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Monday, January 30, 2006


Hoodwinked is a great movie for kids, but anyone over the age of 10 would be advised to skip this film entirely. A sardonic alternate version of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, this movie fails where Shrek succeeded. I'm sure kids will greatly enjoy it, but the crossover appeal to adults is virtually nonexistent, as Hoodwinked is only mildly entertaining at best.

When Little Red Riding Hood aka "Red" (Anne Hathaway) enters her Granny's cabin in the woods, she finds the seemingly "Big Bad" Wolf (Patrick Warburton) disguised and laying in ambush for her. Just when it seems as though she is about to be eaten, her Granny (Glenn Close) bursts out of the closet all tied up, and an axe-wielding woodsman (James Belushi) crashes through the window, ostensibly to save everyone from the wolf. However, when the police arrive moments later, everyone is taken in for questioning by Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers), where four different versions of the events leading up to the cabin scene are given by the aforementioned characters. The incident is somehow intrinsically linked with the recent thefts by the Recipe Bandit, who has been putting local bakeries out of business by stealing all of the recipes in the woods. Granny's famous baked goods are the last remaining recipes to be stolen, so presumably, the showdown at Granny's cabin holds the clues to uncovering the identity of the bandit.

The problem with this movie was that the humor was much to obvious and overused--not just in this film but in many, many animated films before it. For example, Gramma is an extreme sports addict and talks like a young hipster--this was pretty funny in the Boost Mobile Phone commercials last year, as well as in the Shrek movies, but come on. It's not just inherently funny to watch an old grandma skiing down the slopes or bungee jumping, there has to be more to it than just that. There needs to be something clever behind the image itself, but unfortunately this was not the case.

There were some moments that I found amusing, a few lines here and there that made me smile, but on the whole the movie was rather boring. I started feeling a bit hopeful by the middle, when it suddenly got a whole lot better, but things quickly tapered off again by the end, leaving me with a definite taste of mediocrity. The Wolf's photographer, an excitable squirrel named Twitchy, was perhaps the movie's saving grace, as every scene in which Twitchy appeared was one in which I heaved a sigh of relief. To a certain extent, the other characters were reasonably entertaining as well, but only in brief snatches of time that were always followed by something hopelessly lame. The film really shot itself in the foot, however, when it chose to have the rabbit character voiced by Andy Dick--I trust that no further elaboration on that point is necessary.

As I said before, this is a movie that a lot of kids will really like, as the humor is very simplistic and innocently juvenile. It's not quite as toxic as something along the lines of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, which had me practically spitting with rage, but this is still not the kind of animated film that adults will enjoy on a different level from kids. What I'm saying is that it won't kill you to take a kid to see this movie, but I don't suggest going to see this of your own volition. You won't be pleased. Five years ago, Hoodwinked might have passed for something a lot more amusing, but after two fantastic Shrek movies and a zillion other Pixar films, this movie just doesn't make the cut to the Varsity level.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dude, that's so Snakes on a Plane

Or, as Samuel L. Jackson would say, "Snakes on my motherfuckin plane, motherfucker!"

This is now the film I am most anticipating in 2006. Snakes on a Plane. I mean there they are, they're on the plane and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. When filmmakers tried to change the title to Pacific Air Flight 121, which sounds boring as batshit, Samuel L. Jackson flipped the fuck out and reassured everyone that no, the title for this movie will remain Snakes on a Plane. I must say his decision to star in this movie more than makes up for The Man.

So will this movie be any good? Of course! I mean there are snakes on the plane! Snakes! I don't see how this could go wrong.

So, the next time your flight is delayed or you get stuck in the middle seat, just remember that it could be worse. There could be snakes on the plane. And Samuel L. Jackson won't be there to bail you out either.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Glory Road 

If you take a mix of Remember the Titans and Hoosiers, then throw in a dash of Air Bud, you'll end up with Disney's Glory Road (i.e. Remember the Titans 2: Slam Dunk). I really can't imagine anyone who wouldn't like this movie, as it is the always-satisfying sports underdog story, told in the context of a real-life event that served to break down racial barriers in the 1960's. It contains all the elements of a fulfilling drama, along with the usual "tough coach who rises above prejudice while teaching his players valuable life lessons on and off the court and despite meeting initial resistance to his challenging methods" thing. Everyone knows what this movie is about, so while there won't be any surprises, you definitely won't leave the theater disappointed.

