* Matrix Reloaded: (2003 - Action, sci-fi, thriller) The long awaited sequel. As usual, it doesn't quite live up to its predecessor. Unfortunately, it's taken a lot of heat in the media for not being as awesome as the first movie. I tend to agree that there were some flaws with the movie. However, it was a kick ass movie. Except for some poor cgi in some of the fight scenes (between Neo and the Smiths), the special effects were awesome. The story line flowed well, and I wasn't constantly predicting the next scene. The casting was superb, the costumes were excellent, and the acting was... One of the few criticisms I have for this film; well, let's just say that Keanau Reeves acting seemed somewhat practiced, rehearsed, stutterish, it just didn't seem natural. Perhaps that was intentional? Laurence Fishbourne; as Morpheus, does an excellent job this time around. Gloria Foster was outstanding as the Oracle. Unfortunately, she died during the filming of this movie. Hugo Weaving stole the show as the agent Mr. Smith. The story is more personal this time around. It really gives us some good character development, and the character names are one of the remarkable aspects of this movie - Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, Mr. Smith, The Oracle, The Architect, The Keymaker, The Merovingian; the list goes on and on. Every name is excellent. Not only does it tell you something about the character, it's also very catchy, stylish, and adds to the lore created by this trilogy. While the last city of Zion is threatened with total destruction, Neo must discover himself, and save Trinity from a prophetic fate. At the same time, agent Smith is experiencing something of a revelation himself. I rate it 4 out of 5.
* The Year Without a Santa Claus: (1974 - Animation, family, musical) Yes, I have seen this before. I didn't remember it until I slipped in the disc and saw the loveable Rankin-Bass figures. Just like the ones from Little Drummer boy and Rudolph, the animation in these classic Christmas movies is one of the things I remember most. The story - Santa isn't feeling well, and he takes his doctor's advice - He decides to cancel Christmas, he calls the whole thing off! Follow that up with the well wishes, cards and letters from children from around the world. Children singing blue Christmas songs, and even I start to whimper. The bad guys - Frost Miser and Heat Miser are awesome. This musical will lift your heart, make you smile so much your face hurts, and fill you with joy. I loved it. 4 out of 5.
* Matrix Revolutions: (2003 - Action, sci-fi, thriller) The end of the trilogy. Everything has a beginning and an end. This movie was about death, endings, living together and a new beginning. The machines are about to destroy Zion - the last human outpost, but the Humans have a secret weapon. Can Neo cut right to the heart of the machine city and force a man machine ultimatum? Excellent acting. Hugo Weaving once again steals the show as Agent Smith. Once again the movie feels rushed. The 2nd and 3rd movies feel rushed when compared to the first movie. This movie feels much more like the 2nd movie than the first. The action was much better this time around, but it was too much. Too much action, too much dialog. I liked the dialog. It explained a lot about the relationships between man and the machine, and it was filled with some excellent philosophical/religious points. The Oracle, the Architect, the Frenchman, the Trainmaster, etc. The only flaw in this movie; the pacing. It did a very good job of wrapping things up. The ending was fitting, just, and excellent. This one gets a 5 out of 5.
* Cape Fear: (1962 - Crime, drama, thriller) Starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Martin Balsam, Jack Kruschen, Telly Savalas and others. This movie (remade in 1991) is based on a Novel, and it's a great thriller. Packed with suspense, tension, and thrilling drama. The direction by J. Lee Thompson, manages to channel Hitchcock in a remarkable movie. Excellent acting all around. When Max Caddy (played by Mitchum) gets out of prison, he immediately seeks out Sam Bowden (played by Gregory Peck). He blames everything on Sam Bowden - his incarceration, his broken marriage, his lost years, everything! He doesn't plot in secret. He comes out in the open and tells Sam what he's got in mind. The payback plan involves Sam's wife and child. As Sam's morals are tested, he finds himself tormented by his own conscious as much as he is by Caddy. Some of the dialogue reflects my current concerns regarding the invasiveness of our government when it comes to 'thought crimes'. There are at least two segments that call into question the maxim 'innocent until proven guilty', and in today's climate of terrorism and fear, these issues are of great concern. This movie is thrilling from beginning. to end. You can't tear yourself away from the unraveling story. The best part of this movie is the lack of dialogue. Some great camera shots of Caddy simply looking at Sam's family. The camera work in general was outstanding, the framing perfect. The music was notable as well. My only criticism, a lack of sexually overt content/dialogue (it was the early 60's and I doubt the censors would let them get away with much, given the age of Lori Martin (in her early teens)) and the less than vicious nature of the antagonist. 4 out of 5.
* Mutiny on the Bounty: (1935 - Adventure, drama, history) Starring Charles Laughton, Clark Gable and many others star in this high seas adventure. This is the true to life story of mutiny on the high seas. In a case that helped Britain revise their seafaring policies, here's the tale of coup d'état aboard the HMS Bounty. In 1935, this movie had a budget of $2,000,000.00! and the results were great. The effects, film work, location shots, props and costumes were absolutely amazing. What's the story? Well, just in case you're not familiar with it; here's a brief synopsis. The crew (mostly pressed into service) has had enough of Captain Bligh's heavy handed policies of floggings, keelhauling, and incessant punishment. When the Captain decides to cut their water rations, they take maters into their own hands. The first mate sides with the crew, setting Bligh and his loyalists afloat in the Pacific with their lives and little provisions. When the loyalist survive, and make port in safe harbor, the trial begins. Parts of this movie are shot on location in Tahiti, and the location shots were great. This movie focused on the ships journey, the stop in Tahiti, and the resultant mutiny. Little attention is paid to the trial, but the results were excellent. A seagoing saga of epic proportions. The only blemish on this fine film was the 'fully clothed' Tahitian natives. 4 of 5.
* The Great Outdoors: (1988 - Comedy, adventure) Comcast on Demand. Starring Dan Aykroyd and John Candy, this is a pretty good comedy. It made me laugh, occasionally. John Candy was great. Dan Akroyd was 'Dan Akroyd', which means he really couldn't act outside his singular style. John Candy takes his family on a long planned vacation to the North Woods. It's time to recharge his batteries, bond with his wife and kids, relax, and have some good old fun. That all comes to a grinding halt when his annoying in-laws show up unexpectedly. What follows are catastrophic hi-jinks and a bear attack! The locations and sets were great, but the formulaic 80's comedy plot wasn't all that amusing. Physical gags, Candy vs Akroyd in a one-up-manship game. Candy becomes the butt of most jokes, and the jokes weren't all that funny. The insertion of a teen romance was preposterous filler, and it helped drag this movie down. 3 out of 5.
