DVDs, Books, Games, and more

Monday, April 26, 2010

Yours, Mine, and Ours - * * 1/2

I took Cameron to see this film because I knew it would make him laugh. And I was right.

This should have been named "Cheaper By the Dozen 2," but that sequel is coming soon. Dennis Quaid plays a Coast Guard Admiral and widower (I never quite bought it for some reason) who is searching for love, and just happens to have a lot of kids. Rene Russo plays a widow and just happens to have even more kids. Back in the day, they were the King and Queen of the Prom. Now they rekindle their lost love, and throw all the kids together. Of course the kids don't like each other and fight every chance they get.

The one thing I just could not get over was the house they moved into. It was an old lighthouse right on the water. But every time I saw it in a shot, it looked like it had been digitally altered to death. For example, sunsets become "the-most-gorgeous-sunset-you-have-ever-seen."

A good kids' movie, but I wouldn't pay theater prices to go see this film.


posted by AndyO @ 7:06 PM   0 comments

War of the Worlds - * * * 1/2 (DVD)

"War of the Worlds" is a scary movie. I saw this one for the first time in the Ruby Theater in Chelan, but for some reason it seemed much more frightening this time around. Part of it has to do with the special effects--everything looks so real. And part of it has to do with the story of a father trying to protect his family in the worst possible situation.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise, the guy delivers in this movie. An actor's job is to bring you into the story, to believe the story. I believed what he was going through. I believed that he'd screwed up his marriage and now his kids don't like him. And I felt bad for him after he took another person's life to protect his daughter.

As for Spielberg and his crew: They also deliver in a big way. But that's what everyone has come to expect from him.


posted by AndyO @ 7:04 PM   0 comments

Charlie Brown Christmas Specials - * * *

I bought Cam the "Charlie Brown" Christmas special DVD, which contains two 25-minute shows. These are the same ones I used to watch when I was a kid. It's amazing how well they hold up.

I heard a story recently on NPR recently about how Charlie Brown has an existential philosophy, but I never realized how true this was until I watched it again. When you're five years old watching Charlie Brown, all you care about is Snoopy and how cool the music is. But there are some pretty intense things going on in these stories, like Charlie Brown wondering why he can't get into the Christmas spirit.

After watching these two shows a few times, Cameron said, "No one likes Charlie Brown." And he's actually right. All the other characters are usually saying something like, "Now that Charlie Brown is directing the play, it's really going to be screwed up!"

Where else can you see a cartoon character masquerading as a psychologist, and going through several phobias with Charlie Brown (including "the fear of everything").

Are these shows too serious for kids? Or has the fare on Cartoon Network desensitized us to good writing, good characters, and flash over substance?


posted by AndyO @ 7:03 PM   0 comments

Jerry Maguire - * * * *

Jerry Maguire has become one of my favorite movies to watch. First of all, there's a great writer/director behind the film, Cameron Crowe. Crowe is the type of writer who lets his scripts ferment for years before filming them. And while not all his films are at the level of, say, a Jerry Maguire or Say Anything, they are all deeply felt.

Jerry Maguire is full of details that don't hit you on a first viewing. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) asking Jerry "if they're still on for lunch" where Jerry will be fired several times. When Jerry is talking to Rod Tidwell's wife, Sugar interrupts them and then she asks, "Didn't you call our house?"
  • When Jerry goes over to Dorothy's house to go out on a date, there's a point when all the women from the divorce support group come into the kitchen. Suddenly, Jerry and Dorothy are separated, and Jerry almost seems lost in a sea of women.
  • Jerry shows his "tense" look several times before his wedding to Dorothy, when Rod catches it on video and understands that Jerry may not be getting married for the right reasons. The first time we see him give this look is on their first date, when the mariachi band serenades a lone Jerry.
In many ways, Jerry Maguire's symbolism and details remind me of The Graduate. If you haven't seen Jerry Maguire in a while, check it out.


posted by AndyO @ 6:57 PM   0 comments

Backdraft - * 1/2

Backdraft really is a bad movie. It's a good example of how Ron Howard's sentimentality can overwhelm a film. Just seeing Alec Baldwin's brother's shit-eating grin is enough to prompt me to turn it off. He's symbolic of everything that's wrong with the film: style over substance. The sibling rivalry conflict is boring, the firefighting is unrealistic (my neighbor, who used to be a firefighter, told me so), and the opening of the film tells us in 5 minutes what kind of film this is going to be (write by numbers).