The movie is based on Coach Don Haskins' (Josh Lucas) controversial 1966 Texas Western basketball team, which comprised 7 black athletes at a time when no other southern school would recruit black players. While other NCAA coaches scamper around the country attempting to convince the top white basketball stars to play for their schools, Coach Haskins travels up north to Indiana and New York to recruit 7 overlooked black players, some of whom doubt Haskins' stated intentions to give them substantial playing time. The black recruits don't meet an enormous amount of resistance from their white teammates when they arrive at Texas Western, but they are instead forced to focus their attention solely on basketball--no girls, no alcohol, and no late nights are a strict policy of Coach Haskins. The proverbial intense amount of grueling training and conditioning is imposed on the team as per the underdog sports movie formula, and some of the players quickly become annoyed with Coach Haskins' traditional style of basketball, as he forbids slam dunks and showboating of any kind. While the university's president faces constant pressure from the school's boosters to get rid of Haskins and his non-traditional recruiting methods, the team itself begins to bond and go on an exciting undefeated streak. Unfortunately there are some nasty and cruel run-ins with racism along the way, as other southern schools are furious at losing to a team with a mostly black roster. Will Texas Western go on to win the NCAA championship against heavily-favored Kentucky and silence the critics? Well, the answer is obvious of course--only if they run the "picket fence" on 'em.

Again, all the elements that one would expect to see in this type of movie are present--a fair amount of clean Disney humor, a "color-blind" coach who emphasizes discipline and fundamentals, university administrators and students who start to come around once they see that their team is winning, a Goliath-type opponent in the final showdown, and of course, an inevitable teach the hopeless white boy how to be cool bonding scene. I also have approximately 1.6 squillion inspirational quotes written down from the movie in case the need ever arises for me to inspire someone with vague metaphysical statements.

The characters were all thoroughly developed as well, so that their reactions to the environment around them, as well as each other, were all the more meaningful and engaging. This movie didn't "teach a lesson" quite to the extent that a film like Crash did, but it was a poignant display of the types of racism that black athletes had to deal with in a national setting. The basketball scenes were exciting to watch, but I think a large part of that had to do with the actors' apparent basketball abilities, as none of them looked ridiculous on the court. So that was nice.

I recommend this movie to anyone who likes inspirational underdog stories that are based on true historical events, but with the additional element of a human struggle to overcome extremely personal attacks. If you think you'll like this movie, then let me go ahead and assure you that you will, as Glory Road is wonderfully successful in accomplishing its purpose.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The New World 

The New World was not at all what I expected. With a strange "diary style" narration and a pleasing emphasis on the natural surroundings, I almost felt as though I were watching an extremely well-funded independent movie. The story seems less about the historical English colonization of America and the inevitable clash with the native populace, and instead focuses on Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) herself. It's hard to classify this movie at all, as it wasn't The Last of the Mohicans or even Dances with Wolves. It felt real enough, what with the natural settings and the excellent costume designs, but in the end it seemed mostly to be a relatively believable interpretation of Pocahontas's life following the sudden arrival of the English.

The story begins quickly, with three English ships arriving in Virginia in1607, to form the Jamestown colony. Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) insists upon their arrival that they live in peace with the "naturals," as they will need to trade with them should their crops fail. At first they are successful in this task, as the English and the Indians regard each other with mutual curiosity and cautious benevolence. As the colonists build a rather wretched looking fort and attempt to plant foreign seeds for harvest, Captain Newport charges Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) with traveling upriver in order to make contact with the Powhatan tribal king (August Schellenberg) and initiate trade with the tribe. During the trip, however, Smith and his men are attacked by members of the tribe, who then take Smith prisoner. Just as he is about to be killed, the tribal king's favorite daughter, Pocahontas, throws herself upon Smith and pleads for his life. Despite the king's better judgment, he allows Smith to live with the tribe, where he and Pocahontas grow quite close before he very reluctantly returns to the colony several months later. Unfortunately, the Native Americans have grown decidedly tired of the English at this point, especially when they realize that the colonists don't intend to leave but instead want to take more land. When Pocahontas warns Smith of an impending attack, her father exiles her from the tribe, forcing her to live with the colonists and accept their lifestyle.

The narration style of the film was quite weird and took some getting used to. Told in turns by John Smith, Pocahontas, and later John Rolfe (Christian Bale)--another colonist at Jamestown--it sounded like each character was reading directly from a diary written entirely in haiku. All of the narration is told as a recollection of thoughts and feelings, rather than events themselves, which you might think would actually help the audience identify with the characters. Strangely this was not the case.

The thing that I did like about this movie, however, was how real it felt. The settings were beautiful and carefully filmed, making it seem almost as though I were watching actual footage from the 1600's. The interaction between the English and the Indians upon their arrival also seemed extremely natural, as did the harsh reality of failure that the colonists faced during their first winter. All of this was excellent, and yet it was peripheral to the story of Pocahontas herself--important only inasmuch as it affects her life.

