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The Illusionist

Spellbinding Cinematic Wizardry.
One of the greatest movies I've seen in a while, one which definitely fits in that category of elite and favored films of mine that I simply watch it awe of. It's absolutely fantastic, and I'm disappointed by how poorly the Academy received it. I don't blame them, of course: As of yet I haven't seen a movie they chose that didn't deserve the nomination. Granted, also, I've been very lax, as of late, in my movie-going, and have only yet seen two of the best picture nominees (which I plan to rectify by the Big Night). At any rate, I would have loved to see this movie nominated for Best Picture. In my opinion this is a better movie than The Departed (and please don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved The Departed: this is only a testament to The Illusionist's qualities) and of the same notable parity as Little Miss Sunshine (only, clearly, in a much different fashion: serious drama and mystery, as opposed to dramady).

The movie stars Edward Norton in a role but like and unlike anything we've ever seen him in. He revels in the same mystery which he typically partakes in Fight Club (1999) and The Score (2001), and yet he does so in an extraordinarily reserved fashion. His speech is far more reserved, his eyes and features far more telling, than anything he's done before: and this is by far the greatest role he's ever undertaken.

I hate to use this terminology, but acting under him is Paul Giamatti, whose equally impressive performance provides a solid foundation to lay the movie on top of, acting in the same fashion as Edward Norton, although surely something he's had more experience with: reserved and carefully executed acting, although with a tad more pomp and flare than Norton This is likewise, in my opinion, his greatest role, although seeing what he's done in the past this is a matter of considerably more debate.

Jessica Biel provides a powerful and striking performance in a role that could have, in fact, probably would have, lagged behind and weighted the movie in the hands of a less experienced and less capable actress. Rufus Sewell provides an equally potent performance, one that warrants-- nay-- demands, a mention.

The directing is spectacular: absolutely magical, as it were. The special-effects are subtle and used to a pleasingly small degree, opting more for Norton's actual skills and sleights of hand for a more realistic show. Further, the magic was merely the setting, a catalyst for the story to take hold and grow, not a crutch in which to support a flimsy production.

The movie, in a word, was spellbinding.

Lady in the Water

A Good, But Very Disappointing, Bedtime Story From M. Knight Shyamalan.
M. Knight Shyamalan is both an interesting writer and director to talk about. To bring up either his name or movies is to open up a cinematic can of worms. People either seem to take him or leave him, love him or hate him, revere him or loath him. Just like with people's opinions on George W. Bush, there just seems to be no middle-ground between the extremes of opinion which have governed his career.

However, this is exactly the kind of ground that I take with Lady in the Water. It's not a great film, by any means; and certainly not his best. It's no Unbreakable, Sixth Sense or even Signs; yet it's still better than most other movies that have been made.

It's important to note before you watch this movie that the trailers and commercials can be highly misleading. The first one was the most accurate, although it painted it as a Sixth-Sense-esquire mystery, which it is not. The more action-packed second trailer shows it as a surreal horror, which it is anything but. The mystery is explained strait away, and the tame moments of horror are few and far between. This movie can most accurately be described as a comedic dark fantasy, a perfect bedtime story for an adult mind.

This movie's direction seems to be constantly at war with itself. There are moments of genius, of highly stylized and unique cinematography. But they come across as only that, as moments amid average direction. The majority of this film is shot rather bland and rather "safe", contrasting tremendously with the incredible moments of absolutely brilliant directing. So, while it contains some of his greatest moments of direction, it's still lethargic and average by the end of the film.

The acting is excellent. Paul Giamatti was made for this role (or, rather, the role was made for him, Shyamalan claims). He is absolutely convincing as the apartment superintendent who comes across a lady in the water. He carries himself in a very sedate way, in compliance with his character, and his stuttering was never brought into question. He's an excellent actor, and played a part that fit him perfectly. Shyamalan himself gives a surprising performance as this movie's primary supporting actor.

The opening sequence of this movie was pointless. It was very unlike Shyamalan to give away all of the mystery before the title even appeared on the screen, and it worked to his detriment here. Nothing was shown that we didn't find out on our own (and in a better fashion) during the course of the movie. The back-story paired up with the stick-figure animation was very poorly done, and even bordered upon laughable at times. It seemed to me that perhaps Shyamalan watched Beauty and the Beast a few too many times before sitting down to write the story. It worked in the 1991 film, but not in this one.

Humor is not a factor for which Shyamalan's films are known, but which is one of Lady in the Water's greatest strengths. Hardly a scene passes without one humorous moment or another, and all keeping with the tone of the movie. The best part was Bob Balaban's character of Mr. Farber (the movie critic) who (in the true fashion of Gulliver) unknowingly satirized not only this film, but the entire film industry. He type-casts the characters of the film (incorrectly, at that) as well as had a running commentary just before he was killed which mocked horror films. I'm fairly certain that, had this movie not blatantly made fun of movie critics, it would have gotten better reviews. I've already read several that pretty well say as much.

The plot itself suffers from one major flaw. That is, it back-tracks terribly. We're told that everybody has a purpose, and are given what those purposes specifically are. A plot develops around these purposes and for maybe a half hour or more builds off of this. However, we're then told that they're not what they were supposed to be, and then move on to show us who're really meant to fill what roles. It comes down to a waste of the audience's time that could have been much improved by condensing the plot and developing it, instead of spending time reinventing it when we're told that it doesn't work.

The CGI in the film is good, although not great or prominent enough to be of any particular note. We see much too little of the Scrunts for their presence to be of integral importance. They pretty much just come along to delay Story's (the nymph's) return home. They seemed to demand more of a presence on-screen and a more integral role in the film. Perhaps some of the time spent backtracking and redirecting the plot could have been spent making the rouge scrunt a much larger and more noticeable threat. As it stands, it appeared to be little more than a Boogey-Man hiding in a closet or a Tommknocker knocking on our door.

The score to this film was above-average, but far from great. It, like this film, had some truly outstanding moments. But it failed to make any kind of lasting impression on the listener.

My overall opinion of this movie, despite what gripes I had with it, is that it's a very good film, although I expected more of this movie from the previews and Shyamalan's own reputation. This is a wonderful film that, though flawed, is better than most other films I've seen. As one viewer said, it operates like a small independent movie on a studio-budget. Fans of Shyamalan's other movies, as well as children and families, should enjoy this movie. Also, fans of Labyrinth and Morrormask should enjoy this as well.

Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

This Show Has Heart.
Let's face it, reality TV is anything but. They, typically, are the lowest denominator of television and entertainment. There are exceptions to this, of course. Mostly these shows run more as talent shows than as anything else, though (such as American Idol, Fight For Fame and Last Comic Standing), but beyond them there are very few that can even count themselves as decent, let alone good. Somehow this show, with it's costumed heroes, dynamic rescuers and dark avengers, is a far more real show than those "reality" shows that are more fake than most scripted entertainment.

As I have said, this show has heart. There is a soul to it, a morality. This is epitomized in Stan Lee's statement to The Iron Enforcer, "Superheroes don't kill people, they save them". Every elimination thus far has not been one of popularity, appearance or even of ability. It's been about choices, about the core of the person's being and the choices that they made. The Toy Man was eliminated for his shallow vanity and greed, while Nitro G was eliminated for his callous dis-concern for the little girl he was supposed to save.

