Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Where the Wild Things Are"

Recent years have seen much of my childhood coming back to haunt me, “GI Joe” and “Transformers” have been given the big screen treatment, “Indiana Jones” came back for a new adventure, even “Doctor Who” has made a comeback. With these revivals there has been a lot of discussion of defacing my generation's childhood. It is with that in mind that I went to see the movie adaptation of one of my childhood's most treasured storybooks, a movie that has been in the works for over a decade and has been reportedly subject to a lot of executive meddling; Maurice Sendak's “Where the Wild Things Are”.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is the story of Max (Max Records), a creative and energetic child who is in desperate need of some Ritalin, a shrink, and a spanking. His dad is out of the picture, his sister is too busy with her friends to spend time with him, he seems to have no friends of his own, and his mom doesn't have enough time between work and trying to start a new relationship to give Max the attention he thinks he deserves. Of course this gives Max all the excuse he needs to act like an unholy terror. Within the film's first fifteen minutes Max destroys his sister's bedroom, disrupts his mother's date (which she has at home rather than going out and leaving the kids home alone), and runs away from home.

That's right, he runs away; he's not sent to bed without supper, we do not get to see his room turn into a jungle, he just runs away, steals a boat, and sails to the island of the Wild Things. Alright then, you have to expect a few changes, right? I mean this review is already longer than the entire book the movie's based on, and they had to stretch this out to ninety minutes, so this is not a total surprise.

Once on the island we get to see the film's strongest feature, the Wild Things themselves. Sendak's drawings are brought to life with a blend of old fashioned people in costumes and seamless high tech CGI faces. Of course it would still all fall apart if they were not given good voices; James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”), Catherine O'Hara (“For Your Consideration”), and Forest Whitaker (“Vantage Point”) provide this final ingredient to make those old drawings into living, breathing creatures.

If it seems like I am gushing about the visuals of this film, it is because it is simply its strongest point. The creatures and the sets will make you gape in awe, which is good because it's all downhill from there.

From the get-go you can tell that this is a Spike Jonze film. From the very first scene the whole things screams “independent film”. You mileage may vary on this, but I found Jonze's choice to film most of the movie on hand held cameras to get very old very fast. I know it was meant to bring you into the action of the film, but there were times during the action sequences where I was left thinking “Wow, I wish I could actually see what is going on”.

The movie's soundtrack is, I imagine, supposed to sound light and imaginative. It's supposed to make me think of my childhood days of building snow forts and having dirt clod fights. It didn't. I couldn't stand the music which, like Jonze's hand held camera work, made me think of an independent film, and not a particularly good one. Of course the fact that the original music was performed by Karen Orzolek, Jonze's then girlfriend, doesn't help dispel this feeling. Spike, you had a huge budget for this film; you could have hired people to make good music to score your film with, not this simplistic screechy nonsense.

There's only one more thing I have to criticize about this film, and that's the story, or lack of one. Admittedly, the strength of the book, “Where the Wild Things Are”, is its art, not its story, and the same can be said for the film. The whole thing kind of meanders around for the bulk of the movie showing off the fantastic work of the people who made the costumes and sets while only touching on the film's main story, which is essentially Max discovering things about himself. The majority of this self-discovery is handled in the films final fifteen minutes or so.

Maybe I just had a bad case of Phantom Menace Syndrome going into this film, but it largely left me cold. I loved the visuals (if not the camera), and would say it's one of the most beautiful films I've seen this year, but it's just not very good. There are scenes in the film that are probably too scary for younger audiences (the ones most recently familiar with the books) due largely to just how real the Wild Things look, but I fear that older kids who wouldn't be bothered by this are going to be a little bored.

To truly appreciate the visuals in the movie, I think you really do need to see it on the big screen, and if it weren't for that I would not recommend seeing this in the theater. The problem is that I think the sets and the Wild Things themselves deserve to be seen on the big screen to get the full effect of them. The other problem is that the story to justify going out to a theater just isn't there.

Ultimately, I left feeling like Jonze is trying to create something on the level of “The Wizard of Oz”, and he succeeds with the film's visuals, but fails in the story and soundtrack departments. If you decide to take the kids to this, just be aware that you may have to hold them during some of the scarier parts (there were kids crying in our theater), and just try to enjoy the wonderment of seeing the Wild Things moving on screen.

Hopefully time will provide us with a director's cut of the film that puts everything back the way it was before Warner Bros decided that it wasn't “family friendly” enough, and maybe then Spike Jonze will be vindicated, but until then we are left with this beautiful but disappointing production. The wild rumpus starts in theaters on October 16th in theaters nationwide.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"The Invention of Lying"

Imagine living in a world with no concept of fiction; no one has ever thought to tell a lie, there's not even a word for it. Of course when you have no concept of fiction you also have no fictional books, no acting, no art, no sarcasm, and even no religion (I'm sure some people will froth at the mouth over this). You have a world where everybody is as good as their word, and if someone says it, it must be true. Now imagine that you learn how to lie, and you have the basic premise of “The Invention of Lying”.

Mark (Ricky Gervais: “Ghost Town”, “The Office”) lives in this fiction-free version of the modern world, and is the standard Gervais character; he's a sad little pudgy loser, and no one likes him. There are a couple of things that set Mark apart from previous rolls though. First of all, everyone lets Mark know what they think of him to his face with no problems because even lies of omission do not exist in this world. It's like a world full of young children who still say what they think, and believe anything they are told, no matter how outrageous.

Like all Ricky Gervais characters, Mark is getting older, is a failure at his job, and is alone, but the other thing that sets Mark apart from Bertram Pincus or David Brent is that he's not the worst person in the film; he's not even a bad person. Mark really is the good guy, and with the exception of his friend, Greg (Louis C.K.: “Lucky Louie”) and his neighbor, Frank (Jonah Hill: “Superbad”) it is pretty much everyone else in this movie that are the horrible people. For once Gervais plays the victim that his former rolls perceived themselves to be.

“The Invention of Lying” is a romantic-comedy, so naturally there must be a love interest; her name is Anna (Jennifer Garner: “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, “Alias”). Anna is a successful executive (at what the film never says), and she's certainly friendly enough, but she is so shallow that even when she sees Mark for the great guy he is, she doesn't care. Anna is basically a self-absorbed teenaged girl for most of the movie, and that goes a long way to making her very unlikable. I found myself rooting for Mark to simply give up on her.

I will admit that I went into this movie disliking the concept; it seems like an idea for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch grown to horrific proportions, and parts of the film do feel like they were sketch ideas. Some scenes, like scene in the trailer where Mark tells a random blond woman that the world will end if they do not have sex, are almost standalone gags that demonstrate the relative innocence of the people in this world, but do little to add to the overall story.

That said though, I really wanted to like this movie. The cast is fantastic, with appearances by Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, Jeffery Tambor, Christopher Guest, Stephen Merchant, Jason Bateman, John Hodgeman, and more. It's like the movie is one giant in-joke to have attracted all of these actors, many of which only appear in one or two scenes, and all of whom are fantastic. In the hands of less talented performers this movie could have been truly dreadful.

It is almost impossible to not want to like this film, but I just didn't. It felt like a movie that had been made on a dare, or perhaps it was someone's idea of a joke that was taken as a serious idea and then got out of hand. The premise is just too flimsy to carry the film for a full hour and a half. T is just too hard for me the believe that the world could advance to this point without anyone lying, or even not voicing their opinions about everything.

One thing that really does make make this movie stand out to me is that it does provide a chance for Gervais to step outside of his normal awkwardness and have a little genuine emotion. I cannot recall ever seeing one of his characters show anything more than disappointment or annoyance before, but he pulls it off convincingly. I'm not saying that Ricky Gervais should start doing heavy dramatic roles, but it is nice to see that he does have some range.

Compared to Gervais' last Rom-Com outing, “Ghost Town”, this movie falls a little flat as it wanders around exploring the effects that the world's first liar has on the people around him, the film industry, and the concept of an afterlife. The romantic aspect of the film is seemingly forgotten for long stretches of time between sketches, and it isn't until around the last fifteen minutes that we get to the standard boy-has-to-get-girl-back portion of the story. Perhaps if the story had kept its focus a little bit better, it wouldn't feel so much like it was missing something at the end.

“The Invention of Lying” is fresh, quirky, funny, and entertaining, but it left me feeling a sense of dissatisfaction as I walked out of the theater. I could never get past the flaws inherent in the premise, but the parties involved deserve a lot of credit for making it work as well as it does. If you're not the sort of person who thinks critically about films, then you will probably like it. If you like Ricky Gervais, you will probably enjoy it. If you don't fit in one of those two categories, then you will probably want to wait for the film to hit DVD.

Maybe sometimes honesty is not the best policy, but if you want to find out for sure, you can when “The Invention of Lying” fibs its way into theaters on October 2nd.

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Friday, September 18, 2009


You know how it starts; a strange disease appears turning normal people into violent murderous cannibals. Humans respond badly, and rather than contain the infection and destroy the infected, they let it spread. Before you know it a couple of months has passed, and America has become the United States of Zombieland.

If “Shaun of the Dead” was a tribute to Romero's zombie classics, then “Zombieland” is a love letter to the modern “running zombie” (which is to say that not all of the zombies are undead, many are just infected living people) genre of films like the “28 ___ Later” films, and the “Left 4 Dead” games. A lot of people have been comparing this film to SotD, but a better comparison would actually be 1992's “Dead Alive” (or “Braindead”, depending on where you are), as both rely very heavily on violence and extreme gore to punctuate their humour.