You would think Ron Howard would have learned his lesson on Backdraft, but his next film, "Far and Away," had just as many problems as "Backdraft." It wasn't until "Apollo 13" that he came up with something really special--one of my favorite films.

I'm hoping that "The DaVinci Code" is as good as Howard's best, including Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Cinderella Man.

posted by AndyO @ 6:56 PM   0 comments

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 - * *

You're probably wondering why I spent money to go see Cheaper by the Dozen 2, right? I can tell you in two words: "Family Entertainment."

I took my five-year-old to see this film, and he loved it. I think the film should be reviewed with a five-year-old mind first.

So, what did my son like?

  • The dog going after the meat under the chair (see Cheaper 1 for a hilarious scene with Ashton Kusher, whose pants have been soaked in meat).
  • The mouse that steals things.
  • Steve Martin on a wakeboard.
  • The fireworks going off at a party because one of the kids put them next to the food warmers.
  • The canoe race.
What did I like?

  • The coming-of-age story about Sarah, who has her first crush. (Most critics seem to have picked this up as their favorite moment, too.)
  • The birth of the baby at the end.
  • The two older kids who follow their dreams at the end, not their parents' dreams.
  • The two parents (Steve Martin and Eugene Levey) who compete about everything--and who are more alike than they know. (alright, it's a cliche, but I liked it.)
  • The dog humping Carmen Elektra's leg (Cam liked this, too, but didn't know why).
  • Carmen Elektra in a bikini (hey, I'm human! At least it wasn't totally gratuitous, since she was out driving a powerboat).
This film isn't trying to be a Best Picture. It's just trying to entertain families who have fewer and fewer options without violence and innuendoes.

Metacritic score for Cheaper by the Dozen 2: 37/100


posted by AndyO @ 6:54 PM   0 comments

Syriana - * * * *

Syriana is the movie I've been waiting for to help explain the problems in the Middle East. The plot is complicated and difficult to follow much of the time. But, as I've read in other reviews, following the plot isn't really the point. The point is where everything leads, which is pessimistic.

I haven't seen a film in a while that shows the face of power and big money as well as Syriana. You realize that you're in the middle of something extremely important, something on a scale that is difficult to imagine (which is really the point of the overwhelming plot).

Then there are the actors in Syriana. Most of us know from the previews that George Clooney is in this film. But then others start to show up, actors you didn't necessarily know were in the film: Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Christopher Plummer, Amanda Peet, and an amazing performance by Jeffrey Wright. All of these characters are important to the story, even if they're on the screen for a few minutes.

This is an extraordinary movie--and one that will get many nominations and awards.

Metacritic score for Syriana: 76/100 (approximately three stars)


posted by AndyO @ 6:53 PM   0 comments

Sunday, April 11, 2010

King Kong (2005) - * * * *

Originally posted on 12/29/05

King Kong is an out-of-body experience. There were times when my jaw dropped and stayed dropped for minutes at a stretch. Most of this was due to a roller coaster ride of a story, supported by top-notch acting and special effects. Peter Jackson has created something I have never seen on the screen before.

The last time I felt this way in a movie theater was probably Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I certainly remember it in Star Wars. And like George Lucas's latest installment of the Star Wars saga, Kong is a flawed masterpiece. The flaws include:

  • A running length of over 3 hours
  • A slow start to the story
  • Jack Black's last line in the movie, "It was beauty killed the beast." (When I originally wrote this review, I didn't know that this was from the original movie.
  • Not enough peaks and valleys at the right time (it's either all peaks or all valleys)

But all of the positive aspects of the movie far outweigh the flaws; it's just that it could have been something really extraordinary.

At the heart of the film is Naomi Watts, the bright-eyed Australian actress whose face can project a thousand feelings. And Peter Jackson uses her face every chance he gets, with extreme close ups that reveal an outward and inward beauty that could beguile an ape like Kong.

Jack Black was actually a good choice for the filmmaker/huckster Carl Denham. Anyone who is familiar with Black's previous work in music group Tenacious D and movies like School of Rock and High Fidelity know he can project intensity and comedy. But he dials it down a notch or two in this movie, which actually helps you forget he's Jack Black.

