"I Play FFXI" - Alice Cooper Parody

To the tune of "No More Mr. Nice Guy".

I used to have such a real, real life
'til it grabbed a hold of me.
I went to work, earned a paycheck
Majored psychology...
Then I logged on to the Phoenix Server
The rest is hi-story...
And I'm gettin' real hooked in
And I'm feelin' 'leet'

I play FFXI!
Glued to my scree-hee-hee-heen!
I play FFXI,
Would you like some Gysahl Gree-hee-hee-heens?

Choco left me in La Theine today,
A map woulda been wise...
I got thrown out of my EXP PT
Almost made me cry...
Went to the Dunes incognito
To avoid aggro-o.
The Goblin Smithy, he recognized me
Stabbed through my Vagabond Hose!
He said,

I play FFXI!
Glued to my scree-hee-hee-heen!
I play FFXI,
Please in-vite me to your P-tee-hee-hee!

I was thinking about doing an "I'm Eighteen" rendition about a noob who's stuck at level 18 but... it just wasn't coming together in spite of the ever-reliable subligar quips. Not that this one is the most spectacularly hilarious thing ever but the "Goblin Smithy" line was too much to resist.


REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

To say it in a sentence, "Inglourious Basterds" is Tarantino's "There Will Be Blood". For TWBB, Paul Thomas Anderson stepped up his game (which was already in impeccable shape) from Altman to Kubrick territory. "Boogie Nights" is still his best film and personally I do prefer "Magnolia" and "Punch-Drunk Love" (whereas "Hard Eight" - or "Sydney" to the snobs - is decent but more an interesting study for the mere fact that it is PTA's freshman effort than an actually great film) but it is clear with TWBB that every stop was pulled to ensure a barrage of masterpiece quality. Tarantino himself even said in his review of TWBB (a review I took in well after conjuring the theory I just mentioned) that upon his viewing of the film he was inspired to step up his own game for Basterds.

Now, it is no secret that I love a good portion of Tarantino's work. While some is shaky and can miss the mark it is impossible to argue with the Travolta/Thurman segment of "Pulp Fiction", the vast majority of "Jackie Brown", the car chase in "Death Proof" or just about everything from "Kill Bill". IB does extremely well to keep up that pattern and with the opening moments I was already 137% captivated by the beautifully appropriate echo of Angel Eyes' introduction in "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly". Tarantino hits an early high point with this tense conversation piece that seems to be the most carefully crafted writing he has put forth to date with an utterly astounding level of poignancy rarely attained in mainstream cinema, let alone in the filmmaker's previous work.

That said, it is unfortunate to also see the brilliance on the screen punctuated by some of the most sloppy, over-excited tactics I have seen from 'tino. Certain 'Kill-Bill-isms' are more than excusable such as the chapter breakdown and Julie Dreyfus' bit role as a French translator. Not excusable at all, however, is the recycling of portions of KB's soundtrack (which, of course, is already recycled from other films albeit acceptably so in that case) and even some of its scenes. When making "Magnolia", PTA scrapped a scene about 'The Worm' because he felt it too closely resembled the donut shop scene from "Boogie Nights". Perhaps a cue should have been taken by QT when doing, to provide just one example, the lobby scene for Nation's Pride's premiere, seeing that it was quite obviously ripped right from the House of Blue Leaves.

IB's glaring issues, which also include some oddly executed expository breaks, are conflicting but it is difficult to say I did not love it because there is so much greatness present. In fact, it is arguable that certain sequences (particularly those in the final chapter) are some of the very best all-around work 'tino has given us thus far. If anything they are easily the most compelling. Amongst all the greatness, though... the camerawork, the writing, the uncompromising use of varying languages... the aspect that stands out most prominently is Cristoph Waltz' performance.


REVIEW: Meet The Spartans (Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, 2008)

His free society threatened by a Persian onslaught, comically thick-bearded King Leonidas assembles 13 warriors with painted-on abs to preserve Sparta. He leaves his Queen behind to deal with a text-messaging traitor (named Traitoro) and a slew of other goofy characters as he marches forth, encountering irreverent pratfalls the manner of hip-hop dance-offs and bouts with recognizable heroes from other films. Sean Maguire impotently leads Travis Van Winkle and Kevin Sorbo among others in this game of kiddie dress-up that fumbles hopelessly with the ancient Greek setting established in Zack Snyder's 2007 film 300.

The spoof genre can be split in two categories. In one column are films such as the incomparable Young Frankenstein and the more recent Tropic Thunder that manage to stand on their own while simultaneously sending up their respective sub-genres. In the other are the cartoonish likes of Airplane! that bring the laughs via pop culture reference. The second column has been seeing a downturn in quality since its inception mostly due to an increasingly heavy reliance on the audience's familiarity with its subjects and a lack of focus regarding the style of humor.

There have been occasional successes. 2001's energetic Not Another Teen Movie does require knowledge of two decades' worth of adolescent fare but its predominantly low-brow shenanigans deliver far better than those of its contemporaries. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is also a hysterically radiant fluke that succeeds in nearly every one of its intentions. For the most part, however, we have the spawn of Scary Movie. Yes, stupidity had stooped to extreme depths previously (IE Naked Gun) but it was Scary Movie's success with youngsters (of which I was admittedly one at the time) that spurred a band of boorish sequels and similarly insipid, poorly aimed copycats. Taking near exclusive blame are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, Hollywood's equivalent of the annoying kids who belch and make fart noises during third grade story time. They have somehow persisted with Uwe Boll-like resolution to bring us pieces that would be complimented to be labeled 'schlock.' Still though, it would appear their oafish incompetence has further inequities to peddle. Meet the Spartans is a cinematic abortion of would-be epic proportions.

The premiere issue with Meet the Spartans, which appears to have been shot in a basement, is the inability to locate its brand of humor (the term 'humor' being used here in its loosest form) as its tone leaps carelessly and inconsistently between being referential, toilet-oriented and gross-out in fashion. Not thirty seconds in we are subjected to a bafflingly unfunny vomit joke. It serves as a warning for the array of barf, mucus, pus and diarrhea jokes to come and abruptly establishes the odd places from which Friedberg and Seltzer draw their pop culture references. This may be difficult to believe, but the source of the vomit joke in question is a mock-up of a Shrek-baby. How someone thinks a Shrek the Third reference even begins to fit within Spartan trappings I'll never know.

Beyond the upchucking infant we are given a spasmodic patchwork of jokes about movies (Stomp the Yard, Spider-Man 3), television shows (American Idol, America's Next Top Model) and advertisements (Gatorade, Budweiser) and other forms of entertainment. These pseudo-sketches come so far from nowhere they'll make your head spin if you happen to be somehow invested in the proceedings. One of the many things Meet the Spartans doesn't realize is that merely recreating settings from popular media with no spin whatsoever isn't funny. The Dentyne Ice ad is just that - an ad. The Deal or No Deal scene is straightforwardly a Deal or No Deal scene. The insulting movie actually stoops low enough to showcase a popular YouTube video. No punchline... just the video... that everyone has already seen and grown weary of.

If you're in the target demographic, you're likely up on entertainment gossip. If you're up on entertainment gossip, you've surely seen it all before and you've seen it better. Instead of quipping about, say, Britney Spears' infamous head-shaving incident, a Spears look-a-like is sloppily placed in the middle of a scene and... that's it. The hope, I suppose, is that audience members will think, "Oh hey, I remember when that happened" and make up their own jokes. It's even worse than The Comebacks' use of the famous "if you can dodge a wrench" scene straight from the stronger spoof, Dodgeball. Surprise, though! Meet the Spartans wastes no time in rushing headlong into that exact scenario. The few, scant attempts at original humor are so tired they're practically comatose. About as original as it gets is a back-and-forth of "yo momma" insults.

