writing is sub par. Think of every cliche in the book, string them together for 2 hours (sorry, make that 1 hour with 1 hour of B-roll), and there you have the Marigold experience.

The story had potential. It's about a bunch of aging expatriates fleeing their native England to live out their twilight years in India. But everything is so horribly juvenile that it reeks of a cheap box office moneymaker. Here are a few of the painful cliches you can expect: tons of bug-eyed, surprised expressions when they realise their accomodations aren't up to Western standards; goofy Indians racing around to please the English gentry in embarrassingly comical ways; a racist Brit (um why the hell would a racist move to India?) who slowly comes around; more bug-eyed surprised looks and vaudeville expressions when they taste the food; and the list goes on.

Supplement this with tons, and I mean TONS of B-roll, and you have a movie that is obviously designed to appeal to people who are bored with the Discovery Channel but who lack the patience for real cinema.

Highlights: Judi Dench is incredible as always, and it is quite impressive that she can still deliver in a turkey like this. Lowlights: Everything else. This movie is an insult to India and the art of filmmaking.
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Walled In (2009)
Horror fans will hate this movie (as most of the reviews show)
24 September 2019
I never saw the trailer, but I can guess that it gives off the wrong impression. "Walled In" is not a horror movie, at least not like "The Ring" or "Saw" or anything that features murderous ghosts, demented psychopaths and rivers of blood. So if that's what you're looking for, I hope I saved you 100 minutes of your life.

Instead, "Walled In" is basically a slow paced mystery. The story is about a young rookie demolition engineer named "Sam" (Mischa Barton) whose first job is to survey and plan the demolition of a very creepy and cool building where 15 years prior, a bunch of grizzly murders took place and the killer was never found. Although this premise may lead you to expect a Saw like serial killer game of cat-and-mouse, the story took a different approach. This is really about Sam slowly piecing together the puzzle of what happened and trying to solve this cold case.

Is it terrifying? No. It is creepy? Yes. Largely due to the formidable building (which supposedly doesn't exist in real life but had me fooled enough to spend an hour unsuccessfully googling where it was located), the dark, desolate vibe of this film is very powerful. The lighting is very dramatic with extreme dark and shadows, much like the Exorcist III insane asylum scenes, and the color palette is very rusty. I don't remember seeing any greens except in the very beginning. We are immersed in a visually surreal world that expresses decay.

But I stress again that this is not a gory slasher supernatural horror flick, even though the visual style looks that way. I would put it in the same genre as "Dream House" (2011), "Rosewood Lane" (2011) or maybe even "The Sixth Sense" (1999). Like all of these films, the mystery has its fair share of surprises, and I have to say I didn't see the twist coming, but after thinking about it for a while it made perfect sense, and all the characters' bizarre actions were explained. It should be noted that this is an adaptation of a best selling novel, so the book probably goes into more detail. But this still worked for me.

I thought Mischa Barton's acting was excellent, playing an inexperienced heroine without being an idiot. Almost all of the acting and casting seemed to fit perfectly. The only exception was, surprisingly, Cameron Bright, whom I loved in the similarly-vibed mystery romance "Birth". Here he reprises a similar characterization of an emotionless mystery kid, but in "Walled In" I felt like his role could have added more value if he were more explosive. But who knows, maybe the director was making the point that that growing up in a creepy, isolated concrete monolith all his life would lead to a severe lack emotional development.

"Walled In" definitely presents a lot of psychological food for thought, and I haven't even touched on the really cool artistic and historical themes of architecture that play heavily. Definitely not a gut-grabbing slasher flick, but if you've read this far, then I think you should give this flick a whirl. I really enjoyed this movie and wouldn't hesitate to see anything else the director does.
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The maxi-PAD of all imdb pages
22 September 2019
Even if you skip the rest of my review, just read this:

Almost all of the positive reviews for "Take Me Home Tonight", rating this film 7/10 or higher, were posted by users who never reviewed another movie. And they were all posted in March 2011 when the movie was released. Dear lord I wish imdb would clean house and delete all the Russian reviewbots hired by marketing companies to pad the "reviews" of these desperate films.

"Take Me Home Tonight" is just awful. It's supposedly set 5 years after the high school class of 1984 graduated, and the story takes place at a party that serves as their pseudo reunion after college. Interesting premise, but if you're expecting a great generational snapshot like "St Elmo's Fire" or "The Breakfast Club" or even the grandfather of them all "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", you might want to spend a quiet night with your high school yearbook instead of this turkey.

The gimmick of this movie is that there's a steady stream of 80s hit music played in the background, thus distracting the audience from the lack of cinematic content because we're too busy thinking "OH I LOVE THAT SONG". The experience is a lot like when you go to see an 80s cover band that's just awful, but the fact that they play "Come On Eileen" makes everyone squeal with pleasure.

And yes, "Come On Eileen" is featured along with every other grossly overplayed radio hit, as if the writers of the film just got on ebay and picked up a Billboard magazine for 1984 and wrote a few dozen scenes around each song.

Yes, you caught that: I said "1984". Isn't this films supposed to be set 5 years AFTER the graduating class of '84? Wouldn't that make it 1989-90 around when grunge (Nirvana, Chili Peppers, Soundgarden) was already taking the mainstream by storm? Why are these 35-year-old actors pretending to be 25 and acting like they're 15 whilst listening to songs that were way outdated by the time this film supposedly happens?

Answer: because the producers of "Take Me Home Tonight" simply wanted to cash in on 80s fever without really thinking about the chronology of this story. It's a far cry from other, successful, 80s throwback comedies like "Napoleon Dynamite", "Hot Tub Time Machine", and an underrated gem which I highly recommend: "Music & Lyrics" with Hugh Grant playing an aging 80s pop star who is forced to collaborate with Drew Barrymore on a new song. Please watch any of these movies instead.

