2008 (and lower)

Mini Reviews: That’s My Boy, South Park Bigger Longer & Uncut, The Impossible, Sightseers

Time is a valuable commodity and unfortunately as much as I’d like to be able to write nice long in-depth reviews of everything I see sometimes I just don’t have the time. Most of the time the folks nice enough to get on here and read my opinions were blissfully unaware that I was watching stuff and not reviewing them. Sometimes I just didn’t have anything worthwhile to say about what I watched or was just indifferent to the movie in general and didn’t want to talk about it.

In order to keep pumping out content and trying to avoid long gaps of reviews or other posts I’m going to attempt to make time for the movies I watch that I don’t write full reviews on. That time will be dedicated to posts like this where I make space on a post to put together a mixture of “mini” reviews of the movies I watched. What sort of content will be in them is kind of up in the air for now as it will probably vary based on the film.

So that’s that…on with the reviews!

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That’s My Boy (2012) – Oh my do Adam Sandler movies just keep getting worse and worse. I tolerated GROWN UPS, I rolled my eyes in boredum over JACK & JILL, but THAT’S MY BOY is just beyond bad. I will only admit to chuckling at a few of the jokes in this thing, but I felt dirty immediately after. Suffice to say that the two biggest points in the plot that immediately set up and close out the film are pedophelia and incest- and if those are your two crutches, something went horribly wrong.

Sandler plays the father of Andy Samberg (what dirt did they have on him to get him in here?) and Sandler has opted to use quite possibly the most obnoxious and annoying voice for 90 minutes ever- keep in mind I’ve seen JACK & JILL. We have overweight strippers, granny fantasies, Sandler wiping his mouth with tissues filled with his own semen and if all that isn’t enough the film is painfully predictable.

I wish I’d taken previous advice from folks on Twitter and avoided this one like the plague, but alas. Do not make the same mistake as me, avoid this at all costs.

Rating: F

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South Park Bigger Longer & Uncut (1997) – When I was a young lad under the age of 17 I bought and paid for many tickets only to sneak into this and laugh hysterically every single time. I own the DVD yet when I stumbled across it on Netflix I felt it was time to revisit it immediately and forgo the trip to the basement and the DVD collection.

Even today I laugh so much at this movie and I rarely ever catch a new episode of the show. When this film came out I owned VHS copies of the show which had two episodes on each tape and I watched them constantly. However, I’ve never followed the show like a die hard fan although I find Trey Parker and Matt Stone to be enormous talents and will watch everything they do. For some reason I just never felt compelled to religiously watch the show the longer it goes on.

The musical numbers in this thing are so much fun that I find them stuck in my head days after and singing them on walks to my car, into work or just sitting on the couch. The entire movie to me is incredibly clever and a great riff on objectionable material in today’s movies and TV shows that still resonates today.

Rating: A

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The Impossible (2012) – I have yet to see this.director’s previous film THE ORPHANGE, but it is on the ever growing list of stuff I need to make time for. With THE IMPOSSIBLE I happen to have a soft spot for disaster movies, but normally they don’t pack the kind of emotional punch that this does.

It doesn’t take long to plunge into the central issue which is the real life events of the Tsunami in 2004 that devastated Thailand and follows the story of a family on vacation that was separated because of it. The rest of the film follows their search for help and for each other while also chronicling the best of what humanity has to offer by extending that helping hand to others in need.

The script for THE IMPOSSIBLE really isn’t anything special, but the spin the actors (Naomi Watts, Ewin Gregor) put on it is phenomenal. The film rides on the power of their emotions and their facial expressions that come from their sadness, pain and excitement. The direction is also fantastic, but no scene in the film is near as jaw dropping as the incredible when the tsunami rips through the area. The tsunami sequence is unforgettable and the technical work that went in to puting it together is nothing short of spectacular.

By the end THE IMPOSSIBLE actually turned me into an emotional mess as I was so immersed with the experience and put myself into the shoes of everyone involved. This one is quite the special mix of disaster thrills and deep emotional drama and also not for the squeamish.