To watch this show is a rare joy. I can't remember the last time that I laughed so hard. To watch these ordinary people live out their deepest fantasy is an absolute sight to behold. To watch them play the part of the hero, to be what they've always idolized, is actually inspiring, and nothing so much that the costume doesn't make them how they are. It merely draws attention to them and their acts.

Any one of these people would make excellent superheroes. Even the two I felt were the most ridiculous ideas (Fat Momma and Cell Phone Girl) have made me think twice about them after seeing them both in action. Major Victory portrays a powerful old-school hero persona, The Iron Enforcer shows a very dark Modern hero (His comments about deploying himself into Iraq struck a chord) and Monkey Girl, despite her laughable name, has a tenderness about her that rips at a person's heart.

People who will like this show will be fans of superheroes first and foremost. It doesn't matter what denomination of hero you belong to (Bat Man, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Wonder Woman, Green Lanturn, etc...), you will enjoy this show and the fantasy that anybody can be a super-hero. Also, fans of reality TV should also enjoy this show, being one itself.

But, like I said, this show has heart. And on TV today, this is a very very rare treat to behold.


Classic, Sure, But it Could Have Been Better.
Made in the very early years of "talkies", Dracula remains to this day a classic of cinema, and for good reason. However, this film is not without it's flaws. In fact, they're quite numerous. But an excellent set design and Bela Lugosi's performance are really what make this film what it is.

The acting in this movie hits a very wide spectrum, and ranges from brilliant to terrible, although mostly staying within the realm of average. Bela Lugosi, who plays Dracula, gives and absolutely classic performance in this movie. His accent is perfect, and his slow, steady and very deliberate deliverance of his lines are flawless. He captures the essence of Dracula, the very core of evil.

Dwight Frye, however, was terrible. He gives, easily, one of the worst and over-acted performances that has ever been captured on film. Everything he does is so over-the-top that it ruins the character. He so obviously tries to act crazy that he just comes off as laughable on screen.

The rest of the acting was rather average. Edward van Sloan, who plays Van Helsing, gives the only other memorable above-average performance in this movie. He knows his character, and portrays him as he should be, a little underacted while still giving off a commanding presence.

The direction of this film is atrocious. The shots that are meant to be serious are comical, the ones that should be horrific barely manage to touch the viewer. A ridiculous amount of time is devoted to Lugosi's eyebrows, and seriously subtracts from this film. If James Whale, instead of Tod Browning, had directed this movie I have no doubt that it would rank at least a full point higher. As it stands, though, the direction does nothing but get into the film's way.

The set designs are simply superb. Count Dracula's castle is powerful and atmospheric. While it's not as the book describes it, it does much to add to the film's tone and charm. The Harker's home has a wonderful classic touch to it, and looks just as one would expect a Victorian estate to look; impeccable, proper and richly decorated.

Except for the beginning, there is no musical score in the entire movie. I'm inclined to think that this might be, perhaps, due to it being 1931 (only four years since the first sound motion picture, The jazz Singer). After watching Frankenstein (1931), I'm even more sure of this. But this is still one of the film's greatest downfalls. The utter silence throughout the entire film brings focus to every excruciating little detail throughout, and brings out every flaw and every imperfection. Every moment stretches exponentially, and every minor defect is exaggerated more than it should be. If you get the opportunity, watch this movie with Philip Glass' modern score rendition for this movie. It smooths the entire film over and raises it to a new level.

This is a movie that every horror fan and fan of classic movies should watch. In fact, this is one of the movies that I feel that has become so ingrained into our culture, that has become such a pillar of film-making, everybody should see it at least once in their lifetime.


Terrible Adaptation, Classic Film.
One thing must be said about Frankenstein (1931) before it is watched. This is a terrible adaptation of Mary Shelly's novel "Frankenstein or: A Modern Prometheus". Except for the fact that there was a Frankenstein who created a "monster" from corpses and brought it to life, which then escaped and began terrorizing the countryside, there is almost nothing in common. The "Monster" is not the intelligent and murderous creature from the book, but rather a hulking brute. Victor (Henry, in the movie) does not abandon the creature, he doesn't travel to the North Pole to hunt it down, he doesn't converse with an explorer who finds him and he doesn't die. Victor's Father, bride and everybody else who's connected to him all live, instead of dying as they would have in an accurate rendition.

This, simply put, is not Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. This is John L. Balderston's Frankenstein, this is James Whale's Frankenstein... this is a different story. This must be understood beforehand, so that no confusion can be made. This is different.

That being said, this movie is deservedly a classic, an excellent and brilliant example of early-sound film. The direction is excellent. James Whale knows exactly where and when to point the camera, how to instruct the crew, what everybody needs to be doing. The acting is incredible.

Colin Clive's performance is nothing short of perfect. He shows Henry's (Victor's) troubled mind, his romantic and sentimental disposition, and his descent into suffering as the "monster" runs free. He perfectly portray's Frankenstein's complex: he's an over-achiever; he creates a creature that can revolutionize science and medicine, but it is beyond his ability to cope and comes to terms with the abomination, with his "Foul Abortion". To date, this is one of my favorite performances in any film.

Boris Karloff gives an equally superior and classic performance as the naive and innocent "monster", a creature who through no fault of his own weaves a path of terror, death and destruction everywhere he goes. Wihtout words, he conveys the creature's every thought, every fear, every emotion, with only grunts and body-language to aid him. In fact, the timing of the film, on the advent of "talkies", is an asset to the feature; just after a time when body-language was quite literally the only way that an actor could speak to his audience.

The rest of the acting, while not nearly as incredible as these two leads, was far above average. While some of the parts themselves left something to desire, their performance and execution was utterly flawless. In fact, it was one of the all-around better acted films, as a whole, that I've seen.

The sets were quite excellent. While it was always perfectly obvious when there was a back-drop, and equally obvious that this was filmed in its entirety within studio-walls, the sets were quite impressive. The windmill, Frankenstein's tower, the Baron's home... all of them were beautifully designed and created. The special effects, for the day, blew me away, as did the sound-effects. I was utterly surprised how much that they could accomplish with so little to work with (especially compared with today). The make-up on Karloff's "Monster" was marvelous and sickening; just the way that it should be. The costumes were fitting for the characters, and Elizabeth's (Mae Clark's) dress was simply gorgeous.

The score (or lack thereof) was extremely minimal. Except for the beginning, I don't believe I heard it again until the end-credits. The sound effects, however, more than made up for that silence in the background. At times, silence was even this movie's greatest strength. It allowed the mob's shouts and the character's dialog. I believe that this is the only time I can say that no score ( basically what they had) was a wiser choice than more score.

Overall, this is a classic and must-see film. It's the quintessential horror movie and a masterpiece in its own right. It has stood the tests of time despite not being faithful at all to the book upon which it's based. While the ending is the exact opposite of the book's, this new Frankenstein story is beautifully rendered and executed. This is a must see for anybody who loves horror, classic movies or even movies in general.


Awesomely Cheesy, Hilarious, Short Film.
This is easily one of the better short films I have ever seen. Despite being made in 1932, it's on par with the best of today's equivalent shorts, and far superior to most of them. It's a hilarious spoof that uses clips from Frankenstein (1931) and Nosferatu (1922), along with dead-pan narration, that takes a number of clever shots at everything from their appearance, actions and even congress and The Great Depression. It's everything that Svengoolie tries, and horrendously fails, to be. It's a choice gem of the 1930's culture that should be experienced if at all possible; definitely a must-see for fans of comedy and horror (especially Dracula and Frankenstein).


