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Monday, April 30, 2012



"I'll be right here."
-- E.T.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is a 1982 sci-fi film directed by Steven Spielberg that went on to win four Academy Awards. The film follows the story of small, friendly alien who is unintentionally left on Earth when his fellow aliens are forced to escape during a foraging expedition. The alien stumbles upon a house where he meets a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Although initially frightened, Elliott elects to bring the alien into the family home, hiding him inside his bedroom closet to keep him safe. He affectionately names the creature "E.T.," and he soon introduces the creature to his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore). Together, they do their best to hide E.T. from their mother Mary (Dee Wallace), but it becomes increasingly clear that E.T. simply wants to find his way home. E.T. and Elliott band together to create a communicating device that will send a signal into space in the hopes that E.T.'s ship may hear it and come to his rescue. However, a crew of government agents led by a man only referred to as Keys (Peter Coyote) learns of E.T's existence and moves into position to capture him for themselves.

I have to say that it's going to be difficult to write a review for a film so universally beloved as E.T. The film itself will turn thirty this year, and in that span of time, I'm sure millions, if not billions, of people have had the opportunity to watch it. It's a timeless tale about love and friendship, and even today, it still manages to find its way into the hearts of so many viewers. It had been quite a while since I'd had the opportunity to see the film in its entirety, but I was able to do just that yesterday, so here we go with my review.

I think we first have to take a look at the cinematic landscape in which E.T. was initially released. In the five years prior to E.T.'s release, the sci-fi world had seen the likes of 1977's Star Wars, 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1979's Alien and 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. To release a science-fiction film in the late-1970s or early 1980s was to have it compared to a slew of fantastic fare. At the same time, we need to look at the exploding Spielberg career. In 1975, he released Jaws, which he followed with Close Encounters. Then, in 1981, he released Raiders of the Lost Ark. With three preceding films like that, it was going to be tough to create something just as good. And still, Spielberg still managed to craft something truly brilliant with E.T.

Let's start with the film's screenplay, shall we? At it's base, it's a very simple story. A lost alien enlists the help of a young boy to aid him in getting home, and the two develop a beautiful friendship along the way. That's essentially the plotline in a nutshell. Sure, there are a few twists and turns here and there, but at the end of the day, that's the basics of what we're getting. Where E.T.'s screenplay excels is in its point of view. The film has a very childlike angle, placing the tale of first contact into the mind of a child. For the first two-thirds of the film, the adult perspective is essentially removed from the film - a feat achieved by denying the audience a view of any adult's face, save for Mary's. The story is strictly told from the child's perspective, and screenwriter Melissa Mathison didn't stop there. She managed to weave three different levels of childlike interaction into the film. We get the boyhood perspective from Elliott, the young girl's perspective from Gertie and the teenage perspective from Michael. Just seeing the difference in their reactions to E.T. is enough to make a quality film, but the interaction between the four characters is so brilliantly-crafted that it has to be applauded.

Fortunately, we're getting a well-cast group of actors to bring all these characters to life. As a younger movie-watcher, I had never noticed the merits of the acting in the film. It had always been about E.T. for me, but after re-watching it now, I have to say that the cast does a marvelous job. A lot of credit has to be given to Thomas, who plays the film's emotional lead. His relationship with E.T. is so genuine, and that couldn't have been an easy feat to achieve considering the puppetry used to bring the creature to life. And what a puppet it is! Even thirty years later, one can still marvel at how intricate and beautiful E.T. must have been to moviegoers in 1982. (Note: When the film was re-released in 2002 for the twentieth anniversary, some of the E.T. scenes had been reworked with CGI, but if you're looking for the better version, I still think the original 1982 flick is the way to go. Yes, the CGI brought forth a little bit more emotion for the E.T. character, but it just seemed - and still seems - a little out of place with the film.) I also have to give credit to the young Barrymore, who provides quite the comedic presence throughout the film. The rest of the cast fills out nicely, and as I said before, it's much better than I remember.

I also have to take a moment to give credit to John Williams, who composed one of this best scores for E.T. By this time, Williams had become Spielberg's go-to guy, and this was the second Spielberg film that Williams composed that nabbed him an Oscar for Best Score. Although I'm not sure whether it's his best score, I think that E.T. has to rank as one of Williams' most beautiful. Here's a snippet for your listening pleasure:

At the end of the day, E.T. is one of the most beloved films ever to grace the silver screen. As with Williams' score, I'm not sure I'm ready to crown this film as Spielberg's best; however, I certainly think it has the most heart out of any of his films to date. There's something timeless about this tale that keeps audiences rushing back to see it. E.T. is beautiful in its simplicity, and it tells a tale of friendship and love with which anyone can relate. It has rightfully earned its place amongst the best films ever created, and it has every right to remain on that pedestal.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
Should You Watch It? Yes

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Daniel Day-Lewis!

On this April 29th, I would like to send some hearty birthday wishes to Daniel Day-Lewis, who turns 55 today. The English actor has easily cemented himself as one of the top actors of today's Hollywood generation by turning in brilliant performance after brilliant performance. He's a four-time Oscar nominee and two-time Oscar winner, nabbing those illustrious statuettes for his leading roles in 1989's My Left Foot and 2007's There Will Be Blood. Day-Lewis is rather selective of his roles (for example, his next scheduled role won't come until 2013), so he doesn't have the massive quantity of films in his repertoire as some other actors; however, it really comes down to quality, and there are few - if any - of Day-Lewis's peers who come close to matching his level. As usual, I've broken down my five favorite roles for the birthday boy or girl, so here's a look at the five characters that Day-Lewis has brought to the screen that I've enjoyed the most. Once again, happy birthday Daniel Day-Lewis.

