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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Movie Review: PIRANHA 3D

PIRANHA 3D
2010
R


"The first bite draws blood. The blood draws the pack."
-- Mr. Goodman

Piranha 3D is a 2010 horror-comedy directed by Alexandre Aja that serves as a remake of the 1978 film of the same name. When an underwater earthquake causes a rift to open on the floor of Lake Victoria, another subterranean lake is exposed to the surface. Within those depths lie thousands of allegedly extinct piranha who come up to feast right around the time of the annual Lake Victoria spring break festivities. Saddened by the fact that he's stuck babysitting his younger siblings, Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen) willingly accepts an invitation to be a "location scout" for Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) and his Wild Wild Girls film crew. The son of local sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), Jake knows that what he's doing goes against everything she probably wants; what he doesn't know, however, is that there is a very fishy menace lurking just beneath the water's surface. And with the throngs of college co-eds partying out on the lake, it's only a matter of time until the massacre can ensue.

I wanted to re-watch Piranha 3D in anticipation of the sequel, Piranha 3DD, which is set for release tomorrow. As many of you may have seen in my 2012 Summer Movie Preview, I'm rather excited for the sequel, and all of that excitement stems from the fact that I loved its predecessor oh so much. Now, I'm sure there are a lot of you scratching your heads, wondering why anyone could ever love a movie like Piranha 3D, but if you'll allow it, I shall explain.

Now, I could start off by talking about the screenplay or the acting or any of those typical facets of film that I usually like to talk about, but the point would be a bit moot. The acting is decent considering the genre - although, I was then and still am impressed with O'Connell's superbly comedic performance - and we're getting a slew of fantastic cameo appearances from the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd and Eli Roth, as well as a pitch-perfect over-the-top bit by Ving Rhames. There are a few other actors who play more important plot roles - namely, Adam Scott and Jessica Szohr - but it's really the bit appearances and the leads who steal the show. And the screenplay is your run-of-the-mill horror creature tale: creature escapes, creature kills people, heroes fight back. That's really all it boils down to. However, there's something about this film that makes it just a little bit better.

At its very base, the film industry relies on one standard: to entertain the audience. When we go to the movies, we can have a slew of emotions. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, sometimes we scream in terror. But a good film will deliver whatever emotion it hopes to convey, and in that moment, we as the audience can be entertained. This is where Piranha 3D excels. Yes, the story and the concept are ridiculous. Yes, the special effects are shoddy and over-the-top. And yes, there's nothing terribly profound about anything that happens. But it still proves to be one of the more entertaining films in recent years. It goes all out and never lets off the gas, and although it's ridiculous, I still can't help but smile and laugh and cringe along with it all.

To be fair, I should probably say that my biggest love for this film is the fact that it directly references Jaws - admittedly my favorite film of all time - on many an occasion. From the very get-go, we're getting a steady stream. In the opening scene, we see an elderly Richard Dreyfuss essentially reprising his role from Jaws (although it isn't credited as such, most likely for copyright reasons and all that jazz). He's singing along to "Show Me the Way to Go Home" on the radio whilst attempting to catch a "fast fish." Fast-forward a little bit, and we see Ving Rhames' deputy talking about how the spring break season is a "big financial week for our town." Any fans of Jaws will be squealing with glee at these references. Or maybe it's just me being a fanatic. I'll admit that's definitely a possibility.

When it was released in 2010, Piranha 3D actually became one of the surprise critical and commercial successes of the summer. After spending a modest budget of $24 million to make the film, it returned over $83 million worldwide, and a lot of that success had to do with positive word of mouth. As of today, the film holds a seventy-three percent approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com, where one can find the following consensus:
Playing exactly to expectations for a movie about killer fish run amok, Piranha 3D dishes out gore, guffaws and gratuitous nudity with equal glee.
I couldn't have said it better myself.


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

Happy Birthday, Colin Farrell!

Today, we're celebrating the 36th birthday of actor Colin Farrell. A Dublin native, Farrell got his acting start in the mid-1990s, making his first credited appearance in a feature film in 1997's Drinking Crude. It wasn't until the turn of the millennium, however, that he started to gain a little more prominence on the silver screen. With larger roles in 2002's Hart's War opposite Bruce Willis and 2002's Minority Report opposite Tom Cruise, Farrell started to see a lot more screen-time. He's worked consistently throughout the 2000s, appearing in major films such as 2004's Alexander, 2008's In Bruges and 2009's Crazy Heart. Most recently, audiences have seen him in the 2011 films Horrible Bosses and Fright Night. We'll next be able to see his acting endeavors in this summer's remake of Total Recall. And so, to celebrate his birthday and his career, I've listed my five favorite of Farrell's acting performances and have found some clips for your viewing pleasure. I hope you enjoy them. Once again, happy birthday, Colin!


