Category Archives: Movies

We love the stuff!

Recently added to my DVD collection:

Daredevil: Director’s CutDaredevil: The Director’s Cut

I wasn’t aware that there was a director’s cut of Daredevil until I saw it in the used bin at GameStop. Though it certainly doesn’t measure up to some other recent superhero movies (Spider-Man, X-Men), I’m comfortable saying that Daredevil is still leaps and bounds better than some of the stuff we’ve seen in the darker past (Captain America), not to mention the horrid television version of the Man Without Fear that some of us remember from The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, which featured Rex Smith (who’s he?) as Matt Murdock/Daredevil and John “Sallah” Rhys-Davies as The Kingpin.

The ShadowThe Shadow

The Shadow and The Phantom (starring Billy Zane) top my list of underappreciated superhero movies. Next to his turn as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October, this is my favorite Alec Baldwin performance to date. Baldwin’s voice is excellent and the special effects that transform Lamont Cranston into The Shadow are top-notch. Throw in folks like John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellan (yes, that Ian McKellan) and you’ve got a fantastic, fun popcorn movie.

Tetris and Star Wars: Clone WarsI also picked up a used copy of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars/Tetris Worlds disc that used to be included in the Xbox system bundle. GameStop was selling this for $8.99 used, but their sticker price on a used copy of the standalone version of The Clone Wars is $12.99. Go figure.

In other news, Bob is turning into a damn cycling nut. Not only did he ride our route again Sunday, but he alleges to have ridden six miles this morning, too. And me? I planned to go out for a while yesterday evening but wimped out. I need to see if I can fix the head and tail lights that Laura bought me. They no workee, and I don’t want to cycle after dark (when it’s no longer 90+ degrees) without ’em.

Movie Snippets: Dirty War, Ray, The Life Aquatic

Hey, I watched a couple of movies recently.

Dirty War
TiVo recorded this off the HBO a few nights ago, and I thought I’d give it a look. The story revolves around a firefighter, an anti-terrorist team, the Prime Minister of not-so-Jolly Olde Englande, and muslim terrorists who manage to detonate a dirty bomb in downtown London. As you might well imagine, hilarity most certainly does not ensue.

Dirty War is kind of a middle-of-the-road movie. Not dismal, but not great, either. The premise doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched and the outcome is rather grim. Even so, there’s a bit of a “happy ending” tacked on with respect to the firefighter.

Ray
I wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea of watching Ray, but I’m glad I did. The movie itself wasn’t a masterpiece of cinema, but Jamie Foxx was absolutely incredible as the late Ray Charles. Time and again I forgot that I was watching Jamie Foxx, and that may be the biggest compliment one can pay an actor who is portraying a real-life person.

Laura wanted to watch the extended version of the movie, but the added scenes are inserted in such a way as to completely ruin the flow of the film, so we watched the theatrical version instead.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Wes Anderson has directed some quirky movies. He likes Bill Murray and the Wilson brothers (see Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums). I like quirky movies, Bill Murray and the Wilson brothers. Even so, The Life Aquatic kind of caught me off guard. It’s definitely quirky and definitely stars Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Here’s the thing: the more I think about The Life Aquatic, the more I enjoy it. The movie is funnier to me now that it was when I was actually watching it, and that’s just plain weird. I need to watch this movie again.

Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Maria Full of GraceMaria Full of Grace (2004)

Starring Catalina Sandino Moreno, Virgina Ariza, Yenny Paola Vega, Charles Albert Patiño, Wilson Guerrero and Orlando Tobón

Directed by Joshua Marston

I rented Maria Full of Grace a couple of weeks ago and it sat on the shelf above the television until tonight. It’s been kind of hectic around here lately, what with guests from out of town and picnics and birthday parties and whatnot, so we didn’t find an opportunity to watch it right away. But Blockbuster wants it back before noon tomorrow or I’m going to pay seventeen bucks for the DVD. All it takes is the right motivation, I guess.

Laura is downstairs watching it again, this time with commentary from writer/director Joshua Marston (about the only real extra on the DVD), so it’s safe to say she… what? Liked it? Enjoyed it? I don’t know if those are words that you can apply to a movie like Maria Full of Grace. To say you liked it doesn’t feel right. As if liking such a movie means that you like the idea of a desperate, pregnant seventeen-year old Colombian girl swallowing sixty-three condom-wrapped pellets of heroin each only slightly smaller than your thumb in order to get them past U.S. customs.