#5. Guido Contini
Nine (2009)


#4. Hawkeye
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)


#3. Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting
Gangs of New York (2002)


#2. Daniel Plainview
There Will Be Blood (2007)


#1. Gerry Conlon
In the Name of the Father (1993)

Saturday, April 28, 2012



"An army of nightmares, huh? Let's get this party started."
-- Dana

The Cabin in the Woods is a 2012 horror-thriller directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon. The film tells the story of five college co-eds on their way for a weekend trip to a rustic cabin in the middle of the wilderness. The five friends - innocent Dana (Kristen Connolly), jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), intellectual Holden (Jesse Williams) and stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) - immediately start to notice that there's something very nefarious about the cabin. They make their way into the cellar, where Dana finds the diary of a young girl who used to live in the cabin. After reading some of the text, the zombified corpses of the family rise from the grave and start to haunt and attack the group of friends. At the same time, however, the audience learns that there is a group of people manipulating the situation from a secret station. In order to appease the powers that be, the team, led by men named Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), must ensure that the group of friends is killed.

For those of you who have been reading my posts for the better part of this year, you may already know that I had listed The Cabin in the Woods as my seventh-most anticipated film of 2012. After initially seeing the trailer, I could hardly contain my excitement for the film, which looked to be one of the more original horror-thrillers to grace the silver screen in a while. Having finally had the opportunity to give the film a view, I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with the final product.

Going into the film, I had forgotten that Joss Whedon had helped pen the screenplay, but after re-discovering this little tidbit only moments before showtime, I have to say that my excitement level grew exponentially. From the outset, the film just feels like a Whedon project, and that was enough to help draw me into the storyline. In the beginning, it's a little confusing because we're getting both the story of the college co-eds as well as the technicians running this very sadistic "game," but as the story progresses, the audience gets to see how it all intersects with one another. The story itself is inventive and adds a bit of a sci-fi twist to your typical horror story. The Cabin in the Woods could have easily fallen into genre convention, but instead, it managed to turn genre convention on its ear. At the same time, Whedon and Goddard found ample situations in which to throw a number of references to past horror flicks. The most obvious is probably the references to The Evil Dead, but there's just so many to see that it's hard to keep track of them all. And on top of all this, Whedon and Goddard have managed to create a story that's original, and that's a rarity in the horror genre of today. The film manages to be scary, funny and contemplative all at the same time, and it all blends so well that the movie proves to be incredibly engaging and entertaining.

Another strong facet of the screenplay is the characters, who prove to be well-written and well-developed. Fortunately, the cast is able to step up to the challenge and offer strong performances that bring the characters to life. Connolly does well as the film's lead, but it's some of the supporting characters that bring out the best of the acting. Fran Kranz works well as the movie's best comic relief, and some of his one-liners are so bitingly hilarious that I'm still thinking about the quotes today. I also have to give a shout-out to Jenkins and Whitford, who bring quite a bit of comedy as well. Overall, the cast just manages to fire on all cylinders and bring together quite the collective performance. Also be on the lookout for a very spectacular cameo toward the end of the film. I don't want to give it away, but it's a pretty big-time name.

Thus far, The Cabin in the Woods has managed to score some fantastic reviews from the critical community, but the review from Christopher Orr, who writes for The Atlantic, stated it best in his positive review for the film:
A horror movie embedded in a conspiracy flick embedded in another horror movie - the most inventive cabin-in-the-woods picture The Evil Dead and the canniest genre deconstruction since Scream.
I honestly don't think I could've stated it any better, and Whedon and Goddard deserve most of the credit for this film's success. If you're a horror fan, then this one's probably a must-see, if only because you're going to love the send-up of past horror flicks and the deconstruction of typical conventions. However, I think this film could even appeal to film fans not entirely familiar with horror flick history. There's just so much to love about The Cabin in the Woods. I just hope I have the chance to get back and see it again sometime soon.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
Should You See It? Yes

Friday, April 27, 2012

Movie Review: CLUE


"You all seem to be very anxious about something."
-- Cop

Clue is a 1985 comedy directed by Jonathan Lynn that's adapted from the popular board game of the same name. The film opens on a stormy night in 1954 New England, where six strangers - Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Mr. Green (Michael McKean) and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren) - all arrive at a mansion for a dinner party of sorts. They each encounter the house's butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who escorts them all to their places at dinner. A Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) joins the group midway through supper, and from there, the six guests learn that they all have one thing in common: Boddy is blackmailing all of them. He has brought them all together to discuss their "financial arrangements" and tells them that if they can kill Wadsworth, each of them will be able to leave the house, and all the evidence against them will be destroyed. Boddy presents each guest with one of the following potentially lethal weapons: a knife, a revolver, a rope, a candlestick, a lead pipe and a wrench. However, not everything goes exactly to plan, and the rest of the evening turns into a murder mystery that terrorizes everyone involved.

Clue is one of those films that I grew up watching on television. I remember it would always play on the family-friendly channels, and there was many a time that I can recall watching it. The film itself flopped during its theatrical release, but it has since gained a bit of a cult following. Sometimes the films with such a following are some of the best, so don't let its lackluster success at the box office deter you from giving this one a gander.

One of the things that most people remember about Clue is that it actually has three different endings. During its theatrical run, only one of the endings would play on random, so you could, in theory, see the film three times and have three different experiences. Once it started playing on television and VHS, however, the three endings were played back-to-back-to-back, inter-cut with title cards saying things like, "That's how it could have happened, but how about this?" or "Here's what really happened." If you can snag the film on DVD, it will give you the option to watch one ending at random or to watch all three simultaneously, but once you've seen all three, I think the simultaneous watch is the best. The endings in the film are brilliant, but they're definitely not the only reason the screenplay succeeds.