This was a decent movie, but I confess that I have absolutely no idea how to rate it. It's a drama with very little action, lots of sweeping views of the landscape (which are quite beautiful), and an artistic interpretation of basic historical events. I guess I would recommend it to history buffs, and to those who like dramatic and innocent love stories. Definitely worth a look at some point, however, so if you don't see it in theaters then make sure to rent it on DVD in a few months.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Underworld: Evolution 

I’m so sick of Hollywood Executives. Clearly they have absolutely no understanding of their target audience, or, for that matter, human beings in general. I’ve no doubt that the planning session for this movie went something like this:

Hollywood Exec #1 (HE1): Let’s make a sequel to the reasonably successful and highly entertaining movie, Underworld.

Hollywood Exec #2 (HE2): Yes, let’s do it. And we should get the same actors. It shouldn't be too hard--Kate Beckinsale actually agreed to do Van Helsing, so it won’t be much of a stretch for her to do a sequel for Underworld. Plus, she sure is hot in that leather suit.

HE1: Oh totally. And that dude from Felicity will probably be a sure thing, despite his breakthrough performance in the XXX sequel.

HE2: Agreed. So, does anyone remember the plot from the first Underworld?

Underworld Writer (UW): I do.

HE1: Anyone? No? Well that’s too bad, because I’m pretty sure that the first Underworld left itself wide open for a sequel. I mean it practically screamed that there would be a sequel, the way they left it and all.

UW: Um, yeah because I wrote it.

HE1: Oh well, I guess we'll start from scratch then.

HE2: So basically, let’s just take Kate Beckinsale’s character and Bill Nighy’s character and explain how vampires and werewolves were created in the first place—and then let’s just throw in some footage from the first movie to tie it all together.

HE1: Sounds good to me, I’ll just have my 8 year-old kid dog write the script.

UW: Um, excuse me....

HE2: Should we review the script after your dog writes it?

HE1: What the fuck for?!

HE2: Good point.

UW: Guys?

Thus was born Underworld: Evolution. I wasn't expecting anything spectacularly mind-blowing, but I was expecting at least a small level of intelligence behind the project. All was not lost, however, as Underworld: Evolution was extremely nice to look at, since the effects were really pretty cool, and the fight scenes were very well choreographed. One has to respect the time and effort spent into having competent stunt doubles perform carefully maneuvered kicks and jumps, rather than resorting to simply to shaking the camera wildly about in order to obscure the fact that some actor looks like a complete goof doing martial arts kicks. Kudos to the computer geeks as well for the werewolf transformation effect, because it looked pretty rad.

The plot for this movie, as stated before, was nothing short of catastrophic. It picks up where Underworld left off (sort of), in which Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) are on the run after Selene slices Viktor's (Bill Nighy) head off. Michael, as you may recall, is a vampire/werewolf hybrid--the first of his kind, and ostensibly a creature with "limitless" powers as Selene theorizes at one point. I could never quite tell what these supposed limitless powers entailed, aside from tagging along and being generally quite useless. For an all-powerful being, Michael gets the crap kicked out of him in almost every fight, but not before he carefully removes his shirt prior to each duel. Afterward, Selene is always forced to feed him some of her own blood just to keep the guy alive. Amazingly enough, however, Selene actually finds this "pathetic weakling" trait irresistible, and the requisite sex scene is awkwardly and gratuitously crammed into the story. Their next step in the plan of attack is to wake up the last remaining elder of the vampire clan, Marcus (Tony Curran), who actually turns out to be kind of an asshole, so after he wakes up they have to go ahead and try to kill him. With bullets. Which will obviously never work on a vampire, but whatever. Marcus decides that he's going to go rescue his brother, William, from his thousand-year imprisonment for the crime of being a big nasty werewolf. Oh and for, you know, killing every living thing in sight so that it transforms into a vicious werewolf entity that can't turn back into human form again. Fabulous idea. So now Selene and Michael--or pretty much just Selene herself--has to stop Marcus from waking up his brother William, blah blah blah.

Perhaps what was most annoying about this movie was the fact that it wasn't even consistent with itself, nevermind its predecessor. It seemed that Marcus would impale some hapless vampire with his wings, which would sometimes kill the vampire but not always. The werewolves could sometimes be killed with a simple knife to the head (not even a silver one!), but other times one was forced to completely rip off its head just to stop it. And then there was Michael--who knows what kills that guy, but believe me, it doesn't take much apparently. Clearly the filmmakers had no idea what to do with his character, so they just ignored him and hoped he would go away on his own. He didn't.