* I am Omega: (2007 - Action, sci-fi, horror) Here's the last of four films based on the book 'I Am Legend'. I wanted to watch all of them, and this one was the last. It's hard to believe that this movie was made in 2007. I would have guessed it was made in the 80's. The reason you never heard of it? 'Straight to DVD' The movie is loosely based on the book. Here are the remnants of pandemic plague. Something killed most of the Earth's population. The remainder are divided into two groups. One set are blood-thirsty, mindless, mutants, the other are survival oriented humans trying their best to make it from day-to-day. In this movie, the main character (Named Renchard?) is a former special forces martial arts expert. His family was apparently victims of the plague. Then there's the mutants. These mindless mutants are awake and prowling the cities during day or night. The make-up, costumes and prosthetic spikes were better than the cgi-disaster in 'I Am Legend'. The location is Nevada, just outside a big city. The main character is planning to 'blow up' the entire city by rigging explosives along natural gas lines. That's when he learns about another survivor. So, he learns about this other survivor through an internet chat? The internet, the electrical distribution grid, and natural gas pipe lines all survives armageddon? Any way, apparently there's a group of people trying to reconstitute society. At first Renchard's not into that, telling this hot survivor (who can't bother to wipe dirt off her face) that he can't help her. Then a group of bad-ass special ops guys show up - and force him to help them rescue the princess? What the? What movie am I watching? This movie was terrible. The acting was poor, the direction terrible, the music bad, the sound quality horrible, and the story was all over the place. Full of plot holes and inconsistencies, they deviated quite a bit from the book. Presumably they did this in order to make their movie more original. Unfortunately, the result was unwatchable. Do yourself a favor, just look at the box cover, and imagine a better movie. 1 of 5.
* Bean: (1997 - Comedy / U.K., U.S.) Written (in part) and staring Rowan Atkinson. Bean is a lovable, bumbling character. A moron with amazing luck, endearing charm, and boundless idiocy. When the board of directors (Bean works as a watchman at a London museum) tries to sack this sad-sack, they run afoul of the director, who - for some unknown reason - loves Bean. They do the next best thing they can think of; they send him on an extended business trip to America. He's to help promote the arrival of "Whistler's Mother". It's recently been purchased by an American, and it's coming back to America. With Bean helping, you can be sure that there will be many laughable scenes and scenarios. His close lipped (minimal dialogue) style, uncoordinated mannerisms, and goofy faces, make him a comedy classic. A ninety minute laugh fest. The movie hinges entirely on Bean, as the rest of the plot and actors are merely there to provide a frame for this master of slapstick. 3 of 5.
* Blue Thunder: (1983 - Action, drama, crime) Starring Warren Oates, Roy Scheider, Candy Clark, Malcolm McDowell, Daniel Stern and others. While testing out a new 'super-copter', Roy Scheider (playing a helicopter pilot on the L.A. police force) and his partner (played by Daniel Stern) learn of a government plan to use police helicopters on rioting civilians. The plot is very simple, and that helps to keep the focus in this action packed, police drama. The acting was great. Roy Scheider was exceptional, and Malcolm McDowell made for a perfect 'A-Hole'. Made in 1984, the special effects were pretty good for the time, and the helicopter's capabilities provided for a great third character. The technology, terminology and theatrical performances raise this action vehicle above the crowd of 80's police dramas. The only problems with this movie were editing/production work. 4 out of 5.
* Cape Fear: (1991 - Crime, drama, thriller) Directed by one of my favorites (Martin Scorsese) and starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker. It even includes Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (in a very small role). Here's a remake that, in my opinion - exceeds the original. The story is based on a novel, and remains the same - in most aspects - as the original movie. Nick Nolte is a public defender, and Robert De Niro plays a disgruntled ex-con. Nick Nolte's defense was less than honest, less than efficient, and less than effective. The result? The illiterate and violent Max Cady went straight to prison after his conviction in an underage rape case. When De Niro gets out of prison, he heads straight for the Florida town where Sam Bowden is practicing law. He's out for revenge. Revenge for 14 years of incarceration, 14 years of sodomy, misery, and hellish conditions. Max Cody (played by Robert De Niro) is planning his own brand of justice in this thrilling crime drama. This movie features plenty of great drama. By blurring the lines a bit, Scorsese manages to make this a darker film than the original. Nolte isn't as innocent as the Sam Bowden in the original movie. The acting by Robert De Niro may have been a bit overly dramatic, but he created the most frightening ex-con that I could ever imagine. Truly without social conscious, Max Cody is only interested in his own plan of retribution, he'll do whatever he needs to in order to extract his 'pound of flesh' from Sam Bowden. He's on a religious crusade that will only end when Max Bowden's soul is crucified on his alter of retribution. The character development in this movie is much more extensive than that of the original film, and the camera work excellent. The lighting was outstanding, as was the music. Despite the poor casting choice (she was too old for the role), Juliette Lewis's acting was outstanding. One of her best performances. She did an excellent job of portraying a 'blossoming' 15 year old girl. The acting by all concerned was outstanding. The climactic boathouse segment was audaciously over the top. A dramatic explosion, rivaling the fourth of July fireworks in this movie. 5 out of 5.
* Back to the Future: (1985 - Comedy, sci-fi, adventure) Written (in part) and directed by Robert Zemeckis, this movie features a fantastic, well-matched cast of Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson and others. The story is a sci-fi comedy featuring time travel. One of my favorite subjects. The eccentric Doc Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd) invents a time traveling DeLorean, and Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) inadvertently mucks up history, by preventing his parents from getting together. As Marty and Dr. Brown do their best to unravel this comedic time-travel adventure, we're treated to an excellent movie. The acting, direction, writing, 80's soundtrack, and special effects were all outstanding. Very entertaining, very funny, excellent movie. I own it, and so should you. FYI: The data Oct 26, 1985 plays prominently in the movie. That's the day Kim and I got married (on my birthday). Coincidence? Perhaps it's a significant time travel date! 5 out of 5.
* Sunshine: (2007 - Sci-fi, drama, thriller, action / U.K., U.S.) A sci-fi thriller arrives during a dearth of serious sci-fi releases. A character driven sci-fi movie, with great visuals. Starring a relatively unknown cast (I only recognized one of the actors; Cillian Murphy) of young actors, and despite the preposterous premise, I found myself liking this movie. Something of a mix between Solaris and Event Horizon. Fifty years from now, a team of astronauts are sent on a mission to restart the sun? using a nuclear bomb (a big bomb)? Things start to go bad when they come upon the derelict spaceship - Icarus I. Yeah, like I said - a bit preposterous. There were other problems with the science in this science fiction movie, but thankfully, the directing (by Danny Boyle (The Beach, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later)), cinematography, lighting, soundtrack, pacing, special effects, sets and costumes allowed me to overlook these problems. The acting was fair, and the writing fair. The cgi is well done, and it doesn't overwhelm the film. The characters are complex and well developed. Cillian Murphy did a very good job as the payload specialist (aka Bomb boy). I thoroughly enjoyed this one. 4 out of 5.
