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Monday, January 31, 2011


Not Rated (TV)

(I couldn't find an embeddable trailer, so the video is just an extended clip from the movie. You'll get the gist.)

Raptor Island is a 2004 made-for-TV movie directed by Stanley Isaacs that aired on the Sci-Fi channel. It follows a group of Navy SEALs, led by a man named Hacket (Lorenzo Lamas), who are chasing down a group of terrorists holding a special agent named Jamie (Hayley DuMond) hostage. The SEALs chase the terrorists to a remote island in the South Pacific which, they soon find out, is completely covered with living dinosaurs - most specifically velociraptors, but there is a random Carnotaurus walking around. I'd go more into the "details" of the "plot," but it would just be wasting our time.

The only reason I found this movie is because I had the sudden urge to watch a movie with dinosaurs in it. After a quick search, I found this one on NetFlix and jumped right to it. Basically, I got two birds with this one, getting my dinosaur fix while also receiving another entry into the "So Bad, It's Good" library. As previously referenced, the story (or lack thereof) is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, it makes sense (kinda), but it's so dumb that it wasn't even worth bearing repeating.

The acting is perfectly in line with the story: crap. Our two leads are slightly better than the rest of the cast, but they're pretty dreadful themselves, if that tells you anything about everybody else. I mean, I'm probably trashing this movie more than I should, considering its a TV movie made my the Sci-Fi channel, but it's so so bad that it's so so good. I was crying, I was laughing so hard. Some of the dialogue was absolutely horrible, and I have no idea how the actors managed to squeak it out without completely losing it.

And oh man, the special effects are easily the worst I've ever seen. I mean, the dinosaurs look like Jurassic Park rejects. When they get hit by bullets, the blood explodes out of them like little fireworks. It actually took half the movie before the dinosaurs had bullet-hole wounds. Oh, and the dinosaurs can apparently eat people nearly their size in a matter of seconds because, immediately after every single attack, there would only be some blood stains on the ground rather than a partially-eaten corpse. Just absolutely ridiculous.

Yes, I'm critiquing this movie much too harshly, but I just wanted to show how over-the-top it is. Raptor Island is a great bad movie that's worth watching every second because you'll be rolling with laughter. So give it a chance. Seriously.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: F
Current All-Time Rank: Worst - #37
0.5 Thumbs Up

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Movie Review: SUPER HIGH ME


Super High Me is a 2008 documentary in the mold of the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which followed Morgan Spurlock as he spent thirty days eating only McDonalds. In this film, directed by Michael Blieden, we see comedian Doug Benson, an admitted pot smoker, spend thirty days in sobriety - he abstained from both marijuana and alcohol - before spending the following thirty days remaining as high as he could manage. The goal of the film was to see whether marijuana has any real effects on health, memory and cognitive thinking. In addition to Benson's adventures, which are interspersed with bits of his stand-up routine that deal with marijuana, the audience is given facts about the state of marijuana legislation both in California and on a federal level. We also get an inside look at some of the dispensaries around L.A. and Oakland, which are aptly called "Los Ganjales" and "Oaksterdam" throughout the film, respectively.

Let's just be up front: this movie is one of the funniest flicks about weed that you'll probably ever see. If you're a fan of Doug Benson, this is a definite must-see just for his comedy and his approach to this endeavor. That being said, I also feel like the movie was rather informative, giving enough facts here and there to make it more than just about a guy who doesn't get high then decides to get high again.

Now, I've never smoked nor have any real desire to do so, but I have been around marijuana for extended periods of time, so I've seen first-hand its effects on people. I probably know more about weed than I ever really wanted to know, but that's what you really learn in college, right? I've known stoners who were the coolest people around, but I've also known some who were the biggest assholes I've ever met, so I have mixed feelings about the usage of marijuana. I'm not going to get into a political statement here on this blog - I'm apathetic towards politics, in case you're wondering - but I think that Super High Me works both for and against the pro-medicinal marijuana movement. We see people that truly need medicinal marijuana, but I personally know people who abuse the system, so I can't be entirely sold on its effectiveness.

That being said, Super High Me is a fun documentary that's sure to have you rolling with laughter. Get ready for some awesome cameos from some very familiar faces. Be on the lookout for people like Brian Posehn, Jeffrey Ross, Patton Oswalt, Rob Riggle, Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis. Other than that, just sit back and enjoy the THC-laced ride, driven by Doug Benson.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up

Addition to Awards

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Movie Review: SCREAM 3


Scream 3 is a 2000 horror-comedy and the third film in Wes Craven's Scream franchise. We once again pick up on a series of murders related to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her troubled past. When Cotton Leary (Liev Schreiber) is murdered after taking a role in the upcoming film Stab 3 - fans will recognize this movie-franchise-within-a-movie-franchise - talk of a third recurrence of the Ghostface killings surfaces. Enter Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) who both want to solve the recent string of murders that's leaving actors in the upcoming film lacking the spark of life. When Sidney comes to Hollywood to help the investigation, she once again puts her life in danger.

You can probably imagine the rest of the storyline, especially if you've seen any of the films in the Scream franchise. My plot synopsis probably sounds a little tired and repetitive, and the movie is basically that. However, I still found myself completely entrenched with the story. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the final reveal of the killer, something I hadn't had since partially having it the first time around. There's still a little bit of bite left in this third installment, and screenwriter Ehren Kruger channels Kevin Williamson pretty well.