I also greatly enjoyed the craftsmanship of this film. Never have I seen New York in the Thirties like I have in this movie (like I'd stepped into a time machine). Never have I seen a CGI character (Kong) look so damn real. Never have I seen a chase scene like the one I saw here. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith definitely has some competition for the Special Effects Oscar.

Peter Jackson has definitely created an impressive film with King Kong. If you're looking for one movie to see during the Holiday Season (or on a rainy night when the film is on DVD), this would be a good choice.

Metacritic score for King Kong: 81/100


posted by AndyO @ 8:56 PM   0 comments

The Producers - * * * (2005)

Originally posted on 1/8/06

First, a prelude of sorts...

When I was a kid, one of my favorite films to watch over and over on HBO was "History of the World Part 1." I didn't realize then what I know now: There is no one like Mel Brooks. And The Producers is classic Mel Brooks.

The Producers is a very funny movie. But this type of humor is rare these days: one-line zingers, outrageous plot lines and characters, and funny lyrics in the music. As with the best musicals, what I admired most was that the numbers actually moved the plot forward. I thought of Singin' in the Rain a lot as I watched this film, and at one point The Producers pays homage to it ("Gotta Sing Sing!").

The plot is simple. Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) are Broadway producers who want to put on the worst play in Broadway history; they want a guaranteed flop so they can keep all the money they raised.

They find their stinker all right: "Springtime for Hitler," written by Franz Liebkind (Will Farrell). I rather enjoyed when Franz makes them prove their allegiance to the F�hrer before he'll let them produce his play. First, Franz makes them wear swastikas, then he makes them sing songs, etc.
The movie carries on a little long, but it's all good fun. If you want to laugh and return to the musical film format in all its glory, go see The Producers.

Metacritic score: 52/100


posted by AndyO @ 8:47 PM   0 comments

Cinderella Man - * * * *

Review of DVD edition

Originally posted on 1/17/06

Cinderella Man is one of those great sports movies. It's great because it rises above the sports story and makes the human story more important. But sports have always been a great metaphor for the challenges of life.

In this case, the story is about James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a fighter who fought and lived through the Great Depression. His own story mirrors what was happening to America: he had it all, and then he lost it. He ends up working on the docks with a broken hand, his boxing license revoked, nothing left but his dignity. And even that is shattered when he has to beg from old friends.

But then his old manager (Paul Giamati) offers him a one-time fight against an up-and-coming heavyweight. Without a full meal in his stomach, without any training, Braddock beats the challenger. His left punch, which was his weakness, has become the stuff that dreams are made of--or, more accurately, the stuff boxing titles are made of.

The thing that's amazing about Cinderella Man is that most of it is true. Sure, it's been dramatized, but the essential facts are there. Ron Howard's sure directing of a great script help tell the story clearly.

The DVD edition is packed with the usual documentaries, but it seemed that many of them went above and beyond what you'd expect. The real gem on the second DVD is the entire James Braddock/Max Baer fight. After watching the movie fight, it's interesting to see how the real deal went down.

In the final analysis, Cinderella Man joins Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Rudy, Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, and many others as one of the best sports films. One of the best films of 2005.


posted by AndyO @ 8:42 PM   0 comments

Munich - * * * *

Originally posted on 1/22/06

Sometimes I think there are three Steven Spielbergs out there. There's the Gritty director of Saving Private Ryan; the Sci-Fi director of Close Encounters, ET, and Minorty Roport;, and the Romantic director of Catch Me If You Can, Always, Hook, and The Terminal. Munich falls into the Gritty director category. And it's a masterpiece. One of his best.

To those who know me, It's no secret that Spielberg is one of my favorite directors. He's a master of visual storytelling. He works with some of the most talented people in Hollywood and abroad. Many of his films are classics. I'm not sure Munich will be a classic; but it comes close.

The story, based on the book "Vengeance : The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team" by George Jonas, is about the Israelis exacting revenge on PLO leaders in the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre. But it goes beyond a simple revenge plot. The story is really how revenge affects those who participate in it--especially those on the front lines. It's one thing to give the orders to go out and kill people; it's quite another thing to do the killing.

Eric Bana, who is best known for his potrayal of Bruce Banner in "Hulk (2003)" gives a star-making performance as Avner, the leader of the Israeli revenge team. Throughout the film, his innocence slips away until he is a paranoid specter of a man.

The entire film, set in the 70s, actually feels like it was made in the 70s. There were several times that I wondered if this was a lost Coppola film (like The Conversation) or even a Scorcese film (like Taxi Driver). I also though a lot about Day of the Jackal, an amazing cat-and-mouse thriller made in the 70s (not the more recent version with Richard Gere).

