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Snow 2: Brain Freeze

If you're in the mood for a nice ol' good-vibes yuletide special, Snow 2 is the way to go
Snow 2: Brain Freeze is an ABC Family channel original holiday special, a TV sequel to the 2004 Christmas television film Snow. Directed by Mark Rosman, Snow 2 stars Thomas Cavanagh as Nick Snowden, reprising his role from the first film. He is Santa's successor, as his father, the original St. Nick, died and left the holiday job to his son. Ashley Williams also comes back for the sequel as Sandy, Nick's wife, who is a tad fed up with Nick's preoccupation with Christmas preparations. Nick steps out, only to be clunked on the head by a vicious trophy, and instead of worrying about Christmas, Nick is left to worry about figuring out who he is. Along his path, Nick meets up with a punk robber pre-teen (Alexander Conti) and his old rival Buck (Patrick Fabian). Buck comes up with a plan to use Nick's amnesia to his advantage by "helping" Sandy track down Nick - and Sandy just happens to be Buck's old fling. While Buck attempts to woo Sandy while hiding Nick, things work out on Sandy's behalf as Nick falls into the hands of an old man (Hal Williams) who knows Nick, and finally, Nick recovers his senses to save Christmas.

While it's not necessary to see the original Snow to understand this sequel, it would be helpful, as I was a bit lost through the beginning parts of the film as to what each character's relationship was. Once the viewer gets into the swing of things, though, it's all steady Christmas spirit from there. Tom Cavanagh brings out the Claus merriness in his character, jumping around and boneheadedly agreeing with everything everyone says. It can get a little annoying, but then again, who else could be believed to be Santa Claus but a merry, genuinely happy guy? Ashley Williams is also all smiles, which can be a bit frustrating when her character is supposed to be angry, but the film is obviously meant to bring joy and delight to the holiday.

The film reaches a lull through the middle half as there's not too much action to be taken to find Nick. Most of the plot is pretty easy to foresee, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The scenery is pretty great, emphasizing the snow ala the title and also bringing out those perfect fake Christmas decorations. Certain elements of Claus magic were creative, especially the bit about a special traveling mirror (although a little Harry Potter-ish) and a Santa Claus manual that comes with a private teacher.

Honestly, however, Snow 2 doesn't do much to change the Christmas movie plot as a whole. For these types of Christmas movies, there is always some problem about Santa not being able to get his act together by Christmas, and this one just uses amnesia as the excuse. The film's cute and humorous, but not altogether different from the other made-for-television Christmas fare that peppers the stations each Christmas. If not for the entertaining way that the film goes about its solution to the rising action, Snow 2 might go unnoticed. Even then, since I haven't seen the first, I don't know if a sequel is warranted for the original Snow. But even if Snow 2 does play it safe, it still succeeds at what it attempts, and for that, you can't really fault it.

Snow 2 does come off as a bit TOO cheery, where even the villain doesn't seem too evil, but if you're in the mood for a nice ol' good-vibes yuletide special, Snow 2 is the way to go - not overly thought-provoking, but thick enough to settle down to with a nice cup of hot cocoa or tea and whittle the blistery day away (which is basically what I did today).

The Dark Knight

Director Christopher Nolan really knows how to shake a viewer around.
I'll be honest with everyone - I've never seen Batman Begins. Truth be told, I was not interested in it when it came out, because I thought it looked corny and there had already been too many Batman movies. But when 2008 rolled around and I saw the trailer for The Dark Knight before Get Smart, I was pumped. It looked like a total headrush, a dark and violent Batman that had never been before. It mimicked the original paths of the comics, and Heath Ledger looked like a man who would burn in Hell as the Joker. So I knew I had to see this movie, preferably on the big screen.

Director Christopher Nolan really knows how to shake a viewer around. His quick cuts during scenes leave the viewer barely hanging on from one shot to the next. This is a good thing, because none of what we see gets so boring or tedious that we zone out for a while. It's also a good way to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, because the way that we zoom around from one action sequence involving Batman to a sequence that occurs the next day leaves the audience wondering what happened that we didn't see. It doesn't allow us to really contemplate what comes next, because we're so absorbed in the current predicament that we're not thinking about the next scene. The quick cuts allow twists and turns to be packed into the 2 and a half hour runtime, keeping The Dark Knight from becoming clichéd.

