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Tuesday, August 30, 2011



"You know, they don't like bright lights."
-- Sally

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a 2011 horror film directed by Troy Nixey that serves as a remake of a 1973 TV-movie of the same name. When her mother sends Sally (Bailee Madison) to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) at the Rhode Island mansion they're restoring, the tension is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. As Sally explores the mansion grounds one day, she stumbles upon a hidden basement of which her father had no knowledge. When they pry the basement open, Sally begins to hear voices calling her name from beneath a furnace. Curious, she begins to pry the steel gate open but is quickly stopped by the groundskeeper Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson), who is subsequently attacked by a group of goblin-like creatures. Terrified by the encounter, Sally begins to fear for her own safety inside the house. She starts to have her own encounters with the creatures, and they become increasingly more bold as time continues to pass. However, she cannot convince her father that the creatures exist, and she continually finds herself stuck in battles against them on her own. Soon, the creatures start to make their presence even more known, and ultimately, no one can deny their existence or their ultimate goal: to kidnap Sally.

I had mixed feelings going into this film. The main reason behind seeing the film in theaters was the hope that the audience reaction would be rather comical. I personally didn't think there'd be much in terms of quality cinema from Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, but I suppose you can't ever count out Guillermo del Toro completely, even if he's only producing a film. Unfortunately, I couldn't really get into this one at any point in the film.

I thought it started out relatively well with a sufficiently creepy opening sequence. The scene set the tone well, and from that point, we could have had a decent flick. Sadly, things spiraled from there, and a lot of it has to do with issues with screenplay and continuity. I can't quite get into specific instances - for starters, I'd rather not give anything away, but I also don't want to spend ages writing this post - but I can tell you that there were quite a few eye-rolling instances in terms of storyline and plot development. Quite a few horror clichés fell into place throughout the film, and there were even a couple laughable moments. Ultimately, however, there just wasn't any real explanation of any of the events in the film. As I walked out of the theater, I felt like I had more questions than answers, and that's never a good sign for a film.

The acting wasn't horrendous, but I wouldn't go out of my way to applaud the performers either. It felt a little like Pearce and Holmes were mailing in their performances, and if they actually read the script beforehand, I don't really blame them. They weren't going to have a ton with which to work, so I didn't really see any motivation for either of them to bring their A-game. I thought Madison was decent in the film's central role, and I've been quite the proponent of her acting ability since I first saw her 2009's Phoebe in Wonderland. I think she has a bright future ahead of her, but Don't Be Afraid of the Dark didn't necessarily give her the opportunity to showcase her talents.

However, the biggest problem with the film was easily the style of direction. Even though the film had the del Toro stamp, it didn't really feel like a del Toro film. Instead, it's Troy Nixey's first feature-length directorial effort, and you can see where the inexperience shines through. He doesn't really command the presence the camera gives, and with a film this dark, it should have had a very brooding quality about it. Instead, it all felt a little dull, and at moments, it was downright boring. I went to see the film with a friend who never leaves the theater for a bathroom break, but she was so off-put by the pace of the film that she managed to make it to the restroom and back without missing anything of importance. That's not a good sign for any film, but it's especially true for a film in the horror genre. If you're not throwing out cheap thrills, then you need to keep the viewer in constant suspense. Otherwise, you're going to lose your audience.

Ultimately, I can't begin to recommend you see this film. Definitely don't take the time to see it in theaters - wait to rent it if you're really dying to watch it. It's getting mixed review from critics right now, but this critic is definitely panning it just a tad. As much as I wish I could have loved it, it was just too confusing and too boring to be considered a quality film.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: D
1.5 Thumbs Down

Monday, August 29, 2011


Not Rated

"I hear a mountain lion! I gotta get back to my house, and you better get to your car!"
-- Tree Hugger

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a 2010 horror film directed by James Nguyen that centers around freak flocks of birds attacking citizens in a small town in northern California. At the beginning of the film, we see the budding relationship between software salesman Rod (Alan Bagh) and fashion model Nathalie (Whitney Moore). As the two become closer and closer, they start to take their relationship to deeper, more intimate levels. After spending an evening in a motel in a small town, a flock of eagles starts to attack the outside of their room, crashing into the window in an attempt to get inside. They team with another young couple, Ramsey (Adam Sessa) and Becky (Catherine Batcha), and together, they flee the motel. Along their road to survival, they meet Dr. Jones (Rick Camp), who tells the group that global warming has led the birds to their inexplicable acts of rage. As the group tries to stay alive, they face more and more danger, and it takes more and more willpower just to keep moving on.

Have you ever driven down the highway and seen an accident, and as bad as it may look, there's simply no way for you to take your eyes away? That's Birdemic. From the very start, I knew I was witnessing one of the absolute worst pieces of cinema I had ever beheld, but I was powerless to avert my eyesight from the television screen. There's absolutely nothing going right for this film, and it's a trainwreck from the opening credits.

Let's start with the premise: we're obviously stealing the very concept of Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 classic, The Birds, and appropriating it to modern times. Unfortunately, the screenplay does absolutely nothing to aid this contemporary telling of the story. For the first forty-five minutes, all we see is the courtship between our two stars. It takes half the movie for us to see our first bird attack, and boy is it a doozy. The eagles start to kamikaze themselves into gas stations, causing mass explosions. Then they start to attack the motel. Then they chase anything and everything outside, as long as it's in the film's direct shot. For whatever reason, the computer-generated birds seem to avoid the background cars that continue to roll down the highway as though there's no danger whatsoever. Trust me, there's continuity issues galore in this one. And please don't get me started about this film's political agenda. Now, I have no problem with films exploring political issues and making statements, but when they're made this blatantly in such a humdrum manner, I almost find it offensive. To use a film like this as a backdrop for your ideas on political issues is almost a slap in the face to the people who agree with your statement.