* * Star Trek - The original series - Vol. 38, episodes 75 & 76: [The way to Eden / Requiem for Methuseleh]: I've been watching episodes of the original Star Trek series for the last couple of years. I watched it as a kid when I was growing up (Yow! that makes me... old?), I loved it back then, and I still love it. My friends and I used to pretend to be members of the 'Starship Enterprise', and this television series was a great source of imaginative exercise while I was growing up. The first episode on this disc was by far my least favorite Star Trek episode ever. An absolute piece of garbage. The Enterprise takes on a crew of crazy peaceniks led by one insane, disease infested megalomaniac, and his band of happy, peace loving followers. They hi-jack the Enterprise - with utter ease, and force the Enterprise to take them to 'Eden' where they promptly die from poisonous plants - Thank goodness! The preposterous plot was full of holes, the acting was horrid and the music disgusting. The costumes were vomitous, and the character developments disturbing. The 'Space-Hippies' episode. The second episode was another 'Immortal' episode. Based on Shakespeare's Tempest. The crew is infected with Rigellian fever, and they beam down to Holberg-917G to gather ryetalyn for a cure. They are confronted by sentry robot and told to leave by its master. When the crew refuses, they're invited to Flint's home. Flint has a beautiful, and highly intelligent 'daughter'. The crew fall for her, and when they try to leave they discover that Flint doesn't want to let them go. He threatens them, a fight ensues, Flint's 'daughter' overloads her 'circuits' and dies as she's torn apart by love. The crew discovers the truth about the immortal Flint, and he allows them to leave with their ryetalyn.
* To Live: (1994 - Drama, historical / China, Hong Kong - Huozhe) A communist propaganda film, disguised as an epic drama. An emotionally charged film about the life of a married Chinese couple within Communist China. The basic story here is how the Chinese people adapt to change. Despite the government, or current political climate, they adapt 'to live'. The movie opens pre-Communism when the lead character loses everything to a gambling addiction (that would never happen under Communism!). Then he's pressed into compulsory military service by the Nationalist military (that would never happen under Communism, everyone voluntarily joined the 'revolution'). After the war, he's declared a hero, because he fought on the side of the communists. The man he lost his home to (gambling at dice) is shot to death (five bullets?), because he was a counter-revolutionary? The days and years that follow show the family adapting and overcoming the hardships. They voluntarily give up all their metal in order to fuel the battle for Taiwan (which is never resolved onscreen). The smiling happy children are forced to go to 'school', where they work at the foundry for the greater glory of the state. They eat immense piles of food at the 'communal' kitchen/dining facility, and never complain about their hardship. I have to admit that the director is able to tell the truth about communism in China through subtle inclusion of these ridiculous anomalies. If you're smart you can read between the lines. The director took some very subtle stabs at the communist regime by including truthful depictions of conditions under communist rule. If your an official government censor (in China), you apparently can't see how this piece of work is clearly pointing out the cruelty, insensitivity and stupidity of communism in China. The victims of the regime, willingly accept the fate offered them after being labeled 'educated', 'elite' or 'capitalist'. Despite the huge amount of propaganda packed into this dramatic epic. It was an excellent film. Well acted, well directed, and well shot. The production value was very good. Some of the best parts of the movie are the accompanied puppet shows. Unfortunately the intense propaganda treatment left a bad taste in my mouth. I give it a 3 out of 5.
* Erik the Viking: (Comedy, historical / U.K., Sweden) Written and directed by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame), and starring John Cleese, Mickey Rooney, Terry Jones, Tim Robbins, and others. I waited many years to see this movie. Recommended by a friend/fan of the Python movies, I was sorely disappointed by this film. Apparently this newly released DVD is a poor cut of the original movie. With nearly 30 fewer minutes, I can hardly imagine what was cut, but I can say that this movie had some poor production value. The sound quality was particularly poor. The acting was o.k. but it seemed to me that Tim Robbins was miscast in his role. The story - Erik (played by Tim Robbins) is tired of Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. The sky's are perpetually dark, and all his people ever do is loot, pillage, and rape. It's downright depressing, demeaning, and dark. In a quest to cross the bi-frost bridge, Rollins gathers a group of intrepid Vikings to embark on a perilous journey. He means to waken the gods, and end this depressing era in Viking history. The story showed great promise, but parts of it felt rushed, and the production value was particularly poor. I am pained to only rate this 2 out of 5.
* Reign Over Me: (2007 - Drama) Recommended by a friend at work. I was able to watch this movie because it was one of Kim's picks. Written and directed by Mike Binder, starring Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows and others. This is a character based drama centered around two men. Charlie Fineman (played by Adam Sandler) is living in misery, denying the death of his wife and children in a Sept-11 plane crash. Alan Johnson (played by Don Cheadle) is suffocating in a life that doesn't contain any place for 'him'. The two are former college room mates. When Alan comes upon Charlie, he's surprised to find him withdrawn from dental practice, locked away socially, playing 'Shadows of the Colossus', in his dark apartment. Alan is seeking male companionship, an out from his stifling family life. He hooks up with Charlie just to get away for a few nights, only to find that he can't help but try to 'help' Charlie. That's when the movie moves into darker territory. As Charlie tries to cope with the devastation he's blocked from his memory, we're pulled along on a difficult journey into the wounded heart of this victim. The acting was good. Especially Don Cheadle's. Adam Sandler was o.k. He has a tendency to fall back onto his usual slurred, sad-sack, sappy, Happy Gilmore character, and when he does, the film begins to slip. The lighting, pacing and music were great. Unfortunately, the territory here is well charted, and the enjoyment of this movie comes more from direction than story. The treatment of women is notably sexist (the main characters are both involved in unbelievable relationships with the 'incredibly hot' women in their lives) in this movie, and that detracted from my enjoyment. I thought it was a good movie. 3 out of 5.
* Kolya: (1996 - Drama, comedy, historical / Czech Republic - Kolja) This movie is set in Czechoslovakia during 1989. Franta Louka is a middle aged concert cellist in Soviet occupied Prague. Kicked out of the philharmonic for unknown reasons. He gets by working funerals, small pick up events, and restoring headstones. His life style is austere, but it suits him well. He's comfortable in his bachelor pad, womanizing, drinking, and living life on his own schedule. When he decides to participate in a fake wedding, fate changes his life. He agrees to an arranged marriage in order to procure official papers for a beautiful Russian woman. He's completely distracted by her beauty, and the money he'll receive. As he jokes about their wedding night, she skips out on the honeymoon, and Franta is left with the woman's child. A five year old boy (who's acting was outstanding!), Kolya's innocence quickly destroys Franta's 'me, myself and I' ethic. As the man and boy grow together, Franta comes to realize that their may be more to life than his skirt chasing, selfish, 'me only' life style. The direction and acting were great. The music outstanding, the lighting, pacing, locations, costumes, and sets so genuine that I felt like I was part of their lives. The changing landscape of the soviet occupation provided an excellent historical backdrop for this movie. 4 out of 5.
