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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Christopher Nolan!

Today, I'd like to wish Christopher Nolan a happy 41st birthday! Nolan has quickly become one of the premiere directors on the Hollywood scene with his ultra-successful Batman franchise and 2010's smash-hit Inception. My first introduction to his work was 2005's Batman Begins, and it's only been a flourish from there. While he doesn't have a massive number of films under his belt - he's directed seven films, six of which I've seen, since his directorial debut in 1999 - he has found a way to make each one of them simply astounding. I have yet to come across another director who has been so consistently proficient. Nolan ranks as my fifth favorite director of all time, and if you look closely at that list, you'll see that he and Sergio Leone are the only two directors who boast an 'A' for their films' average grade. So, as I usually do on birthday posts, I'm breaking down my five favorite of Nolan's films, giving you little snippets from each film for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to keep a weather eye out for Nolan in the future: his next directorial effort will be the third and final film in his Batman trilogy (2012's The Dark Knight Rises), and he is also producing and working on the screenplay for the new Superman film entitled Man of Steel. Because it seems as though everything this man touches turns to gold, I simply cannot wait for the rest of his career. Once again, happy birthday, Christopher!


5. Memento
2000


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4. The Prestige
2006


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3. The Dark Knight
2008


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2. Following
1999


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1. Inception
2010

Friday, July 29, 2011

Movie Review: MUTANT VAMPIRE ZOMBIES FROM THE 'HOOD!

MUTANT VAMPIRE ZOMBIES FROM THE 'HOOD!
2008
Not Rated


"Zombies? Man, you watch too much TV."
-- Dragon


Mutant Vampire Zombies from the 'Hood! is a 2008 horror-comedy directed by Thunder Levin that centers around a group of people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. After a solar flare passes across Earth, the human population is essentially turned into the living, walking dead (even if our characters can't agree on whether they're mutants, vampires or zombies). A group of gang-bangers led by the infamous G-Dog (Tyshawn Bryant) joins forces with a cop named David (C. Thomas Howell) and a rival Asian gang led by Dragon (Robert Wu). They hear a scientist named Dr. Reginald Monte (Gregory Alan Williams) over the television saying that he has a safe haven in Santa Monica with his grown daughter Lisa (Johanna Watts), so the group decides to head in that direction. When they finally make it to the house, the two groups devise a plan to escape the city and head to a less-populated area where they might be able to start civilization anew.

I'd like to start by saying that this film is exactly as ridiculous as its title posits it would be. Just the concept of everyday thugs and cops teaming up to do battle against swarms of zombies is enough to make for an entertaining flick, but when you add a relatively steady stream of film references throughout the dialogue, there's even more to enjoy. There's constant reference made to the zombie films of George Romero, as many of them are listed over and over again by one of G-Dog's boys. He also continually refers to the creatures as "Nosferatu," a throwback to the iconic 1920s German silent film of the same name. We even have nearly direct lines being stolen from films like 1975's Jaws and 2006's Snakes on a Plane. For a cinephile, there's quite a bit of fantastic dialogue to enjoy. All that being said, the dialogue is really the only piece of the screenplay that's working even remotely successfully in this film. The story itself is a bit shoddy and predictable, but it works well enough for this film's particular purposes.

The acting strangely fits this film relatively well, considering the type of movie we're being presented. As this is billed as a horror-comedy, it's safe to say that the actors were attempting to be as funny as they could possibly be. Some of the characters work more convincingly than others. For example, we get some rather good supporting performances from Maxie J. Santillan Jr. and Jeremiah Birkett, who definitely bring the funny to the table. The aforementioned Williams also serves up a couple of good laughs. The rest of the cast fills out rather nicely considering how ridiculous they all tried to be.

At the end of the day, Mutant Vampire Zombies from the 'Hood! is an entertaining film that works well to pass the time. I wouldn't recommend seeking it out purposely for entertainment, but if you have nothing better to do, it's a nice way to throw away about an hour-and-a-half. If you have a knowledge of film, you might find a little more liking, even if the references are a little cheap. It's a nice effort, and the final result is pleasing, but it's ultimately an entirely forgettable film.


Movie Review Summary
Grade: D+
0.5 Thumbs Up

Movie Review: EVIL WEED

EVIL WEED
2009
Not Rated


"You need to come with me this very instant!"
-- Tinny

Evil Weed is a low-budget 2009 horror film directed by David Wexler that centers around three young couples who suffer through a strange and terrible ordeal while spending time at a vacation home in the Hamptons. Sisters Emily (Brianna Barnes) and Danielle (Genevieve Hudson-Price) take their boyfriends - Murph (Ryan Willard) and aptly-named "Boyfriend" (Nick Weil) - on a weekend vacation and bring along long-time friends Dan (Bekim Trenova) and Tinny (Cynthia LaForte). While relaxing and enjoying their time together, Danielle and her boyfriend partake in some extra-strong marijuana, but something isn't completely right about it. They both soon start to feel nauseous and have weird reactions to the weed. After some time, they both turn into werewolf-like creatures that begin to hunt and kill the people around them. The rest of the group has to do what they can to survive and avoid the contagious bite of these beasts.