And imdb, if you're listening, how bout cleaning house on all the shill reviewers?
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The Martian (2015)
If you don't care about sounds in space, then you might really enjoy this.
21 September 2019
My title sounds sarcastic, but I really mean it. If it doesn't bother you when films depict bangs, crashes, rumbles, booms, and pew-pew "laser" beams (add Austin Powers finger quotes) in the vacuum space, then load up your popcorn and get set for a wild ride. If, on the other hand, the aforementioned cinematic gimmicks bother you, then you still might enjoy this film but just be prepared for that and more.

Although The Martian gives us just an occasional low, tasteful rumble when spaceships fly by, that's the least of its scientific transgressions, and things get pretty "Mars Attacks" preposterous in the final 20 minutes. Normally I wouldn't even bring this up since basically EVERY space movie in the history of EVER, except for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), has sound effects in space. But the problem is that "The Martian" takes a very committed, scientific, realistic tone which sets us up for an extremely scientific, realistic story. It falls short on that mark, and rather than bore you and pretentiously inflate my own ego by pointing out every flaw, I'll let you read the other reviews, or better yet: just accept that there are scientific loopholes so big that you can drive a Quasar through it (and I'm not talking about the car made in 1967).

Ok if I haven't lost you, then let's talk about the fun stuff. The special effects are FANTASTIC. Director Ridley Scott ("Alien", "Blade Runner") outshines himself once again with a truly magnificent feast for the eyes, and especially if you watch it on a large UHD screen, that alone is worth the price of admission.

The story itself is riveting. It's a tale of survival on a barren planet where Matt Damon fights a constant battle NOT against little green men or pew-pew "laser" beams but against the cold and sterile reality of space. That was my favorite part of the movie, the fact that it can carry our interest for 2 1/2 hours with the only real conflict being how to survive on a planet where nothing works.

Matt Damon does an incredible job of acting, portraying a complex character who realizes he's a dead man but rises to the challenge and pits every brain cell he's got against the universe. Similar to the excellent "Cast Away" or even the iconic "Papillon", it's a story about never giving up even if it kills you, and that regardless of whether we get a happy ending or a sad one, is the takeaway of this flick.

I would group this film with other modern, minimalistic sci-fi flicks that take a realistic ("boring" to some) approach but deliver a lot of drama. Flicks like "Moon", "Solaris", or on the older shelf "Contact", "2010" and possibly even the grandfather of them all, "2001" (though don't get your hopes up too high as I mentioned up front) will give you a taste for what's in store if you decide to watch "The Martian".
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Poker Night (I) (2014)
Worth watching just for the scene of a masked serial killer at work in his cubicle (yes, wearing the mask)
17 September 2019
Yes, what I mentioned in the my title is true. As far as I know in the history of cinema, there has never been a scene of a vicious, bloody serial killer wearing his grotesque mask while he goes to the office and sits in his cubicle with all the other 9-5 schleps. So, love it or hate it, ya gotta give this film props for that.

"Poker Night" blends horror, crime, comedy and surrealism to bring us a wild ride like I haven't seen since the Christopher Walken masterpiece "Suicide Kings" (a flick you need to watch asap if you haven't already). This film takes a very similar approach, so similar that I had to check if the director of Poker Night also directed Suicide Kings but he did not. Both films are extremely non-linear, meaning they jump back & forth in time, from different perspectives, telling different stories which all come together in the end. Well sort of. Therein lies my only criticism, but first let's talk about the good.

This film is a standard serial killer cat-and-mouse game, much like Saw, but it throws in a concurrent flashback to a cops' poker night where they are each telling stories of their careers. The stories relate to the main character's predicament as he's trying to outwit the killer. At the same time we're all trying to piece together who the killer is and what is the motivation behind all of this. It's definitely a film that you need to pay attention to, otherwise you might get lost in all the interweaving episodes & flashbacks, especially when they get surreal and the main character gets superimposed in the stories being told by others.

It's also a very dark film, literally dark, where we are intentionally not shown what's happening until the end of a scene. The director took a gamble on whether this would be suspenseful or annoying, and my opinion is that it worked. Others may not agree.

Another gamble was that hilarious serial killer fantasy I mentioned at the beginning. If I haven't been clear enough, I LOVED IT. That playful approach was exactly what was needed to break up the tension and disturbing nature of the story.

Ok now the bad. The film frequently crosses over into unbelievable territory, as in people getting shot multiple times or mutilated in violent ways but they still get up and manage to pull off an action packed fight scene. There's one scene in particular where a character basically gets half his skin ripped off, but 5 minutes later it's barely a scratch. Maybe they threw in stuff like that to keep the audience awake, but at the risk of boring people they should've kept things more realistic all the way through. Also in the last 20 minutes there are several crazy plot leaps crammed together for the sake of giving us a bunch of twists, and I felt that these also undermined the core strength of the film which was a slow battle of wits. But those are really minor nitpicks which shouldn't dissuade you from checking out this movie.

If you enjoy non-linear, flashback-based, bizarre & quirky crime thrillers such as "Pulp Fiction", "Reservoir Dogs" or the aforementioned "Suicide Kings" then definitely give this a go. Also if, like me, you are interested in this film only because the amazing Ron Perlman is in it, then you won't be disappointed. Although he's a somewhat minor character, his scenes are fantastic and easily raise the calibre of the film a few notches.
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Here's why this show was awful... and how you might still be able to enjoy it
13 September 2019
The original Battlestar Galactica (1978) was by far the most ambitious and expensive series brought to the tv screen. At a budget of $1 million per episode and featuring mega stars like Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Jane Seymour, Lloyd Bridges, FRED ASTAIRE, as well as budding 80s icons Dirk Benedict, Anne Lockhart and so on, the talent alone carried a huge price tag. This was the first thing to be cut when ABC, bowing to the massive fan letter campaign (which I'm proud to say I added my tear-stained letter to, back in 1979) decided to bring back the show.