So this movie at least partially parodies 300 (which is essentially a parody of itself anyway), right? Wrong. The closest we come to a decent lambasting of the swords-and-sandals actioner is an overt, lingering homophobia based on the fact that the male characters' bodies are mostly exposed. Aside from that, the gags really could be placed in any situation and be just as (un)effective. Friedberg and Seltzer are frequently credited as "2 of the 6 writers of Scary Movie," implying self-awareness, but here a character declares, "this movie is a cheap rip-off of 300," making apparent that they are little more than ignorant children playing in a parasite-infected sandbox.

Leslie Nielson has proven several times that even the least inspired of spoofs can be semi-enjoyable if the acting is animated. Sean Maguire's lead performance doesn't seem to take any cues. In fact, the only person putting forth any sort of decent, comic performance is Travis Van Winkle in his small role as Sonio. Even Carmen Electra, a mainstay in these movies, seems sour and worn. She stumbles through her role with the finesse of a hand-me-down blow-up doll. It's sad to see even D-listed actors such as Diedrich Bader and Kevin Sorbo stooping to this level.

Even when a film is an almost guaranteed pile it can be fun to watch if only for verification or, with luck, a decent scene or two. Meet The Spartans is just an immature, uninspired waste of time. Even at a brief 68 minutes (before the deleted scenes sequence) it seems drawn out, testing the limits of boredom, never crossing once into territory that at least makes one wonder what it'll do next. When 300's original King Leonidas famously stated, "Tonight we dine in Hell," I think he was referring to a screening of Meet the Spartans.


REVIEW: The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)

A new take on the popular Marvel comic book series, The Incredible Hulk finds gamma-infected scientist Bruce Banner hiding out in Brazil. Banner spends his time practicing meditation techniques and conducting experiments that may help him quell the latent beast beneath his skin. He gets by working for a bottling plant that, fittingly, specializes in a Guarana beverage. Life finally seems to be calming down until a mishap alerts an old nemesis to Banner's whereabouts, bringing down an avalanche of action and a threat to Banner's new, peaceful nature. Edward Norton takes another uncredited writer's seat as he leads a cast including Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt in this, Louis Leterrier's first foray in to comic book territory that functions as both a sequel to Ang Lee's Hulk from 2003 and as a stand-alone.

We open as might be expected with the seemingly overused motion graphic style credits, but something is apparently different from other superhero movies of the past decade. Instead of simply careening through poorly animated DNA or nonsensical computer codes, Incredible Hulk is already beginning to set up its adventure through the use of dialogue-free flashbacks that handily bring us up to speed regarding this version of the events that made Bruce Banner what he is. This sequence lends a helping hand to the uninitiated while refreshing veteran Hulk fans' memories and leaving enough mystery intact to entice everyone.

Abandoning convention, the film shoves aside many hints of Hulk's roots, picking up with our lead already in the rejection phase of his superhuman life. The ditching of the origin is promising since stories following a hero's discovery of new powers have been worn to shreds. Marvel's other 2008 feature, Iron Man, while fun thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s characteristically smart performance, suffers greatly within origin trappings, restricting the titular hero of breathing room. The audience's real hope is for a solid excuse for the metal guy to kick some serious tail - a hope that is met with sequences of Downey Jr. testing new equipment that pale upon replay. The rejection yarn is also tired, however, as terminally overrated blockbusters such as Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight have driven these types of stories into the ground with their all too sudden treatment of the angle. Thankfully, the Hulk is not your everyday hero. Like Spider-Man he did not choose to become what he is but unlike the arachnoid wise-cracker (if only, Raimi... if only) he cannot simply swear off his tights and attempt a more normal life. The Hulk, a powerful yet unwanted stigma, exists within Banner's cells, making for a vastly more intriguing conflict to carry the film through its heavyweight action scenes.

Leterrier has a knack for developing only what is necessary to satisfy a paying movie-goer. His Transporter 2 does require most audience members' brains be checked at the door but it delivers raucous fun with just enough drama between the action to create a well-rounded experience. With The Incredible Hulk he improves upon his stylings, making what could have been a cliche and boring first act quite compelling. There are no delusions telling the film-maker this is some kind of sophisticated opus. Right from the beginning we become wrapped up enough in Banner's exploits that the build to his alter ego's entrance is tantalizing but not to the point of becoming aggravating. We almost don't want Banner to "Hulk out." The scene that does finally introduce us to mean green is easily a highlight, patiently playing up the reveal with a symbolic nature not typical of this genre. The Hulk comes to us as a monster in the darkness - a raging beast from a horror film - and Norton's reaction in the aftermath sells it that much more.

The second act carries well, bringing about a decent centerpiece of action and teasing at the sympathetic side of each character. The third act, however, is where it falls in line with its contemporary, Iron Man, and becomes a desensitizing mess. Somewhere after one of the major secrets is unveiled (to underwhelming results) it must have been realized, just like it was in Iron Man, that the key threats had been dispatched before the film could have its climax. Cue the rampaging lunatic who has little to do with anything! By the time the credits roll, the audience is left wondering if the movie they just saw end was the same movie they saw begin nearly two hours prior. What starts an interesting character study devolves to the ever-lucrative formula of big things hitting each other.

This version of Hulk will inevitably, for better or for worse, meet comparison with Ang Lee's interpretation of the character. To this reviewer, they are quite evenly matched. Lee told of a meek scientist who was liberated by his newfound powers. It is an empowering tale featuring experimental, comic book style editing and a Hulk capable of sensitivity. Leterrier presents a man desperately running from a plague inside himself. He uses a dynamic color scheme to honor the comic foundation and unleashes an angry, uncontrollable Hulk. The films may be different stories but they are each respectable in their own rights. They merge somewhat in their third acts in that they feature big, computer generated dudes walloping one another into submission with little bearing on overall significances.

Well-paced summer fare, The Incredible Hulk, speed bumps and all, is a worthy addition to Marvel's cinematic stable. It clearly holds great reverence for its episodic predecessor, including similar themes, musical cues and even a Lou Ferrigno cameo that puts the 2003 Hulk's Ferrigno cameo to shame. It will please older and newer fans of the character despite being mostly humorless and while far from perfect, will make for a fun way to spend an evening.


REVIEW: Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter (Daniel DelPurgatorio & Mike Smith, 2009)

Originally intended for a live-action treatment said to have threatened a budget of $20 million, Tales of the Black Freighter is an animation cleaved from the theatrical release of Zack Snyder's Watchmen. Appearing in Alan Moore's graphic novel in five separate, carefully placed chunks, here it is melded to form a single, 26-minute narrative. It tells of a castaway sea captain's descent to madness following the death of his entire crew during the remorseless destruction of his ship. Specifically titled "Marooned" when considered as a component of the novel, Tales serves to reflect certain key aspects of Watchmen. Gerard Butler, who famously teamed with Snyder for the sweat-coated codpiece that is 300, voices the captain in this heavily symbolic tale.

This DVD release is particularly unusual seeing as not only does it compile several deleted scenes in to one short film, it also strips the scenes of their reference point. The pertinence of "Marooned" is arguably the most difficult bit of Moore's story to comprehend and without Bernie, the character also known as "the kid" who reads the adventure in the fictional "Tales of the Black Freighter" comic book, or any of Watchmen's other trappings, it flounders. Only those familiar with the alternate world of costumed heroes will be able to unearth Tales' redeemable qualities.

The short feature presentation opens with moody promise thanks to ominous chords that see the introduction of the sea's choppy murk. Mostly preserved, though by different methods than have been previously utilized, is the pulpy aura, letting us know how to receive the proceedings. The animation immediately evokes the pseudo-anime stylings of Peter Chung's unrivaled Æon Flux, here seasoned with the smooth and calculated feel of a Macromedia Flash presentation. Also in the fray is a greater sense of drama than was brought forth in the source material. There was nothing the matter as it was, but in this medium it benefits from the emotional enhancement.