If you're currently scratching your head wondering exactly what I'm rambling about, then you're in the perfect state of mind to read this particular review. I decided to give the NetFlix Instant Watch archives a gander and found Evil Weed hidden a few pages back under "B-Movie Horror." Because it's a short film - it tops out at seventy minutes - and because it seemed incredibly ridiculous, I figured I'd give it a shot, hoping for some "so bad, it's good" entertainment. Sadly, there isn't much entertainment to go around as it's difficult to find anything even to laugh at during this one.

The screenplay itself is nearly non-existent. We're shown the weed in the opening scenes, and the characters use it relatively soon afterward, but it takes another forty minutes or so for any of the effects to take place. It's an incredibly slow-moving film that finds every possible opportunity to bore you. Honestly, there's really nothing that happens. Yeah, a couple people get mauled towards the end, but it takes so long to get to that point that any audience would have shut their minds off long before.

The acting itself isn't the worst I've ever seen in a film, but it does come rather close. It's not that there's one actor going above and beyond in their terrible-ness; rather, there's a uniform level of badness present with the acting in Evil Weed that I can't even begin to describe.

I think my biggest issue with the film, however, was the cinematography. I couldn't quite tell whether they used a cheap hand-held camera or took a camera built into a laptop because the whole film felt like something straight off YouTube. It was a little off-putting because the film's visual quality was so cheap that I had a difficult time keeping my eyesight trained on the television screen. So if you do plan to watch Evil Weed, be forewarned of that particular problem.

Overall, there really isn't much good to come out of watching this film. I had hoped for a few good laughs along the way, but I think I only chuckled once. Evil Weed is just a bad movie, the type that you immediately wish you could erase from your memory. Proceed with caution.


Movie Review Summary
Grade: F
2 Thumbs Down

Rankings
Worst All-Time - #4

DVD Challenge #18: THE ORPHANAGE

The Orphanage (El orfanato)
2007
R
Run-time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep


Whenever I see Guillermo del Toro's name attached to a film, I have the immediate reaction that I should be expecting something, at the very least, above average. With directorial efforts like the Hellboy films and the brilliant Pan's Labyrinth, he's proven himself to be incredibly competent behind the camera. And although he takes his talents to the producer's chair for The Orphanage, you can still feel that del Toro "stamp" on the film, so to speak.

There are many ways to describe this film, but I think that the critical consensus offered on the online review aggregate Rottentomatoes.com offers the best concise breakdown: the film "is a breath of fresh air for critics and audiences alike, seamlessly blending in a poignant tale of loss with the scares and blood." In a day and age where remakes and reboots are the norm (especially in the horror camp), it's always nice to see something new and original hit the screens.

When it comes to horror films, I'm not really a fan of the "cheap thrills" - those moments meant to make you jump out of your seat. I feel like they really are cheap, giving you a sudden jolt that you won't remember two minutes later. No, the brand of horror I truly crave is the kind that can offer suspense that seeps into your subconscious. If a movie can get inside your head, I think it's all the more terrifying than a door slamming shut or a monster popping from behind a corner. And while The Orphanage does have a few "jump-out-of-your-seat" moments, it mostly delves into the suspense of the story to give its viewers their thrills and chills.

In order for a film to be successfully suspenseful, however, it needs to have an engaging storyline that allows the audience the opportunity to get lost in the story. With the horror and thriller genre, the only way to create legitimate terror through suspense is to hook the viewer from the opening scene and never let go of that hold. If a film can't do that, then it's lost its audience from the very start and is surely headed towards a drastic demise. It's for this very reason that we don't see all that many great horror films nowadays, but The Orphanage definitely teeters on the brink of greatness. We get a fantastic plot that's infused with a level of emotion not normally seen within this genre. It's this emotion that helps carry the film towards its rather beautiful conclusion, and it should be commended.

On the same hand, we're also getting a slew of great performances from the cast. Rueda is fantastic as our lead, and the young Príncep holds his own whenever he finds time on-screen. We also get a couple of rather good supporting performances, especially from the likes of Geraldine Chaplin who brings a legitimate cameo appearance to the film.

I'd also like to make a quick mention of the film's fantastic musical score, composed by Fernando Velázquez. It perfectly sets the mood for the film and holds the tone throughout. It's a beautifully written score, and here's a little snippet for your listening pleasure:


At the end of the day, however, it's the story and the emotion that truly carry The Orphanage to success. While I'm not quite ready to call the film "great," I do have to say that it's a very good movie that offers a different type of horror experience. If you're tired of cheap thrills and want a "breath of fresh air," then give The Orphanage a go. Be forewarned if you're not a fan of subtitles, however.