5. Jerry
Fright Night (2011)

*****

4. Syracuse
Ondine (2010)

*****

3. Imaginarium Tony 3
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

*****

2. Bobby Pellitt

*****

1. Ray
In Bruges (2008)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Movie Review: JACKIE BROWN

JACKIE BROWN
1997
R


"Half a million dollars will always be missed."
-- Max Cherry

Jackie Brown is a 1997 crime drama written and directed by Quentin Tarantino that served as the follow-up to his 1994 smash hit, Pulp Fiction. When flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is stopped by A.T.F. detectives Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen), they desperately try to press her for information regarding a small arms dealer named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), for whom she traffics money. Initially, she gives them nothing in terms of intel, and the two men ensure she's imprisoned. Ordell posts her bail, and after meeting with her, the two devise a plan that will allow her to bring the rest of his money - over half a million dollars - back into the country from Mexico. At the same time, however, Jackie makes a deal with the A.T.F. agents that will keep her out of prison as long as she can give them Ordell. In addition, she teams with her bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) so that they can reap the rewards and bring home the money for themselves. As all three factions put their plans into play, a number of things go wrong for each side, only leading to further complications.

If someone would have asked me my thoughts on Quentin Tarantino only a few years ago, I probably would have dismissed his work as ridiculous and too far off the mainstream. It took his 2009 film Inglourious Basterds to bring me around to his style of filmmaking, and after giving a few of his other ventures another viewing - namely, Pulp Fiction and 1992's Reservoir Dogs - I have to say that I've come full circle and can now call myself a full-fledged fan of the director. That being said, I had always wanted to give Jackie Brown a view, and I've only now been able to do just that.

The first thing I have to say is that one should not expect this film to measure up to some of Tarantino's greater films. As the first film post-Pulp Fiction, Tarantino had set quite a bar for himself, and it was going to be difficult to reach that lofty goal regardless of the type of film he created. It garnered generally positive critical reviews upon its release, and it currently holds an eighty-six percent approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com, where one can find the following consensus:
Tarantino's third film, fashioned as a comeback for star Pam Grier, offers typical wit and charm -- and is typically overstuffed.
What comes out of Jackie Brown is a legitimate film that still stands head-and-shoulders over most of what hits theaters nowadays, but in relation to the director's other efforts, this one's definitely on the lower end of the spectrum. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have its merits.

The film's screenplay proves to be engaging and entertaining, and although it's lacking in the profundity that some of Tarantino's other films enjoy, it still offers a few twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. We're given our nearly-obligatory scenes of mixed-and-matched timeline, but it's not quite as fresh as it has been in other films. Still, I have to say that there were a few moments where I thought I knew what was going to happen and was quickly proven incorrect. And for that, I have to commend Tarantino for not falling into the rote ideas that Hollywood had by that time established. Instead, he made a realistic film in which the bad guy often manages to take home the cake.

The film's cast proves to be decent, but I think we could've gotten a little bit more from some of the stars here. Grier has never been known for her acting prowess, but she does well as our lead in this one. She managed to nab a nomination at the Golden Globes for her performance, so that's saying something, I suppose. Jackson is fine as our central villain, but he's definitely been better before and since. Robert Forster might be the best on the screen this time around, as is evidenced by his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Also be on the watch for some bigger names like Keaton, Chris Tucker and Robert De Niro to offer some interesting turns.

At the end of the day, Jackie Brown is a serviceable film that proves to be entertaining, but it just doesn't quite have that Tarantino "feel" to it. In a way, Tarantino almost seems "Tarantino-esque" this time around, almost as though he's trying to mimic himself in the hopes of crafting something extraordinary. It doesn't quite fire on all cylinders, but you'll still manage to be entertained throughout. That's why I say it's worth a watch, if only if you need to kill a few hours.


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

Happy Birthday, Danny Elfman!

Today, we're celebrating the 59th birthday of Academy Award-nominated composer Danny Elfman. A Los Angeles native, Elfman has made quite a name for himself in his thirty-year career, crafting himself into one of Hollywood's premiere film composers. His first composing work came in 1982's Forbidden Zone which he followed with 1985's Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, the film which started his frequent collaboration with director Tim Burton. Elfman went onto score Burton's 1988 film Beetlejuice and his 1989 film Batman, and that was just the start. In the 1990s, Elfman scored such big-time films as Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mission: Impossible, Men in Black and Good Will Hunting. He followed it up with the 2000s, in which he stamped his name across films like Spider-man, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Milk and Alice in Wonderland. Most recently, audiences have heard Elfman reprise a former score in Men in Black III as well as offer something a little bit new in Dark Shadows, and they'll next be able to hear his work in the upcoming 2012 film Frankenweenie. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I've compiled a list of my ten favorite of his scores, and I've managed to find snippets of each score for your listening pleasure. Once again, happy birthday, Danny Elfman!