Rating: A-

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Sightseers (2013) – Dear Ben Wheatley- I am really loving your movies, but you’re also really bumming me out. SIGHTSEERS sees Mr. Wheatley delivering some extremely dark laughs, but laughs nonetheless- which is more than I can say for KILL LIST. Granted this film’s script is not his own, but if I’m being honest even with as dark as this is, I could have used less of a bummer ending to really make me head over heels for this one.

SIGHTSEERS is about a couple that decide to go out on holiday with a camper to do some sightseeing and before long the trip takes an unexpected turn when the charming boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram), shows that he has a bit of a short temper that turns him into a brutal killer. The thing being that his girlfriend, Tina (Alice Lowe), may just kind of be into her boyfriend having this dark side.

SIGHTSEERS is a blood soaked road trip film that is as brutal as it is hilarious. The dark comedy accents the brutal violence in a way that makes it fun to watch and makes you actually be charmed by the twisted couple at the center. The biggest problem for me is that it devolves into such a downer of a last act and ending that all the fun I had before it became a little less enjoyable.

There is plenty of beautiful scenery and a lot of clever fun to he had along the ride, which for me makes the ending resonate so negatively for me. SIGHTSEERS for the most part was an extremely fun and enjoyable followup to Wheatley’s KILL LIST that is weighed down by its inevitable end.

Rating: B

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Movie Review: Jurassic Park 3D (1993/2013)

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Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK is one of my all time favorites- a film that never gets old and always satisfies. 3D is a gimmick that I was over as soon as it became the norm for at least one wide release every week. I almost always choose non 3D screenings of movies when I attend them if available and if I have no choice then more often than not I won’t see it at all till a DVD release. The rerelease of JURASSIC PARK both excited and worried me with the post conversion 3D, that it would take something I loved and turn it into a blatant and shameless cash grab. In some ways it may be somewhat of a cash grab since I’m still not sold on the 3D, but I am more than thrilled that I got to see this larger than life adventure on the big screen once again.

Based on the Michael Crichton novel the film is the story of an eccentric millionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who has found a way to clone dinosaurs using strands of DNA pulled from mosquitoes buried deep in the Earth. Hammond uses this as a way to create a park where people can feast their eyes on creatures we’ve only seen in books and fossils on display in museums. To ease the tension of investors after the death of a worker he must seek the approval of experts Dr. Grant (Sam Niel), Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to get back on track to open the attraction. After some shady acts of another park employee the tour group and small group of employees are stuck in the park as a storm rolls in, the electrified fences are turned off and the dinosaurs start breaking from their enclosures- which includes the deadly T-Rex and raptors.

As a movie in general I had no worries about the quality of the material diminishing with the rerelease. What I was worried about was the addition of 3D to the festivities making this particular experience more of a headache than an enjoyable afternoon at the theater. I’m finicky about 3D mostly because I am not a fan of contacts, so I have to wear the 3D glasses over the glasses I already wear to see- so the extra pair of spectacles tends to annoy me. To this date I’ve only seen and enjoyed maybe two movies in 3D and both were animated films.

To my surprise the 3D in JURASSIC PARK is not a complete waste. There are some pretty cool moments and depth of field moments that make the experience a little more immersive. The problem is that 3D wears me down and by the end I was a bit tired of the gimmick and the longer the film runs the less I even try to pay attention to the 3D to the point I just feel like I’m watching a dimmer version of a movie I really love.

I was worried how the night scenes would hold up with the darkness of the 3D glasses and for the most part the image remained intact while I had a hard time recognizing the depth of field in the scenes. The standout being the T-Rex attack, but the lack of 3D can be attributed to the fact that this scene just thrills me no end and can’t be bothered with anything but just drinking every ounce of special effects magic and entertainment from it.

A few times the 3D was great at making me feel like I was part of the experience- the stampede scene being one that stands out. For me though once the dinosaurs are loose the 3D took a backseat to my absolute love of the practical and CG effects and how much love JURASSIC PARK as an experience.

The bottom line from my perspective is that anything that brings JURASSIC PARK back to theaters for fans to experience all over again is a winner in my book. I’m also excited to see it back on the big screen to win over a whole new generation of fans that never had a chance to experience it. The special effects hold up as does almost everything else in my opinion. As 3D experiences go- especially the post converted variety- this is an above average example of the medium and it works more often than it doesn’t. If you are like me and keep a DVD/Blu-Ray copy close by should the urge to watch ever strike then you do not want to miss seeing JURASSIC PARK and all its dino glory on the big screen once again.