There are many great performances in the film, but in addition to Bana, Geoffry Rush gives an icy performance as Avner's handler. You're always left wondering if this guy is good or bad. And eventually, Avner wonders the same thing.

In the end, the theme of Munich is simple: two wrongs don't make a right. You kill our people, and we'll kill your people. And the cycle continues on and on into eternity, until someone comes to their senses.


posted by AndyO @ 8:39 PM   0 comments

The Island - * *

Viewed on DVD -- 2/18/06

Metacritc score: 50/50

If the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, then The Island is the reverse of that axiom. All its parts are stronger than the whole, and the story is ultimately crushed by this faulty design.

The "parts" of this movie are sometimes very strong. The director, Michael Bay, who gave us the equally problematic Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, excels at creating beautiful pictures, big explosions, and an interesting soundscape. But when it comes to the story, Bay always seems to go off course. It's almost as if Bay and his screenwriters thought that whenever they didn't know what to do, they should blow something up. And, I admit, some of the action scenes are simply breathtaking--comparable to set pieces in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. There are too many of them.

The Island is about what could happen if human cloning were turned into a business. Ewan McGregor is Lincoln Six Echo, who is living in what appears to be a Utopian society. And, like all the other people, Six Echo wants to go to "The Island." The Island is the last habitable place on Earth, and each week some lucky person gets drawn in a lottery to go live in paradise. Six Echo is curious, and he soon discovers the truth behind the lottery and everything else going on.

The Island borrows from many movies--but most heavily from THX-1138, Blade Runner, and Logan's Run. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it ended up reminding me of how interesting those movies were, and how unfocused The Island is.

A few days after watching this film, I kept thinking that this could have been a really great movie. The Island has top-notch actors with McGregor, Scarlett Johanssan, Sean Bean, and Michael Clarke Duncan (I have a feeling that most of Duncan's part ended up on the cutting-room floor). At its best moments, The Island reminds us of how cool Sci-Fi movies can be. At its worst, it reminds us of what can happen to great ideas in the wrong hands.


posted by AndyO @ 8:35 PM   0 comments

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Firewall - * * *

Harrison Ford is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He's been in some of the biggest movies--some of my favorite movies. But these days, he seems like he's struggling to make a really great movie. When you talk to people about him, they either say, "Man, what's he doing with Calista Flockhart (Alley McBeal)?" Or, "He's too old to be doing action films." Perhaps this is why Ford is working hard to make Indiana Jones 4.

So, how is Ford's latest movie, Firewall? A solid thriller. I was entertained. It's on the same level as movie like Flight Plan. One of the reasons Firewall is better than most is its villain: Paul Bettany. As all screenwriters know, the hero is only as good as the villain. Bettany plays a man who will stop at nothing to have Ford break into his bank and steal a lot of money. He has taken Ford's family hostage. He kills his own people. Without this strong antagonist and Bettany's acting to back it up, the movie simply wouldn't be as interesting.

This is the first movie I've seen where Harrison Ford appears to play someone his own age (60+). He gets beat up by younger guys. He has problems that Indiana Jones would fly through. But it still won't be enough for his critics.
I heard that Ford turned down the role that Michael Douglas played in Traffic. And its his turning down roles that seem more challenging than the average thriller that will keep the critics coming at him.


posted by AndyO @ 7:06 PM   0 comments

Eight Below - * * *

Viewed on the big screen - 2/28/06

Eight below is a great family movie, with a few frightening moments. It's about a musher (Paul Walker) who ferries scientists around Antarctica with his team of sled dogs. If you've seen the movie trailer, then you know they eventually have to leave the dogs and fly back to their main base. And then, with the storm of the century bearing down on them, and the Antarctic winter just around the corner, they're forced to leave the dogs.

This is where the real story starts. I have to say, watching these dogs try to survive was like a great National Geographic or Animal Planet documentary. For days after seeing the movie, I kept thinking about these dogs and their will to survive. It's rare I think of animal actors this way. Kudos to their trainers.

The musher, separated from his dogs and now living in Oregon, feels so much guilt about leaving the dogs that he must find a way to return and see what happened to them. Walker, while seeming like a member of the Rob Lowe gene pool, made me believe in his loss. But I have to wonder what the whole thing would have been like with Vin Diesel playing it as a comedy? We'll never know.

