Friday, August 29, 2008

Did You "Know"?



ANYWAY. I recently heard about this movie, and noticed that neither Joel nor Teri seem to know about it (Or at least haven't mentioned it). Thereby, I figured I may as well give ya'll the misconception that I'm actually worth something. So here it is. I, personally, think it should be about 3 stars, or maybe POSSIBLY 3 1/2. That is, if Saint Nick doesn't pull another Ghost Rider.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras

I don't know if anybody has even heard of this film...but I'm trying to find a website that has videos from the film...or at least movie stills.

I know that I've seen a movie still somewhere, and in the back of my mind, way, way, way back in my mind, I think that I've seen more than one. I know I've the two posters for it, but something tells me I know more than I think I do about this film. Everytime I see the face on the front of that video box, deja vu happens. It's like reincarnation really IS true, and in a previous life (or alternate life) I've seen the movie. Creepy, but interesting. It seems (again in the very kaboose of my brain) that I really have seen Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras. Like I really have seen a film in which Galileo and a very fat ninja resembling Chris Farley are released from purgatory. I know I haven't, but it seems like I have...

There is only one copy on I hope no one buys it. For two reasons: (1) A friend and I are planning a sequel so I need to watch it. (2) That ever-nagging feeling in the back of my head. Like I watched it before, but only erased it from my brain 98%, and that 2% is coming back to haunt me. Some blurred image from my conscience involving a disfigured man keeps popping up on me.

Weird feeling...

For those of you who don't know (then again, who would) Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras is an underground horror "film" shot between the years of 1992 and 1994 and released into VERY limited theatrical release in August 1999. The "film" (which made an astonishing $978 in theaters) was then released onto videotape (and the then-outdated laserdisc) ten days later where it made an adjective-less $8. In April 2001 at the Two Boots Film Festival in NYC (I've never heard of it either, perhaps because it shut down after showing this film), they had a screening of Zombie! vs. Mardi Gras. Reports are that the film was met with an audience of ten and at the end nobody remained in the theater. In April 2006, it was for some idiotic reason released on DVD. I don't know why. Nobody purchased in not one human being in America bought this film on DVD. It is widely known as the worst film ever professionally produced, along side "Okrah: The Killer Mutant Plant from Outer Space!" and "Cut Up". Yes, both those films are real, despite what you will not find on iMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Google, or Ask. Don't ask me how I know this.

And yet, there is a $22 VHS on It's lucky that I'm, what, the ONLY person who even has a working VHS player. When (yes, WHEN) I buy this film, I will be writing a review of it. Then my friend and I can have a heyday making said sequel.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (***)

Featuring the voices of Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, and James Arnold Taylor
Directed by Dave Filoni
Rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language, and momentary smoking
99 minutes

Imagine my surprise after the horrid trailers for Star Wars: The Clone Wars that the film works, despite a somewhat uneventful beginning that includes some of the worst narration ever spoken. Its animation is rather standard, but like the rest of the film, it’s better than expected from those hideous advertisements, some moments genuinely beautiful to look at. This may not quite be the Star Wars you’re familiar with, but it’s a fun little diversion.

Clone Wars acts as nothing else than filler for what happened between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but luckily it’s entertaining filler. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are animated this time, in what is basically a theatrical pilot episode for a future Cartoon Network series. Their mission this time around is to retrieve Jabba the Hutt’s son from the clutches of an unknown villain. Obi-Wan and tiny Jedi master Yoda are stumped, but Anakin thinks Count Dooku is involved (and he isn’t wrong).

What works here is none other than the insanely exciting action sequences (my favorite is an impressively mounted—and vertical—battle on the side of a mountain that goes on for at least fifteen minutes and never feels it), rather than characters or exposition. Really, the action is what Star Wars fans are going to see, and it’s wonderfully animated.

If you want to talk to a true Star Wars fan, talk to me. I have grown up with George Lucas’ original three-film series, as well as the impressive (to me, at least) “prequilogy”. Now this. As with Attack of the Clones, by far the weakest of the live-action films, second-rate Star Wars movies are still better than some. This is no WALL-E, but after that Space Chimps debacle, I liked this film just fine. It does service to the Star Wars universe, and it’s fun.

Are there flaws? Yes, many. For instance, would it be so hard to stick to the original musical score? It’s weird enough not seeing the Twentieth Century Fox logo in front of a movie in this series, and weirder still to hear a murdered version of the famous tune. Also, the characters are poorly animated, like a cross between humans and the characters in a Legos video game. This sometimes proves to be a hindrance to enjoying the movie. Finally, the dialogue is worse than usual for a Star Wars film, most of the humor by way of jokester droids. The words that Ahsoka has to say are bland, not revealing her character at all.