To survive in “Zombieland”, you need to follow the rules, and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg: “Adventureland”) is a man whose rules range from wearing seatbelts and doing cardio (it was the fatties that died first, so I'm screwed) to avoiding bathrooms (this make sense in context) and not being a hero. All he wants to do is get home and see if his parents are still alive.

On his journey, Columbus meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson: “No Country for Old Men”), a man whose lack of discipline and rules is made up for by his sheer insanity and brutality. He enjoys breaking things, whether it be inanimate objects or zombie skulls. Columbus and Tallahassee join up, and do okay together for awhile, until they meet up with Wichita and Little Rock.

Wichita (Emma Stone: “Superbad”), and her sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin: “My Sister's Keeper”) survive by their own set of rules. After some initial problems, the two pairs eventually end up traveling together to California in search of the Pacific Playland amusement park and Twinkies.

The acting in this film is more than adequate. Harrelson plays the insane redneck that he is so good at, and steals many of the scenes from the other actors. Eisenberg seems to be channeling George Michael Bluth for much of the movie (the fact that he's stolen Michael Cera's hair contributes a lot to this, I think), but it fits the cowardly former Warcraft-and-Mountain-Dew addict character of Columbus well. Stone and Breslin both also give great performances, but they do come across as secondary to the male leads.

One of the brightest points of “Zombieland” is the appearance of Bill Murray. To tell you anything about these scenes would be to spoil what is one of the funniest parts of the film. I'll leave it by saying that it is great to see Murray in such a funny role after the more serious bit parts in films like “The Darjeeling Limited”.

If I were to have anything negative to say about this film it would be that it is maybe too gory in parts. I actually found the first ten minutes of the film to be uncomfortably disturbing for a comedy; these scenes are still funny, but the sheer amount of gore in them did bother me. After these scenes the gore stopped bothering me, which isn't to say that it's toned down any; there is still plenty of blood and guts in there just for the sake of having blood and guts, but I guess I got used to it.

The other criticism would be the film's climax. Again I don't want to spoil anything, but we suddenly find Wichita and Little Rock forgetting what genre of film they are in, and doing things that are incredibly stupid. In fact, this whole sequence is full of stupid, illogical, and highly improbable events, although it would make for a fantastic “Left 4 Dead” level. You may find it helpful to simply ignore all of the logic flaws in the climax, because if you can do that the sheer amount of awesome in it are very rewarding.

“Zombieland” is a overly gory, foulmouthed, violent film that uses way too many slow motion shots, but it is also exciting, well acted, and incredibly funny. If you like zombie films, even if you dislike running zombies (or “zoombies”) like I do, you owe it to yourself to go see this movie in the theater. There is something about being in a group of people laughing and cheering that adds a lot to this raucous roller coaster ride.

If you like violent gory comedies, then you're going to love “Zombieland” when it infects theaters on October 2nd, just remember not to take it all too seriously. If you sit there trying to nitpick this movie, you'll just spoil it for yourself.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

"The Informant!"

I see a couple of problems with speaking critically about movies that are “based on a true story”. The first problem is knowing where fact ends and fiction begins; exactly how much of the story has been altered to make it more suitable for the screen? The other problem is that the characters represent real people; people who actually exist in real life, and lived through some version of these events. To that end, let me get this out of the way now; when I refer to characters in this film I am referring to the fictionalized version of the on the screen and not the real person.

“The Informant!” is a movie partly about the lysine price fixing scandals that Archer Daniels Midland found themselves in the center of back in the 90's, but mostly it's about one of the key figures in that scandal, Mark Whitacre. The film is based on the book “The Informant” (no exclamation point) by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, and is directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Oceans Eleven”, “Erin Brockovich”).

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon: “The Bourne Identity”) is a lot of things. He a biochemist, a PhD, a vice president at Archer Daniels Midland, a husband, and a father. He's also an idiot, a liar, and possibly mentally ill. His internal dialog frequently overruns important things that people are telling him, and ranges from such interesting topics as designer ties to Japanese vending machines to the German word for “pen”. I suppose he is meant to come off as lovable in spite of his actions, but he mostly comes across as too stupid to live.

When confronted with problems in his lysine production division, Whitacre goes to his superiors with a story about a saboteur and an extortion attempt by a Japanese competitor. The FBI becomes involved, and, at the urging of his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey: “Two and a Half Men”), he tells FBI Agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula: “Quantum Leap”) about a price fixing scheme between ADM and other lysine manufacturers around the world.

Agent Shepard and Agent Bob Herndon (Joel McHale) convince Whitacre to turn informant for the government and help them build a case against ADM. Unfortunately Whitacre is incapable of keeping it a secret, telling various people, including his secretary and gardener, about his involvement with the FBI.

“The Informant!” is an interesting, quirky, and unique film, but not a good one. It seems like Soderbergh was trying to recapture the dark dry humour of the “Ocean's” series , but ultimately ends up creating the mentally disadvantaged younger brother of movies like “The Insider”. You get neither an adventurous comedy, nor a corporate espionage thriller, you just get awkward humour as his bigger lies to cover his earlier lies snowball out of control.

For me, the part of the movie that I found the most fun was trying to spot all the cameos in it. Tom Wilson (“Back to the Future”), Tom and Dick Smothers, Clancy Brown (“Carnivale”), Patton Oswalt (“The King of Queens”), and Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”) all make appearances in this film, but they are not enough to save it from mediocrity.

With all the movies that are out and that are coming out, you can do better with your movie-going dollars that this. “The Informant!” is quirky, occasionally clever, and well cast, but it never lives up to its potential. Unless you make it a point to see anything starring Matt Damon, are really interested in the price fixing of lysine, or just like seeing bad movies, skip this; it is a rental at best.

“The Informant!” hits theaters nationwide on September 18th, but really, go see “Julie and Julia” again instead, or stay home and read a book, or go feed the pigeons in the park. Any of those things would be a better use of your time.

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Friday, August 28, 2009


Most movies are fairly easy to pigeonhole into one category or another; horror, romantic comedy, chick flick, science fiction, etc. Sometimes a movie comes along that is not so easy to label. “Adam”, starring Hugh Dancy (“Confessions of a Shopaholic”) and Rose Byrne (“Damages”), is one of those movies; it's a little bit romance, a little bit comedy, and a little bit drama, but it's not enough of any one of those things to properly give it one of those labels. Romantic Dramady maybe?

“Adam” is the story of Adam Raki, a young man with Asperger's Syndrome who has just had his carefully organized life turned upside down. His father, the man who clearly kept Adam anchored, has just passed away and now Adam has to learn how to live in the world on his own. Not being socially adept or able to cope with high stress situations, Adam has a hard time adapting to all of the new disruptions to his daily routines.

One of the new disruptions in his life is his new neighbor, Beth Buchwald (Byrne). Beth is a teacher and a writer of children's books, and at first she isn't sure what to make of Adam's curious mannerisms, behaviour, and what she perceives as rudeness until he explains his disorder to her (and the audience). The two become friends, then more than friends, and discover that they both have a lot to learn about themselves from each other.

Ultimately it is not really the romance between Adam and Beth that the movie is about; instead it is about Adam learning to live with the changes going on around him. I'm not saying that the romance is not a huge part of the story, just that it is not the film's true focus.

Dancy does a fantastic job portraying Adam, and creates a character that you can believe has Asperger's instead of becoming the over the top parody that a less skilled actor might end up presenting. Byrne plays off of Dancy's Adam well, and the pair of them create a real sense of chemistry between the characters.

Also look for appearances by Frankie Faison (“The Wire”) as a friend of Adam's father who is also the only person Adam can really call a friend of his own, and for Peter Gallagher (The O.C.) as Beth's somewhat jerky father who has been indicted for fudging the books as an accountant. Both actors add a lot to the texture of the film through their interactions with Adam and Beth.

I would not say that Adam is a sad film or a happy film, but it is a hopeful film, and one well worth seeing if you can find a theater near you that is playing it (there's only one in my area). It is a nice change from the shallow romantic comedies Hollywood generally churns out. If you can't see this in a theater then you owe it to yourself to check it out on DVD, as it is a film you should be hearing about again come award season.

Rated PG-13, “Adam” does contain some mature themes and language that may make it inappropriate for younger viewers, but then this is not really a movie that children are likely to be interested in. This is a fun, touching, and quirky film that you will be glad you experienced it. “Adam” is currently in limited release nationwide.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009


One of the biggest problems that I tend to have with children's movies is that they don't respect their audience. Kid's films tend to talk down to children in an attempt to talk at their level; the problem is that they usually miss and assume that kids are stupid. “Shorts” seems to pretty evenly hit that 10-12 year old groups that it is aiming for without talking down, and that's largely because it seems like it was written by an actual 10-12 year old instead of Robert Rodriguez.

When you first arrive in Black Falls, home of Black Inc, maker of the iPhone killer the Black Box. You're going to recognize a lot of the town's residents including Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Leslie Mann (17 Again), William H. Macy (Fargo), Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist), and James Spader (Boston Legal) all play prominent roles, but it is really the kids the film focuses on.

The main focus of the movie is Toby “Toe” Thompson (Jimmy Bennett: “Star Trek”), who serves as the narrator for the disjointed series of vignettes that tell the story of the wishing stone and the effect it had on his hometown. Toby is a bit of a loser; he plays cards with imaginary friends, and regularly gets bullied by the children of his parents' boss, Carbon Black (Spader). It is this torment by Cole Black (Devon Gearhart) and Helvetica Black (Jolie Vanier) however that leads him to discover the stone that grants any wish, even if they are wrong.

“Shorts” is easily the best film I've seen this year that features a giant booger monster. The film masterfully weaves together a series of connected stories (although not in chronological order) to lead to a climax featuring a fifty foot tall man, a mecha, an army of alligators, a giant wasp and dung beetle, a fleet of little green men, and two kids having a staring contest.

