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Friday, September 30, 2011

DVD Challenge #25: 1408

Run-time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Directed by: Mikael Håfström
Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony, Tony Shalhoub

I can't quite remember what drew me to the theater for 1408 back in 2007, but I do remember with whom I saw the film originally. My friends and I sat near the front of the theater - I can't remember if it was crowded or not - and were ready to find something rather laughable. The film, however, proved to be an effective thriller that also served as the first movie ever to make one of my friends scream. And let me tell you, what a scream it was! But I digress...

There are two things working well within this particular film, and they both revolve around the screenplay. Let's start with the actual story: we're getting a man named Mike Enslin (Cusack) who makes his living by debunking allegedly haunted locales. He's taken up this profession after the loss of his daughter, and although he claims not to believe in a God or an afterlife, he subconsciously hopes to have some sort of otherworldly encounter in order to restore his faith. Still, his travels have never produced anything of the sort. Then one day, he receives a mysterious postcard from a Dolphin Hotel in New York City that reads only "Don't enter 1408." Intrigued, Enslin decides to stay the night in the room, and after a lengthy discussion with the hotel's manager (Jackson), he's able to do so. That's when the fun begins. Olin had said that the room itself was evil, and it's as though it can seep into Enslin's subconscious in order to get to him. We see the gradual breakdown of a man seemingly unable to be rattled, and it's quite the ride.

The second facet of the film that works exceptionally well is the performance of Cusack himself. Because he's on-screen for nearly every scene, a lot of the film's success was going to rely on his ability to remain believable as his character slowly loses his mind. It takes two complementary pieces - Cusack's performance and the writing - to create the character of Mike Enslin. It almost seems as though Enslin was written with Cusack in mind because I can't think of another actor better suited to take on this particular individual. He's a well-read individual with a calm and cool demeanor, but Cusack is able to take us into the insanity that follows as the room continues its barrage of torture. It's an incredibly powerful performance, showing the wide range of emotions that Cusack is able to embody, so kudos should be given where kudos are due.

Ultimately, I found 1408 to be a rather splendid film, and most critics tended to feel the same way. The critical consensus on the online review aggregate reads, "Relying on psychological tension rather than overt violence and gore, 1408 is a genuinely creepy thriller." Sure, you're not going to jump out of your seat a dozen times during this one, but I can guarantee you'll be enthralled with its premise and its lead performer. Get wrapped up in the suspense; that's way better than the cheap thrills.

Best Horror/Thriller: #34

2007: Nominee - Best Horror/Thriller

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In Memoriam: Madeline Kahn

Today, we're celebrating the life of Madeline Kahn, who would have turned 69 today, were she still alive. Originally trained to be an opera singer, Kahn found a knack for big-screen acting, nabbing her big break in films like 1973's Paper Moon and 1974's Blazing Saddles, both of which she earned Academy Award nominations. She had a talent for comedy, as is evidenced by her long-time working relationship with Mel Brooks, who cast her in a number of films over the years. Tragically, Kahn passed away in 1999 after a bout with ovarian cancer, taking away one of the finer performers the silver screen had seen in the thirty years prior. So, to celebrate her acting legacy, I've created a list of my five favorite of her roles, like I normally do with birthday posts. I hope you enjoy the videos as you help me celebrate the memory of Madeline Kahn.

5. Empress Nympho
History of the World: Part I (1981)


4. Jenny Hill
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)


3. Elizabeth
Young Frankenstein (1974)


2. Mrs. White
Clue (1985)


1. Lili Von Shtupp
Blazing Saddles (1974)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Jurassic Park III
Run-time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Directed by: Joe Johnston
Starring: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter

When you start hitting the third and fourth films in a franchise, it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep things fresh and entertaining. When Jurassic Park III hit theaters in 2001, I was a twelve-year-old kid looking for a bit of nostalgia. This is the first movie I remember seeing on opening night, and I recall being ecstatic both before and after the film. Now that I've had ten years to process exactly what goes on this film, I've started to notice the flaws in its overall approach.

We're given an interesting storyline from the get-go (I say "interesting" because I'm trying not to be harsh). While it's not the worst screenplay I've ever seen, there's just a little too much ridiculousness for it to be considered good by any standards. The basic storyline is good: a couple's son is lost on the dinosaur-ridden island from The Lost World, and they hire - albeit through lying - Dr. Alan Grant (Neill) to help them find him. As one can imagine, bad things happen, and everyone becomes stuck on the island, setting up a trek for survival. So, the story isn't bad. What's really worthy of some good eye-rolls are the leaps to assumptions that nearly all the characters take. Because some of the science is a little far-fetched, it's hard to assume that Grant and his protégé Billy (Nivola) can instantly know exactly what the dinosaurs are doing. However, they come to their conclusions with lightning speed, but it just plays out as a little over-the-top.

Still, it's nice to have Sam Neill back in the mix after missing his dry humor in the second film. His presence was steady throughout Jurassic Park, and while he's not quite as good in this installment, I think a lot of the issue has to do with the aforementioned screenplay. We also get a couple of good comedic relief performances from the likes of Michael Jeter and William H. Macy, who proves to be the best actor gracing the screen this time around. Macy has continually proven himself to be one of my favorite actors, and while Jurassic Park III is by no means his greatest achievement, he still brings a very fine presence to the film. Without him, it might be a total throwaway.