10. Sleepy Hollow
1999

*****

2011

*****

8. Corpse Bride
2005

*****

7. Alice in Wonderland
2010

*****

6. Spider-man
2002

*****

5. Batman
1989

*****

4. Milk
2008

*****

3. Big Fish
2003

*****

1990

*****

1993

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Paul Bettany!

Today, we're celebrating the 41st birthday of actor Paul Bettany. The London native got his acting start in the mid-1990s with a few television appearances, but it wasn't until 1997's Bent that he nabbed his first feature film role. In 2001, Bettany became a bit of an overnight sensation with his performances in A Knight's Tale opposite Heath Ledger and in A Beautiful Mind opposite Russell Crowe. He would rekindle his on-screen partnership with Crowe two years later in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Since then, he's worked relatively consistently, appearing in such films as 2006's The Da Vinci Code and 2008's Iron Man in a vocal performance that he has reprised in both Iron Man 2 and the recent release, The Avengers. Audiences will next see Bettany in the 2013 film, Blood. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite of Bettany's performances, and I've found a few video clips for your viewing pleasure. Once again, happy birthday, Paul!


5. Silas
The Da Vinci Code (2006)

*****

4. Charles Darwin
Creation (2010)

*****

3. Charles
A Beautiful Mind (2001)

*****

2. Dr. Stephen Maturin
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

*****

1. Geoffrey Chaucer
A Knight's Tale (2001)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

In Memoriam: John Wayne

Today, I would like to celebrate and honor the memory and career of the late John Wayne, who would have turned 105 today were he still alive. Born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa, Wayne got his acting start in an uncredited role in the 1926 film Brown of Harvard, and he continued to work consistently throughout the 1920s and 1930s before making his big break in John Ford's 1939 film, Stagecoach. Over the course of a career that spanned five decades, John Wayne cemented himself as one of the most beloved actors ever to grace the silver screen. He made a name for himself in the western genre, but he was known to dabble in a slew of different genres, including drama, comedy and the illustrious war film. Wayne appeared in over 170 titles over the course of his career, and within those years he starred in such memorable films as 1945's They Were Expendable, 1949's Sands of Iwo Jima, 1952's The Quiet Man, 1954's The High and the Mighty, 1956's The Searchers, 1959's Rio Bravo, 1960's The Alamo and 1969's True Grit, for which he won his only Academy Award. And so, to honor and celebrate his life and career, I have created a list of my five favorite of John Wayne's film performances, and I've managed to find a few clips for your viewing pleasure. Once again, please help me in remembering this legendary actor.


5. Ringo Kid
Stagecoach (1939)

*****

4. George Washington McLintock
McLintock! (1963)

***** 

3. Rooster Cogburn
True Grit (1969)

***** 

2. Sean Thornton
The Quiet Man (1952)

***** 

1. J.B. Books
The Shootist (1976)

Happy Birthday, Helena Bonham Carter!

Today, we're celebrating the 46th birthday of Academy Award-nominated actress Helena Bonham Carter. A London native, Carter nabbed her first feature film appearance in 1985's A Room with a View, which would go on to win three Oscars earn a nomination for Best Picture. The film's success didn't necessarily push her into the limelight, but it definitely opened the door for her career. In 1990, she starred alongside Mel Gibson and Glenn Close in Hamlet, and she spent the rest of the early 1990s appearing in films such as 1992's Howards End, 1994's Frankenstein and 1995's Mighty Aprhodite. She earned her first Oscar nomination for her performance in 1997's The Wings of the Dove, and two years later, she burst into the collective public consciousness with her inclusion in the cult classic, Fight Club. In 2001, Carter began a relationship with eccentric director Tim Burton, and she has appeared in a number his films since then, including 2003's Big Fish and 2007's Sweeney Todd. She also landed the part of Bellatrix Lestrange in a number of the Harry Potter films. Most recently, audiences have seen Carter in the 2012 film Dark Shadows, and they'll next see her later this year in Great Expectations and Les Misérables. And so, to celebrate her birthday, I've listed my five favorite of her characters. I hope you enjoy the list! Once again, happy birthday, Helena Bonham Carter!


5. Queen Elizabeth

*****

4. Jenny
Big Fish (2003)

***** 

3. The Red Queen
Alice in Wonderland (2010)

*****

2. Mrs. Lovett
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

***** 

1. Marla Singer
Fight Club (1999)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Movie Review: MEN IN BLACK III

MEN IN BLACK III
2012
PG-13


"I promised the secrets of the universe, nothing more."
-- Agent K

Men in Black III is a 2012 sci-fi comedy directed by Barry Sonnenfeld that serves as the third installment in the Men in Black film franchise and the first to hit theaters since 2002. After a dangerous killer named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from his lunar prison, he heads back to Earth to find and kill Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), who had captured and imprisoned him forty years earlier as he had attempted to aid in an interplanetary invasion. He devises a plan to go back in time to kill a younger K so that he will no longer exist in the present. Soon afterward, K disappears from the present day, leading to emotional unrest for his partner Agent J (Will Smith), who then follows Boris into the past to keep him from exacting his plan. When he reaches 1969, he finds a young K (Josh Brolin), and the two work together, with the help of a solitary alien named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), to stop Boris from destroying the planet.