The acting from our big three (Campbell, Arquette and Cox) is on the same level of the previous two installments in the series, so there's not much to talk about there. Nobody is really wow-ing the audience in this one, but there are a few pleasant surprises in the cameo and supporting role departments. Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), easily the most entertaining character in the Scream universe, sends a message from the grave to explain the rules of a horror trilogy, and boy was I stoked to see him again. We've also got appearances by Patrick Dempsey, Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, Parker Posey and Patrick Warburton. Oh, and there's a few cameos that deserve special mention: Carrie Fisher - most famous for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars films - plays a small role, and everyone's favorite stoners Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, respectively) even find their way onto the set.

Sure, this one's missing a little bit of the horror aspect of its "horror-comedy" seating, and even some of the comedy falls a little flat. However, Scream 3 is not much of a step down from its immediate predecessor, and as I said earlier - the ending took me by surprise. It's a very good addition to the Sidney Prescott story, and now I can't wait for the newest installment (Scream 4) due out this April. Oh yeah, it's a new decade. You know there's gonna be some new rules.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B-
1.5 Thumbs Up

Movie Review: JACK


(I know this is short, but it's the only trailer I could find.)

Jack is a 1996 dramatic comedy directed by Francis Ford Coppola that centers around a ten-year-old boy named, well, Jack. The problem is that Jack Powell (Robin Williams) has a medical condition that causes him to grow and age at four times the normal rate; therefore, at age ten, he looks like a forty-year-old man. Because of this, his parents - Brian (Brian Kerwin) and Karen (Diane Lane) - have chosen to keep him out of public school, leaving his home-schooling to an outsider named Mr. Woodruff (Bill Cosby). However, Jack desperately wants to go to school in order to have the opportunity to leave his house and make new friends, so his parents reluctantly agree, sending him to the local public school to start in fifth grade with Miss Marquez (Jennifer Lopez). Despite some expected early troubles with fitting in, Jack soon begins to make friends, especially with a boy named Louis (Adam Zolotin).

I just have to say, I probably loved this movie way more than I should have. I watched it on the recommendation of my friend Claire, and although I'd heard little bits and pieces about the film, I'd never actually seen any of it. After doing a little research, I found that the movie wasn't terribly well-received upon its release in 1996, nor has it been well-received by regular audiences over the time since its release. And I can't really understand what those people are thinking because I absolutely loved it.

We've got a very good screenplay working here that's filled with moments of laughter and moments of tears. It's got its finger on the pulse of childhood and adolescence as well as the incredible fits of pain and anxiety that would come with a child having a disease such as Jack's. At times, you'll be laughing so hard that you'll cry, and at other times, you'll be crying so hard that you'll want to laugh to break the moment. Or maybe that was just my reaction to it all. There's a kind of ticking clock associated with the movie, in that you know how it's all going to end - and it's an utterly tragic thought - but you still want to see the most made of the time leading to that point.

Speaking of having a finger on the pulse of childhood... Robin Williams is simply fantastic in the titular role. He's always been able to embody any level of comedy, but taking on the lifestyle and the mannerisms of a child couldn't have been easy. But he knocked it outta the park, so to speak. I completely lost myself in the film, forgetting that he was Robin Williams and simply seeing a boy named Jack afflicted a most terrible "disease." He was that good. We've also got some great supporting performances, especially from Zolotin who is Williams's counter in every way. Whereas Jack is the manic boy trying to figure out the world, Louis is the calm, cool and collected kid who's world-savvy. The two complement each other perfectly. It was also a delight to see Bill Cosby gracing the screen time and again. He has a couple of very good scenes, including one heartfelt moment where he tells Jack just how special he is. Kudos, Mr. Cosby.

Yes, this movie is heartfelt. Yes, this movie is sappy. Yes, this movie is predictable. But I loved it anyways. There's a charm to it all that left me laughing and crying and wanting the best for everyone in the movie. It's rare that I get this hooked into a comedy, but I'm so glad that I did.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A-
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #238
2 Thumbs Up

Friday, January 28, 2011

Movie Review: THE RITE


The Rite is a 2011 horror film directed by Mikael Håfström that centers around a young man who is sent to the Vatican in order to learn the ways of exorcism. Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) leaves seminary school with a lot of doubt in his faith and makes his way to Rome on the suggestion of his Father Superior (Toby Jones). Once there, he begins taking a course on exorcism, but when he expresses his disbelief to class professor Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds), he is sent to meet an old, unorthodox exorcist named Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Immediately upon their meeting, Lucas invites Michael to watch him perform an exorcism on a supposedly possessed girl named Rosaria (Marta Gastini), but after witnessing the event, Michael is still more filled with questions than answers. He keeps a close watch on the relationship between Rosaria and Father Lucas and soon begins to notice certain happenings and events that cause him to question his own set of beliefs.

Well, you can chalk this one up as a case of the "Januarys." January is perennially the movie discard month, receiving a lot of the films that, on their origin, were thought to be awards season contenders but proved to screen poorly with test audiences. If you've noticed the other reviews I've posted for 2011 films, you'll notice that the highest grade I've given is a B- (for The Mechanic). Both The Green Hornet and The Dilemma, on the other hand, are mired in mediocrity, and sadly, the same can be said for The Rite.

Our screenplay is fair at best, giving few scares and no real sense of impending doom, as is the case with good horror films. Personally, I think the whole exorcist idea has been a bit worn out, but this is coming from a guy who has yet to see the original The Exorcist from 1973 (I'll get around to it, so get off me). However, in recent years, I feel as though I've seen a slew of exorcism-related flicks released, and I'm trying to figure out how they could possibly make any of them original any more. The Rite was so rote and predictable that I nodded off a few times and immediately picked up the story upon awakening. It does, however, throw a couple of nods towards that oh-so-famous 1973 film, with Hopkins delivering a line about "spinning heads" and "pea soup." I laughed out loud for that one.