Sound decent? It is... until Butler begins to sound off. Considering its surroundings, Butler's characteristically overwrought performance almost works, but even the eloquent dialogue recited isn't enough to rescue it from becoming another case of 'too much.' Butler isn't entirely to blame, of course. His oration also heralds the key downfall Tales suffers as a stand-alone - breakneck pacing. Emulating a 4-year-old lacquered with Crunk Energy Drink, the story stampedes forth, allowing little time for absorption. To a certain extent this implicates the eager reading of a fresh comic book but similar to an issue present in Watchmen it doesn't allow near enough time to appreciate the significance of the material. Only around the halfway mark is the madness successfully captured. Prior to the descent that practically conjures Conrad's seminal "Heart of Darkness," the depicted gore is rendered uncalled-for and exploitative due to its seeming lack of relevance. Also established far too late is the 'what' of the Freighter. Anyone who has not experienced the graphic novel is sure to either wonder what on earth it is or simply assume it to be Captain Barbossa's latest cinematic blasphemy.

Wrapping things up with a reminder as to why many of us love Moore's book is the song "Seeräuberjenny," or "Pirate Jenny" as it is known in English, from the "Threepenny Opera" (famous for the song "Mack the Knife"). Its harrowing tone and cautionary lyrics are appropriately groovy as they lead us through the closing credits. Apparently Moore has cited the tune as partial inspiration when it came to penning "Marooned."

Further warranting the DVD's purchase or rental is PG-rated The Culpeper Minute: Under the Hood, a mock talk show clocking in at 38 minutes. This relatively unique supporting feature is based on another of the original material's side stories - the character Hollis Mason's autobiography. In theory, this is an interesting idea, due in part to the use of costumes authentic to their sources (IE Hooded Justice and Moth Man) but it winds up a self-congratulatory and shallow exercise. The unfocused information, feeling overlong in spite of its brevity, is important but is tackled effectively enough in Watchmen. While not quite breaching the realm of tedium here, it feels completely unnecessary and occasionally laughable. Far more rewarding is the special feature Story Within a Story, which, though sprawling, has more insight in to the subjects danced around by Under the Hood.

Also included is a preview of the mildly interesting yet sickeningly uninspired "motion comic" that promises to underwhelm while narrator Tony Stechschulte's deliveries destroy the book's iconic dialogue.

Both Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood are strictly for die-hards. They flesh out, for better or for worse, the cinematic world of Watchmen while further alienating the uninitiated. Thankfully, Tales will likely be better served broken up and dispersed throughout its parent film if/when a comprehensive edit is released.


REVIEW: Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008)

Stuck between cordial friendships, the difficulties of child-rearing and a potential transatlantic relocation, 1950s couple The Wheelers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) enter tailspin. Satisfied with neither their personal nor professional lives they try helplessly to make their home appear a happy one amidst the social chaos. Helping to round out the cast are Michael Shannon, Richard Easton, Kathy Bates and Kathryn Hahn in Sam Mendes' fourth theatrical outing about the misgivings of adult life and the lack of sense with which they are typically approached.

With the superb Road to Perdition as an exception due to its focus being more on the telling of a story, Sam Mendes' films to date all purport a certain philosophy, bringing it forth with each scene. This is liable to wear thin if one catches on to that philosophy from the get-go. Instead of the idea being expounded upon, the succession of scenes merely presents it in varying scenarios. Revolutionary Road is no exception. After the first act limps across the screen, the message, an observation on modern society, becomes apparent but lacks further development as the film pushes forward. Although the little story that is available does keep one involved enough to avoid nodding off, it never rewards its audience with deeper revelations.

DiCaprio and Winslet famously paired for a harlequin romance in Titanic, where their immature talents made for awkward performances. In the meantime they have honed considerably, becoming arguably two of the greatest big screen actors of their generation as exemplified in roles such as DiCaprio's multicultural smuggler in Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond and Winslet's broken housewife in Todd Field's Little Children. In this sophomore excursion for the duo, their performances are still childish but intentionally so. They bicker and whine to an occasionally animated extent. They "play house," as Michael Shannon's character so adequately phrases it. Shannon provides a grounding point, stating what is likely on the audience's mind. With this and other, similarly barefaced statements it becomes proven that although he is the only character of the insane bunch to be labeled as such, he is in fact the only one with both oars in the water.

A well-intentioned film, Revolutionary Road is only admirable to an extent. Its philosophy, while an honest and resounding one, is too heavily relied upon at its base level. In spite of its inability to compel, however, it does chug along at a healthy clip once the premise has been fully established and it may very well make for a worthy rental. There are some solid laughs to be had and perhaps, if one is particularly susceptible to Thomas Newman's melancholy chords, some tears.


REVIEW: Flesh Gordon (Michael Benveniste & Howard Ziehm, 1974)

When the perverse Emperor Wang of planet Porno activates his dastardly sex-ray, the people of Earth become ravenously uninhibited. Only Flesh Gordon and his compatriots are daring enough to traverse the stars and stand up to Wang, who stirs plenty of obstacles in to their path. Released in an era of awakening, Flesh Gordon draws inspiration from the similarly named, hopeful hero of the late 1930's and answers a call for sexual freedom. When the sex comedy is far from old news and silicon has yet to conquer the female body, this flesh is fresh. Stand back! These film-makers have a cocky sense of humor and they know how to use it!

With characters like Dr. Flexi Jerkoff spouting lines such as "Sir, I've got a giant boner!" and zapping foes with nipple-armor called power-pasties, you know what you're getting in to. As opposed to plot points, the film relies on the introduction of a ballsy, cartoon-like gimmick with each scene. There's no tongue-in-cheek here; you're going to get licked. This parodic technique provides for an opening act with more belly laughs than you can shake your pet Penisaur at. Unfortunately, the constant, consistent and often clever humor leaves little room for cohesive storytelling. The film's midsection drags without a sense of dread, even when the female lead is captured by a buxom pirate wearing a half-bra to match her eyepatch. Only when Wang unleashes his Rapist Robots and, subsequently, his Craig T. Nelson-voiced monster does the experience begin again to live up to its potential.

Along with the kink, chimerical Flesh Gordon successfully captures the awe of contemporary science fiction. On occasion, it can be surprisingly subtle while simultaneously honoring and making light of its genre. For example, when our heroes arrive on Porno in their comically phallic spacecraft, the landing sequence is not only a decent scene in the realm of early 1970's space adventure but is also suggestively coital without becoming overly candid. At best, the film's effects nearly rival what they seem to be most influenced by - Ray Harryhausen's work on the incomparable Seventh Voyage of Sinbad - and that's more than can be expected from a relatively low budget piece of this sort.

As might be expected, Flesh Gordon treads deep through subversive roots and comes up with a handful of scenes that can be considered pornographic and in some cases, seem like something one might find on Cinemax at 3 AM. In fact, to this reviewer's knowledge the explicit content has only been topped in non-smut material by the Penthouse-produced Caligula, whose overt sexuality, of course, is of a vastly more sophisticated nature. To Flesh's credit, however, it is not afraid to indulge even in the case of same-sex relations and the more graphically liberal sequences only add to its unique prestige when all is said and done.

Step aside, Barbarella. Eat your heart out, Austin Powers. Accomplishing killer effects and major laughs, Flesh Gordon embodies its generation and sets the bar for irreverent, sci-fi sexploitation.


REVIEW: Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008)

A sun-washed Greek hotel, where even those who aren't sexy or tan are in fact sexy and tan, plays backdrop to a mess of friends gathered for a wedding. The bride, Sophie (walking seizure Amanda Seyfried), invites three of her single mother's (Meryl Streep) ex-boyfriends (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) to the event, hoping to determine which is her father in the one remaining day before she ties the knot. Released as counter-programming to the illegitimate juggernaut The Dark Knight, this bright musical about the claiming (and reclaiming) of sexuality and based on the whimsical Broadway show comprised entirely of ABBA tunes aims to please.