What's truly fantastic about the screenplay, which was penned by director Jonathan Lynn, is that a first-time viewer is probably going to be left guessing as to what the film's ultimate outcome might be. It's difficult for me to deduce whether the ending is predictable simply because I've seen the film on so many occasions, but the ending isn't exactly where the best bits come. Yes, the finale is fantastic regardless of which ending you watch, but the plot and the dialogue throughout the film is so top-notch that I have to consider this screenplay to be one of the best comedic screenplays ever to give life to a film. The jokes and gags come at the audience at a mile a minute, and it's going to take you two or three viewings just to catch all the little references here and there. I could make an entire post simply detailing my favorite jokes from the film, but that would offer too many spoilers, in my opinion. What you need to know is that Clue offers a compellingly funny story that blends a number of types of comedy together to make for a fantastically-funny film. The film has a lot of brains behind the silliness, and that's where the brilliance lies.

Fortunately, we're getting a fantastic cast to bring the film's story and characters to life. The entire cast is pitch-perfect, and it makes for quite the comedic romp. What's even better is that it's filled with loads of familiar faces, making the characters even more relatable. Each of them proves their comedic worth at some point throughout the film, and they each play their part to a tee. However, the real credit has to go to Tim Curry, who offers a performance in his career that rivals only his role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Curry brings a manic energy to the screen that is unmatched by anyone else, and his piece towards the end of the film is so perfectly-acted that I sometimes feel the need to applaud him. It's honestly just that good. The casting crew for this film just knew how to pick 'em, and I think we can all be glad that they did such a marvelous job.

I also have to pay tribute to John Morris, who composed the score for the film. At all times, it fits the events on-screen. The score had to be creepy, it had to be funny, it had to be fanciful. And Morris succeeded in making it all of these things at once. And the film's music truly helps set the mood and the tone of the film, and that alone gives it merit.

At the end of the day, Clue is easily one of the funniest movies I have ever had the privilege to see. Yes, it delves into the dorky here and there, but the intellectual humor blends so seamlessly with the silliness that its difficult not to enjoy this movie. I'd even go so far as to say its one of the best movies I've ever seen, simply because it offers one of the most entertaining movie-going experiences I've ever had, and it manages to remain engaging no matter how many times you watch it. You'll always be finding new things to love and laugh about, and that's what makes Clue both brilliant and timeless.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A+
Should You Watch? Yes

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Movie Review: MOON


"You've been up here too long, man. You've lost your marbles."
-- Sam Bell

Moon is a 2009 sci-fi drama that served as director Duncan Jones' feature film debut. Sometime in the future, a company called Lunar Enterprises has found a way to harvest and mine helium-3 from the moon in order to convert it to energy for the citizens of planet Earth. They set up a base on the moon, where Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been enlisted as the sole man to run the mining operation. The completion of his three-year contract with the company is nearing completion, and an ill and slightly crazed Sam is ready to return to Earth to be with his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and his daughter Eve. With two weeks left on the moon, Sam, with the help of the onboard computer system GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), notices that one of the harvesters has started to malfunction, so he decides to make his way out onto the moon's surface to fix the problem. Because of his illness, however, Sam mishandles the situation and finds himself severely injured after crashing his rover. Some time later, he awakens inside the base, only to find an identical Sam lurking around the station. Confused, the two Sams attempt to piece the mystery together.

When this film first hit theaters in 2009, I was ecstatic to see it. I went out of my way to find a theater that was some distance away just so I could take it in as soon as I possibly could, and I was so blown away by the film that I left the theater nearly speechless. Eventually, I found a copy of the film, and I was able to give it this second viewing nearly three years later. Although I remembered the basic premise of the film, I forgot about some of the little nuances here and there that made this one so unique.

That's what really sets this film apart from other contemporary sci-fi flicks. In a year when everyone was (rightfully) praising Neill Blomkamp's District 9, so many missed out on this little gem of a film that I personally thought was leagues ahead of the aforementioned Blomkamp venture. One of the reason its so fantastic is that we're actually getting something rather original. While the film does fall under the science-fiction genre, it's so based in reality that it becomes instantly believable. At the same time, we're thrust immediately into the story, getting just the right amount of exposition at the beginning so that we're not completely confused. However, a big part of why this film manages to grab and keep our attention is the confusion that it creates. The plot offers a number of twists and turns, and you're never quite sure exactly what's going on. It's only in the film's third act that we start to understand what we've witnessed, and it's in the finale that we're able to appreciate the film fully.

In this second viewing, I did have a moment where I caught something I had missed before, and this little bit of information almost ruined the film for me. I had already had predisposed notions based on what I thought the film meant back in 2009, but one singular line of dialogue changed the film entirely. After stressing about whether I still liked the film and its message, it occurred to me that the plotline itself - the twists and the turns, specifically - were secondary to the message that Moon is trying to convey. At its heart, its a story of ethics. And as with any ethically-centric story, a certain level of emotion is needed to make the audience care about the difference between right and wrong. And this is where Moon truly succeeds. It establishes that emotional connection between viewer and the Sam Bell character, and that connection is what draws us into the film's story.

One reason the connection between audience and Sam is so strong is the performance brought forth by Sam Rockwell. It's a tour-de-force performance, and to this day, I still think it's the best of his career. Because he's essentially the only actor with more than five minutes of screen-time, much of the film's emotional component rests on his shoulders, and Rockwell takes it in stride. He portrays so many different sides to the Sam Bell character that it's truly remarkable that he was able to convey each one so convincingly. I also liked the fact that Jones was able to snag Spacey for the vocal performance of GERTY. It offered a familiar voice for the audience, and Spacey did well with humanizing the character.