What's really sad is that we actually get some good performances from the ensemble. I mean, they're not amazing or anything, but they're definitely better than the trailer makes them seem (the trailer is gawdawful, in my opinion). Hopkins is decent and has his moments of "goodness," but he's definitely not the force he once was. O'Donoghue is convincing as our lead, taking us into the depths of his moral questioning of the events taking place around him. I think a lot has to be said for the fantastic, if short-lived, performance given by Miss Gastini as a possessed young woman. I think the possessed individuals in any of the exorcism movies always have the ability to steal a scene, and Gastini does not disappoint. Alice Braga, who plays a reporter trying to get the inside scoop on the exorcism course being offered by the Vatican, is also very good in her supporting role.

Ultimately, The Rite's effectiveness - or lack thereof - comes down to the fact that it does not prove to be scary in the slightest. There's not even much in terms of suspense. When I start dozing off in a movie (which rarely happens, mind you), you know there's something absolutely wrong. The Rite isn't the worst movie I've ever seen, but I definitely wouldn't recommend you spend your money to watch it in theaters.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C-
1.5 Thumbs Down

Movie Review: THE MECHANIC


The Mechanic is a 2011 action film directed by Simon West that's a remake of the 1972 film of the same name that stars Charles Bronson. In the 2011 version, Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a highly-trained hitman - known as a "mechanic" for his ability to "fix" problems - who is systematically used by his company to kill important targets. When he is given the task of killing his longtime mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), Arthur reluctantly agrees. Soon afterward, Harry's son Steve (Ben Foster) comes into the picture wanting Arthur to teach him how to be a mechanic. Through a grueling series of training exercises, and ultimately an attempted hit of his own, Arthur crafts Steve into a worthy hitman. When he learns that his new boss Dean (Tony Goldwyn) had simply wanted to remove Harry from his position, Arthur takes Steve on a trip to exact a little vengeance.

Okay, seriously, I will watch absolutely anything that's starring Jason Statham. There's just something about him that's so quietly charismatic that it's hard to keep your eyes off him while he's on-screen. He's the action start of the 21st century, and therefore the action star of my generation. Sure, past generations have had the likes of Arnie and Sly Stallone, but we get Mr. Statham. Personally, I think we won out.

The storyline is pretty predictable, but it's still fun to see just how everything unfolds. We get nearly non-stop action, which is good because this movie doesn't really carry much in terms of intellect. All brawn and no brains, as I like to say. You can see the finale coming a mile away, but it's still a completely satisfying ending. Just don't go in expecting to have to think too hard. It's not worth the effort.

The acting is actually pretty good, too. I mean, Jason Statham is Jason Statham (I know it seems like I have a little bit of a man-crush on the guy, and you're probably right), but Ben Foster brings a little bit to the table as well. The supporting acting isn't anything to rave about, but most of the supporting cast doesn't last long enough to make much of a splash anyways. It's really the Statham and Foster show, and both command the screen very, very well, making for an interesting and entertaining pairing.

Like I said: don't go into The Mechanic expecting more than guys killing other guys with big guns and bombs; otherwise, you'll be sorely disappointed. Just go in, kick back and enjoy the ride. I personally enjoyed it very much.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B-
2 Thumbs Up

Movie Awards: BEST OF 2009

Here it is, my "Best of 2009" list of awards! Below are thirty categories chronicling a broad spectrum of film-related nooks and crannies for your reading pleasure. The nominees take from the 131 2009 releases I've been able to see. A total of fifty-four films are currently nominated in this list, with Inglourious Basterds holding the most at nine.

And so, without any further delay, here are the awards!


Best Animation
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mary and Max
The Secret of Kells

Winner: The Secret of Kells


Best Visual Effects
District 9
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Star Trek
Where the Wild Things Are

Winner: District 9


Best Original Song
Anika Noni Rose for "Almost There," The Princess and the Frog
Ed Helms for "Stu's Song," The Hangover
Emile Welman for "9,000 Days," Invictus
Low Shoulder for "Through the Trees," Jennifer's Body
Ryan Bingham for "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart

Winner: Ryan Bingham


Best Original Score
Christophe Beck, Phoebe in Wonderland
J. Ralph, The Cove
Kyle Eastwood & Michael Stevens, Invictus
Michael Giacchino, Up
Randy Newman, The Princess and the Frog

Winner: J. Ralph


Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
Bill Murray, Zombieland
Eminem, Funny People
J.K. Simmons, Up in the Air
Stacy Ferguson, Nine
Steve Buscemi, The Messenger

Winner: Eminem


Best Young Star
Bailee Madison, Brothers
Chloë Grace Moretz, (500) Days of Summer
Elle Fanning, Phoebe in Wonderland
Keke Palmer, Shrink
Max Records, Where the Wild Things Are

Winner: Elle Fanning


Best Villain
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Eric Bana, Star Trek
Frank Langella, The Box
Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes
Tom Waits, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Winner: Christoph Waltz


Best Vocal Performance
Bob Peterson, Up
George Clooney, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Jim Cummings, The Princess and the Frog
Jordan Downey, ThanksKilling
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary and Max

Winner: Jordan Downey


Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Alison Martin, Dark and Stormy Night
Aubrey Plaza, Mystery Team
Heather Graham, The Hangover
Kristen Bell, Fanboys
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Away We Go

Winner: Alison Martin


Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Catherine Keener, Where the Wild Things Are
Charlize Theron, The Road
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Patricia Clarkson, Phoebe in Wonderland

Winner: Charlize Theron


Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Brad Pitt, Inglourious Basterds
Ken Jeong, The Hangover
Larry Blamire, Dark and Stormy Night
William H. Macy, Bart Got a Room
Woody Harrelson, Zombieland

Winner: Brad Pitt


Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Brian Geraghty, The Hurt Locker
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Matt Damon, Invictus
Peter Sarsgaard, An Education
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Winner: Christoph Waltz