If I can be sure of one thing concerning Mamma Mia, I can be sure it knows its audience. There's a reason people tell stories of seeing this in auditoriums full of people singing and dancing along. It's a colorful, intentionally goofy and occasionally exploitative ride that meets its demographic with confidence even if it's not a perfect bull's eye.

With euphoric classics such as Singin' in the Rain or Anchors Aweigh as glowing exceptions, most musicals have two hills to climb. The first is creating an environment in which expression through song - often as a group - is believable. The second is keeping that form of expression fresh. Too often do musicals become exhausting around the midsection, transforming their second halves into virtual gauntlets for the tired audience to withstand. Mamma Mia gets off to a rocky start when it comes to the first hill due to the vexatious, younger cast members, most of whom are mere expository tools. Eventually leaping the first few hurdles, the music does improve enough to keep the audience fueled with the title track, "Mamma Mia" and, of course, "Dancing Queen," the film's centerpiece. Surprisingly, the second hill doesn't become a significant issue. Yes, there are bits from the original show that could have been cut while retaining the film's feature-length status, but they're harmless, occasionally fun and over with quickly.

Not a friend to Mamma Mia's case is the number of shots lasting beyond three seconds. The ones I recall can be counted on one hand. If there were longer, more impressive takes of the action, however, the complaint here would be more geared toward the back-up dancers who act like rejects from a Britney Spears video. Additionally, Phyllida Lloyd's talents as a Broadway director don't translate well to film. There are a handful of memorable moments that compliment the impressive, high-spirited production design but for the most part the cinematography is claustrophobic and made worse by the schizophrenic editing.

So I managed my way past uneven pacing amidst MTV-era editing. I even accepted the bogus storyline that develops once Sophie's intentions are inevitably revealed. The film's key infraction, however, rests with its underdeveloped characters who are given little backstory aside from having been born and, in certain cases, having slept with Meryl Streep's character. This might look worse if the similar Across the Universe, Julie Taymor's 2007 musical based on Beatles tunes, hadn't more completely fouled up the same aspect a year prior. Where Mamma Mia at least has proper motivations for its characters that are weaved successfully (if sometimes all too literally) into the story, the aimlessly pseudo-psychedelic Across the Universe simply places characters around The Beatles' songs and hopes audiences don't notice that half of them are meaningless. That said, Mamma Mia is not forgiven, even if at times the characterization's back-burner treatment seems intentional. Thankfully the veteran actors' shame-free performances help things along.

I may only belong in Mamma Mia's target audience because I love ABBA but I can respect how hard the non-musical aspects nail the target demographic. Honestly, in spite of all the blemishes, it is a thriving, unabashedly boisterous celebration of ABBA's cheery combination of 60's folk and 70's disco. If you are going to love this film, you probably already know it. If you're not sure then, well, chances are slimmer. Either way, you'd better be a big ABBA fan or else you'll be missing the entire point.


REVIEW: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Leonard Nimoy, 1984)

From the ashes of a heated battle with the notorious Khan that saw the death of Officer Spock, the Enterprise hobbles back to Starfleet. Greeted unceremoniously with an accusation that they made a mistake in leaving Spock's remains on the new and experimental planet Genesis, Admiral Kirk and company scrounge together a rescue plan under the noses of their superiors. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, directs the familiar crew into a tangle with nefarious Klingon rogues and through a land where no man has gone before.

The first hesitation with this third feature-length outing is that its immediate predecessor, The Wrath of Khan, was so nicely wrapped it could have easily acted as a swan song for what is likely the best known incarnation of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. Although Wrath's finale does subtly hint that the logical Vulcan's number is not quite up, The Search for Spock struggles to find the logic in actually bringing him back. The forty-five minutes (nearly half the runtime) taken before the Spock-searching finally commences should be indication enough that writer Harve Bennett fumbles the resurrection plot's particulars that occasionally echo the likes of Jason Voorhees' frequent revivals.

Story aside, Search's existence can be considered a mere excuse to entertain the enthusiasm of the key players and the wallets of its producers. Thankfully that presumed, self-indulgent money-grubbing pays off with pleasing nostalgia. The film is enjoyable if only for what makes any excursion with television's favorite starship successful - the cast and its hopeful air of friendship and sophistication. While Leonard Nimoy's absence before the lens proves a slight blemish on the chemistry, all the regulars - bold William Shatner, brash DeForest Kelly, sprightly James Doohan, earnest George Takei and the rest - are all back and in form. The only odd recasting to be found is with Robin Curtis in the role of Saavik - a welcome character only introduced one installment prior. Apparently Saavik's original embodiment, Kirstie Alley, demanded too high a paycheck to return but Curtis' arctic deliveries make one wonder if Alley's presence would have been worth the expense.

On the subject of poor delivery, for a film about the quest to recover a beloved friend that sees the involvement of the lead character's long-lost son and the near reckless endangerment of all involved, Search is destitute of emotion. Too much logic in place from the Vulcan director? Perhaps - the direction seems the primary aspect to blame when it comes to the lack of caring we experience when even some of the more important milestones in the cinematic history of Trek unfold. Compensating for this, however, is the often glorious photography. The exterior shots of the ships as they careen across planet surfaces or the vastness of space may not be quite up to code with the likes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture's Enterprise reveal or Wrath's nebula sequence but they rarely fail to inspire awe. Even the final bout between good and evil (albeit flaccid evil) is a treat to watch where without the well-captured backdrop its reminiscence of the infamous Kirk-versus-lizard-man scene would have been all the more apparent.

A passable return to the Trek universe, The Search for Spock is worth viewing for any fan just so long as the excellence of The Wrath of Khan is not expected. If taken too seriously, it may dismantle a portion of one's love for Trek but in the end it's quite harmless.


REVIEW: Profondo rosso (Dario Argento, 1975)

In what is widely considered one of Dario Argento's best films (second only to Suspiria according to popular opinion), jazz pianist Marcus Daly (a very likable David Hemmings) bears witness to the brutal murder of a clairvoyant (the harrowing Helga Ulmann) who, not hours prior, had telepathically discovered her killer's twisted mind. Unable to identify the suspect but having fulfilled his role with the detectives, Daly sets out to solve the case himself with casual assistance from a flirtatious journalist (future Mrs. Argento, Daria Nicolodi). His meddling motivates a slew of fresh murders and carries forth one of the best mystery films the late 1900s have to offer this side of Blue Velvet.

Only having ventured twice as of yet into the arguable cinematic genius of Argento, I cannot vouch for the majority of his work but it is known among die-hard fans that when delving in to an Argento film one must not anticipate a masterwork of storytelling. What one can anticipate in the story's stead is a frightening series of glorious, unrivaled kill sequences backed by an overall gorgeous aural/visual experience. Suspiria, with its daring aesthetics and uncompromising imagery, is a prime example of this. Profondo rosso, however, establishes an exception to the mantra. It is with this film Argento, while preserving such a keen eye for visuals that he nearly rivals Kubrick, proves himself more than capable of weaving an extremely involving story.

Madly enhancing the mystery are intriguing clues and subtle foreshadowing that are patiently yet energetically speckled throughout. Every moment, including a few that may at first seem trivial, adds considerably to the proceedings and eventually pays off in spades. As events continue to unfold the attentive viewer will surely be exponentially riveted and eventually rewarded with the blood-tingling final act that leaves not a single loose end.

Dario Argento has crafted a delectable feast for the eyes and the mind that, on back-to-back viewings, had my adrenaline high and my wheels spinning. The thrills are thrilling. The chills are chilling. The music of Goblin (occasional collaborator with Argento) is oh, so very alive. This film accomplishes everything it sets out to accomplish with flying colors or, in this case, a single color: Deep red. Profondo rosso.