I think the biggest issue with the film is that it tried too hard to be different from the first two installments. It almost feels like the filmmakers were trying to spice it up, but they just didn't do so in the right way. Their biggest problem was taking out the T-Rex early in the film, settling for a different beast called Spinosaurus. Now, I see where they were going with this decision - the Rex had been the centerpiece of the first two films, but they wanted to bring something bigger and badder to this one. However, I think that fans of the first two films had grown rather fond of the Rex, and to see it simply cast aside after about thirty seconds was a bit of a let-down. At least we still get the Velociraptors, even if they look drastically different from the first two films...

Still, I can't really complain. We asked for a movie about dinosaurs chasing humans, and that's pretty much what we got. Although it doesn't hold a candle to the previous installments, Jurassic Park III still offers the special effects and the chase sequences, and who knows - maybe you'll get a laugh or two (intentional or not) out of it as well.

2001: Nominee - Best Sequel; Best Young Star; Best Visual Effects

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Run-time: 2 hours, 9 minutes

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Arliss Howard

Four years after the release of Jurassic Park, the world was graced with a sequel entitled The Lost World: Jurassic Park. After the smash success of the original film, there's really no question as to why a sequel was made. Money talks, and the first film showed that audiences loved their trip to the ill-fated Isla Nublar, so why shouldn't the filmmakers have given them another dose of similar medicine?

Like I mentioned in my post about Jurassic Park, my age has shown me some of the flaws in The Lost World as well. From the very get-go, there's a very ridiculous aura about this film, and when you actually sit and think about what's going on, there's little that actually makes sense. For starters, why was there never a mention of a second island during the first film? You'd think that'd be something they'd at least allude to from time to time. It almost feels like a little bit of a cop-out at the beginning of the film: "Oh, by the way, there's another island with dinosaurs that I forgot to tell you about, and they're living on their own so we're going to study them." If that doesn't have you scratching your head, then I don't really know what to tell you.

It's also lost a little bit of the awe and wonder of the first film. We never get that moment of magic like we had in the first film, but I think that's one of the reasons the film works despite a curious screenplay with more holes than a bowl of Cheerios. In a way, we're experiencing the emotions of Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), who survived the events of the first film. He brings a level of cynicism to this film that permeates through a lot of it. There's a scene early in the film where Nick Van Owen (Vaughn) and Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff) are amazed by the gigantic creatures they see, but Malcolm immediately responds by saying, "Oh yeah, ooh ahh. That's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming." In a way, he's telling us that we've seen this all before, but there's no reason we couldn't go along for the ride anyway.

The acting is, at times, of a little bit lower quality than the first film. Goldblum's character doesn't work as well in a leading role as he does in a supporting role, so that brings some issues. Moore isn't really at her best, but she's serviceable. Schiff probably brings the best performance in a limited amount of screen-time, with his dry humor bringing a consistent stream of one-liners. We also get a great performance from Postlethwaite, one of my personal favorite actors (so yeah, I'm probably a bit biased). We also do get a great score from John Williams again, so that's a plus.

Despite the over-the-top ridiculousness of the overall storyline, there's still a lot to like about The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The special effects are a step above what the first film created, so if anything, there's a legitimate reason to give the flick a view. Just don't think too hard about this movie - it's just supposed a fun, popcorn-munching flick that'll take your mind away for a couple of hours. And I mean, come on - it's a movie about dinosaurs. That's enough for you to want to love it.

DVD Challenge #22: JURASSIC PARK

Jurassic Park
Run-time: 2 hours, 7 minutes

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough

When Jurassic Park hit theaters in 1993, I was a five-year-old kid who had an over-the-top obsession with dinosaurs. Because of this, my parents thought it'd be fun for me to see the "new dinosaur movie." Little did they realize that this film probably wasn't meant to be seen by a kindergarten-aged child. The night after seeing the film, I had one of my most vivid nightmares I've ever had - one that still sticks with me today - and yet, Jurassic Park has easily become one of my favorite films of all time.

As I've grown older and have watched the film over and over again, I've started to notice some of the holes in the storyline and the less-than-brilliant acting performances. Still, there's something very endearing and magical about what this movie brought to the table. It's an "it" factor that the subsequent sequels simply couldn't match. When audiences first saw the massive brachiosaurus walking across the plain, they had the same reaction of wonder and awe that characters Alan Grant (Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Dern) have. It's an astounding scene, punctuated by the ever-reverberating line, "Welcome to Jurassic Park."

I think what makes this particular film so great is the fact that it takes the audience along for the emotional ride that the characters also experience. We're astounded when we first see these majestic creatures; we're disappointed when we're on the park tour and don't see the dinosaurs lurking in their paddocks; and we're utterly terrified when the power goes out and the dinosaurs start to roam free. It's almost as though we're right there with the actors and actresses, doing whatever we can to survive this entire ordeal as well.

We're also given a resounding musical score from none other than John Williams. It's easily one of the most beautiful scores he's brought to the screen, and it completely embodies the beauty and majesty of the film. Here's the score, in case you're interested in hearing it:

Although I've grown older and have started to see the little holes here and there, you simply cannot deny the magic that this film brings to the movie-going experience. Jurassic Park brings you everything that a movie should bring, and it does so no matter how many times you watch it. It's a beautiful film that needs to be respected for what it brought to the table, and even though the sequels didn't quite live up to the bar this one set, nothing can take away from the amazing spectacle that is Jurassic Park.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Will Smith!