Best Actress, Comedy
Charlyne Yi, Paper Heart
Emma Stone, Zombieland
Jennifer Blaire, Dark and Stormy Night
Maya Rudolph, Away We Go
Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer

Winner: Zooey Deschanel


Best Actress, Drama
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies
Mélanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
Natalie Portman, Brothers
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Winner: Carey Mulligan

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Not Rated

Creature from the Black Lagoon is a 1954 B-movie monster flick directed by Jack Arnold that takes place in the Amazon. When Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) finds a fossilized webbed claw during an Amazonian excavation, he quickly returns to the Marine Biology Institute to gather help for a larger dig. He brings along Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) and his lover Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), as well as their boss Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) as well as a few others, and they all make their way into the depths of the jungle. When they return to Maia's campsite, they find his two native workmen dead inside their tent. Disturbed, they commence with the dig but remain wary. After a week, the group decides to push further down the river to a lagoon that may hold fossils like the one they found. However, when the boat reaches this "black lagoon," as the natives call it, they encounter a creature like nothing anyone had ever seen before.

Going in, you need to understand that you have to take Creature from the Black Lagoon for what it is: a solid B-movie that was made solely for cheap entertainment. If you go in actually expecting to get scared by this "creature," then you're going to be sorely disappointed. So, just sit back, relax and enjoy because there's quite a lot to like about this movie. The story is actually pretty good considering, pitting man against beast in an exotic locale that was brilliantly created on the backlot at Universal Studios Hollywood (I know this because of the many times I've taken the Studio Tour). It's captivating enough to draw you into the amazing events occurring around the cast, and once it grabs hold, it never lets go.

The acting is actually a little bit above B-movie grade, with the best performances coming from Carlson and Denning as two men of science who apparently have to compete over everything - including the affections of the lone female character. Each man is a foil of the other, and their verbal and physical sparring are quite entertaining, to say the least. We also get a good bit of comic relief from our boat captain Lucas (Nestor Paiva) who always brings the wit. The acting isn't going to blow you away, but it's definitely good enough for a flick like this.

The Creature itself is not scary at all, especially by today's standards; however, it is a little creepy in that it can attack you from the water. It made me think Jaws on a much smaller scale except that this thing wasn't going to chomp you into tiny little pieces. Perhaps in 1954, this thing was menacing (especially considering it was originally brought to audiences in 3D), but it's definitely dated. Still, the Creature holds its own in the annals of Universal movie monsters, so kudos should be given where kudos are due.

During the film's entire duration, I kept thinking about how this movie should be re-made. I know that most of the Hollywood fare of the 21st century has been remakes or reboots or re-imaginings, but if done right, this one could actually be very, very good. I wondered how it had come to pass that no remake for Creature from the Black Lagoon had yet to surface, but after a little bit of searching, I found that one has been scheduled for a 2013 release. Now, they could very easily destroy it, but if the filmmakers do it just right, they could revamp and revitalize this classic piece of cinema that is definitely worth watching.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B
2 Thumbs Up



Rachel Getting Married is a 2008 drama directed by Jonathan Demme that focuses on Kym's (Anne Hathaway) reintroduction to her family post-rehab. She comes back to her family just in time for her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding, and despite her best intentions, Kym finds a way to make the entire situation about her rather than her sister. When she comes home, she starts to feel as though everyone, especially her father (Bill Irwin), is following her every move as though she's a ticking time bomb ready to explode. We find out through a series of addict meetings that Kym, while under the influence, was responsible for her younger brother's death years before, and she, as well as other members of her family, have yet to forgive. Tensions arise, as one would expect, and we see the best and the worst of the family through the course of the film.

I just re-read the above synopsis, and it seems a little disjointed and confusing. After pondering over it for a few minutes, I don't think it's just how I write it - it's a little bit of a condemnation of the film's screenplay. I didn't love the way the movie was scripted. It had its moments with some rather brilliant scenes (be on the lookout for an incredibly realistic wedding rehearsal and Anne Hathaway's monologue during group), but for the most part, we're not really given much. You can argue that the film is more of a character study than a plot-driven piece, and that probably gives it a little more credence. That being said, I think there are a couple issues with the overall screenplay, the biggest being the extended wedding reception. Yes, this movie is about a wedding. Yes, this movie is about, well, Rachel getting married. However, Rachel is not our protagonist; Kym is, and for that extended scene, I was completely taken away from the central focus of the film. And that's not good.

Fortunately, the acting within the film is phenomenal. Hathaway gives a delightfully splendid performance that garnered her her first - I say first because I expect many more - Oscar nomination, which she ultimately lost to Kate Winslet's performance in The Reader. Every time she opens her mouth, she demands the audience to listen, and we hang on every syllable she utters. That's powerful acting, to be sure. To demand that much presence on the screen is commendable. However, she does have some rather good supporting work aiding her on the side. Rosemarie DeWitt is just as good as the soon-to-be-bride who struggles with the fact that Kym is taking quite a bit of her imminent limelight. We really get a sense of the emotion she's feeling, especially since most of us can relate to that emotion in some way or another. I also have to make special mention of Bill Irwin as the sisters' father. It took me a little while to warm up to his character, but once I did, I thought he was utterly fantastic. He has moments of utter dorkiness, but with the character he creates, I thought it fit perfectly.