An Unexpected Gem.
I've heard for some time how great this movie was, and have meant for some time to watch it. But after I watched Cube Zero the other night, I decided that I HAD to see it, and that the time was now. I expected a decent movie: something atmospheric and intelligent, but largely nothing I hadn't seen before. What I got, instead, was an unexpected cinematic gem, far better than most other movies.

The acting was great, not excellent by any means, but still of a very high caliber. The two most memorable deserve special mentioning.

Nicole de Boer (Jone Leaven: The Math Student) did an outstanding job. She had a solid and believable performance throughout the entire film. She was very steady, and even made actions as mundane as her thinking for extended periods of time enjoyable.

Maurice Dean Wint (Quentin: The Cop) gave a thoroughly enjoyable performance as a man who sinks deeper and deeper into depraved madness. in most cases, actors given this kind of role will make their characters descend into madness far too quickly. While he might have overacted a little from time to time, he gave a extremely well-paced performance and believably portrayed his characters increasing insanity.

Personally, I found these actors/actresses all far above average and more than competent in their roles. I'm actually surprised that they haven't gone on to at least be recognizable mid-name actors. A special mention should be given to whoever did the casting. They did an absolutely perfect job at choosing the roles.

The direction was simple, yet effective. It used a style that reminded me very much of Alfred Hitchcock: minimalist, but maximizing every aspect of the film. Vincenzo Natali created a powerful and thick environment; tense and atmospheric. Even moreso than the crew, I would have expected him to have become a much greater success than he is now.

Natali also wrote the script which, like his direction, is simple and effective. 7 people wake up in a labyrinth of trapped cubes and must find their way out. The cast is small, the premise simple, and the dangers evident. And yet these are all its greatest strengths. With a small cast, every danger, every death, means much more than if there was a larger cast. Also, with a smaller cast there's much more time to develop each character, which the script maximizes upon. The simplicity of the script, the almost bare danger, makes it all the more terrifying. You know the rules, you know what's going to happen, and you know that there's no way to avoid it.

The emptiness of the cube, the isolation from anything and everything else, is felt in every passing minute. The utter pointlessness of it all is as thoroughly maddening to the audience as it is to the characters. This, however, gives every action more meaning, and adds to the film's overall tone. The dark colors of the various rooms add to heavy and dismal atmosphere. The emptiness beyond the cube creates a further sense of isolation. And the powerful message at the end of the film (which I won't spoil for anybody), the bitter-sweet irony of it all, is what makes this such an excellent film.

Overall, this is a classic sci-fi thriller. It's a definite must-see for science fiction and horror fans, as well as fans of powerful human drama. This is easily one of the most original and successful films I can think of in any of those three categories.

Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

FAR Better Than I Thought it Would Be.
When I saw this movie the other night, I had virtually no expectations for it. As with most horror movies I see, it was late at night and I just wanted to watch something to pass the time. I'll admit off hand that I have not seen the original (although I've heard enough of it where I could retell it shot for shot, just about). And I have seen the horrid 2003 remake (I was at a party, and we all found it hilarious). So given that my only true experience with the franchise was the remake, and that horror series degrade at an extremely high rate, I felt that this might be my first disappointment with the IFC. I was wrong.

It was the acting, first and foremost, that surprised me. It was more than average, it was actually good (whereas most horror movies, I find, have absolutely dreadful actors). I was surprised to find Viggo Mortenson in here, but I suppose you have to start somewhere. He was without question the best actor involved, giving an eerie and menacing (although not frightening) performance. While he clearly has a way to grow from this early performance, his talent is obvious.

The woman who played the female protagonist did a good job in her role. She didn't degrade into a shrilly screaming mess, nor did she seem immune to the terror around her. She showed a realistic and gradual development due to what was happening around her.

The little girl, as played by Jennifer Bonko, had the only part that was frightening. Why was it frightening? She was a little girl, and had the most sinister actions of the family. Her skeleton-littered room was juxtaposed beautifully with her painfully cute appearance, and her doll was a disturbing touch. Why the female lead would think nothing amiss about her, I have no idea. While Viggo does the best acting job, Jennifer gives the most memorable performance.

The rest of the cast did a good job as well. Ken Foree gives a well-done, although forgettable, performance, as does William Butler and Joe Unger. Really, that's what the entire movie can boil down to in the end: well made, but still forgettable.

The direction was pretty well done. It has a gritty feel to it, more like some low-budget movies made in the 70's and 80's rather than one made in 1990. That, I think, is part of it's success with me. It seemed dark and gritty in an old, and almost dated, way.

While this film never frightened me, it does have some highly memorable moments. The dead father who was "fed" blood was a somewhat disturbing image, especially with all of that blood staining the front of his shirt.

Leatherface, unlike in the 2003 remake of the original, looked terrifying. In fact, that whole Mr. Spell sequence with the picture of the clown was very well done. Also, as I mentioned above, the little girl was just all-around the best part of this movie.

The forest was highly atmospheric and well shot, and the crazed girl was extremely well done. I would have loved if she had stuck around a bit longer and been more developed. As it was, she was used only as a plot-device to give Foree's character the lighter and to build the clan up more in the audience's eyes.

The beginning had a well-made introduction. And the uncovering of the mass grave was an excellent way to foreshadow the movie. However, the sequence between and including them hitting the armadillo and going the gas station was slow and ill-shot. It served a purpose, but could have been made to serve it better. The ending is entirely wasted. They chose the wrong clansman to come back for the final scare. That little girl would have been perfect for the job, absolutely perfect, and much more frightening to boot. Other than that, my only complaint is that the new shiny chain-saw didn't have the same dark and gritty feel as the old one he had.

This passes off as an average horror movie. It's an entertaining way to pass a few hours, and includes several memorable ingredients to it. Fans of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, I'd imagine, should like this movie. Fans of Viggo Mortensen might find this early performance of his enjoyable. And fans of horror, even the milder ones, should find this a campy and enjoyable movie.

It falls into that category of movie that pushes no envelopes; one that's mild enough for the more squeamish and violent enough for the more fortified constitutions. It's not great, but neither is it bad. It's only decent, and will never be any more or less.


Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Team Version
It is extremely obvious that this show was made in the wake of Who Wants to be a Millionaire's popularity. The set almost exactly remade from it (save the addition of the multiple podiums), the sound-effects are nearly identical and the premise and feel virtually the same.

However, this is not Who Wants to be a Millionaire, although it comes fairly close. What makes this game different is the addition of the team and the Terminator. The team-play gives a fresh variance from it's predecessor, and the fact that the captain can either accept or eliminate any answer gives it another fresh element. In every other team-based game-show, the individual members of the team choose their answers. Here it still boils down to that one individual, although he gets constant suggestions instead of life-lines. The Terminator is the most original part of this show, which randomly will choose one team member to challenge another for their share in the money. My favorite part of the show, however, is when the host actually shows the captain the money, when he takes it out in front of them and fans it around a bit. I love game-shows, I really do, and in every other show I've seen you always lose your concept of money; you never quite remember exactly how much you've won. This grounds the contestants back into reality, forcing them to come to terms with what they can easily walk away with.