It's been fifteen years since the first Men in Black film turned into a box office smash back, and it's been ten years since we last saw Smith and Jones team up as the alien-fighting team we've grown to know and love. Although I've enjoyed the past two entries in the series, I can't say that I was ever the biggest fan of the films. Still, they proved to be entertaining enough for me to want to see this latest installment, and the addition of actors like Brolin, Clement and Stuhlbarg definitely made the concept a little more intriguing.

Let's start with the screenplay. Although the film doesn't necessarily break any ground on bringing forth new ideas, it still manages to be entertaining. The jokes and gags are pretty consistent, and although I was never l rolling with laughter, I still managed to offer a chuckle here and there. The storyline proves to be engaging, and even though the idea of cinematic time travel has been tried and tested, it still manages to feel fresh in this one. And we're even getting a few twists and turns here and there, some of which I didn't predict until they happened. Ultimately, the story allows the viewer to enter the film and remain engaged with it throughout the film, and for that, it should be commended.

We're also getting a slew of decent performances from the cast. Smith and Jones are their standard selves, but this is really Smith's vehicle. Because of the story's constructs, Jones only appears in the early and later moments of the film. Fortunately, we're getting a clever impersonation job from the likes of Brolin in the intermediary moments. When I first saw the trailers for the film introducing Brolin as the younger Agent K, I immediately thought him to be a fine choice purely based off his look. After seeing the film, however, I can say that Brolin does a fine job filling the shoes, and he proves to bring most of the film's comedy to the table. I also thought that Stuhlbarg managed to steal the show with his performance, and if there's any reason to see the film, it's him alone. Also be on the watch for decent bits from the likes of Clement, Emma Thompson, Nicole Scherzinger and Bill Hader in a cameo appearance.

At the end of the day, Men in Black III might not be the best in the franchise, but it still proves to be an entertaining venture and pleasant addition to the franchise's overall storyline. It fills in a lot of questions that fans may have had about the characters, and even manages to flesh out our two leads a little bit further. For that, I think we can all be appreciative.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Movie Review: THE BOONDOCK SAINTS

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS
2000
R


"Whosoever shed man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."
-- Il Duce

The Boondock Saints is a 1999 dramatic action film directed by Troy Duffy that tells a vigilante tale set in the streets of Boston. After brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy MacManus (Norman Reedus) kill two Russian mobsters in self-defense, they have a joint spiritual vision that tells them to rid the world of its evil and corrupt men. The two begin to murder a string of Russian and Italian mobsters, which brings federal detective Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) onto the case to solve the mystery of the seemingly connected incidents. As the feds and police work through the crimes, the MacManus brothers enlist the help of their friend Rocco (David Della Rocco), a package boy in the Italian mafia, to point out their next hit. As the body count continues to climb, the brothers gain more and more enemies, but they might even start to gain friendship from the ethically-torn authorities.

I had heard about this film time and time again over the past ten years, but it wasn't only until the last few years that I had a chance to watch it. The Boondock Saints proved to be right up my alley, and although I've continually found a few flaws here and there, I still find it to be one of the more entertaining and thought-provoking films I've seen. This is a little strange to me because it's rare that my personal film tastes are so stark in comparison to the general consensus of other film critics. This is the case with The Boondock Saints, however. The film currently holds only a seventeen percent approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com, which offers the following critical consensus:
A juvenile, ugly movie that represents the worst tendencies of directors channeling Quentin Tarantino.
Those are some pretty harsh words, to say the least. However, there is a massive disparity between critical thoughts on the film and the feelings that audiences have had. The film's page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) claims that the film has achieved a user score of 7.8 out of a possible ten points, meaning that it is on the higher end of scored films. I don't know whether I've ever seen this large of a difference between critical and lay audience feelings on a film.

But enough with all of these facts. Let's get into the reasons as to why I personally love The Boondock Saints. For starters, I'm relatively in love with the cast. Although the majority of our actors aren't necessarily bringing forth the greatest of performances, everything seems to fit accordingly with the film and its overall tone. I think that Flanery and Reedus were the perfect choices to portray our vigilante brothers, and the chemistry they have within the film is pretty spot-on for what you might imagine. For all we know, they could've been brothers in a past life, and this film only serves as an outlet for them to express their brotherly feelings. In addition, I think we're getting a career-best performance from Willem Dafoe. Sure, he's had some great parts in films like Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ or, more recently, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, but there's a powerful force behind his performance in The Boondock Saints that can't be denied. It's also easily the most quotable of his characters, and that alone makes his Paul Smecker a more memorable character. We're also getting a good bit of comedic relief from David Della Rocco, and be sure to be on the watch for smaller roles from the likes of Billy Connolly and Ron Jeremy.