I was so excited to see this movie, but so disappointed when I walked out of the theater. As I said, the effects were spectacular, and everything about the film was visually appealing. I can stand a certain level of inconsistency with movies, especially sci-fi and/or action ones, but this film was just absurd. I definitely recommend it as a DVD rental because it's cool to look at, but this way you can fast-forward through all the dialogue.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Brokeback Mountain 

Brokeback Mountain was an excellent movie--surprisingly deep and meaningful, yet very slow in its development. It wasn't slow as in boring, but I confess I did start to look at my watch after an hour and a half or so. However, all 2+ hours of the film were worth it, as I got to watch a movie that really, truly moved me.

The story is set in 1963 Signal Wyoming--a small ranch town where Ennis (Heath Ledger) moves with his finance Alma (Michelle Williams) to find seasonal work as a ranchhand. It is on one such job that he meets Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a rodeo cowboy from Texas who works up on Brokeback Mountain during the summers. A friendship develops between the two over the several months of their employment herding sheep on the mountain, and soon enough one thing leads to another and the inevitable one night of passion ensues as it (apparently) so often does in these situations. Ennis assures Jack the following day that he isn't gay, but then again neither is Jack...mostly. They continue their relationship throughout the remainder of their employment, but when the job is done for the season the two men go their separate ways. Ennis marries Alma and has two daughters with her, while Jack meets a cowgirl of his very own to marry back in Texas despite her father's extreme disapproval. Eventually, however, Jack's path leads him back to Wyoming, where he looks up Ennis and the two immediately resume their old relationship. From then on they meet several times a year up at Brokeback Mountain, which Ennis feels is the only safe place for them to protect their secret, fearing that if anyone found out then the two would surely be brutally attacked and murdered.

This movie's plot was very slow in its development, as the story covers nearly 20 years of Ennis's and Jack's lives. While Jack would be content to leave his wife and buy a ranch for both him and Ennis to run, Ennis fears that society will never allow him to have the relationship with Jack that he truly wants. Each of the two men struggle with their desire to be together and the various barriers that prevent their ultimate wish from its fulfillment. Ennis's struggle is almost entirely within himself--his fear of a violent and deadly societal repurcussion along with his own guilt at deceiving his family. Jack is less conflicted about the relationship, but is unable to convince Enus to leave his wife for a more unconventional lifestyle.

What I really liked most about this movie was the ease with which I was able to empathize with the characters--and I really don't think that this reaction would be limited to female viewers. I did manage to drag my date to this movie despite some hesitancy on his part, but I was surprised that he liked this movie as much as I did. It's not necessarily a story about two gay men attempting to hide their relationship from the outside world--it's about two people who make a strong connection despite their heterosexual natures, and must struggle with guilt, fear, and a seemingly uncontrollable need for each other's company. I really felt for both of these guys because their situation was so impossible, as they were constantly trying to reconcile their conscience with the relationship.

I definitely recommend this movie--to men and women, but only if one doesn't mind slow-moving and deliberate storylines. This is a movie about normal people and their innate need to pursue happiness within the tight constraints of the societies in which they live. The movie was extremely powerful and moving, and anyone who likes meaningful stories will enjoy this film. The acting is superb, the settings are beautiful, and in the end I felt that I more than got my money's worth.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Match Point 

The film's motto is "I'd rather be lucky than good," and no one learns that lesson better than the characters in this movie.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a poor boy from Ireland, who nearly got his big break playing professional tennis...but not quite. He finds himself teaching tennis lessons in London in order to make ends meet, when he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who introduces him to his sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). While Chris is certainly fond of Chloe, what he really likes most about her is her family's immeasurable wealth and influence, especially when her father offers him a lucrative position at one of his many businesses. Complications arise, however, when Chris is introduced to Tom's seductive fiancée Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), a struggling actress with whom he has an instant and irrepressible physical attraction. While Nola is less amenable to the idea of cheating on her fiancée than Chris is, as soon as her relationship ends, she is more open to his extremely aggressive pursuit of her. Now one might think that Chris, who has ostensibly married Chloe for mostly practical reasons, would therefore be extremely cautious in his infidelity, such that he would not hook up with Nola in the backyard with Chloe's entire family inside the house. But no. You would be wrong.

As Chris further entrenches himself in an illicit affair with Nola, he finds that it is becoming increasingly stressful to maintain the separation between his ever-demanding mistress and sweet but clueless wife, especially when Nola becomes adamant that Chris confess his affair to Chloe and divorce her. Meanwhile, Chloe wants to have children and starts demanding that Chris have sex with her every morning, to which Chris responds with a curious irritation at having a wife who wants to have sex all the time. (?) Eventually, however, with two crazy screaming women badgering Chris from all sides, he must find the most drastic solution imaginable to his problem without losing his opulent lifestyle.