Previous DVD Challenge: SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)

Movie Review: COWBOYS & ALIENS

COWBOYS & ALIENS
2011
PG-13


"I need to know where you came from."
-- Ella Swenson

Cowboys & Aliens is a 2011 sci-fi action film directed by Jon Favreau that centers around a 19th-century battle between humans and invading aliens. The film opens with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking in the middle of the desert with no recollection of his past and a mysterious metal bracelet attached to his wrist. He makes his way to the small town of Absolution, where he somewhat inadvertently helps a young hot-shot named Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) into finding trouble with the law. This causes the local sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine) to recognize Lonergan as a wanted criminal, and it sets Percy's father Woodrow (Harrison Ford) quickly against him. Just as Taggart is sending Percy and Lonergan to federal marshals and Woodrow attempts to take custody of their lives, mysterious lights in the sky begin to attack the small town, kidnapping a number of the people - including Percy and the sheriff - there. Convinced that demons have set into the town, Woodrow and Lonergan take a rag-tag group of survivors into the desert to find the creatures and save their kin. With the help of a young woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) who knows more than meets the eye, the group plans their attack against the creatures in the hopes of ridding the menace once and for all.

If you've been reading my blogs for a while, you'll know that I was drinking from the Cowboys & Aliens Kool-Aid since I first saw the trailers last year. I placed it as my second most anticipated film of the 2011 summer because, as I stated in that post, "there's something about the concept of aliens mixing with the Old West that's entirely intriguing." And considering the film has a line-up of producers that includes Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, you'd have to think that there could be something about this film, especially when their excitement is so palpable.

Suffice it to say, I was a little let down by the final product that Cowboys & Aliens placed on the screen. While it's not a terrible movie by any means, there just wasn't enough to keep me entirely intrigued throughout the entire film. (To be fair, I did see this at a midnight showing after an extremely long day, so fatigue and exhaustion could be playing a bit into this review). Now, there wasn't a huge issue with the level of acting. I thought it fit well with this particular film even if certain members of the cast found it commonplace to overact during the entire film. Our two leads - Craig and Ford - are the most guilty of this particular crime, but we've also got some lesser characters who ham it up during their time on-screen (look for the usually brilliant Dano to fall into that category this time around). Still, it's not bad enough to make you cringe, but I just thought the acting could have been a tad bit better.

The real issue with the film is the storyline. I know that I can't really bash it too much considering this is literally a film about cowboys fighting aliens, but if you want your audience to suspend their disbelief, you need to throw them enough to do just that. The biggest problem was the that story was entirely predictable. At every moment, you knew which direction it was headed, and who was going to go where. If your audience can start guessing (correctly) what's going to happen next, you'll quickly lose their focus and concentration. For me, Cowboys & Aliens nearly fell into that particular trap, offering little to no sensible storyline for me to follow. Because the acting itself was suspect, that left little on which to cling.

I do have to say that the special effects and action sequences were relatively well-crafted. It's a fun idea to pit these two adversaries against one another and see how it might unfold. I also have to give credit to the filmmakers for creating an original creature to throw at the humans. It's a multi-faceted beast that can strike in a number of ways, adding to its overall effectiveness. So kudos there, good sirs.

At the end of the day, you really can't take Cowboys & Aliens for more than its title suggests: it's a movie about cowboys fighting aliens. If you go into the film expecting something brilliant, you'll surely be disappointed. However, if you go in just wanting a fun, popcorn-munching time, then you'll probably be set. It's a film that doesn't require any thinking whatsoever, so just shut your brain off and let the film entertain you on a purely superficial level.



Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C
Thumbs Sideways

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Memoriam: Stanley Kubrick

On what would have been his 83rd birthday, we're celebrating the memory of the famous film director, Stanley Kubrick. Over the course of a nearly fifty year career, Kubrick stamped a name for himself in Hollywood lore, crafting some of the most memorable and instantly recognizable films in cinematic history. His work garnered him thirteen Academy Award nominations, including four Best Director nominations and five nominations for work with both original and adapted screenplays. Strangely enough, however, his only Oscar win came in the form of a statuette for Best Special Visual Effects for the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is probably a tad bit blasphemous, to be sure. Still, there's no denying the Kubrick stamp that he placed on all his films. There's something about his work that leaves you a little bit mesmerized, and that's what makes the appeal all the more lasting.

So, like I normally do with my general "birthday" posts, I'm listing my favorite Kubrick films. I've given a clip from each particular film for your viewing pleasure, so I hope you enjoy them. If you haven't had an opportunity to take in Kubrick's films, I suggest you give them a chance. They're going to leave you scratching your head a little bit, but that's what makes them all the more brilliant. The world cannot - and hopefully will not - ever forget the impact Kubrick had on film history.

5. The Shining
1980


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4. Full Metal Jacket
1987


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3. A Clockwork Orange
1971


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2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
1968


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1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
1964


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I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Kubrick himself, one I think personifies his films completely:

"A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later."

Happy Birthday, Kevin Spacey!

Today is a very special day for me, in that I get to create a birthday post for arguably my favorite actor of all time, Kevin Spacey. Now, I'd seen some of Spacey's more recent fare in the past few years - my first strong memory of him in a film was 2006's Superman Returns - but once I started delving into his past filmography, I saw how surprisingly wonderful he actually is. He's a two-time Academy Award winner, if that's not enough to prove to you how great of an actor he is. He brings such a force and a presence to the screen that is often unmatched by his peers. Because I'm so fond of his work, I've listed my top ten roles rather than my usual top five. There's also an extra bit at the end of the post that I'm sure you'll find rather hilarious, so be sure to check it out. Once again, happy birthday, Kevin Spacey!