Rating: A

Movie Review: All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

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Good teen slashers have receded in a big way since the scream heydays and all the clones that immediately followed. The horror genre is littered with titles that ape what inspired to an obnoxious extent, or try to separate themselves from the pack to the point that they for better or worse miss their intended target. Then of course we have a select amount of titles that fly under the radar that have the potential to be what fans of the genre have been missing and might even break new ground that aren’t given the chance when studios bury them in a thick layer of dust on the shelf. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, is one of those films that has sat in obscurity for far too long and may be a bit outdated for today’s audiences that suffer short attention spans, but more than hits the G-spot for horror fans aching for the old familiar feelings of angst in a teen slasher.

The film was Jonathan Levine’s debut feature and stars Amber Heard as Mandy Lane a high school girl that spent her summer getting extremely hot and is now drawing a lot of attention from the boys in her school. A year after a horrible accident has alienated her from her best friend she has made friends with a group of popular kids that invite her to a weekend getaway at one of their parents secluded ranch homes. Naturally, as the teens partake in sex and drugs they also are getting picked off one by one by a secret admirer.

Without spoiling the film, what separates this from other teen slashers- at least from my memory bank- is that the familiar reveal doesn’t happen as we’ve a come to expect. Take that as you will, but the surprises don’t stop at that pivotal moment because the final act has plenty of surprises to offer, to an extent that I went from being lukewarm on the film to kind of loving it.

The better chunk of the first half of MANDY LANE feels pretty paint-by-numbers, with the exception of the opening scenes. There is a palpable sense of tension throughout, but the execution of the “slasher” aspects until the turning point are pretty generic. The script is chock full of teen speak, which may or may not ring true depending on the generation you grew up in or how familiar you are with the way teens speak when not around their adult counterparts. For me, the dialogue for the most part seemed authentic, but also exaggerated to the point that these teens are funnier and easier to put up with than most high school douchebags these days. I can’t say that a lot of the actions make sense to me though or the way that a few of the interactions between characters are staged- suffice to say that if I was getting half the action these characters are getting I may not have hated high school as much.

Once the bloodshed begins things pick up quite a bit- however, the gore and the kills are about as low budget as it gets and quite tame compared to things you might see the majority of R rated horror films. The weapon of choice and the high school setting may hit a little too close to home for some in a post Columbine society, especially given the motivation and udder lack of remorse for the actions. At the same time though, this film is not here to be a political statement or a PSA about the dangers of drugs, guns or violence so holding that against it would be pointless.

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE is an interesting cocktail- a dash of generic mediocre slasher tropes, two parts interesting high school teenage angst exploration, a healthy pour of self effacing raunchy teen dialogue and a little twist of a secret ingredient. As with just about everything in life this is a little indie flick that will go down smooth for some while causing a violent hangover for others. Personally I found even though this is maybe a few years outdated it hasn’t really soured with age and is something all horror fans should seek out and see for themselves.

Rating: B+

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Tales from the Darkside (1990)

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As a kid, it took very little to get under my skin. It took even less for stuff to seem memorable to me to the point I have nostalgia for things I have no justifiable reason to have nostalgia for. That being said here is a prime example of the darkside to childhood nostalgia in the form of a horror anthology- a genre I’ve been wishing would come back. Had I watched this to prepare myself for the reappearance of anthologies I probably would have felt a lot different. The movie in question is TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, a collection of horror shorts that have a few cool things about them, but looking back, this is really silly stuff.

The film begins with a woman preparing too cook a child that is locked behind bars while she prepares the meal. The child finds a way to distract her by reading stories from a book that include subjects such as a mummy (reasonable enough), a gargoyle (heck yeah, sounds awesome so far) and a killer black cat (ummmm, what?). If that were the lineup of the stories it would seem odd to end on the clearly out of place cat story, but if you think about it, leading off with that might lose people from the get go and ending on it would leave an even worse taste in your mouth. In the film itself the cat comes second, which is probably best to surround it with the two “strongest” segments and hide the really dumb one in the middle. Well, they are all pretty dumb so don’t breath that sigh of relief too early.