This movie was quite good, I must admit. It was not what I would necessarily describe as a thriller, and yet throughout a good portion of the film I felt extremely tense and nervous. I wasn't sure whether I should root for Chris to escape the situation unscathed or whether to cheer for his ultimate ruin, but regardless I was extremely invested in the story and its eventual conclusion. It was surprisingly easy to identify with most of the characters, especially Chris, as despite his rather loose moral code he acted fairly rationally throughout the film (aside from some ridiculously obvious trysts with Nola wherein they could be discovered at almost any moment).

I would recommend this movie to those who wish to see a serious study of human nature within the context of someone willfully placing himself in a no-win situation--having to rely on his own wits and a fair amount of luck in order to navigate an increasingly complicated set of circumstances. Whether he is successful in his strategy and whether luck is with him or against him at the end is literally not clear until the last minute or two of the movie. Although this is a Woody Allen film, it certainly does not conform to his usual style, so don’t expect some goofball comedy if you choose to see Match Point. I recommend this flim as it is an exceptionally well-done movie and certainly worth a look.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Ringer 

I was a little uncomfortable going to this movie by myself, as I feared that others might mistake my solitary status as an indication of some sort of predilection for laughing at retarded people. Thankfully, however, The Ringer was not as crass or insensitive as I had anticipated, so I didn't have to make it as obvious as possible that I was there to review the movie, as I did when I watched Herbie: Fully Loaded by myself. Incidentally, you've never truly been shamed until you've been called out by a 10 year-old questioning why a 20-something adult would come to see Herbie by herself.

Apparently Johnny Knoxville wasn't entirely comfortable starring in a movie about deceiving the physically and mentally handicapped in order to make money off of the Special Olympics either, as his character, Steve, is essentially forced into the position of intentionally fixing the games. After listening to a verbally abusive motivational tape, Steve works up the courage to ask his boss for a promotion and a raise. After taking two seconds to ponder Steve's request, the boss agrees and tells him that his first test of new responsibility is to fire Stavi (Luis Avalos), the company's janitor. But Steve's just a big softie, and instead of firing poor Stavi, he instead hires him to mow his lawn, while throwing in a raise and health benefits as well. Unfortunately, Stavi doesn't make the brightest decisions, and accidentally loses three of his fingers while mowing Steve's lawn one day, resulting in a $28,000 operation that Steve, as Stavi's employer, is required to pay lest Stavi lose his fingers for good. Having only a few weeks in which to raise the money, Steve turns to his Uncle Gary (Brian Cox), who comes up with a scheme to fix the Special Olympics and bet on Steve in order to win enough money for the operation (and to pay off Uncle Gary's debts). Since this is obviously the only avenue left for Steve to pursue, he puts up brief and unenthusiastic moral objection against the plan, and then is left with absolutely no choice, positively no other option whatsoever, but to pretend to be retarded in order to fix the Special Olympics. We've all been there before, I'm sure. So, after watching Forrest Gump, I Am Sam, Rain Man, and The Green Mile, Uncle Gary is satisfied with Steve's ability to act retarded, and they attempt to register Steve for the Special Olympics. As it happens, the organizers of this event will apparently just take your word for it if you show up claiming to qualify as mentally handicapped, so Steve enters the competition under the inconspicuous pseudonym, Jeffy Dahmer.

The rest of the film is obvious. Of course, none of Jeffy's/Steve's fellow competitors actually buy him as being mentally handicapped, but they agree to help him out when they learn of his motivations for deceiving them. The movie was relatively funny in some parts, and all of the characters were likable enough, but I would classify this movie more in the "cute" category. The humor wasn't necessarily clever, but it was harmless and innocent, which made it overall entertaining to watch. I would recommend it, but I would suggest waiting for the DVD--there will probably be an uncut version and you won't be missing anything by waiting the extra few months to see it.


Reviewed by Special Guest Reviewer Josh

To say Hostel was disappointing would be like saying that Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson was unexpected. This movie had been played up so much that I made sure one of my housemates was going to be home tonight just so I wouldn't come home to an empty house. Instead, I should watch The Shining before I go to sleep.

What was so sad about this movie was that it started off so promisingly. The first thirty minutes started like this: "Amsterdam, motherfuckers!," drugs, hot women, drinking, more hot women, sex, hookers, sex, tits, sex, tits, tits, tits, sex, train ride, tits, drugs, sex, drugs, tits, tits, sex. How could anything go wrong? Seriously, if the movie ended there, I would have given it an oscar rating.