Birthday time again, folks! Today we're celebrating the birthday of Will Smith, who turns 43 today. Smith first hit it big as the lead in the television program, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," and he's ridden that success to much higher accolades. While he had some bigger roles in the mid-1990s, it wasn't until his leading role in 1997's Men in Black that Smith became a cinematic superstar. Since then, Smith has managed to star in a slew of films - some good, some bad - and has picked up a couple of Academy Award nominations along the way, thus establishing his presence as a legitimate acting threat. So today, I'd like to celebrate his career by counting down my five favorite of Will Smith's roles. You'll next be able to see Smith in the third installment of the Men in Black franchise, which is currently slated for a 2012 release. That being said, let's once again say happy birthday to this talented actor.

5. Robert Neville
I Am Legend (2007)


4. Ben
Seven Pounds (2008)


3. James Darrel Edwards III / Agent J
Men in Black (1997)


2. Captain Steve Hiller
Independence Day (1996)


1. Chris Gardner
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)


1999: Nominee - Best Original Song
2006: Nominee - Best Actor, Drama
2007: Nominee - Best Hero(ine)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Movie Review: MONEYBALL


"There are rich teams, and there are poor teams. Then there's fifty feet of crap, and then there's us."
-- Billy Beane

Moneyball is a 2011 dramatic film directed by Bennett Miller that tells the story of one game-changing year in the history of the Oakland Athletics franchise. After losing in the playoffs to the New York Yankees in 2001, A's General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is given the nearly impossible task of replacing some of his all-star talent with a budget that's microscopic in comparison to some of the large market baseball teams. When he tries to utilize his scouts' knowledge of the game, Billy realizes that the A's are going to need a different approach if they want to compete with the big dogs. On a trip to Cleveland, he meets the young Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate who keys Beane into the idea that there might be a computer-based way to create a championship team that the A's could afford. Beane buys into the idea and shakes up the status quo, bringing in players his associates would normally deem useless. He faces a lot of opposition, especially from team manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who elects not to play the athletes in the manner Beane wants them to be played. Despite some early-season troubles, however, the team manages to find a groove and goes on to find a certain level of success, ultimately changing the scouting process in Major League Baseball.

There were a few reasons I wanted to see Moneyball. First and foremost, it stars Brad Pitt, who you may know to be one of my favorite actors to grace the silver screen (I'll talk more about his performance momentarily). Second, it's a sports movie, which in an of itself makes it an appealing flick for me. It's difficult to make an outright terrible sports film because it's so easy to get caught up in the emotion of a sporting event. When I heard that Moneyball was garnering some rather stellar reviews - it currently holds a 94% critic's approval rating on - I knew I had to at least give it a shot. And let me tell you, I most assuredly was not disappointed.

The story itself is rather basic, telling the tale of a year in the life of Billy Beane as he tries to reinvent the very process of creating a high-caliber sports team. At the same time, we're catching glimpses of Beane's personal life, and I for one thought the mesh between the two to be stellar. We're getting the screenplay from Academy Award winners Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, and from the moment the film starts, you know there's something great about it. I found the strength of the screenplay to be its handling of conflict. On the one hand, we're seeing the external conflict between Beane and basically everybody else who's fighting him tooth and nail when it comes to his new system. On the other hand, we're seeing the internal conflict with Beane himself as he struggles with his own feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness that stems from his days playing in the major leagues.

That's where Pitt's performance comes into play. While I've always found Pitt to be a great actor, I think it's only in the last few years that he's truly started to prove himself to the rest of the world that he can handle his own in a series of dramatic roles. For so long, he was simply the eye candy, and while he had early critical success (he scored an Academy Award nomination for his role in 1995's Twelve Monkeys), I don't think he's really gotten the respect he deserves. It's rare to hear his name being tossed into a group with the likes of Kevin Spacey or Daniel Day-Lewis, but I would posit here and now that Pitt is one of the finer actors of his generation. His role in Moneyball only solidifies my stance as he shows a wide range of emotion in completely becoming Billy Beane. And while we do get some great performances from our supporting cast - Hill and Hoffman are exceptionally good - this is really Pitt's vehicle, and it should be viewed as such.

I'd also like to tip my hat to Mychael Danna, who composed the score for this film. It definitely fit the tone of the movie, and it actually reminded me a lot of the soft-toned score that Explosions in the Sky created for 2004's Friday Night Lights. Kudos, Mr. Danna.

Overall, I think Moneyball is definitely worth, well, your money, if you feel so inclined to see it. There's only so much I can say about a film's acting and screenplay, but some films just have that "it" factor that's so difficult to describe. Moneyball definitely has "it," and as a result, we the audience are getting something rather wonderful.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Best All-Time: #129
Best Drama: #47

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Movie Review: DRIVE


"If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes, and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down, I don't carry a gun... I drive."
-- Driver

Drive is a 2011 action film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn that centers around a stunt driver who moonlights as a professional getaway car driver. The Driver (Ryan Gosling) also works as a mechanic at his friend Shannon's (Bryan Cranston) garage. The Driver meets his young but beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), who lives alone with her son while her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in prison. The two forge a relationship until Standard comes home, indebted to a couple of mob thugs who helped protect him while he was incarcerated. They tell Standard he needs to rob a pawn shop, and the Driver offers his help out of his affection for the family. However, things go terribly wrong during the heist, and the Driver soon finds himself pit against big-time mobsters Nino (Ron Perlman) and Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks).

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't entirely sure what type of film I was going into as I entered the theater today. I had seen the trailer, but I couldn't tell if I was going to see an action film or a more dramatic piece. The final result was actually a splendid blend of the two. I actually found that, the online review aggregate, offered a well-stated critical consensus: Drive is a "hyper-stylized blend of striking imagery and violence" that "fully represents a fully realized vision of arthouse action." I honestly don't think I could've said it better myself. There's just something about the look and feel of this film that's just a little bit different than your typical mainstream flick.