The camera editing is also atrocious in the first half of the movie. To be fair, Birdemic is an incredibly low-budget flick, but if a twelve-year-old with a modest budget can make higher-quality work, then there's something to be said about the badness that these adults bring to the screen. The editing is so bad that it's laughable, but luckily, it clears up a bit once the attacks star to occur. Unfortunately, that's when we're given our wonderful dose of CGI birds. Again, this is a low-budget film, but I honestly think they could've done a little bit better than what they brought to the table.

And what can I say about the acting? Bashing our male lead alone would be enough for me to write an entire paragraph, but I won't get into the specifics for each and every character. Moore is the shining point of the film, and she's terrible at best. Some of the supporting characters are equally atrocious, including the cameo from our Tree Hugger (Stephen Gustavson), who was quoted above.

Even the soundtrack is downright horrendous. I mean, it's not like the music itself is bad, but it all feels so pretentious that it makes you laugh right alongside it. Seriously, this film should have a laugh track.

All that being said, I have to say that I absolutely loved this film. It easily falls into the "so bad, it's good" category, and I found myself completely entertained from start to finish. I was rolling with laughter from the opening credits, and I continued to do so when the end credits crawled across the screen. There's no shock, and there's no terror, but there's definitely plenty of comedy. If you're a fan of trash films, Birdemic is a definite must-see. I can guarantee that you'll be highly entertained. I just can't wait to see the sequel.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: F
1.5 Thumbs Up

Worst All-Time: #2

Movie Review: BLITZ


"A word of advice, girls. If you're picking the wrong fight, at least pick the right weapon."
-- Detective Sergeant Tom Brant

Blitz is a 2011 crime thriller directed by Elliott Lester that centers around a rage-filled cop's attempts to bring a cop killer to justice. Detective Sergeant Tom Brant (Jason Statham) is constantly in hot water at his police precinct for his brutal methods of bringing suspects to justice. As he faces disciplinary action, some of his fellow officers start to be killed by a lone gunman who calls himself the Blitz (Aidan Gillen). With the help of Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), an officer from a nearby precinct, Brant starts to piece together the clues as to who the Blitz actually is. As more and more clues begin to surface, he starts to realize that he and the Blitz are more connected than he had originally presumed.

I first heard about this film from one of the people who follows the "This Movie Guy" Facebook page, and he recommended it rather highly. Adding to his recommendation was the inclusion of Statham in the lead role, and this all combined for a film that I deemed a personal must-see. For those of you who don't know, I have a little bit of a man-crush on Mr. Statham, and I'll watch literally any film in which he appears. He's the action hero of my generation, and he plays such a realistic character - even if it's the same exact character in every single movie - that it's hard for me to stay away from his films. So, with all of that coming together, I thought I'd be in for quite a show.

Unfortunately, I can't quite give Blitz my blessing. Now, we do get some relatively good performances. Statham is his usual self, bringing the action and the under-handed humor here and there. Considine brings a nice performance in an under-utilized character. We also get a fine bit from Zawe Ashton, who portrays the only main female character in the film. However, if the acting award has to go to anyone in this flick, it's our villain played by Gillen. He's a true bad guy of the 21st century, even dropping references to "updating his Facebook status" after being arrested. There's something very eerie and creepy about his character, and he fits the vein of charismatic villain quite well. Although his character psychology is a little shoddy, Gillen does a fine job bringing the character to life, and he should be commended.

The real issue I had with the film was the screenplay. While it has its moments of greatness, it mostly falls a little bit flat. For the first hour, I found myself rather lost as it seemed like there were too many intersecting storylines, some of which were entirely unnecessary. To be fair, the film does come together in the last twenty minutes or so, but everything before that point was so convoluted and confusing that I find it very difficult to keep myself invested in the events taking place on-screen. I felt like the film couldn't decide whether it wanted to be an all-out action thriller or a drawn-out, brooding crime drama. I think you can make an argument for either one, but if they were trying to combine the two, it just didn't work out very well.

Overall, I can't quite say that you should watch Blitz. It's a stylishly well-made film, but there's just no enthusiasm or pizazz behind it. There's just no energy to keep it moving along. It has its moments where it seems like it's going to be great, but then it slows down, and you get mired in bouts of boredom. Still, it's a Statham film, which is enough to get me to watch it. It's not one of his best, however.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: C+
0.5 Thumbs Up

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Movie Review: INSOMNIA


"A good cop can't sleep because he's missing a piece of the puzzle, and a bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him."
-- Ellie Burr

Insomnia is a 2002 crime thriller directed by Christopher Nolan that centers around a murder investigation in a small town in Alaska. When the body of a seventeen-year-old girl is found, local authorities call for help from Los Angeles homicide detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) to aid in the investigation. With the help of Detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), the trio starts to piece the puzzle together and soon finds a potential suspect. When they raid the man's cabin, however, Dormer gets lost in the fog and winds up shooting and killing his partner. Because no one else sees exactly what happens, Dormer blames the wanted suspect on the killing rather than taking the heat for the situation. His conscience starts to eat away at him, and he manages to be unable to sleep for his entire stay in Alaska, all while trying to solve the girl's murder. He finds the suspect, a local writer named Walter Finch (Robin Williams), but Finch blackmails Dormer by telling him that he saw what really happened with Dormer's partner. The two create a strange alliance that Dormer hopes will be mutually beneficial, but things continue to spiral out of control as Dormer continues to lose out on sleep.