It's hard and somewhat pointless to look at a movie like this critically. As I have already said, it feels like it was written by a 10 year old, and features a lot of gross out humour, silly jokes and puns, and people falling off of/running into things. There were however a couple of things that bothered me.

First off, and I acknowledge that this is kind of dumb on my part, there is a scene in with Loogie (Trevor Gagnon: “The New Adventures of Old Christine”) and his brothers “playing” “Fable 2”. I have a number of problems with this scene, all petty; 1. They are not using XBOX 360 controllers to play it, 2. They are playing it on four screens that are basically just showing random clips from the game, and 3. It is an M rated title, and none of these kids appears to even actually be teenagers. This has no bearing on the movie, it just bugs me as a gamer.

The other problem I have is with the story's moral. This movie in no way attempts to handle it's moral with any sort of subtlety, but instead out and out bashes you over the head by plainly stating a couple of times how all of our advanced communications technology (cellphones, texting, etc) actually leaves us more disconnected than we would be otherwise. This moral could have been left unstated, and the movie would have been that much better for it since it only really relates to two of the shorts anyway.

Other than those things, “Shorts” is a fun movie whose out-of-order manner of story telling sets up some funny jokes. There is more than enough gross humour, slapstick, and action here to keep all but the most ADD riddled kid entertained for the film's 89 minute duration; plus Helvetica's theme song is just a little bit of awesome.

“Shorts” is rated PG, so unless you really object to booger jokes and mild violence there is not likely to be anything in this film that is objectionable. If you are looking for something to take the kids to that is neither a sequel nor an hour and a half long toy advertisement, you could do a lot worse than this. “Shorts” wishes its way into theaters on Friday, August 21st.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Time Traveler's Wife"

In a summer filled with testosterone soaked action sci-fi movies like “Transformers 2”, “GI Joe”, and “Star Trek” there's a hole out there for something a little softer, a little more feminine, a little more SyFy meets Lifetime. Well pack your Kleenex, because coming to fill that hole is “The Time Traveler's Wife”.

“The Time Traveler's Wife” is a fantasy/sci-fi romance about Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana: “Star Trek”), a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel without warning, and the love of his life, Clare (Rachel McAdams: “The Notebook”) who is left waiting for him in her present. Now if this sounds like a familiar plot to you, you may remember NBC's 2007 series “Journeyman”; however this movie is based on a novel of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger which was published in 2003.

Henry works in a library, and is a loner and an alcoholic until he meets Clare Abshire, an artist who already knows him well. It turns out that Henry in his future travels back to visit Clare as a child, so while she has known him for most of her life he is only just now meeting her.

Clare and Henry fall in love, and, with the help of her friend Gomez (Ron Livingston: “Office Space”) manage to pull off a wedding (which is easily my favourite part of the film) and start a life together. Things don't stay sunny for long as Clare quickly realizes how hard it is to be married to someone who disappears sometimes for days at a time.

I found the ads for this movie to be somewhat misleading. I went into this expecting 90 minutes of watching Clare seethe about being left alone, but it's not that at all. The movie follows both characters pretty equally, and is actually quite lighthearted, marital strife aside, until about halfway through.

At about the halfway point the film decides to get dramatic by tipping its hand to you about how the film ends. The rest of the movie, even the humourous parts are then overshadowed by the ticking of a countdown clock that you cannot see . This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as the end draws closer more details are revealed infusing the whole movie with a sense of dread.

Like many movies based on books, this film does jump around a lot and tends to feel disjointed. Unlike a lot of movies where it feels like this is a result of cutting things from the book, it works here. A movie where one of the characters keeps jumping from one place to another would almost have to have this feel to it.

The actors all do a good job of bringing their characters to life, and Bana in particular does a great job of not seeming creepy as he is appears naked (when he travels his clothes do not go with him) in the bushes near a young girl and proceeds to spend years of her life setting her up to marry him. A different take on this story could make Henry seem like a manipulative pervert instead of a man pursuing true love.

While I would not describe “The Time Traveler's Wife” as a must see, it is a well made and pleasant film that will make you cry at the end if you are the sort that cries in films (I am not). I will however say that the film is a lot better than the trailers I have seen make it out to be. Unless you really like the actors, or really want to see a tearjerker this weekend, I would just wait for this to hit DVD.

“The Time Traveler's Wife” leaps into theaters on August 14th, and is rated PG-13. The film contains swearing, some blood, sexual themes, and some nudity (mostly Eric Bana's rear end).

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Julie & Julia

Before there was Alton Brown, Rachel Ray, or Paula Dean there was a foodie who stood head and shoulders above her contemporaries. A woman who went to France barely able to cook an egg, and became one of the most famous chefs in the world; that woman is Julia Child.

“Julie & Julia” is that rarest of movie, something fresh and new. Starring Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!), Stanley Tucci, Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning), and Chris Messina, this movie is not the chick flick one might expect going in, but a whole new genre of film; the Foodie Flick (and why not, they have foodie murder mystery novels after all).

This film is not based one true story, but two . First, it is the story of Julia Child's journey from directionless housewife to published author. Second, it is the story of a directionless cubicle dweller who finds inspiration in Child's cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and combines it with the young concept of blogging to get her life back under her own control by challenging herself to cook every recipe in the book in one year.

Aside from being different on just its subject matter alone, another unique aspect of this film is that it is based on two books. Julia Child's “My Life in France”, and Julie Powell's “Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously” (the title of its 2006 printing). It is also the first film that I know of that is based on someone's blog, although it's not likely to be the last.

The film jumps back and forth between Julia Child (Streep) in the fifties and Julie Powell (Adams) in post 9-11 New York, and frequently draw parallels to the events in their lives as they struggle to create their own identities, deal with setbacks, and soldier on towards their goal. Aside from the time difference between them, it is interesting to note that Julia's events take place over years while Julie's story happens over the course of a single year.

While I was personally more interested in Julie's 2002 side of the story it is impossible to not acknowledge Meryl Streep's performance as Julia Child. Not only does her capturing of Child's bubbly personality dominate every scene she's in, but the filmmakers did not overlook the fact that Julia Child was incredibly tall (around 6'2”), so Streep towers over all but a couple of her co-stars. All of the actors in this movie were great, but this is easily Meryl Streep's best performance in years.

Try to find a theater with comfortable seats for this film, as it is long for a movie of this type. “Julie & Julia” comes in at around two hours long, but it honestly wasn't until about fifteen minutes before the end that I even glanced at my watch. At no point does the film feel like it is dragging, and maybe it is the constant switching back and forth between stories that keeps it from ever feeling like it is getting stuck in one place.

If I were to have any complaints about this movie, there would be only two. My first, and most immediate issue, was Streep's Julia Child voice; my only problem with it was that it instantly made me think of Dan Ackroyd's sketch from Saturday Night Live (which is featured in the film), but this was minor and once the film gets moving I got over it. The other issue was the ending. I cannot really go into why I found it somewhat unsatisfying without spoiling things, but this is again a minor issue as this movie is based on real events, and reality is rarely artistically correct.

This movie is not an experience that must be seen in theaters, but if you are the kind of person that TiVos The Food Network, then it would be a great film to go see with a bunch of your foodie friends if you are tired of the teenaged wizards, fighting robots, explosions, kids with cancer, sappy Rom-Coms, and 3-D children's movies that are cluttering up theaters right now. This is a film that will teach you the value of determination, courage, and butter. “Julie & Julia” is rated PG-13, as it does contain some spicy language, and it will be served up in theaters on August 7th. Be sure to bring your appetite.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Review of "My Sister's Keeper"

Some children are conceived out of love, some out of wild irresponsibility, and still others out of some combination of the two; Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin: “Little Miss Sunshine”) was neither; she was conceived by design to be a medical resource for her older sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva: “Medium”). Kate is dying of Leukemia.

From birth, Anna has been harvested for various materials to help Kate, but when, at the age of 11, she is faced with altering her life forever by giving up a kidney, she hires attorney Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin: “30 Rock”) to put a stop to it. A decision that could cost her not only her sister's life, but her family.

Based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, “My Sister's Keeper” is not really a movie about a courtroom battle for Anna's medical emancipation; in fact the court battle is more of a frame for the real story. At its heart, this is a movie about life, death, love, and family; it somewhat transcends being a tear-jerking “chick flick”, and goes on to be hardcore award bait. I will not be at all surprised to see some acting nominations for the movie's stellar performances, if not for it's less than stellar writing.

The best thing about this movie is easily the acting; Breslin in particular is phenomenal at playing a girl mature beyond her years due to the trauma of her upbringing, but acknowledgments must be made to the other stars of the film. Cameron Diaz, while a bit young for the role (she has two high school age kids, and is supposed to be old enough to have been a successful lawyer before Kate got sick) does a great job at displaying the range of emotion this movie demands. It is a big departure from “Shrek” and “Charlie's Angels” movies for her, and may open up a whole new range of roles for her.

This film is not without it's problems; the whole thing feels compressed and shallow, as if it should have had another twenty or thirty minutes to flesh the story out better. It's as you are looking out a window at a beautiful scene only to find that it's not a window at all, just a very well done two dimensional painting.

The story skips back and forth in time showing us scenes from the lives of the characters frequently without any sort of context or time frame. About the only way you can judge what order some things happen in is how much hair Kate has, as the other characters remain unchanged. In one sequence another character shaves their head so that Kate will not feel so self-conscious in public, however this character's hair is never shown to even be short in any other scenes despite the fact that some must take place shortly after the shaving scene.