Let me tell you a little bit about the plot (plot being used extremely liberally). Two college buddies, a white boy named Josh and a mexican-american guy named Paxton who speaks German (WTF?), are backpacking in Europe after graduating from college and try to get laid as often as possible. In Amsterdam, they stay out too late and their hostel is closed because it's after curfew. (By the way, do hostels ever close? I've never been to Amsterdam, but isn't that why they're called hostels?! I remember staying at a hostel in Fairbanks, AK and these crazy German guys were singing drinking songs at the top of their lungs at 5am. But I digress.)

Since they're waking up EVERYONE in Amsterdam, the police are coming. A kind-hearted Russian guy hears them and tells them to climb up to his room. While his roommate is having sex, he tells them about a hostel in Slovakia where there are hot women with insatiable sex-drives. They don't buy it at first until they see the pictures on his camera-phone. They decide to go to Slovakia. Sure enough, the Russian was right.

Meanwhile (and not coincidentally), there's a place in Slovakia where people can pay to do whatever they want to someone (kinda like the US Army without any accountability).

If you've seen the previews, you can guess what happens next. Even if you can't, the movie is so predictable that you know what's going to happen ten minutes before it actually does. There's absolutely no suspense in this movie and never once was it scary.

There are good parts to this movie. The first thirty minutes were very entertaining (and not just because of the boobs). Jay Hernandez played the role of Paxton really well--almost too convincingly since no one else seemed to be playing their roles with the same complexity. The gore was gratuitous and good. Some of the things that happen to people in this movie are downright awful. But without the suspense, it lessened the impact--kind of like non-alcoholic beer: it has the taste, but you don't ever feel it.

The ending was a complete letdown and included one of the most idiotic escape scenes ever. Apparently in Slovakia, you can only see 10 feet in front of your face.

After reflecting on Hostel, I feel like Eli Roth was trying to use this as a vehicle for some sort of social commentary. Sadly, I don't know what it was.
Possible social commentary #1: Paying for prostitutes is bad.
PSC #2: Everyone should be bilingual.
PSC #3: Americans are not really looked upon favorably, so we should work on improving our image. Although our embassies are not to be trusted so never go there when you run into trouble.
PSC #4: Anything that comes easily is probably really bad.
PSC #5: Buy a camera phone, especially one that works in Europe
PSC #5: If you want a toe, I can get you a toe.

My suggestion is to watch some porn movie clips, then watch a video of a hip replacement surgery. You will have saved yourself ten bucks. Better yet, go to some other movie early and sneak in to watch the first thirty minutes of Hostel.

However, it is somewhat entertaining, so wait for Netflix.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


This was one of those movies that shows the struggle between doing what one must in order to serve justice, and following the rational course of action for peace. It's an extremely serious and dramatic movie, with a great deal of tension throughout; however if you're not into social and political commentary then this is not a movie that you should see.

The film opens at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, with the violent kidnapping of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. The events over the next day and night are shown with actual news footage from all over the world, ending with the murder of all 11 athletes during the gunfight at the Munich airport. In response to the Palestinian attacks, the Israeli government hires one of the Prime Minister's former bodyguards, Avnir (Eric Bana) to secretly exact vengeance upon all Palestinians who were involved in planning the terrorist attack. Avnir is given four team members, each with his own specialty, to assist him in these missions, and once all of the names on the list have been eliminated, the team will be allowed to return home. Avnir locates his targets with the assistance of a rather shady Frenchman, Louis (Mathieu Amalric), who says that he can find anyone on the list as long as Avnir is not affiliated with any governments. Each time they locate a target, they form a carefully planned strategy for his elimination, and complete it with varying degrees of success. As they kill more and more names from their original list, the Israeli government provides them with new names as well, and Avnir gradually begins to question the effectiveness of his mission as well as his own shrinking humanity.

The movie was consistently engaging, and I felt very tense throughout most of it. The continual flashbacks to the Black September kidnapping and eventual murder of the Israeli athletes were by far the most powerful and difficult parts of the movie, as the plight of the terrified and helpless athletes is forced upon the audience. Director Steven Spielberg doesn't necessarily take Israel's side completely, however, as whatever vengeance is taken serves only to escalate the tensions between Israel and Palestine, which inevitably results in more attacks and more innocent blood. Avnir's inner conflict throughout the movie serves to demonstrate this struggle, which is shared by most of his team as well--the initially overpowering need for vengeance becomes diluted with the dawning realization that no matter how many Palestinian terrorists they kill, more will always rise to replace them. As they begin to wonder whether their mission will ever end, they are suddenly confronted with the fact that they themselves are being hunted as well.

