Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lost is officially back! Well, at least for the first 8 episodes. Anyway-- I'm very excited to say the least. After gorging myself on the Season 3 DVD over the past 2 weeks, I'm primed and ready to go. The only thing I don't look forward to are those damn commercial breaks.

I'm going to try to comment on each episode as we go along. Here is hoping that the writer's strike is resolved soon and we'll get the rest of the season soon.


Yeah, that's right. I said it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

DVD Review: "UHF"

There are certain films that, as a child, I rented over and over again. They weren't necessarily great films-- in fact, looking back they seem to be exclusively bad films. However, each time my parents allowed me to choose a video of my own, I always gravitated toward these films. Weird Al Yankovic's 1989 film "UHF" is definitely one of those titles. I must have rented it upwards of 15 times! Hey, I can't have my film degree taken away for coming clean about something like this, right?

Anyway, the film follows George Newman (Yankovic), who has been handed the deed to a dusty old UHF television station on the outskirts of town. Being the goofball he is, George comes up with a whole host of wacky TV shows (Wheel of Fish, for one) and, of course, the shows catch on. The station somehow becomes the number one channel in town, which doesn't sit well with the owner of a competing station, R.J. Fletcher. Fletcher conspires to buy the station out from under Newman, and the only way to keep that from happening is for George to hold a 24 hour telethon to raise the money to buy the station himself.

I'm pleased, and somewhat surprised to say, this film holds up. Yankovic, the parody king of the 1980's, keeps it as silly and goofy as I remember it being as a kid. The current crop of "parody" films such as "Epic Movie" and "Meet the Spartans" would benefit from watching this one a few times. The film pokes a lot of fun at a lot of targets, but it's not offensive and never inappropriate. Sure, it's corny-- most of the jokes are about as inoffensive as a Henny Youngman one-liner-- but it's Weird Al! I must also mention the appearance of a wiry, young Michael Richards ("Seinfeld's" Kramer) starring as TV star/janitor Stanley Spudowski. The physical comedy for which he would eventually be most well known is certainly on full display here.

The film is definitely worth a watch, even if it doesn't hold the same type of nostalgic kitsch that it does for me. You'll no doubt find a few chuckles, which is more than can be said for the films that pass for parody these days.

Score: 4 out of 5

That's right, 4 out of 5. Film snobs, be damned.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is this for real?

Today, a few new pictures were released for Christopher Nolan's upcoming "The Dark Knight." Most people have noticed that Bale is at least 20-25 pounds lighter than he was in the first film. I would imagine this is due to his coming into the film straight after "Rescue Dawn." I don't think this is too big a deal, after all Bale will be in a batsuit that will fill him out just fine. What struck me was the new "poster" for the film. I use quotes because I am still not convinced that this is not just a bad photoshop by a fan.

The posters for "Batman Begins" were amazing-- dark, subtle-- they set the tone perfectly for the film. And the initial posters for the new film ("Why so serious") were incredible. Now, given certain unfortunate circumstances, it seems like the production is scrambling to put together a new advertising campaign sans the joker. Well, let's hope they're able to pull together something a little less cheesy that that sad excuse for a one-sheet.

Below are the pictures in question, as well as the "Batman Begins" and the original "Dark Knight" Joker posters. Click on any of them to see a larger version.

Everything old is new again?

After securing the rights to produce a re-envisioned version of "Friday the 13th", Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes productions will no bring horror icon Freddy Kreuger back to life on the silver screen.

Personally, I think this is a terrific idea. Platinum Dunes is not exactly batting 1000 in my book, after all they did produce the new "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" films. But, I think Freddy Kreuger is too good of a character to leave him where the last Nightmare film ended. And maybe this will get Robert Englund out of the rut of truly awful films he's been making for the past 5 years.

I was excited when this story first broke months ago, because talks were that it would be a prequel chronicling Freddy's years as a child murdering creep and how he ended up as the nightmare dwelling boogeyman we all know (and love?) While that may not make for the most uplifting of stories, but it would be a damn sight more interesting than "A New Nightmare." But it looks as though the film will be based on Wes Craven's original 1984 film. I'm still looking forward to it.

Not for nothing, has anyone else noticed a huge resurgence of 1980's film characters coming back? Rocky, Rambo, Jason, Freddy-- and word on the proverbial street is Paul Reubens is shopping a new Pee-Wee script around town-- no joke. Now that is something to ponder...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Review: "Cloverfield"

I"ll say it right now: "Cloverfield" had one of the greatest viral marketing campaigns of any film I've ever seen. The teaser trailer, the fake websites, the internet hype-- it all worked perfectly. But for all of the groundbreaking that was done in the field of marketing the film, the film itself ended up feeling a bit like an afterthought, albeit a hell of an exciting one.