This show does have it's flaws. The questions are inconsistent, and can vary from the mundanely simple to the impossibly hard. I haven't seen them ever find a stride that's challenging, but still possible to answer with a fair bit of certainty. As I mentioned before, the set is FAR to reminiscent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, in fact it's nearly identical. When they choose teams, I always found it annoying that they never showed the eliminated contestant's answer. And, finally, they wait far too long between answering the question and revealing the answer. It's a constant element to the show that begins to wear on a person after a few rounds.

However, the host is amiable and, as with the best of them, unobtrusive. However, much as he doesn't take anything away from the show, he really doesn't ADD to the show. But I suppose that this is preferable to one of the extremes.

Despite it's flaws, this really is an enjoyable show. It takes from Who Wants to be a Millionaire it's better components, while adding new aspects to keep it fresh. While the result is not nearly as good a show as that which it borrows from, it creates a better game-show than most others.

King Kong

A Classic Remake: The Definitive Kong.
For as excellent a movie the original 1933 King Kong was, it was not without it's flaws. It suffered from uneven direction, some disappointing action-sequences, severely dated special effects and no part (short of screaming and looking beautiful) for the character of Ann once they returned to New York. It was a classic, without a question. But, despite that, it was a movie that was practically begging to be remade, rebuffed with a better script, better special effects and a better director.

The acting is interesting to mention. It's one of the few instances where a cast of big-name, talented and often reliable actors are assembled but do very little. The cast features academy award winner Adrien Brody, the hilarious Jack Black and the talented Naomi Watts I find it ironic that Andy Serkis, who's brilliant in his own right, far outshines them all in his inhuman role without a word of dialog. He takes an inhuman creatures and transforms him into as human a soul as has ever lived.

I'm somewhat split over my feelings of Jack Black's performance. He took his role and did as good a job as he could with it. He gives an excellent performance, but the wrong performance none-the-less. He's terribly miscast. Denham's role requires a great seriousness that Black is simply incapable of giving. He gives an amusing and comic performance and tries to fit it to the serious character, but the juxtaposition simply does not work. It's not his fault, but this performance is still his to bear.

Watts, I thought, gave an unremarkable performance. It was good, and certainly above-average, but unremarkable none-the-less. There is not one thing striking about what she did with her role, not one thing that truly stands out in my mind as great. She's a pretty face, a tremendously pretty face at that, but that's mostly what the role calls for. Her role's never been incredibly complex, and she simply doesn't have a great deal to work with.

Adrien Brody gives another unremarkable performance to match Watts'. He simply fails to leave a great impression. He's convincing in the role, but I feel that Bruce Cabot did a better job in the original. Granted, the characters in the two versions are very different.

The directing is simply brilliant in every way. Jackson takes the same epic, sweeping, approach that he did for the three Lord of the Rings movies, and it works just as well here. He really seems to have found 'his' film. His shots are breathtaking, and he seems to know just how to follow every character to maximize their efforts, Kong most of all. And to take a cast who each gives an unimpressive performance (Serkis aside) and make a film this exquisitely crafted takes some doing.

The Special Effects were by far the most amazing that I have ever before seen. They're so striking, so detailed, so realistic that, ironically, I can hardly believe what I'm seeing. Kong, especially, moves so fluidly and is so painstakingly detailed that he doesn't stand out as CGI but into the rest of the film. The T-Rex's were equally well done, and put the ones from Jurassic Park to shame; there's simply no comparison between the two.

The choreography is excellent. The T-Rex scene was beautifully rendered, although I'll admit that there was at least one too many. The scene at the end where Kong battles the planes on top of the Empire State Building is riveting and literally had me nearly falling off of the edge of my seat. But, for how excellently rendered it all was, each sequence went on longer than it should have, by either a little or a lot.

The original film had a great setback of the islanders. They were used only as a plot-device and as Kong-fodder. You never actually felt as if they were a threat. Here, however, they're dark, gritty and menacing. They look the part of a savage tribe and act it as well. That old woman had easily the most disturbing and frightening part of the entire movie.

The ending in New York is much better. It is here where the relationship between Ann and Kong is taken to the next level. You see him on the island protecting her against any danger, sacrificing for her, chasing after her with no thought to what might be awaiting him. It's here where you see him caring for her, playing with her. For a few minutes in the film, it seems almost possible that they could live together, as implausible as it would be, you actually believe that. That's something that the original never quite did. It was a different story, one of unrequited love by a lost soul in a strange land. This is a sadder tale of tragic, doomed, mutual love that can sadly never be.

In the end, King Kong is without a doubt one of the better movies that a person can see. I'd even argue that it's superior to the original. It's greatest flaws, though, are it's mediocre cast performances (aside from Andy Serkis) and an overly-long run time (The scene at the bottom of the chasm where they fought off the bottom-dwellers could have been eliminated almost entirely, and a fair bit throughout trimmed down. There was probably about 30 minutes that could have been cut without much lost). This film is powerful, ingenious and able to stand on its own merit. I would recommend this new classic to any fan of the original or of Peter Jackson especially. But I think that very few people will find it so disagreeable where they wouldn't like it.

King Kong

The Classic Kong.
You won't believe how long I've waited and how hard I've searched to find this movie. For the longest time my local Blockbuster didn't have it, and I couldn't locate it elsewhere either, until I stumbled upon a copy of it the other week.

The acting in this movie is nothing short of superb. The remake had a big-name cast that, despite itself, didn't do all that much in terms of acting. Each character in the 1933 original, though, is outstanding in their role.

Robert Armstrong plays the director Carl Denam very seriously and very dramatically (unlike the more comic performance of Jack Black in the 2005 remake), and much better suits the role. Denam is a serious character, and required a serious performance to live up to the role's potential.

Fay Wray, as Ann Darrow, is pleasant and endearing. She's looks the part of the sweet naive girl she plays, and for the first half performs her role brilliantly. The latter half, though, is another matter. She degrades into almost no dialog save from senseless screaming and flailing about, although this is more likely a writing problem. Bruce Cabot does an excellent job as Jack Driscoll. Although the romance between he and Wray's character is awkward at best, he manages to show himself as a caring and endearing character, and helps to pull of the romance between them.

The direction of the film is uneven, to the point where it seems more like the film was divided into two halves and directed by two very different people. The beginning is short and choppy, and comes across as almost amateurish. There's absolutely no transitioning from scene to scene, and very little is done in the way of giving it substance. When they arrive on the island, however, the direction takes a much different turn. It becomes very lyrical, very stretched. It adds substance and thickness, easing its way through the events and taking in as much of the island and the action as it can. The latter half is by far the best, and the beginning could have benefited from a like style. However, all of those really wide shots got annoying after a while, and gave the impression that something was being compensated for.

The special effects in its day, I'm sure, was state of the art. It appears to be mechanical (or maybe stop-animation), and far above a man in a monkeys suit. However, by today's standards its entirely laughable, and in no way believable in terms of special effects. Kong is constantly jerking about uncomfortably or lagging like a bad computer, and the face has a comical expression soldered on no matter if its in love or enraged. The same can be said about the other creatures (the dinosaurs especially). The Pterodactyl was especially ridiculous looking. However, the direction of the film is so great, the magic of the story-telling so compelling, that after a short time you forget about the extremely dated and unconvincing special-effects, because the story itself convinces you, commands you to believe, its reality. And you do.