10. Albert T. Fitzgerald
The United States of Leland (2003)

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9. Lex Luthor
Superman Returns (2006)


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8. Dave Harken
Horrible Bosses (2011)


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7. Famous Dr. Evil
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)


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6. Jack Vincennes
L.A. Confidential (1997)


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5. Jack Abramoff
Casino Jack (2010)


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4. Henry Carter
Shrink (2009)


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3. Lester Burnham
American Beauty (1999)


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2. Roger 'Verbal' Kint
The Usual Suspects (1995)


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1. John Doe
Se7en (1995)


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Now if the acting wasn't enough to make you fall in love with Spacey, this video might put you over the top:



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Awards
1998: Nominee - Best Voice Acting
1999: Winner - Best Actor, Drama
2001: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Drama
2002: Nominee - Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
2004: Nominee - Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
2006: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Comedy; Best Villain
2010: Winner: Best Actor, Comedy

Saturday, July 23, 2011

DVD Challenge #17: SHAUN OF THE DEAD

Shaun of the Dead
2004
R
Run-time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy



When I first heard about Shaun of the Dead back in 2004, I honestly wasn't quite sure exactly what I should be expecting. The trailers made the film seem like a straight-out comedy, and with a tagline like, "A romantic comedy. With zombies," I didn't think there'd be too much in terms of actual horror. And while the film doesn't offer much in terms of scares, it definitely brings quite a bit in terms of gore. I remember seeing the film for the first time in theaters with my mother and younger sister, who wanted to see the movie because the titular character spelled his name the same way that I do, and I remember their aghast reaction at some of the events on-screen. I, however, found the film to be fantastic, and it quickly earned a special place in my list of favorite films.

Shaun of the Dead was the first real introduction I, as well as much of the rest of the public, had to the comedic stylings of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have gone on to craft two more films together (2007's Hot Fuzz and 2011's Paul). Of the three films, it's not much of a stretch to say that Shaun of the Dead is the best, and that's saying quite a bit considering I review the other films rather favorably as well.

As some of you may know, I'm a bit of a sucker for films that are able to come full circle. Writers Pegg and Wright manage to do this extremely well with Shaun of the Dead, even down to bringing minute and fleeting jokes from the first act back to the climactic moments. The comedy they bring is also a bit fresher than your standard comedy nowadays, and I'm not sure whether it's the British inclinations or just the way that craft and deliver the lines. A lot has to be said about the acting in the film because the cast is able to deliver the dialogue in near-perfect fashion. Each individual inhabits their character and remains with that personality throughout the entire film, making everything completely believable. Obviously, Pegg and Frost steal the show, but if you're paying attention, there's some great performances and fantastic one-liners from the likes of Dylan Moran and Bill Nighy in his limited role.

One of the things I didn't really notice the first time I saw the film was the use of music. It's shown that Shaun and Ed - Pegg and Frost's characters, respectively - use music as a form of stress relief from time to time, and those scenes add a bit of comedy to the film. However, the music is so well-placed that it's almost unfair how clever it all works within the constructs of the movie. I think many would agree that the best use of music in the film has to be the inclusion of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." I've included the clip below, so maybe you'll see what I mean:



At the end of the day, Shaun of the Dead is one of the freshest, most entertaining comedies you're likely to see, and it only gets better with additional viewings. While it's not the goriest film I've ever seen, the highly-squeamish may want to avoid it or cover their eyes from time to time, but even then, I still suggest you give this one a chance. It has a fantastic staying power, and I think that people will be talking about and loving this film for quite a long time. It set Pegg and Frost as legitimate forces on the silver screen, and because of this film, I always eagerly await their next endeavor.

Rankings
Best All-Time: #91
Best Comedy: #13

2004 Awards
Wins: Best Comedy; Best Horror/Thriller
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Cast, Comedy; Best Screenplay, Comedy; Best Actor, Comedy; Best Supporting Actor, Comedy; Best Supporting Actress, Comedy

Previous DVD Challenge: ZOMBIELAND (2009)

Happy Birthday, Philip Seymour Hoffman!

I know I've been posting a lot of birthday lists in the past few days, but when you've got a string of birthdays close together, it's hard for me to leave any particular individual out. The same goes for today's second birthday boy, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman has been a consistent presence on the Hollywood stage, proving himself to be one of the premiere actors around. His three Academy Award nominations - and one win for 2005's Capote - say enough about his critical success as an actor, but I personally believe he should have received much more praise than that. As proof of my fanaticism with Hoffman's work, I've chosen to give you my top ten roles, rather than my usual top five, for his tribute post. So without any further delay, here's my ten favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman roles. Enjoy!