Overall, Rachel Getting Married isn't a film that I'm going to stand up and applaud, but if you want to see a fine ensemble cast giving strong, all-around performances, you'd be hard pressed to find a film quite as good as this one. Let yourself fall into the characters rather than the story, which gets mired down time and again. Find a way to relate to Kym, or to Rachel, or to their father, or to anyone, for that matter. There's a lot of emotion to be had in Rachel Getting Married, so I hope you can find it like I did.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

Additions to Awards

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie Review: FRIDAY THE 13TH


Friday the 13th is a 1980 horror film directed by Sean S. Cunningham that falls into the subcategory of "slasher" flick. We open on a group of teenage or young adult camp counselors who are working to reopen Camp Crystal Lake for the first time in two decades. The camp has a rather tragic past: in 1957, a boy drowned in the lake, and in 1958, two camp counselors were brutally murdered. The camp itself has garnered the nickname "Camp Blood" among the people in town. However, Steve (Peter Brouwer) wants to bring the camp back to life, so he hired the co-eds to refurbish the area in preparation for its grand reopening. They all arrive on Friday, June 13th and get to work. Slowly, the counselors start being killed in graphic fashion by some unseen person, and when Alice (Adrienne King) finally catches on, she does everything she can just to stay alive.

The character Jason Voorhees is one of those characters that essentially everybody knows about. His name is right up there with Freddy Krueger and Norman Bates, yet I had never given the Friday the 13th franchise a shot. When I saw it instantly streaming on NetFlix, I figured I'd give it that chance, but now I just wish I could have those ninety-five minutes back. There's no real story here - we're basically seeing a slow and methodical string of murders that are eventually justified by an extremely warped sense of revenge.

To be fair, the actors weren't really given much to work with, but they still could've brought a little more believability to their respective roles. The screenplay is written so that you never really get a sense of who these people are, and in turn, you never really care that they're being offed so quickly. Essentially, this movie was made for the sake of giving the audience a little bit of gore (I'd say scares, but there's really none to speak of), and even that's tame by today's standards. Maybe back in 1980, it was shocking, but now, it's not even laughable. We do get a look at a young Kevin Bacon, though.

I did have major issues with the film's musical score, which felt like a mix between John Williams's score for 1975's Jaws and Bernard Hermann's score for 1960's Psycho. Composer Harry Manfredini basically spawned the bastard child of those two iconic scores, and I think it took me out of this film more than anything else. The whole time, I just wanted something original, but instead, we've got music that so blatantly steals from other bits of classic cinema. In retrospect, most of the film is unoriginal, taking healthy helpings from other great films.

All in all, Friday the 13th really isn't worth your time. Maybe you'll laugh at it, but I couldn't even give it that much credit. It's just a travesty of a film that Leonard Maltin claimed was "one more clue to why SAT scores continue[d] to decline" in the time when the film was first released.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: F
Current All-Time Rank:
Worst - #100
2 Thumbs Down

Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie Review: THE SHINING


The Shining is a 1980 horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick that was based off a Stephen King novel of the same name. It tells the story of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) who takes a wintertime job as the live-in caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. With his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) in tow, the family settles in as the hotel's only "guests" for the winter. Jack spends much of his time on a writing project that he hopes he will complete during his months of isolation; Wendy and Danny spend their time playing and doing whatever they can to pass the slow-moving days. When Jack, who has been on the wagon for five months, starts to have problems with his project, he quickly becomes irritable and prone to violent outbursts, especially towards his wife. At the same time, Danny, who has some form of telepathy, starts to see visions of horrible atrocities committed at the hotel in the past, drastically changing his overall demeanor. Wendy does her best to sort out the problems with both Jack and Danny, but as time continues to pass, the tension continues to rise until it reaches a boiling point.

There's much, much more to the story - well, I should say screenplay - than what I've outlined above, but right now, it all seems rather jumbled. I have not read Stephen King's original novel, but from everything I've heard, King himself did not care for Kubrick's handling of the story (it ultimately led him to write and produce his own version of The Shining which was made into a TV movie in 1997). That being said, I'm sure there are some intricacies that the book fleshes out than the movie ever could have, but I found myself feeling a little bit lost for most of the film. I understand that there's a level of ambiguity that the movie is supposed to express, but when nearly everything that's said or done is deliberately ambiguous, it makes a film very difficult to follow.

We get an all-star performance from Mr. Nicholson, but by 1980, everyone was already expecting this type of work from him. Although it's not my favorite Nicholson role, it definitely ranks right near the top. He brings a very manic energy to a screenplay that moves extremely, and at times excessively, slow, and he helps give the movie a little bit of life. Once you get past Nicholson, however, the acting plummets quite far. I thought young Danny Lloyd did a good job with his part, coming across every bit as creepy as I'm sure Kubrick wanted. In the beginning of the film, it seems as though the story centers around him, and for a child actor, he does a great job of holding it all together in the early running. Shelley Duvall - who was nominated for a Razzie Award for her role - proves to be the weakest link here as I couldn't take her character seriously at any point of the film. She always had an expression like a deer in the headlights, and all of her more emotional scenes were so over-the-top that I felt pushed away by her character. Every time she "graced" the screen, I wanted to look away, and that's not good when you've only got three characters for most of the film.

I also had major issue with the music in the film. As I explained in my post about how my grading system works, the music in a film plays a very important role. The score I give for this criterion doesn't come down to whether it's good or bad (although the music in The Shining is bad, in my opinion); rather, it's more of a question of whether it fits well with the movie. In a sense, it should complement a film without standing out and being the only thing you notice in a scene. That's really where The Shining goes wrong. I can see why certain compositions were used for certain scenes, but they were so overbearing and so interrupting that they completely took me out of a few tense moments. I haven't had a film's music remove me from the film itself this much since I saw 2007's There Will Be Blood.