The character that seems to suffer the worst from the movie's lack of real depth is Jesse (Evan Ellingson: “CSI Miami”). Not only do his parents seem to forget about him, the filmmakers seem to have as well. He's almost a part of the scenery in a lot of the movie, and the only time that really is dedicated to him seems to try and skirt around the fact that he's on a bad path. The bad path he is on is only shown as him hanging out in a seedy part of Hollywood, but what he is doing there is never explained, and only seems to be a set-up for one scene that is both a little funny and a little sad, but completely glossed over; lacking any sort of impact that it should have had, and ultimately being unnecessary. If not for the role he plays in the film's climax, Jesse could have been completely written out (as at least one semi-major character was) of the entire story.

This is not a great movie, but the acting in it does save it from being a bad one. It is perfect counter programming for “Transformers”, and like “Transformers” it is not a movie you should give a lot of thought to after you see it. The movie is full on inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and scenes that relate to nothing other than themselves. It's a shame really, because with a little more effort, and a little better writing this could have been a fantastic movie.

If you want something girly to see while the guys and geeks are watching the robots, and you want to cry in public, then this is the movie for you. If you're not in the mood to cry this weekend, then you will not miss out on any part of the experience by waiting for this film to hit DVD.

“My Sister's Keeper” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, June 26th. Be sure to bring your hanky.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Review of "The Proposal"

**NOTE** I wrote this after seeing a screening of the movie almost a month ago, and forgot to post it before the film's release. Oops.

You know this plot, you've seen it before. An immigrant who is facing deportation who is willing to do anything to stay in America comes up with the idea of marrying an American citizen just to get citizenship. So how do you prevent this from becoming a remake of “Green Card” or the short-lived series “Billy”? You combine it with a fish-out-of-water story.

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock: “Speed”) is a powerful editor at Colden Books; she's good at her job, but her employees are terrified of her. This doesn't really matter to her though, as she doesn't have time for people, or , it seems, for doing the paperwork that will keep her from getting deported back to Canada.

Margaret's assistant, Andrew Paxton(Ryan Reynolds: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), is dedicated to doing whatever he needs to for his boss, even though he doesn't like her very much. He wants to be an editor himself, and he wants to get published, and he believes that hard work and dedication will eventually lead to his goal.

Faced with deportation, Margaret decides to blackmail Andrew into marrying her long enough for her to become a citizen. He reluctantly agrees, but to make things seem legit to a skeptical immigration agent he makes her come home to Alaska with him for his grandmother's 90th birthday.

Upon arriving in Alaska, Margaret is introduced to Andrew's mother (Mary Steenburgen: “Joan of Arcadia”, “It Runs In The Family”), who just wants the family to be together again, his father (Craig T. Nelson: “Coach”, “Poltergeist”), who wants Andrew to come home and take over the family businesses, his Grandma Annie (Betty White: “Golden Girls”), and his ex-girlfriend, Gertrude (Malin Akerman: “Watchmen”). Andrew's family and friends are surprised to find out he's marrying a woman whom he seems to hate, but for the most part are happy for him.

As the film progresses, Andrew and Margaret predictably start to fall for each other for real; both denying it, of course. This leads to the climax where they have to figure out if they are really fooling the immigration agent, Andrew's family, or just fooling themselves.

“The Proposal” is a cute little chick flick that can also double as a date movie (no doubt in trade for seeing something a bit manlier like “Star Trek” or “The Hangover”). There's nothing particularly special in it, but nothing really to dislike either; it's cinematic popcorn, it's crunchy and enjoyable, but there's no real substance to it.

Reynolds and Bullock share the screen well together, and create a believable sense of chemistry between them, but much like “Yes, Man” we have a huge age gap between our romantic leads. Despite being a dozen years older than her romantic interest, Bullock looks really good, and since the age difference is acknowledged (in a throw-away line, but it's acknowledgment all the same) it's only going to be a distraction for you if you let it be.

One of the things that surprised me the most was Betty White. First off, she seems to only be about three feet tall now, and sometimes looks like a really well made animatronic. The other was her performance; sure she's still playing the I'm-not-as-dumb-as-I-seem type of character that she's been playing for the last thirty years, but somehow it seems to work better for her here than in some other films.

The biggest disappointments would have to be the rest of Andrew's family, and Gertrude, his ex. It's not that there's no reason for them to be in the film, it's more that they seem to be there for only that reason. Gert is there to make Margaret feel bad, Joe is there to cause problems and explain why Andrew left Alaska in the first place. I know it seems silly to pick on this in a romantic comedy, and in the limited amount of time the filmmakers had it makes sense that they would focus more on gags than character development, but still, Ramone (Oscar Nunez: “The Office”), the island's caterer/justice of the peace/stripper, gets more screen time than any of these other characters.

I will admit, I liked this film, it was certainly better than “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, but it's still really not my cup of coffee. If you are looking for a cute little date movie, then this is not a bad choice. In fact, given the movies it's up against on its opening weekend (“Year One”, and “Whatever Works”), it may be your best choice. Still, you won't be missing anything by waiting for DVD.

Sweet without being syrupy, cute without being too dumb, and tugging upon heartstrings without tear-jerking; “The Proposal” will be making its offer to you in theaters nationwide starting June 19th.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Personal Effects: Dark Art

"Personal Effects: Dark Art" finally out, have you bought your copy yet? If you haven;t you owe it to yourself; Hutchin's is a fantastic writer, and you are depriving yourself by not reading his work.

Also be sure to check out the free podcast prequel to "Dark Art", "Personal Effects: Sword of Blood"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"It's Funny because he's fat!" A Review of "The Hangover"

Picture this; you've gone to Las Vegas with a small group of friends for your buddy's bachelor party. When you wake up the next morning to find your hotel suite thrashed, a chicken on the bar, a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, your soon-to-be-wed friend missing, and you have absolutely no memory of what happened. This is the premise of the new film, “The Hangover”.

Doug (Justin Bartha: “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”) is getting married in two days, so he is off to Vegas for one last night of freedom with his friends, Stu (Ed Helms: “The Daily Show”, “The Office”) and Phil (Bradley Cooper: “Yes Man”), and his fiance's pudgy maladjusted brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis: “Tru Calling”). Things start off well enough with a Jagermeister toast, but when they all wake in the morning Doug's friends find Doug missing, and themselves faced with trying to piece together their lost night, find their missing buddy, and getting him to his wedding on time.

I went into this film expecting either a bromedy , or perhaps a really dark comedy like “Very Bad Things”, but it is neither of those. If I were to compare this movie to something else, it would have to be a cross between “Vegas Vacation” and “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle”. The guys are led from one location to the next as they trace their steps, running into a number of interesting characters, including a sadistic cop (Rob Riggle), an escort (Heather Graham), a pissed off boxer (Mike Tyson, as himself), a wedding chapel proprietor (Bryan Callen), and a flamboyant Chinese mobster (Ken Jeong).

Physical and visual humour are combined to great effect. The cast has great chemistry with each other, and the film frequently walks a fine line between barely believable and the utterly absurd. It never quite broke my suspension of disbelief regardless of the unbelievability of any particular situation, and this is a diret result of everyone involved with the film really making everything work.

This film is very coarse and very funny, frequently going out of its way to try and shock you with its humour, making it very much an adult oriented film. Foul language, sexual content, drugs, drinking, violence, unpleasant nudity, and Mike Tyson singing make this a movie that you do not want to take the kids to; in fact you may not want to take your wife/girlfriend either, as this is a movie that is definitely aimed at guys.

If you enjoy guy-oriented comedies like “I Love You, Man”, and you enjoy gross-out humour, then I cannot recommend this film enough. If you are of the more sensitive sort that doesn't find a baby being hit with a car door to be particularly funny, then you might want to go check out “The Proposal” instead. “The Hangover” demonstrates why what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas in theaters nationwide starting June 5th.

Check out ”Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”, my free ongoing blognovel.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who Are The People In My Twitterhood? @PixelVixen707

I've been on Twitter for about six months now, and unlike a lot of people who drop off after their first month, I have no plans to stop tweeting anytime soon. I've met a lot of interesting people on Twitter; writers, artists, podcasters, bloggers, and just everyday working stiffs like myself, and I thought “Wouldn't it be neat to try and introduce some of these people to the people who read my work?” So here you have it, the first in what may be a whole series of posts about the people I follow.

I honestly don't know if @Pixelvixen707 followed me first, or if I followed her, but I do know that I followed her because she seemed both interesting and all about games; I am a gamer, and since interesting people are what I am interested in following (@JackBox aside), I followed her.

Pixelvixen707 gives her real name as Rachael Webster (I take the idea of “real names” on the interwebs with a grain of salt), and runs her own blog which is equal parts surprisingly refreshing video game analysis and personal blog. She has also just started writing for Suicide Girls (WARNING: Suicide Girls is very much not safe for work) alongside other geeky idols of mine like Mur Lafferty and Wil Wheaton, where her first article discusses Violette Szabo, the woman who was the inspiration for the heroine of (the apparently lackluster) Velvet Assassin.

Now when I say that her views are refreshing, I am not being patronizing, nor am I saying it because she's a female (there are actually plenty of female video game bloggers out there), but because her articles are so totally different than what I see on the other sites I read, like Joystiq or Kotaku. I'm not slagging off Kotaku or Joystiq mind you, it's just that a lot of their posts seem very rushed and are often almost like reprints of press releases. It's as if they are trying to meet a quota of how many articles should be posted a day (which they very likely are). PixelVixen707's stuff never seems like that, it seems more like a normal gamer with good writing skills talking about her hobby.