The screenplay itself is actually rather fantastic, to be sure. There's a lot of aspects to the story intersecting throughout the film. In a way, there's a lot of intersecting genres as well. We have the crime aspect of the story that dominates most of the film, but we're also getting a little bit of comedy here and there, and you can't deny the romantic storyline as well. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something about how the film is written that sucks you into the movie almost immediately. The characters are well-fleshed out, and the actual story keeps you guessing until the final credits role. That's the best type of film.

One of the other strengths of the film is the level of the cast's performances. Gosling is a revelation in the lead role. For most of the film, he keeps himself incredibly reserved, never changing his demeanor in the slightest. As the film continues to progress, however, his façade starts to crack, but he soon regains his composure. It's truly a brilliant performance. Some of the supporting characters are equally talented. Brooks is a revelation as the film's central villain, and even Cranston, Perlman and Isaac make their mark in their limited amount of screen-time. The cast is simply fantastic.

However, the film's real strength lies in its level of direction. I don't often talk about the choices a director has to make, mostly because I don't completely understand the entire directing process. All of the behind-the-camera stuff is a little bit confusing for me, which is why I generally only talk stuff like the screenplay or the acting. Still, there's something different about the feel of this film. I almost felt like it should've been from the 1980s rather than 2011. It's an arthouse film of the highest order. Even the violence and gore seems tastefully done, and that's a tough thing to do here in the 21st century. So I have to give a lot of credit to director Refn for the work he put into this film. Simply astounding, I must say.

Still, I wouldn't quite say that Drive is for everyone. It's very quiet for an action film, and although it's a more easily accessible arthouse flick, any arthouse film is going to block some viewers from being able to access it. However, if you can find a way to get into the film, I know you'll be in for quite a treat.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up


Best All-Time - #94
Best Drama - #34

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bill Murray!

Today we're celebrating the 61st birthday of Bill Murray, one of Hollywood's most iconic comedic actors. Although he has been acting since the mid-1970s, he nabbed his first hit with his supporting role in 1980's Caddyshack. From there, Murray skyrocketed to superstardom, appearing in smash hits like 1984's Ghost Busters, 1986's Little Shop of Horrors and 1993's Groundhog Day. In 2004, he received an Academy Award nomination for his performance in 2003's Lost in Translation, giving his career a little bit of dramatic legitimacy as well. As he continues to act today, Murray always brings a strong presence to the screen, and it's always a fun sight to see him prancing around. So, for his birthday, I'd like to count down my five favorite of Murray's roles (as you can see below). I hope you enjoy them as you join me in wishing Bill Murray a happy 61st birthday!

5. Dr. Peter Venkman
Ghost Busters (1984)


4. Arthur Denton
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)


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


2. Bob Harris
Lost in Translation (2003)


1. Carl Spackler
Caddyshack (1980)

2003: Winner - Best Couple; Nominee - Best Actor, Comedy
2004: Nominee - Best Actor, Comedy; Best Voice Acting
2009: Nominee - Best Cameo or Brief Appearance

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Not Rated

"Maybe you'll end up like me - a hobo with a shotgun."
-- Hobo

Hobo with a Shotgun is a 2011 action film directed by Jason Eisener that serves as an homage to the grindhouse features made famous during the 1970s. As the film's title suggests, this one follows a hobo (Rutger Hauer) who stumbles upon a downtrodden and filth-infested town. He immediately sees all the crime centers around a kingpin called the Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman), who terrorize the semi-innocent citizens of the city for their own carnal pleasure. When Slick decides to mess with a young prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth), the hobo manages to save her, effectively putting a price on his own head. As he continues to see the level of filth throughout the city, the hobo takes it upon himself to exact vigilante justice on any criminal he can find. Slowly but surely, he makes his way toward the Drake and his sons, all while continuing to protect Abby from the perils surrounding them.

I have to be honest: when I first heard about this film, I was eagerly surprised and awaited its eventual release. I didn't have a chance to see it during its very limited theatrical run, but it finally hit NetFlix's Instant Watch, so I finally had the opportunity to sit down and give it a view. And as much as I hate to say it, I have to say I wasn't terribly impressed.

Normally, films like this are right up my alley. Anytime you have the chance to make a throwback to film genres of decades past, I'm usually one of the first to line up to see it. Add the fact that Hobo with a Shotgun actually sports an interesting premise - a hobo goes vigilante because he thinks the world's an unsafe place - and you should have the makings of grindhouse gold. It even managed to score some rather respectable reviews (it currently holds a 67% approval rating on the online review aggregate, Still, I just couldn't find a way to get into the film.

For starters, there was plenty to dislike about the film's screenplay. While I wasn't expecting anything brilliant, I thought it would at least be understandable. However, there were moments during the film where I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and that's never a good sign for a film, especially one as visceral as this. There were seemingly important characters that simply appeared without so much as an explanation as to who they were or why they were there. Secondly, the acting was downright atrocious. Again, I'm not saying that I was expecting top-notch performances, but even for a film like this, the actors could've done a little bit more. How much of it was their fault as opposed to the faulty screenplay, I'm not entirely sure, but great actors would find a way to out-perform a bad screenplay's flaws.