I also want to applaud composer Clint Mansell for crafting a perfect score for Moon. It's a soft and laid-back composition, but it manages to fit the tone of the film perfectly. Here's a little snippet for your listening pleasure:

At the end of the day, Moon is not only one of the better films I've seen in recent years, but it is also one of the better sci-fi films I've ever been able to see. If you haven't had a chance, I strongly suggest you give this one a view. I have a feeling you'll be thoroughly surprised.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

Monday, April 23, 2012


Not Rated

Doctor Zhivago is a 1965 dramatic epic directed by David Lean that is set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. It tells the intertwining stories of Yuri (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie) as they meet time and again over the course of many years. I would go more into the details of the actual storyline, but if I start describing the plot, this post will ultimately turn into something ridiculously long and drawn-out. All you really need to know is that the film, at its core, is a love story, but by setting it against the backdrop of war, we get something a little more complex.

So you'll have to forgive me in advance if this review proves to be rather short. I'm a little bit drained from this particular movie-going experience, considering the film itself runs for over three hours. It's rare to see movies this long nowadays, but back in the day, they were a little more commonplace.

We receive a very good screenplay that won an Oscar back in 1966, and it takes us through nearly every minute detail of the major experiences lived and suffered by Yuri and Lara. The length of the film gives it the opportunity to delve into such detail, and it definitely does well enough to keep you engaged despite its terribly slow pace. At its heart, we get a rather endearing love story, but when its set against the aforementioned backdrop of war, it's almost as though the romance doesn't necessarily take center stage. At moments, it does, but there are definite times within the film where it's difficult to remember that the core element of the story rests with the ever-growing romance between Yuri and Lara. It's like the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, in a way. That film also has a strong romance at its center, but the backdrop of the Civil War starts to take precedence at certain moments. Substitute the Russian Revolution with the Civil War, and you've got Doctor Zhivago.

We get some great performances from our leads, who do their best to remain strong and even-keeled throughout the film's entirety. With a movie this long, it's difficult to remain consistent throughout, but Sharif and Christie succeed in doing just that. We also get a number of great supporting performances, highlighted by Tom Courtenay, who played Lara's husband Pasha and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role. Rod Steiger also gives a good performance in a limited amount of screen-time. And how could I ever forget the power of our fantastic narrator, played by none other than Sir Alec Guinness. He doesn't appear often, but he's probably the best part of the film by far.

Mention should be given to Maurice Jarre for composing a fantastic score that perfectly sets the mood of the entire piece. The sweeping composition brings a true sense of life to the film, and it's the first thing you'll notice right from the opening credits.

Overall, Doctor Zhivago is a long and drawn-out film that's not the easiest to watch if you tend to get bored easily. However, if you are capable of sitting and devoting your full attention a movie for over three hours - a difficult task in today's tech-savvy environment - then I'm sure you'll find great rewards in watching this particular film.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A-
1.5 Thumbs Up

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jack Nicholson!

Today, we're celebrating the 75th birthday of the legendary, three-time Academy Award-winning actor, Jack Nicholson. He started acting in the mid-1950s and made his first feature film appearance in 1958's The Cry Baby Killer, but it wasn't until his performance in 1969's Easy Rider that he truly entered the public consciousness. Six years later, after hitting it big in 1974's Chinatown, Nicholson won his first Oscar for his leading role in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and a star was born. Since then, Jack has appeared in such big-time fare as 1980's The Shining, 1983's Terms of Endearment, 1989's Batman, 1992's A Few Good Men, 1997's As Good As It Gets and 2006's The Departed. Most recently, audiences have seen Nicholson in 2010's How Do You Know, and it is currently unknown as to what his next project might be. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my ten favorite of his performances, and I've managed to find clips for each for your viewing pleasure. Once again, happy birthday, Jack!

10. President James Dale
Mars Attacks! (1996)


9. Edward
The Bucket List (2007)


8. Dr. Buddy Rydell
Anger Management (2003)


7. Warren Schmidt
About Schmidt (2002)


6. Joker / Jack Napier
Batman (1989)


5. Melvin Udall
As Good As It Gets (1997)


4. Wilbur Force
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)


3. Frank Costello
The Departed (2006)


2. Jack Torrance
The Shining (1980)


1. R.P. McMurphy
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, James McAvoy!

Today, we're celebrating the 33rd birthday of actor James McAvoy. A native of Scotland, McAvoy made his acting debut in the 1995 film The Near Room before spending most of his time making appearances in TV series and made-for-TV movies through the late 1990s and early 2000s. It wasn't until his starring role opposite eventual Oscar winner Forest Whitaker in 2006's The Last King of Scotland that McAvoy started to rise out of obscurity. He truly burst onto the scene in 2007's Atonement opposite Keira Knightley and then again in 2008's Wanted opposite Angelina Jolie. Most recently, audiences have seen McAvoy in 2011's X-Men: First Class as Charles Xavier, and they'll next see him in the 2012 films Welcome to the Punch and Filth. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite of James McAvoy's performances. I've found a few clips to give you a sense of his acting ability, so I hope you can enjoy watching those. Once again, I'd like to wish James McAvoy a very happy birthday!

5. Frederick Aiken


4. Charles Xavier


3. Wesley
Wanted (2008)


2. Dr. Nicholas Garrigan
The Last King of Scotland (2006)


1. Robbie Turner
Atonement (2007)

Friday, April 20, 2012


"I just want to know that it's really happening."
-- Roy Neary

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 dramatic sci-fi film directed by Steven Spielberg that has become one of the more iconic films of the 1970s. After strange occurrences are reported all around the globe, a team of scientists and investigators led by Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) desperately attempts to discover the meaning of these seemingly supernatural events. At the same time, the audience meets Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrician who has a close encounter with "something unusual" late one night. After his meeting, however, Roy starts to see a vision that he can't quite make out, and it slowly starts to drive him mad. He becomes invested in the idea of another alien encounter, and his apparent delirium is enough to drive his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) and his children out of there home. Roy keeps at it, however, and he ultimately learns that he must make his way to a remote area of Wyoming. Joined by a woman named Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), whose son Barry (Cary Guffey) was taken by the aliens, Roy sets out for Devil's Peak in Wyoming, only to face resistance from the United States Army and the aforementioned Lacombe.