Maybe it's all of the personal stuff that helps set her apart. I know more about her than I do about any of the writers at Joystiq. I know her boyfriend is named Zach, and that he is an art therapist at a psychiatric hospital. I know she works for the New York Journal-Ledger when she's not blogging and tweeting (I'm sure she never tweets at work, I certainly don't *wink wink*). I know something about the relationship with her dad. I know that to celebrate her new column at Suicide Girls, she got a cake with nipples on it.

On the other hand, I know next to nothing about the home life of, say, Justin McElroy, other than that he is infatuated with Blueberry Muffin Tops (which he has gotten me hooked on too, dammit). Maybe if you blogged about your family, I would feel more of a connection to you too, McElroy.

PixelVixen707 seems like a rising star in the Twitterati (or Geekarati, or Technorati, or whatever cheesy term you want to use), so if you are on Twitter, and you're not already following her, I suggest you check her out. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more from her in months to come.

So there you have it, your first look at who I follow on Twitter, and why. What do you think? Should I continue this, or stick to writing movie reviews, posting stupid pictures, and writing Mallville? Let me know, and whether you liked or hated this article, check out PixelVixen707's blog, and tell her that VOID sent you (but don't make me sound all stalkery, okay?).

Friday, May 8, 2009

"Fire everything!" A Review of "Star Trek"

Okay, lets face it, Hollywood is pretty much creatively bankrupt. This is why we see so many remakes and reboots of old movie or television series. Remakes/Reboots are generally not all that great; some end up just being horrible parodies (“Starsky and Hutch”, “The Brady Bunch”), some just totally do not get what the original was about (“Lost in Space”), and even the ones that really try to be faithful often come up lacking (“Friday the 13th”).

I grew up watching “Star Trek”, so the idea of doing “Star Trek: The College Years” worried me, and the early trailers did little to make me confident. Still, I looked forward to seeing it, because even if it sucks it could be fun to pick apart. Well, lets just say that my fears were totally unfounded.

The film opens with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk, and follows both him and Spock briefly through their respective childhoods up to academy age. When Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood: “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”) finds a young Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) picking a fight with a group of Starfleet cadets, he suggests to him that he if he was half the man his father was, he could make officer in Starfleet in four years. After some soul searching, Kirk decides that he's going to do it in three.

As the film progresses we meet Spock (Zachary Quinto: “Heroes”), the extremely flirty Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the gruff cynical McCoy (Karl Urban), the willing, if slightly inept Sulu (John Cho: “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle”), the extremely young Chekov (Anton Yelchin: “Charlie Bartlett”), and of course the engineering genius, Scotty (Simon Pegg: “Shaun of the Dead”). While the physical resemblances to the original actors are hit and miss, the mannerisms and characterizations or mostly spot on from Spock's dry even way of speaking, to McCoy's occasionally over dramatic moments. Even with new faces, it was a treat to see the old characters of my childhood on the big screen again.

One thing most of these types of movies try to do is shoehorn in every character cliché, and this movie is no exception. Sulu fences, Kirk has his thing for green women, Spock mind melds and neck pinches, Chekov cannot say his “v”s, McCoy is “A doctor, not a...”, and Scotty is “Givin' her all she's got”. In fact the only “Star Trek: TOS” clichés I missed were Kirk getting his shirt ripped, and McCoy saying “He's dead, Jim”. Unlike most remakes, it all works in this film; nothing ever feels too forced or too much like high budget fan fiction, and all of it was well received by the audience.

Some could criticize this film for having too many gags, from Scotty and the ship's water system, to McCoy chasing Kirk around in one scene and repeatedly injecting him in the neck with things that are causing comical problems, there is quite a bit of humour in the film. For those people, I would like to remind them of Kirk up to his shoulders in Tribbles; there are plenty of that kind of humour in the original series.

The only criticisms I have about this film are small ones, for the movie is not perfect, but it's pretty close. There is a romantic relationship between two characters (I'm not going to spoil it), that neither myself nor my wife (who is the far greater Trekkie of the two of us) can think of anything in canon for. Since when do Romulans have face tattoos? Why are there no ground based defenses in the future? If a ship parked in Earth's orbit today and started drilling a hole in San Francisco Bay we would at least lob a few missiles at it. That's pretty much it for criticisms though, as pretty much everything else in this movie works as close to perfect as you could possibly hope for.

There is really no reason to not go see this movie if you consider yourself any sort of geek, nerd, Trekkie, or just a fan of action sci-fi. The cast is great, the script is fantastic, and this is easily the best thing that J.J. Abrams has ever had his name attached to. This movie is two hours of 99% pure awesome, so turn off your computer and go see it now!

Check out ”Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”, my free ongoing blognovel.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Unboxing the Keurig Ultimate Coffee Brewing System

Back during the holidays I was first introduced to the Keurig Ultimate Coffee Brewing System (the term "Ultimate" is not hubris, it's the name of this particular model) at Costco. It truly awed me, and not just because the sample consisted of a full cup of coffee. You see, I've been a critic of pod-based single cup coffee makers ever since I first saw the Senseo; it's not because of the environmental impact, although that is an issue, it's the price.

I objected to having to only buy that particular manufacturer's coffee pods, not just because it limits my choice, but because I found the per cup price to be outrageous. The Costco version of the Keurig Ultimate takes care of that by including the "My K Cup", a little pod that allows me to put my own fresh ground coffee into it.

Still, the $120 price tag kept me hemming and hawwing about it until this past weekend, when we finally took the plunge and bought one.

Keurig 01 boxed

Here's the Keurig Ultimate fresh home from Costco. Coffee is only a few minutes away (It would have been less time had I not been taking pictures like a dork).

Keurig 02 bonus box contents

The bonus box contained four boxes of coffee plus the "My K Cup". As a note, the Sam's Club version comes with a water filter instead of the My K Cup, but that can be purchased at Target for $15 if you want to get one separately.

Keurig 03 welcome

Opening the lid reveals this happy couple, who have taken a break from appearing in Valtrex ads to let me know that brewing magic awaits me.

Keurig 04 inside the box

Even Craphead the cat is taking an interest now.

Open the other three flaps reveals the instructions and the sample box that normally comes with the Keurig Ultimate.

Keurig 05 fancy instructions folder

Osaka shows off the lovely folder full of instruction pamphlets.

keurig 06 lots of instructions

And my there are a lot of them.

Keurig 08 Craphead reads the instructions

Craphead tries to read the instructions. Too bad he can't read.

Keurig 07 inside the sample box

The sample box is a treasure trove of beverages; there's coffees, teas, and even some hot chocolates. No good quantities of anything (unlike the bonus box), but you can certainly try and find what you like.

Keurig 10 out of the foam

Wrapped in this thin shroud of plastic, brewing magic awaits.

Keurig 11 free of packaging

It is free of its bonds, and the chorus sounds as we behold its shiny glory. Bask in the glory of the Keurig, bask I say!

Keurig 12 new home

To reward the old coffee maker for its almost decade of acceptable service, I took it out back and shot it. Only now may the Keurig Ultimate Coffee Brewing System takes its rightful place in our kitchen.

Keurig 13 first coffee

After taking a few minutes to prime the system, we are ready to brew. I grabbed a cup of French Roast from the bonus box, and the trusty Taz mug I've been using since high school and get to brewing.


Keurig 14 first cocoa

Osaka decided she would rather try one of the hot cocoas. This also turned out quite well.

I have since tried the My K Cup with my normal Morningstar Blend coffee, and that came out at least as well as the old coffee maker ever managed, and with less coffee used, and no leftovers than end up going down the drain.

The coffee maker is dead, long live the Keurig Ultimate Coffee Brewing System!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Girls like to laugh at men" A Review of "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past"

I've seen many versions of “A Christmas Carol” in my life (for my money, “Scrooged” is the best one), but I've never seen one quite like this. First we'll take out Ebenezer Scrooge and replace him with famous photographer and man-whore, Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey: “Contact”, “Sahara”). Next we'll get rid of Christmas and replace it with the wedding of Connor's little brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer: “Robot Chicken”, “King of the Hill”) to Sandra (Lacey Chabert: “Party of Five”, “The Spectacular Spider-Man”). Then we'll get rid of Jacob Marley, and replace him with the man who taught Connor how to be a player, his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas: “Basic Instinct”, “War of the Roses”). Finally we will ditch the Christmas ghosts and replace them with Wayne's first sexual partner, Allison (Emma Stone: “Superbad”), his assistant, Mel (Noureen DeWulf), and the mute Ghost of Girlfriends Future (Olga Maliouk). There, now we have the recipe for “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”.

The only thing that the above description leaves out is the actual main plot point, which is the relationship between Connor and his first love, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner: “Alias”, “Juno”). Jenny and Connor have been friends since they were kids, she even gave him his first camera. They should be together, but in junior high something happened to throw them off course.

At a painfully 80's dance, Connor cannot build up the nerve to ask Jenny to dance, so she goes off to dance, and play tonsil hockey, with one of the jocks. This sends Connor running to his uncle to get his first lesson in how to play the game; he never looks back, even when he gets a chance to make things work with his first love, until now.

This movie is a by the books comedy chick-flick with some amusing twists. It throws up some fun lampshades onto the traditional scenes from “A Christmas Carol”, especially with Allison, the Ghost of Girlfriends Past, who gets the most screen time of any of the ghosts.

One of this film's brightest spots has to be Michael Douglas. Given that the man has spent a good portion of his career making films about the dangers of women, it is funny to see him playing a slimy, despicable, but still utterly likable stereotype in this film. Whether he's driving around in the “Stabbin' Wagon”, or just conjuring up a snowstorm of tissues he steals any scene he is in.

The movie suffers from some major flaws. First off, it features Lacey Chabert who still has one of the most annoying voices in Hollywood (especially if you discount actors who do annoying voices only in character), and also wears a horribly unflattering dress for most of the movie. To her credit, she does fit the character well, and she only has a few lines.