Of Nolan's seven directorial efforts, Insomnia had been the only film I had yet to see. It had been staring at me from NetFlix's Instant Watch for months, but I finally had the time and the opportunity to sit down and give it a watch. I had always heard good things about the film, but it never really jumped out towards me as a must-see flick despite being directed by one of my favorite directors. Still, I figured I'd give it a shot at some point, and now seemed like just as good a time as any.

One of the first things you're going to notice is that it doesn't necessarily feel like a Nolan film. Of all of his directorial efforts, Insomnia is the only one that Nolan didn't write himself, so that probably explains the different type of feel. In a way, that hurts the film a little bit, but not by much. We're given a rather good screenplay, even if it's a little bit predictable. It's an interesting look at how insomnia can affect an individual's life. The only other film I remember seeing that portrayed an insomniac's lifestyle so effectively was the 2004 Christian Bale vehicle, The Machinist. Still, I just couldn't fall into this screenplay all that much because I could see exactly where it was going. That's not something you can say about Nolan-written scripts.

The acting is pretty solid in this one. Pacino is good as our lead, and even though I'm not the biggest Pacino fan, I thought he successfully drew in his normal, over-the-top personality and brought a quieter and more brooding performance for Insomnia. Sure, he delves into his typical over-the-top yelling persona a couple times, but old habits die hard, right? I thought Williams did a great job as the film's main antagonist. It's always fun to see an actor or actress try out a character different from anything they've done before, and I think that can be said about Williams' role in Insomnia. He brings an effective level of creepy to the screen that translates very well. Swank also does well in her supporting role, but I thought her character was a little under-utilized. There was definitely more opportunity to showcase her, but the filmmakers chose not to take it.

At the end of the day, Insomnia is a good film for Nolan's filmography, but it doesn't really hold a candle to his other work. Still, it's a decent flick that's head-and-shoulders above a lot of the other stuff being churned out by Hollywood nowadays, so I can't completely bash it. If you've got nothing else going on, give this one a view. Perhaps you'll enjoy it a little more than I did.

Movie Review SummaryGrade: B
1 Thumb Up

Addition to Awards
2002: Nominee - Best Supporting Actress, Drama

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Movie Review: PATHOGEN

Not Rated

"The whole infection thing's really nuts."
-- Dannie

Pathogen is a 2006 horror film directed by Emily Hagins that centers around a group of pre-teens trying to survive a zombie epidemic. When a highly-dangerous nanochip finds its way into the local water source, anyone who drinks the water becomes infected with a mysterious illness that ultimately kills them. After a short time, however, the afflicted are re-animated and start to hunt the living. One young girl named Dannie (Rose Kent-McGlew) starts to question how the infection came about and starts asking some of the kids around her school for information. She teams with a small group of survivors, including her best friend Sam (Alec Herskowitz), Christine (Tiger Darrow) and Cameron (Tony Vespe). As they do their best to stay alive, they run into Sue (Rebecca Elliott), the researcher responsible for creating the nanochip that ultimately caused the virus to spread. As time continues to pass, and more people turn into flesh-eating zombies, the group does everything they can just to keep on living.

I heard about Pathogen through another film - Zombie Girl: The Movie - that chronicled the making of Pathogen. After watching that documentary, I simply needed to give Pathogen a view, so I quickly shipped for my own copy of the film. What attracted the filmmakers of Zombie Girl was the fact that a 12-year-old girl was directing the flick. It was an unprecedented thought back in 2006, and it still remains so today. Anyone that young writing and directing a feature-length film seems nearly impossible, but I'd have to say that Emily Hagins does a fantastic job with her debut feature.

Now, you should know going in that this is an extremely low-budget film, and it definitely feels as such. Still, it took a lot of guts for young Miss Hagins to start this endeavor, and to see the final product is truly a treat. You shouldn't go in expecting brilliance; you kinda have to take it for what it is - a movie crafted by a twelve-year-old mind - if you want to enjoy it. That being said, there were quite a few things that I thought worked very well during the film.

For starters, I thought the screenplay was extremely well-written, especially considering Hagins's age at the time of its writing. Sure, the dialogue is a bit forced here and there, but the actual plot and storyline stands up against some of the better zombie flicks to have graced the silver screen. It's not easy to craft a plausible horror storyline, but Hagins does so rather well, giving us a realistic situation in which the film's events could ultimately fall into place. Does the film delve into cliché? Of course, but you can't hold that against Hagins in the slightest. Even when you feel like you've seen it before, there's something entirely refreshing about what we're seeing on-screen. It's as though we're seeing the beginnings of a director with tremendous potential, and we're eagerly waiting for more.

I could probably go on and on about the acting, which ranges from decent to comically bad, but there'd be no point in discussing it in great detail. Many of the featured actors are personal friends of Hagins, and some of the adult actors were her mentors in the filmmaking process. There is, however, a little bit of an Easter egg for you nerds out there: be on the listen for a vocal cameo from Ain't It Cool News founder, Harry Knowles.

I also want to give a little shout-out to the effectiveness of the music used during the film. While I'm not personally familiar with some of the selections, I thought that each piece added to their respective scenes quite well. Kudos there, Miss Hagins.