But, all-in-all, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a success, if not an overwhelming one. I liked the spirit of the film over everything, as well as its stubborn refusal to avoid going to surprisingly dark places for a PG-rated, animated film.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

2006: A Retrospective (Part 1 of 3)

The year 2006, to me, was an extraordinary one. Cinema sparkled and fizzled with originality. The 40+ movies I saw were mostly great ones (with a few disappointments and three major failures of note). The great films, though, were many, and it was mighty difficult to pick only ten that I liked.

But here goes the attempt:

In a year of good if disappointing summer tentpoles, M:I III best represents what can be done with the genre if everything was done correctly. At the forefront is a remarkable performance by Tom Cruise, an actor who is seriously underrated. The action scenes are simply magnificent in the film, which, while not perfect, is among the most viscerally exciting action films of the new decade. The direction, by "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams (he was responsible for this year's Cloverfield, as well), rivals Paul Greengrass's for The Bourne Trilogy. I have watched this film over and over, and am still astounded by the sheer creativity of the project. I hope they make a fourth film.

This is a prime example of a family film that works beautifully the whole way through. When I saw this film in April of 2006 (or May, I can't remember) I was not expecting very much. But from the first frame to its last, Akeelah and the Bee simply works. The story is beyond conventional; we know every step it will take before it takes it. But that is necessary in a movie that could and should not be allowed to cheat the audience with a fake ending. It's the right one for this movie, and a beautiful one. Keke Palmer will be remembered for this film.

In an Altmanesque move, writer-director-star Emilio Estevez put together an incredible ensemble of stars: from greats Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, and Helen Hunt, to newer actors Shia LaBeouf, Lindsay Lohan, and Ashton Kutcher. Bobby is a highly underrated, emotionally cathartic drama, up until its shocking and devastating final images. I was transfixed by Bobby, which stands on its own as a near-great picture.

7. Happy Feet

Yes, Happy Feet. As soon as I saw this film, I knew I'd seen a classic in the making. Telling a universal and important story, while keeping the visual liveliness incredibly detailed, Happy Feet was nothing short of dazzling when it came out in 2006. Many condemned it for forcing a message about environmentalism, but what it really does is intimately side with the penguins on the matter. No, they may not be humans or have human feelings, but they are affected, and the fact that they are not emotionally damaged doesn't mean we shouldn't care. That's what the film is about: taking joy in the life of an insignificant thing.

6. Saw III

I know, I know. You're wondering why I would have a film relegated to the "Torture Porn" genre on my top ten list, right? Well, Saw III is a little different. More frightening than expected, as well as more emotional and character-driven than the other films of the subgenre probably are (I haven't seen them), this film is helped along by a riveting performance by Tobin Bell as the creepiest villain in recent years. The "clown puppet on a tricycle" gimmick was thankfully "second-stringed" for a surprisingly effective character drama hidden under the sadistic violence and torture. Jigsaw's games start to get to his victims' heads, but it presents a question for us as well: Should we choose suicide when nothing is going our way, or life? What if we were forced to choose between two options: commit suicide, or die trying to escape? This is a thoughtful rumination on fate, but the movie doesn't simply sprinkle it in between the villain's contraption scenes. The themes build upon one another until the surprisingly tender end, when the villain is seen, not as the king in the chess game, but a player as well. He's a human with a moral compass, however skewed it may be.

5. Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls is a pitch perfect examination of the 60s R&B scene, at its center a tour de force performance from Eddie Murphy, in his first live-action movie role since the critically eviscerated The Adventures of Pluto Nash way back in 2002 (that Murphy did not win the Supporting Actor Oscar is an outrage). Ultimately Dreamgirls is much more than your average musical biopic; it's character piece of the highest order. Not only was Murphy electric, but so were Jamie Foxx as the discriminative agent, and "American Idol" contestant Jennifer Hudson in an Academy Award-winning performance as the most troubled of the Dreamgirls.

4. The Pursuit of Happyness

Some people I know called this simply "The Pursuit..." with the second part of the title left off in a rather strange attempt to bring across their distaste for this film. Why this is I'm not sure. What I am sure of--this is a masterpiece. Even though the film is somewhat low-key, a la Million Dollar Baby, it's final few minutes are pure, unadulterated, perfect. I embraced the downtrodden tone, that anguished feeling of misery, of never quite getting your way, and the final sequence is, in fact, happy, without ever feeling sentimental or forced. The characters, as well as the audience, deserves those final moments. They are the icing on an intricate, powerful film that I have never forgotten to this day.