And now, for the screenplay. After watching the film today, I realized that the screenplay actually answers most of the questions I had ever had about the storyline. If you pay close attention, it actually answers all the questions it poses and leaves the audience satisfied. You're not left wondering why certain things happened, and although there's a few scratch-your-head moments, they're merely at points where you wonder why a film might even go in that direction. The movie is over-the-top, but it still manages to work because it never once lets off the gas. When an outrageous film attempts to bring it down a little bit, we usually have disastrous results. However, if a film can aim for over-the-top and keep the pedal to the metal throughout, then you should be in for quite a treat. That's what The Boondock Saints does, and it does it well.

The real meat of the film's screenplay comes with the question of ethics that it proposes. As with any story of vigilantism, there are going to be those who are for and those who are against the idea. In terms of the cinematic landscape, I'm not sure if there has ever been a film that takes the idea to the extremes that The Boondock Saints does, but the basic question that it poses is still one that we can all think about and ponder. One of the best scenes in the film actually comes as the credits roll. In the scene, we see a faux news segment where a reporter asks a number of average Joe citizens how they feel about the vigilante justice that the aptly-named "Saints" have brought to the city of Boston. As one can imagine, we see both sides of the argument, and although the scene is obviously staged, it still proves to be a fascinating - and probably accurate - look at how the public might react to such a situation. I've found the scene for your viewing pleasure, so I hope you can enjoy it:


I also liked a lot of the stylistic choices that director Troy Duffy made in shooting the film. Most of the action sequences are shown in flashback as Agent Smecker tries to work through what might have happened, and at times, he inserts himself into these playbacks, adding a bit of dramatization to them. I think that the Rottentomatoes.com consensus is right in calling the film Tarantino-esque, and you can see that Duffy was attempting to bring forth something similar. The film definitely has a pseudo-Tarantino feel to it, but to compare it to a Tarantino film wouldn't be giving The Boondock Saints enough credit. It's nowhere near that level of film-making, but it definitely manages to take the mold and run with it efficiently and effectively.

At the end of the day, I personally think that The Boondock Saints is a fine film, and it's easily an entertaining one even if it's not necessarily the most profound. Despite its initial trouble gaining an audience, the film has managed to become a cult favorite over the past twelve years. It even garnered enough of a following to give Duffy a reason to create a sequel, which was released in 2009. It wasn't quite as good as the first film, but it managed to continue the story rather well. However, it owes a lot of credit to this first film, which is so much better than most critics will ever give it credit.


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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Movie Review: ROPE

ROPE
1948
PG


"Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of committing it. Nobody except us."
-- Brandon

Rope is a 1948 dramatic thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock that served as a bit of a technical experiment for the acclaimed filmmaker. The story follows two young intellectuals named Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) who strangle and murder a former classmate named David in order to experiment with the idea of committing the perfect murder. The two then hide the body in a chest and await the guests of their dinner party, which they have scheduled specifically in accordance with their heinous act. Slowly, the guests start to arrive, and we learn that each of the guests has a distinct relationship to the victim. Also in attendance is Brandon and Phillip's former school housemaster Rupert (James Stewart). As the even progresses and the other guests start to wonder about David's absence, Rupert begins to question whether their hosts might have an idea as to the missing man's whereabouts.

I first heard about this film after hearing about its relatively revolutionary technical aspect. Rope was intended to tell its story in real-time, and to make it feel as such, Hitchcock elected to create the movie as though it were filmed one continuous shot. Back in the 1940s, however, it wasn't physically possible to do so seeing as a film reel could only hold roughly ten minutes of film. Therefore, Hitchcock filmed Rope in ten sequences ranging from four to ten minutes then used clever sleight-of-hand techniques in order to make it feel as though the shot never truly ends. Technically, it's quite an achievement, and I'm sure there are quite a few aspiring filmmakers that can learn quite a bit about film-making from a movie like Rope.

Were the technical aspect the only reason to watch Rope, then this would probably prove to be a very short review. But this is Alfred Hitchcock, after all, so you can be sure that the rest of the film will be firing on all cylinders as well. I'd like to start with the acting component today. While it's not the greatest bit of acting I've ever seen in a film, I do have to say that the cast of Rope performs splendidly, especially given the way the film was shot. As always, Jimmy Stewart manages to steal the show, despite the fact that you can make the argument that he's not even the film's central character. He's important, yes, but we as the audience spend very little time without either Brandon or Phillip on-screen. The interplay between Dall and Granger is utterly fantastic, and we get a very deep sense of their respective characters despite the film's relatively short run-time. The rest of the cast fills out nicely and provides decent characterization, and I'd like to give special credit to Cedric Hardwicke and Constance Collier, who played David's father and aunt respectively, for bringing forth great supporting bits. Also very good is Edith Evanson, so be on the watch for her role as the maid. But this is really a film about the relationship between our murderers and their suspecting former teacher, and you can see that Hitchcock wanted to place most of the emphasis there. And the three men steal the show.