Ultimately, I know I'll probably take some hits for the fact that I don't completely adore this flick. IMDb users currently rate it as the fiftieth greatest movie of all time, but right now, I can't bring myself to agree. It's still one of the most iconic films in history, with memorable lines like "Here's Johnny!" and "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Perhaps I'll give it another go in a couple of months - subsequent viewings can always help shed light on previous questions. Until then, the score below is the best I can give The Shining.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C+
Thumbs Sideways

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Not Rated

Sometimes, even when you know what's coming, a movie can take you by complete surprise and utterly floor you...

Rosemary's Baby is a 1968 psychological mystery that centers around Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes). After moving into a new apartment, the young couple soon make friends with an elderly couple - Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) - who live on the same floor. Soon thereafter, a whirlwind of change strikes the couple: Guy, an aspiring actor, lands a part in a play when his main competition suddenly goes blind, and Rosemary learns that she has, at long last, become pregnant. Overjoyed, Guy elects to inform the Castevet's of the good news, and they quickly devote their services to Rosemary, including striking a bargain with a doctor friend. As Rosemary's pregnancy goes forward, she starts to feel as though things are not quite right. Her doctor has given her an assortment of herbal-remedy prescriptions that vary drastically from the commonplace drugs normally given to women with child. Through the ups and downs of her somewhat unstable pregnancy, Rosemary begins to develop a deep-seated paranoia towards everyone around her, fearing for her own safety as well as the safety of her unborn child.

Now, I'm not very well-versed in the annals of Roman Polanski's filmography (as I have openly admitted in my review of his 2010 film, The Ghost Writer), but I think that I'm starting to get a little better feel for his work. This being only the third of his films that I've been able to see, I'm by no means an expert, but I think I've come to know just what to expect out of a Polanski feature. And if Rosemary's Baby is any indication of the man's ability, then perhaps I should have been expecting much, much more from him. It's positively spectacular.

Mia Farrow is an absolute revelation as our leading lady, taking us through every step of her pregnancy, through the ups and the downs and the (in)sanity in-between. Although she does get a little over-the-top (for my liking) at times, she's mostly pitch-perfect, as is most of the cast. In the beginning of the film, I had issue with both Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon (who won an Oscar for her supporting role) as their characters simply seemed too out of place within the film. However, as time went by, their boisterous personalities seeped in, blending perfectly into the background.

And then we've got the screenplay... Polanski adapted it from Ira Levin's 1967 novel of the same name, and boy does it pack a punch. It starts out a little bit slow, to the point where I contemplated giving up on the film in the early going. However, it's reputation kept me watching, and I'm glad that I did. Polanski crafts a tightly-wound screenplay that literally winds you up then sends you spinning for the film's climax. We've got issues with claustrophobia and paranoia and a slew of other psychology-related problems that we almost become totally numb to the experience. Until the ending, that is. Polanski gives us a true catharsis, but it's not really one that many people are going to like. I feel as though the ending is a real love-it-or-hate-it, but you will only love it if you can appreciate the beauty behind the storytelling. I hope that makes sense, but I apologize if I'm rambling and spouting nonsense.

Rosemary's Baby is not a horror film in that it's going to scare you, but it will probably leave you rather horrified with its final few sequences. As I previously mentioned, I already knew how the film would essentially end (the broad strokes, at least), but that did not take away my sense of awe and wonder with the climactic moments. I'm not quite shaking, but there are slight vibrations running through my arms as I type this post. Rosemary's Baby is horrific. Rosemary's Baby is haunting. Rosemary's Baby is a must-see.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #49
2 Thumbs Up

Friday, January 21, 2011



I'd like to consider myself a bit of a movie buff. Most of my friends come to me for advice when picking what flick they should watch over the weekend. I can uncannily tell you the year that quite a few movies were released in a heartbeat. I'm not saying I'm the biggest movie fan, but I do have a bit of an obsession. Despite this, there are obviously quite a few movies that I have yet to see. I mean, I'm only twenty-two, and in the course of cinematic history, I find it difficult to think that anyone could have possibly seen every movie ever made. However, I had one friend who wouldn't take my critiques seriously until I saw The Godfather (which now rests at #18 all time for me), and I still get a lot of "How have you not seen that movie?" for any number of films. Black Hawk Down was one such movie, and I know I'm going to take a lot of flack for waiting this long to give it a gander, but worry no more, for I have finally seen it.

Black Hawk Down is a Ridley Scott film that tells the true story of the Battle of Mogadishu, which was a raid aimed at capturing two high-ranking officials serving warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in Somalia. The film follows the ensemble cast that comprises a group of Army Rangers as well as Delta Force operatives who attempt to make the capture but are pinned inside the city when one of their Black Hawk choppers is shot down. The rest of the movie shows the frantic efforts of the soldiers and the higher-ranking officers to get all of their men out of the hostile area of the city.

The filmmakers placed some lofty expectations on this film by having the opening title card read the following quote from the Greek philosopher Plato: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." That's a rather deep and thought-provoking quote to start a war movie, don't you think? I think it sets the stage for the hope that Black Hawk Down will be a war movie with something more. It was a gutsy call, essentially making the audience say, "Alright, now you better back it up and give us something good." And boy, do they ever back it up.