Christian Bale, I feel, plays Bruce Wayne better than he does Batman. Batman's growl, while needed to disguise his voice, feels too exaggerated. With the gadgets that Lucius (Morgan Freeman) comes up with, Batman should be able to have a better guise than Bale's polar bear growl. Yet Bale's emotions come through, especially when Rachel is the subject at hand. But even though Batman is the main protagonist, the film doesn't feel like it's actually about Batman.

The Joker seems to be more the main subject, even from the very beginning where the camera seems to be following Ledger as one of his minions. We, as the camera, seem to be silent observers in the Joker's carnage, even focusing on him as he blows up a hospital. The Batman seems second to the Joker, as if The Dark Knight is a clinical observation of the Joker's personality and mental disorders.

Ledger's portrayal is absolutely deserving of the early cries of Oscar nominations at the time of his death. I was afraid that his death would generate too much emotional love for him instead of actually focusing on his acting ability displayed in Knight, but after seeing his work with an attempt at an unbiased reaction, I can safely say that these commendations are correct. Ledger's role is visceral, emotional, disturbing, and even comedic. Ledger brought a gamut of adjectives to the Joker's character, most of which can be lumped into one category - devilish. Ledger's laugh and his unnerving calm even during some of the Joker's darkest scenes add to how depressing and black the atmospher of The Dark Knight really is.

The Dark Knight hits on so many themes of violence and paranoia, desperation and love, that it's hard to discuss in one review. However, The Dark Knight really pours on the darkness towards mankind. The violence the Joker creates with his hands, his misanthropic worldview, and his uncaring attitude towards anything besides committing arson on the whole world are chilling, and the script has many spine-tingling lines which go right to the core of the human soul. One of my favorite motifs that Knight touches on is the dilemma - the meaning - of what being a hero is. Everyone wants to be the hero - everything needs a hero, and what if there isn't one? What if Batman is just a do-good criminal? What does that do to society? Does it tear it down, or build a new hero? Can there be an innocent hero, or is that just naiveté? Also, much of what many people want to know is about the action. The Dark Knight is not full of fist- and gunfights, but when they happen, it's really hard to miss. Some are over-the-top, like a chase sequence in which Batman motors his Batmobile in front of an oncoming bazooka shot, or an exploding hospital that, from sky-level, looks like a gas station went up in one of your Hot Wheels toy models.

Others are pretty impressive, especially when Batman wrangles in Rachel while falling from a building. But all in all, The Dark Knight left me feeling like jumping down the escalator and beating up a masked guy stealing an old lady's purse, then jumping down the elevator shaft, rolling over my car, and then stopping to get coffee while battling armed robbers at the local Starbucks. That's pretty damn impressive.

If you're looking for a nice superhero movie to take the kids to, you might want to settle for the flop that is Spiderman 3. If you want a really dark, daring, fast-moving action-packed ride, with lots of thought involved, The Dark Knight is for you. It's Heath Ledger's final complete movie, and one of his best. This film's Joker may go down as the best in history - and you want to skip it to go see Mamma Mia!? Put this on your list of movies to see - Alfred and Bruce Wayne will be waiting to put you in your place if you don't. And Batman ain't too happy anymore.

In the Land of Women

Ironically what sticks out most are the dramatic instances that have nothing to do with romance.
Directed and written by Jon Kasden, The Land Before Time -- excuse me, got my movies confused -- In the Land of Women stars Adam Brody as Carter Webb, a softcore-porn writer who, after an emotional break-up with his model girlfriend Sofia(Elena Anaya), decides to move in with his grandmother (Olypia Dukakis), an aging woman who thinks she's dying. While taking care of her, and pondering his life's work and his love for Sofia, Carter meets the neighbors living across the street, the Hardwickes. He starts walking with Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan), a mother of two who we know has breast cancer, and finally he falls for her, and her for him. But all is not well in the situation, as Carter has also befriended Sarah's daughter Lucy (Kristen Stewart), and Lucy, being in a state of confusion over her interest in boys, falls for Carter too. It's up to Carter to figure out his own feelings.