Perhaps a better word is “appreciated,” because Maria Full of Grace tells a compelling story, is incredibly suspenseful, very gritty, unglamorous, and real.

Orlando Tobón, who plays Don Fernando in the film, provides some of that realism. The character Don Fernando is based largely on Tobón’s own experiences as “The Mayor of Little Colombia.” Over the past twenty years, Tobón has provided all manner of assistance to Colombian immigrants, and has helped return the bodies of 400 Colombian drug mules to their homeland. Those pellets of heroin can burst inside a mule’s stomach, and the result is usually fatal.

Catalina Sandino Moreno plays Maria Alvarez, and does so quite convincingly. The scenes in which Maria swallows the heroin pellets are enough to trigger the gag reflex. The pellets look obscenely huge, and the process by which they are created and ultimately ingested is both fascinating and repulsive. What happens to Maria after she swallows the pellets is frightening and suspenseful. Marston’s story is believable without being predictable, while Moreno’s portrayal of the lead character is earnest and powerful.

Maria Full of Grace shows a side of drug trafficking that is seldom seen in movies. There aren’t any car chases, shootouts, or drug busts. There’s no Drug Enforcement Agent looking to take down the head of a cartel. There’s also no wire-tapping, stakeouts or undercover narcs. There are just ordinary people living in difficult situations who find themselves facing an opportunity, a tough decision, and a very dangerous journey.

Batman: Old School

Batman Disc 2 MenuPart of what has made Batman such a popular superhero over the years is the fact that he has no super powers. He’s just an ordinary millionaire playboy who has trained to the peak of physical perfection and used his seemingly limitless funds to build an astounding array of gadgets and gizmos to aid him in his battle against crime. Just like you or me.

Nowhere is the fact that Batman is just an ordinary Joe more evident than in the 1949 movie serial, Batman and Robin. The Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder drive around not in the Batmobile, but in Bruce Wayne’s car. They defeat criminals with fisticuffs worthy of a barroom brawl. No fancy martial arts, no swinging from rooftops, and nary a Batgizmo in sight. That’s right, the utility belt that saved Adam West’s Batbacon on so many occasions in the 1960’s does little more than hold up Robert Lowery’s Battights in the 1940’s.

Well, so far. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the 15-installment serial. The depths of The Wizard’s fiendish plot have yet to be revealed, but at the core of the masked madman’s machinations is a device that can remotely control any vehicle (be it plane, train, automobile or … tire iron?) within its range. The clever contraption can even cause a controlled car to combust. The malevolent machine runs on diamonds, and apparently requires a steady flow of the stones to operate. Thus, The Wizard dispatches his henchmen to pilfer the precious pretties from a variety of vendors, only to see them thwarted by the Dynamic Duo.

As with all serials, each episode ends with Batman and/or Robin in dire peril, and the following installment reveals how they escaped certain death, usually by cheating. Yes, the plane exploded, but … oops! … we forgot to show that crucial cut where Batman and Robin exited the aircraft with plenty of time to spare. Hell, they could have sat down for tea and biscuits after disembarking. They had that much time.

Such is the way of the movie serial of yesteryear. When Batman and Robin cheat death, they really cheat. It’s fun to watch, nonetheless. When the Captain America serial is eventually released on DVD, I’ll snatch that one, too. Yeah, I’ve already got it on VHS, but I’m a sucker for Captain America.

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the SIth (DVD)Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Starring Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Ahmed Best, Jimmy Smits, Christpher Lee and Boba Fett

Directed by George Lucas

I know how you feel, I thought as I watched Anakin Skywalker struggle against the tempation to turn to the Dark Side. I feel it, too. Luckily for the family of five seated behind Laura and me, I am stronger than Anakin was. I was able to find patience within me and resist the siren call. I did not take the easier, more seductive path. Lucky for them I was able to calm the molten hot rage building inside me, rage fueled by the jostling of the back of my chair, popcorn thrown at the back of my head, and the general unruliness of the children. In the final moments of Revenge of the Sith, I was a paragon of restraint as behind me an argument over whether someone did or did not have to use the restroom completely distracted me from the scene laid out before me, in which Yoda was imparting some final bit of wisdom upon Obi-Wan Kenobi. A lesser man would have taken up his weapon and struck them down with all of his hatred. It is fortunate for them, then, that I am not a lesser man.