In addition, we're getting an utterly brilliant screenplay that's equal parts dramatic, comedic and thrilling. After the murder, which takes place in the film's opening moments, we're already thrown into Hitchcock's trademark sense of suspense, and it never once lets go of its hold on the viewer. At the same time, however, there's a massive level of bitingly hilarious black comedy throughout the film. Once the dinner party begins, the dialogue takes a turn of the hilarious, and I couldn't keep myself from laughing at some of the guests' remarks. The dialogue is where this film utterly excels. Although the acting isn't necessarily brilliant, the dialogue between each of the characters is top-notch, and I'd argue that I haven't heard dialogue this crisp and refreshing in any film I've ever seen. That's pretty high praise, mind you. What's truly fascinating, however, is the look at Friedrich Nietzsche's √úbermensch - or "superman" - that the film provides. I had first heard of the concept of the "superman" in school. It essentially posits that there are some men who are superior to others, and these supermen could, in theory, murder their inferior kinsfolk as they pleased without any moral affliction or punishment. The murderers in Rope take this idea to heart and use it as their reasoning behind their strangulation of David, and over the course of the film, we get a rather deep look into the concept. It's truly fascinating, and it helps life this screenplay into the conversation as one of the best I've ever seen.

At the end of the day, Rope is a brilliant film that's definitely worthy of your attention. It hooked me from the very outset, and I felt as though I didn't want to blink for fear of missing some key bit of information. Hitchcock always knows how to draw his audience into his films, and Rope is no exception. Although it's not quite his best film, I do think that it has to be placed near the very top echelon. And that's saying quite a bit for a man who made a living creating some of the greatest and most timeless films ever dedicated to a film reel.


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

In Memoriam: James Stewart

Today, we are celebrating and remembering the life and career of Academy Award-winning actor James Stewart on what would have been his 104th birthday. A Pennsylvania native, Jimmy began his acting career in the mid-1930s, landing his first role in a feature film in 1935's The Murder Man. He worked consistently throughout the 1930s, appearing in a total of twenty-one feature films from 1935 to 1939, where he scored his first Oscar nomination for his performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The following year, Stewart nabbed his sole Oscar statuette for his role in 1940's The Philadelphia Story, which officially shot him to superstardom. Over the next twenty years, Stewart would score three more Oscar nominations for 1946's It's a Wonderful Life, 1950's Harvey and 1959's Anatomy of a Murder while also appearing in the 1952 film The Greatest Show on Earth, 1954's Rear Window and 1957's The Spirit of St. Louis. Sadly, Stewart passed away in 1997 at the age of 89, but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate his memory. And so, I've listed my five favorite of Jimmy's performances for your viewing pleasure. I hope we can all enjoy the work that Stewart produced throughout his career and cherish the legacy he created on the Hollywood scene.


5. Dr. Hostleter
The Shootist (1977)

*****

4. L.B. 'Jeff' Jefferies
Rear Window (1954)

***** 

3. John 'Scottie' Ferguson
Vertigo (1958)

***** 

2. George Bailey

***** 

1. Jefferson Smith

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Movie Review: THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS

THE PIRATES: BAND OF MISFITS
PG
2012


"Avast! I'm a pirate captain, and I'm here for your gold!"
-- Pirate Captain

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a 2012 stop-motion animation film directed by Jeff Newitt & Peter Lord. The film tells the story of the bumbling Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) who has led his crew on many adventures but has somehow managed to steal absolutely no booty. As the annual "Pirate of the Year" awards descend upon the seas, the Pirate Captain desperately attempts to find a way to win the award for the first time. He has quite a bit of competition from some of the best captains on the seven seas, but his crew is determined to help him bring home the trophy. After a string of unsuccessful attempts at plundering, the crew meets a scientist named Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) who identifies the crew's parrot Polly as actually being a dodo, which the world thought to be extinct. He informs the crew that a scientists' convention might pay handsomely for such a find, so the Pirate Captain makes sail for London, knowing full well that the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton) may lay in wait.

Those of you who have been reading my reviews for quite a while will know that I'm a bit of a fan of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and those films got me interested in the idea of pirate movies altogether. So, when I heard about an upcoming animated film featuring a ragtag group of pirates sailing for adventure, you can be sure that I was terribly excited to see it. The Pirates! Band of Misfits even managed to pull the number five spot on my ten most anticipated films of 2012. That's saying quite a bit. And so, I impatiently awaited my opportunity to see the film, which has finally come.