Don't panic yet; the scabs they hired to round out the troupe were good actors themselves. But like coming home to thanksgiving dinner and realizing your entire family had been replaced with half-baked lookalikes, and previously at the head of the table your dad (Lorne Greene) is now relegated to running back & forth to the kiddie table where he takes orders from an annoying emotionless kid named "Doctor Z", not to mention the fact that all the cool stuff that made the original show fun, like space battles on par with the special effects from Star Wars, were now replaced by a bunch of kids jumping in slow motion with goofy slide whistle sound effects, might sour you to the experience. And that's exactly how fans reacted. ABC realized its colossally poor handling of the show, pulled the plug this time forever, and thus Galactica 1980 vanished without a trace for 30 years until the resurgence of Galactica fever, brought on by the excellent re-imagining of the show in 2004, again inspired some corporate suits to cash in with whatever they could dig up.

That's the bad. Here's the good. This is the key to enjoying this series despite the negatives. Galactica 1980 shouldn't be treated as a successor to Battlestar Galactica, but instead it should be recognized for it's real contribution: it was the direct precursor to Quantum Leap.

Huh? Yes. The original Galactica 1980 idea was pitched by creators Glen Larson and Donald Bellisario as the continuing adventures of Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) as they time-travel through Earth's past chasing after Baltar (John Colicos) and trying to prevent him from destroying the world. HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE?


Unfortunately Dirk Benedict had other obligations (I'm guessing his upcoming, hugely successful A-Team gig) so he backed out, and Richard Hatch, not seeing the point of a Galactica minus Starbuck and 80% of the cast, also declined to be a part of the cash-in. ABC went ahead anyway, on a token petticash budget, booting Baltar, and for the final insult they scrapped Bellasario's time-travel notion because they thought it was too heady for 80s audiences. And as a result we got a bunch of "star children" jumping around like Bionic Woman wannabees. But the point I'm making is that the early episodes of Galactica 1980 did feature this cool time travel angle, albeit without Apollo, Starbuck or Baltar, and these episodes served as the direct precursor to the awesome show QUANTUM LEAP which Bellasario would create 8 years later. Thus, Galactica 1980 (the first 4 or 5 episodes which stayed closer to the time-travel concept) deserves its place in tv scifi history.

Side note: as you watch Quantum Leap, imagine it as it was originally conceived, with Scott Bakula's role being Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Dean Stockwell's role being Starbuck (Dirk Benedict). HOW... COOL... WOULD.... etc

Wow, I spent way too much time talking about the history of this show without even scratching the show itself, but I wanted to cover stuff that you may not have read anywhere else. For the rest of my review I'll try to keep it short.

Galactica 1980 shares a distinctly 80s feel: a blend of cartoonish family-safe action, cheeky humor, and a nice dose of self-deprecation making fun of its own cheesiness, like the episode where a cylon attends a Halloween party and hobnobs with Wolfman Jack (would it overload your brain if I mention the episode also featured William Daniels--the voice of KITT in Knight Rider--dressed as a clown and complaining about the awful meatballs at the party? Yea it might. Forget I mentioned it). Of course this was a huge departure from the dark, tense, mostly serious vibe of the original. But if you enjoy the fun 80s shows like Magnum, Macgyver, The Fall Guy, Chips, and--I'm being serious here--Small Wonder (the 1985 sitcom about a 9-year-old robot girl, anyone remember that??) then Galactica 1980 can be good fun. Set on earth, it replaces the tense, claustrophobic darkness of the original show with bright, real-world settings and quippy scripts. Gone are the passionate philosophical monologues of Apollo, but it's replaced with fun banter and goofy situations that keep things light hearted. The chemistry between the 3 new characters Troy, Dillon and their Earth contact Jamie is pretty solid, and I enjoyed their triologues more than the actual stories or action of the show itself.

In summary of this long-winded review (forgive me; if you hand't guessed, back in 1978-80 I was one of those pre-teen kids whose lives revolved around Galactica), to enjoy this show you should keep 2 things in mind. 1) This is NOT Battlestar Galactica; and 2) This show is the missing link in the evolution of Quantum Leap - which itself inspired a future generation of scifi. Keep both of those thoughts in mind and you might have a great time watching this.
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Betty Blue (1986)
In the piano duet, Betty literally plays the "blue note".
27 August 2019
In music, a "blue note" is a note which departs from the expected major scale and instead goes minor (flat). You've heard it a million times in blues or jazz; it's "that note" that makes you go "oooooooh". In the film "Betty Blue", a meticulously crafted, deeply symbolic, allegorical tale of passion and madness, there's a wonderful scene where the 2 main characters slip away from a funeral wake in the middle of the night, find a room of pianos and play an impromptu duet. In this scene, the man and stable component of the relationship, Zorg, plays a chord progression while Betty, the volatile component, comes in with a simple melody hitting that powerful blue note.

Why am I harping on this one scene? It's because it shows how carefully planned and meaningful this film is right down to the music. And we haven't even touched the visuals: the incredibly surreal lighting, colors and set design, or the first class acting from everyone involved, or the hypercharged story itself. This is one of those films like "Citizen Kane" which experts can spend decades dissecting on a technical as well as artistic level. Whether you approach it like that, or whether you just sit back and take in the experience, either way, this film works.

"Betty Blue" is, on the surface, a love story. Underneath the surface it's the quintessential story of an artist and muse. Zorg is the artist (in this case, a failed writer) while Betty is the muse, a powerful, passionate force that suddenly drops in on him, adoring his simple scribblings to the point of obsessive madness, forcing her own passion upon him and driving him to write and believe in himself even though he barely knows or cares what he's doing. He simply wants to hold on to Betty as if his entire being depends on her because he knows what a rare force she is.

If you happen to be a writer, artist, musician, inventor, or anyone with creative leanings, you'll really grasp this angle. Even if you're not in those fields, you'll still grasp the story of a person who finds pure passion and will do anything to keep it.