At the end of the day, Pathogen is not a movie that most people will ever see. It's the feature film of a young woman who has the potential to be a great director, but it will only ever reach a mass audience if she continues down that path and makes a bigger name for herself. Still, it's a fun film that's definitely entertaining from start to finish, and I would highly recommend watching this in conjunction with Zombie Girl: The Movie if you can find a way to score a copy of Pathogen. Once again, kudos to you, Miss Emily Hagins, on a valiant debut effort. I hope I have the opportunity to see more of your work in the future.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B-
1.5 Thumbs Up

Addition to Awards
2006: Nominee - Best Horror/Thriller

Happy Birthday, Tim Burton!

It's birthday time, kids! Today we're celebrating the 53rd birthday of director/producer Tim Burton. Burton has spent his career crafting his own niche in Hollywood, consistently bringing forth some of the strangest and most innovative films to hit the silver screen. He's taken hold of the 0ff-beat humor in the darkest of situations and has gone full steam ahead with it. Because of this, he's developed quite a cult following, and although I don't think he's my favorite director, I'm still thoroughly intrigued by all of his work. Adding to his mystique is his marriage to the equally-quirky Helena Bonham Carter, with whom he has teamed on a number of occasions. So, as I usually do, I'm counting down my five favorite directorial efforts from Mr. Burton as a tribute to his career on his birthday. I know there could be a bit of debate with my choices, but I still hope you like this list. Once again, happy birthday Tim Burton!

5. Batman


4. Big Fish


3. Corpse Bride


2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


1. Beetle Juice

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Movie Review: FRIGHT NIGHT


"That is a terrible vampire name. Jerry?
-- Charley Brewster

Fright Night is a 2011 horror film directed by Craig Gillespie that serves as a remake of the 1985 film of the same name. When a number of people start to disappear from their small-town community outside the Las Vegas Strip, Charley Brewster's (Anton Yelchin) estranged best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) makes a stunning accusation: he claims that Charley's new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is actually a vampire. Charley doesn't believe him, however, but after Ed mysteriously disappears as well, he starts to get a little suspicious. After a little while, it starts to seem as though Jerry is targeting Charley's mother (Toni Collette) and girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) as his next victims. As a result, Charley seeks out the help of an apparent professional vampire slayer named Peter Vincent (David Tennant), who hosts his own theatrical show at one of the casinos on the Strip. Jerry's advances soon become more and more dangerous, and Charley desperately seeks the answer to stopping this menace before it's too late.

As some of you may now, I wasn't a huge fan of the original Fright Night. I thought it was good, but there were definitely some glaring flaws. To be honest, the only reason I watched it was in preparation for the remake's release because I like to see original films before seeing their re-imaginings. That being said, there's quite a bit of throwback to the original film in this particular remake. While a lot of the storyline has been changed (i.e., Charley is no longer the teen obsessed with the occult; Vincent is a young man; etc.), there's definitely enough to constitute this as a remake rather than a complete re-imagining. For example, Jerry is still a hyper-sexualized vampire, whose bloodlust places the emphasis on lust. I could go on and on with the comparisons, but I'll leave that for another time.

One thing that I liked about both films is that they delve into the historical mythology concerning vampires. Rather than having something like those "vampires" in the Twilight films, we actually get a look at vampires how they should probably be portrayed. They're able to be killed with a stake through the heart. They can't go out into sunlight. They have to be invited into a home before entering. It's refreshing to see that a film can apply these age-old myths and still make them relevant and believable. At the same time, however, this remake gives Jerry the chance to be a little edgier and more savvy to the 21st century. He's been around for so long that he's found loopholes in his restriction, making him all the more demonic a foe.

Let's talk about the acting for a little bit. Yelchin does just fine as the film's lead, bringing his usual self to the screen. I've seen him bring more entertaining roles before, but he's serviceable for this type of film. To be fair, he's not given a ton with which to work, so what we get works. Farrell does a great job with his role. In fact, I think he did a little bit better than I expected. You get the sense throughout the film that he had a ton of fun making this movie. I love when an actor's enjoyment conveys to the screen, and it's no different this time with Farrell's performance. He has a couple of scenes that are truly fantastic, so if there's any reason to see Fright Night, it's him. The rest of the cast fills out quite nicely, with Collette, Poots and Mintz-Plasse giving decent performances. Tennant is good for a number of laughs as well.

Overall, there isn't anything truly spectacular about Fright Night, but I personally think it's an improvement over the original 1985 film. While it doesn't offer a ton of scares, there's definitely some good suspenseful moments, and the laughs are pretty consistent throughout. Still, I wouldn't say that this remake is a must-see. If you're a fan of the original film, I'd say give this one a go, if only for the references to its predecessor. Who knows - maybe you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B-
1 Thumb Up

Friday, August 19, 2011

DVD Challenge #20: TREMORS

Run-time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Directed by: Ron Underwood
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire

I remember seeing bits and pieces of this film back in my younger years, but I don't think I actually saw Tremors in its entirety until a few years ago. When I finally had the chance to give it a full viewing, however, I was amazed by what I saw. Tremors is one of those films that, on the surface, seems like it's going to be a trashy send-up of 1950s B-movie horror flicks, and in some ways, that's exactly what it strives to be. When you have a film that centers around a small town being terrorized by gigantic, worm-like monsters, there's only so much you can really expect. However, like those 1950s B-movies, Tremors delivers a fun-filled, albeit ridiculous, ninety minutes of entertainment.