A bigger problem is McConaughey himself. His performance is not that of him playing Connor Mead, but him playing Nicholas Cage playing Connor Mead. I spent the first twenty minutes of this movie trying to figure out who it was McConaughey was trying to be before I figured it out. Now why he would want to play as Nicholas Cage, I do not know, but that's what it was.

Finally, there are utter failures of logic. There's never any explanation as to why Jenny was hanging around the Mead mansion as a kid, no explanation as how Mel can be a ghost without being dead, no reason why Connor tries to prop up a falling cake with a champagne bottle that is not the same size as the gap he's trying to fill, but most of all, never any acknowledgment of the fact that Jenny's ditching Connor at the dance very clearly set him on the path we find him on. I suppose these things should not surprise me though, as this is simply not a deep enough movie for these things to be a major concern.

Overall, Ghosts is a predictable but enjoyable spin of a classic tale, but there's not really anything new here to see. The acting ranges from adequate to good, some of the dialog is really good while other parts fall pretty flat, and there are bigger things to suspend disbelief over than just the existence of ghosts. I suppose the target audience for this movie is going to be all the women whose husbands and boyfriends are off seeing the Wolverine movie.

It's fun, it's cute, but it's just not worth the price of admission. You can catch “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” in theaters nationwide starting May 1st, but I suggest waiting for it to come out on DVD so you can watch it with a box of chocolates by your side and a glass of white wine in your hand.

Check out ”Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”, my free ongoing blognovel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"I can hear the music we're supposed to be playing" A Review of "The Soloist"

Pessimism, cynicism, realism, call it what you like, but many of us fall victim to this type of thinking. When someone has become genre savvy to reality they may eventually look for something somewhere that gives them hope that maybe the world can be fixed. This type of thinking can lead that person on a quest to try to fix the world, whether they should or not. This is a movie about someone just like that.

“The Soloist” is based on the book “The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, And The Redemptive Power of Music” by Steve Lopez. The book itself is based on a series of columns he wrote for the Los Angeles Times about a homeless virtuoso named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers.

In the film, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.: “Iron Man”, “Tropic Thunder”) is a typical cynical Angelino. He's a writer for the L.A. Times in a time where print media is starting to enter the downturn it is currently in. Far from worrying about the fact that his peers are being laid off around him, he is more concerned with finding topics for his column

One day Lopez discovers Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx: “Ray”, “In Living Color”) sitting at the feet of the Beethoven statue in Pershing Square playing a violin with only two strings. Lopez is ready to dismiss him as just one of the many mentally ill homeless in L.A. when Ayers mentions he went to the Julliard. School

Smelling a story, Lopez confirms that Ayers attended Julliard as a cellist, but left after schizophrenia manifested itself. Lopez writes his article, and that could be then end of it, but a reader sends him a cello to give to Ayers. After hearing how Ayers plays an instrument with all of its strings, Lopez writes more articles.

Lopez eventually stops viewing Ayers as just a subject for a story, but as a real person who should not be where he is in life. Shocked at the idea of a man so talented living on the streets with the masses of homeless, he decides to try and save Ayers from the life he finds himself in, whether or not Nathaniel wants him to.

“The Soloist” is award-bait, pure and simple. I say this not as a criticism, but as a statement of fact. Being somewhat cynical myself, I know that the awards shows tend to look kindly on the mentally ill, but that in no way cheapens what is a beautiful movie. Any award nominations this film gets, it deserves.

Foxx and Downey play their roles wonderfully. Downey portrays Steve Lopez as a cynical ass who deep down is a good person (or at least wants to be), and wants to find some good in the world; he also plays him as much of the film's comic relief. Foxx plays Ayers sort of like “Rain Man” on uppers, one second rambling a nearly incoherent stream of words, and the next totally at peace as the music takes him.

I only have two real criticisms of this movie, so lets get them out of the way now:

The movie seems a little jumpy at times, like things are being glossed over. This is not uncommon for movies based on books, nor is it uncommon for movies based on true stories (since reality does not always follow the rules of good storytelling). This is only as distracting as you let it be though; if you can just sit back and experience the film, it is only a minor issue.

The second, and bigger, issue is the character of Graham Claydon (Tom Hollander). Claydon is a Cellist called by Lopez to try and help Nathaniel regain the cello skills he had in his youth. Unfortunately Claydon is one of those Christians who does not believe in subtlety, and repeatedly tries to force his beliefs on the mentally unstable Ayers to negative effect, seemingly more concerned with converting him to Christianity than actually helping his art. I do believe that Claydon has the best of intentions in these scenes, but good intentions do not necessarily equal good actions.

My issue with Claydon is not his actions, but his portrayal; Hollander's portrayal of Claydon is so over the top as to be potentially offensive to Christians. It is almost as if the director wanted there so badly to be a villain in this movie that he wanted to make the audience really dislike this character. Now for all I know the real-life version of Graham Claydon (if he exists) may be a complete horse's ass as portrayed, but in a movie full of such wonderful performances seeing this two-dimensional character is distracting, and does cheapen the experience a little.

“The Soloist” is not a movie that you watch, it is one that you experience. The film masterfully plays with sound and picture to try and make you see what the characters see. The sound in particular makes this worth seeing in a theater with a really good sound system; from the chilling sounds of the voices in Nathaniel's head, to the discordant sounds of Lopez's tape recorder, to the way Nathaniel's music drowns out the cacophony of the city around him, the sound is as much a character in this film as any actor.

If you've read many of my reviews you know that I am generally a proponent of waiting to see movies on DVD, but not this time. Unless you have a superb home theater set-up, you will not get the full experience of this film. Even then, some of the visuals are so striking up on the big screen in the darkened theater, like during the light show behind Nathaniel's eyes as he listens to the symphony rehearse, that it will be almost impossible to reproduce at home.

“The Soloist” combines fantastic acting, visuals, sound, and over all direction to tell a touching and hopeful story. A story that explores the plight of the homeless and mentally ill, the desire for one man to help another, and the almost magical qualities that music can have. This award-worthy film is definitely one to check out when it it comes to theaters this Friday, April 24th.

Check out ”Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”, my free ongoing blognovel.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"I'm not gay, I'm in love" A Review of "17 Again"

As you grow older, do you find yourself dissatisfied with your life? Do you wonder what could have been had you made different choices? Can you pinpoint that one moment where you threw away your potential, and set yourself on your current course? What if that potential could be given back to you? What if you could be “17 Again”?

“17 Again” is the story of Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron : ”High School Musical” 1,2, and 3), who in 1989 was king of the world. He's the star of the basketball team, has a beautiful girlfriend, a nerdy best friend whom he protects, and is almost certainly going to get a full basketball scholarship. On the night of the big game his girlfriend, Scarlett (Allison Miller: “Kings”) tells him that she is pregnant, and, being a nice guy, he abandons the game, along with all of his potential, to do the right thing and marry her.

Skip ahead twenty years and we find Mike (Matthew Perry: “Friends”) is miserable with his life. He's being overlooked for promotions at work for people younger, less experienced, and prettier than him, his kids don't like him, Scarlett (Leslie Mann: “Knocked Up”) is divorcing him, and he's living with his nerdy best friend from high school, Ned (Thomas Lennon: “Reno 911”).

At the height of his misery, Mike returns to his old high school. While staring at the basketball team picture from 1989 he is confronted by the janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray), who asks him if he would like a chance to do it over. Mike of course agrees that he would, and when he later sees the janitor standing on the railing of a bridge he rushes to stop him from jumping, and ends up falling over the side into a whirlpool of apparently magic water.

The next thing Mike knows, he's Zac Efron again; he's young, he's fit, but things quickly fall apart for him. He discovers that his daughter, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) has taken up with the school psycho, Stan (Hunter Parrish: “Weeds”). He finds that his son, Alex (Sterling Knight: “Sonny With a Chance”) is not a basketball star like he was, but is instead one of the bullied. Can Mike save his family, his marriage, and make the most of his potential this time around?

“17 Again” is an inversion of the plot of movies like “Big” and “13 Going On 30”; instead of a child wanting to be an adult and have the freedoms being an adult has, we find an adult who regrets squandering his youth. In a way the movie is also a lot like “Freaky Friday” type films, but without the need to switch back at the end.

The movie is somewhat uneven in it's presentation as it switches back and forth between three types of story. Much of the humour comes from Mike trying to fit in to modern high school, but without warning he will frequently change into romantic-comedy Mike who is trying to seduce Scarlett, or dad Mike who is trying to help his kids. All of these versions of Mike are funny, but the transitions between them can sometimes seem awkward.

There are times in the movie where the filmmakers seem like they were uncertain how to progress from one part of the story to the next. The scene that symbolizes this best to me is near the end of the film where young Mike has screwed up everything, and lost all hope. Unable to make the story progress smoothly, the film throws this one scene in there to club the viewer over the head with it, and ,as if giving you giant visual parentheses at the beginning and end of this scene, there is a sort of jarring blackout scene transition.

The thing that probably surprised me most about this film is Zac Efron. I haven't seen much he has been in (not being 12 and all), but I found his performance convincing. There are many points in the film where it really does seem like he is channeling Matthew Perry's speech patterns and mannerisms a lot better than movies where two people play one character (EX: “Freaky Friday”, “Like Father Like Son”, “Face-Off”) usually manage. He also does a very good parody of his “High School Musical” roots, with humourous basketball and dancing sequences along with questions about his sexuality due to having too-nice hair, and sometimes failed attempts at being the cool kid.