As if you don't already know, the film is about a group of hip Manhattanites who put together a surprise party for their friend who is leaving for a new job in Japan. On that same night they become witness to an attack on New York City the likes of which haven't been seen since, well, since 9/11.

This was my first moment of pause in the film: In the post 9/11 climate we live in today, especially in New York City, what is the likelihood that the first place the minds of these characters wouldn't go to is "It's another terrorist attack!" It seemed almost as if the filmmakers purposely avoided having any mention of it at the onset of the attack which, for me, was distracting. It would seem obvious that if you were in New York City and witnessed a building exploding and crumbling, your first instinct would be that we were once again under a terrorist attack. Now, this is quickly dismissed when they actually see the source of the destruction, but nonetheless it stuck out to me. But I digress...

After the attack begins, the film becomes a heart-pounding mixture of chaos and confusion, for both the characters in the film, and the audience watching it. This worked especially well because the video camera recording the attack continued to record, but the filmmakers were not afraid to allow the character holding it to act as any rational person would in that situation. This led to some shots being framed terribly, some were zoomed in or blurry and others were simply shots of their feet as they tried to figure what to do next. This was a nice touch that added to the realism of the film, and actually bordered on the abstract at some points. I supposed when J.J. Abrams has got your back, the studio is more likely to allow new and different ideas.

The film's style will no doubt be compared to that of "The Blair Witch Project." However, the comparisons are more than just the superficial "shaky cam" approach that the film is shot in. In both films, the character who helms the camera (i.e. the audience perspective) uses the distance that the camera provides as a buffer against the reality of what is happening. Somehow it's more palatable to watch through the camera than to simply shut it off and run for your life. This is particularly interesting when considering the amount of real life footage we see every day that looks like the footage of this film, and how we've become accustomed to watching truly horrific things with relative ease, so long as there is that one degree of separation that the camcorder provides.

My second, and final, moment of pause came in response to the driving force behind the plot of the story. Four people set out on a trek literally across the city, on foot, so one of them can get to a girl he essentially wants to apologize to. While I can appreciate that this type of setup is a convention of the monster movie genre, it just didn't seem likely that the group would have stayed together as long as they did.

Did the film live up to the hype? I would say yes. What they set out to accomplish was a new and interesting take on the monster movie, and they definitely did that. The simple fact that the monster is only in the film for a relatively short amount of time makes for a new kind of antagonist-- the Cloverfield monster doesn't even have any particular personality, as far as movie monsters go. What I enjoyed about the film is that it is more concerned with the reaction and damage control that takes place when people are fighting a massive enemy and losing, than it is with showing how we eventually kick the monster's ass. No, that will be saved for the sequel.

In all seriousness, though, I do believe that this somewhat experimental monster movie would make a wonderful backstory to a more practically filmed sequel, showcasing the events that take place after this film ends-- and don't be surprised to see it, either. A $41 Million opening weekend is all this film needed to no doubt guarantee a green light for an entire franchise. I know I'd see it.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

The Ring

No, this isn't a review of some J-Horror remake. It's about my goddamn broken Xbox-360. The very same 360 that is a requirement for my HD-DVD player to function. I suppose this is what I get for being a jackass and buying one at launch, before they'd worked all of the bugs out.

In some strange way, there is a relief associated with this. Since the 360 debuted there have been stories of the console just up and dying on people. It was always in the back of my mind and now, finally, the other shoe has dropped.

So, now I have to ship it off to Microsoft, leaving me without my 360 or my HD-DVD player which could mean only one thing-- the day I ship this bastard off, the 5 free HD-DVD's I've been waiting for since mid-November will no doubt be waiting for me in my mailbox.

First, Blu-Ray seems to win the High Def format war, and now this. Yep, I am batting 1000 right about now. I'm beginning to see a PS3 in my immediate future.

This is such a pain directly in my ass.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lost Season 3

I've been on a "Lost" binge this past week. I am watching all of season 3 in order to be up to date and ready for the Season 4 premiere next week. One thing occurred to me as I was watching it-- This show really benefits from being watched in the DVD format. I remembered being so frustrated at the snail's pace at which I felt the story was moving when watching it last season. Now that I am seeing the episodes again, as quickly as I want to, I realize that the season was absolutely terrific.

Having said that, I cannot help but to think about the fact that if this show ends on a bad note (3 seasons from now), the entire series will be worthless to me. I sincerely hope that J.J. Abrams and Co. have an honest-to-God mind blower drafted already. I've said for years that "Lost" is the best television show I have ever seen, but I'm also the guy who watched "The Usual Suspects" one time and never had the need to revisit it again. I just really hope the ending isn't a pile of shit I'm going to step in, 6 years after getting involved with this show.