The action sequences sometimes felt unnecessary. The rescue party's trek through the jungle-wilderness is the biggest case of this. You watch, and just wait for them to die off, because they seemed marked from the beginning to do so. The islanders never gave the impression of being dangerous, even when the kidnapped Ann or summoned Kong. They were victims of both the crew and the ape, and are even described as cowards who flee into their huts at the sound of gunfire. They were used as a plot device, and later discarded for Kong food. A lot more could have been done with them, a lot more.

Regardless, the T-Rex wrestling scene is classic and engaging even by today's standards, and Kong's running about New York was just as riveting. However, the scene with him free in the city was disappointing. They had a great chance for an excellent action sequence, even with their limited abilities, but wasted the opportunity and seemingly made it as brief as possible. And that one scene where they suggest using planes to Kill him is needless. That could have been deleted and we would have realized what they were trying the moment that we saw the planes taking off. Despite it's flaws, though, it still stands as a classic and worthy sequence in cinema.

In the end, this is a classic movie, and deservedly so. While it suffers by a few contrived scenes that could have been much improved upon, and special effects that are by all means severely dated, it is still an excellent film and a standard to live up to. This is not the tragic tale of mutual yet fatal love Peter Jackson made it. This is, instead, a tale of unrequited love by a creature who did not belong to our modern world. This isn't necessarily better or worse, just different (although I honestly prefer it Jackson's way). This movie has stood the tests of time despite a greatly changed and advanced state of movie-making technology, and for a fantasy/adventure film this is no easy feet. This is a definite must-see for fans of classic films and for anybody who enjoyed Peter Jackson's 2005 remake.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

They Tried Something New and it Didn't Entirely Fail.
The first thing that must be said about this movie is that it's a Friday the 13th Movie. This means that there's bound to be a high body count, senseless gore and gratuitous nudity. Another obvious addendum is a lack of plot and character development. Somehow Jason is going to be resurrected, that's another given, and somehow he's going to die (But not too much, or there wouldn't be four more movies featuring him). But, as a Friday the 13th movie, there's very little in terms of the first three expected points. The body count is decent (not as high as you'd expect but not bad), most of the violence happens off-camera and what takes place on screen is rather tame, and the nudity is kept only to a token skinny-dipper and a token shirtless girl in bed. The other points are all as they are expected to be.

I was pleasantly surprised with the acting. It's by no means good acting, but neither is it terrible. I'd actually say it's about average (which is outstanding, given the standard of acting excellence in this series). Lar Park-Lincoln's performance was decent-enough, like a slightly down-graded version of Sissy Spacek in Carrie. Even the worst cast members were decent actors, which kept this movie watchable throughout.

And, up until the very end, Jason's makeup and costume, I thought, were pretty well done. His degrading body was subtle, but noticeable. For most of the movie the focus wasn't on his features, which made them pop-out all the more. But, near the end, when the mask comes off, his face just over-does it. It's too blatantly meant to be horrific, when it instead looks like something from Army of Darkness. Subtler was better.

The most ridiculous part about this movie, though, is how they kill of Jason. For the last twenty or thirty minutes he was presumably killed by electrocution, strangulation, head crushed, building collapsed upon him, fell through a set of stairs, burned, exploded and shot at. Finally, it took Carrie... I mean Tina's... resurrected father to drown him again. It was simply ridiculous, and ruined whatever slight credibility this movie had built up in my mind thus far. I personally found it insulting, that the director and writers thought that anybody would believe he'd died after each time, and that they would continue to try and fool us again and again and again. It was almost as if they had a dozen ideas of how they wanted to kill him, couldn't agree on anything, and so decided to try them all and see how they each faired.

There were a number of small things that bothered me about this film in addition to the above. Where was Jason getting all of these power-tools and new weapons from when there's clearly only the handful of now-empty cabins? Is there always some hapless guy with a machete in the woods whenever Jason's resurrected? Some kind of big cosmic coincidence? The beginning sequence talking about Jason was pointless. People watching this movie are largely, and almost exclusively, people who've seen the prior films, and if not they can certainly guess what's happened before. At any rate, a back-story was not needed. Didn't they change the name to Forrest Green in the last movie? When the father died in the beginning, wouldn't the police (or somebody) have dragged the lake for it so that they could bury him? Wouldn't they have then found Jason (contrary to the newspaper clippings found in the doctor's study)? So why would the father's body still be in the lake? And, let's just say that that's the case, why would his body not be suffering from an advanced stage of decay after a decade of rotting underwater? If there's a killer with a machete slicing into your tent, do you honestly think he won't notice you hiding in your sleeping bag? In the end, I wasn't sure if this was supposed to be a sequel to Friday the 13th or Carrie. For a horror movie it was extremely tame, although it benefited from a good makeup/costume design and average acting. I wouldn't largely recommend this to horror-fans, only Friday the 13th ones. I doubt many other than they would enjoy this movie, and even then I've seen better.

Sex and the Matrix

Little Was Needed to Actually Spoof The Matrix Reloaded.
The Matrix Reloaded was one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life (although not THE worst). It needed very little in the way of spoofing this to make fun of it. But this short spoof did an excellent job, making fun of the three most ridiculous scenes of the entire film (the rave at Zion, The Fight with the X,000 Smith's and the scene with The Architect).

The Zion scene was ridiculous to begin with, a 10 minute long scene of a rave that bordered on an orgy. This takes it a step further and makes it just that. The scene with the Smith's was ridiculously long, repetitive and ended on a whim. This mocks the scene, and funnily so, but it doesn't mock the correct parts of it (although that might just be because it was so utterly ridiculous to begin with). Then the scene with The Architect, that was the most hilarious part, and the best use of archived footage in the entire spoof.

This is more consistently funny than, say, the Jack Black: Spider-Man spoof, although it never quite becomes as hilarious. The footage they use of Keeanu Reeves was brilliant. They connected the spoofing scenes together well with whatever that Hallway in the movie was. Overall, it was a memorable and worthy mocking short.

Jack Black: Spider-Man

Inconsistantly Funny.
When I heard that there was a Jack Black spoof of Spider-Man I found a copy as soon as I possibly could. I was hoping for a repeat of The Lord of the Piercings, and in the first third of this spoof I got just that. Footage from the movie was used brilliantly with a hilarious performance by Sarah Michelle Geller (definitely stepped up from her minimalist role from The Lord of the Piercings). Jack Black's face on the radio-active Spider was ingeniously funny.

Then came the second third of the short, where "Peter" awakes the next morning. When it was Jack Black I simply could not stop laughing. And his performance was brilliant. But then, in the latter half of this section, things began to unravel, and the humor that they'd thus far been doing degenerated into the baseless and juvenile. That joke about Black's hands went entirely too far. It, however stepped up from this at the end, with "Peter" choosing his costumes.

The final third was funny, but far from the hilarity of the beginning half. There were some funny gags, but nothing at all special.

This is, again, recommended for Jack Black and Spider-Man fans. A younger audience will definitely appreciate this more than an older one, but most people should still enjoy this.