3. The Descent

A terrifying, enthralling, deceptively simple horror film, The Descent is one of the best of its kind ever made. The plot is threadbare, as is necessary: five women descend into a cave on a spelunking, and one makes it out. This is not revealing anything in the film; what happens to these women is entirely unpredictable and for you to discover. A film like The Descent comes around once in a blue moon (Cloverfield was the same way), but when it does come, it deserves rejoicing. The documentary filmmaking style is the key to the film's success, such as in one scene that depicts a character that gets trapped under falling rocks, and brings the most visceral impact on the viewer. Ultimately, it is both a horror film, and a rumination on mortality and fear.

2. Pan's Labyrinth

If my No. 3 film was the scariest horror film of 2006, then Pan's Labyrinth is like the weird, visionary stepchild. That film's humanoid cave creatures were like the long-lost family of the Pale Man in this film, which was very close to beating my number one film to its spot. This mind-bending fantasy is definitely meant for adults, but the themes of the film are what work the best. The film is ultimately a tragedy in many ways--a main character dies in the end similarly, if much more tragically than, in Bridge to Terabithia, the sort of PG-rated version of this from not even two months later. It's even better than that film, which will show up on a later list, and ultimately a marvelous war film above everything else, with a masterful lead performance in child actor Ivana Baquero, as the film's Alice in a terrifying, bizarre Wonderland.

1. Children of Men

This was, no doubt about it, the greatest achievement that 2006 offered. An emotionally draining, creatively masterful, thinking man's science fiction film, Children of Men was nothing short of a masterpiece that deserves every accolade that it can be given. The story is almost deceptively simple: A man must protect and deliver a pregnant girl into the safety of a boat that will bring her to a highly secure military facility. The reason is frighteningly plausible: There are no longer any women able to produce children. Is this what we will come to? Director Alfonso Cuaron, a friend of the director of my number two film, has created a realistic and, as I said before, frightening future, not unlike Spielberg's two visions, and just as creatively designed.

The leading performance, by a transcendent Clive Owen, is the catalyst for the film's ultimate power. Owen's character is an everyman, which raises the question of what an everyman would do in this position. The moment that Theo realizes his mission is possibly the finest bit of facial acting this decade has seen. What he utters at this point has surprisingly Christian undertones (most Christians I've talked to have taken this utterance as the Lord's name in vain; I take it as a reminder of a similar situation that Mary and Joseph had 2,000 years ago). It's the deepest film of 2006, and as many movies as I have seen from that year, I doubt that will change.

Quick note...

I will be writing articles for Retrospectives on 2006 and 2007. This is something I have been wanting to do, but haven't had the time.

Each year will be sectioned into three parts: The Best 10 films of that year, The Worst 5, and what I call the "JSC Awards" (sort of my own Academy Awards).

It starts with the next post! And of course it will come at the end of this year, too...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

To come later... Tropic Thunder review. Tonight, maybe, tomorrow morning definitely. Just going to say it's amazing.

Till then...

Monday, August 11, 2008

On viral marketing...

Tropic Thunder may not be the movie that virally markets the most (that would be The Dark Knight), but it's pretty awesome. To see what I mean click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Oh, its Facebook page, which I recently joined.

Seriously, this viral marketing thing is pretty genius. TDK has about 40 viral sites, which I won't link here. Go on IMDB for that. But I love it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Review: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (***)

Starring Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, and Jet Li
Directed by Rob Cohen
Rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence
113 minutes

Like the first film and sequel, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has the sort of shameless, B-movie entertainment of 80s movies (most specifically, Indiana Jones). They are tailor-made for the summer season, eye candy for those who don’t want something too deep after thoughtful summer fare like The Dark Knight or The X-Files. I liked it a lot.

Brendan Fraser reprises his role as Rick O’Connell, who is as much a paleontologist as Indy Jones is an archaeologist. This time around, he and Evelyn are retired from the mummy-vanquishing gig, and Evelyn is happily transferring her adventures into best-selling books. All that changes when they are asked to return the Eye of Shangri-La to a museum in Shanghai. Soon, they learn that their son, Alex, has dropped out of school and into a boatload of trouble. This all leads to a plot about a curse placed on an emperor in an ancient land.

It’s just as ridiculous as the new Indiana Jones picture, if about 75% as fun. The action scenes don’t always entertain, but the final one, a massive battle between two undead armies, is every bit as exciting as the car chase in the earlier film. Obviously the visual effects in this picture have improved since 2001, when The Mummy Returns was released, and they are well-used here.