* There's Something About Mary: (1998 - Comedy, romance) Written and directed by a pair of brothers; Bobby & Peter Farrelly. Starring Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller, Lee Evans, Chris Elliott and others. Here's a great romantic comedy. Letting the cast play themselves as 17 year olds was a bold move. In a way I liked it. On the other hand it was a bit odd. The actors are significantly older than the roles they were playing. The acting wasn't the best, but it was appropriate to the roles and genre. The story was great. Single, frustrated and still obsessing over a long lost love. Ted (played by Ben Stiller) decides to look up his lost love. He's simply curious as to how things turned out for her. He hires a P.I. (played by Matt Dillon). After some initial difficulty, he decides to pay her a visit. Along with a friend (played by Chris Elliott), he's soon caught up in tragic, comedic romance of embarrassing proportions. The laughs were big, the music great and the direction fine. The only problems with this movie? The denigrating treatment of women and people with disabilities. These Farrelly brothers seem to go out of their way to poke fun at people with handicaps. For some reason, they insist on making minorities and the disabled the target of their jokes. I don't like. Despite this unacceptable social treatment, I found this movie unbelievably funny, happy and entertaining. It gets a 5 out of 5.
* The Siege: (1998 - Action, drama, crime, thriller) When the U.S. military abducts an extremist Sheikh, terrorists respond with bomb attacks inside America. The result is a declaration of martial law which endangers our way of life. As the heroes of the film try to find the terrorists, the military crackdown creates a threat of civil uprising. Written by Lawrence Wright, and directed by Edward Zwick. Starring Bruce Willis, Annette Bening, Tony Shalhoub and Denzel Washington. It's amazing how closely this 1998 movie mirrors the events leading up to and following the attacks on 9-11. Granted, the treatment of Arab Americans in this film was a bit over the top, and the stereotypes were quite thick. The acting was o.k. The best acting (in my opinion) came from Tony Shalhoub. The characters were rather black and white. The dialog and subtext made this movie better after 9-11. Before 9-11 it seemed cliched and stereotypical. This movie raised/raises many questions regarding executive powers, the power of the military, torture and retribution. Highly polarizing and prejudicial, the movie was nonetheless entertaining, thrilling and tense. I wasn't very happy with the ending. It basically laid all the blame at the feet of a single rogue element inside the U.S. military. Neatly avoiding any finger pointing at his leaders, those who abducted the Sheikh, or the questions of how he could have operated in the manner that he did. 3 out of 5.
* The Specialist: (1994 - Action, crime, drama) A gift from a coworker. I thought I hadn't seen this movie, but now I remember. The most memorable part of this movie was the explosive set up at the end. Despite my low rating on this movie, I still enjoy Stallone. This formulaic crime thriller is a typical hollywood action flick that features beautiful people, big explosions, invincible characters and plenty of cheesy dialog. Well cast, but poorly directed and written. This movie featured Sylvester Stallone (as Ray Quick the former CIA explosives 'Specialist'), Sharon Stone (as Adrian Hastings the sole survivor turned avenging angel), James Woods (As Ned Trent, the former CIA teammate gone over to the dark side), Rod Steiger (As Joe Leon the South Florida (by way of Cuba?) mob boss monster, and Eric Roberts (as Tomas Leon the immortal (hasn't aged in 20 years), womanizing, arrogant son of a mobster). The entire movie is based on an incredibly contrived plot where Woods has hooked up with Stone and hired on with Rod Steiger in order to lure Stallone out into the open so that he can kill him? While simultaneously affording Stone the opportunity to exact revenge on James Woods and his gang of hoodlums, for the murder of her parents. As I said the plot is convoluted and contrived. While this movie featured a lot of hollywood style action, explosions and violence, it also featured a fair share of skin. Unfortunately, the circumstances were so unlikely, and the character development so weak, that I ended up laughing during the Stallone / Stone love scene. While I appreciated the slight glimpses at Stone's physique (mainly her legs), her body was fairly smothered throughout the protracted sex scenes (more than one) by Stallone. I saw so much of his ass that I was beginning to wonder... 'How exactly does a person work on their ass muscles?' Anyway, back to the review. The acting was pretty poor. Stallone and Stone have both done better. The best performance came from Rod Steiger in his highly accented mobster portrayal. The costumes, makeup and hair were very 'Miami Vice' in a bad way. The music was forgettable. The most amazing part about this over-the-top bombastic hollywood plot? Stallone never fires a gun? 2 out of 5.
* Impostor: (2002 - Sci-fi, action, thriller, drama) Another movie based on a Philip K. Dick short story. Starring a great cast of Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub, and others. The story has a pretty heavy sci-fi background. In the year 2079, Earth is at war with Alpha Centauri. They've been at war as long as Spencer Olham (played by Sinise) can remember. They killed his father, and ending the war has provided Olham with motivation that drove him to excellence, education, and ultimately development of the ultimate weapon. A device that will end the war, forcing the Centauri into capitulation or utter destruction. One day he's on top of the world, ready to put the finishing touches on his deadly masterpiece, the next day - he's public enemy number one. As he struggles to prove his innocence, we're taken on a thrilling journey into this dystopic future, where a few cities are shielded from the bombs of our enemies, but the outlands house the underprivileged in unprotected 'dead zones'. As the main character discovers the truth about himself, he also reveals the harsh realities that war brings with it. The hidden truths of this costly war. What about the rights of 'others'? Replicants, and refugees alike? This movie suffered from some poor editing, and a low budget, but it didn't suffer for acting. Sinise and Stowe were excellent. D'Onofrio was a bit over the top, but tolerable. The special effects weren't the greatest, but at least they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie. The climax was a bit tough to watch, due to the editing, but I liked the explosive but ambiguous ending. 3 out of 5.
* Stalag 17: (1953 - Drama, war, comedy, thriller) Directed by Billy Wilder, the master of dramas (who lost family members to the Nazis during the Holocaust). This movie featured a fantastic cast - William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Richard Erdman, Peter Graves, Neville Brand, Sig Ruman and others. The screen play, based on a play was excellent. The mix of comedy and drama was perfectly balanced. An excellent example of dramatic relief through comedy. Despite the dark thrilling aspects of this witty drama, the dancing, singing and humor were handled with the greatest care and attention. Creating a sublime, but bittersweet tale of the hardships these men faced. The acting was outstanding. Especially the portrayal of 'Animal' by Robert Strauss, and William Holden's excellent portrayal of Sefton - the survivor with a hidden heart of gold. This movie formed the basis of the "Hogan's Heroes" television series, which ran for six seasons. Influences from this movie can clearly be seen in M.A.S.H. and other 'POW camp' movies. The camp itself was very realistic. Not the antiseptic set of a hollywood back lot. The story is one of deception, drama, and escape from a Nazi POW camp. As the American prisoners strive to escape or survive, their every move is thwarted and shadowed by the camps overseers. There's a spy in their midst, and they've got to figure out who it is before the next escape attempt. Lives are hanging in the balance, and the German's aren't playing any games in this camp. Awesome pacing, editing, and great direction combine with outstanding acting and music to mark a memorable movie about life in a WWII POW camp. I liked it so much, I'm adding it to my list of must buy movies. FYI: This movie won three academy awards in 1954. William Holden got best actor, Robert Strauss got best supporting actor, and Billy Wilder got best director. 5 out of 5.