The first thing you're going to notice about the movie, especially if you're watching it now in 2011, is the huge amount of familiar faces. When the film was released in 2001, a lot of these guys hadn't yet made a name for themselves, but now, we've got some heavy-hitters and A-listers giving fine performances all the way around. To give you an idea of how deep of a cast we've got, let me list the men you should recognize most easily (and why you'll recognize them):

Eric Bana (from Hulk and Troy)
Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars prequels)
Ioan Gruffudd (as Mr. Incredible from the Fantastic Four films)
Jason Isaacs (as Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter franchise)
Jeremy Piven (as Ari Gold from "Entourage")
Josh Hartnett (from Pearl Harbor and 40 Days and 40 Nights)
Orlando Bloom (from The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean)
Tom Sizemore (from Heat and Saving Private Ryan)
William Fichtner (from Armageddon and The Longest Yard)

Now, I recognized quite a few more people, but they're probably not actors you'd recognize instantly like the ones listed above. Normally, I'd be against having so many recognizable actors in a movie (although that wasn't the problem ten years ago, it left open the possibility for Black Hawk Down to age poorly with too many big-names shoved into one flick), but somehow, it works this time around. We never get a huge, get-to-know-you stage for any one of the characters although some get a little more than others. In a way, the film's screenplay keeps the audience at arm's length from the action, the carnage and the pain, which you can either take or leave. However, the fact that it was written that way helps to counter the fact that we've got a big, big cast and doesn't let the individual stars take over the ensemble piece. That's a huge plus.

The pacing of Black Hawk Down is fantastic as well. For the first hour of the battle, we're nearly going along in real-time with the soldiers while they fight their way to the downed chopper. After that, we have to take jumps in time - otherwise we'd be watching a fifteen-hour movie. Ridley Scott does a great job with directing, never taking his foot off the gas once he's slammed it to the floor. The end result is a high-speed, ultra-realistic war movie that leaves you utterly breathless.

It's difficult to make a war movie that's more than just a glorified action flick. A lot of times, we end up with movies that start out well but simply fall into the same rote shoot-em-ups. Black Hawk Down, however, carries an aura of something more, and I think, going in, the filmmakers knew exactly what they had. Perhaps that Plato quote wasn't as gutsy a call as we would have thought in the beginning.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A-
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #121
2 Thumbs Up

Movie Review: KILLER MOVIE


(Disclaimer: this is the redband trailer)

I'm not quite sure how I found out about Killer Movie, but as soon as I did, I looked it up on my trusty pal NetFlix and found it to be streaming instantly. Seriously, the 21st century is fantastic.

Killer Movie is a 2008 film directed by Jeff Fisher that follows a television crew filming a new reality series about an up-and-coming high school hockey team in North Dakota. When Jake Tanner (Paul Wesley) arrives as the new director - his agent had conveniently forgotten to tell him that the last director (who was inexplicably played by 'N Sync's J.C. Chasez) had been canned - he tries to fall into step and take over the production where it had been left. The small town was reeling over the death of a young woman which was said to be an accident, but the outsiders from Hollywood suspect foul play. Jake tries to continue with the production as scripted, but his producer Lee (Cyia Batten) is hell-bent on following the story of the death. To make matters worse, Jake's agent has sent socialite Blanca Champion (Kaley Cuoco) to the shoot so she can help as a production assistant in preparation for a film role as a reality TV host. As the crew continues to get closer and closer to the story, more people start dying, including some of the members of the film crew. What started as a simple shoot of a hockey team on its way to a state championship quickly turns into a life-or-death game with a murderous madman.

On the surface, there's absolutely nothing appealing about this movie. The story is about as cliché as they come, the "horror" isn't entirely there (if you don't know me or my reviews, I'm more a fan of suspense than the cheap thrills of which this movie is rife). We've got some gore that will satisfy fans of bloody violence, but aside from that, there's really nothing that stands out from Killer Movie that makes it...well, killer.

That being said, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. From the opening moments, I was glued to the screen, watching everything unfold right in front of me. For starters, we've actually got some okay acting in this flick. Sure, it's no Shawshank Redemption or anything like that, but the characters are believable enough to be followed. Sure, I didn't necessarily care about them enough to want them all to make it in the end - I mean, it IS a horror movie - but they were strong enough performances to keep the movie going forward without me mocking every word they spouted. Wesley gives the best performance from his central role where half the time you can argue that, while his character is questioning whether he should've taken this reality TV gig, the real Paul Wesley is questioning whether he should have taken this role in the movie. Method acting at its finest, my friends (read: slight sarcasm). To top it off, there's not one "bad" performance here. Normally in a movie like this, you're bound to have one over-the-top, utterly useless character who somehow survives for three-quarters of the movie before being offed in extremely gory fashion for the audience's satisfaction, but we don't have that guy here. To be honest, the only downfall of the characters in the film is that there just may be too many of them. Take away three or four, and the filmmakers could have given us some real emotion behind wanting these people to make it to the end.

Like I said, the screenplay is extremely cliché and predictable (I figured out with certainty who the killer was about half an hour into the movie, but there were inklings that it was him/her even earlier than that), but I still kept watching. It has one of the most cliché endings you'll ever see (and boy is it one that I hate considering it's such an easy fix for an on-screen character), but I won't give it all away here. Based on the other reviews I've seen for Killer Movie, I may be one of the few who actually found a way to enjoy it, but I think that people who have slammed it weren't cutting it enough slack. Don't think this one through - just watch it and enjoy.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C
1.5 Thumbs Up

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Movie Review: BURMA VJ

Reporting from a Closed Country

It's a little bit difficult to critique and review a movie like this. It's like trying to say that a documentary about the Holocaust or the mass genocides in Rwanda. The whole point of such a film is to stir an emotional response from the viewer and bring them towards the sympathizing with the peoples affected by such outrageous atrocities. In some ways, to say that a documentary such as Burma VJ is not effective is to say that it's message did not reach you. In some ways, a person can assume a person who makes such a statement may be a heartless, self-centered individual. Perhaps you can see my conundrum when I say that I wasn't entirely impressed with this Oscar-nominated film.