Although I'm describing this story from Zorg's perspective, the movie is really about Betty. Zorg is almost just a bystander in his own life, experiencing the passion, volatility and violence of his lover. I thought this was a fantastic angle, even though you may be perplexed at his lack of reactions in some cases. For example early in the film Betty has a big flipout and throws all of Zorg's earthly belongings out the window. Zorg watches from afar with hilarious detachment, chatting calmly with a neighbor as if they're watching waves break on the beach. The film is full of surreal/comical moments like that, and that's what offsets the brutality of it all. Think of it: if your lover flipped out and destroyed everything you own, it probably wouldn't feel like a beautiful, artistic moment. But in this film it is. It's magnificent and oddly triumphant at the end of the scene.

Ok now the disclaimer: "Betty Blue" is a tough film for American audiences. This is mainly because there's a ton of very explicit nudity and sexuality bordering on softcore porn. Do NOT watch this with your parents. And for the love of all that's holy do NOT watch it with your kids. Honestly I wouldn't watch it with anyone because I would feel so uncomfortable. Full frontal nudity, both genders, kissing of private parts, and of course there's that opening scene: a brutally voyeuristic shot of the two having sex for a solid minute or two without any cuts, dialogue or distractions. But if you can handle that first scene, then your all set. Oddly enough, this film doesn't try to be erotic. It's hard to describe, but the explicit sex scenes convey passion without necessary getting bogged down in eroticism, thus avoiding any cheese factor that often comes when filmmakers try too hard to be sexy.

It may also be a difficult film for American audiences because it's just plain long (assuming you watch the 3-hr director's cut which you should). There isn't a clear, summarizable plot. The entire story is somewhat episodic and random, with sudden bizarre life changes happening that change the entire backdrop of the film. But this is precisely the point. Almost like a weird Alice in Wonderland fantasy, you have the main character(s) and everyone else is peripheral, everything surrounding them is surreal and inexplicable. This creates a sort of bubble around Betty and Zorg where we the audience feel what they feel: that the only thing that matters in the world is their love for each other.

I highly recommend this film to anyone who goes to the cinema for more than thrills and popcorn. I would rank "Betty Blue" up there with other artistic masterpieces by Kubrick ("Clockwork Orange", "2001") or Kieslowsky (Blue, White, Red Trilogy) or Wim Wenders ("Paris, Texas", "Wings of Desire", "Until the End of the World"). All of these films are somewhat difficult to watch because they're not easily digestible entertainment, and unfortunately that's why they're not marketed here and you'll probably drop a few bills ordering a rare import copy, but it's worth it.
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Allllmost awesome.
27 July 2019
"Shinobi" presents us with an epic tale of love, hate, political manipulation and the plight of the underdog against an overwhelming foe, be it a tangible foe or fate itself. The coolest part about this movie is the background and super power of each character, each one being original, fascinating and deeply layered as we learn in bits and pieces. The worst part about this movie is that it falls back on a few clichés that may annoy you in this otherwise unusual spin on the classic "love in the time of hate" story.

First the cool stuff. The plot centers around a fight to the death between 2 teams with 5 warriors on each team. Here's the thing: each warrior has a unique power which isn't spelled out for us. We need to piece it together what their power is and how they got it. These aren't just a bunch of sword swingers running through the forest; they each have a very specialized skill that they stick to (often not even involving weaponry).

For example, one character is a woman who was raised on poison, and so she has literally the kiss of death. But it goes deeper than that. Having the kiss of death means that she can never know true love because all her lovers would die, and so she leads a tragic life, existing only for the sake of killing though she years to know what love is. How cool is that!

Other characters possess similarly complex powers which lead to deep conflicts in life, and you realize that even the most ruthless ones have an unspoken human side.

The main story focuses on two lovers who, you guessed it, end up on opposite teams. Here is where the Shakespearean question of fate plays heavily. One of them believes that they can somehow beat their tragic fate while the other is resigned to a hopeless ending. What I loved about this movie (at first) is that it doesn't waste time with waffling sensibility: right off the bat, the lovers refuse to fight and they make their peaceful intentions known. But slowly they start getting dragged into the inevitable violence.

But unfortunately the film later falls back on a few clichés which we've seen dozens of times before in other tales of love and war, and that's where I dock Shinobi a few points. With its original setup, I was hoping it was going to stay in that vein and avoid what so many other films have done. It does stay unique, but one or two critical plot elements were pure cookie cutter. Making matters worse, these plot elements were not in line with the characters' personalities. It's like the clichés were thrown in just because the film had to have them.

It's not a fatal flaw, and you may not even notice unless like me you've watched dozens of epic love/war stories like this. Who knows, maybe the whole thing will be fresh and new for you. But I just wanted to temper your expectations a bit. Although Shinobi is a good movie, it's not quite awesome. Still worth your time, though.

Movies in this genre which I *do* consider awesome are the Yimou Zhang films "Hero" (2002) and "House of Flying Daggers" (2004). While "Shinobi" is a great effort, I think you should check out those others first to get a taste of cinematic perfection.
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One of the rare Hollywood blockbusters that's worth the hype
24 July 2019
I'm speaking to those of us who don't like superhero movies, who resent the cookie cutter, moneymaking Hollywood clichés that dominate the art, and who find themselves generally irritated at movies & tv shows that the guy in the cubicle next to you at work is constantly raving about while you're trying to meet a deadline. Check out "The Dark Knight". It deserves the hype.

Largely due to the gripping performance by Heath Ledger (who reportedly buried himself in the part so deep that it contributed to his tragic young demise), this is no ordinary superhero flick. Propelled by dark themes, profound questions about the ugliness of the human soul, and complex portrayals of madness in both good & bad people, this film finally offers the superhero genre something worth thinking (literally, *thinking*) about. The beauty is that it can also be enjoyed as a straightforward crowd pleasing action flick. It balances the line perfectly.