* A Day at the Races: (1937 - Comedy) Considered by many to be one of the best 'Marx Brothers' films, I found it to be a humorous but uneven movie. It starts out by establishing a firm story - A privately owned sanitarium (something like a resort hospital) is on the verge of foreclosure. The last of it's wealthy clientele has decided to leave, and the Marx brothers do their best to help the 'maiden in distress' owner keep the place. On the other side is the evil land developer, who is secretly plotting the downfall of this innocent woman's business. He's planning on a rather lucrative land development scheme which would swindle many rich folks out of their money. How devious! What a capitalist! Starring Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, this movie started out with a semblance of character development and story, only to degenerate into slapstick, physical humor that the Marx brothers do so well. The movie is interrupted/padded out at intervals by odd vaudeville interludes. Singers, tap-dancing, etc. At one point there's a rather long 'Negro' song and dance number. This particular show was very entertaining, even if it served no purpose in advancing any remaining plot threads. The talented black ensemble put on a excellent show, and the musical talent was great. Unfortunately, it's inclusion was also colored by highly stereotyped costumes and make-up. Thankfully, some of the Marx brothers gags, and musical numbers (I had no idea they were so musically (instrumentally) inclined), provided enough laughs and entertainment to drag this erratic production out of the gutter. If only I'd fast forwarded whenever the 'Other' actors (straight to the Marx bent) started singing. I give it a 3 out of 5.
* Killer's Kiss: (1955 - Drama, crime, film-noir, thriller) A surprising thriller from Stanley Kubrick. Written and directed by this favorite director. Here's an early work that not only showed us what was yet to come, it shined with a brilliance all it's own. The actors take second stage to the story in this movie. When a down and out third rate boxer gets involved with a dance hall girl, it's a tragic film-noir story of vice, lust, murder, and love. The characters are ordinary nobodies. Down on their luck, looking for something, but never grasping the silver ring. Two primary characters are caught up in the passionate act of a third character when his love is spurned by the leading lady. The camera work was excellent. The pacing brilliant. The color and lighting (in this monochrome print) were awesome. The suspense was heightened by a low-key soundtrack that did an excellent job of matching the pacing to the mood of the movie. The dialog on the other hand was a disappointment as all of it was dubbed in afterwards. The shots of times square station and 1950's New York were outstanding, the film had a very documentary feel to it. Which complemented the recollection narration aspect greatly. A very good movie. 4 out of 5.
* Family Guy Presents - Stewie Griffin - The Untold Story: (2005 - Comedy, animation) This one was lent by a coworker, who's all time favorite show is 'Family Guy'. I'm not much of a fan. I've seen it, and noted it's inclusion of trendy current social satire in the comedy. Here's a twenty minute show stretched into an 88 minute movie. I'm not a fan of the animated format, and the pacing in this movie is that. A hyper-fast-forward cartoon. A parody of real-life, intended to elicit laughs. The plot. Stewie (the adult acting infant), sees someone whom he assumes to be his father, pursues the person, and discovers that he's a future version of himself. There were lots of laughs, but the other characters in the movie were purely diversion in comedic filling. Serving no purpose other than socially satirical commentary in a comedic guise. Sure, it was funny, but the incredibly fast pacing and schizophrenic nature of the social references left my head spinning like a piñata version of Linda Blair in the Exorcist. The best part of this entire 'movie' was the slow-mo race to the swimming pool. The music played during that sequence was one of my favorite tracks, from a favorite band (Rotating Heads by The English Beat). The fast paced song was a perfect match to the slow motion running segment. After the first twenty minutes, I was hoping the movie would come to a quick end. Unfortunately, it didn't. I wasn't impressed by the movie. As a matter of fact. I didn't like it. 2 out of 5.
* The Golden Child: (1986 - Comedy, action, adventure, fantasy) From my movie collection. Eddie Murphy (at the top of his game) plays the 'Chosen One'. Chosen to rescue the 'Golden Child' from a band of odd-ball characters led by a demonic agent. The movie has a preposterous, but entertaining plot. Feeling very much like a smaller budget version of Indiana Jones. This movie is a action packed adventure, a typical hollywood plot, made funny by the casting of one funny man - Eddie Murphy. This movie had an odd feel to it. It's as if it were cast as a hollywood action adventure movie, hijacked in casting of the lead role. Eddie Murphy hams it up to great effect in this movie. If it hadn't been for him the movie would have been unwatchable. While Charlotte Lewis was easy on the eyes, her acting, and the rest of the casting was painful to endure. The music was some poorly construed 80's tracks, the special effects cheesy in the 80's way, and the plot preposterous. Did I happen to mention that Eddie Murphy was the only reason to watch this movie? His lines, improvisations, and light hearted nature get him a 4 out of 5 in this mystic, Tibetan, adventure.
* Marxist Poetry - The making of 'The Battle of Algiers': (2004 - Documentary, history) This movie is one of several documentaries provided with my 'Criterion Collection' version of 'The Battle of Algiers'. I don't typically rate, or mention these 'on the disc' documentaries in my reviews, but this one (I also watch Gillo Pontecorvo - The Dictatorship of Truth (1992)) warranted exception. Starring several principals from the film's production, film critics and scholars, this movie has gathered some rather influential voices in this complement to the film. It was a leftist vehicle, of that their is no doubt. The other 'Truth' of this film was it's amazing quality in a cinematic sense. This documentary makes no qualms in it's role. It delves deeper than your standard audio commentary track. Adding interviews, news footage, excerpts and a detailed examination of the films ties to historical fact. This making-of documentary was excellent. Extremely well edited and directed, the style and themes of this documentary were presented in a naturalistic flow, that felt very much like the pace and tempo presented by the film (The Battle of Algiers). It wasn't a political tool, or a one sided argument. It was a selfless examination of the poignant truths about it's subject. From difficult beginnings, through the torturous production, low budget and emotional truth of the matter. 4 out of 5.