Lord of the Piercing

This is a short that's far more hilarious than most feature-length comedies. It's a fairly strait-forward concept: It takes place in the Council of Elrond and spoofs The Lord of the Rings. It's brilliantly executed (along with actual footage from the film). It might have gone a little bit far at the end, but that didn't much matter. Jack Black gives us a memorable side-splitting performance as a hapless addition to the council who doesn't seem to be taking his duties with the ring with all due seriousness.

This is a must-see for all fans of Jack Black and The Lord of the Rings. But I'm sure that most everybody else will still find this funny enough (and short enough) for at least one viewing.

The Long and Short of It

A Touching Short Film.
My summary pretty well describes my feelings for this: It's a touching short film. It's of a surprisingly good quality (seeing as how they used the set cameras from their filming The Lord of the Rings). It presents a fairly simple problem that is overcome with the help of passing pedestrians; nothing too complex. It has an endearing quality about it, something to remember in the back of your head after the credits cut out. There are much better short movies out there, but this is still a deserving mention.

This movie are for fans of Sean Astin and short film. People who like silent film will enjoy this dialog-less story as well. It might also be of note to anybody with The Two Towers, where this film is planted.


Completely a Bubble-Gum Show.
This show can most accurately be described as TV Bubble-Gum: It's chewing, it has a good taste to it, and it lasts a long time. But, like Bubble-Gum, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth after a few too many chews.

This show features very simple questions that take the form of simply games, like Hangman, guessing a simple phrase or guessing items on a short list. Callers are the contestants, and anybody can play.

The questions, though, are terribly easy. There's some techno music pumped into the background that's fashioned into a continuous loop. It never seems to get old, but it never adds much to the show anyway. The hostess, however, regardless of which one that it, is extremely personable, pleasant enough to watch and can make some very amusing facial expressions. I rather enjoy that British woman.

But there's nothing to this show. It's simplistic and uncompelling, although it can be entertaining if absolutely nothing else is on.


Magically Abstract, Although it Could Have Gone Much Further.
This movie is one of those timeless movies that it seems everybody saw as a child. It's a wonderful, magical film, that borders itself on the abstract. However, that's just the problem, it BORDERS on the abstract, teases the audience with it and then takes it away. It could have been a much better film had it explored the abstract, if it had dived into it without hesitation and apology. As it stands,it only tantalized viewer s with the promise of the abstract, and little more.

The acting is average. There's neither nothing terrible nor incredible about it. David Bowie is an average, although a little odd, villain. Jennifer Conelly is an average heroine. Toby Froud is an average baby. They all do their parts well, but step down to let the film run itself. There's nothing wrong with this, but it leaves me without any comments about the acting other than that, that it was average and non-obtrusive to the story. The same thing can be said for Jim Henson's directing: average and non-obtrusive.

There are a lot of things, little things, about this movie that makes it really special. The song David Bowie sings is a classic, especially the beginning (featured in the card game Mow). The puppet animation is a rarity in feature-length films, and is a pleasant addition to this film. I have absolutely nothing against modern special effects, in fact I love them, but it's a nice change of pace to look at Labyrinth and see something more solid... something more old-school and traditional. David Bowie's character is more enjoyable than David Bowie's performance, and is something so intriguingly and wonderfully different than most main-streamed characters that it must be mentioned.

This is a wonderful family movie, and one that people of all ages can enjoy. Anybody who's a fan of David Bowie, Jim Henson (especially his work with The Muppets) or 2005's Mirrormask should find this movie especially enjoyable.


Wonderfully Abstract.
This is the most wonderfully abstract movie that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. It's certainly odd, but never strays too far from reality to become too confusing, although at times it doesn't stray quite far enough to really have as outstanding an impact as it could have had it stretched reality just a little bit further than it did.

The acting is very well done. While nothing comes across as an incredible performance, nothing comes across as anything less than average. Stephanie Leonidas, who had duel roles as both the protagonist and the antagonist, had the most striking performance of the entire cast. Despite her age, she looks really really young, and can act it too. Her performance was just a little too overstated to be considered understated, an acting niche that she handles wonderfully. She's wonderful in the role of the 15-year-old girl struggling with her mother's illness and her desire to escape her current life.

Jason Barry gives an impressive performance as the conflicted Valentine. He takes a role that would normally come across as a cowardly selfish role and makes it into a troubled and conflicted character struggling to decide who he is and where, exactly, his moral compass points. We can see his struggle between his duel natures (his selfish self and his more benevolent one), even as he betrays Helena for his thirty pieces of silver. However, he properly shows the progression of Valetine's consciousness after his betrayal of Helena, and being able to see this progression in his moral character makes all the difference when he is finally redeemed.

The rest of the cast did rather well. Most of the other performances were rather understated, although not all. Gina McKee had three performances, two nicely understated ones and one that was a little bit more over-the-top. All were, however, well acted for their parts.

The direction was as odd as the writing itself and, just like the writing, it worked perfectly for this film. The strangest images came across as believable because of Dave McKean's choice direction.

The visuals of this film, like the rest of it, were somewhat understated despite being abstract and in-your-face. They're terribly odd and abstract, almost nonsensical at times, but works perfectly in the movie's context. At times, though, they could have gone a little bit further than they did. Like most of the movie, it suffers only from not pushing further on into the abstract. This tendency, to not push further into the abstract, is the only thing that hinders this film, that could have been much better HAD they tried to press further onward.

Overall, though, this is an excellent movie, perfect for all ages, save for the very young. It seems to draw off of Labarynth in many respects (characters, abstract plot, etc...), but goes much further than that film. However, it still does not stretch quite far enough, and could have been much better if it had. The parallels between the world of her dreams and the world of the wakened are well drawn, although at times become too obvious. This is an excellent movie for families, and those who enjoyed Labarynth should enjoy this one as well.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Not Disappointing: A Wonderful Action-Comedy and Sequel.
It is rare nowadays to find a sequel that is actually decent, even rarer to find one that's actually good. Fortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean has spawned off this sequel that's a fitting follow-up to it's 2003 counter-part.

The acting is much the same as it was in the first film. Johnny Depp still plays the quirky captain just as well as before, although it must be said that his performance might suffer somewhat from the audience growing more accustomed to his comedic antics. Orlando Bloom still plays the temperamental and sometimes impulsive William Turner, Jonathon Pryce still plays the comedic supporting character of Governor Swann and Lee Arenberg and David Bailie still play the comedic duo of Pintel and Cotton (although their parts suffer slightly from a little less substance than the original). The only performance that I think has actually improved from the original is Kiera Knightley's, which I attribute mostly to a larger and more noticeable role than before.

Bill Nighy comes aboard (pun intended) as the legendary Davey Jones. His performance is excellent, as the crustaceaous and stern villain. His performance has some quality to it that's quite indescribable... something just askew enough to stand out but not so much as to stand out too much. It's not a not quite stiff, not quite nasally air about him... an understated performance in an overstated role... Whatever it is, it plays itself marvelously.

The score is not nearly as impressive as the original. Before it was fresh, it was exciting, it was imaginative... In this movie it too much resembles the original, to the point where I ended up thinking "I've heard this song before (although there was once where I found it pleasingly varied from the first movie). Upon reading the credits it didn't surprise me at all that Klaus Badelt was not brought back as the composer. His original flavor in the music is gone, much like John William's flavor is gone from the later Harry Potter movies when a new composer was brought in. I'm actually a fan of Hans Zimmer's work, but not here. He showed himself off far better in Batman Begins, Gladiator, The DaVinci Code, The Lion King and around one dozen other movies that he's been a part of. His job here was sub-par.