I have to say that I feel a little letdown by the film, which didn't necessarily prove to be as funny as I thought it could be. Although there are plenty of moments where the film offers a smile or a chuckle, I was honestly hoping for something a little bit stronger. The film has been well-received by most critics, and it currently holds an eighty-six percent approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com. That's strong, I suppose. I mean, I did find the film utterly entertaining, and it definitely kept my interest from start to finish. Some of the jokes and gags were incredibly inventive and intelligent. They help keep the story moving along nicely, and for that, the screenplay should be commended. There just isn't a ton of depth to the storyline and the dialogue, and that itself is a bit of a knock against the screenplay. It's entertaining, but there was definitely room for improvement.

Luckily, we as the audience are getting a rather strong vocal cast for the film. Grant plays the Pirate Captain fantastically, bringing quite a bit of emotion to the character that could have easily fallen into typical caricature. I also thought that Tennant and Staunton did well. We're also getting a number of smaller vocal performances from some big-time actors. Be on the listen for the likes of Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson and a slightly misplaced Jeremy Piven. But this is definitely Grant's effort, and it's a very strong effort and worth enjoying.

I do have to commend the animation crew for crafting some of the best stop-motion animation I've ever seen in a film. We're starting to see a resurgence in the stop-motion field, and I think each subsequent film will provide a little more of a piece to the puzzle, and it starts here with The Pirates! Band of Misfits. It's a visually beautiful film, and for that reason alone, it's worth watching.

At the end of the day, The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a fun film that's good for a chuckle and a few laughs, and the animation itself is astoundingly beautiful. Still, the film as a whole feels just a little bit flat, and although you'll be smiling at film's end, I'd challenge any viewer to try to remember the film a week from now. It just doesn't have that retaining factor to bring it into the upper echelon of animated films.


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

Monday, May 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, Cate Blanchett!

Today, we're celebrating the 43rd birthday of the Academy Award-winning actress, Cate Blanchett. A native of Melbourne, Australia, Blanchett made her feature film debut in the 1994 film Police Rescue. It wasn't until 1997's Oscar and Lucinda and 1998's Elizabeth - for which she nabbed her first Oscar nomination - that Cate truly started to get noticed by the mainstream public. In the following years, she appeared in higher-profile films such as 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley and 2000's Bandits before turning into an A-list actor by appearing as Galadriel in all three of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films. In 2004, Blanchett won her sole Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, and since then, she's been nominated for three more Academy Awards. Most recently, audiences have seen Blanchett in the 2011 film, Hanna, and they'll next see her in 2012's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where she'll reprise her role as Galadriel. And so, to celebrate her birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite of Blanchett's performances, and I've managed to find a few videos to satisfy your viewing pleasure. I hope you can all join me in wishing a very happy birthday to Cate Blanchett!


5. Daisy
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

*****

4. Galadriel
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

*****

3. Sheba Hart

*****

2. Katharine Hepburn
The Aviator (2004)

*****

1. Jude
I'm Not There. (2007)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Favorites: MOVIE MOMS

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there! In celebration of the day, I thought I'd do a little bit of a post for you all. I've gone through all the movies I've seen, and I've found my favorite "movie moms" out of the bunch. It was quite at task to choose these top women, but I think I've managed to find twenty fascinating characters to help bring this list to life. So, without any further delay, let's jump into it, shall we?


20. Janine 'Smurf' Cody
Played by: Jacki Weaver

*****

19. Mother
Mother (2010)
Played by: Hye-ja Kim

***** 

18. Mary Hatch
Played by: Donna Reed

***** 

17. Alice Ward
The Fighter (2010)
Played by: Melissa Leo

***** 

16. Christine Collins
Changeling (2008)
Played by: Angelina Jolie

***** 

15. Mother
Played by: Melinda Dillon

***** 

14. Leigh Anne Tuohy
The Blind Side (2009)
Played by: Sandra Bullock

***** 

13. Bren MacGuff
Juno (2007)
Played by: Allison Janney

***** 

12. Doris Vinyard
Played by: Beverly D'Angelo

***** 

11. Helene McCready
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Played by: Amy Ryan

***** 

10. Rosemary
Easy A (2010)
Played by: Patricia Clarkson

***** 

9. Mrs. O'Brien
Played by: Jessica Chastain

***** 

8. Marge Gunderson
Fargo (1996)
Played by: Frances McDormand

***** 

7. Rosemary Woodhouse
Played by: Mia Farrow

***** 

6. Sheryl Hoover
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Played by: Toni Collette

***** 

5. Nic & Jules

***** 

4. Trish Maplewood
Happiness (1998)
Played by: Cynthia Stevenson

***** 

3. Helen 'Mama' Bouher
The Waterboy (1998)
Played by: Kathy Bates

***** 

2. Sarah Connor
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Played by: Linda Hamilton

***** 

1. Beth Jarrett
Ordinary People (1980)
Played by: Mary Tyler Moore

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Movie Review: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
2008
PG-13