REVIEW: Eagle Eye (DJ Caruso, 2008)

When copy machine jockey by day, low life by night Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) learns of his twin brother's death, he is confronted with a series of unusual, high-profile events that rocket his life into adventure alongside single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monoghan). Not much more can be said for the sake of concealing potential spoilers but I will forewarn that the film, which seems to want a basis in some form of reality, is one of the more preposterous series of plot points this reviewer has come across. A broad range of actors attempt to create appeal while DJ Caruso begs for audience adoration with this follow-up to his barely-worth-mentioning 2007 embarrassment, Disturbia.

When a film is bad, or in this case, abominable, one can at least hope it'll have some redeeming qualities - at most a decent action sequence as with the rat-bombs from 2008's mostly annoying Wanted or at least a so-bad-it's-good ride, a shining example of which is 2006's Ultraviolet. Eagle Eye is completely barren when it comes to these qualities and exists as the worst type of bad film. It tries to appeal to a low, common denominator while purporting sophistication and failing to deliver on any level. When a scene does show hints of inspiration it is blatantly ripped from another, better film. The saying goes, "steal from the best," but the theft in this case is shameless. We are given heavy doses of The Matrix, I, Robot and an unsuccessful hodgepodge of nearly every 90's political thriller ever made.

Rarely if ever have I seen a film with such careless handling of collateral civilian - or even police officer - death. Armfuls of brutally dismembered innocents on film are not always objectionable. Any sort of content, if properly handled, can be admirable. Caruso, however, asks us to cheer when drivers and their passengers are sidelined by horrific accidents. He encourages awe and relief when an implacable, behemoth crane claw remorselessly ensures that no less than three cops will not be getting the open-casket treatment. These moments are even worse than the glorious dismantling of a father right before his son's eyes in Disturbia, seeing as, if I wanted to, I could argue on that scene's behalf, crediting the way it mercilessly plays with certain audience members' worst fears. With Eagle Eye, all I can do is hang my head.

So we have an audaciously disrespectful film on our hands. What goes further to push it into utterly reprehensible territory? How about barefaced product placement? When the action picks up for Monaghan, she is asked to leave a gloomy restaurant and head across the street to the bright, cheery McDonald's. Later, when possibly the biggest twist the film has to offer is about to be revealed, the characters are asked to head in to Circuit City and subsequently walk past an array of great deals on snazzy electronics. Maybe it isn't Best Buy but Dreamworks who is to blame for Circuit City folding. Next up in the blame-storm is the score, which reaches a near self-parodic level. Brian Tyler's overly intense compositions are desperate for an all-out, tank-on-tank missile battle or some other over-the-top thrill sequence when all that's happening is a phone call or a mild-tempered conversation. In fact, if the film had gone a few steps further with this notion and tweaked the script ever so slightly, it might have become an interesting satire of its genre.

Eagle Eye is the kind of film that makes me want to swear off modern pop-cinema entirely. Its only possible accomplishment is further proving the ineptitude of Caruso and LaBeouf, who seem to hunt down and destroy any shred of a film's potential. They should be locked in to some form of cinematic purgatory where the only DVD in print is AI: Artificial Intelligence. I cannot imagine a person of any sort paying to see Eagle Eye and feeling their money was well spent.


REVIEW: Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)

Seemingly not quite satisfied with complacency, often apathetic Ian Curtis draws what some may call inspiration from his idols, David Bowie, Jim Morrison and Lou Reed among others, and joins a band, but only when the opportunity plops in his lap. The result is the infamous yet short-lived late 70's act Joy Division and thus begins Anton Corbijn's examination of a helplessly depressed boy whose fame does little for his demeanor.

Control is 1991's The Doors on antidepressants. Presumably remaining true to the actual story, it even emphasizes similar plot points, though in this case accomplishing them in an appropriately less energetic manner. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as can also possibly be argued about said Jim Morrison biopic, little attempt is made to draw in anyone beyond the built-in audience. In my LA Woman adoring eyes Corbijn's film is to Oliver Stone's as Muppet Babies is to The Muppet Show. I could even in a joking manner refer to it as "Doors Junior."

Despite my feeling toward Joy Division being a mere indifference, I can easily grasp the potential this mellow film has to make smitten fans swoon. Moreover, certain music-oriented scenes were particularly well crafted while the acting all around was entirely believable. Toby Kebbell's performance as band manager Rob Gretton was a definite high point and provided at least a couple contagious lines of dialogue. Corbijn's eye for composition that focuses on parallel lines is also commendable. Not often enough do I see films with such careful photography. Were I about ten years younger and more musically impressionable I may have taken to Control in a more overall positive manner.

The film succeeds in that it appears to be a faithful and uniquely delicate telling of Curtis' life story. It fails in that that story is the opposite of compelling. The ultimately 23-year-old Curtis is not shown to have learned a single lesson by the finale. His brief and monotonous existence does not call for a two hour film. At ninety minutes I would have likely looked more favorably upon Control.


REVIEW: Heathers (Michael Lehman, 1989)

If one knows anything about Heathers going in, one will expect an over-the-top, often cartoonish romp through the dark side of high school cliques from Michael Lehman, orchestrator of the highly enjoyable Airheads and the watchable Truth About Cats & Dogs. What one might not expect is an utter lack of respect for the audience.

Heathers' scenes play as if half of them have been left out. Only people like the ones depicted, who believe high school is the be-all, end-all of the universe, will find the story progression easy to follow. These people will be caught up in the pastiche of their least favorite classmate stereotypes and likely not notice how haphazardly the plot points, which settle uncomfortably between dark humor and phony morality, are handled.

Substance has been substituted for a desperate wish to be clever that comes off more grating than Brook Busey (that's right, no more pretentious pen names) on Adderall. In fact, considering the age Busey was when Heathers dumped itself in cinemas it may not be far off to partially blame the film for the insipid fashion by which her characters grind my mind. The forced kitsch of the dialogue is even more irritating than the uninspired score, which proves itself one of the Newman family's lesser efforts.

Clearly the film is not my cup of Drain-O but it is doubtful anyone else who has matured beyond their pubescent years will feel differently if seeing it for the first time. It does have a few brief, bright spots, such as the sweet (albeit contrived) exchange between the lead and what some may label an unlikely friend or the Glenn Shadix-led dream sequence that is reminiscent of early music television. These moments, however, barely begin to excuse the remainder of the proceedings.

When it comes to the cast, we have the seemingly range-devoid Winona Ryder doing her typical, faux-misanthropic shtick, a relatively dark Christian Slater foretelling the mid-90's popularity of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and a bland supporting cast who seem to have never learned the meaning of acting (with the exception of Phil Lewis, Scrubs' future Hooch, who is most definitely crazy).

Heathers is Mean Girls with murders, the latter obviously being a film released over a decade later but also improving on the clique-blasting material. If John Hughes anticipated Reservoir Dogs and tried to beat Tarantino to the slime-crime punch it might look like Heathers. More than anything, however, Heathers is a long, irredeemable hour and forty minutes that, while finishing on a note somewhat more worthy than it deserves, purports a reputation that is difficult to accept.


REVIEW: The Unborn (David S. Goyer, 2009)

When was the last time I was genuinely affected by a horror movie? It's difficult to remember. The Unborn, while not consistently frightening, breaks the chain of films that rely solely on jump-scares and cheap thrills for the kiddies. Its tense blocking creates, for the most part, an environment of horror that permeates the audience.