Despite all that, the real issue with Hobo with a Shotgun was that it's terribly boring. Despite the constant stream of action and gore, it never really aroused my interest. In his review for the Philadelphia Inquirer, critic Steven Rea stated that "even connoisseurs of the genre...will find the cheesy chopfests and gratuitous gore less than exciting as one urban prosthetics-strewn bloodbath begets the next." I couldn't agree more. Even with the over-the-top violence, there just wasn't anything truly clicking with this one.

Still, if you are a fan of the genre, Hobo with a Shotgun might be worth a chance. To be fair, I am a bit of a harsh critic, so someone who can put aside the absolute terribleness might find a way to enjoy this one a little bit more than I did. However, there's no possible way I could ever give this film my blessing, so take that into consideration if you were contemplating taking this one in.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: F
1.5 Thumbs Down

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tommy Lee Jones!

Today we're celebrating the 65th birthday of Academy Award-winning actor, Tommy Lee Jones. I think my first cinematic memory of Jones was in 1997's Men in Black, in which he starred opposite the ever-present funny-man, Will Smith. At the time, I simply thought Jones was another run-of-the-mill comedic actor, but as I continued to see more and more films, I learned that he generally delves into dramatic roles more often than comedy. Jones nabbed his Oscar in 1993 for his supporting role in The Fugitive, but he's also managed to be nominated on two other occasions: for his supporting role in 1991's JFK and for his leading role in 2007's No Country for Old Men. So, as a tribute to his acting ability, I've listed my five favorite Tommy Lee Jones roles below. I hope you enjoy the videos I've supplied. Once again, let's wish Tommy Lee Jones a happy birthday!

5. Hawk Hawkins
Space Cowboys (2000)


4. Samuel Gerard
The Fugitive (1993)


3. Ed Tom Bell
No Country for Old Men (2007)


2. Warden Dwight McClusky
Natural Born Killers (1994)


1. Agent K
Men in Black (1997)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Movie Review: THE REEF


"I've fished these waters, mate. I know what's out there. I'm not getting in the water."
-- Warren

The Reef is a 2011 Australian horror film directed by Andrew Traucki that centers around a group of people's attempt to survive in the Great Barrier Reef. When Kate (Zoe Naylor) goes on holiday with her brother Matt (Gyton Grantley) and his girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering), they meet with Kate's old flame Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) who, with the help of friend Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) takes the party on a sailboat out to the Reef. After a day out on the ocean, their boat runs aground on the reef and capsizes, leaving the five stranded in the middle of the ocean. Luke convinces the group that they stand a better chance of surviving if they try to swim towards a remote island about ten miles from their boat, and all but Warren decides to go with him. As they make their way out to sea, they have to battle exhaustion, dehydration and the constant threat of a shark encounter.

I'm not quite sure what it is about shark movies, but I seem to be drawn to them no matter the subject matter. Obviously, it's difficult for any shark movie to stand comparison to Jaws (arguably one of the greatest films ever made), but from the reviews I'd seen for The Reef, I had some heightened expectations that we might be in for a treat. It had played at a number of film festivals before hitting the shelves in the U.S. as a straight-to-DVD flick, so I did have some reservations but held hope for something better than average. Sadly, I have to say I was a tad bit disappointed with the overall outcome of the film.

The problem here isn't really the acting, although there isn't much good to be said about the performances either. Our main cast of five is serviceable at best, bringing a legitimate sense of fear and terror to their roles. However, in the times between the horror, there's little left to be desired. The chemistry between our two leads (Walshe-Howling and Naylor) seems a tad bit forced, and some of their dialogue borders a little on the ridiculous.

The actors aren't at fault for their dialogue, however. The screenplay offers major issues throughout the film, but the dialogue isn't the only real problem. One of the biggest obstacles in making a horror movie successfully thrilling is keeping it from falling into predictability. This is where The Reef truly falters. It started out well enough, setting the stage respectably and offering a rather chilling tale of people lost at sea. Once the boat capsizes, we enter into a drawn-out period of suspense that works exceptionally well. However, I felt it lingered a little too long, as we don't have our first real encounter with a shark until over halfway through the film. Once that happens, it's all downhill. You can easily determine who's going next, and when it's going to happen. When you can guess the next moments in any type of thriller, there's something wrong. There's nothing left to leave you on the edge of your seat, and the final forty minutes are a humdrum stretch to the closing credits.

While it's not the worst shark movie I've ever seen, it's so difficult not to compare it to other shark films of history past. While Jaws is the crowning achievement in said category, I think The Reef hearkens a little more closely to the 2004 thriller Open Water, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The films have a similar concept, but something about Open Water just worked a little bit better than this one. Still, The Reef isn't a terrible film, and although it's scares are predictable, they are there for those who want to see them. Some of the actual attacks are very well-shot and stylized, so I have to give credit where credit is due. I just can't completely recommend the film as a whole.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: D+
1 Thumb Down

Sunday, September 11, 2011

DVD Challenge #21: UNITED 93

United 93
Run-time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Today is an historic day in American history. It marks the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Five years later, director Paul Greengrass released a rather controversial film entitled United 93, which told the story of the flight of passengers on the last hijacked plane who managed to seize control of the aircraft and crash it into a remote field in Pennsylvania. We can only speculate as to its true target - most people, including this film's creators, posit it was somewhere inside the nation's capital - but there's no denying that the risk these unknown heroes took saved countless more lives on that infamous day.