The power of this story lies in an unlikely trio of characters: of a hero with a dark side (Batman), a deranged & violent criminal who is so quirkily charming that we almost see him as a good guy (Ledger as The Joker), and a third character who straddles the balance (I won't ruin it). It all comes to a poignant statement, punctuated with a gripping climax involving a moral quandary that poses the question: does humanity suck so bad that it will kill itself?

Stick around and find out.

There are other great films in the superhero genre that take a different approach, like "Hancock" (a drunk, dysfunctional hero), "Special" (an incompetent dreamer who fancies himself a superhero), and on the disturbing side "Super" (a vigilante hero who goes too far). Here in The Dark Knight we explore the anti-hero angle more subtlely, and that's what allows it to seep in under your skin.

I haven't seen the other two Christopher Nolan installments of Batman (Batman Begins & The Dark Knight Rises), but even if you start here with the 2nd one The Dark Knight, it stands on its own as a classic.
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A surprisingly tame dark comedy/satire, not as powerful as "Heathers" but in the same league.
18 July 2019
If you skip the rest of my review, the 3 most important takeaways are: (1) It's not as sexy or gory as trailers and posters may lead you to expect (in fact I would've rated it PG-13, not R); (2) although it's a biting social satire, it's not as acidic & powerful as it could have been; and (3) it's still a great movie.

Regardless, "Jennifer's Body" is a fun flick, a cheeky dark comedy with good acting, good production values, an original story, some witty lines, and some nice eye candy (in the form of Megan Fox as well as gore) to keep your attention. This is NOT a horror flick. Although there are a few disembowelments and/or face-eating scenes, most of the carnage is handled off-camera, through artistic silhouette shots or with cutaways that leave most of it to the imagination. Similarly, although there is a ton of sexual innuendo, there's no real nudity or explicit sex. So even though this movie is consistently listed as one of the "sexiest horror movies" don't expect anything explicit. I believe that actually works to the film's advantage because, without the t&a, we realize that there is a deeper message.

The story is a standard teen horror story about a hot cheerleader chick (Megan Fox) who sorta becomes a demon and starts eating people. Its power lies in its satire of teen culture, and this point is subtly yet effectively made in a few scenes that talk about how quickly the high school "moves on" from despair to the next fashionable emotion du jour. In the same sense, the entire plot is a great allegory for the cult of popularity and the way our demonic villain literally eats her way through boys with no accountability, either moral or judicial. But I feel like the movie missed a great opportunity to drive this point home harder.

The music is pretty cool, with a punkpop/emo-ish vibe featuring songs by Panic At the Disco, Florence & The Machine, Dashboard Confessional, and some millennial remakes of classic tunes by Blondie ("In the Flesh") and Johnny Nash ("I Can See Clearly Now"). There's a great sub-plot about a indie boy band "Low Shoulder" that's willing to sell its soul to the devil for fame and fortune. Those are the scenes with the best satirical wit and sarcasm, really fun to watch.

In my title I referenced one of the classics, possibly the first if not the best of the sarcastic high school satires, "Heathers" about a bizarre fad of suicide and serial killing that sweeps the teen social scene. I feel like "Heather's Body" could have, and should have, followed suit. But it remained mostly shallow. So unfortunately, although it's a fun flick, I don't think it will be destined for cult fame the way "Heathers" or the Japanese flick "Battle Royale" have established because those flicks were powerful symbolic works. Here we straddle the line between artistic satire and slasher flick. And by strattling the line it remains too tame to distinguish itself as either. But one way or another, it's an entertaining movie worth your time.
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Get Smart (2008)
Entertaining stuff, a few good LOLs, hilarious cameos, great cast.
18 July 2019
Right off the bat, if you're the kind of person who hates all remakes then of course you'll hate this movie. But if that's you, then why even bother reading reviews?

Good, you're still here, so we'll assume that you're willing to give this flick a fair shake. "Get Smart" (2008) is a reboot of the iconic tv series, and by "reboot" I mean that it doesn't necessarily follow the original storyline except that the characters share the same names. In this version, Maxwell Smart is a lowly analyst who gets his big shot at being an agent. Other than being a general nerd, his schtick is that, being an obsessive intelligence analyst, he knows the enemy inside out. So even though he may not be a dashing superhero, his intelligence is his strength. When he's not being a total clueless dolt, that is. I thought this was a great new angle.

His counterbalance is Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), an experienced field operative who has to put up with Max's quirky arrogance. She may possibly have some anger issues. Again, a really fun character to watch.

The plot? Not important. Like the original tv show, the plot is rather superficial with the real entertainment being carried by the gags. There were some nice nods to the original show, such as the ridiculous "cone of silence", the absurd gadgets crammed into common household objects, and of course some of the original trademark catchphrases ("Missed it by that much"). A few of the zingers were really funny and got some full belly laugh out of me. But they were sparsely placed, and that's my only criticism. Perhaps in an attempt to keep the plot moving, there were not enough bizarre wisecracks as I would have liked. One of my favorites was when Agent 99 somberly tells Max that if he gets caught, there's a pill in his belt buckle that causes death in 9 seconds. To which Max replies: "But how will I get them to take it?" This is the kind of humor that made the original so fun and makes this version a worthy homage.

The cameos are awesome with fleeting appearances by Kevin Nealon (from SNL), Patrick Warburton (Elaine's weird boyfriend "Putty" on Seinfeld), James Caan as "the president" (who can't pronounce "nuclear" - I wonder who that is), and none other than Bill Murray as Agent 13.

Dwayne Johnson practically steals the show as Agent 23, a caricature of every action hero he's ever played.