But for now, I am going to blindly going forward, deeper into the show that presents 5 questions for every 1 it answers. I just really hope Jacob doesn't turn out to be Keyser Soze. I'd be pissed.

DVD Review: "Family Guy: Blue Harvest"

In the history of pop culture cross-promotion, there may not have ever been a more successful convergence of two more hugely popular, and vastly disparate entities such as "Star Wars" and "Family Guy." "Star Wars", the much venerated, fiercely defended brainchild of director George Lucas, is no doubt the more widely known of the two. However, it is not necessarily the title that wields more power over the current generation of the money-spending public. And thus we have "Blue Harvest", successfully planting the Star Wars seed in the minds of a new generation of fans, while proving that Lucas and Co. are not above poking fun at themselves.

"Blue Harvest", named after the working title of "Star Wars IV", is a direct remake of the first film, insofar as it crams all of the main beats of the Star Wars film into a neat, 48 minute package. It's all here-- the Cantina, the Death Star, and of course Darth Vader. The jokes are about as spot on as Family Guy has been in years, proving Seth McFarlane and his writers must have been eager to deliver not only for George Lucas, but also the legions of die-hard Star Wars fans out there. The only hiccup I found in the entire film was a musical scene between Obi-Wan (Herbert) and Luke (Chris Griffin.) I didn't think that it fit in with the rest of the film, and music cues seem to be a Family Guy staple when they need about a 5 minute scene to fill out one of their scripts.

Overall, "Blue Harvest" was hilarious. It was incredibly successful in lampooning the film, while making sure never to venture into flat out mockery. Given the track record of this show, that is a feat that must have required an incredible amount of restraint. It's rumored that the next few seasons of Family Guy will each begin with a different Star Wars themed episode, following the same order that the films were released. Truth be told, I hope they make it all the way to the prequels, because I'd really like to see what they could do everyone's favorite character, Jar Jar Binks.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar nominees are out

This morning the Oscar nominees were released. The most nominated films are "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men." While I'm glad to see Paul Thomas Anderson get a nod for both writing and directing TWBB, there are several other nominations that caught my interest for other reasons.

1.) "Juno"- Nominated for Best Picture! Best PICTURE! Jesus Christ. And what's more, it's also up for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Looks like the Academy, too, has been blinded by the hype. Get real.

2.) Johnny Depp is up for best actor, this year. Now, I'm not saying that he shouldn't be nominated, but nominating him for his role as Sweeney Todd, against Daniel Day Lewis' masterful role in "There Will Be Blood" just isn't fair. If Lewis doesn't win the Oscar, I won't know what to make of the Oscars-- to me, that would cost the Academy it's reputation.

3.)How great is it that Viggo Mortensen is up for Best Actor for his role in "Eastern Promises." Any other year, he would be the one I would root for. Well, I guess he'll just have to be glad that he was nominated. I'm kind of surprised his testicles aren't up for Best Supporting Actor(s) after their short, but powerful scene in the film.

4.) Cate Blanchett. Now, Cate is probably my favorite actress working today. She's fantastic. But, not only is she nominated for Best Actress for a role that damn near nobody saw ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age") but she is also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for another film nobody (in the mainstream) saw ("I'm Not There") and she'll win for that one. Seems like an Oscar nomination is an annual even for some of these people.

5.) Best Feature Documentary- I have to credit Jay Cheel from FilmJunk for bringing this to light, but 3 out of 5 of the documentaries nominated are films about the Iraq war. Now, I know that this is a hot-button topic, especially in Hollywood, but there are so many other documentaries about so many worthy topics for this to be the case. We get it-- the Iraq war is a quagmire, but can we discuss other very deserving documentaries as well, please? And does Michael Moore just get nominated for every documentary he makes? Is that in his contract, or what? "Sicko" was just not a very good film. And has anyone seen "King of Kong"? Anyone?

Overall I am pleased with most of the nominations. At least the main categories are relatively competetive compared to other years. Though, who am I kidding-- I would watch it regardless, well at least until Oscar gold touches the hands of Diablo Cody. That is when I switch to the all new American Gladiators I have on my DVR.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Support your local HD-DVD...

I figured I'd throw this out there to anyone interested. Since the whole HD-DVD/Blu-Ray debate is still barrelling on, I can understand if a lot of people are still undecided. Even though it looks as though Blu-Ray is in the lead right now, from what I am reading on different sites around the net-- don't count HD out yet.