10. Reverend Veasey
Cold Mountain (2003)

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9. Brandt
The Big Lebowski (1998)


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8. The Count
Pirate Radio (2009)


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7. Freddie Miles
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

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6. Scotty J.
Boogie Nights (1997)


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5. Truman Capote
Capote (2005)

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4. Jacob Elinsky
25th Hour (2002)


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3. Father Brendan Flynn
Doubt (2008)


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2. Lester Bangs
Almost Famous (2000)


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1. Allen
Happiness (1998)


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Awards
1998: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
1999: Nominee - Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
2000: Winner - Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
2002: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Drama
2008: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Drama
2009: Nominee - Best Voice Acting

Happy Birthday, Woody Harrelson!

It's a little ironic that I just did a DVD Challenge for Zombieland a few days ago with Woody Harrelson's birthday right around the corner, but now he's been in my consciousness for the past few days. Harrelson, who turns 50 today, made his first big break on the television show "Cheers" and rode his success from there. While he generally plays a more comedic character, he has shown that he has the ability to delve into the dramatic, garnering two Academy Award nominations throughout his career. You can currently see him in the new film Friends with Benefits. So without any further delay, here's my five favorite Woody Harrelson roles! Enjoy!


5. Carson Stone
No Country for Old Men (2007)


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4. Galaxia / Security Guard Gary
Anger Management (2003)


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3. Captain Tony Stone
The Messenger (2009)


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2. Tallahassee
Zombieland (2009)


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1. Mickey Knox
Natural Born Killers (1994)


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Awards
2003: Nominee - Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
2009: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Drama; Best Hero(ine)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Alan Menken!

This is a little off-beat, but we had two big names celebrating birthdays today, so there was no way I could leave both of them off the posts. We're also celebrating the 62nd birthday of composer and songwriter Alan Menken, who forged his career by crafting some of the most memorable songs and scores for some rather iconic Disney films. Sure, he's dabbled here and there on some other projects with other studios, but anyone who knows about Alan Menken can't deny the fact that he owes a lot of his success to Disney. So what I've done here is list my five favorite cinematic scores that Menken has produced over the years. Not so ironically, they are all from his times with Disney, but that's neither here nor there. He's been able to craft some of the most magical musical compositions I've ever heard, and I hope you enjoy these just as much as I do. Once again, happy birthday, Alan Menken!


5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
1996


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4. Enchanted
2007


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3. The Little Mermaid
1989


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2. Aladdin
1992


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1. Beauty and the Beast
1991


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Awards
2007: Nominee - Best Original Score
2010: Nominee - Best Original Score

Movie Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
2011
PG-13


"A weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power."
-- Dr. Abraham Erskine


Captain America: The First Avenger is a 2011 superhero action film directed by Joe Johnston that serves as the final singular film leading to the mega-Marvel mash-up, The Avengers, due out next summer. We open on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a scrawny young man with a series of medical defects, as he tries to enlist in the Army to fight in World War II. Because of his size and stature, however, he is constantly denied by the military. One evening, however, a German scientist named Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who's working for the U.S. government, meets Rogers and finds him to be ideal for a special project on which he's working. He convinces Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) to try a procedure that will make Rogers into the first of a series of super-soldiers. The procedure succeeds flawlessly, but a Nazi agent deliberately destroys the lab, leaving Rogers as the only super-soldier to be created. Rather than being sent to the front lines, he's left in the States to help sell war bonds, but on a morale tour through Italy, he learns just how much of a joke he has become with the men in the ranks. While there, Rogers learns of the disappearance of a friend's battalion and elects to rescue them. With the help of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and a young Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Rogers is able to do just that, but he finds himself wrapped in an even deeper conspiracy involving one of the Nazi's leading men, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), who presents much more than meets the eye.

Now, I'd have to say that of the two Marvel films to be released this summer, Captain America was the one I was more excited to see (as evidenced by its inclusion on my 2011 Summer Movie Preview). While I correctly predicted that Thor would be a tad so-so, I had high hopes for this one after seeing Chris Evans steal the show in 2010's The Losers, a movie only watchable because of his presence. Add the fact that it seemed like most of the rest of the film community was also expecting Captain America to be the superhero film to beat this summer, and I felt justified in my expectations. After seeing it at midnight last night, can I say that it delivered on those expectations? Well, sorta.

The problems with the film don't necessarily start with the acting, which is solidly good throughout the entire film. I did expect a little bit more out of Evans, but he's definitely a legitimate presence on-screen, both physically and comically when the time calls for it. I can't think of any other actor today who could've done a much better job than he with the role, so I suppose he should be applauded for that. We get some good performances from the likes of Atwell and Cooper as well. Tucci is drastically under-used, but his moments on-screen are some of the funniest and, at times, the most heartfelt. Jones brings a level of comedy to the screen that I haven't seen him bring in quite some time, so it's a breath of fresh air to see him journeying down that path again. And I found Weaving to be a very convincing villain this time around, although I've never truly had any issue with Weaving's level of acting. He brings such a force to each of his characters that it's hard not to like him.