Revenge of the Sith isn’t about a man who triumphs over temptation, but one who succumbs to it. Anakin Skywalker’s ultimate triumph over anger, fear and hatred is another story, one that is old and familiar. The story of his downfall has — until now — been merely speculation built on vague references. But is the latter worthy of the former?

(Caution: Spoilers follow.)
Continue reading Movie Review: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

Starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Warwick Davis, Alan Rickman, Thomas Lennon, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry and John Malkovich

Directed by Garth Jennings

Though I don’t consider myself a hardcore fan, I am at least somewhat familiar with all previous incarnations of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve read all five books, played the PC text-adventure, watched the television series, and used to listen to the radio version about once a year (and still would, if I had it on CD instead of cassette).

The versions are all different and all brimming with Adams’ unique sense of humor. Whatever he changed to suit each new medium, Adams always managed to keep the story smart, original and hilariously funny. It’s no surprise, then, that Adams’ script for the new big screen retelling would have new characters, locations and situations. The core elements remain, the ultimate quest is preserved, but — as with previous iterations — some of the particulars regarding the journey have changed.

Unfortunately, one core element seems to be largely missing: Douglas Adams’ quirky, intelligent humor. Somewhere in the midst of a sea of fairly impressive visual effects (the Magrathean factory floor is especially memorable), that eccentric, surreal wit is all but lost. The only remnants are familiar scenes that elicit a chuckle not on their own merits, but because I remember other, superior versions.

The movie falls flat on almost every front. The characters have very little depth (except for Bill Nighy’s surprisingly touching portrayal of Slarty Bartfast), the comic rhythm is off, and the new material simply doesn’t measure up to the old.

Ford Prefect and Trillian are nearly invisible for the bulk of the movie. Marvin the Paranoid Android is only spared from fading into the background by his gargatuan head and one of the best casting decisions in the film. Zaphod Beeblebrox is loud and boisterous, which is probably about as much as one could expect. And poor Arthur Dent is simply there. His quest for a decent cup of tea is so downplayed as to be inconsequential, and the love story between him and Trillian is like Splenda: artificially sweet.

I wanted to like Hitchhiker’s, I really did. I’ve enjoyed every other incarnation of the story, even the incredibly cheesy (but still very funny) BBC television series. Unfortunately, the movie turned out to be a huge letdown. It’s a mixture of old and new that manages to lose the charm of the old and fails to introduce anything exciting in the new.

Lazy Thursday

I woke up yesterday morning feeling completely rundown and crappy, so I allowed myself the luxury of calling in sick. I didn’t leave the house all day (which, unfortunately, included skipping the April Cleveland-area NaNoWriMo group meeting). Here’s what I did do:

  • Played Pool of Radiance. Old school. The original Pool of Radiance was released by SSI in 1988 and I had it for my Apple IIGS. I played for hours upon hours, mapping each area I visited on graph paper and then reproducing those maps in the art program, printing them (in glorious dot matrix color) and mounting them on poster board. Most of the time I was playing I was also listening to Rush’s A Farewell to Kings over and over and over again. I recently found a copy of the DOS version of Pool of Radiance and (with the help of DOSBox) began my quest to finish the game once and for all. Did I mention that I never finished the Apple version? Come on, this is me. Of course I never finished it. So I fired up Chronicles on iTunes and played a game that transported me in time and place. My party consists of Brak, bold human fighter; Boddy, daring and clever halfling fighter/thief; Isabeau, pious human cleric; Jaegen, devious dwarven thief; Sara, wise half-even cleric/magic-user; and Drea, mysterious elven magic-user. Together, they have kicked acres, nay, hectares of 16-color ass.
  • Watched a bit of an anti-smoking show on HBO Family. Why? I don’t even know. I was just flipping through the channels and it caught my eye. The show, aimed at teens and pre-teens, featured some rather shocking statistics and interviews with some shockingly ignorant and naive teen smokers.
  • Watched Warlock: The Armageddon. Why? Well, the TiVo recorded it and I was feeling far too lousy to find something better to do. Plus, I like cheese. Julian Sands is the title character, and he spends a lot of time killing fashion designers, prostitutes, old men, cabbies and fuzzy bunnies with gore-rific effects, only to be defeated by… headlights.
  • Watched some of the extras on the second Spider-Man 2 DVD. Interesting stuff. I like extras. There’s a mini-documentary that follows Doctor Octopus from his origin in the comics about forty years ago to his most recent incarnation in the movie. I only wish they’d showed a little more about the design and implementation of the tentacles. Perhaps that’s elsewhere on the disc.