Goyer's directorial outings in the past have either under-impressed (Blade Trinity) or failed to interest me (The Invisible). Writing-wise he is hit or miss, Blade Trinity's predecessors being my personal favorites in their subgenre while the bland Batman experiments go the opposite direction. In this case, his pen shows plenty of promise despite often causing the mostly likable cast, led by the capable Odette Yustman and supported by the always excellent Gary Oldman and potential star Megan Good, to sound as though they're not working from a final draft. His work behind the camera makes the script pop where it could have fallen flat. He does fail entirely, however, when the characters, including the harmless but unconvincing romantic interest Cam Gigandet, pointlessly wax pseudo-philosophical, instead coming across as seventh graders who did their homework for once.

What drew me to this film was the groovy design work. An ever-present sense of dread facilitates the progression but when the things we are afraid of do manifest, the disturbing distortions in their appearances validate our having feared them when they were still unknown. Even when bodily and facial distortions are not involved, the imagery is usually effective and only suffers from too much variety (I know!).

The Unborn is not entirely comprised of positives. The modern reliance on jump-scares does indeed rear its ugly, upside-down head. This is unfortunate because as has been mentioned, the atmosphere was already of a solidly creepy nature. The startle moments generated by sudden music cues and occasionally silly CGI only serve to detract from the experience. Also detracting is the overly complex story. The premise intrigues, leading in a compelling direction... but it eventually receives layers of mind-numbing back-story that prove utterly useless as the third act, while exciting, loses focus of any previously established storytelling goals. The compelling direction it seemed to be taking in the beginning winds up as an all-too-obvious twist ending that leaves more loose knots than I think it realizes.

Well worth the watch, The Unborn is an inspired film that tries admirably to take cues from its genre-defining predecessors of the 60's and 70's. In many respects it features the makings of a classic. It may not succeed on every level but its taut ambiance is not one to be argued with and is likely Goyer's best directorial work to date.


REVIEW: feardotcom (William Malone, 2002)

In 1999's terrifyingly awesome remake of William Castle's House on Haunted Hill, William Malone briefly explored the idea of ghosts using the world wide web's energy. In that specific case, the ghosts infiltrated a wealthy man's e-mail account to invite some guests of their own to a doomed party. Here, the ghost in question actually has its own website and haunts the subscribers. Yep! Let's continue, shall we?

I've finally given up rewatching feardotcom and hoping to discover an under-sung masterpiece that I for some reason may have missed in the past. As a whole, it falls very flat despite the tricks Malone perfected in the aforementioned Haunted Hill remake that are often at work. If taken in piecemeal, the bits of celluloid on their own work in a sort of installation type fashion. One thing's for sure, Malone really has an eye for horrific imagery and an ear for great sound usage... his storytelling just seems to be off, even when the script is somewhat above par.

Another way by which this one fails to live up to the expectations set by Haunted Hill is the lack of eccentric characters that fit so well into Malone's twisted cinematic environments. The always watchable Stephen Dorff does what he can within his boring character's limitations. He seems to play the lead until the wide-eyed, questionably-intentioned Natascha McElhone's seemingly random step to center stage. Meanwhile, Stephen Rea does his Stephen Rea thing in a pre-torture-porn-craze sadistic doctor role, and often begs for the grammar police to lock him up. We also have Udo Kier to open the film with a very brief, hey-look-it's-Udo-Kier scene.

This film may be the true test of a horror buff. It takes J-Horror and converts it into an Americanized Giallo. Sure, the result may not be fantastic but there's a lot to be appreciated. The real centerpieces here are the atmosphere and the Chris Cunningham-esque imagery so if you go in looking for that, you may come out with a grin.


QUICKIE: Final Destination 2 (David R. Ellis, 2003)

When I first caught Final Destination 2 in theaters I could barely stand it. I thought it an uneven, stagnant gimmick vehicle that only became lamer as it trudged along. A rewatch verified exactly that but y'know, all that considered it's a pretty fun movie that successfully builds its suspense. Sure, it's got stilted acting, dreadful dialogue, blatant product placement, gaping plot holes and the silliest twists this side of M. Night Shyamagiggles' less successful cousin but if you don't try to invest in it you just might have a good time.

Hackneyed horror hijinks aside, the only real folly of Final Destination's sequel is fleshing out its characters too much, providing them with too many real, relatable emotions. I know, usually my horror movie complaints go the opposite direction but considering this material, developed characters are, in my eyes, missteps. The glorious kills are quite obviously the only reasons this series exists and the only reasons anyone put money down to see it so creating a sympathetic character whose spouse has died then forcing her to witness her child's gruesome dismemberment is a bit harsh when her only purpose is to be gruesomely dismembered herself. Other than that, the CG, which usually ticks me off, is used harmlessly and the occasionally bad editing ultimately leaves the film's mood unaffected.

If anything, this second installment in the franchise is worth a go for the spectacularly effective opening car wreck... although I'm sure that scene and all the other hit-or-miss - but mostly hit - death scenes, for that matter, are on YouTube. No matter your opinion if you do see it, I dare you to erase some of the shock images from your memory.


REVIEW: Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)

Public Enemies is an on and off movie. It gets off to a very rocky start with the jerky (not shaky) cam in full, annoying force but effectively sets up the characters if you're paying close attention. Only at seldom is the movie very "on" during its first half and it takes time to warm up to. Even when one aspect appears to have had potential, something else falters, for example the coat-check bit when the script seemed to call for a more whimsical scene but the cinematography insisted on attempting intensity.

Thankfully the second half is very "on" with its more developed ideas, emotions and tommy-gun strobe effects. It redeems most of the first half as with the coming of the cabin siege scene (which was a real Michael Mann tour de force despite the fact that for a moment there it threatened to become a mere series of dudes shooting guns) it leaves behind most of the jerky cam techniques and successfully villainizes each of the characters while simultaneously making us sympathize with them. By the end of the film adrenaline is pumping and the proceedings are enjoyable. The final scene does seem unnecessary as, to the attentive audience member, the information provided therein is already apparent, but it ends up a pleasant surprise as it conjures a (possibly unintended) homage to The Godfather.

As for the key players, Depp's tragic, eventually likable Dillinger often seems too modern but is ultimately successful while Bale does what the script calls for, which works. The supporting cast is a real treat, featuring fun appearances from the likes of David Wenham, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff (whose name is misspelled in the credits) and many others. A real stand-out is Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover, putting forth the most depression-era-ish feel the film has to offer. Speaking of the depression, the current economic downturn makes this a good time for Public Enemies to see release. Even when the historical story becomes repetitive (heist, apprehension, escape, rinse, repeat) the underlying themes remain relevant.

All in all, the very Manny (if you will) Public Enemies is Heat in 1933 with lots of jerky cam. It is very watchable, its second half is solid and as a whole it is quite interesting despite never going far enough to become entirely compelling.


QUICKIE: Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Halloween is undeniably great, particularly considering its genre and the fun sub-genre it helped spawn. With my second viewing (and first in over 5 years), however, it turned out as more of a good film when I was hoping for a great one. It's got a considerably amount going for it, and still holds the crown for being the only slasher that's ever actually scared me, but I found that you really can't ask much from it in the way of a story.

If Michael wasn't such a pop culture icon, I doubt Halloween would be quite as satisfying in retrospect seeing as the two most important characters, Loomis and Myers, have the least amount of development. Loomis' scant story is vague and where he hints that the antagonist has intentions beyond simply acting out of pure evil, the alleged intentions are never fleshed out to allow us to understand why he's so intent on killing Laurie and her friends (remember it isn't until part 2 that we learn of his connection to Laurie). All that and a bit of repetition (albeit unnerving repetition) aside, though, it's a solid flick. Great atmosphere thanks mostly in part to the killer music that is notorious for a reason, possibly the most believable (despite being unkillable) villain a slasher film has churned out and a few good laughs work together to make Halloween a true must-see for any film buff.