Burma VJ, which was directed by Anders Ostergaard, follows a man named "Joshua" (his real name is not given for security reasons) who is one of the ringleaders of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an essentially illegal television and media group who works towards broadcasting the injustices created by the Burmese government; they do this as a direct counter-attack to the constant stream of propaganda ushered forth by the government. The footage shown within this film spans the course of roughly six weeks in the late summer of 2007 where monks and public citizens alike took a stand against the government for the first time in nearly twenty years. These undercover video reporters put their lives on the line to capture this momentous occasion, taking us through the ups and the downs, the trials and the tribulations of organizing such a massive protest.

Not only is this a documentary, but you can probably see this as a foreign film as well considering we're getting a lot of the dialogue in Burmese. I only say this because, unless you're fluent in both English and Burmese, you're going to have some subtitles to read. The English-language sections of the film, which mostly comprise the voice-overs from Joshua, seemed a little bit off for me. It felt as though his lines were a little too scripted for a documentary feature. Yes, I know that voice-over like that is supposed to be scripted, but it works best when it flows seamlessly and without hesitation. Perhaps Joshua simply isn't that great of a line-reader, but his voice-over stood out so glaringly that it would constantly take me away from what he was actually saying. This does not pose well for the film's effectiveness.

Another knock against it is the constant cutaway to blatantly reconstructed scenes. Now, the film does give a disclaimer at the very beginning that says we should be ready for such scenes (all of which comprise of Joshua either on the phone or at a computer while he hides in Thailand and attempts to direct his other videographers), but they always seem a little too out-of-place from the rest of the film. I think this goes into the camera work. These reconstructed scenes are crisp and crystal clear, and they take you away from the grittiness of the hand-held camera images that are being thrust into view. If the change were more subtle, I wouldn't be writing this paragraph, but it's such a stark contrast that it almost feels like we're going from our documentary to a big-budget political thriller. Back and forth, back and forth, and I just got tired of it after a while.

All of this is not to say that the film's message did not reach me. I have known about the political turmoil in Burma for a few years, but I never really knew the true extent. Burma VJ opened my eyes a little bit more to the suffering of the Burmese people under militaristic rule. So please don't assume I'm a heartless piece of crap because I'm not throwing an "A+" grade towards this film. I think that they could have made their argument a little more effective, and it could have been a great film. Instead, it's hanging on somewhere between the range of "good" and "almost great." However, it's still worth watching considering this story needs to be told. Perhaps you'll get a little more sucked into the film than I did, but you should definitely watch it and keep yourself informed about the world around you.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B-
1 Thumb Up

Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie Recommendation: AMERICAN HISTORY X

I've never done a post like this before, but I think that instead of writing an entire review for a film that I've already seen, I'll just give you the reasons why I'm recommending it. Hopefully this will turn into a common type of post with films that I've seen before and am only re-watching because I enjoyed them so much the first (or second or third or three hundredth) time around. Enjoy the movie recommendation!


American History X is a 1998 film directed by Tony Kaye that tells its story through an essay written by Daniel Vinyard (Edward Furlong) that talks about his brother's involvement in the skinhead scene in Venice Beach. Derek (Edward Norton) reigns king-supreme until he is charged with voluntary manslaughter when he kills two African-American men - one in rather gratuitous fashion - attempting to steal his car. While incarcerated, Derek learns the error of his ways and commits himself to bettering himself and bringing his family away from the atrocities committed by his former gang. This proves to be more difficult than he had originally anticipated when he finds that his younger brother Daniel has crafted himself into Derek's heir apparent with the white supremacist troupe.

No one can talk about American History X (which I will refer to as AHX from this point forward, in order to save myself some typing) without talking about the performance given by Mr. Edward Norton. It's a role that garnered him his first - and to this date, sole - Academy Award nomination which he ultimately lost to Roberto Benigni. However, I've seen both of those films, and I personally think that Norton was robbed of that illustrious statuette. Norton essentially plays two distinct roles in AHX: the biased and bigoted but seemingly well-informed white supremacist, and the reformed and still highly-intelligent parolee who wants to straighten out his life. At times, he's over-the-top, but at other times, he brings it all in and takes a very subtle approach. It's easily a career-best performance for a man who's had a slew of fantastic roles.

While I'm on the topic, the rest of the cast fills out quite nicely. Furlong, who most will recognize as John Connor from 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, plays an interesting and captivating character that I wished I could have hit and hugged all at the same time. It's like I wanted to smack some sense into his warped train of thought then fill him in on the realities of life. Furlong makes Daniel Vinyard very, very real. Beverly D'Angelo also gives a stirring display in a supporting role with a few moments that should've been enough to land her an Oscar nomination. But I suppose that's just my opinion.

I can't say enough about David McKenna's screenplay, and I'm shocked it didn't receive a slew of accolades back in 1998 and 1999. We're given an intense look at the psyche behind a powerful leader in a white supremacist movement. We get into his head and learn and understand the reasoning behind his hate-centered thought process. But what's really fantastic about the screenplay is that, while Derek still dabbles in his hate-mongering, he makes us believe that his ideals are the true and real ones that we should all believe and follow. Although we may not agree with these ideas at any other time, Derek draws us in and makes us believe that his word is law and should be followed to the letter. In my opinion, that makes his turn all the more powerful because we're experiencing that turn simultaneously, albeit from different perspectives. While Derek is experiencing this different train of thought for the first time, we're being led back into the light, so to speak. David McKenna takes us to the depths then brings us back to the surface, giving us a glimpse into something that, in today's 21st society, we may not and should never have to experience.

Now, most people who have seen this movie always refer to one particular scene (I'll just say it involves a death, but I won't go any further than that), but I know that there's so much more power in this film than just one singular act of violence. I personally find AHX to be one of the greatest films that has ever graced the silver screen, as evidenced by its current hold as my sixteenth greatest film of all time. I have yet to find anyone who wasn't satisfied with AHX, so I think you should do yourself a favor and give it a chance.

Best All-Time: #19