As for the acting, it’s adequate, as it was the earlier films. Coming up strongest, surprisingly, is Jet Li, who gives a slithery good performance in the title role, though, for the record, he’s not just a dragon emperor. Like the Monkey King in The Forbidden Kingdom (a film I enjoyed more than this, I must say), the Dragon Emperor has a tragic past, making him a character in a story, not just a guy to defeat; Li does a good job of capturing this, even when the special effects take over. Brendan Fraser, reprising his role as Rick, Luke Ford as Alex, and Michelle Yeoh as a mystical witch are all very good, but a missing-in-action Rachel Weisz makes way for a terrible performance from the usually good Maria Bello. Stale, awkward, and wooden, Bello never fits into the role of Evelyn, switching between accents and facial expressions without an emotion in sight.

The change in director, from Stephen Sommers to Rob Cohen, might have proved a better choice, actually. Cohen’s previous film, Stealth, was an utter debacle, yes, but he does work well with visual effects, something that a movie like Dragon Emperor needs. Sommers was good, but his editor obviously had the day off, and Cohen is more assured.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is one of the biggest surprises this year, an entertaining, if not terribly original, B movie.

Get Some

Tropic Thunder, in my mind, has the potential to be the greatest comedy of the last 25 years, give or take a couple. Here are six new clips, as well as the awesome trailer and an interview with the actors. My review will be on Wednesday evening (latest Thursday morning).


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Weekly Movie Roundup

Here is my first post in the Weekly Movie Roundup Series

James Berardinelli

"Not clever enough to form the foundation of an 80-minute feature film."

"The movie tells the poignant tale of how one man - intelligent, urbane, and witty - represents his own worst enemy when it comes to relationships."

Hell Ride
"The film is at times enjoyable in a lurid, campy way, although not so consistently that I can recommend it to anyone who isn't a die-hard fan of the genre."

In Search of A Midnight Kiss
"In Search of a Midnight Kiss is wonderfully romantic and romantically bittersweet.

Man on Wire
"Man on Wire is a fascinating time capsule: a combination of talking-head interviews, actual footage, and re-creations that evokes a kinder, gentler world and provides insight into one of the most audacious stunts of the 20th century."

Pineapple Express
"The humor in this movie is smart enough that even a moderate level of intoxication or inebriation is not necessary to enjoy it."

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
"The strength of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, like its unnumbered predecessor, lies in the appeal and complexity of the characters."

Roger Ebert

"The color strategy of the movie is part of its effect. It is drab, brown, desaturated."

Bottle Shock
"The director milks great entertainment, if not actual suspense, out of the competition."

Boy A
"...paints an accurate portrait of working-class life in the north of England, the grimness of the streets contrasting with the beauty of the countryside."

"It centers on an extraordinary performance that plays like an unceasing panic attack."

Hell Ride
"The movie was executive produced by Quentin Tarantino. Shame on him. He intends it no doubt as another homage to grindhouse pictures, but I've seen a lot of them, and they were nowhere near this bad."

Man on Wire
"...the documentary, a hybrid of actual and restaged footage, is constructed like a first-rate thriller."

The Pineapple Express
"It's a quality movie even if the material is unworthy of the treatment."

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
"The movie intercuts quickly but not confusingly from one story to another, is dripping with seductive locations, is not shy about romantic cliches and has a lot of heart."

Dustin Putman

Bottle Shock
"A curiously languid, emotionally detached experience. "Bottle Shock" is light on plot, which would be fine if the characters were well-formed and given interesting things to say. They aren't, and they do not."

Hell Ride
"The action is negligible. The wordplay is awkward. The revenge plot is perfunctory since no one seems all that upset about the initial victim. Like a dream that vanishes the moment you awake, the memory of "Hell Ride" is foggy and half-forgotten mere hours after seeing it."

The Pineapple Express
"Begins as a been-there-done-that stoner romp before turning into an outlandishly silly and graphically violent action-thriller. The tone may be schizophrenic, but the sheer, unabashed showmanship of the whole thing warrants praising."

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
"A solid if not wholly necessary sequel, but Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget are so pleasant to spend a couple hours with that it hardly matters. "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" never talks down to its audience, and that alone is worth more than most female-bonding pictures of this ilk."


Until this week...

WMR info

Before I jump into this, I should give y'all some info about, oh say, what it is!

What I will be doing is rounding up the reviews of three different movie critics (James Berardinelli, Roger Ebert, and Dustin Putman) each week.

Until later today...

Bernie Mac (1958-2008)

I loved the guy. I never really told anyone, but he was genius.

This morning, Bernie Mac, that great comedian, died suddenly of complications with pneumonia. He was 50.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mac.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sorry for the delay...

...but my review of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor will come tomorrow (maybe). I won't have the chance to see it today. Keep your eyes open. Also, later today expect a review of the first two films.