I originally saw United 93 during its theatrical release in 2006 with my father. Not one to see many movies, he was adamant about seeing this film, so I decided to tag along. Much like we did during 2004's The Passion of the Christ, the two of us spent most of the film fighting back tears. Because it's such a high-profile subject, everyone going into the theater knew exactly how it was all going to end, but they still chose to re-live the experience. I'd like to use's review aggregate to illustrate my meaning further:
Potent and sobering, United 93 is even more gut-wrenching because the outcome is already known. While difficult to watch, director Paul Greengrass' film has been made with skill and treats the subject matter with respect, never resorting to the aggrandizement of which Hollywood has sometimes been accused. Especially effective is the cast of mostly unknown actors, who portray the passengers on the doomed flight as ordinary people who respond with bravery to extraordinary circumstances.
I don't think there's any way I could possibly explain it better myself. Greengrass' direction is stellar throughout the film - he garnered an Academy Award nomination for his directing, in fact - and the cast is so superb that you almost forget they're merely actors portraying a role. It's an incredibly emotional experience that grabs you by the heart and never lets go. I'm sure there are naysayers out there who have called the film exploitative, choosing to take a stance against such a beautiful piece of work, but I see United 93 as a tribute to the men and women who gave their lives that day, and especially to those who stood up against evil and fought back with all their collective might.

Every American who was old enough to form a cogent memory has a story of where they were when they heard the news of the September 11 attacks. If I may, I'd like to share my story with you. I was two days from turning thirteen, having just started the eighth grade. A month earlier, my mother, sister and I had visited New York, spending a week taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling city. The vacation was still fresh in my mind. I remember being awoken early that morning by a phone call from my dad, who was already at work for the day. His message was simple: "Hey, turn on the news. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center." More intrigued than anything else, I flipped on the television and immediately saw the horror of the devastation. As I listened to the news report, I saw the second plane hit the south tower, and my heart instantly sank. I, like the rest of the country, knew in that instant that this was no random coincidence. The very fabric of the American lifestyle had changed in the blink of an eye, forever altering the path our lives were going to take.

I could probably talk for hours and hours about the events of that day, but the point would be moot. We all know what happened, and it's forever locked into our memory, no matter what we try to do. I would like to applaud Paul Greengrass and the rest of the cast and crew of United 93 for being brave enough to bring this heroic story to the big screen. I can't imagine the opposition they must have faced in trying to create this film, but to have done this so tastefully should earn them an incredible amount of respect.

That being said, this is one DVD Challenge that sees the film taking a back seat to the real-life heroes whose story inspired the film. The passengers on United Flight 93 changed the very definition of "hero." They accepted their fate and did what they could to ensure the same fate would not come to even more people that day.

Today is a day that will always live in infamy, but we can never forget the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Even ten years later, it still seems surreal, and having visited Ground Zero in New York, I can tell you that it's an equally sobering experience. To all those people who lost their lives, rest in peace. We will never forget.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Adam Sandler!

It's birthday time again, kids. Today, we're celebrating the 45th birthday of one of Hollywood's favorite funnymen, Adam Sandler. The first time I saw Sandler in a film was in 1998's The Waterboy, and since then, I can honestly say he's been one of my favorite comedic actors. Sure, he's been a bit hit-and-miss in the past few years, but comedy is a tough place to make a living. Sandler has managed to be successful in a couple of dramatic roles as well, proving that he might have a little bit of versatility under his belt. Still, Sandler has been, and will always be, best known for his comedic roles, and that's probably how it should stay. So, as I normally do with my birthday posts, I've listed my five favorite Sandler roles in tribute. Hope you enjoy them! You can next seen Sandler on the big screen in Jack and Jill, which is slated for a November 11, 2011 release in the U.S.

5. Henry Roth
50 First Dates (2003)


4. Happy Gilmore
Happy Gilmore (1996)


3. Pip
Airheads (1994)


2. Robert 'Bobby' Boucher Jr.
The Waterboy (1998)


1. Charlie Fineman
Reign Over Me (2007)


1998: Nominee - Best Actor, Comedy
2004: Nominee - Best Couple; Best Original Song
2007: Nominee - Best Actor, Drama

2011 Fall Movie Preview

It's that time of year again. We're gearing for the fall season. Football is back in swing. The weather is (slowly) starting to cool, and soon the leaves will be turning brown and falling to the ground. And what better time than now to break down some of the movies slated for release this fall? As I did with my summer movie preview, I'm not breaking down every single film scheduled for a release date. Rather, I'm counting down the twenty-five movies that I'm most excited to see from today (September 9) through Thanksgiving. So, without any further delay, here's my list, starting with number 25!

Margin Call
October 21
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
While it's a little difficult for me to think that Margin Call isn't just trying to get the Academy's attention, there could be something rather brilliant hidden in this film. With an all-star cast sure to bring their A-game, we could be looking at a 21st-century version of Wall Street (and no, I'm not counting Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps as a legitimate entry). While I won't be making a drastic run to the theaters for this one, I'll definitely be giving it a view at some point or another.


The Rum Diary
October 28
Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Jenkins
When I first compiled this list, I honestly didn't know a ton about The Rum Diary. I was really giving it a nod based on the fact that it would be a Johnny Depp vehicle, and usually that's enough to get me to the theater (here's looking at you, The Tourist). However, I've since seen the latest trailer, and I have to say that my excitement level has spiked just a tad. We're getting a film from the mind of Hunter S. Thompson, whose mind also brought us the likes of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. We could be in for quite a trip, but most importantly, The Rum Diary could truly provide some much-needed entertainment. I guess we'll have to wait and see.