Close Encounters was one of those films that I grew up seeing here and there, but I'm not quite sure when I actually first had the chance to sit down and watch it in its entirety. I can distinctly remember seeing the Barry abduction scene as a child because I can recall the sheer terror it made me experience. It was only recently that I was able to find a copy of the 30th Anniversary Edition DVD that I had the time to sit down and watch the film again, and boy, was it grand. I had almost forgotten just how good the movie actually was.

Let's start out with some of its accolades, shall we? For starters, the film has been recognized by audiences and critics alike as one of the better films to emerge from the 1970s. At the time, it was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including nominations for Spielberg's directing and Dillon's acting. It ultimately won the award for Best Cinematography. Today, the film currently holds a 95% approval rating on, which offers the following critical consensus:
Close Encounters' most iconic bits (the theme, the mashed-potato sculpture, etc.) have been so thoroughly absorbed into the culture that it's easy to forget that its treatment of aliens as peaceful beings rather than warmongering monsters was somewhat groundbreaking in 1977.
I actually hadn't thought about this point until re-watching the movie yesterday. When you take a look back at the films that dealt with extraterrestrial life before 1977, you'll find a lot of movies where the creatures from outer space are attempting to destroy the human race. I mean, take films like 1958's The Blob or the classic 1953 film The War of the Worlds. It was films like these that offered the standard idea of alien life back in the 1950s and 1960s, and although the concept of a friendly alien was not entirely unprecedented - one need only look to the brilliant 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still - it simply wasn't the idea that had forced its way into the collective public consciousness.

In a way, it's surprising that Close Encounters continues to have a staying power with audiences today, seeing as most alien-centric films in today's Hollywood are all about violence and destruction. I mean, if you take a look at 2011 alone, you'll find films like Apollo 18, Attack the Block, Battle: Los Angeles, Cowboys & Aliens, The Darkest Hour and The Thing that all follow that basic premise. And so, it's something quite refreshing to know that at one time, a cast and crew of actors and filmmakers were able to create something so special and so unique, and even thirty-five years later, the film can still have an emotional impact on an audience.

There are a number of reasons as to why Close Encounters works so well as a film. For starters, we're offered a brilliant screenplay written by Spielberg and a few other collaborators. While the film offers a relatively simple story, it manages to show that story from a number of angles, giving the audience an eclectic view of the extraterrestrial occurrences throughout the film. On one side, we're seeing Roy and Jillian's reaction to their alien encounters; on the other, we see the scientists and military. What's interesting, however, is that all parties are working toward the same goal: understanding. Often times in alien-centric films, you'll have a military force who simply wants to eliminate the alien presence, even while a few scientists and civilians want to study and learn from them. The somewhat forced collaboration between the two groups in this film makes for a bit of drama as well as a sense of unity in the face of first contact with life from another world. And, at the end of the day, the film is entirely about communication. While the central focus will always be on the way the humans first communicate with the aliens, there's a lot of room to notice the communication between the humans as well. At nearly every stage of the film, we have some sort of translator for the Lacombe character, and at times, the dialogue between he and someone else can get a little confusing and convoluted. I think that only enhances the brilliance of the film's final act, when the humans are able to make contact with the aliens in a beautifully simple fashion.

We're also getting a string of quality acting throughout the film, and the actors easily find ways to bring their characters to life. It's hard to imagine that the role of Roy Neary wasn't written with Richard Dreyfuss in mind because it fits his personality to a tee. He has the opportunity to let loose and have fun with his performance, and it ultimately proves to be a compelling one. As was previously mentioned, Dillon managed to secure an Oscar nomination for her supporting performance, and I think that says enough about how well she does in the film. I also thought that Truffaut, who perhaps may be more famous as a writer and director than as an actor, did a splendid job as well.

One of the defining parts of this film, however, has to be the musical score, which was composed by none other than the great John Williams. I grew up listening to Williams' scores as a child, and in many cases, I knew a film's music before I ever had a chance to see the film. Close Encounters was one such case, but now that I'm able to see how well the music fits into this particular film. While it may not be his most iconic score, I would argue that Williams may have created one of his most beautiful here. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, here's a little taste of what he brought to the table for Close Encounters:

At the end of the day, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one of the more iconic films ever to grace the silver screen. I'm sure there's been a point in your life where you've seen a snippet of the film here and there, but if you haven't had a chance to take in the film in its entirety, I strongly suggest you do, and do so soon. The film is simply brilliant, and although it may have been a tad bit overshadowed in 1977 by a little film called Star Wars, there's still so much to love about Close Encounters that I'm sure you'll find a way to enjoy it.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Tim Curry!

Today, we're celebrating the 66th birthday of actor Tim Curry. A veteran with his name on over 200 hundred titles, Curry started his acting career in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a string of roles in made-for-TV movies and television series. It wasn't his starring role in the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show that Tim truly started to make a name for himself. From there, he managed to secure roles in such fare as 1982's Annie, 1985's Legend, 1985's Clue and 1990's The Hunt for Red October. At the same time, Curry offered his vocal talents to a number of TV shows as well as feature films, including a starring role in 1992's FernGully: The Last Rainforest. He has worked consistently throughout the 1990s and 2000s, both on and off the screen. Most recently, audiences have seen him in the 2010 film Burke and Hare, and we'll next see him in a number of 2012 releases including Gingerclown, Ribbit and Glide. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I've compiled a list of my five favorite of Curry's performances from over the years, and I've managed to secure clips from each. I hope you enjoy them! Once again, happy birthday Tim!