* Good Morning, Vietnam: (1987 - Comedy, drama, war) From my collection. Directed by Barry Levinson, starring Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker. This movie was a great comedy with just a touch of anti-war sentiment. Robin Williams is at his best in this comedy. Featuring material from much of his stand-up act, this movie fairly catapulted him into the area of acting. Williams plays an Air Force radio D.J. working at an Army run AFS (Armed Forces Saigon) radio station. His unorthodox proves to be a huge morale booster, but his lack of military bearing grinds the gears of the Army managers at the station. Williams lampoons all things official, and does a great job of injecting humor into the 'Vietnam Conflict'. The movie isn't all comedy though, and there is definitely a serious and dramatic turn when his best friend turns out to be V.C. Adrian Cronaur sticks it to the man for every grunt in the trenches, but even his wacky wit can't save him from the realities of real war. Not only was the Williams and Whitaker casting a master stroke, the writing was downright brilliant. Making fun out of a controversial war is no easy task, but the Markowitz (writer) Levinson effort was excellent in every regard. Williams comedy was excellent. Whitaker's acting top-notch. I think this is the first movie I've ever seen him in. I was highly impressed. FYI: Did you know that the original script was penned by Adrian Cronaur, the actual D.J. played by Williams? 5 out of 5.
* Three Days of the Condor: (1975 - Drama, thriller, espionage) Outstanding! Sydney Pollack directed this movie based on a James Grady novel. Starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow and others. This movie is a thrilling spy drama starring Robert Redford. A well thought out, highly structured, thoroughly constructed plot. This one is very believable, and it didn't annoy me by explaining everything the protagonist did. Robert Redford plays an CIA researcher. His job is 'reading books'. He reads everything, feeds it into a computer, analyzes it and comes up with ideas for the CIA. New schemes, plots, codes trends, possibilities, leaks?. When he stumbles upon something hidden, he sends an inquiry up the chain. Days later he's out to lunch, when his entire office is wiped out. Someone put a hit out on these CIA researchers, and Redford is suspect number one. On the run, in constant danger, he's afraid to turn himself in - Is the CIA trying to kill him? With nowhere to turn, he kidnaps Faye Dunaway and forces her to act as an unwilling accomplice. A conspiracy film of magnificent proportions. More relevant now than the day it was made. Redford eventually asks a very important question "Do we have plans to invade the Middle East over oil?" Excellent acting, directing, editing and music. I'm adding this one to my 'must buy' list. 5 out of 5.
* Gattaca: (1997 - Sci-fi, drama, thriller) Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. This movie starred a great cast - Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Ernest Borgnine, Alan Arkin, Jude Law, Gore Vidal and others. The story is set in the early 21st century, a utopic future, a dystopic future. A future where man has discovered a new way to discriminate against his fellow man. No longer will we discriminate based on skin color, religion, or social caste. That's so passe, so illogical, so 20th century. The new second class are those whose genetic code isn't superior. Taking a cue from Nazi inspired conspiracy. The future has become a place for Überman specimens of mankind. Those with genetic defects are characterized, categorized, and relegated to the role of servant, manual laborer, second class citizen. Two people fall in love, have 'god' child, and feel regret when their offspring is diagnosed with genetic flaws. Myopia, and a heart defect. Their next child is engineered in the fashion considered 'normal'. Screened for defects, the child is conceived in-vitro and corrected to improve it's prospects in life. As the two boys grow, the differences push one to strive for excellence despite his limitations. Eventually it becomes apparent that there is no place for him in this 'perfect' family. He leaves to seek a path of his own. On his own he takes a job at a launch facility as a janitor. While he dreams of Titan's moon, he puts a bold plan into action. Assuming the identity of a genetically perfect man, he's very close to achieving his goal. Will he be able to leave earth, on a rocket headed for Titan? Will the authorities find this 'borrowed ladder' before the launch? Will his heart hold out? An amazing movie. Great direction, acting, pacing, camera work and story. - Oh, by the way, I do own a copy of this. I ended up renting it because someone (name rhymes with Tim, but it's a she not a he) convinced me that I didn't own it. Afterwards, I spotted my copy on the shelf! I guess I can watch it any time I want. 5 out of 5.
* Iraq for Sale - The War Profiteers: (2006 - Documentary) A Comcast on demand selection. Directed by Robert Greenwald. This short documentary was too short, and it had some production and editing problems. All that aside, it was a scathing attack on contractors and our government. Co-conspirators in a scandalous plan to defraud the American taxpayers of billions of dollars. The profits raked in by the contractors documented in this film were egregious examples of fraud and corruption, on a scale I wouldn't have imagined possible. All is forgotten, swept under the carpet, denied, obfuscated, and ultimately forgiven - I don't think any company was ever punished for any of the illegal activities outlined in this movie. No one seems to know that any of this is or has happened. Why isn't the press following up on this? Thankfully, the company I work for wasn't named as one of the contractors defrauding our countrymen. The level of abuses are downright disgusting. If you think that civilian contractors are the best way to handle efficiencies in our military, think again. The no-bid and cost-plus contracts handed out in Iraq are a perfect example of why we need to impeach everyone in the government. This movie really got me upset with politicians, lobbyists and the companies named in this move. The beginning of the movie was a bit slow, and sobbing family members didn't convince me that Haliburton was doing anything wrong. The rest of the movie was filled with first hand accounts, whistle blowers, statistic, and excerpts from news programs. Evidence upon evidence of the corruption and malice at the heart of many companies involved in the Iraq war. 4 out of 5.
* Over the Top: (1987 - Drama, action) A gift from a coworker. I saw this movie a long time ago, back when it came out. Viewing it now with a skeptical eye, I can see more clearly how bad it is. The movie starred Sylvester Stallone (as Lincoln Hawk, the truck driving arm wrestler), Robert Loggia (as Jason Cutler, the evil grandfather), Susan Blakely (as Christina Cutler-Hawk, the cancer afflicted mother), Rick Zumwalt (as Bob 'Bull' Hurley, the arm wrestling opponent) and David Mendenhall (as Michael Cutler / Michael Hawk, the spoiled rich kid who eventually comes to love his estranged, truck driving, arm wrestling dad). Lincoln Hawk (played by Stallone) is a wanderer, truck driver, ran from a relationship, absent parent who's trying to rebuild his life. When his son's mother comes down with cancer, she asks him to come see the boy. He complies, picks the kid up from a military academy, and begins his cross-country bonding trip. When they arrive in California, she dies, the boy hates Hawk, and he sulks off to Las Vegas to arm wrestle. This movie was entirely character driven, and the characters were cardboard cutouts. One sentence stereotypes that didn't last more than five minutes each. It's something of a road trip movie, something of a family values movie (with poor values - "Second Sucks"), and the only arm wrestling movie that I know of. The direction was terrible, the editing poor, and the sound track bad (some good songs, but far too many sappy 80's sounding love themes). The acting was terrible. There was no chemistry between Stallone and Mendenhall (who's acting really sucked, and who's dialog was horrible). Whoaa! He was 16 when he did this movie!. Some things I learned from this movie. A- Wearing your ball cap backwards flips a switch that turns you into an arm wrestling machine. B- You can win any arm wrestling match by wrapping your fingers over your opponents fist. C- When trying to get your kid back from an abductor, you should crash your truck into their house. D- When you're at a truck stop, it's o.k. to leave your kid unattended. E- 10 year olds can drive big rigs. F- In arm wrestling, a one-hundred pound weight difference is irrelevant. The characters and dialog in this movie were horribly done. Oh by the way. If your name were Mike Hawk - kids would taunt you so much in school that you'd become a wimpy, crying, woman-child. Either that or you would change your name. Think about it Mike Hawk = My Cock. Despite my low rating on this movie, I still enjoy Stallone. 2 out of 5.