Mostly, this movie seemed to be a commentary on the nature of vengeance as well as the need to protect one's family and homeland. Avnir, like the audience, struggles with his actions, wondering whether Israel is correct in compromising its values in order to punish the terrorists by taking their lives.

All in all, I thought the movie was quite good, although some might find it a little boring in many parts. While the action scenes were extremely gripping and full of tension, this movie is mostly an observation of our own humanity. It is certainly a powerful one, and relevant to today's political environment, but if you aren't into the "man's struggle with his own conscience" movies, then I would recommend skipping this one. Honestly though, I think almost anyone would really like this movie, especially given the current state of affairs, so I would strongly recommend it to all.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Fun with Dick and Jane 

The most surprising thing to me about Fun with Dick and Jane, aside from the fact that I really liked it, was that Jim Carrey wasn't hamming it up nearly as much as I was expecting. Maybe it was Tea Leoni who didn't let him completely hog the spotlight, or maybe the guy is mellowing somewhat, but either way, he wasn't overwhelming. Think Jim Carrey from The Truman Show as opposed to Jim Carrey from The Mask or even Bruce Almighty. This combination of a toned-down Carrey with extremely funny scenes and dialogue made this movie surprisingly fun to watch.

The story takes place in 2000, prior to the Enron scandal and that hardened criminal Martha Stewart, wherein Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) has just gotten a huge promotion to VP of Communications at Globodyne Corporation. Unbeknownst to him, of course, the company is on the verge of tanking, as CEO Jack McAllister (Alec Baldwin) has been siphoning off money from false profits and just sold more than 80% of his stock. He pretty much screws the whole town over, as the 6,000 employees of Globodyne suddenly find themselves jobless, with worthless pension plans and little savings left after the company's stock crashed within a manner of minutes. Now, with Dick's wife, Jane (Tea Leoni), having quit her job just before the bust, and over 6,000 other competitors in a scarce job market, Dick and Jane are forced to take drastic measures and sell their plasma tv! There's still one bright spot for them, however, which is that despite selling their BMW, losing their electricity and being forced to shower in the neighbors' lawn sprinklers, they have still managed to continue the employment of their maid. Whew.

The movie really picks up at this point, when Dick and Jane are finally forced to choose a life of crime. Their initial attempts are somewhat clumsy, but Dick manages to find success even during his first try, when he steals a slushee from a convenience store and saves $1.25. I had found the movie to be rather unexceptional up until this point, at which time things really got really good. Each new caper comes with a different costume and a more elaborate and financially rewarding plan, and it was during one of these such scenes that I started crying from laughing so hard. While Jim Carrey seems able to produce all sorts of weird voices, never have I been so amused as when he sounded identical to Michael Winslow from Spaceballs and the Police Academy movies. Granted, Carrey and Leoni had some help from vocal synthesizers, but nevertheless, it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Tea Leoni was an excellent match up for Jim Carrey--the two worked so well together, and Leoni even managed to prevent Carrey from constantly upstaging her. She seemed perfectly at ease in her role, and I was surprised at her ability to be so funny. With the addition of several supporting characters, like former Globodyne CFO Frank Boscom (Richard Jenkins) and ex coworker Oz (Carlos Jacott), who were both extremely complimentary to the story, I found myself surprisingly entertained at almost every moment. I really loved the goofy but witty look at corruption in big corporations, and the movie always kept things from getting too serious.

I definitely recommend Fun with Dick and Jane, because despite a somewhat unremarkable start during the first half hour or so, when this movie went into full stride it was hilarious. True, if you hate Jim Carrey then stay away, because even though he's not as in your face as he has been in the past, the style of humor is still very much the same. But otherwise this is a silly (but not immature) flick that will easily get some laughs.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rumor Has It 

What is up with these "romantic comedies" that aren't really all that funny? Once again I was disappointed with what I had anticipated would be a hilarious movie. This is not to say that Rumor Has It wasn't funny at all or devoid of merit, but the scenes that did make me laugh were somewhat few and far between. I would say that it's definitely more of a "cute" movie.

The idea for the film is quite interesting, actually, as it tells us what happened to the family upon whom The Graduate was based. Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston) is traveling back home to Pasedena California with her fiance, Jeff (Mark Ruffalo), for her sister's wedding. Family gatherings of any kind make Sarah extremely nervous and uptight, as she has never been able to fit in with the rest of her relatives and therefore feels extremely out of place. When Sarah confides to her grandmother, Katharine (Shirley MacLaine), that she is feeling unsure about her engagement to perfect-guy Jeff, Katharine lets it slip that Sarah's mother had felt so anxious about her marriage to Sarah's father, that she had actually skipped out of town to Mexico one week before the wedding. After a little more investigating, Sarah discovers that her mother and her grandmother actually slept with the same guy, and that their affair was the inspiration for the book and movie The Graduate. What's more, Jeff helpfully points out that Sarah was born less than 9 months after her parents marriage, meaning that her father might in actuality be Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner)--the graduate himself.