A final note worth noting: the technical consultant mentioned in the credits is THE Mel Brooks. It didn't surprise me because at times this has a somewhat Brooksian flair, especially in the hilarious ballroom dance number, oddly reminiscent of "the czardas" dance in Dracula: Dead & Loving It. Bottom line, if you are ready for a good time you'll have a good time.
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Discovery Atlas: Australia Revealed (2007)
Season 1, Episode 4
Decent production but be ready with your fast-forward remote
17 July 2019
I'll keep it short. If you're expecting 101 minutes of gorgeous majestic landscapes, fascinating wildlife and cultural history, you'll be disappointed for at least half your time. Yes there is some of that, but there are equal amounts of inexplicably mundane chapters, such as guys driving trucks (as if we can't see that anywhere in the world) or guys navigating oil tankers (as if we can't see that anywhere on the high seas) or guys wrestling cattle for sport (as if we can't see that anywhere in Texas). If I haven't been clear enough, I'll spell it out: they spend way too much time documenting things that are not particularly Australian other than the accents. After a while it becomes an annoying diversion from the otherwise well-done segments about the outback, the distinctly Aussie wildlife and the stunning red landscape that you can't see anywhere else on the planet.

Oops, let's get back to a guy driving a truck. Or a guy fixing a fence. Or a guy talking about oil tankers.

There were ample segments about the indigenous aborigine people, but at times it felt contrived because of the ultra stylish camera work and perfect lighting--definitely not convincing as a documentary as much as a staged production. And you may find yourself furiously annoyed at the "Matrix" camera clichés; you'll know it when you see it, when the camera is gracefully floating and then BAM suddenly it goes fast motion and then BAM back to slow. I lost count how many times they did this. Around once every 3 minutes.

Also the music is annoyingly loud which plays poorly against Russel Crowe's whispery mumbling as the narrator. His subdued monotone is fine during scenes with no background music, but when they juxtapose some annoying "Dateline" jumpy music score, it's really hard to follow what he's saying.

Despite my overall negative reaction to these flaws, there is some fabulous photography of the landscape, if you skip through the people segments. Not much wildlife unfortunately. But lots of overhead helicopter/drone shots of the terrain give us what we came for.
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A Case of You (2013)
Paint-by-the-numbers Manic Pixie Romcom
16 July 2019
I'll admit right up front I quit watching after an hour, not because it was bad but because it was nothing new. If you're unfamiliar with the "manic pixie" story, think of Natalie Portman in "Garden State" or Zooey Deschanel in everything she's ever done. Or if you want to get right down to it, there's the original and greatest manic pixie that ever was: Audrey Hepburn. The formula is you take 1 lovable loser guy, usually stiff, awkward or outright lame, and you pair him with a girl who is hazardously spontaneous and carefree as if she's still suffering the effects of novacaine from the dentist an hour earlier. Personally I love these kinds of films, but I love them because it's interesting to see the unique angle each one offers. But here in "A Case of You" there is no angle.

So what we get are endless scenes of the guy making a fool out of himself and the girl pirouetting through the scenes not noticing. There's a very weak, contrived "conflict" (the guy is facebook stalking her), but I don't have to watch the last 20 minutes to guess exactly how it ends. I'm guessing: revelation, confrontation, reconciliation. It's the standard formula just like the rest of the story was up to the point I turned it off.

You might enjoy this movie if you're not familiar with the manic pixie formula, but if you are, then watching this flick is sort of like reading a teen vampire book. You know exactly how it's going to go but you read it anyway because War & Peace gives you a headache.

Where this movie fails, beyond simply being a lukewarm copy of all the others, is that there is nothing quirky about the manic pixie (Evan Rachel Wood). There is no depth, no bizarre secret past, no soul. For example, in the excellent "Garden State" we get Natalie Portman who is a manic pixie on the surface but we soon learn that she suffers from a spectrum of problematic mental issues like pathological lying. It gives her character complexity and makes her interesting to us. Similarly if we look at Audrey Hepburn's manic pixie (take "Breakfast at Tiffany's") we get the same superficial happy-go-lucky exterior but we are fully aware that she is more or less a prostitute. Again, tremendous complexity to an otherwise predictable character.

But here in "A Case for You" there is absolutely no complexity. There is nothing out of the ordinary about either of the two, except that he's an awkward loser and she's a social butterfly.

I do give it points for some excellent (yet all too brief) cameos by Sam Rockwell as a hilariously egotistical guitar teacher, Peter Dinklage as a riotously funny coffee shop barista, and Vince Vaughn as a fast talking corporate suit who ought to have a Bluetooth headset surgically attached to his head. These scenes absolutely carried the film, but ultimately the story itself gives us nothing new.

Instead of this I would recommend any of the others I mentioned, as well as an unknown Japanese gem "Shiki-Jitsu" (Ritual) written by, and starring, Ayako Fujitani who is Steven Seagal's daughter (NO RESEMBLANCE!).
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$5 a Day (2008)
Get your Crepes on Route 66
15 July 2019
The lame pun in my title is a reference to the menu at IHOP where you get a free meal on your birthday, or, as we learn in the movie, where you get a free meal if you show them a convincing fake ID that says it's your birthday.

"$5 a Day" is a cute road movie about a father & son pair of small time con artists who live on $5 a day by committing various harmless scams on their way from Atlantic City, NJ to New Mexico. Their goal is get the father (Walken) to an alternative treatment center because he says he's dying.

It's a standard road movie but with some interesting twists. The big gimmick, of course, is the fun way they scam their way across the USA, much to the straight-laced son's irritation. But his pop is Christopher Walken, and hey who can argue with that. It's definitely Walken's characteristic charm that carries this flick, but there's also a certain sensitivity that gives it a unique flavor which you might not expect from a bro road movie. In the DVD bonus interviews, director Nigel Cole says he really wanted to explore the unspoken emotional side in men, especially an estranged father-son pair who have a barrier of resentment between them. It's the gradual breaking of that barrier that becomes the focus of the story.

Sharon Stone, though featured prominently on the posters and DVD cover, only has a few scenes. But her time on screen is fantastic as she plays a very memorable character, a con artist herself.