* The Longest Day: (1962 - Drama, action, war, history) Based on a novel, this movie had four different directors, five writers, and literally scores of big name actors. Too many to list. The story of D. Day, 'The Longest Day'. The story of the normandy invasion. Told from multiple points of view - German, British, American, Free French military, French partisan, occupied French citizens. It was told through editing matched to a clock countdown. I really liked the camera work in this movie. There were a lot of long, slow, panning shots with wide angle lenses. The camera work, black and white print, and editing were all outstanding. The soundtrack was excellent. The costumes, props, equipment, sets and locations were a sublime example of technical perfection. The details were outstanding. Not as violent as more recent movies (Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers), I feel that this movie more accurately represented the action of D-Day. No I wasn't there. Neither was Steven Spielberg, so don't go off your rocker on the violence aspects of the movie. This was a very well produced and edited movie. The special effects were excellent. No cgi was used, but the effects scenes were entirely believable. A truly spectacular war movie. The only problem with this movie was it's length and scope while trying to give us everyone's point of view, the movie ran close to three hours long (three minutes short). It certainly tired me out. 4 out of 5.
* Soldier: (1998 - Action, sci-fi, adventure) Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil), and starring Kurt Russel as 'Todd' the soldier. This sci-fi action flick takes places in a somewhat dark future of 2036. Todd was selected from birth to be a soldier (no specific nationality is mentioned in the movie). He's raised with other soldier children, and indoctrinated from birth into a brutal regimen of physical training, traditional education, political indoctrination, and psychological conditioning. The result is the perfect soldier. A killing machine that follows orders without question, and doesn't sulk with remorse when innocents are killed in the line of duty. When Todd and his squad members are replaced by 'superior' models, the rejects are left for dead. Todd ends up on the scrap heap of humanity. Literally - He's presumed dead, and dumped on the 'disposal' planet Arcadia 234. This movie was great. An underrated gem. The sci-fi aspects were great. The direction was pretty good. The cgi and special effects were well done, and the music was very well matched to the pace and feel of the movie. The acting was poor to fair, but the casting was appropriate. Kurt Russsel did surprisingly well in this minimalist role. With barely 100 words of dialog, we were still moved by the plight of his character. Unfortunately, the action scenes were over-the-top examples of hollywood at it's worst. It was the story that made this movie exceptional. The writer (David Peoples - Blade Runner and Twelve Monkeys) managed to create a very believable dark future. The movie felt very similar to Blade Runner in many ways. A sci-fi, fantastic, fatalistic, future, where genetically engineered soldiers remove humanity from the equation of war. Becoming tools to serve their masters, what happens when the masters lose all sense of compassion? 4 out of 5.
* The Straight Story: (1999 - Drama, adventure, biography) The true story of 73 year old Alvin Straight (played by Richard Farnsworth), who drives a riding lawn mower across Iowa and into Wisconsin in order to visit his estranged brother. Directed by David Lynch, this movie is something unexpected from one of my favorite directors. It's not a skewed, psychedelic, mind trip. It's a truthful, honest and spiritually uplifting story of determination, redemption, charity and compassion. When Alvin's brother suffers a stroke, Alvin decides to pay him a visit. They haven't spoken in ten years, and Alvin senses the end approaching. Alvin doesn't have a drivers license, but he's determined to make the trip on his own. The only form of transportation available is his trusty lawn-mower. Alvin assembles an impromptu rig, hitches it up, and he's off - On the greatest journey his heart has ever made. The pacing, cinematography and music in this movie were masterful. The acting outstanding, and the story uplifting. The only flaw was the audio production. There were a few long shots with inaudible dialogue. The audio was not dubbed back in, but thankfully, the closed captioning captured the lines. How could they have missed something so glaring. 4 out of 5.
* Manhunter: (1986 - Drama, crime, thriller) A Comcast on Demand selection. Screenplay and direction by Michael Mann. This first of the 'Hannibal Lechter' movies was based on the novel 'Red Dragon' by Thomas Harris. This movie stars William Petersen (Grissom from 'CSI'), and Dennis Farina in search of serial killer (played by Tom Noonan). With the help of Dr. Hannibal Lechter (played by Brian Cox), the pair of FBI investigators manage to track down this elusive 'Tooth Fairy' killer. The acting was pretty good. William Petersen (before CSI) did a good job playing the former FBI psychological profiler, and I found Brian Cox's Lechter to be very disturbing. This movie focuses on Petersen's character trying to 'get in the head' of this family killer. Many of the murder mystery, crime thriller cliches were present. The movie was well directed, but poorly paced - Far too fast. The ending was a bit of a let down. A rushed shoot out that omits an end game scenario of any significance. It seemed like they just ran out of time (or money?). Some production (sound mixing, poorly arranged soundtrack, mic booms in scenes) and editing problems (the grocery store scenes) marred this otherwise fine movie. Definitely a forerunner to the CSI series. 3 out of 5.
* Biloxi Blues: (1988 - Comedy, drama, war) A Comcast on Demand selection. Neil Simon's play brought to the screen. Written and directed by Neil Simon. An autobiographical story about a young Jewish man growing up in the U.S. Army. Matthew Broderick plays Eugene Morris Jerome. Drafted near the end of WWII, he's shipped off to boot camp in Mississippi before he had a chance to become a man. Here he and his fellow draftees learn what it takes to become a soldier. They're shaped into men with the help of Christopher Walken, playing their twisted drill sergeant. This movie covers several coming of age issues. Some sexuality, race relations, teamwork, sacrifice and hard work. I served twenty years in the U.S. Air Force, and this film reminded me of the camaraderie experienced in that community. It's not a 'Full Metal Jacket' or a 'Saving Private Ryan', but it is a fully satisfying, light hearted look into a unique way of life. The acting by Matthew Broderick was very good. He was definitely well cast in this role. Christopher Walken was outstanding, and the rest of the cast did a very good job as well. The writing and direction were truly exceptional. I give it a 4 out of 5.