Martha Marcy May Marlene
October 23
Directed by: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olson, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy, Brady Corbet
Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of those films that you would never hear about had it not performed well during its film festival run. When I first saw the trailer, I was a little confused about the film's scenario, but after watching it a few more times, I've gotten a bit of a grasp on it. I can honestly say that this looks to be a very effective dramatic thriller, and I can only hope the acting stays on a level field as well. It's not filled with familiar faces, but John Hawkes was up for an Academy Award last year, if that means anything to you.


November 11
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård
I first heard about Melancholia a few months ago after it had a spectacular film festival run. A lot of the buzz about the film stemmed from Kirsten Dunst's stellar performance, and I've been eagerly awaiting the chance to see it ever since. I'm not quite sure whether I'll fall in love with the storyline or the plot, but if buzz is any indication, we could be seeing Dunst making a run towards an Academy Award nomination. That's how positive the talk has been. I just hope it lives up to the hype.


The Thing
October 14
Directed by: Matthijs van Heinjingen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
What originally looked to be a remake of the 1982 film of the same name (which itself was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World) actually looks to be a prequel to the '82 flick. It should be telling the story of the disaster-fated explorers who originally found the alien creature in the Antarctic ice. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of remakes, but considering how much I enjoyed the 1982 film - and the fact that this film's lucky enough to have scored Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton to star - I think I just might have to give this new "thing" a chance.


Happy Feet 2 in 3D
November 18
Directed by: George Miller
Starring: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ned Beatty, Brad Pitt, Hank Azaria, Hugo Weaving, John Goodman, Ray Winstone, Sofia Vergara
I know, this is a little bit dorky, but I absolutely loved the original Happy Feet flick. I know a lot of people dissed it after it took a hugely environmental stance, but if you can look past that bit of politico, then you've actually got a rather interesting love story filled with some fantastic music. We'll have Wood and Williams reprising their vocal roles, and they're being joined by the amazingly all-star cast listed above. I'm not expecting this sequel to be better than the original film, but it should still be good for a little bit of fun at the theaters.


The Descendants
November 23
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Matthew Lillard, Beau Bridges
To be fair, I still don't know a ton about this particular film, but it looks to be a bit of an offbeat comedy in the vein of 2009's Up in the Air, which also starred Clooney. I used to be a bit against Clooney and his style of acting, but in the past few years, I've started to come around. While this won't be his biggest film of the fall, there still could be quite a bit to enjoy. It seems like a fun flick that should delve into some emotional traps. I guess we'll have to see how it goes.


September 16
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hooper, Jane Adams, Schuyler Fisk
I remember first hearing about Restless back in the early months of 2011, and I honestly thought it'd be hitting theaters a lot sooner than its September release date. While it seems like we'll be getting a double-dose of young-love films (see Like Crazy a few spaces down), I've started to grow fond of Mia Wasikowska since her breakout role in 2010's Alice in Wonderland, and the addition of Jane Adams to this particular film makes it all the more appealing for me.


November 23
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone
One of the most fascinating aspects of Hugo is that it's a Martin Scorsese flick, but what makes that interesting is that it's a venture into children's fare. It's a family film, not something typically associated with Scorsese's brand of cinema, but with him behind the camera, I personally think anything is possible. It'll be interesting to see how he takes this story and runs with it, but he's got an all-star cast (listed above) to help bring this movie to life. I for one am exceptionally excited to see just what Scorsese can do with this type of fare.


My Week with Marilyn
November 4
Directed by: Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper, Kenneth Branagh, Toby Jones
I'll be honest and say that I really don't know what to expect from this biopic other than Michelle Williams should be one of the leading contenders when it comes to awards this year. Having not received any type of trailer for the film, it's hard to judge whether it will be any good. Still, considering the film's subject, I can't help but think we'll be getting something decent. Sure, it could very easily be some Oscar bait, but sometimes Oscar bait manages to surprise and impress. Let's hope My Week with Marilyn can do just that.


September 9
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Elliott Gould
Normally, a film like this wouldn't necessarily pique my interest, but the caliber of cast and crew for Contagion is downright unfair. When you're cast list includes names like Damon, Cotillard, Winslet, Paltrow, Law and Hawkes, then you already have enough to make a stellar film; however, add the direction of a man like Steven Soderbergh, and we could be looking at one of the better thrillers of the year. Could it all get weighed down by the sheer number of big-time players? Possibly. However, I have faith in Soderbergh's direction.


Like Crazy
October 28
Directed by: Drake Doremus
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence
Like Restless, I'm really just interested in seeing Like Crazy for the hot young talent. The reason I've placed this film a little higher than the latter is the inclusion of Yelchin and Lawrence, one of my new favorite actresses to hit it big. While I'm not sure we'll be seeing anything terribly brilliant when it comes to the screenplay, you can be sure that we'll be getting some top-notch performances from our big three.


Real Steel
October 7
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis
While I admit Real Steal could turn out to be a horrendously terrible movie, there's something very attractive about the idea of robots duking it out in the boxing ring. Having the always interesting Hugh Jackman star in the film is probably the biggest draw - his charisma and personality alone would be enough to get me to the theater for this one. Still, I think there's an outside possibility that we could get something rather incredible. By taking the age-old boxing tale - a sport so perfectly adapted for film its insane - and blending it with the sci-fi realm, we could get something tremendous.


The Muppets
November 23
Directed by: James Bobin
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper
I grew up watching the Muppets and their many adventures, be it on the big screen or through television, so their return to the silver screen is definitely an exciting one for myself and many of the people I know. Sure, there's a huge nostalgia aspect, but with Jason Segel and Amy Adams taking leading roles - as well as Segel taking screenwriting credits - I have quite a bit of faith that this next Muppet adventure will be a magical one. If anything, it'll just be great to see all those fun-filled folks back on the screen, bringing laugh after laugh after laugh once again.