One of my earliest memories of this film is actually of the creature itself. Once you see this worm (affectionately referred to once as a "graboid," the name that it would carry in the sequels), there's really no way that you're going to forget it. What's truly fascinating about the creature is that it's unlike anything that's ever graced the silver screen prior to or since this film's release in 1990. It's originality is undeniable, and it makes for an interesting storyline. The filmmakers were essentially given the opportunity to create a brand new monster, and they made it so convincingly real that it's not much of a stretch to think that animals like this could actually exist somewhere in the world. I loved this creature so much that it made my list of favorite animals and creatures from film. It's a dazzling spectacle to behold, even when it's looking horrendous and trashy.

To add to the seeming brilliance of this film is the stellar cast that plays their roles to a tee. Kevin Bacon is his usual fantastic self, taking his character above and beyond anything that a sane individual would do. He and Fred Ward have such a fantastic on-screen chemistry that it's difficult not to fall in love with their characters and their relationship. They bring the majority of the comedy in the film, and they play off each other - and the other members of the cast - incredibly well without ever breaking out of their individual character. Kudos, my good sirs. We also get some very good performances from the likes of Finn Carter as our main female lead, and let's not forget about Michael Gross, who's character was successful and entertaining enough to make it to the subsequent Tremors sequels. No, the acting isn't anything utterly brilliant, but in the constructs of a ridiculous movie such as this, the performances just might be flawless.

While the film doesn't necessarily offer a ton of scares, it definitely follows horror conventions very well, creating a good layer of suspense in some scenes. We're also given some schlocky, comedic gore, mostly at the expense of the graboids, to add to the hilarity. Tremors offers a great blend of action, comedy and horror, mixing the three genres very, very well. At the end of the day, it's a completely entertaining flick that doesn't require you to think at all. It's pure entertainment, which is exactly what we're usually looking for in a film. So if you haven't given this one a go, I strongly suggest you do so. I can't personally speak for any of the film's sequels (I haven't seen any of them), but definitely take in this first installment as soon as you can.

Previous DVD Challenge: MEMENTO (2000)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Edward Norton!

Another day, another birthday. This time we're celebrating another one of my favorite actors, Edward Norton, who turns 42 today. I think my first introduction to Norton's work was in 1999's Fight Club, and although he might have been overshadowed a little by Brad Pitt's character, he still left a resonating impression on me. I started to seek out his work, and I soon fell in love with his acting ability. And so, as a tribute to his career, I've decided to list my five favorite Norton roles. I've supplied short clips from each of the performances in order to give you a little bit of insight into each character in case you haven't seen one of the films. All that being said, enjoy the post and help me wish Edward Norton a happy 42nd birthday!

5. Lester 'Worm' Murphy
Rounders (1998)


4. Sheldon Mopes/Smoochy the Rhino
Death to Smoochy (2002)


3. The Narrator
Fight Club (1999)


2. Aaron
Primal Fear (1996)


1. Derek Vinyard
American History X (1998)

1998: Winner - Best Actor, Drama; Best Supporting Actor, Drama
1999: Nominee - Best Actor, Drama
2002: Nominee - Best Actor, Drama; Best Actor, Comedy
2003: Nominee - Best Villain
2010: Nominee - Best Actor, Comedy

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie Review: 30 MINUTES OR LESS


"Guess what? You just brought a gun to a bomb fight, officer!"
-- Nick

30 Minutes or Less is a 2011 action comedy directed by Ruben Fleischer that centers around a young man's attempt to rob a bank in order to save his own life. One night, down-on-his-luck pizza delivery boy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) makes a delivery to a seemingly abandoned junkyard where he is ambushed and attacked. When he awakes the next morning, he finds a bomb strapped to his chest. His attackers tell him that they need him to rob a bank and bring them $100,000, and if he doesn't comply, they'll set off the bomb. Nick quickly runs to his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) for help with the plan. At the same time, we learn that Nick's attackers are two low-level low-lifes named Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), who need the money in order to hire a hitman (Michael Peña) to murder Dwayne's dad (Fred Ward) so that he can collect on his massive inheritance. These conflicting storylines add to the drama and the misadventure of both parties, making the simple plan go awry time and time again.

I'll start by saying that 30 Minutes or Less is definitely an acquired taste. It's one of those films that you'll only enjoy if you like this particular brand of humor. When you have four main leads who essentially play the same character in every one of their films, it's a little difficult for this one to branch off and become its own entity. Eisenberg plays the fast-talking nerdy guy who's a little down on his luck but still thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Aziz Ansari is over-the-top and loud, yelling half his lines for comedic effect. Danny McBride is... Danny McBride - there's not much more explanation needed there. Swardson breaks a little bit from his standard, but it's not much. So our big four in the film aren't bringing anything new and different to this one, so I couldn't help but picture them in their other movies. That doesn't bode well for 30 Minutes or Less. Still, we get a couple of good moments from Michael Peña, who proves to be the funniest character in the film.

Now the screenplay works relatively well considering the the storyline. I liked how they intersected the conflicts that both Nick/Chet and Dwayne/Travis face throughout the film, and some of the situational comedy works the best. Normally, I would blame the dialogue for some of the acting atrocities here, but considering who's in the film, the blame might belong to the actors themselves this time around. That being said, the film does move forward quickly and proves to be well-paced, so that should be commended. Some of the laughs are a little bit stale, but the action sequences, although few and far between, are some of the film's highlights.