* Race with the Devil: (1975 - Action, horror, suspense) A Comcast on Demand selection. Starring Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker and others. This movie didn't do it for me. The acting was pretty bad, and the plot was a bit preposterous. Two guys, and their wives, decide to take a vacation. They start out in Texas, and their destination is Vail, Colorado. Along the way, they stop in the countryside to camp for the night. Late that night, they witness a human sacrifice during a secretive satanic ritual. At the culmination of the sacrifice, they're spotted. At that point the chase is on. The movie shows it's true colors. An action flick, disguised as a horror flick. The gang of four piles into their RV and it's off to the races. As they speed across the countryside. A vast satanic conspiracy pits them against the entire state of Texas. At every stop, pit-stop, and gas up, they're hounded, harassed and chased by the fiendishly persistent cultists. The acting was fair, the direction minimal and the camera work mediocre. The sound track was o.k. The best part of the movie was the lighting, pacing and suspense. The movie was highly misogynistic, in a reflection of the times, the women in this movie are portrayed as sacrificial offerings. They have no role other than nude satanists, helpers to the men, and someone who screams a lot. By the way, the screaming was very effective. The road trip, turned chase, turned road rage aspects of the movie were well done. A mindless b-movie chase, with good suspense, but a sucky ending. Oh by the way, this one is currently being remade. 3 out of 5.
* Once Bitten: (1985 - Comedy, Horror) Another Comcast on Demand selection. This one stars Lauren Hutton and Jim Carrey. A very early role for Jim Carrey, pits him against Lauren Hutton as a sexy vampire in need of virgin blood. A bit of a turn-about on the virgin blood cliche. Here Carrey stars as the virgin (not the girl). The gender reversals in this movie (Female Vampire and Male Virgin), made it an interesting movie. The comedy was campy and just ever so sexy. Not as good as 'Love at first bite', but a great weekday afternoon movie. The casting wasn o.k. despite the fact that everyone was kind of old for high school. There is a great dance segment in the movie. A costumed dance contest, where Jim Carrey dances with Lauren Hutton and Robin Pierce. I was surprised by both Carrey and Pierce in this dance piece. Despite the title, this movie didn't 'suck'. 3 out of 5.
* * Star Trek - The original series - Vol. 39, episodes 77 & 78: [The Savage Curtain / All Our Yesterdays]: I've been watching episodes of the original Star Trek series for the last couple of years. I watched it as a kid when I was growing up (Yow! that makes me... old?), I loved it back then, and I still love it. My friends and I used to pretend to be members of the 'Starship Enterprise', and this television series was a great source of imaginative exercise while I was growing up. The first episode on this disc was another plot re-run. Kirk and crew are tricked into a death match. When Abraham Lincoln invites Kirk down to the surface of a molten planet, how can he refuse. Kirk, Spock, Old Abe and Surak (Father of Vulcan philosophy) are forced to battle a group of 'evil' characters from all across the galaxy. The battle is orchestrated by a living rock creature - an Excalbian. Fight to the death or everyone onboard the Enterprise will die! The best part of this episode were the Excalbian costumes and effects. The second episode is one of my favorites. It's a time travel story that takes place on the planet Sarpeidon. As the planets star is nearing super-nova stages, Kirk and a landing party are sent to observe when they discover signs of life on this planet's surface. Beaming down, they encounter Atoz, and the Atavachron. Moments later they're transported into the planet's past. As the star nears super-nova stage, the race is on to return from the past and get out of dodge before the star goes super-nova!
* The Nines: (2007 - Drama, sci-fi, fantasy) Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis, Melissa McCarthy and others star in this alternate universe drama, written and directed by John August. While the writing and direction were good. The acting was uniformly poor. I was completely unconvinced by their characters. Ryan Reynolds plays three different characters, who are actually being played by an entirely different 'god-like' character. It's a gamers universe. A place where a game designer has submersed his real identity for that of the characters in the extremely sophisticated alternate universe of a simulation. The premise was great, but the execution wasn't the best. Instead of slamming us with the realities of this movie, we're fed the implausible truth a little at a time. The other problem that I had with this movie? It was another one of those 'many stories equals one' plots. Supposedly three different stories that are interwoven to create a single story. In this case it's three different stories that are actually duplications of the same story with the characters slightly changed and switched about. The story is a bit convoluted, slow in the pacing and poor in the acting. The ending was utterly confusing. The best part about this movie is the fact that three actors play three different characters in three different segments. 3 + 3 + 3 = 9. How quaint, how novel, how trite! I give it a 2 out of 5.
* Black Book: (2006 - Drama, war, historical, thriller / Netherlands, Germany, Belgium - Zwartboek) This WWII movie was written (in part) and directed by Paul Verhoeven (on of my favorite directors), this movie was in Kim's queue. I'm not sure why I didn't have it in mine. It's got two things going for it before we even popped it into the player. Starring a European cast, I was familiar with some of the actors (Sebastian Koch (The lives of others, The Tunnel), Thom Hoffman (The Fourth Man), Christian Berkel (The Experiment, Downfall), Dolf de Vries (Soldier of Orange, The Fourth Man)), but most are unknown to American audiences. The casting and acting were excellent. The direction fantastic, but the pacing a little too fast. Here is the story of a Jewish woman who attempts to escape Nazi occupied Netherlands, only to be swept up in a thrilling resistance based tale of intrigue, espionage, deception and love. This Dutch movie features a fair amount of nudity (including full frontal), that you wouldn't see in an American movie, but everything is kept in context. The costumes, sets and locations were very well done, lending an air of authenticity to this WWII story. It's a different kind of war movie. Not the kind that takes place on the front lines, not the kind you'd read about in the headlines. Here the front lines are under the sheets and behind the lies. As the Nazi empire begins to crumble, soldiers become people, some good some bad. Once you get past the gunfire, you realize that everyone is struggling for a place in post Nazi Europe. Outstanding writing and direction. This movie was very captivating, and the music was memorable. I give it a 5 out of 5.
* Rocket Science: (2007 - Comedy, drama) Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, this movie starred a cast of relative unknowns (Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D'Agosto, Vincent Piazza, and others). The only actor I recognized was Jonah Hill (Knocked up and Superbad), in a very small role. Here is a coming of age comedic romance, which manages to avoid the normal teen angst cliches. This movie was not filled with stereotypical characters or hollywood cliched portrayals of high school cliques. A very personal story, a fantastic script. The acting was outstanding, but it was fairly outdone by the amazing writing The story is a slightly off main street tale about an introverted stuttering boy who is 'ferreted' out by one outgoing gorgeous gal. Her interests are purely self motivating, his are a bit more romantic. A strong female lead, and an uncertain male character. Everything in his life is collapsing under his feet. The only thing left is a thin strand of hope, the slim possibility that this gorgeous girl might be interested in him. For whatever reason, someone can see him - Proof that he isn't completely invisible. It's more a story about the anxieties of being a teen, than it is of first romance. The characters are rich, dynamic, and entirely believable. The best part of this movie? The main character doesn't solve all his problems before the end of the movie. He doesn't win a tournament, overcome his stuttering or get the girl. Life's challenges can't be overcome in an hour and a half, they're solved a little bit at a time, and this movie remained true to that truth. Eschewing the hollywood cliches means we get a great script, and a wonderful tale, told with conviction and genuine honesty. The ending was great. Fantastic casting, acting and directing. The timing and editing were impeccable. The soundtrack was excellent as well. 5 out of 5.