The mummy story is okay enough, just really boring and it stars Christian Slater and Steve Buscemi so at least there are some recognizable faces to guide us through. The gargoyle segment has some pretty cool gore moments and as a kid I remember feeling that the romance within the story was kind of sexy, but again I was a kid what the hell did I know? Then of course there’s the cat- a cat that SPOILER ALERT: overpowers a grown man who I assume is of reasonable strength. Granted the moment that this adorably feeble looking animal gets the best of said grown man it is a pretty awesome, if ridiculous moment- one that might actually save how stupid the whole thing is. The footage of the cat is shot so hilarious bad that not for a second should this cat ever be considered a threat except that they show it looking sternly at the camera and hissing a few times. I will say though having a cat mercilessly claw at my junk is a great fear of mine.

Naturally, since everything seems so schlocky the script isn’t very strong and each story has moments where I basically checked out and new from then on whatever happened was going to be hilariously cheesy or surprisingly effective. Suffice to say as the only surprisingly effective elements are based entirely in the violent and gorey moments and essentially only effective in the sense that at least there was something cool to watch. Although I do have to say that the creature design for the gargoyle was also pretty sweet.

Yes indeed nostalgia is not always a good thing and when it comes to TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE I have to question rather it was nostalgia at all and was instead childhood/adolescent ignorance. The film isn’t a total waste of time, but it is most certainly not something having now rewatched it would ever make the mistake of watching from beginning to end ever again. It may be irresponsible of me to condone fast-forward only to see the more violent parts of the film, but at the same time that is about the only way to get enjoyment from an otherwise extremely mediocre effort.

Rating: C-

Movie Review: The Prestige (2006)

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Over the last few years or so I’ve been so head over heels in love with Christopher Nolan’s Batman films as well as INCEPTION that I started feeling an uncomfortable distance with his previous works. MOMENTO is a film I remember watching once a few years back and need to revisit sometime soon, I was never as head over heels with his INSOMNIA adaptation, but then again it’s been a very long time since I watched it. One thing I did remember and reaffirmed recently is that I absolutely love THE PRESTIGE. Nolan has a knack for constructing a film with many layers of human drama, head scratching mystery and genuine thrills even if the scale of the film is much smaller than the destruction of Gotham City.

THE PRESTIGE follows the ups and downs of a rivalry between two magicians that both have a mutual love for insighting the wonderment of audiences as well as discovering each other’s secrets then trying one up the tricks that the other is performing. Along the way though there are people caught in the whirlwind of their competition that include wives, children and assisstants where at some point they have to suffer the consequences of their obsessions.

Batman himself (Christian Bale) stars as one of the rivals, Alfred Borden, the magician with great tricks yet lacks showmanship and flair. His competition, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), is the more gifted presenter, but relies on his wallet to get the flashier machinery to accomplish his illusions. The two of them spar off of each other perfectly and the characters are performed just as well, though Bale really shines in his role. The supporting roles cannot be overlooked though as Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall all give great performances where even small supporting cast members like David Bowtie and Andy Serkis have muted roles but play them very well. Bale and Jackman’s character arcs play out organically and the decent from joy to anger have very stark and powerful contrats that often make THE PRESTIGE feel more emotional and dramatic than a lot of Nolan’s most recent work.

Consistent with Nolan’s work though is the dark and gritty setting where there’s little room for too much light hearted fun to be had and more room for dramtatic moments to play out in a darker tone. There are always moments of humor here and there,  but what I love about Nolan’s films is the ability to have fun watching a film devoid of silly jokes and instead full of emotional depth that at least resembles the drama of real life with fantastic situations outside of realism. I always find it too easy to pick a movie apart for the little things that when it comes a Nolan film, so far from my perspective, he is competent enough to put together a film believable enough to let go of my annoyingly critical side of my brain and just enjoy the show.

Visually the film is striking especially given that it is a period piece. There are moments of spectacle that are subtle such as a field of light bulbs in the ground all lit up at the same time, to a machine alternating electric currents that shoots lightning bolts back and forth- the latter employing sound design that simultaneously had me tense and on the edge of my seat. The grit to the film is present, though the cinematography is still quite beautiful- something that I’ve come to really love in this film inparticular.