On that note, here is a petition to "Save HD-DVD". I own an HD-DVD player and I'll tell you it is awesome. Supposedly, it is the better suited of the two formats specifically for films (Blu-Ray has more capacity and is supposed to be better suited to store data and high def gaming.) So, whatever. I'm going to end up owning both formats anyway, because I'm a douche like that. But as it stands, I consider myself on the HD side of things.

Isn't technology great.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Upcoming Review

This is somewhat unorthodox in terms of film reviews, but I wanted to state how amazing I felt Werner Herzog's film "Rescue Dawn" was, while not yet posting my full review. I'm hesitant to review it until I can see it at least one more time, because I feel that there are nuances that one doesn't catch upon first viewing a film like this that need to be addressed in a proper review of such a film. So, while I feel completely fine about reviewing tripe such as "Hatchet" and "The Reaping" after one viewing (who has time to revisit films like that anyway?), I will hold my review of "Rescue Dawn" until I can do it justice.

I would have liked to grab this film on HD so I could watch it a couple of times before I wrote about it but, alas, it is only available on Blu-Ray. So, as I decide whether to go ahead and get a blu-ray player or to pick it up on standard dvd, I'll probably rent it from netflix again so I can do the damn review already.

Anywho, if you haven't seen it, watch it already! It's a great film with solid, if somewhat hammy, performances-- that will be addressed in the full review, which will find it's way onto here, but until then-- you're on your own.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Golden Globes came, and went...

So, the Golden Globes were awarded Sunday night. In the midst of the writers strike they decided to just have a 1 hour, straight to the point show that simply told us who was nominated, and then who won. Not for nothing, but it was nice to wrap up an entire awards show in one tight hour. Having said that, I think the producers of these types of shows should take this as a cosmic signal that the shows have gotten too long and self-indulgent. While one hour was a bit too short-- I would have liked to see the obligatory "In Memoriam" montage-- but maybe a two hour, tightly produced show is the neighborhood where these shows should be living.

Now, on to the greatest surprise, and greatest victory in my mind-- the award for Best Female Performance in a Musical/Comedy. This one seemed to be destined to adorn the mantle of either "Hairspray's" Nikki Blonsky or "Juno's" much heralded star Ellen Page. When the winner was announced as "La Vie en Rose" star Marie Cotillard, I was audibly satisfied. I think it inadvertantly came out as a Nelson Muntz-ish "HA-ha." It's not that I dislike Blonsky or Page-- both are perfectly fine up-and-comers. I just find it very irritating when one or two performances seem to be all anyone can talk about. I was glad that the Hollywood Foreign Press association had the testicular fortitude to give the award to someone who, at least in America, is almost a complete unknown.

And the award goes to Marie Co.. Coti... sorry hon, what's your name again?

On the whole, the awards show presentation was pretty awful. Billy Bush proved himself to be one of the great jackasses working in television today. In all honesty, I hope that the strike doesn't effect the Oscars in the same way as the Globes, because it just doesn't make for very good television. And can you imagine FINALLY getting nominated for an Oscar and not only having there be no real Award ceremony, but you don't even get to recieve the damn thing on a stage, or give a speech. And what if you are a nominated Screenwriter-- isn't that quite the pickle to be in. Well, I for one am hoping that this can all be put to bed in time for the ceremony to go on, though having said that, I am completely and totally on the side of the Writers in this strike. Hey-- you never know who could be reading this, right?

Friday, January 4, 2008 prove to Dad I'm not a fool...

...Back to school.

Just as I get back into the swing of things in terms of posting regularly after the holidays, I'm back off to grad school. I'll be posting if I have a chance, but I make no promises! Although, I just finished watching the "Blade Runner" HD-DVD, so more likely than not a review will find it's way onto this blog at some point this week.

Be back soon.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

DVD Review: "Eastern Promises"

David Cronenberg is a master of genre filmmaking.
He's brought us films like "Scanners", "Videodrome",
"eXistenZ" and of course 1986's "The Fly." His films have always been visceral, intense and often very violent endeavors. Since 2005's "A History of Violence", though, we have been privy to another side of Cronenberg's work. It's a dark, brooding style that has seen his work take a more traditional dramatic direction, while still retaining the best elements of his earlier work. "Eastern Promises" continues this trend, proving he is still developing as a filmmaker after all these years.

The film tells the story of Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife in a London hospital who delivers the baby of a heroin addicted fourteen year old Russian girl who dies while giving birth. The only clue as to who the girl is, or where she came from is a diary that Anna finds in the dead girl's belongings. Using her Uncle to translate some of the diary, Anna becomes intent on finding the family of the baby she delivered, hoping to save the child from a life in foster care. What she finds instead is the London base of a Russian mob outfit that is more dangerous than she realizes, and more vulnerable than anyone would imagine.