5. Rooster Hannigan
Annie (1982)


4. Long John Silver
Muppet Treasure Island (1996)


3. Pennywise
It (1990)


2. Wadsworth
Clue (1985)


1. Dr. Frank-N-Furter
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Happy Birthday, James Franco!

Today, we're celebrating the 34th birthday of Academy Award-nominated actor James Franco. He got his acting start in made-for-TV movies in the late 1990s, but it wasn't until 1999's Never Been Kissed that he managed to score a role in a feature film. In 2002, Franco took on a career-making role in Sam Raimi's Spider-man, propelling him into mass public consciousness. From there, he's appeared in films like 2005's The Great Raid and 2008's Pineapple Express, and he has reprised his Spider-man role twice since the first film was released. In 2010, Franco nabbed his sole Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. Most recently, audiences have seen him in 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and they'll next be able to see him in the 2012 films Cherry, Maladies, Tar and Lovelace. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite of Franco's performances. I hope you enjoy the list! Once again, happy birthday, James!

5. Taste
Date Night (2010)


4. Joey
City by the Sea (2002)


3. Scott Smith
Milk (2008)


2. Saul Silver
Pineapple Express (2008)


1. Aron Ralston
127 Hours (2010)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Movie Review: ACT OF VALOR


"That last night at home, you think about how you could have been a better dad, a better husband, that bedtime story you should've read, or that anniversary you forgot."
-- Senior Chief Miller

Act of Valor is a 2012 war film directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh that utilizes active-duty Navy SEALs, whose full names were not released for security reasons, as the film's central actors. When an elite team of Navy SEALs led by Lieutenant Rorke and Chief Petty Officer Dave is sent on a covert mission to rescue abducted CIA agent Lisa Morales (Roselyn Sanchez). During their rescue, they pick up a cell phone that leads to intel describing the relationship between a smuggler named Christo (Alex Veadov) and Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle), who are planning an attack of terrorism on United States soil. As the SEALs getting deeper into the thick of the plot, they face stronger and stronger opposition as they do whatever they can to keep their country safe.

When I first heard about Act of Valor, I heard a lot of buzz about the fact that the film was using acting-duty SEALs to portray the characters on-screen. At the time, I thought this was a nice idea, and I thought it might bring an added sense of realism to the film and its story. When the movie opened to generally negative reviews, however, I started to get a little worried that this somewhat high-profile flick might potentially flop with moviegoers. The film currently holds a 25% approval rating on, and that negative aspect is supplemented by the following critical consensus:
It's undeniably reverent of the real-life heroes in its cast, but Act of Valor lets them down with a clichéd script, stilted acting, and a jingoistic attitude that ignores the complexities of war.
Unfortunately for the film, I have to agree wholeheartedly with this particular sentiment.

Let's start with the screenplay. While I thought that certain moments had their own personal merit, the storyline as a whole was too outrageous to be believed. Now, the battle sequences themselves are splendidly done, and the SEALs do bring that realistic element to the screen. In a way, you can say that a lot of the action sequences provide a bit of authenticity in the film, and if Act of Valor wants to hang its laurels anywhere, it would be on those scenes and those scenes alone. However, we're getting a bit of a side story with the Lieutenant Rorke character that plods along and weighs down the rest of the film. The moment you learn about his personal life, you know exactly how the film is going to end. And it is in this way that the film becomes a clichéd shell of every other war film that's ever managed to grace the silver screen. Once you figure out the ultimately predictable finale, the film loses its spark, and it becomes difficult, and even a tad bit boring, to watch.

The second strike against the film is the acting level of the cast. While some of the career actors - namely, Sanchez, Headov and Cottle - manage to turn in decent performances, the acting aspect is where the use of real-life SEALs manages to drag the film down. Although they prove to be authentic in their battle sequences, the SEALs prove to be bad actors at best in the rest of the film. Whether this is a knock against their ability or a knock against the screenplay, I'm not entirely sure; however, some of their interactions seem so strained that it almost proves ridiculous.

Ultimately, Act of Valor does offer authentic battle scenes, and it offers a nice message about and pays great tribute to the men and women who have given their lives for their country over the years. But in a world where you have great films like 2007's In the Valley of Elah, 2009's The Hurt Locker or 2010's Green Zone that also deal with the war on terror, it's difficult to imagine that Act of Valor could ever possibly compete.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: C-
0.5 Thumbs Up

Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Review: 8 MILE


"So, I hear you're a real dope rapper."
-- Alex

8 Mile is a 2002 Academy Award-winning drama directed by Curtis Hanson that served as rapper Eminem's first major foray into the acting world. After he and his girlfriend separate, Jimmy Smith Jr. (Eminem), known by his friends as "B-Rabbit," makes his way home to his mother's (Kim Basinger) trailer in the hopes of finding his feet once again. An aspiring hip-hop artist, Rabbit agrees to attend a rap battle hosted by his close friend Future (Mekhi Phifer), but he chokes once on-stage and leaves the battle amidst taunts and jokes. Embarrassed, Rabbit attempts to commit himself to his work at a steel-pressing factory, where he crosses paths with a young woman named Alex (Brittany Murphy) with whom he immediately takes interest. At the same time, Rabbit is told by a friend named Wink (Eugene Byrd) who claims to have connections with hip-hop big-wigs that he has managed to secure studio time for Rabbit. Unfortunately, nothing plays out exactly as he plans, and Rabbit has to deal with a number of situations over the course of a week that culminate in his being signed up for another rap battle against his will.