The movie fell into a rut, especially in the beginning, of constantly self referencing itself. At times it was almost painfully obvious, from Johnny Depp becoming the chief of the island cannibals (from the first movie, "...And then they made me their chief"), from the woman in Tortuga sending Jack a slap across the face (admittedly not hitting Jack, though) to the constant jokes about the rum. There were a number of tie-ins from the first movie that were, at times, annoying, although not nearly as bad as the first category. This includes the roles of Cotton and Pintel, Barbossa and Bootstrap Bill. This, however, cleared up (mostly), after about the first half of the movie.

This movie falls into the category of action-comedies, unlike the predecessor, which was a comedic action movie. The differences are clear throughout the film, where comedic gags take center stage over the choreographed fighting. The gags that I refer to (especially on the island with the three way fight between Norington, Jack and Will) take center-stage over the action. Some of the fights could have been as memorable as were the ones in the first movie, but not enough time was spent to develop them to do that. As it is, the fights are only semi-memorable, and even then only near their ends.

The special effects were just as impressive as the first movie, only in a different way. In the first movie they bordered on subtle, almost indiscreet. In this movie they're loud and obvious. This isn't a complaint or a criticism, but a fact. The special effects are purposefully made more obvious and evident than they were before. Davey Jones and his crew are remarkably well rendered.

The film, though, runs a tad longer than it should. Several scenes might have been better taken out altogether. One case of this is where Will and his father play Davey Jones in a game of dice. In the end, Bootstrap is still on Jones' service, Will is still on the ship, and Jones is still the villain. We knew already that the key was on Jones, and it wouldn't have taken to figure out where that was. This scene added virtually nothing to the movie. The fight-scene on the island where the chest was buried ran a little too long, and could have benefited from a few minor cuts in the action. The scene where Elizabeth and Jack debate each other's moral character could, likewise, have been deleted. It foreshadows what's to come, yes, but weakens the result. Jack's decision to return could have been made more selfless and developing if he hadn't been guilted into it by Elizabeth's scolding. With those two scenes deleted, and that third scene trimmed slightly, the length of the movie would have been much improved. Also, the movie has no conclusion, it simply ends. Even then, it only does so in the technical sense of the word; there's a point where the film stops running and the credits role. However, nothing it left resolved, and the ending is a terrible cliffhanger.

In the end, this is an extremely enjoyable movie, and a sequel that can stand on its own merits as a well made action comedy. While at times too self-referencing, too long and overly comedic, this is without a doubt one of the more enjoyable experiences to be found in theaters this year. It is highly recommended for families, although it must be said that this movie is too intense for young children. Fans of the first movie should be generally pleased with the second.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

This is the Kind of Movie That Improves the More You Watch It.
When I saw this movie, I was surprised ---no--- out right stunned as to the kind of movie that could be made based off of a Disney ride. This isn't some simple point "A" to point "B" plot, these characters aren't mechanical merry-men and the score isn't the work of some back-stage maestro on a keyboard. Everything about this movie was incredible and surprising, and the more I watched it the greater it seemed to become.

The acting of this film was outstanding, with a full and able a cast as could be wanted. The greatest was, of course, Johnny Depp's performance. He always chooses very quirky, very unique and singular, characters to play, and Captain Jack Sparrow fits Depp's natural tendencies. He's a quirky and awkward character who acts as if in a perpetual drunken and ataxic stagger. Accompanied with typically slurred words and uncomfortable body language, this would, in the hands of most other actors, be an awkward and uneven performance. But Depp pulls it off flawlessly in this striking and memorable addition to his acting repertoire.

Orlando Bloom, fresh off of his work as The Lord of the Ring's Legolas Greenleaf, plays the blacksmith William Turner, and easily holds his own next to Depp. While his part is not nearly so... colorful... it is, nonetheless, equally memorable. He is a believable performer who has noticeably grown from his Lord of the Rings performance. He acts as the antithesis of Depp's character; a serious and emotional individual to contrast with Depp's quirky and aloof character.

This, personally, is my favorite performance of Kiera Knightley's, even overshadowing her Oscar-nominated performance in 2005's Pride & Prejudice. While this role is clearly not meant to showcase her talents, nor is it as necessarily deep or spotlighted as Elizabeth Bennet's, it is a clear and charming performance. She takes on a somewhat comedic supporting role and really shine in it. Her timing matches up well with her costars'; her comedic delivery leaves nothing to be desired. She's rather impressive in a role that could have become another "damsel in distress" awaiting rescuing in the hands of a lesser actress.

The remainder supporting cast all deserve mention for their talents. Geoffrey Rush shines marvelously as the villainous Captain Barbossa, Jack Davenport gives a stiff yet convincing performance as Commodore Norington and Jonathon Pryce give a light comedic performance as Governor Swan. Even David Bailie and Lee Arenberg played pleasant comedic performances as Cotten and Pintel, despite also playing the parts of decent villains.

The score was absolutely outstanding, a singular masterpiece all its own. Every song, every line, every measure, every note, is so striking that by simply listening to the score on its own you can tell exactly what part of the movie would be playing alongside it. It stands as one of my favorite movie scores, and Klaus Badelt has nestled himself along such greats as John Williams, Howard Shore, Danny Elfman and Elmer Bernstein. I personally preferred it to Return of the King's score (Which is really, really saying something, as that was a masterful composition), and the fact that this wasn't even NOMINATED for best score is a travesty to the history of the Academy Awards.

Visually, it was outstanding. The special effects for the undead pirate crew were pretty impressive. But they weren't overly obtrusive; for how obvious they were, the effects were actually rather subtle still. The only part where they become a little hokey is when Kiera Knightley's launched into the air on a sort of trampoline. Other than that, the effect were flawless.

Overall, this is an excellent movie; perfect for families, action fans, comedy fans and fans of any of the main actors/actresses. It is certainly deserving of all the praise it's received as well as it's position on the IMDb top 250 (currently 237). This is a surprising gem of a movie, and one that it's quite difficult to find a person who absolutely dislikes it. It's a very safe movie to recommend to everybody.


Starts With a Bang, and the End Saves it From Ending With a Whimper.
I happened to catch Saw the other night (being that, during the wee hours of 12:00AM and 1:00 AM, the only watchable thing on TV are horror movies). I expected next to nothing from this, other than a good shock. I'd seen the commercials, which didn't make me want to see it. I'd heard the mediocre reviews from the critics, which didn't compel me, and the raving reviews from some of my friends (which didn't compel me to watch it either, as we don't share common tastes in movies). I say this because I must; it's necessary to understand my review. I chose this movie on the SOLE basis that it was late, I didn't feel like going to bed yet, and there was absolutely nothing else worth watching. I expected absolutely nothing, but was surprised to find a decent bit more.

I'll begin with the acting. The acting is extremely uneven. In the beginning it was quite good; not great, understand, but definitely above-average. This lasted for roughly the first 30 or 45 minutes. The acting then shifted to a realm somewhere between average and sub-par. It was definitely palette-able, but a noticeable step down from where it had been. I began to think outside of the film and started analyzing (which is never a good move for any movie to make, because the shift from quality to something less than that rarely shifts upward again).