Eyes on the Tube!

  • Laura and I watched the season finale of Carnivàle Friday night (or perhaps it was Thursday). I have a sinking feeling that HBO won’t be bringing this show back for a third season, but I hope I’m wrong. Entertainment Weekly referred to Carnivàle as “a snore” in a recent issue, a statement with which I wholly disagree. The confrontation between Brother Justin and Ben Hawkins was somewhat anticlimactic, but Sophie’s choice more than made up for it. There is more story to be told here, and I’m hoping that HBO lets Daniel Knauf and company tell it.
  • I was a bit behind in my Deadwood watching, so I caught up Saturday evening while Laura was out with her mother. This little mini-marathon was excellent. Al Swearengen is suffering from kidney stones and the absence of his guiding hand is felt not only by his employees at the Gem, but also by mayor Farnum. Seth Bullock is trying to reconcile his feelings for Alma Garrett after the arrival of his wife (his brother’s widow, whom he has married) and nephew. Meanwhile, rumors that the government may not honor the miners’ titles to their claims circulate through the camp, causing unrest. Deadwood is my soap opera, of sorts. It is gritty, dirty and coarse, full of fascinating characters and equally fascinating stories, and the second season is every bit as powerful as the first.
  • I was watching Alien Apocalypse when Laura returned late Saturday evening. I watched this movie for one reason and one reason only: Bruce Campbell. As I feared, however, Campbell can only do so much for an uninspired, low-budget, shoddily produced crapfest like Alien Apocalypse. The SciFi Channel seems to have two sets of standards when it comes to the programming they produce. The first set is reserved for series like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate: SG-1 and mini-series like Frank Herbert’s Dune. These are the few gems that receive the royal treatment in terms of attention to quality. Then there’s everything else. Garbage like Mansquito and Alien Apocalypse that continually pushes the bar lower and lower. How about this, SciFi? Take the proposed budgets for ten projects like King Snake and Earthsea and make one decent mini-series like Taken, or maybe a couple of movies that are actually science fiction as opposed to science schlock-horror. Thank you.
  • Speaking of the SciFi Channel, Battlestar Galactica is (as I mentioned) one of the things they’re actually doing right. The season finale was quite good, teasing us with the possibility of some revelation and hitting hard with a stunning cliffhanger as well. July can’t come soon enough.
  • Laura and I watched the most recent episode of LOST on Wednesday night, and we weren’t disappointed. One of the survivors dies, Claire gives birth, and we learn more about Jack’s history. This show is simply not slowing down. I watch very little network television, but Lost proves that it’s not entirely a desolate wasteland filled with second- and third-rate trash.

Multi-Media

After dinner at Max & Erma’s last night, Laura and I did a little shopping at the Barnes & Noble where she used to work. We picked up On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt, Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop and Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters by Dick Staub, which Laura presented to me and said she wanted “just because of the title”.

I searched for but was unable to find the CD Discozone by The O Zone. Their ridiculously catchy tune, Dragostea Din Tei (AKA Mi Ya Hi), has been in my head all week thanks to that blasted Numa Numa Dance. I’ve listened to snippets of the other tracks on the disc, and I liked what I heard, so I’m looking to buy it (else I’d just download the one song from iTunes). Better luck next time, I guess.

Later, we watched What the Bleep Do We Know?, which isn’t exactly an easy movie to describe. If I had to summarize its content I would do so thusly: Science meets spirituality meets mysticism and they discuss the nature of God, the human experience and mind over matter on a quantum level.