I can distinctly remember when 8 Mile first hit theaters back in 2002. At the time, I wasn't much a fan of Eminem - or the rap and hip-hop genre, for that matter - but there was something intriguing about seeing him on the big screen. I ultimately had to wait for the film to be released on DVD before I had a chance to see it, and although I didn't fall in love with it immediately, I could instantly see its merits as a film. Today, the film holds a 76% approval rating on, where the critical consensus reads as follows:
Even though the story is overly familiar, there's enough here for an engaging ride.
And, the fact that the film managed to secure a win at the Academy Awards also heightens its desirability.

Now, the above critical consensus definitely hits the nail on the head. There's nothing truly revolutionary about the film's story or its storytelling style. We've all seen the underdog-beating-the-odds bit before, even in the realm of the musical world, but there's something just a tad bit different about this particular film. Maybe it's the fact that it's taking the rap genre head-on and manages to fire on all cylinders. In a way, the story is very autobiographical to the life of Eminem, who grew up as Marshall Mathers. At the time of the film's release, Eminem was the king of the rap world, and his superstardom drove millions to the theaters to take in the movie. Because the film tells such a personal story, it manages to draw forth quite a bit of emotion. Sure, it's not anything brilliant, but it's honest in its storytelling, and it keeps you rooting for Rabbit until the film's slightly predictable finale.

The acting in the film ranges from very good to relatively decent, and some of the lesser performances drag the movie down a bit. Eminem provides a strong lead, and he shows that he has enough gusto to hold his own in front of the camera. I also thought Murphy did well with a very shallowly-written character, though a little more character depth could have proven to be a brilliant turn. I also have to give a lot of credit to Byrd and to Evan Jones, who played Rabbit's friend Cheddar Bob. Sadly, the cast in its entirety does not flourish. Basinger is a bit bothersome, hamming it up and playing her character as over-the-top as one could possibly imagine. It works in a few scenes, but for the most part, you really just want her to shut up. Michael Shannon has a bit part that is also over-acted, but because he isn't on-screen for all that long, it's a little more forgivable. Also be on the lookout for a cameo from Xzibit.

The reason this film gained so much critical acclaim, however, was the song that won it an Oscar. The track, titled "Lose Yourself," shocked Oscar audiences - as well as Oscar presenter Barbra Streisand - when it nabbed the golden statuette. Lets take a trip down memory lane and give it a listen, shall we?

At the end of the day, 8 Mile isn't bringing anything brilliantly new to the table. However, it still manages to keep the viewer engaged, and it offers a very personal look at one of the more popular rappers and musical artists of the 21st century. If you're a fan of Eminem and you haven't seen the film, then this is probably a must-watch. If you're a fan of music and music-centric films, give this one a go. If you're neither of those, you might want to pass on this one, but know that even for someone who didn't necessarily care strongly for either of those in 2002, I still found 8 Mile to be rather enjoyable.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B
1.5 Thumbs Up

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Seth Rogen!

Today, we're celebrating the 30th birthday of actor Seth Rogen. He got his acting start on the short-lived TV show "Freaks and Geeks" in 1999, but it wasn't until 2001 that he made his feature film debut in Donnie Darko. In 2004, Rogen made his first real impact on the big screen in a bit performance in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which he then followed with a supporting role in 2005's The 40 Year Old Virgin, cementing himself as one of the go-to comedy men in Hollywood. Seth nabbed his first leading man role in 2007's Knocked Up and also appeared in Superbad that same year. In 2008, Rogen made appearances in The Spiderwick Chronicles, Kung Fu Panda, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Step Brothers and Pineapple Express, and he has yet to slow down. Most recently, audiences have seen him in 2011's 50/50, and they'll next see Rogen in 2012's The Guilt Trip. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my five favorite of Seth Rogen's performances, and I've found a clip for each. Once again, happy birthday, Seth!

5. Ben Stone
Knocked Up (2007)


4. Dale Denton
Pineapple Express (2008)


3. Cal
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)


2. Admiral Seaholtz / Roach
Fanboys (2009)


1. Officer Michaels
Superbad (2007)

Saturday, April 14, 2012



"May the odds be ever in your favor."
-- Effie Trinket

The Hunger Games is a 2012 dramatic action film directed by Gary Ross that serves as an adaptation of Suzanne Collins' novel of the same name. In a dystopian future amidst the ruins of what was once North America, where the nation of Panem has arisen. After suffering a massive civil war, the leaders in the Capitol decided on a punishment for the twelve outlying districts that rose up against them. From that time, each year would see an annual "Hunger Games," in which each district would send one young man and one young woman between the ages of twelve and eighteen to be trained in combat and survival before fighting one another to the death as part of a show for the residents of the Capitol. The time has come for the 74th Annual Hunger Games, and we meet our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who finds herself as one of District 12's "tributes" to the Games after volunteering to take her sister's place. She and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the other tribute from the district, make their way to the Capitol to receive their training before entering the arena against twenty-two other young people, all of whom are desperately trying to survive.

I think I have to start this review by stating that I have not read Collins' source novel in its entirety. At the time I saw this film, I had not read any of it, but in the time since, I've managed to secure a copy and have started to read a little bit here and there. Therefore, most of my relationship with this story comes from the film, which I've already begun to realize stays relatively true to the source material, but as with any adaptation, it also has its differences. So all that being said, let's get on with the review, shall we?

Because I wasn't all that familiar with the novel itself, I can't say that I was terribly excited when I heard about the film's adaptation. I had heard all the buzz from the fans, but seeing as I didn't have any prior knowledge, I couldn't seem to wrap my head around all the fuss. As the film's release date grew closer and closer, the buzz increased tenfold, and when the film opened to stellar reviews, I knew I had to see it as soon as I could. Joined by my fanatic of a girlfriend, I ventured down to the local theater and quietly watched as the reel started to roll.