Adam Brody really seems like a likable guy in this film. I've never seen his other work, but here, he brings a talkative, people-person personality to his character. It's not unbelievable that two women would fall for him at once, not because of his looks but because of how In the Land... portrays Carter as the guy who has all the answers. Carter feels like a sage, someone who knows the ins and outs of relationships and has the experiences of life. While it could be probable for him to give advice on love to Lucy, it seems a bit strange that Carter could be a mentor to Sarah, who knows from experience what it's like to fall in and out of love. Consequently, Carter does more of the teaching, rather than Sarah, who one would expect to be giving the advice to Carter as he reminisces on his love for Sofia.However, Sarah's predicament holds the plot together - her problems are what keep the film moving along, because if she did not have breast cancer, we would be left with one tedious film about a boy finding love in the wrong places. It was inevitable that Carter would fall for Sarah, and Lucy would fall for Carter - if the plot only consisted of this, the audience would have tuned out well before the conclusion. But to pit the whole Hardwicke family against Sarah's breast cancer tugs at the heartstrings, leaving the audience wondering if she'll make it out okay.

The plot does seem to meander, but the conflicts between Carter v. Lucy v. Sarah add enough drama to make the film interesting. Conclusions to the film are pretty quick, and there's just enough of a lead-up to make them seem likely. For instance, a guy who has a crush on Lucy is minimally stuck into the movie, where eventually she realizes her own love for him. It happens fast and is miniscule, but there's enough glue to make it stick.

The best part of In the Land... is Carter's grandmother, who always complains about dying. She's humorous because of her morbidity, and at the end we get a twinge of guilt at laughing at her seemingly unimportant moaning, because we find that she really did feel the end coming after all.

In the Land of Women does mostly the same things as most other romantic com-drams, and basically on par with them too. Ironically what sticks out most are the dramatic instances that have nothing to do with romance, and the lack of a substantial conclusion at the film's finale that shows that love cannot be forced, and is easily confused. This is what Carter really came seeking when he went to his grandmother's house - he wanted to find if his confusion of love was shared, and in the end, he finds solace in that everyone is lost until love is found. He answers his own questions, because he has all the answers, even if he doesn't realize it.

Beyond Evil

It's not original or creative, or even scary, but it's pretty funny AND fun to watch, and also, the music is pretty catchy
Beyond Evil was directed by Herb Freed (you might know him from Graduation Day) and stars John Saxon as Larry Andrews, a construction worker or contractor of some sort who moves with his wife, Barbara (Lynda Day George) into a new home in the Caribbean. His friend Del Giorgio (Michael Dante) and Del's friend Dr. Frank Albanos (Mario Milano) - who adds barely anything to the plot except being a tag-along to Del, and a suspicious yet unfulfilled character - obtained the place for them after the owners died, and it's a damn castle. Of course, Barbara and Larry are taken with it, even after the tale of the owners' deaths. It seems that the lady who had owned the house was in a loveless marriage with her husband, who would fool around on her, and she practiced black magic as revenge on him. He ended up killing her, but not before she killed him too, and now the house is supposed to be haunted by the vengeful black witch. The hoodoo doesn't get to the newlyweds, until Barbara is possessed by the evil spirit, and then it's up to Larry to save his wife before it's too late.

If it sounds like a familiar plot line, it is. It plays out exactly like anything from The Exorcist to The Amityville Horror. While not original, it is pretty entertaining. I love John Saxon - he's a great actor and seems like a pretty cool guy. But one thing that gets me in this movie are all the flaws.

For example, at one point it seems like Del Giorgio is out to get Larry and Barbara. For what reason? Well, it would make sense to assume that Del is trying to break it off between Larry and Barbara, since it is mentioned that Del had had a fling with Barb in the past. It almost plays out - Barb is possessed, and starts making out with Del, and the audience thinks that maybe, just maybe, this vengeful plot arc will play out, only to find that Barb kills Del before anything can actually happen and makes everything suspicious that Del was planning a moot point. I just wonder if it was actually supposed to seem like Del was in cahoots with Dr. Frank Albanos, or if it was just something that I misinterpreted. Either way, I also found it weird that Frank was both a doctor and always at the construction site.

Which leads me to another question - what's up with the construction site? It's never really explained what's going on, and while it's not important, there are scenes at the work site where I was left wondering what exactly they were doing.