Because the movie takes place in a frozen environment, it feels a little like March of the Penguins. Interestingly, it also used some of the same elements as Alive, the story was about the people who survived in the Andes mountains for months by resorting to cannibalism. It even used Alive's use of subtitles where they would flash the date and then how many days the dogs had been alone. I realized, while writing this review, that Frank Marshall, the director of Eight Below, also directed Alive. This type of story is obviously important to him.

If you watch with children, just remember there are a few moments of peril and a really scary leopard seal.


posted by AndyO @ 7:04 PM   0 comments

Firefly - Disc 1 - * * *

Viewed on DVD -- 2/17/06

I have a feeling Firefly, the TV series, and Serenity, the movie based on the series, will one day be considered great Sci-Fi by the masses. But for now, people don't seem to know what to do with it. I know I didn't when it first came on TV. I remember thinking, is this a Western or a Sci-Fi?

And then there's the Joss Whedon effect. Someone out there really wants me to know that not only did Joss Whedon create Firefly, but he directed it, wrote it, produced it, and even wrote the theme song. Talented guy. I keep wondering if he went to the John Carpenter school of movie credit s (e.g. "John Carpenter's The Thing"), or if he just wants to make sure all his high-school buddies know he's the one responsible for this show. (To set the record straight, Joss is from Buffy the Vampire fame, so they're trying to connect him to that audience.)

All that aside, the pilot of Firefly is gripping and pretty original. If you've never heard anything about it, it concerns a crew of veterans (now space cowboys) who are crusing around space in a Firefly-class ship, looking for a way to make a living. The winners of the war, "The Alliance," are hot on their tale. The ship is falling apart. The captain has a big ego. And no one wants to pay them. Add to that a Doctor who has brought his Jessica Alba-like sister, who is really a highly trained instrument of war, and it gets even better.

So, I look forward to watching the other Firefly shows, after just seeing a few of them. Unfortunately, there probably won't be any more of this franchise, since they haven't performed up to Hollywood TV or movie standards.


posted by AndyO @ 7:03 PM   0 comments

Mayor of the Sunset Strip - * * * 1/2

Viewed on DVD

Sam, who plays bass in Chris Mess, loaned me this documentary after she and Chris told me about this LA music fixture. This documentary feels a little like Forrest Gump's jaunt through history, only Bingenheimer's journey is through music.

Bingenheimer, a D.J. on LA's radio station KROQ, was the first to play bands that went on to be major recording artists. From KROQ's website:

"He was the first to play records by - and interviews with such artists on his KROQ show as: Blondie, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Van Halen, The Go-Go's, Nina Hagen, The Cramps, Nena, The Clash, The Cure, The Smiths, The B-52's, Billy Idol, Adam Ant, Echobelly, Ride, X, Siouxie and the Banshees, Bad Religion, Duran Duran, The Jam, The Bangles, The Runaways, Redd Kross, Bananrama, Joan Jett, Tom Petty, Dramarama, Teenage Fan Club, Suede, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen, No Doubt, Blur, Elastica, Belly, L7, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Rialto, Placebo, Oasis, The Verve, Kent, Ash, Gene, Travis, Coldplay, Doves, JJ72, The Strokes, Starsailor, The Hives, The Vines, Black Rebel, Motorcycle Club, and The Electric Soft Parade plus over 300 celebrity interviews!"

Bingenheimer is one of those people behind the curtain, creating the LA scene, which in turn becomes the world scene. You tend not to hear of these people until someone notices and writes a book, does a news story, or a documentary film.

The "Gumpian" part of this documentary is that Bingenheimer has been around and discovered many of the major music artists past thirty years. There are pictures of the Beatles, with Bingenheimer standing off to the side. He was there with the Monkees. He hangs out with David Bowie. There were times I wondered if this was a mockumentary not unlike Woody Allen's Zelig, as Bingenheimer seemed to be everywhere.

What struck me almost from the beginning was the sadness surrounding Bingenheimer. This was especially evident in his meeting with David Bowie. It's obvious the two know each other, that they might even be friends; but underneath it all, Bingenheimer is really just a music fan who happens to be in a position of influence. The sadness comes from Bingenheimer understanding that this is his station in life.