Red State
October 21
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Stephen Root, Melissa Leo, John Goodman
When directors decide to delve into uncharted territory, I've found they have mixed results. With Red State, Kevin Smith is embarking into the realm of horror, a far stretch from the comedies he has produced over the past twenty years or so. And the transition doesn't even look to be a horror-comedy; Red State looks like it's going to be a politically-tinged thriller sure to tingle some spines. Still, there's that little bit of reservation considering Smith has never ventured into these dark waters before, so I can't be entirely sure of whether the film will be all that great. I've got my fingers crossed, though.


September 16
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks
The more I hear about this movie, the more my excitement builds. Putting Ryan Gosling at the forefront of any film is bound for some measure of success, but the possibilities behind this one seem limitless. Add the fact that the film already holds an 8.9 rating on the Internet Movie Database, and you've got one avid movie fan chomping at the bit over here. With a seemingly all-star cast and a fast-paced storyline, I'm expecting Drive to be a bit of a hit.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
November 18
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds
Oscar bait at its finest, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy looks to be the film that most Academy voters will latch onto relatively quickly. It's bringing together an all-star cast that's almost unfair to have while delving into political and espionage issues during the Cold War. It'll be the British movie that most American people will eventually flock to see, and although I don't know whether it'll make as big a splash as The King's Speech in 2010, I wouldn't be surprised if it received the same or similar accolades.


September 23
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Brad Pitt is always a draw for me, and sports movies generally bring me streaking to the theaters. Put the two together, and you've raised my awareness of this film tenfold. The fact that we're also getting a true story - and a relatively recent one, at that - out of this film makes it all the more appealing. A little off-topic to be considered Oscar bait, Moneyball looks to have a slew of fine performances and a captivating storyline, even if I already know how it's going to end.


The Ides of March
October 7
Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright
I'll admit that I don't know anything more about this film than what's posited in the trailer, but I think that gives enough to give a sense of how good this film could be. It's Clooney's fourth directorial effort, and although his most recent (2008's Leatherheads) didn't "wow" critics, I have a feeling that this one might turn the tables back to his side. He's got an all-star cast to bring this one to life, much like he did with 2005's Good Night, and Good Luck., which ultimately nabbed six Academy Award nominations, including ones for Best Director and Best Picture.


Killer Elite
September 23
Directed by: Gary McKendry
Starring: Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen
I have a feeling that this one's going to fall into my list of guilty pleasures, but I will watch absolutely anything starring Jason Statham. He's the action hero of my generation, and he's simply fantastic in everything he does. Add the fact that we're getting some legitimate acting chops from Robert De Niro and Clive Owen, and we could have the makings of a decent action thriller here. Even if it's just a fast-paced, no-brained action flick, I'll still find a way to enjoy this one.


September 9
Directed by: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Egderton, Jennifer Morrison, Nick Nolte, Noah Emmerich, Kevin Dunn
The local ESPN Radio station recently hosted a preview screening of Warrior near my home. Sadly, I wasn't able to make the screening, but I've continued to hear about the film's imminent release as a result. With rising stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton teaming with seasoned vets like Nick Nolte and Noah Emmerich, we could be in for quite a film here. Sure, it'll probably delve into cliché here and there, and we can tell from the trailer exactly where we're headed, but I think it might be more a focus on the characters than the storyline. That could make for a winning formula.


September 30
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston
To be fair, I'll watch anything starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's one of my favorite actors, and he's definitely one of the best of this generation. This dramatic comedy looks as though it'll be pulling on our heartstrings a bit, and with an all-star cast, I'm sure they'll deliver readily. I may have my issues with Seth Rogen, but who knows - maybe he'll surprise me and break away from his typical character for 50/50.


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
September 30
Directed by: Eli Craig
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss
The premise alone would be enough to send me to the theaters for this one, and to be fair, that's one of the only reasons most people would go see it. With a cast devoid of any A-list stars, it might be difficult for some to find any other reason to head to the theaters for this one; however, we'll be getting Tyler Labine (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Alan Tudyk (Dodgeball) and Katrina Bowden ("30 Rock") to whet our appetite. I'm expecting outright hilarity in this one.


J. Edgar
November 9
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Josh Lucas, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Dermot Mulroney, Judi Dench
For whatever reason, Leonardo DiCaprio has yet to win an Academy Award. However, if there was ever a time for him to break that streak, it's going to be this year with his role as J. Edgar Hoover, founder of the FBI. The fact that the film is being directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood only enhances the possibilities for DiCaprio, who I have to see as the current front-runner for the award. We'll see how it all plays out, however.


Piranha 3DD
November 23
Directed by: John Gulager
Starring: Danielle Panabaker, Katrina Bowden, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, David Hasselhoff, Gary Busey
If you've been following my blog from its very beginnings a year ago, then you'll know that I was a huge fan of the 2010 horror-comedy Piranha 3D. It's throwback to the B-movies of the 1970s was glorious to behold, and it left itself open for a sequel. Well, after grossing over three-and-a-half times what it cost to make, the studios gave the go-ahead for a sequel, aptly titled Piranha 3DD. This time, we're delving into residential areas, including a water park that becomes infested with the beastly little devils. My excitement level for this film is off the charts, and I simply cannot wait for its Thanksgiving week release.