No, the real issue I had with the film involved the screenplay itself. Now, there's nothing wrong with the story. I found it to be engaging and inviting, and it kept me hooked and wondering until the very end. My problem was that it all seemed a little too fast-paced. Now, hear me out for a moment. I realize that it's a big-budget action film, and it needs to move quickly in order for it to remain exciting, and I'm probably criticizing the screenplay a tad too much, but there's only so much I can take with one particular film. My problem was that they tried to insert a bit of character development, but the filmmakers tried to rush it, so it all felt a little bit forced, almost as though they were trying to squeeze it in to distract from the constant acting scenes. I got the emotion they were trying to convey with certain characters, but I think the film would have benefited from slowing down for a few scenes here and there to emphasize that emotion. I'm not sure if that even begins to make sense, but I just wanted the film to slow a few times to expand on the character development. I guess we can't all have it our way, though.

Still, there's a lot to be admired about this particular comic book adaptation. Because we're getting a superhero from back in the 1940s, one of the challenges the filmmakers had to face was making it true to that particular era while still bringing a 21st-century liveliness to it all. In that regard, I think Captain America can be considered a smashing success. As Rottentomatoes.com, the online critical review aggregate, has surmised, Captain America presents a "pleasantly retro vibe" that conveys wonderfully across the screen. At the same time, we get a very good musical score from Alan Silvestri, although I thought I heard some moments that sounded eerily similar to a track from Star Wars, but I won't hold it against him.

All that being said, Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid superhero film that's definitely worth seeing as a popcorn-munching romp of fun. The performances are strong enough to keep you engaged with the characters, and the action sequences are spectacular enough to keep you sitting in awe. Is it changing the game? Of course not, but that doesn't mean it doesn't serve as wonderful summertime entertainment. Isn't that what seeing movies is all about?

Oh, and please don't forget to stay past the credits. I can assure you that you won't be disappointed!


Movie Review Summary:Grade: B
1 Thumb Up

Happy Birthday, Willem Dafoe!

We've got a pair of birthdays to celebrate today, but the first shall go to the bigger name in Willem Dafoe, who turns 56 today. Dafoe is one of those actors who's instantly recognizable, both for his looks and for his voice. He may not be the best-looking man out there, but he has a very distinctive look about him that's hard to mistake. However, that voice is the real selling point, and whenever I heart it, I instantly turn towards the nearest screen. There's a very strange appeal about this man, and I can't quite figure out what draws me to Willem Dafoe as an actor. He's proven that he has some chops - he's a two-time Academy Award nominee - so maybe that's what makes him all the more appealing. So here we are, counting down my five favorite Dafoe roles. I hope you enjoy it!


5. Det. Donald Kimball
American Psycho (2000)


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4. Norman Osborn / Green Goblin
Spider-man (2002)


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3. Klaus Daimler
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)


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2. Sgt. Elias
Platoon (1986)


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1. Paul Smecker
The Boondock Saints (1999)


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Awards
1999: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Drama
2002: Nominee - Best Villain

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trailer Breakdown: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

Another teaser trailer has hit the interwebs, so I thought I'd break it down for all of your reading pleasure. It's the trailer for the upcoming horror film, Paranormal Activity 3, and rather than ramble on here, I'll just get right to it. Below is the video and then some of the questions and concerns that came up while I watched it. Enjoy!



And now for my thoughts and questions that arose while watching the trailer:

1) For starters, do they really need another film in the Paranormal Activity franchise?
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I was a huge fan of the smash-hit original back in 2009, and I was definitely a skeptic when they released the second film last year, but I ultimately reviewed it favorably (although my overall view of that film has changed a little bit since then). Still, there were many things to say about the second film, and in some ways, I thought it exceeded its predecessor. I liked how they set up the possibility for another sequel, but there didn't seem to be a need to make another film. However, part three was green-lit relatively quickly, so all my skepticism came rushing back. There's no reason that this upcoming film won't continue with the previous success, but I don't know if we should really be expecting all that much from this one. Apparently, the original's director-turned-producer Oren Peli has stated that this film will be scarier than the rest, and I'm just afraid he's setting too lofty of a goal for himself.

2) This film looks to be a prequel rather than a sequel. How does that play into its overall effectiveness?
I personally like the fact that the filmmakers chose to go back in time - in this case, to 1988 - to give us a little more of the background on the demon that haunts Katie and Kristi throughout the franchise. I think it adds a little bit of freshness that a continuation story might not have been able to bring. Also, I think it adds the potential for more of an emotional connection to the girls playing the younger Katie and Kristi, a point where I thought the second film succeeded. As I mentioned in that particular review, part of the reason that Paranormal Activity 2 was so good was that it was able to pull at your heartstrings as well as your nerves. By adding a baby and a German shepherd into the mix, you couldn't help but get emotionally attached. Maybe the filmmakers picked up on this and thought that using children again might be the best way to go. However, there are some issues with the thought of a prequel. For example, because we ultimately know Katie and Kristi's fate, there's not going to be much suspense in terms of how they'll fare throughout this particular film. Sure, they're going to get scared time and time again, but at the end of the day, we know they're going to survive their childhood to some degree. Be looking for some massive twists and turns to keep the plot moving this time around.

3) On that note, I still want to know what happened to baby Hunter from the second film.
As of right now, it doesn't look like we'll really be getting much in terms of that part of the story, unless this "prequel" business is only a piece of what Paranormal Activity 3 will entail. If we don't get the answers to Hunter's whereabouts, we might be looking at a fourth film in 2012.