To see another documentary about a different type of influential person, see Big City Dick, about Seattle fixture Richard Peterson and his influence on bands like Stone Temple Pilots.


posted by AndyO @ 7:01 PM   0 comments

The Beatles - The First U.S. Visit - * * * 1/2

There was a time when the Beatles hadn't set foot in America. This is a documentary of that first visit, and is an interesting window into the Beatles phenomenon.

Here are the lads from Liverpool invading the U.S. -- and they practically look like kids. In this documentary, you get a front row seat on the Ed Sullivan show -- in New York and in Florida. You get to see the girls screaming. You get to see how charming the lads are.

They get to spend a lot of time in a hotel suite, watching themselves on TV, looking out the window to adoring fans, and sometimes looking bored. This is a different time, when there was only one phone in the room, and whenever someone calls, the lads (yes, they answer the phone themselves) tell the person on the other end that they're blocking the line.

It's fascinating to watch the Beatles taking public transportation (a train) between gigs. They mingle with everyday passengers, talking to whomever wanted to talk to them. It's a far cry from the private jets and motorcades of today.

I was also surprised at how aware the Beatles were of their record sales. I could see their manager Brian Epstein being on top of this, but it seems like all the Beatles know how many units they're moving on any particular day.
This is a fascinating piece of history that all fans of the Beatles and music should watch.

The Beatles - The First U.S. Visit (1991) DVD


posted by AndyO @ 6:58 PM   0 comments

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - * * * 1/2

Harry Potter and his friends are back once again in the fourth movie of the popular series. Unlike most franchise movies, the Harry Potter films get better and better. I can safely say this is the best of all of them.

In "Goblet of Fire," the wizard Olympics (of sorts) come to Hogwarts, where only the best can compete. In this case, it's the best from each of the three wizard schools. And even though Harry is too young, he is mysteriously drawn into the competition.

The competition places these young wizards in dangerous situations that are twice as hard for young Harry. In one of these tests, he faces a fierce dragon that is hellbent on killing him. For once, I can say I was genuinely worried for Harry. And the tests become more and more difficult. In some ways, it's not much different than a Bruce Lee movie, where the hero faces greater and greater challenges.

There's a ballroom dance in "Goblet of Fire" that captures both the magic and misery of being a teenager. Hermione Granger learns that boys aren't as easy to understand as when they were younger. Harry and his friend Ron discover that girls are equally difficult to understand.

In the world of Harry Potter, nothing is quite what it seems. Good is bad. Bad is good. And the shadow of the evil Lord Voldermort hangs over everything.


posted by AndyO @ 6:56 PM   0 comments

Mission Impossible III - * * *

"Mission Impossible III" is an intense action/thriller that is probably the best of the three movies. The opening alone will make you wonder if you're in the right theater. It seems much more intense and violent than any "Mission" movie you've seen before.

The story this time centers around an arms-dealer, played brilliantly by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is trying to get his hands on a weapon that could end the world as we know it. Of course, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is there to stop him. The twist this time is that Hunt is trying to leave all that spy stuff behind and live a normal life. We all know that people like Ethan Hunt, James Bond, and Jack Bauer don't live normal lives--even if they want to.

So there is a deeper theme in this movie about identities. Nothing in the "Mission" universe is quite what it seems. Hunt's wife doesn't know about his real job. Hunt doesn't know who is double-crossing him. And right when we think we've figured things out, the plot goes in a different direction.

One device that makes for great visual sequences, chase scenes, and special effects is also one of the movie's greatest flaws. I'd like to call it the "just-in-time plot device." Others would call it "contrived." This device makes it easy for characters to get things when they need them without any real foreshadowing (essential for suspending disbelief). For example:

  • Hunt is looking out the window in Shanghai and he needs to do some quick measurements of the buildings. It just so happens there's a grease pencil there that he can use to trace the buildings on the window.
  • When the bad guy is being transported to some other location, it just so happens it's on one of those highways that traverses the ocean. What a perfect place for an attack by air! And it looks great, too. This same location was used in "True Lies," but I don't remember thinking, "why are they driving over that long bridge?"

There are many, many other examples that smack of lazy screenwriting--but if you can suspend that part of your brain and just go with the flow, this is actually a fun summer action movie.


posted by AndyO @ 6:51 PM   0 comments

RV - * * *

I was actually surprised that this movie stayed with me for so long. Days after seeing the film, I kept thinking about Williams, a father who has lost touch with his children, trying not to let on that he is actually disguising a work trip as a family vacation.