30 Minutes or Less is Ruben Fleischer's second directorial effort - his first was 2009's Zombieland - and it's definitely a step down from that first film. Still, it's difficult to compare the two films considering the genres are slightly different, but as an overall entertaining experience, 30 Minutes doesn't even come close. It generated a few laughs here and there, and it kept my attention throughout, but there's nothing lasting or memorable about what occurs on-screen. I wouldn't recommend seeing this one in theaters, but it might be good for a late-night viewing once you're able to rent it.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: C
Thumbs Sideways

Happy Birthday, Robert De Niro!

The second big-time birthday for today comes for two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro, who turns 68. De Niro has always by synonymous with great acting, and although he's dropped a little bit in the past decade or so, there's really no denying his presence on-screen. He's appeared in so many iconic films and has portrayed so many iconic roles that this was one of the more difficult lists for me to make. His consistent collaboration with Martin Scorsese alone would have made this an interesting group of films, but because his reach has extended so far, I had to increase De Niro's list to ten films rather than my usual five. Robert De Niro is a giant among men in the world of acting, and he should be treated as such. So join me as I celebrate the life and the birthday of one of the greatest actors ever to grace the silver screen!

10. Al Capone
The Untouchables (1987)


9. Donald 'Shadow' Rimgale
Backdraft (1991)


8. David 'Noodles' Aaronson
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)


7. Jack Byrnes
Meet the Parents (2001)


6. Neil McCauley
Heat (1995)


5. James 'Jimmy' Conway
Goodfellas (1990)


4. Sam 'Ace' Rothstein
Casino (1995)


3. Vito Corleone
The Godfather: Part II (1974)


2. Leonard Lowe
Awakenings (1991)


1. Travis Bickle
Taxi Driver (1976)


2000: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Comedy

Movie Review: CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.


"I'm going to help you rediscover your manhood. Do you have any idea where you could have lost it?"
-- Jacob

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a 2011 dramatic comedy directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa that centers around the conflicting love lives of one family. When Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) tells her husband Cal (Steve Carell) that she wants a divorce, his life begins to tailspin. He moves out and spends much of his time at a local bar where he meets a young womanizer named Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who takes it upon himself to reinvent Cal and his manhood. The two begin to share a bit of success in their woman-chasing efforts, but Cal's interactions with his son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) help him realize that he still has strong feelings for Emily. At the same time, Jacob meets a young woman named Hannah (Emma Stone), who he calls a "game-changer." The tables somewhat turn when he starts to ask Cal for advice. However, not everything is at it seems, and the train of emotion continues to head on a one-way trip towards a massive collision.

I have to be honest and tell you that when I first started hearing about this film, I wasn't too impressed with the premise. With Carell headlining the film, I was worried it might delve into his general brand of comedy. Yeah, I know he's done some more dramatic work in films like 2007's Dan in Real Life and 2006's Little Miss Sunshine, but something about this film seemed too over-the-top funny for me to take it seriously. However, it started to garner some strong reviews, and word of mouth seemed to be rather positive, so I figured I'd give it a gander. What I received was one of the most honest films I've ever seen.

The screenplay offers a very simple story that's chalk full of twists and turns that you never truly expect. In a way, we're given a story about soul-mates and their place in our lives, and it seems like everyone is chasing after their own soul mate. That's where the fun comes in. We have a number of prominent love circles that constantly conflict against one another. In fact, I think that nearly every major relationship in the film was part of some love triangle. So, things get a little twisted here and there, but that adds to the comedy of the film. The constant strain of love and love lost is intensely emotional but bitingly humorous in the context of this film. Now, when I say that Crazy, Stupid, Love. is an "honest" film, I mean that it tells its story without really holding anything back. It never seems to delve into that Hollywood rom-com sap (although there are a few sappy moments here and there). It doesn't tie a nice little bow at the end, but it leaves you with a sense of hope and promise. It just feels more realistic. It just feels real.

As one can imagine, a great screenplay can't take off if it doesn't have the right mix in the cast. Carell is fantastic as a heart-broken man trying to find his way post-divorce. He's wowed me in the past, and he's done so again with his performance here. Moore is always great, and although I wish she would have been featured a little bit more, she does very well with the time she's given. Gosling continues to prove he's a force with which to be reckoned on the Hollywood scene, bringing a comedic element to the film that's undeniably hilarious. Emma Stone is also a little under-utilized, but she brings her brand of humor and sass to the screen whenever given the opportunity. We also get some great performances from younger actors like Bobo and Analeigh Tipton. Also be on the lookout for fantastic supporting roles and cameo appearances from the likes of Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei and Josh Groban. Overall, we have a fantastic cast that's firing on all cylinders.

At the end of the day, I think Crazy, Stupid, Love. is pretty close to a must-see. Sure, a lot of guys are going to dismiss it as another "chick flick," but I think there's a lot for both sexes to enjoy here. We get into the psyche of both men and women in completely different stages of life as they search for their soul-mates. Everyone in the world is ultimately looking for love, and because there's so many facets to this film, I can nearly guarantee that you'll be able to find a character with which to relate. I know I did. So do yourself a favor and give Crazy, Stupid, Love. a go.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Addition to Rankings
Best All-Time - #127
Best Comedy - #23

Happy Birthday, Sean Penn!