4) How much of Katie Featherston will we be seeing this time around?
As the first film's lead and a major source of drama in the second film, it goes without saying that we should expect Featherston to at least make an appearance at some point. The only way they could get away without her would be to keep the entire story as a prequel without any flash-forwards to more present day events, but because she's been the staple of the franchise, I'm not sure whether they'll be able to pull that off. Still, there's no official word on the Internet Movie Database as to whether she'll be making an appearance, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

5) How will the directors fare with this type of material?
Normally, the course of direction wouldn't pose much of a problem as long as Peli remains on-board as a producer, but the two directors helmin this particular picture do send up a little bit of a red flag for me. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, who made a name for themselves by crafting the 2010 faux documentary Catfish, have taken the reigns of this one, and I'm a little bit concerned as to how they'll approach it. They went to great lengths to prove to everyone that their last film was a true story, and I personally don't know if they've yet to come clean on that particular point of order. And considering this will really be their first foray into the horror genre - no, Catfish was not a horror film, or even a thriller, for that matter - it should be quite an interesting watch. I guess we'll have to wait and see how it plays out.

Paranormal Activity 3 is currently set to hit U.S. theaters on October 21, 2011.

Trailer Breakdown: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

It's time to break down another trailer! In the past few days, I'd been hearing rumblings about a leaked teaser trailer for the upcoming 2012 film, The Amazing Spider-man, but I hadn't found it until it officially hit IMDb. With the release of a teaser trailer for another 2012 film some of you may recognize as The Dark Knight Rises, I'm sure that this particular trailer has taken a little bit of a back seat. However, I found quite a bit to talk about, so let's get to it, shall we? Here's the trailer for your viewing pleasure, and below will be my breakdown and analysis.



And now, to the thoughts that arose while I watched the trailer:

1) Will a franchise rebooted this quickly be able to grasp its former audience as well as a new generation of audiences?
It may not seem like it, but it's only been nine years since the first of Sam Raimi's Spider-man films hit theaters back in 2002. The most recent - and ultimately final - installment in that particular branch of the franchise was released in 2007 and sizzled in rather lackluster fashion, in my own personal opinion. Because of creative differences, the studio chose to part ways with the Raimi and Tobey Maguire-led films, instead choosing to restart everything. Now, we have seen quick reboots before (need I remind you of the 2008 film, The Incredible Hulk, which came only five years after Hulk), so I suppose it's not entirely unprecedented. However, Raimi's Spider-man franchise was (mostly) applauded, so taking something that worked and tweaking it so soon could spell certain doom. Fortunately, I have quite a bit of faith in this particular adaptation, for one particular reason...

2) ...which is the cast list for The Amazing Spider-man.
While the use of Tobey Maguire as our central lead in Raimi's films worked relatively well, I never could get past the fact that he was a little on the annoying side. Sure, he had some stellar actors working alongside him (with Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and James Franco, just to name a few), but seeing him as the lead in this big-time action franchise never sat well with me personally. However, the reboot's cast list seems extremely promising. First and foremost, we're getting a high-caliber, uprising star in Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, which would be enough to make me see the film. He first blew me away with his subtly dramatic performance in 2008's Boy A, and he reached the collective consciousness of the mainstream public in 2010's The Social Network. I think he'll take this role and run with it. The rest of the cast fills out rather nicely as well, if I do say so myself, with the likes of Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Rhys Ifans and Denis Leary in lead or supporting roles. It's almost a little unfair when you think about it.

3) How will director Marc Webb perform with this much pressure?
If you don't instantly recognize the name of Marc Webb, I honestly wouldn't be surprised. The man made his career start by directing music videos for the likes of No Doubt, Green Day and 3 Doors Down. He only has one feature film to his name to date, but that one film - 2009's (500) Days of Summer - was a sheer act of brilliance. Still, there's nothing to say that he won't be a one-and-done director, and I'm sure there's a lot of speculation as to whether Webb can deliver in this particular situation. I have faith that he'll be just fine, but because it's only his sophomore effort, I can assure you that he'll have his skeptics.

4) Does this film seem a little bit darker to anyone else?
While Raimi's franchise always seemed a little cheesy to me, probably as a result of Maguire's inclusion, there's something about this trailer that makes me think that The Amazing Spider-man might be delving into a deeper and darker level. And how can you blame them for such? With the success of superhero films like Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise, there really shouldn't be anything stopping them from trying to get into the grit of the story. Will it work for this particular film? No one can really know for sure, but I know that Garfield is capable of reaching those deep emotional levels, so we could be in for quite a performance.

5) Hooray for exposition!
As you can see at the beginning of the trailer, we'll be getting at least a little bit of the back-story as to why Peter Parker ends up living with his aunt and uncle rather than his own parents. Now, I can't quite remember everything from the first of Raimi's Spider-man films, but I don't recall ever having any true discussion as to Peter's parents' whereabouts. If you know me at all, you'll know I'm a bit of a sucker for exposition and background, so this should play right up my alley. Kudos to the filmmakers already!