Like any good road movie, the story is episodic, with characters entering and exiting never to be seen again. At the same time, secrets from the past reveal themselves and what had initially seemed like a random adventure starts to take shape as an interesting goal-oriented plan.

"$5 a Day" is an entertaining film with a lot of fun moments and of course great acting all around. My only criticism is that it mostly plays it safe (perhaps deliberately) so it's not as edgy as it could be, given the subject matter. But maybe that's what you're looking for: a charming little flick about penny-ante criminals making their way across the country.

I would compare the feel of this movie to "The Open Road" (with Jeff Bridges & Justin Timberlake playing the reluctant father-son travel buddies) or mabye "About Schmidt" (with Jack Nicholson as the retiree going cross country to find his estranged daughter). These are all well-made, sentimental stories that focus on reconnecting with our past and putting demons to rest.
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Mud (2012)
So good I hate to call it a "coming of age" story.
15 July 2019
If you're like me, you greet the phrase "coming of age story" with something between a polite nod and an gaping, open mouthed yawn. While "Mud" falls into that category, it's easily one of the best, if not the best, in its class. This is because nothing about it is predictable; there's no sappy cliché message, and although it's mostly tame regarding violence, some parts are extremely tense, menacing and disturbing. Ultimately, yes, it's a coming of age story, but it's a slightly dark version which is aimed more at adults than kids.

The plot in a sentence: Two 14-year-old boys discover a mysterious loner living on an island on the Mississippi River, and as secrets unravel they realize they've gotten into something much deeper than they had bargained for.

Although our protagonist is a 14-year-old boy "Ellis" (excellently, and I mean EXCELLENTLY, played by Tye Sheridan), this isn't just a 14-year-old's story. In the DVD interviews, director/writer Jeff Nichols said he chose a young teen as the protagonist because he felt that our early teens are when we feel emotions the strongest. Everything is amplified, and later in life we rarely feel that surge the same. And so, through the eyes of Ellis, we see a story unfold in a grippingly powerful way.

Themes touch on loyalty, responsibility & fighting for what you believe in. But the central theme is love in its many definitions. We learn that our mysterious stranger (Matthew McConoughy) is driven solely and obsessively by thought of his lost love, and in a parallel fashion, Ellis is falling in love with his first crush. In both cases, he sees love as a storybook ideal. What he gets may not be what he had imagined, and this creates a powerful, driving conflict in the story.

There is action, suspense, artistry and some beautifully shot, poetic moments brought to life through the camera as well as McConoughy's fantastic performance. Even more so, the setting of rural Arkansas along the Mississippi is something you can't miss. In almost a Werner Herzog type vein ("Aguirre the Wrath of God", "Fitzcarraldo") where the ominous natural setting becomes a silent character in the film, director Nichols really knew how to immerse us in an all-encompassing, dense alternate reality, set apart from the real world as if time were frozen since the days of Huck Finn. That alone is worth the price of admission. Definitely if you're a fan of Herzog you must see this film.

Other directors and films I'd compare this to include Wim Wenders ("Until the End of the World" with its vast Australian desolation), Lasse Hallström ("Safe Haven" set in Southport, NC or even "Chocolat" set in a timeless French village on a river) and of course the Rob Reiner masterpiece "Stand By Me". If you liked any of those flicks, you won't be disappointed here.
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All in one shot
7 July 2019
Birdman's cinematic gimmick is that the entire movie is seemingly shot in one continuous camera take, no cuts, no edits. In the tradition of the masterpieces "Russian Ark", "PVC-1" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" (which actually had 9 or 10 necessary cuts, due to the limitations of film cameras), likewise here we watch a story seemingly in real-time as if we were invisible observers orbiting the drama. The art of the "long take" is a risky gamble because it involves a lot of extra choreography, production, lighting and attention to detail, and most viewers hardly notice. But it's one of the most impressive things that can be done with a camera.

Note: the entire film wasn't actually done in 1 take like the aforementioned movies, but through the use of tasteful cgi edits it's close enough.

If that little introductory factoid bored you, then you'll probably be bored by the flick. Yes, this is an "artsy" film, but it doesn't lose itself in artsiness like, say, one of those movies that force you to read subtitles (/sarcasm). Through the use of quirky humor, an interesting story, and of course Michael Keaton's excellent portrayal of a complex lovable loser, there's enough to keep your attention as long as you're not expecting an action flick.

"Birdman" is about an aging moviestar named Riggan who once played an iconic superhero named Birdman, but now having matured, he is intent on leaving the world a legacy of more than pop culture in tights. He self-produces a stage play, investing his entire fortune, as well as the greater part of his sanity, in it, hoping that the insane actors he hired don't destroy his entire vision.

Oh by the way, Riggan may have a few super powers.

The plot itself is a mouthful, but the power of this film lies not in the plot but in the tense human drama that unfolds as we explore themes of dysfunctional family relationships (particularly with his Meh-lennial daughter, excellently played by Emma Stone), arrogance in the art world, and of course the tragedy of not being taken seriously just because you wore blue tights for half your career.

The gimmick of the continuous camera as well as excellent overall cinematography and staging, is the icing on the cake. I can see how Birdman easily swooped up the Academy Award for cinematography in 2017 (along with Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay).

I can also understand why some people hated this movie. It's not an easily digestible entertainment flick, and it is NOT a superhero movie despite it featuring ex-Batman himself in the role of "Birdman", so don't expect fight scenes and flying (well not too much flying. And the fight scene was a riot). If you enjoy heavy dramatic works where not a lot happens, yet we are given a peek into the deepest recesses of the human soul (Streetcar Named Desire, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, or any classic stage-to-film adaptation), then this will be right up your alley.

I would compare Birdman to films like "De-Lovely" (a stylish biopic of Cole Porter), "Klimt" (featuring John Malkovich as the famous Austrian painter), or on the lighter side, a great dysfunctional-superhero gem called "Special" with Michael Rapaport playing the role of a lonely metermaid who suddenly develops super powers but still can't get his life together.