This lasted for a little while until a third shift happened that lasted for most of the remainder of the movie. The acting became unquestionably horrid. Believability of character was shattered and the quality of performance gave way to utterly terrible work. Moaning, screaming, crying and wailing replaced dialog and action (although this might be more of a writing problem), and I thought that, just as the poem says, it would end, not with a bang, but with a whimper. In fact, I was sure of this, and wanted nothing more than for the movie to end. Literally every second that ticked off of the clock lessened my opinion of the movie, and I wanted to think of it as best as I could; I really did. It grew painful to watch. But, then, something happened. In roughly the last five or ten minutes of the movie the acting picked up and became, once again, above average. This trend occurred with the cast in general, and not in any singular member of it. This above trend is not reserved only for acting, but to the entire film. The story grabbed the viewer right away, and for roughly the first 45 minutes I was enthralled in what was happening. I, literally, nearly threw up (in a good way). This never happens to me, where I have such a violent reaction to a film (although the feeling subsided after a while). That this movie could have that effect on me was a wonder, and a testament to it's quality. For this rare occasion, I was literally horrified of the movie that I was watching.

However, this soon gave way. The compelling story died away with the acting, the gritty dialog (gritty, not witty, by any means) became intolerable. The quasi-complex characters that had been developed somewhat fell apart until the only thing that was left was the doctor's annoying-as-Hell moaning in the background.

But this, too, gave way. Right when I found the police-man's actions implausible, right when I thought that I could stand the pathetic moaning no more, right when I thought that what had begun so wonderfully was utterly ruined, the last ten minutes saved this film. I won't ruin it for anybody, but the twist at the end really saved this movie, and brought it back around to what it had started as. While it wasn't enough to make up for the previous... half hour... it was certainly more than enough to save it from a bad review.

There are some parts of this film that just bothered me. The car-chasing scene was terribly shot. I understand that it was shot on a very thin budget, but it looked exactly like what they were doing (set in a dark garage, with people rocking the car to make it appear in motion). I'm sure that there had to be a better way to shoot it then that. The police officer's character near the end became confusing and I was unsure of the exact time-table that the movie had acted upon. The character of the doctor was intolerable from after the first 45 minutes, and continued as such until the end. I found the puppet annoying, but still rather creepy.

This movie is not Se7en, which some people seem to think it is and then are angry when it disappoints. I do, however, understand the comparisons drawn between the two movies. In many ways they are similar, but they're still two very distinct, very different, movies. The directing is tolerable, but far from brilliant (I'd place it in league with the remake of Dawn of the Dead).

This is an extremely gripping, shocking and horrific movie. It's a tremendous achievement in horror, and should be commended for the boundaries it's both stretched and broken. I'd recommend this movie to horror fans only, as I doubt anybody but horror fans will like Saw. I'd recommend to save it until you're alone, at midnight, in a dark room, for maximum effect.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

Arguably the Greatest Gameshow Ever Made.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire, in my opinion, is one of the two greatest gameshows ever made, the other being Jeopardy. The premise is simple enough: a single contestant must answer 15 questions of continuing difficulty to win $1,000,000. Along the way they can use several life-lines to help them out.

Regis Philban makes the perfect host. He's non-obtrusive, but personable when he does get involved. He doesn't play at cheap unfunny jokes like Cash Cab's Ben Bailey, he doesn't have Ben Stein's annoying nasally voice, and he has more substance than The World Series of Pop Culture's Pat Kiernan.

The trivia varies, from extremely simple to extremely difficult. This assures that a viewer will at least be able to answer correctly, at least occasionally. And, being general-knowledge, there's something for everybody.

Most shows have far too much overblown melodrama that detracts from the show. Who Wants to be a Millionaire has unquestionably the most melodrama of any show I've yet seen, and yet it somehow works exclusively to its advantaged. Everything from the lighting to the music adds to this, even Philban himself. It's a show that has substance to it, some thick tangible feeling that makes the drama work. Everywhere else it always feels so contrived, but here it's a natural and necessary part of the show, and therein lies the difference.

Ca$h Cab

The Greatest Premise for a Game Show Ever.
There is one thing that separates Cash Cab from the countless other game shows a person could watch. There is one singular difference that makes this show, about one man asking a group of contestants general-knowledge trivia questions, better than most others, and that is the premise.

The host drives around in an ordinary-looking cab in New York. The passengers that he picks up become the contestants. They answer general-knowledge questions all the way to their destination. If they miss three questions, though, they're kicked out and win nothing.

Nobody has prior knowledge that they are going to be on the show. Nobody has time to study or prepare for this. You may have one person, or a group, and this depends entirely on what they, as a person, know as part of their every-day knowledge. You can get a group of people who get three strikes right away, or you could get an individual who wins some obscene amount of money and then doubles it on the video-bonus question. Or you could get any mixture of the two. You never know, they never know, and that what makes this show great.

The show is not without it's faults. The host can be annoying at times, trying to be funny. And the melodrama is entirely over-blown. You have to wait an obscene amount of time before he confirms the question. After a while, it really begins to weigh the show down.

Still, Cash Cab is very much like a box of chocolates. You can get a bright bulb as much as you get a complete dud. But, no matter what, that's still good chocolate... I mean viewing.

World Series of Pop Culture

One of the Best Game Shows in Recent Memory.
There have been a lot of game shows in the past, covering almost every possible gimmick. We've had Jepardy, Wheel of Fortune, $100,000 Pyramid, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Family Feud, Win Ben Stein's Money and more recently Cash Cab. Let's face it: it's hard to come up with a game show that's fresh and new, let alone something that you go out of your way to watch. However, I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, and when I heard that they were going to make a pop-culture game-show on VH1, I set time aside to watch the premiere (I always loved those pop-culture quizzes they had).

The premise of the game is simple-enough: 16 teams comprised of three people each must compete in a single elimination tournament for $250,000. Actually, it reminds me of another show I saw a while back. So it's nothing entirely original.

The questions though, are quite difficult. What was the name of the Boat in Jaws? What was the name of the company who owned the building in Die Hard? While some are easier than others (Who played tinkerbelle in Hook, What's the Simpsons' dog's name, What black and white Speilburg movie made in 1995 won best picture?), there are rarely ones that are extremely easy, and even the relatively easy ones can be challenging.

There are a lot of little things that make this show great. The teams each pick their own names and logos, which can lead to some very memorable choices (Highly Effective People, Sexual Chocolate, I Love Jake Ryan, The Boegy Bunch). Unlike most game shows, the melodrama is kept to a minimum. It's there, it always is, but it isn't so over-blown as most everywhere else. The host is unobtrusive, and largely allows the show to run on its own accord (although the occasional witty quip is always at hand). Each team where's matching uniforms, and this gives them a singular identity (along with the names and logos). The crowd in the theater are very responsive, and the players are extremely good sports. This is what really makes it enjoyable, the fact that you see a level of sportsmanship here, among nerds (like myself, only more-so), that pales in almost everywhere else you look.

I don't know about anybody else, but I'm pulling for Almost Perfect Strangers to win. When you collect the three biggest nerds you can find online and put them in a team together, there's no force in the 'Verse that can stop them.

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