We've got two big-time birthdays to celebrate, but I think we'll start with Academy Award-winner Sean Penn, who turns 51 today. Now, I've heard that Penn is a rather polarizing figure as a result of his political tendencies - I know my father isn't much of a fan - but I don't think there's any way you can deny his acting prowess. The man snagged his Oscar wins in 2004 and 2004, effectively establishing himself as one of the pre-eminent acting forces on the Hollywood scene in the 21st century. So, as I always do, I've counted down my five favorite of Penn's roles, supplying a clip for each of them. I hope you enjoy the post as you help me celebrate Sean Penn's birthday!

5. Paul Rivers
21 Grams (2003)


4. Sam Dawson
I Am Sam (2001)


3. Jeff Spicoli
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)


2. Jimmy Markum
Mystic River (2003)


1. Harvey Milk
Milk (2008)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Steve Carell!

Today we're celebrating the 49th birthday of big-time funnyman, Steve Carell. Although in the past few years, he's garnered much of his success and acclaim through his starring role on television's "The Office," it's not that difficult to remember his theatrical endeavors. Carell got his first big break in feature films with 2003's Bruce Almighty, and from there, he managed to skyrocket to become of one Hollywood's leading comedic actors. He nabbed his first headlining role in 2005's The 40 Year Old Virgin, and although I think he does a decent job as the leading man, he's still at his best when he finds himself in a supporting, scene-stealing position. So as I always do with celebrity birthdays, I've counted down my five favorite of Carell's roles and have attached clips for your viewing pleasure. Once again, happy birthday, Steve!

5. Phil Foster
Date Night (2010)


4. Frank Ginsberg
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)


3. Andy Stitzer
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)


2. Barry
Dinner for Schmucks (2010)


1. Brick Tamland
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)


2003: Nominee - Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
2004: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
2010: Nominee - Best Actor, Comedy; Best Supporting Actor, Comedy; Best Voice Acting; Best Couple (with Tina Fey)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ben Affleck!

Birthday time again, folks. Today we're celebrating the 39th birthday of Ben Affleck. Now, I know that in the past, Affleck has dabbled in some rather terrible films (here's looking at you, Gigli), but he's also found a way to create some memorable characters over the years. Now, he's actually a rather accomplished director, having turned in two directorial efforts - 2007's Gone Baby Gone and 2010's The Town - that both achieved fantastic critical success. This post, however, will focus on his acting ability. While he's not the greatest actor ever to grace the silver screen, he's managed to leave his mark on a few films during his career. Here's a list of my five favorite of his performances. Once again, happy birthday Ben Affleck!

5. George Reeves
Hollywoodland (2006)


4. Chuckie Sullivan
Good Will Hunting (1997)


3. Bartleby
Dogma (1999)


2. Holden McNeil
Chasing Amy (1997)


1. Doug MacRay
The Town (2010)


1998: Nominee - Best Couple (with Liv Tyler)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In Memoriam: Alfred Hitchcock

Today, we're celebrating the life of another astounding director. This time, we're remembering Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, who would have turned 112 today were he still alive. Hitchcock's name is nearly synonymous with suspense and horror because he always found ways to push the envelope just a little bit further. A five-time Academy Award nominee for Best Director, he never took home the golden statuette, but no one can deny the lasting impression he and his films left on the Hollywood scene. Now, I'm not entirely well-versed in his filmography, but I think I've seen enough of his films to give you a list of what I think are his five best. Here they are, in descending order, and I've given you a clip from each of the films to get a taste as to the film's tone. Once again, let's remember the genius that was Alfred Hitchcock as we celebrate his birthday today.

5. Vertigo


4. North by Northwest


3. Rear Window


2. Dial M for Murder


1. Psycho

Tuesday, August 9, 2011



"Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"
-- Dodge Landon

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a 2011 sci-fi action film directed by Rupert Wyatt that serves as a prequel to the classic 1968 film, Planet of the Apes. When genetic physicist Will Rodman (James Franco) starts to have success with an experimental drug he hopes will cure Alzheimer's, he pleads with his boss, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), to allow him to start human trials. After his prized chimpanzee subject ruins his pitch meeting with the board of supervisors, Will is left with nothing but an infant chimp. Because the company doesn't know of its existence, Will reluctantly takes it home to live with him and his Alzheimer's afflicted father (John Lithgow) in order to save it from being put down; however, he soon learns that the experimental drug that worked in its mother has passed genetically to this offspring, which he affectionately names Caesar. Will secretly starts to observe the animal over the course of a few years, watching it grow and learn and become smarter than he could have ever imagined. However, because Caesar is still a chimpanzee, he still has animalistic impulses that ultimately land him in a rundown ape sanctuary on the outskirts of San Francisco. As Caesar's intelligence continues to grow, he begins to see just how much the humans harm and oppress the apes. He begins to devise a plan to exact revenge...

For those of you who don't know - or haven't already figured out - this film is the next in a long line of films in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Before this, we've seen the original, some sequels, and an often-ridiculed attempt at a remake. We have not, however, seen an attempt at a prequel until this day. I can honestly say that I had my qualms about this film in the past few months. The trailers didn't seem to do the film much justice, and seeing as I didn't find the original film to be overly amazing (it's good, but it's nothing spectacular), I wasn't sure whether this film would be my cup of tea. Add to this the fact that Franco himself came out publicly a few weeks ago saying that he essentially mailed in his performance for this film. After hearing remarks like that, anyone can imagine why I had my doubts heading into opening weekend.