As time has passed THE PRESTIGE is a film that I still tend to drift toward when I sit down and think about something I want to watch. It’s not something I would put in if I’m ever in the mood for light entertainment or something to watch in the background as it will always engage me and force me to sit and watch even if there’s something else I should be doing. Filled with great performances and brought to life brilliantly by Nolan, THE PRESTIGE remains a film I hold pretty near and dear- and the longer it sits in the forefront of my mind it could also contend for a spot as one of my favorites of all time.

Rating: A

Movie Review: The Wicker Man (2006)

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There are bad movies I’ve sat in awe during at the bad acting, editing, cinematography, weird character decisions and god awful dialogue. I think of movies like the tremendously bad BIRDEMIC or THE ROOM which have amassed cult followings at countless midnight showings across the world where they shout at the screen or bring their own coat hangers to mock and take delight in the absurdity. However, there are the special occasions when a bad movie happens to contain a well known and at time brilliant actor and I can’t help but get an extra kick out of the craziness that comes from their mouth during the performance. That brings me to THE WICKER MAN starring none other than Nicolas Cage in an especially hysterical performance in a truly terrible movie. I have just one question for whoever’s reading- how DID it get burned?

If you’ve seen the film then no doubt you thought back and got a good chuckle from that last reference. THE WICKER MAN for as far as I can tell is about a cop that receives a letter about an ex that has had a child that’s turned up missing far far away from where he lives now and he’s gone off to help solve the mystery. While there he encounters a lot of weird women that are dead serious about their bees and honey and I swear that’s not a euphemism.

Where do I start- maybe with one of the few thing that I actually liked it. Visually the film isn’t entirely incompetent, its just the script and the actors on screen that make the images so mind numbing. In practice a lot of the things that happen later on have an interesting aspect to them- I’m referring to bees and the ultimate purpose of Nic Cage’s character. The direction and the wacky choices made by the actors/actresses are what really take this movie into the realm of entertainingly bad which is the only reason I would ever recommend THE WICKER MAN.

I have not yet seen the original film- I know, shame on me- but regardless of how close or far this reimagining sticks to it the handling of this material was dreadful. I guess if everyone involved wanted to hang their hat on their film being so bad that it’s good then more power to them, but honestly the ‘compliment’ of being so bad it’s good is entirely subjective and may not be shared by all. If not for all the times I’ve heard people gush over some of the hilariously bad dialogue I may have shut this off after 20 minutes and that’s after I started doing my regular household work 10 minutes prior with the film in the background.

Indeed though the reason to stick around here is to witness all the WTF moments- most of which are delivered in the performance by Nic Cage himself. If you can hold on long enough you can see Cage berate children, straight up punch women in the face randomly, dawn a bear costume and deliver some of the most over-the-top getting stung by bees screams ever.

Reader beware, on the record I in no way shape or form am recommending you go seek this out- off the record I say why not seek it out if you’re in the mood for a good laugh and don’t want to pay attention to plot, quality or logic. THE WICKER MAN may not be the creme de la creme of so bad it’s good movies, but definitely one of the most quotable and easily revisited of the bunch I’ve seen.

Rating: B-

Note: This rating is taking into account all factors from how bad I actually think the film mixed with it’s bad movie entertainment factors.

Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

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I was sort of caught off guard by the release of BATMAN BEGINS way back when, but rest assured I did not make that mistake twice when it came to THE DARK KNIGHT. I followed all the news right up until the release and went through the gamut of emotions that came from the casting of Heath Ledger as Joker acceptance when he turned out to be pretty great in the trailers and sadness when the news broke he had died. After release the sadness grew deeper that this talent brought Batman’s most infamous villain to life in a way that stands as the greatest portrayals of that character and would never get to follow it up. THE DARK KNIGHT is a marvel of filmmaking that might still have a few minor hiccups, but otherwise is a tense and unforgettable crime thriller elevated even further by the riveting performance from Heath Ledger as the clown prince of Gotham, the Joker.