RV's plot reminded me of the now classic "National Lamoon's Summer Vacation." But where Chevy Chase never gets beyond the physical humor and ironic dialogue, Robin Williams seems to be able to be funny and create genuine pathos. I really cared about him. With Chevy Chase, you never really feel much for his character; you're just glad it's him and not you going through all those problems.

This is also a good one to bring your kids to, although there is a fair amount of gross-out humor.


posted by AndyO @ 6:50 PM   0 comments

Grizzly Man - * * * *

Viewed on DVD.


Grizzly man is one of those movies that haunts you. I found myself thinking about it all the time, discussing it with people, and reading about it. It reminded me of Jon Krakauer's non-fiction book, "Into the Wild," in both subject and location.

It's about a self-proclaimed Grizzly Bear conservationist Timothy Treadwell -- a man who lives among Grizzly bears in Alaska for years until one of them decides to kill him.

What's haunting is Werner Herzog's narration and choice of images in this documentary. Somehow, Werner is able to get inside Timothy's head to try to help us understand why he's living life so dangerously.

This is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.


posted by AndyO @ 6:49 PM   0 comments

Eragon - * * 1/2

 AndyO Review: * * 1/2

Metcritic Review: 38 (Generally negative reviews)

Like a lot of movies about dragons, when "Eragon" begins it seems to have a lot of potential. In the world of "Eragon," dragon riders were once the keepers of the peace. But now they're all gone, thanks to a rider who betrayed his colleagues. An evil King Galbatorix (John Malkovich) now rules over Alaga�sia.

When we catch up with the hero of the story, who is conveniently named Eragon (Ed Speleers), he's a simple farmboy, who finds a dragon egg on his morning hunt. Of course he doesn't know it's a dragon egg until it hatches. In no time, the dragon Saphira (voice by Rachel Weisz) bonds with Eragon who becomes her rider, and it's up to both of them to fight the evil King.

There are some remarkable sequences in Eragon, although I was never blown out of my seat -- most of them involving the dragon Saphira. But for me, the derivative nature of the plot kept me from falling into the story. By derivative, I'm talking about "Star Wars: A New Hope." Here are just a few similarities:

  • Eragon doesn't know his parents. Luke Skywalker doesn't know his parents.
  • Eragon lives with his uncle and cousin. Luke Skywalker lives with his aunt and uncle.
  • Eragon's cousin and best friend Roran leaves the village so he doesn't get drafted by Galbatorix's army. Luke's best friend Biggs leaves Tatooine so he doesn't get drafted by the Empire. (Note that this scene was cut from the final Star Wars cut, but George Lucas did film the scenes with Luke and Biggs.)
  • Eragon meets Brom who was once a dragon rider, who becomes Eragon's mentor. Luke meets Obi-wan Kenobi, who trains him in to become a Jedi.
  • At one point, Eragon goes off to save the princess who was responsible for giving him the dragon. Luke and Obi-wan go off to save Princess Leia, who gave Luke the droids.
  • Eragon's uncle dies because of him. Luke's aunt and uncle die because of the droids. The dialogue in both movies is almost exactly the same.
  • In Eragon, the dragon riders are all dead except for the Jeremy Irons character who mentors Eragon. In Star Wars, the Jedi Knights have been wiped out except Kenobi, who mentors Luke.

So, I think you can see the similarities. And don't get me wrong: Star Wars isn't 100% original either. It borrows heavily from Kurosowa's "The Hidden Fortress" and 50 other movies; the difference is in the way Star Wars combines all of these influences to make something new.   

Note: That a 15-year-old boy named Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon is impressive. He obviously has a lot of talent to be writing a novel like this at such a young age. I'm reviewing Eragon the way I'd review any movie, regardless of how old or young the author was of the screenplay or the source material. In some ways it's too bad he published this story before he matured as a writer.


posted by AndyO @ 6:46 PM   0 comments

Rocky Balboa - * * *

AndyO review: * * *

Metacritic score: 63 out of 100 (Generally favorable reviews)

When I first heard about "Rocky Balboa," the sixth and final installment of the Rocky movies, it seemed like a joke. How could Sylvester Stallone make another Rocky movie after "Rocky V" was so bad? Was there anything left to tell?

I'm not sure the answer to that last question is an unqualified yes, but somehow Stallone wrote a script that brings back the Rocky that we saw in 1976 -- the same Rocky that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. 