"How much of human life is lost in waiting?"
-- Professor 'Ox' Oxley

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a 2008 action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg that serves as the fourth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise. Released nineteen years after The Last Crusade, this new adventure with Indiana Jones took a very different turn than its predecessors. The film opens on the 1950s, where an aged Indiana (Harrison Ford) has been taken captive by a group of Russian KGB operatives led by a Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). At gunpoint, Indiana helps the Russians steal a classified box from a secret warehouse, but he does not know exactly what the box's contents contain. After being returned home, he thinks himself done with the situation until a young man named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) seeks him out to tell him that a mutual friend named Professor 'Ox' Oxley (John Hurt) has been captured by the same Russians in connection with the box they stole. The two make their way to South America to find Ox, and it is there that they learn that their friend had found himself caught in a plot to find a legendary city called Akator by using an equally legendary artifact known as the crystal skull. Indiana and Mutt start to piece together the puzzle that Ox has left for them, but the Russians are soon on their tail once again, eager to find Akator first.

I would like to start this post by telling you a story. I was a sophomore in college in Santa Cruz when Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hit theaters, and like most other Indy fans, I was rather excited to see it. So excited, in fact, that I made the trek down to the local theater for the midnight screening on opening night. The theater was sold out, and fans were lined up around the block to see Ford don the fedora for the fourth time, so you can imagine our audience's anticipation as we sat impatiently waiting for the opening credits to roll.

Fast forward to a little over two hours later, and you would have found me walking out of the theater talking nothing but trash about this film. After that first go-around, I hated it. I despised it. I though that Spielberg had found a way to destroy one of my childhood cinematic heroes. And for that, I was rightfully angry. It took me a few days, but after I thought about the film for a while, I started to come around and think that maybe it wasn't as horrendous as I had originally thought. I soon came home for the summer, and I had the chance to view the film again per my father's request, and seeing Kingdom of the Crystal Skull actually helped to open my eyes to its concepts and themes a little bit more.

I always hear quite a bit of opposition towards this film when I talk about it amongst my friends and my readers, and I can somewhat see their point. I am in now way going to spend hours here trying to convince you of why this film fits into the Indiana Jones canon - although I may save that project for a later date - but I think that I should at least tell you why I happen to enjoy the film. Because so many people did not like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, many actually forget that it managed to secure relatively positive reviews amongst the critical community. On Rottentomatoes.com, the film holds a seventy-seven percent approval rating and holds the following critical consensus:
Though the plot elements are certainly familiar, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull still delivers the thrills, and Harrison Ford's return to the title role is more than welcome.
Even more indicating of the critical response is the film's score of sixty-five on Metacritic.com, which correlates to "generally favorable reviews." Still, so many of the fans have yet to come around, and I'm sure I know why.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the fact that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does not measure up to its predecessors. Because those films set such a lofty bar, it would have been nearly impossible to reach that particular goal. Still, fans were deservedly spoiled by the first three installments, so why shouldn't they expect something the same, right? But enough of this vagueness. Let's talk about why I like this film.

For starters, I like the story. I think it's an original tale of something that an over-the-top archaeologist like Indiana Jones might actually find himself looking for. Sure, there are some snags here and there, but to be fair, none of the Indiana Jones flicks are perfect. They all have flaws here and there, and Kingdom just has a few more that it couldn't quite work out. But the storyline works well and flows incredibly well, and it manages to keep you wondering where it might actually be going. Let's be honest - did any of us really expect those climactic scenes in Akator? I think not, and I think that's why so many people have spoken out against it. But the story itself works and proves to be entertaining.

I also thought the cast proved to be effective as well. Ford does a fine job reprising his role from nearly twenty years earlier, and he plays the part to a tee considering how much he's aged. I also think that Blanchett was a good addition to the cast list, and her star power alone makes this one worth a gander. Some of my readers will know that I'm not much of a Shia LaBeouf fan, but after re-watching this today, I have to say that I'm not entirely turned off by his performance. It works well with the context of the story, and he's really not as central as I had remembered. John Hurt gives a fine performance in a supporting role, but it's so out there that I think most people overlooked it. Also be on the watch for decent supporting roles from the likes of Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent and Karen Allen, who returns as Marion Ravenwood.

At the end of the day, there's no way that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can ever be compared to the rest of the Indiana Jones franchise. However, that does not make it a terrible film. I think it's a movie that polarized a lot of viewers at the time of its release, but by giving it another chance now, I think many of them might be able to see past their original insecurities. Ultimately, it's an entertaining romp through the Indy universe, and for that, I think we should all be glad.


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