I was also surprised at the sheer amount of geek humour in the film. Ned, who has grown to be a wealthy nerd, has his own subplot in the movie where he is trying to hook up with the school principal, Jane (Melora Hardin: “The Office”). He speaks elvish, dresses oddly, his bed is a full-sized landspeeder, and they even manage to work a lightsaber duel into the movie.

Despite the way it is being promoted, “17 Again” is not going to be that appropriate for your “HSM” aged kids. The film is PG-13, and aside from some minor cursing and sexual references, the movie plays around with the concepts of statutory rape (Mike trying to seduce Scarlett) as well as incest (Mike's daughter Maggie literally throwing herself at him). Unless you want to have to potentially explain some of these concepts to your younger children, this might be better kept as a date movie than a family film.

Ultimately, “17 Again” is an enjoyable film with good acting, sometimes great writing, and a good sense of pacing, it is ultimately not worth $11. The writing sometimes feels forced, subplots are left unresolved once their role in the main plot is played out (Alex and the basketball team at the end of the movie has no resolution), and the ending has a giant plothole that will leave you asking, “Hey, what about...” right about the time you get to your car.

This is a movie that is worth seeing, but it's worth seeing on DVD or cable in a couple of months. It's not bad, it's just not worth full price. If you want to check out “17 Again” when it hits theaters on April 17th, make sure to go to a matinée.

Check out ”Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”, my free ongoing blognovel.

Monday, April 13, 2009

This Is Just To Say

I am a fan of “This American Life”, and after listening to episode 354, “Mistakes Were Made” I became inspired. The entire second act of the show was dedicated to William Carlos Williams' poem, “This Is Just To Say”, and they had their regular contributors put their own spin on the poem. So without any further ado, here are my three versions of “This Is Just To Say"

This Is Just To Say
by VOID Munashii
With apologies to William Carlos Williams

Please forgive me
for eating you
and turning you
into one of the undead

You probably
did not want
to die, let alone
rise again as a
flesh-eating monster

But your flesh
was so delicious,
and my hunger
was so painful


I allowed your
research station to
fall from orbit,
and burn up in the

You probably
wanted me to
at least save the data
that you invested
so much money into

Forgive me
but it was one
of your scientists
that caused the problems
in the first place


I blew up
the battle station
which you used
to destroy Alderaan

You were probably
trying to possess
the ultimate power
in the universe

Forgive me,
but you really
should have secured
that exhaust port

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“I come in peace, I mean you no harm, you're all going to die.” A Review of “Monsters Vs. Aliens”

I grew up in the 80's watching old science fiction played at odd times on various local television stations. “The War of the Worlds”, “The Fly” “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”, “The Blob”, etc; you name it, I probably watched it as a kid, and now Dream works has a new animated movie coming out that brings me back to my childhood days; “Monsters Vs. Aliens”.

The movie opens in beautiful Modesto, California where Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon: “Legally Blonde”,”Election”) is about to marry her weatherman sweetheart, Derek Dietel (Paul Rudd: “I Love You, Man”, “Knocked Up”) when she is suddenly and unexpectedly hit by a meteorite which gives her super strength, but also makes her grow to fifty feet in height.

Susan is quickly subdued by the government, and taken to a super secret facility under the watchful eye of General Warren Monger (Kiefer Sutherland: “24”, “Dark City”), and is introduced to her fellow monster movie stereotypes. There's Doctor Cockroach (Hugh Laurie: “House”, “Blackadder Goes Forth”), a scientist who crossed himself with a roach, B.O.B (Seth Rogen, “Superbad”, “Knocked Up”), a blob, The Missing Link (Will Arnett: “Arrested Development”, “Let's Go To Prison”), a prehistoric monsters thawed out by scientists, and Insectosaurus, a daikaiju from Japan.

The other monsters try to convince Susan, now dubbed Ginormica, that no one ever gets out of the base they have been imprisoned in, and this is true until an alien named Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson: “The Office”, “Six Feet Under”) comes to Earth (America in particular, because where else do aliens land in movies?) searching for the substance that gave Ginormica her powers. After the president (Stephen Colbert: “The Colbert Report”) fails to make peaceful first contact with an electric keyboard, the monsters are called in to defeat the giant alien mecha now stomping its way towards San Francisco.

The first thing that struck me about this movie is its art style and character design; the world is vibrant, the vehicles in the film all have a very chunky almost toy-like quality to them, the characters look wonderful (although Susan seems to have been designed purely to be made into a Bratz-style doll), and everything has a wonderful sense of texture and realistic movement. Early in the film we see Susan in a jumpsuit when she is first captured by the government, and far from looking like it is painted on her like clothes tend to in computer animated films, this looks like she is wearing it, it bunches and folds as she moves like real clothes do. I was so taken by the quality of the animation in the film that I almost found it distracting at times.

After the art, the next thing to get my attention was the sheer amount of science fiction jokes in the movie, from the Dreamworks moon kid getting abducted by a flying saucer, to gags referencing everything from “E.T.” to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to “The Amazing Colossal Man” this movie's rapid fire humour brings me back to the first Shrek film. I am sure that on repeat viewings I will spot even more jokes that I missed the first time.

Of course you cannot talk about a computer animated feature film without comparing it to the gold standard, Pixar. As high quality as this film is, it is still not quite on the level of a Pixar film, but it is probably one of the best movies Dreamworks has released, certainly when compared to stuff like “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” or even the second and third Shrek films.

One thing I cannot comment on is the 3D effects. The screening I attended was not in 3D, but I could tell where the effects would be. The usual gags like someone playing a paddle ball towards the camera are present and accounted for, but there were also flying scene that will probably look stunning in 3D. I may actually have to go see this again in 3d just to get the full effect.

“Monsters Vs. Aliens” is likely to be the best family film out until “Up” is released. This is a great movie for all ages since it has a lot of jokes and references to movies, current events, and pop culture that will go right over kids heads, but will hit perfectly with parent. In other words, this is a movie that is appropriate for kids that will not make you feel like your IQ is dripping out your ears as you watch it. There is a good amount of violence, but it all has a very cartoony quality to it, and it is usually played for laughs (such as B.O.B. accidentally shooting an alien with its own raygun, and then looking very guilty about it afterwards), so if you don't have a problem with the sort of sci-fi violence you see in “Star Wars” then there should be no issues with this film.

Beautiful art, wonderful animation, a fantastic cast, and a script full of dialog that takes advantage of the cast as well as jokes that take advantage of the subject matter all combine together to make a movie that will keep kids and geeks alike laughing out loud. I definitely recommend seeing this film if you are any sort of science fiction fan. See who wins when the monsters battle aliens in theaters starting Friday, March 27

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Monday, March 23, 2009

I Am Committed!

I have been officially committed to The Brink. It's not too late to commit yourself, just got to J.C. Hutchins' website submit your artwork, and create your patient profile like this one:


Monday, March 16, 2009

Personal Effects: Dark Art Trailer #1

J.C. Hutchins has just released the first trailer for his new book, "Personal Effects: Dark Art". This books looks awesome, I cannot wait.

If you are new to Hutchins, check out his "7th Son" podcast novel trilogy. With people like Hutchins, "Mallville" may never have been written.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Commit Yourself!

J.C. Hutchins is the awesome author of The 7th Son podcast novel trilogy (the first third of which is coming out as an actual book later on this year), and just a generally entertaining guy. He has a new book coming out called "Personal Effects: Dark Art".

"Personal Effects: Dark Art" takes place at the Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital (affectionately known as "The Brink"), and J.C. wants us all to get involved, to commit ourselves to The Brink. If you want to commit yourself, go over to and sign up. You get to create your own patient, complete with a back story (if you want), and you can submit your own artwork to Dr. Taylor which may appear on The Brink's website.

Unfortunately I am not an artist, but I am going to make an attempt, and you should too. Commit Yourself Today!

Monday, March 2, 2009

"I don't know, I'm drunk" A Review of "I Love You, Man"

There is nothing truly original left out there to write about. As a result of that, all movies generally follow certain well-used formulas, but every once in awhile someone manages to put a fresh spin on those old formulas; “I Love You, Man” is one of those movies.

“I Love You, Man” is the story of Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), a quiet kind of dull real estate salesman who has just gotten engaged to his girlfriend of less than a year, Zooey (Rashida Jones: “The Office”). Outside of Zooey and his mother (Jane Curtain: “3rd Rock From The Sun”), Peter really doesn't have any friends. He has co-workers, and the guys he fences with, but no one he considers a close friend, and certainly no close guy friends.

Coming home early one night he discovers Zooey and her friends (Including Jaime Pressly: “My Name is Earl”, “Ringmaster”) talking about his apparent lack of friends, and their concerns that there will be no one standing on his side at the wedding. This sets Peter on a quest to make some male friends, and ultimately find a best man.

With the help of his mother, his gay brother Robby (Adam Samberg: “Hot Rod”, “Saturday Night Live”), the Internet, and Zooey's friends, Peter goes on a series of disastrous man-dates, the results of which include him trying to keep his “date” from starting a soccer riot, playing backgammon with a senior citizen, and even getting tongue kissed.

When he's about to give up, Sidney Fife (Jason Segel: “How I Met Your Mother”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) walks into his life. While holding an open house at Lou Ferrigno's house (yes, that Lou Ferrigno) , Sidney quickly shows a great ability to read people, and a frank honesty that Peter finds intriguing. The two guys hit it off, trade business cards, and eventually end up on a man-date of their own.

Peter quickly discovers that Sidney is nearly the polar opposite of him. Sidney is slobby, open, honest, relaxed, and does pretty much whatever he pleases. Sidney takes Peter under his wing, and teaches how to be a bro. The pair of them get so close that Zooey soon starts to become jealous of their friendship. Can Peter keep his new best friend and his fiance?