6) How will this film look visually?
There's moments in the trailer where I was already being wowed by what I was seeing. For example, I instantly fell in love with the beauty of the room where Peter is ultimately bitten. However, there are a few scenes in the trailer that made me scratch my head as well, most noticeably the final sequence where we see Spider-man weaving his way through the rooftops above New York City. I don't know about the rest of you, but that scene felt a little too much like a video game in its look and style, and although it was definitely a fascinating watch, there's a part of me that's quietly hoping the visual effects won't quite look like that. I realize the film's still a year away, but that's enough to give me reason to pause. At the end of the day, this will be a big-budget action flick, and it has to look the part.

The Amazing Spider-man is set to hit U.S. theaters on July 3, 2012.

Happy Birthday, Robin Williams!

On this July 21, I'd like to take the time to celebrate the 60th birthday of Robin Williams, one of the funniest men in Hollywood. While he's been a little hit-and-miss in the past few years, Williams definitely made a name for himself during the 1980s and 1990s, playing a wide assortment of characters in both comedic and dramatic roles. He's even dabbled in voice work, offering some of the liveliest animated characters to grace the silver screen. So for his birthday, I've tweaked things a little bit. Instead of just giving you my five favorite of Williams' performances (which you'll find a little ways down this post), I'm giving you my three favorite of his voiced roles as well. I hope you enjoy this list as you help me celebrate his birthday!


3. Batty Koda
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)


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2. Ramon
Happy Feet (2006)


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1. Genie
Aladdin (1992)


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And here's my favorite live-action Robin Williams roles!


5. Armand Goldman
The Birdcage (1996)


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4. Dr. Malcolm Sayer
Awakenings (1990)


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3. Jack Powell
Jack (1996)


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2. Adrian Cronauer
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)


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1. Sean Maguire
Good Will Hunting (1997)


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Awards
2002: Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
2006: Winner - Best Voice Acting; Nominee - Best Supporting Actor, Comedy

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movie Review: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2
2011
PG-13



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a 2011 fantasy adventure film directed by David Yates that serves as the eighth and final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. This film picks up where Part 1 left off, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) kneeling before Dobby's grave. However, we quickly get to the action as he and his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) attempt to find the remaining horcruxes in order to defeat Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). I could probably go into more detail about the actual specifics of the plot, but I'm going to refrain from doing so rather than attempt to explain all the intricacies of what transpires on-screen. Because I haven't read any of the books in the series, I feel as though I would butcher any real attempt at explaining the storyline here, so I'll simply stop at this point because I think I've given you everything you really need to know going forward. It's a battle between Harry and Voldemort, and that's exactly how the film plays out.

Now as I previously mentioned, I have not read any of J.K. Rowling's books, so I don't have the deep and intimate knowledge of the Harry Potter storyline that fans surely have. Because of this, my level of excitement for each film has been dramatically lower than that of your average Potter moviegoer. Still, I've found most of the films in the franchise to be rather entertaining, with The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Order of the Phoenix serving as my personal favorites. Those of you who have been reading me for a while will know that I didn't review Deathly Hallows: Part 1 very favorably, which I something I alluded to in my breakdown of the trailer for Part 2. I had my concerns heading into this final chapter, and I can honestly say that they were only slightly alleviated.

While I thought that the screenplay was a little less confusing this time around, I didn't think that there was anything truly "epic" being brought to the screen. I'm sure had I read the novels, the closing moments would have spurred a number of emotions, but without that prior knowledge, I think it fell a little bit flat. Still, there's quite a lot to like about the storyline, and I've always been a sucker for stories coming full circle. When you have an eight-part film franchise, it's very difficult to make them convincingly decent after a while, but at the end of the day, I think that director David Yates crafted a solid film that works on a number of levels. Some of the dialogue is spotty, but at its base, there's a good foundation and enough twists and turns to keep your uninitiated viewer guessing.

If there's one thing that I've always applauded about the Harry Potter films, it's their ability to draw fantastic actors into the fray. The cast list for the franchise is a laundry list of A-listers who all bring great performances to the screen. I've had my issues in the past with Radcliffe's ability, and he didn't really wow me here, but he does well enough to make him convincing until the end. I've always been fond of Watson and Grint in their roles, and they finish out the series just as strongly as they entered it, even if they've taken more of a backseat than usual. I could probably go into a great amount of detail in talking about each individual here, but I'll save that for a later date. There's just too many big names to mention here and now, but know that I was, and have always been, a fan of the acting in the Potter films, and Deathly Hallows: Part 2 does not disappoint.

On a quick side note, I thought the music in the film - this time composed by Alexandre Desplat - fits perfectly once again. He took John Williams's original score and made it fit the darker mood of this last film, and he should be applauded.

At the end of the day, I thought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was a very good film that puts a stamp on a fantastic franchise. Could it have been better? Probably. Seeing as I'm only viewing the films as films, not adaptations of a beloved novel franchise, I can only see what they give me. There's no room for me to read between the lines and see what's going on in the background because I don't know what's there to see. Were I a Potter fanatic, I'd probably review this one more favorably, but as it stands, I think it's a serviceable film that ends things on a high note.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+1 Thumb Up