The film takes place an undisclosed amount of time after BATMAN BEGINS with Batman making headway to cleaning up the streets by making the crime bosses nervous, but so far has let a bank robbing psycho, Joker, fly under the radar to deal with the big fish. Once Joker makes himself directly involved with the mobs of Gotham Batman is forced to deal with the threat head. Joker’s motives are completely unknown except that he appears to just want to cause as much chaos as possible in order to send the city into fear and panic. Bruce Wayne sees the new District Attorney Harvey Dent as the future of Gotham and does his best to help him try to clean the streets of the mob while his alter ego attempts to silence the influence of Joker on the city and on the mob.

I have a few of the same problems that carry over from BATMAN BEGINS in regards to the acting of minor characters- which again is a minor beef- one that bothered me even less due to the phenomenal performance from Heath Ledger. Both films have somewhat muddled final confrontations that end in much more satisfying than they unfold. In THE DARK KNIGHT Batman’s final battle with Joker is hindered by an over use of Bat sonar that came very close to giving me a headache, but the entire scene is redeemed by the conversation between the two that caps it off while also serving as a chilling profile of the Joker as a character and the bittersweet end to Ledger’s portrayal of the madman.

The action still has its issues but improved from BATMAN BEGINS especially in the 18 wheeler chase scene that culminates with the massive vehicle being flipped and leading to the game of chicken between Batman on his Batpod and Joker screaming for Batman to hit him. There are many different dynamics on display here and aside from the scene stealing monologues delivered later in the film by Joker this is one of the more memorable scenes in the film.

The best parts of THE DARK KNIGHT revolve almost entirely around the Joker, which may also be to its detriment at times. For a Batman film, I found myself only occasionally drawn to Bruce Wayne and Batman’s plight while completely hypnotized by Ledger’s command over his performance and the film in general- something I find a bit odd when it comes to rewatching, because I often skip a lot of the film in favor of getting to scenes involving Joker. The opening bank heist, crashing of the mob meeting, storming the party thrown by Bruce for Harvey Dent, the interrogation scene and Joker visiting Dent in the hospital are all scenes that make THE DARK KNIGHT such a stellar cinematic experience- the tension in every scene with the bone chilling performance by Ledger nail home just how unforgettable the film is in spite of its lesser moments.

Another step up from the previous film is the use of score throughout. There are many of the same beats recycled from BATMAN BEGINS, but the addition of the Joker’s theme throughout really takes the overall scope and score up a significant notch, especially in the opening bank heist. I also find that restraining from using an overpowering score during scenes like when the Joker crashes a party in search of Harvey Dent a pretty effective choice, but is accented by the swelling score that leads up to it as Joker traps are taking out his potential victims.

With THE DARK KNIGHT Christopher Nolan not only topped himself in the Batman-verse, but also set the gold standard for cinematic superheroes. Nolan’s sequel to BATMAN BEGINS ups the intensity and dark tone of the series in incredible fashion with the help of an incredible villainous performance from Heath Ledger as Joker. The film continues to stumble just slightly in terms of action/fight choreography and in creating a truly breathtaking finale, but always finds a way to endear itself to me in spite of any of my perceived, but extremely minor shortcomings.

Rating: A

Movie Review: Batman Begins (2005)

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I talk all the time about how I am not a huge comic book reader- which is an understatement because the truth is I’ve only ever read a handful of comics in my life. As far as Batman goes I don’t have the clout to say I am an authority on the character or the universe, but I do consider myself a huge fan and he is my personal favorite hero in the whole scope of comic book supers. That’s why it is with a great deal of shame that I look back at the time that BATMAN BEGINS was released I was not hyper aware of its release- in my defense though it was a time where as they say, “Life gets in the way” and also I wasn’t seeing near as many movies as I do nowadays. That being said, BATMAN BEGINS punched me in the face to reawaken the Dark Knight fan in me, due to how profound and blown away I was by the film.

At the point of release in my lifetime I had never seen a theatrical rendition of the Batman origin, which is a touchy subject for comic fans- not just the Batman origin but superhero origins in general. Most know at least the story of why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, but few have ever seen the process Wayne takes in actually turning himself into the vigilante. BATMAN BEGINS explores that very idea in great detail as Wayne exiles himself to foreign prisons testing himself to fights several foes at once until he meets Ra’s Al Ghul who teaches him to use his fears against his enemies and plenty of other extremely helpful stealthy fighting techniques. From there Wayne returns to a crumbling Gotham City where a new for by the name of Dr. Crane aka Scarecrow is planning a city wide takeover with the use of a toxin that turns peoples worst fears into a frightening reality. It is up to the city’s new crime fighter to win over the non corrupt cops for assistance and stop the menace before it’s too late.