Viggo Mortensen plays the heavy as Nikolai, a driver for the London mob boss, who develops something of a soft spot for Anna and her plight. Mortensen brings his method acting A-game to this role, turning in a solid performance in a role that could have easily been taken over the top by another actor. And I'd be remiss not to mention the intricate prison tattoos that adorn Mortenson's Nikolai, which added a dimension of intrigue to the character that was palpable.

Considering his solid track record in genre specific filmmaking, as well as his terrific pairings with his new star Viggo Mortenson, David Cronenberg has proven himself to be as interesting a director now as he ever has been. "Eastern Promises" delivers as a well-written, well-acted drama that surprised me in edging out both"A History of Violence" and "The Fly" as my favorite Cronenberg film. His distinct style and approach to storytelling sets him apart, and is a nice change of pace from the rest of what's been released over the last year or so. In fact, it would be a real shock to me if his name isn't on the short list for Best Director this year. David Cronenberg with an Oscar in his hand-- now that is something I would tune in to watch.

Score: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Critical Fellatio

Maybe it's over-exposure. Maybe it's professional jealousy. Perhaps a touch of both? Whatever the cause, I'm already sick to death of hearing the names Ellen Page, Diablo Cody and their critical darling of a film "Juno."

I understand that Cody's backstory as a stripper/author is just so undeniably "cool", but I find the whole treatment of her and this film by the media incredibly irritating. So they made a nice, small, studio-backed "independent" film. Good on them. I've read the script, and it was okay, but dialogue such as "That is one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet." have cemented, for me, the fact that I will never sit through this one.

And what is with the pseudo-1970's fashion that has permeated films like this and "Superbad?" You know what, even posting about this film is so tired that as I type, my words are annoying me as I read them, so I'm going to stop.

And by the by, regardless of what IMDB profiles say, nobody takes up stripping as a hobby.

DVD Review: "Hatchet"

Internet buzz, viral marketing, word of mouth, comic cons-- these are the tools that modern independent filmmakers wield to boost the supposed value of their films. However, when a film is so hyped, so buzzed-- so seemingly guaranteed to be the next big thing, the only guarantee is that it's going to be a disappointment. Such is the case of director Adam Green's feature debut "Hatchet."

Touted as the "Return of old school American Horror", the film follows a group of New Orleans tourists who take an ill-fated trip down the bayou to witness the deserted marsh of local legend Victor Crowley. The legend tells that Crowley was a disfigured young boy who was raised deep in the bayou, far away from society. After his Father's death, Crowley was left to fend for himself killing any animal or man who dared approach his swampland cabin. When the tour boat inevitably runs aground, the tourists are left to fend for themselves as they realize they are far from the safety of the city, and that the legend of Victor Crowley is apparently all true.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the film. It's commendable that Green has returned to the roots of horror, using all practical effects rather than CG. Sure, they don't look as slick as a CG effect, but somehow the somewhat clunky practical effects feel more realistic because they are real props instead of digitally inserted renderings of gore. However, effects should not be the only element a filmmaker considers when making a film.

The writing is very derivative and pays way too much homage to other films. As a fan of horror films, the novelty of a director giving nods to lesser known cult horror films has worn off (Thank you very much, Eli Roth.) And if a film is going to go as far as to proclaim that it's antagonist is going to be considered alongside icons like Freddy and Jason, it had better deliver the goods-- this one certainly doesn't. Sure Victor Crowley dispenses of his victims in gloriously gory fashion, but his spastic, jerky movements were nothing if not humorous. And the fact that an industry legend like Kane Hodder is playing Crowley makes me believe he was simply following Adam Green's vision for the character.

Perhaps the film shot itself in the foot by building up the expectations of horror fans, a crowd who are notoriously hard to impress. Although, maybe the film deserves a little backlash-- after all, the films that "Hatchet" tries to emulate didn't know that they were "Old School American Horror" when they were being made. They were just horror films looking to add something new to the genre and succeeded, in turn earning them status as legendary films. Adam Green should have taken a page out of the book of Craven, Hooper and Carpenter and focused on a solid story and character development before effects and internet hype. Instead he came off as a horror fanboy who convinced producers to give him money to film a big budget fan-film. Since the film was produced on a low budget and is still garnering high DVD rentals, it will no doubt give way to a sequel-- I just hope Adam Green will add some more of his own personal flair to the next one and give us the meaty horror villain that he promised, but has yet to deliver.

Score: 1.5 out of 5