So, is Beau Burroughs her biological father? I fucking hope not, because we already know from the previews that Sarah follows in her grandmother's and mother's footsteps by sleeping with the guy too, and I was simply not prepared to deal with the resulting yuck factor. Needless to say, however, Sarah confronts Beau about his history with the women in her family, and is forced to confront her own future with Jeff in the process by participating in this bizarre rite of passage

There were definitely some funny moments in this movie, though not enough to constitute a full-blown comedy. While it never gets too serious (like The Family Stone), it doesn't necessarily move all that quickly either, and I found myself somewhat restless as the movie's end grew nearer. Jennifer Aniston, despite sleeping with another man while engaged to Jeff, miraculously manages to remain as lovable as ever, with a natural charisma that pervades everything she does. She has some funny lines here and there, as does Mark Ruffalo, but Shirley MacLaine has the best character in the movie by far. Her "don't screw with me" attitude was consistently entertaining, and despite an extremely contrived screaming scene between way too many people, I thought all of her scenes were good.

I would probably wait for the DVD on this one--I definitely don't think it was a bad movie, but you won't be missing anything by waiting a few more months to see it. Then again, you just gotta love movies where the actors play characters who are the inspiration for the characters played by different actors in an earlier film.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Producers 

Better than Rent, but still not quite as awesome as Chicago. It took me about 20 minutes to adjust to the extremely strange musical style of this movie, but once I got a feel for it, I was shocked that I actually really liked it.

Broadway producer Max Bialystock(Nathan Lane) has made his career on the backs (or frontsides, rather) of little old ladies who will gladly fork over their money to finance his productions, which are usually flops. Then again, the duds aren't necessarily all that bad for him, inasmuch as he can skim off the top a little here and there knowing full well that the IRS is probably not going to investigate the finances of a failed show. But in walks delicate accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) one day, who notices the missing money but agrees to overlook it, leading the duo to mastermind a plan to intentionally produce the worst play ever and use some "creative accounting" to cover up the holes. After Leo decides to have some random hysterics that confused the hell out of me, the two set to work searching for the worst play ever written, hiring the worst director and cast of actors in town, and raising $2 million from little old ladies which will in actuality finance their escape to Rio following the production. This they do, and quite well--finding Franz Liebkind's (Will Ferrell) script, "Springtime for Hitler," which is certain to offend everyone, and hiring Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), the gayest (literally) director in Broadway, whose creed is that no matter what you're doing, one must always "keep it happy, keep it light, keep it gay." Their master plan set in motion, they await opening night with great anticipation of an enormous failure that will make them wildly rich.

As I said before, this was an extremely strange movie to understand at first--at least for me, having limited experience with musicals in general. I was at first struck with an immense dread within the first five minutes, when I realized that the movie was shot as though the performance were on a stage rather than a film. The actors were literally shouting, while overemphasizing facial expressions and gestures to an extreme degree, which made me feel quite annoyed during the beginning sequences. Once I got past this agitation and initial shock, however, I found it easy to sink into the natural rhythm of the movie and was surprised to discover that I really liked this movie.

Quite simply, it was absolutely hilarious, especially during the scenes with Will Ferrell's German character, Franz, and his rather well choreographed pigeons. The director, Carmen, and his entourage were also hysterical, and I could hardly take notes for laughing so hard during their songs. Much in the same way that I enjoyed the music from Chicago, I loved the songs from this movie. Everything was so well written and witty that I honestly want to see this movie again, and as I am not generally a fan of musicals, I am sure that anyone who is will most certainly like this one. I would even recommend it to those who might be hesitant, because the actual number of songs was minimal, and when they did occur I found them to be catchy and extremely funny.

Seriously, if I could really enjoy The Producers, then I'm sure almost anyone with a satirically minded sense of humor will as well. But if you already like this kind of thing, then I can't recommend more strongly that you don't miss this one.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006 Revues

I just got back from my extended Christmas/New Years vacation, so new reviews will be posted soon. It's kind of nice being completely disconnected from the internet for several weeks, but I've really missed the sticky floors, stale popcorn and jacked up ticket prices from my beloved movie theater down the street. I'll be doing a double dip (possibly even a triple dip) tomorrow in order to catch up.

Happy New Year everyone!