Christopher Nolan’s take on the DC Comics hero brought a much darker and “plausible” look and feel compared to Burton’s more gothic take and especially to whatever it is Joel Schumacher was trying to do. I still love Burton’s BATMAN and still at least enjoy BATMAN RETURNS- I also do not necessarily hate BATMAN FOREVER or BATMAN & ROBIN, but let’s be realistic, they are not good films. For me Nolan got a hold of the series and made it something that demands the attention not just of hardcore Batman fans, but just fans of film in general.

Christian Bale was a fantastic choice to throw on the cape and cowl and is arguably the strongest actor in the film. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman and Tom Wilkinson are all at least very good to great while the remainder of the cast varies from ok to borderline mediocre. The central cast anchors the film with the exception of Katie Holmes, who I guess you could say at least holds her own and helps serve the story, but the performance itself is instantly forgettable- it’s only her character’s connection to Bruce Wayne that gives relevance to her presence at all. Some of the minor chips in the film’s armor come from a few moments of subpar action in an otherwise stellar origin tale.

There is nothing flashy about Nolan’s approach to the Batman legend here. BATMAN BEGINS is a film that is dark and gritty and the action as well as special effects all mirror that sentiment. There are no huge insanely expensive long CGI sequences as Nolan relies a lot on the reality of the situation and when CGI does come into play they are brief and serve only to pull off anything that practical effects can’t do. The Gotham City in Nolan’s universe is filthy and filled with shadows, which is a perfect approach for a hero that relies on shadows to hide and spook criminals, but also pushes across a city in desperate need of saving or cleaning up. These are the details that hooked me instantly to the series and the direction Nolan and company would take it in the future.

This film looks fantastic for as dark and grimy as it appears, its acted perfectly if not for a few hiccups here and there, the action fits the story as well as the scope and I felt instantly connected to the character that by the end I was given goosebumps during the interaction between Ra’s Al Ghul and Batman during the finale. BATMAN BEGINS is a film I may have been biased for as soon as I stepped in the theater to see it, but there’s no such thing as a sure bet anymore in a world that consists of exaggerated cod pieces and nipple plated batsuits. Nolan successfully purges the previous two Batman films from our collective memories by revamping the story and giving it the shot in the arm it so desperately needed.

Rating: A-

Blast From The Past Movie Review: Alien (1979)

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Ridley Scott has had his fair share of trouble gaining the approval of critics these recent years with titles such as ROBIN HOOD or BODY OF LIES, but one thing remains the unchanged- everyone still loves his sci fi epic, ALIEN. Now, it has been an ungodly long time since I last sat down to reexamine my personal feelings toward the film, until now. Does ALIEN still have what it takes to send chills down my spine? In short, hell yes and having recently purchased the Anthology Blu-Ray set I have to say the film looks phenomenal.

Ridley Scott’s original ALIEN follows a crew aboard a cargo vessel that awakes from sleep to find the ship’s artificial intelligence has routed them to a distress signal coming from a nearby planet. The crew go down to explore the area and one of them is attacked by an unkown being (the face hugger) that has wrapped around his face and is keeping him alive. Once back on the ship the entire crew comes onto jeopardy as the threat is now in the form of a alien that adapts to its surroundings remarkably, bleeds acid and can blend perfectly with the ships interior.

After watching the progression of the series it is unfathomable that somehow the last appearance of the Xenomorph came in the form of the critically maligned ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM. The series began with ALIEN as a super moody and patient sci fi film that plays out almost like a ghost story. The scares and tension in the film come out of wondering what lies in the shadows and where the threat will appear from next. Given the popularity of the Xenomorph as a creature it is no wonder that subsequent sequels felt the need to up the amount you see on screen, but the original succeeds as is now just as much as it did then with just the one.