QUICKIE: House of 1,000 Corpses (Rob Zombie, 2003)

I already loved House of 1,000 Corpses but with my relatively new found love of horror a rewatch amplified that love in a big way. In a sense, it is to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre what people say Kill Bill is to Lady Snowblood (I have yet to see Snowblood to verify this myself). In being an homage primarily to Massacre, it also exists as a twisted love letter to vintage horror in general. Zombie's raw vision is deliciously disturbed and the frequently intercut low-quality clips are beautifully unsettling.

Will it scare you? Not much. Will it make your skin crawl? Ohhh, yes. It's the type of film that mainstream audiences will watch and react to privately but go on later to bash it, popularly denying the thrills they experienced. Sure, it's not quite as good as Chain Saw Massacre, but it's close and if anything, seeing it makes the undeniably awesome sequel, The Devil's Rejects, that much more satisfying.


QUICKIE: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper: 1974)

As far as gore in America goes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece. It's also one of the best slashers I've ever seen, which should come as no surprise since Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, which I love, seems to have been inspired almost entirely by it. It's an intense descent into insanity that manages terror and hilarity through the same means. I can't remember the last time I experienced so many purposefully cringe-inducing moments in a movie, and that's not to mention the effective suspense techniques that put the film a rung above most in its class.

Surely the combination of ruthless kills and the intensity that leads up to them is what gives Massacre its staying power in cinematic history. If anything it is vastly superior to Nispel's 2003 remake and only makes more apparent why that more recent version didn't work. I can only imagine what a theatrical experience would have been like.


REVIEW: Away We Go (Sam Mendes, 2009)

I could relate to Away We Go so much it's crazy. For the better part of the film I felt like Sam Mendes had done an interpretation of my life over the past year (especially during Maggie Gyllenhaal's scenes).

Similar to Mendes' recent Revolutionary Road, it takes a few scenes of stilted dialog to get going (the dinner with Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels felt like the first table read) but quickly becomes Revolutionary Road's antithesis - a low-key yet uproarious situational comedy of sorts (until its more sentimental and mellow - but far from contrived - second half). Jim Gaffigan is particularly notable for his deadpan performance that had me in stitches.

One might compare aspects of Away We Go to the likes of Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. I might also if it weren't for my feeling like I was watching a more entertaining version of my life.

It is not a perfect film and it is not made for everyone, but boy is it ever made for me. Hopefully Maya Rudolph will gain notoriety for her performance, which is just as good if not better than her brief (and also impregnated) turn in the Prairie Home Companion film. John Krasinski plays, as one might expect, a differently motivated version of Jim from The Office, but it's a role he does so well and, as a male, I found him to be a great grounding point for the film even during its crazier moments. I'm sure his character's counterpart is the same for female audience members.

Overall, Away We Go is a sweet, honest and often hilarious slice of a couple's journey to find home and it's the first film since The Weather Man to leave me so pleasantly trapped in its aura well beyond it's ending. It's a great addition to a great day, and is easily Mendes' best film since Road to Perdition.


REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 2008)

So I just caught Pirates of the Caribbean: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. At least it felt like that, just with a bumbling Harrison Ford in place of a wisecracking Johnny Depp. Before I get too far I should note that I am not a huge fan of Kingdom's predecessors. I don't hate them but I've never had the urge to revisit them so there may have been some classic Jones-isms that I missed out on, thereby decreasing my enjoyment of the screen candy of this recent installment.

The film can basically be summed up into these three acts: One - CGI prairie dogs watch as a painfully stilted Ford makes multiple excuses for being old, Two - Spielberg creates a CGI amusement park ride that is desperate to be worth the admission price (I hate to sound like I'm defending Pirates of the Caribbean but at least it was based on a ride) and Three - The most ridiculous CGI and the most predictable and contrived plot points battle for Razzie awards. Oh, and throughout we have Shia LaBeouf, who can't pronounce the film's title (Crystal Skoal, anyone?) so much as act (not that the piss-poor writing was helping him), pulling his best Scrappy Doo impression. Incidentally... what was the point of giving him the silly name "Mutt" if they only use it once, that being when they introduce him?

Anyway... there are a few positives. For one, the film does have a spark of adventurous spirit thanks to the fire that Ford (rarely) gets in his eyes upon making a discovery. There are also a few decent laughs (the entire quicksand sequence was actually very successfully funny) but these often don't find their footing as they are spattered haphazardly throughout action sequences that make even less sense for having included jokes.

Sure, Kingdom is not supposed to be taken completely seriously. It's a live-action comic book. There's a certain extent it reaches pretty early on, however, where gloriously killing its darlings only to bring them back unscathed not seconds later turns into a series of "you have got to be kidding me" moments. If you haven't seen the movie, all the moments you've heard made fun of are just as silly as they sound. Now, ultimately I take no issue with films whose only purpose is to captivate popcorn munchers... I just don't subscribe to them unless they have at least a little more going for them... and that's where Kingdom really fails. It teases at a very compelling story but focuses more on the flimsy Russian threat... and I use the term "threat" very loosely. The key villain isn't even developed enough to make her payoff anything more than an "oh, they did that better in the other Jones movies" moment.

So overall, it's worth the watch if you're a die-hard or if you're desperate for some of the most over-the-top action this side of Transformers, but it's got "Modern George Lucas" written all over it though honestly, I'm not sure if it had much going for it before his involvement trashed any potential. If I had to describe my feelings toward it in one sentence I would say, "What the hell did I just watch!?"


REVIEW: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Patrick Tatopoulos, 2009)

Rise of the Lycans, the most sophisticated of the Underworld films so far, is still a good time on repeat viewings. The action does peak during the first half but the romantic (and occasionally harlequin) story keeps it chugging at a good clip. Character development may be thrown to the wayside a bit but for people familiar with the predecessors this shouldn't be an issue. Similar to those predecessors, the effects flip between practical effects and CGI though not as elegantly.

For what can be assumed to be sales purposes the film is marketed with the idea that Rhona Mitra is the focus. Not only would the marketing have been more original if the truth of Michael Sheen as the main character was at the forefront but Sheen's Lucian also makes for a fantastic hero. Sheen can carry many different types of characters - I was bummed to see him underused in Frost/Nixon but I greatly look forward to his (hopefully Oscar-buzzing) reprise of his Tony Blair role from The Queen in the upcoming film about the British Prime Minister.

Overall Rise of the Lycans, while including a few stumbles (particularly in the handling of that two-on-many sword fight in the citadel) benefits from having nearly everyone involved in the first two return to contribute and fits perfectly in the mythos while successfully paying tribute to its pre-established fans. I'd rank it as my second favorite Underworld so far. I still like Evolution much more but it's easily better than the original which, for me, struggled to find its footing and even inspired a strong disliking from me before I saw the sequel.

I might also mention that Bill Nighy's third outing as Viktor in Rise quite probably firms him up as the best on-screen vampire since Gary Oldman in Coppola's Dracula, in my opinion (in a classic sense, thereby excluding the excellent likes of Dorff's Frost and Goss' Nomak in Blade and Blade II, respectively).


QUICKIE: On The Doll (Thomas Mignone, 2007)

It would be too complimentary to call On The Doll a mess. Up until the third act the story is barely there and the ultimately useless relationships between the characters are vague. The film begins with the end but the audience is left confused as can be until the scene plays again because the only character in the portion of the bit they show makes his only appearance in that scene! That character, by the way, is the only somewhat respectable character in the film and that's simply because we don't know a thing about him.

Now, I've got no problem with unlikable characters or entire casts of them for that matter... but every single other character in On The Doll was so downright despicable that I couldn't wait for them to stop contaminating my life or at least so they could stop dropping completely unnecessary F-bombs every other word. What the film lacks in substance is far from made up for by the useless frenetic camera and an uninspired, pseudo-industrial score (and calling it a score is an overstatement).