This movie is a nice twist on a standard romantic comedy formula. This is a relatively fresh spin on the formula from films like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” where the shy not-quite-a-loser guy is forced by his friends/family into a montage of horribly awkward dates in an attempt to find love. In “I Love You, Man”, Peter already has love, but it's the friends he needs. Knowing the formula doesn't matter though, as there are few plot twists to be found here, just plenty of laughs.

The comedy of this film is a combination of awkward cringe humour (More of the dude-just-talked-about-oral-sex-in-front-if-my-parents variety than the Ricky Gervais-style awkward-around-other-people variety), bawdy guy humour, and just a dash of gross-out humour. All of these styles blend together to create a film so funny that it is hard to hear the dialog over the laughter at certain points.

Aside from the main cast, there is a wonderful assortment of cameos and bit characters to watch out for. Jon Favreau, J.K Simmons, Thomas Lennon, Larry Wilmore, and of course Lou Ferrigno all make appearance. I'm sure there are others that I did not get, and, with the exception of Ferrigno, these parts could have been played by unknowns, however they do all add a little extra flavour to the film.

I would have to say that the humour in this film definitely skews towards men, but that doesn't mean that women won't enjoy it too (my wife certainly did). This is probably not a first date movie (and certainly not one for the kids), as there is not only heavy discussion of relationships, but also a lot of profane language and explicit discussions of sex (with and without partners). Then again, if that sounds like good first date material to you, knock yourself out.

This is easily the best comedy I've seen this year so far (to be fair, it's only up against “Fired Up!”), but I would also put it up alongside my favourite comedies of last year (“Sex Drive”, and “Yes Man”). If you want to laugh long and hard, then I heartily recommend that you go make friends with “I Love You, Man” when it hits theaters on March 20.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

"Eff You!" A Review of "Fired Up!"

Sometimes a movie is good because of a great concept, sometimes because the characters are really likable, sometimes a movie is good because of great direction, sometimes a movie is good because it keeps you guessing what will happen next, and sometimes a movie is good solely based on the dialog. “Fired Up!” is the last type of movie.

Shawn (Nicholas D'Agosto: “Heroes”) and Nick (Eric Christian Olsen: “Dumb and Dumberer”) are a couple of the best players on the Gerald Ford High School football team, and they are also a couple of horndogs. The pair are such horndogs that they only joined the football team to better their chances at getting girls. This tactic has worked well, as the pair have pretty much worked their way through every girl at school.

When faced with two weeks under the hot Texas sun with no access to women at football camp, the guy discover that the cheerleaders have a camp of their own at the same time. Cheer camp is three weeks, but they would surrounded by hundred of cheerleaders that they haven't even met before. Sure they're supposed to go spend time at a friends house after football camp, but they decide to try to get into cheer camp, get their fill for the first two weeks, and then skip out.

Getting into cheer camp means getting onto the cheer leading squad, the Tigers, and with the help of Shawn's scheming sister, Poppy (Juliette Goglia), they are able to fool most of the cheerleaders into believing they are genuine. The one holdout is the team's leader, Carly (Sarah Roemer: “Disturbia”) , who sees through them, but is quickly circumvented by going straight to the team's coach.

Predictably enough, while working their way through the girls at camp, Shawn and Nick fall in love. Nick falls for Diora (Molly Sims: “Yes Man!”, “Las Vegas”), the wife of the camp's head coach. Shawn of course falls for Carly, which wouldn't be too much a problem once he's convinced her that he is genuine if not for her douche bag college freshman “pre-fiance”, 'Doctor' Rick (David Walton).

By the end of the first third of the film you should have the rest of the story pretty much figured out. There is almost nothing in the movie that I did not see coming. Predictability combined with the fact that this movie is PG-13 (so no female nudity, sorry guys) means that the only thing going for this are the performances of the cast. Luckily this is the film's strongest point.

It's clear (especially by the outtakes during the credits) that there was a lot of ad-libbing on the set of this movie, and that combines with some fairly talented character writing to give the movie's characters a lot of smooth fast-paced banter. If you are familiar with the show “Psych”, that is what the interaction between Shawn and Nick feels like, and this is the great thing. The dialog is really the one thing that keeps this otherwise unremarkable film from just being an hour and a half of homophobic humour, shots of girls in tight-fitting workout apparel, and little else wrapped up in an actually rather dull story.

The movie's ad campaign refers to it as “Superbad meets Bring It On”, and this is actually a perfect description of it. The movie does not relegate the plot line of the Tigers trying to show up their ultra-perfect rivals, the Panthers, to the back burner, but instead gives it the same amount of importance as the two-guys-trying-to-get-laid plot. Most of the cheerleaders are shown as being relatively dim and shallow, but cheer leading itself is treated as the highly athletic sport that it is.

This film dances that fine line between PG-13 and R ratings; while there are plenty of shots of girls in shorts, skirts, and even underwear, the only actual nudity you ever get is a couple of shots of man-ass. Also, there is a lot of foul language in this film, it escapes an R rating for that alone only for not using the “F”-bomb, although a four letter “S” word for feces is used a few dozen times (most of them in one scene early in the film). There is drug usage, sexual innuendo, drinking, and other behaviour that may be inappropriate for younger viewers.

If you really want to see a new movie this weekend, and you're not a fan of Tyler Perry in drag, then “Fired Up!” is in theaters today. It's not awesome, but it doesn't suck either. It will keep you laughing, but for the cost of a movie ticket you could do better. There will no doubt be some “Special Unrated Pom-Pom Editon” coming out on DVD in a few months, and I would say wait for that unless you are really into cheer leading movies.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch, Ah-Ah-Ah-AH" A Review of "Friday the 13th"

When I was young, a monster roamed the movie screens, and his name was Jason Voorhees. Every couple of years he would come back from the dead to wreak havoc on another group of immoral teenagers before being put back to sleep again. Unfortunately as I grew older, his movies grew lamer; Jason battled a telekinetic girl, took a cruise to New York, was revealed to be some sort of demon slug, and was eventually sent into space and made into a cyborg in what could only be called outright parody. It was sad to see this once proud beast become a joke; that ends now!

“Friday the 13th” is not so much a remake as the type of reboot that comic book heroes tend to go through every decade or so once it becomes implausible that a guy from the forties is still running around in tights battling villains who are also from the forties. The opening moments of the film retcon the events at the end of the original “Friday the 13th”, and as the film progresses we see sackhead Jason (a la part 2), and eventually the hockey mask wearing Jason we all identify with the series.

This is not the exactly the Jason of my childhood though; that Jason was a slow hulking monster who could catch up to you with a fast walk no matter how fast you ran, and would generally just kill you without much of a show. This new Jason is slimmer, faster, smarter, and, if possible, more sadistic than his past self. He runs, he builds, he plans, he sets traps, he plays with his victims, he even takes prisoners. Normally I dislike these kinds of changes (like my opinion of the running zombies is the “Dawn of the Dead” “remake”), but I think this really works well for a modern Jason.

The film starts with Whitney Miller (Amanda Righetti: “The O.C.”, “The Mentalist”) and her friends head off to Crystal Lake in search of a mythical field of marijuana and a weekend of camping. They do find the weed, but then fall prey to the standard rules of the “Friday the 13th” series. Wander off on your own? Dead! Drink? Dead! Have sex? Dead! Do drugs? Dead! This all happens before the title even comes onto the screen.

Flash forward a month, and we find Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki: “Supernatural”, “Gilmore Girls”), Whitney's brother, still looking for her. He runs across a group of teens who make up the standard crew of slasher movie victims; the douche bag, the slut, the stoner, the good-girl, the token black guy, etc. Once we've introduced all of the players, the fun begins.

This movie is very by the books, but that is part of what makes it so faithful to the spirit of the original series (before they got into all the truly supernatural drek). It obeys the traditional rules of the 80's morality tale slasher flick, but is not afraid to tweak them periodically because it knows that you, the viewer, know the rules. The overall effect of this is a film that feels fresh, but also feels like it can stand along side the best of the original series.

If you like to be scared, you're going to want to check this movie out in theaters. While most of the scares in the film are of the booga-booga Jason jumps out, or a body drops out of nowhere variety, there is a constant sense of dread once things get going. Is Jason in the shower? Behind the door? Outside the window? Is he right behind you? He could be in any of these places, or none of them, and the fact you know he is going to kill any given character at some point makes this film a very tense experience.

Ultimately what makes “Friday the 13th” work where other remakes have failed is that it doesn't try to totally re-invent Jason or re-create the earlier films; instead it tries to recapture the feel of the early films, and it succeeds on nearly every account. I got a real sense of what I loved about the original series as I watched this. Oh, and don't be afraid that Michael Bay's name is on this movie; there's only one unnecessary explosion in it.

While it would be incorrect to call this a “great” film, it has been so long since there has been a good traditional slasher movie that fans of the genre should have a hard time not walking away with the feeling that it was great. Everything a fan of slasher films could want is here, atmosphere, boobs, gore, screaming, and some inventive and incredibly brutal ways of dispatching the not-so-innocent.

If I had any real complaints about this film, it would be the ending. The events of the climax seemed to bend reality a bit too much, and what happened afterwards made no sense from the point of view of the characters. From a writing/directing point of view the ending makes perfect sense (as the logical ending sort of makes sequels impossible), but I just don't think it is what the characters would have done.

All in all this is a film for fans of the slasher genre; it's not too different from its source material, but it's not a straight re-hash either. Filled with scares, nudity, and gore this movie should have your jumpy significant other clutching you close for safety. Check out the new “Friday the 13th” when it hits theaters everywhere this Friday the 13th.

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