The creature design is still spectacular- instantly recognizable and evokes an intense sense of dread the second you see it on screen. The design by H.R. Giger is something I find brilliant and one of my favorite creature designs to this day. Even further the appearance of the eggs discovered by the crew has always made me feel uncomfortable because I know exactly what happens when the thing opens. What happens is it gives way for the face hugger to do its dirty deeds- the design evoking that of a spider, but with a long tale that wraps around the victim’s neck. These aspects of the series is something that I instantly think of when the films enter conversation and it all stems from the work here in ALIEN to which I will always be grateful for and disturbed by at the same time.

Are there problems? I guess now if you look at it the visual effects such as explosions and overall look of the technology obviously appear dated. You can’t realistically hold time period restrictions against a film that made the most of what they had. Given the practical effects of the aliens I think exceptions can be made for sakes of appreciating what the film accomplished. The film is paced perfectly as a film that plays on tension rather than throwing everything at the screen seconds at a time. The scenes play out at a gradual pace so you can take in the surroundings and wait nervously for the scare to pop onto the screen. Once the characters are on the run things tend to move much quicker, although I am so entranced in the direction and skill at which the visuals and story play out that the time always flies by when I watch this.

Not surprising to me that my reintroduction to ALIEN results in a total lovefest. The film opened the gates to a series that has become one of the most iconic series of all time even if the latest incarnations have left a bad taste in our mouths. It also gave birth to one of the strongest female heroins in movies, in the form of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a creature that to this day creeps me out. ALIEN is a film impossible not to love in some way shape form and one that deserve its place as one of the best sci fi horror movies of all time.

Rating: A

Movie Review: Punisher: War Zone

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It’s been years, but I remember really liking THE PUNISHER with Thomas Jane and John Travolta. Then again I was much younger and likely had other things on my mind those days. I’m also not an avid comic book reader despite the love I have for many comic book based movies. All those factors considered I am going to just go ahead and say that even without re-watching THE PUNISHER that I like PUNISHER: WAR ZONE way more. The film moves like a freight train from violent set piece to sinister comic book villain scheming to violent set piece without ever taking itself seriously and embracing its comic book roots.

The movie begins with Frank Castle already established as The Punisher with established relationships with the police force and other characters so we just dive right into the story. Castle’s goal is to just take down the most powerful crime force in the city and in the process creates a violent foe in one member badly deformed by Castle’s antics and now goes by Jigsaw (Dominic West). Jigsaw springs his brother, Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison) from a mental institution and the two set their sights on hunting Castle down and killing him.

I was actually pretty surprised by many aspects of the film in regards to its quality. It has an interesting look but a tone that carries through that feels very much like a comic book in motion. Another surprise was seeing Wayne Knight as Castle’s gun hookup, Micro. I really like Knight in this movie although in the back of my mind I kept wanting Stevenson to scowl, purse his lips and exclaim “Newman” at several moments. Stevenson plays a stoic version of The Punisher- speaking very little but carrying an intimidating intensity throughout. West and Hutchison make for a pretty disconcerting villainous duo with their no one is safe murders and overall psychological state of the two but they also play their characters so over-the-top that it’s hard not to get a kick out of.

The thing that really stands out right from the get go is the insane amount of dead bodies that pile up within the first few minutes and only multiplies the longer the film goes on. Naturally, with so many people systematically getting offed every couple minutes the violence is quite high but in an over-the-top fashion. There’s cannibalism, characters getting blown to bits by rockets or grenades, point blank gunshots to the head and plenty of sharp objects graphically piercing skin. It’s not exactly a film designed for anyone who’s squeamish but at the same time the violence is in no way realistic that it wasn’t real hard to swallow.

The film does feel a bit long at times but it moves so fast from one set piece to another with plenty of cool action scenes along the way that it wasn’t always a chore to sit through. There are also quite a few laughs that come out of reactions to the violence or the violence itself that when the film does feel as though it’s dragging those moments really snagged me back when I was losing interest.

From the perspective of just sitting down to have a little fun with over-the-top violence and cheesy superhero villains PUNISHER: WAR ZONE delivers on both accounts. Stevenson fits the bill as The Punisher and is accompanied by several known actors that turn in performances that fit more into the guilty pleasure category than genuine “good” performances. PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is a surprisingly well done hero flick that doesn’t take itself seriously and revels in the insane bloody violence and begs its audience to do the same.