In this film, Rocky is struggling with the loss of Adrian. He spends his evenings working at his restaurant appropriately named "Adrian's," telling his customers all the old boxing stories and posing for photos. He tries to connect with his son, who is trying to stand as far away from his father's shadow as possible. He wants to help out a woman and her son who are struggling in the neighborhood.

When an ESPN computer program predicts that Rocky would beat the current champ Mason Dixon, a champ who is loathed by the public for fighting easy competitors, the stage is set for an exhibition bout between Dixon and Rocky in Vegas. The entire event is treated like an HBO pay-per-view event, complete with the annoying boxing analyzers Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley. But, somehow, it all works.  

In "Rocky Balboa," you can feel that Stallone wants to give Rocky a proper ending -- he wants to make up for Rocky V and all the other false moments in the other Rocky films.The rhythm of the film is slow (almost too slow at times). Character and good acting are more important than the slick filmmaking that peaked in "Rocky IV," with Rocky's battle with the Russian Ivan Drago.

This is a nice surprise.


posted by AndyO @ 6:45 PM   0 comments

Children of Men - DVD

AndyO review: * * * *

Metacritic score: 84/100 (Universal Acclaim)

The best Science Fiction holds up a mirror to the present -- and also allows us to look through the mirror into one possible future. This future tends to be either hopeful (Star Trek, ET: The Extraterrestrial), dystopian (1984, Minority Report, Brazil), or somewhere in between (Blade Runner, Star Wars). "Children of Men" also falls somewhere in between.

In "Children of Men," the human race has become sterile--and as a result the world has gone mad. The movie begins with the death of the world's youngest person Baby Diego, who is a celebrity on the order of Britney Spears. We see that his death affects the world the way that Princess Di's death did.

Theo Faron (Clive Owen), who lives in London, watches the news of his death a TV in a restaurant. He leaves, and then a bomb goes off (a regular occurrence we learn). He still goes to work, but then tells his boss he's too depressed to be there.

Then Owen gets pulled into a plot much bigger than him--bigger than anyone, really--when his activist ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) has people kidnap him. She asks him to help transport a woman to safety. She doesn't tell him why--only than they need his government connections to get the papers. Owen does it--for the money they offer him. From there, the story goes in directions that are truly surprising--and I won't spoil any more.

The director of this movie Alfonso Cuaron, shows once again that he is one of the best directors today (he directed the best Harry Potter movie to date, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"). He uses film technique to drive the story, raise tension, and underscore thematic points--not just for effect. For example, his use of long takes without cuts builds tension subconsciously. His hand-held camera becomes a character, getting dirty and splattered with blood. While I've seen both of these techniques used before--the former in "Saving Private Ryan" and the latter in "The Untouchables," it's that Cuaron knows when to use them.

Cuaron also gets great performances from all his actors, including Owen, Moore, and Michael Caine. Another reviewer pointed out that Caine's character was perhaps what John Lennon would have been like if he'd survived to his sixties or later. (Caine is one of my favorite actors, and I can honestly say I've never seen him play a part like this.)

I was surprised at the feelings that "Children of Men" brought up. I realized that a world without children would be a world not worth living in. I could see how people without hope would go mad--how some would want to commit suicide (the government offers a suicide pill). Children give us hope that the future will be a better place. 


posted by AndyO @ 6:45 PM   0 comments

1941 - DVD

AndyO review: * 1/2

"1941" is probably Spielberg's worst movie. After incredible success with "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," one can imagine that he probably thought whatever he touched would become gold. The studio probably thought the same thing, so they left him alone.

"1941" is a sprawling, manic mess of a movie, filled with brief moments of absolute hilarity. John Belushi's performance mirrors the movie's performance as well. Why would an insane P-40 pilot be trolling the skies for Japanese Zeros? Sure it's funny for a few minutes, but it never goes anywhere.

There's probably a great story in here about the paranoia after the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack on the West Coast. But it's probably closer to a drama with some comic moments--and Spielberg doesn't have the maturity as a director to recognize this. 


posted by AndyO @ 6:44 PM   0 comments

Friday, April 09, 2010

This is another test

I updated my blog, and I'm testing how pictures render on the site.



posted by AndyO @ 7:08 PM   0 comments

Sunday, April 04, 2010

This blog has moved

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posted by AndyO @ 11:01 AM   0 comments