Then something happened. The film started to garner incredibly positive reviews. As of the writing of this post, Rise of the Planet of the Apes holds an 82% approval rating on the online review aggregate, which offers the following critical consensus: "Led by Rupert Wyatt's stylish direction, some impressive special effects, and a mesmerizing performance by Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes breathes unlikely new life into a long-running franchise." Raise your hand if your jaw has dropped as well. Even with that, I had my reservations about the film, but rest assured, ladies and gents - this one's a legitimate flick with a force that should be reckoned. Maybe Franco made those remarks to lower people's expectations...

Now, the screenplay itself isn't necessarily something to rave about. Yeah, it brings up a lot of questions about ethics and the like, but there really isn't anything truly fantastic about the storyline or the plot. It does enough to keep things moving along, but in a way, this is almost a bit of a character-driven film. Strangely enough, however, the "human" actors aren't the characters that make up the driving force.

Yeah, Franco does a decent job as the film's "lead" (if you can call him that), but it does seem like he's mailing in his performance a bit. Still, he does enough to make us care about his character. Some of the supporting cast does a decent job, including Freida Pinto and the always good Brian Cox. Lithgow delivers a few powerful scenes, but I felt like he was a tad bit under-utilized. We even get an legitimate performance from Tom Felton - famous for playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise - who has officially been type-cast as the jerk.

However, the real credit has to go to Andy Serkis, who provided the "acting" for Caesar (and maybe some of the other apes, but I'm not entirely sure). Serkis has become the king of motion capture acting, bringing us such iconic characters as Gollum (from The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Kong (from 2005's King Kong). Chalk up Caesar to that list, who might be the most fascinating of them all. When you have a computer-generated character, a lot of their success comes through the eyes. Look at the titular character from 2008's WALL-E: the eyes told everything about the emotions he was having, and he was a robot. In this film, however, so much emotion is conveyed through the eyes of the apes that it's almost as if they were human actors. The CGI was just that fantastic. You garnered such an emotional connection with Caesar and the other apes that it was impossible not to cheer against your fellow humans. You could feel their pain and their slight, and it conveyed beautifully across the screen. Kudos to the special effects guys - they deserve every compliment and accolade that they receive.

Also, if you're a fan of the original 1968 film, be on the lookout for a couple of nods and references, including the quote at the beginning of this post.

Overall, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Is it going to be a classic, must-see film? Probably not. However, if you've seen the original 1968 film, then you might want to give this one a go. It's an interesting look at how things might have led to the events of that film, and the special effects are breathtakingly beautiful. That alone should drive you to the movie theater.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up

Monday, August 8, 2011

DVD Challenge #19: MEMENTO

Run-time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano & Stephen Tobolowsky

The first time I heard about this film was during my freshman year of college at UC Santa Cruz. One of my roommates owned the DVD and had left it lying around our apartment's common room. The unique DVD case caught my attention, and I figured I'd give it a shot. At the time, the only Christopher Nolan fare I had seen was the 2005 film Batman Begins, so I wasn't entirely sure just what I was getting myself into. Two hours later, as I tried to peel myself off the floor, I thought about the experience I had just endured.

I think the easiest and best way to describe Nolan's Memento is to call it innovative and imaginative. He took a difficult medical condition - anterograde amnesia, which prevents those afflicted from creating new memories - and crafted a film around the condition that can only be called a masterpiece. Based on the screenplay alone, there's enough to love about this film. In line with the main character's thought process, the film moves in reverse, starting from the "end" and slowly working its way towards the "beginning." That may sound a little confusing, but those of you who have seen the film know exactly what I'm talking about. Because we have a reversed timeline, watching Memento is a movie-watching experience unlike any you have ever had.

To add to the originality of the screenplay, Nolan offers a number of twists and turns that would shock us were we moving in the proper direction in time. The audience is literally guessing until the very final moments of the film, and the ultimate pay-off brings one of the better film endings that I've ever had the privilege to see. I'd also like to take a moment to compliment some of the scene cuts and editing that Nolan utilizes to hint towards that ultimate pay-off. There's one particular scene where Leonard (Guy Pearce) is explaining the effects of anterograde amnesia on a man named Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky) that holds a scene cut that I never noticed before today's viewing, but it offers a major clue towards the film's climax. Also, there's a moment in the climactic scenes where the film transitions from black-and-white to color in such a seamless fashion that I had to rewind the film to see exactly where the change occurred. It was just that smooth. So, kudos Mr. Nolan. Your brilliance knows no bounds.

In addition to the fantastic screenplay, we're also getting some great performances from the small but stellar cast. Pearce is a revelation as the film's lead, going as far into the role as is humanly possible. He's completely convincing as a man with short-term memory loss, and it's so easy to fall into his character. In the past, I wasn't sure whether I was too fond of either Pantoliano or Moss's characters, but after watching tonight, I've come around. In comparison to Pearce, there's really not much to say, but they definitely bring much-needed depth to their characters despite the lack of screen-time. We also get fantastic brief appearances from Tobolowsky and Harriet Sansom Harris, so be on the lookout for them.

Still, the actors would be nowhere without the brilliant screenplay that Nolan has brought to this film. The screenplay is what carries the film from start to finish, and I can guarantee you that it doesn't disappoint. If you haven't had the opportunity to watch Memento, I strongly recommend doing so. It's one of the defining films of the early 21st century, and it should be considered a near-masterpiece.

Best All-Time - #57
Best Drama - #22

2000: 7 nominations, 4 wins

Previous DVD Challenge: THE ORPHANAGE (2007)