What I saw was a beautifully-crafted film that managed to pull on heartstrings and leave you desperately wanting for more. I suppose I'll start with the film's screenplay. Now, I've heard from a number of fans that this film is one of the better novel-to-film adaptations that they had ever witnessed, stating that the movie follows so closely to the book's storyline that its almost a little uncanny. Not being able to distinguish this myself, I merely had to follow along and keep up as best I can. There were two things about the screenplay that truly stood out to me. First, I liked the fact that it jumped right into the action. We don't waste any time getting to the "Reaping," where the tributes from each district are chosen. By throwing the audience into the fray immediately, it almost catches us a little off-guard and forces us to stay engaged with everything that's happening, and I thought this tactic worked well here. Second, I thought the film explained the events very clearly, which was a huge help for someone like me who was unfamiliar with the storyline. These two things gave me the opportunity to enter the story and keep up with it throughout the film, and for that alone, the screenplay should be applauded.

One of the biggest differences between the book and the movie, however, is the point of view. The novel is written in the first-person, giving us her thoughts and her actions through her own eyes. The film, however, has to take a third-person approach, offering the viewer a slightly different perspective. For example, once she's in the arena, Katniss could only know what's happening in her immediate surroundings. In the film, we're able to see beyond the arena and into the minds of the people watching and hoping and praying that she makes it out alive. Even based off the little bit of the novel I've read, I think that this added a little more depth to the film, only making its story all the stronger.

Luckily, we're also getting a stellar cast to bring the film's characters to life. Jennifer Lawrence has been all the rave since the film was released, and there's definitely a reason for it. She plays her part to the tee, and despite her already above average acting credentials, this has been the performance to spring her to superstardom. I first saw her talents in 2010's Winter's Bone, and I knew then that she could act. Her performance in The Hunger Games only cements my previous thoughts on her abilities. Hutcherson also does well in his performance, but I felt he was a tad bit overshadowed by Lawrence. We're also getting a fantastic supporting cast that includes the likes of Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland. All in all, I'd have to say that the casting department did a fine job here.

We're also getting a great musical score from the likes of James Newton Howard, who always knows how to set the tone of a film with his compositions. The music always seems to fit into the storyline, and it greatly aids the overall movie-going experience.

At the end of the day, I thought The Hunger Games was a fantastic film that managed to strike a chord with both fans and non-fans alike. It's always rare for a film to drive me to read the source novel, but this has definitely been one of those cases. If a movie can impact me that much, then there must be quite a bit of merit to it. It's just a truly well-made film, and it deserves all the accolades its receiving.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Friday, April 13, 2012

Movie Review: 3:10 TO YUMA

3:10 TO YUMA

"For a one-legged rancher, he was one tough son-of-a-bitch."
-- Charlie Prince

3:10 to Yuma is a 2007 western directed by James Mangold that serves as a remake of the 1957 film of the same name. When downtrodden rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) learns that he will lose his ranch within a week if he cannot pay off his debts, he agrees to assist in the escort of a captured robber named Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) in order to earn enough money to keep his family alive. The posse takes Wade across the Arizonan desert on their way to Contention, where he will be boarding the 3:10 train for Yuma Prison. Along the way, however, the strong-willed and incredibly violent Wade attempts to deter his captors both physically and psychologically, placing Evans in a battle of wills unlike he has ever experienced. To make matters worse, the rest of Wade's gang, led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), continually tries to retrieve their boss before he can be sent to the hangman's noose.

I hadn't seen this film in its entirety since I saw it during its initial theatrical release, but after seeing the DVD on sale recently, I knew I had to pick it up. I remembered it as being one of the better westerns I had seen in recent years, so to have the chance to sit down and watch it again was quite a treat. Now I know that the idea of a remake could potentially turn you away, but I think in this particular case, all the pieces fall into place, and we're given a rather fantastic film to enjoy.

To start, we're getting a great screenplay that offers both twists and turns as well as some great character development. One of the things I liked best was that the film wastes no time in introducing the characters and explaining their individual plights. From the very outset, we understand Dan Evans' reasoning behind joining the posse to escort Ben Wade. It's this well-crafted characterization that draws you into the story, and from there, we're able to see the pieces as they fall into place. The story itself is simple, but the well-rounded characters and the spot-on dialogue make it entirely enjoyable and even a tad bit profound from time to time. Ultimately, this film rests heavily on the laurels that are its screenplay.

That being said, a lot of credit has to be given to the film's cast. I was originally wowed by Crowe's performance as the central villain - or even as the anti-hero, depending on how you want to look at the film. There was something very subtle but brilliant about his portrayal of Ben Wade, and I was thoroughly surprised to see him excel in this particular genre. After this second viewing, however, I have to give a lot of credit to Bale as well, who manages to bring one of his more emotional performances to the screen. At a time when he was scoring as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan's superhero franchise, it's a wonder to see him go in the opposite direction and bring out a fantastic character. We're also getting a slew of great supporting performances in the film, starting with Ben Foster who manages to steal the show as the true "villain." Also on the cast list are the great Peter Fonda playing a bounty hunter helping escort Wade to Contention, as well as Logan Lerman, who portrays Dan's hot-headed son William. Also be on the watch for familiar faces in Gretchen Mol, Alan Tudyk and Luke Wilson, who make small but important appearances.

At the end of the day, 3:10 to Yuma is both one of the better westerns released in recent years as well as one of the better remakes. By blending a great screenplay with a fantastic cast, the audience is getting a a film that fires on all cylinders. I do warn, however, that if you're not a fan of the western genre, then this may not really be for you. But for those of you who are, then chalk this one up as a must-see if you haven't already done so.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
1.5 Thumbs Up