"Birdman" definitely soars above the flock of common Hollywood flicks. If you're not sure, I think you should go ahead and wing it. Just be aware that Birdman isn't exactly a crowd pleaser. Er... crow pleaser? Either way I think you'll beak content with time well spent. Ok, I'll stop now.
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Every character is a predictable caricature. But maybe that's the point?
3 July 2019
"Chronically Metropolitan" is, as its title may seem to imply, a cascade of clichés from the land of NYC hipsters. Our hero "Fenton" (Shiloh Fernandez sporting Johnny Depp lookalike glasses and facial growth, but with a stupid find-Waldo tuque on his head that sorta kills the vibe) is the prodigal son of a famous NYC author. He returns home after a bizarre disappearance, only to learn that his family and friends are more screwed up than he could ever be.

What follows is mostly predictable with each person being a textbook caricature of the urban elite, as if they stepped straight out of an Edward Albee play ("Who's Afraid of Virginial Woolf", "Breakfast at Tiffany's"). And at first I found myself hating the story for being so hackneyed. But then I thought about the title of the movie and realized that maybe that's the point. Whether you find it interesting or irritating is up to you.

So for the rest of my review I'll just describe the 5 main characters, and you can figure out whether they're worth your time (I should add that within the limitations of each role, each actor did a great job).

1. THE FATHER - arrogant, self-absorbed, cynical. This is probably the most entertaining character of the bunch because he is the most extreme. Fenton's father is a man in his late 50s-60s, a famous, pseudo-intellectual author and university professor who's in the habit of seducing his students and acting like it's not his fault because, after all, who could resist him.

2. THE MOTHER - the rich martyr. Fenton's mother deals with the father's disturbing infidelities by playing the tortured martyr (perpetually with a class of Chardonnay in one hand). Think of every paper-mâché wife of every American politician embroiled in a sex scandal, the way she maintains appearances publicly but privately has nervous breakdowns on an hourly basis and smokes weed like it's Valium.

3. THE SISTER - the rebel. At first an interesting character, because she's the only one in the bunch who calls people out on their BS, this character loses her edge when she slips into a subplot about falling in love, and then she becomes like all the rest: self-absorbed and apathetic.

4. THE EX GIRLFRIEND - annoyingly confused. Fenton's ex-girlfriend rebounds from their breakup by getting herself engaged to some rich dude with an English accent. Her entire character arc can be described in one word: clueless. And I found myself not caring what happened to her, even though it was probably the central plot of the film (her relationship with Fenton).

which leads us to

5. FENTON - the ???. Three question marks because he had no personality. Again, maybe this was the point, that each character was such an extreme caricature that we needed a total wooden prop to serve as the observer. Heck, it worked in Citizen Kane. But here, since he is not merely an observer but the central figure in the plot, I couldn't help but feel let down. Fenton sort of sleepwalks through the entire story, only making one real conscious act of will toward the end, and it was handled so superficially that I was wholly unconvinced. The equivalent of the "running through the airport" scene in every romcoms, only it happens within 20 feet of sidewalk (lol), it just felt staged.

Plus points: the vibe of this entire production is very distinct and memorable. It feels cold, detached from reality and yet it's set in the heart of one of the most populous cities on Earth. Most of it seems colorless, but lighting is extreme and dynamic so it never seems bland. So even though my review may make this flick seem ho-hum at best, there's enough going on artistically to keep your attention going. It's too bad that the writing and character development didn't seem on par with the look and feel. Also I hated the music. It's like the rejected composer from all the Bank of America commercials got to play for 90 minutes.

I would recommend "Chronically Metropolitan" to watch on a lazy afternoon, or if you like movies about the problems of the New York bourgeoisie like "The Squid and the Whale" or "The Door in the Floor".
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Hancock (2008)
A superhero movie for people who hate superhero movies
27 June 2019
Browsing the most popular reviews for this flick, I see most of them criticize "Hancock" for not having enough action, not enough cgi, not having a super villain, or my favorite: getting too philosophical. See, this is why Hollywood keeps cranking out brainless superhero flicks; they know that the target audience doesn't want to be challenged with something completely different.

I suppose "2001: A Space Odyssey" would've gotten the same treatment by imdb reviewers if imdb existed back in 1968 when the core scifi market demanded laser beams, monster suits, buxom babes in distress and loud things in space.

"Hancock" does to the superhero genre what "2001" did to scifi. It made things real. Sure, Hancock zips through the sky like Superman on crack, but the point is that Hancock (played by Will Smith) is an ordinary schmuck like you or me, except that he happens to have super powers. Even worse, he has the world's worst case of idgaf, and this leads to a lot of stuff getting broken, bent and blown up unnecessarily. As a result, people hate him.

Right there is the all the plot you need. You don't need a contrived super villain just because that's the formula. You don't need nonstop action and dazzling cgi to tell this story. This is because Hancock's enemy is himself.

"Hancock" could easily have been a heavy, brooding drama like "Leaving Las Vegas" or anything dealing with self-hatred, addiction or depression. BUT, this is the movie's charm, instead it's done very light-heartedly, with lots of zingers, funny sight gags and a quirky dysfunctional romance angle. And of course superhero powers. And so, this heavy story ends up being fun and entertaining, even breezy. But the more you think about it, there's a lot under the surface.

So, as my title says, if you're not a fan of most superhero flicks, the kind with a clean good vs. evil template peppered with zippy action scenes and cgi, then give "Hancock" a look. There aren't a lot of movies like this, definitely not many mainstream ones, but I'd put it in the same category as "Special" with Michael Rappaport playing a total loser who develops bizarre super powers. On the more disturbing side there's "Super" with Rainn Wilson who takes his vigilante superhero efforts a bit too far. These are all deep films under the candy exterior of "superhero flick".
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