On The Doll tries to make a misanthropic statement regarding the underbelly of society but only succeeds with its in-your-face symbolism. Aside from that, it merely rubs dirt in the audience's face and demands, "Isn't this nasty!? Isn't it!?" Again, I have no problem with films that contain negative subject matter. Pervasive sex, excessive language or whatever is deemed fit to tell a story and deliver a message... it's all fine with me... but On The Doll fails in most every aspect. I imagine it only exists to shock teenagers into saying, "Woah, I don't want to be a prostitute" or at the very least, "Woah, that guy is really taking a pounding to his nuts."


QUICKIE: A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy's Dead (Rachel Talalay, 1991)

The first half of Freddy's Dead may just be the most fun you'll have watching a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Whereas the first installment is easily the best cinematically, this one does the best job of throwing all that to the wind and simply having a good time, complete with one of the more hackneyed (therefore, in this case, awesome) uses of 3D this reviewer has happily come across. The effects aren't as good as in the comfusing music video that is Dream Child and the characters aren't as well developed as in Freddy's Revenge or Dream Warriors but the pieces work together as a whole for the sake of sheer entertainment better than with any of the other sequels.

Sure, this sixth film does introduce possibly the most cliched and predictable plot twist a slasher series in its autumn years can put forth but hey, what are ya gonna do? Every Freddy flick contradicts the last with some new facet of his existence revealed for the sake of continuing the franchise.

The cameos in this one make for some extra fun and while Kreuger leans further toward the comedian role with each installment, he takes the cake here and brings the laughs big time. If you dig Talalay's irreverent style that appreciates the so-cheesy-it's-goodness of 80's slashers, you'll likely dig this. It's unfortunate the follow up (Wes Craven's swan song for Freddy, New Nightmare) fails to meet its potential and proves to be the only Nightmare film completely devoid of value.


QUICKIE: Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

The second installment in the Alien series may well be the very definition of "wild entertainment". Sure, it started as sort of big-budget version of your typical 80's fare but it very soon became an absolute blast - a 'ride through hell' as Cameron put it in the introduction. The extended cut flew right by with awe-inspiring suspense, action, laughs and a touching relationship between Ripley and her new found friend Newt, who was great... and I often hate little kids in movies. There's not a single dull moment to be found as soon as the action begins. I was riveted in the pure escapism and blown away by how absolutely incredible the effects (and how Cameron filmed them) were.

At one point during the climax I actually felt tears of joy welling up due to how modern cinemas never see this kind of quality anymore. Cameron's Aliens is one to look to when wondering how to come into a franchise and improve upon nearly every one of its aspects.


REVIEW: The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

I finally saw last year's alleged holy grail. I don't think Nolan's usual tricks (that he used SO well in The Prestige) worked very well. There were only an itty bitty handful of moments that had me intrigued (that truck flip I'd heard so much about WAS pretty darn cool but the rest of the action was... well, I'll just say that I don't think Nolan has any clue how to direct a hand-to-hand combat scene).

I was not surprised to learn that David S. Goyer had a hand in the writing because a lot of it reminded me of how Blade: Trinity unfolded. Very different films, obviously... but the treatment of Batman in this one reminded me a lot of the treatment of Blade in Trinity. I won't go into detail on the much discussed bat-voice.

So what did I like about it? Dent. Eckhart was great in the role and the handling of his character throughout was well done. His makeup/CGI worked seamlessly, although I'm not sure why he didn't have a speech impediment.

The whole final act was really weak for me, though... it didn't make the boring, why-the-hell-are-people-comparing-this-to-the-Godfather opening act worth it... and the sonar vision was just plain stupid. Oh, and they gave the two-bit extras actors center stage for the ferry boat thing. They were awful throughout and then they were given their own big-budget soap opera to "act" out.

I was holding out hope for a decent final scene but that Oldman monologue was pretty much the opposite of what I felt the rest of the film was going for. They're turning Batman into Blandman by making him realistic but they had the film end on an incredibly cheesy, melodramatic note that ties all the themes (which seemed less like themes and more like afterthoughts) together like an episode of Grey's Anatomy with the lackluster score playing us out. This whole superhero deconstruction might work better if it didn't demand to be taken more seriously than a cancer-ridden Holocaust survivor with AIDS.

I realize I haven't mentioned the Joker. Well, I don't blame Ledger for the fact that he made no impact on me. The film should have either been about Dent or Joker... not both. I cared so little about the Joker storyline that... that... well, that I can't think of anything to compare it to because I'll so quickly forget it tomorrow when I become more intrigued with the bubbles that form near the drain of my tub while I shower.


QUICKIE: Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, 2008)

I wouldn't go as far as to call Frost/Nixon boring... but it my, was it ever bland. While the third act was, in a word, good, the only reason I'd say this film is worth seeing is for Langella's performance as Nixon. The few worthy moments the film had were thanks to him.

The reason I rented it (along with the hope that I might learn a little something, which didn't happen) was Michael Sheen but considering his character's name is in the title and particularly considering his character is arguably the protagonist and the reason anything in the story happens he is severely underutilized. Frost is horribly underdeveloped and I'm not sure how much blame can be placed on Sheen, who has only shown me great things in the past (The Queen, anyone?), because the script doesn't seem to have given him much to work with. Too much is given to the idea that things are happening around him without any focus on the fact that he's really the catalyst.

Also, I'm not sure to what benefit the talking head segments were. The actors did a decent job with them, Bacon being a standout, but they simply seemed to be there to add some semblance of a 'style' to the proceedings.

I'd say skip it... unless maybe you were around for Watergate and a retread of the aftermath would be interesting to you.


QUICKIE: Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

Suspiria, the first (and long overdue) Argento I've taken in, is a sandwich made with delicious bread and zesty condiments but lackluster meat. The opening slice didn't hesitate to plaster me to the wall and bat me around, claws bared, and I was ready for the astounding barrage of beautiful terror to continue. The meat of the film, while fast-paced, didn't move things along very well though, to the point where Argento only begins to hint at some semblance of storyline around the halfway mark. What we do have is thoroughly flavored with a keen use of light, shadow, color and pattern that is reminiscent of German expressionism and the score provides an aural banquet that can't be argued with.

As I've heard many times about the notorious director's work, however, it is style over substance. Argento seems to understand the aesthetics of horror very well, but since he doesn't provide us with any comprehension of the unfolding events, we are left with what is, at its best moments, a really great-looking music video. Without knowing at least a little bit about what's going on, it is difficult to invest in anything beyond what is presented on the surface. Once we do become clued in, the events, to an extent, mirror the third act of Rosemary's Baby. Thankfully, the closing slice is a great payoff for the patient, as it is equal to if not better than the opening.

Overall it's well worth the watch though while exemplifying some of the tastiest aesthetics the horror world has to offer, writers won't be taking cues from it any time soon.


QUICKIE: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008)

Fincher, aside from the Fight Club adaptation, continually disappoints me. It was basically a boring version of Forrest Gump (substitute the CGI feather for a CGI hummingbird). Come to think of it, it's the second long, boring movie in a row from Brad Pitt (the first being The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford... what a snore that was aside from the often beautiful photography).

Speaking of actors, Cate Blanchett was annoying as ever. I couldn't stand her cartoony performance in The Aviator (everything else about that movie is great, though), I couldn't stand her equally cartoony performance in the unfortunately underwhelming I'm Not There and I couldn't stand her here.

The whole thing wasn't even well-paced and I'm not even sure it knew what it was trying to be about. Possibly the only thing I liked was Tilda Swinton (although I guess the guy getting hit by lightning was pretty funny... I just couldn't muster laughter because my face was in perma-frown mode due to the rest of the proceedings). Most of the time I couldn't even tell what people were saying because they were mumbling and whispering.

By the way, Mr. Fincher... putting a cheap filter from Final Cut on your flashback footage does not make it look like it was filmed in the 20's. It makes it look worse than the similar (and similarly failed) effect in Planet Terror.