The movie's not boring - the hauntings are semi-dramatic, and it was fun to see Saxon almost get killed by a falling wooden idol, but much of the movie is really loosely pulled together into a coherent plot. There's also a witch doctor that Saxon goes to to help exorcise the demon in Barbara, but to no avail - nothing happens. There's also only about 5 deaths in the whole movie, but they're spaced out enough so that one doesn't get bored too quickly.

Bluntly, though, the movie has too many wordy moments and not enough action. And whoever's idea it was that possessed bodies are cloaked in, and shoot, green mist was a little whacked. Barbara seriously looks spooky - that is, until she becomes Superman with green lasers firing from her eyes - then it just throws the suspense all down the drain.

I will use a Playwriting vocab term here - deus ex machina. In Beyond Evil, Freed uses this to max effect. A little backstory to let you in on what happened here - Larry gets fed up with the wooden idol doll that he has upstairs and throws it in the river outside. Yet at the end of the movie, what magically apparates in the fireplace? That same idol doll. No one ever picked it up, or made mention of it, in the last 20 or so minutes of the film when it was thrown away, but it magically appears in the fireplace, and Larry burns it to exorcise the demon spirit from Barb. So basically, what happened was the writers got too confused as to how to end the film and decided that the easiest way was to miraculously place the idol in the fire to be consumed by flames, freeing Barb. It's a suspension of disbelief that just doesn't seem to work well, and it's pretty confusing, actually.

But hey - you could do worse for an hour and a half movie. It's not original or creative, or even scary, but it's pretty funny AND fun to watch, and also, the music is pretty catchy. So if you're in the mood for a possession, or John Saxon (that dreamy hunk, and here, he's pretty young) then rent this movie. It's not evil, but it'll have to do.


"...if you go in knowing that the film is sort of gimmicky, it's a great two hours to spend reminiscing on those horror comics of your youth."
Creepshow is a series of short stories, in the vein of television shows like Tales from the Crypt. Each installment features a new story and new characters that are tied together as a comic book, in introducing and concluding segments at the beginning and end of the movie. Notably, George A. Romero directed the flick and it was written by Stephen King, a conjoining of two horror icons who work together to produce these frightful shorts. I'll break it down episode by episode.

First, we start off with a lead-off segment, about a boy's explorations of a trashy horror comic and his father's extreme (and when I say extreme, I mean ridiculous verbal expulsion) disapproval of said picture-book. What got me from the start was the pumpkin in the window. But it does start the intrigue flowing, which is important.

"Father's Day" - This segment is not one of the stronger ones - the plot is the basic zombie-revenge formula, where the only thing working for it is the absurdity of the father jonesing for his cake. It's entertaining at best, and at worst grating, because the story doesn't feel fleshed out enough. The viewer is given bare bones as to what is going on, leaving to the imagination why the whole family is sitting and waiting for the aunt and why no one cares enough about anyone to actually worry about their feelings. It's humorous, but not a very hearty meal - we get the dessert before the dinner (in this case, cake).

"The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" - It's not a very suspenseful story, but it's not meant to be. What "Jordy Verrill" does is take a potentially serious, frightening experience and make it hilarious. King seems to be a natural at redneck characters, and he brings Jordy Verrill to life. I love the comic book feel in this one, especially the dusky, lonesome night on the farm and the lush greenery of the fake weeds. "Jordy Verrill" captures the attention like "Father's Day" couldn't.

"Something to Tide You Over" - "...Tide You Over" is much creepier than the last two shorts, and also much darker and less comedic. Nielsen's over-the-top character presents the audience with a great acting session, as Richard broods in the mentally-insane-who-laughs-crazily bunch of kooks. I like the atmosphere that this segment presented, as seeing Danson and Ross struggle against the water that's rushing up to their face gives a frightful claustrophobic feeling. Later on, after all the harrowing events have ended and Richard is faced with the two lover zombies, the tension kind of turns on its side and dissipates. For the most part, though, this story really captures the serious horror that the film is both depicting and mocking. The only thing I could have used was some more introduction to the characters, since the reasons for Richard's dementia and his torturous desires are a bit elusive.

"The Crate" - "The Crate" is one of my favorites in this film, since it's a bloody, comedic mess. There are a bunch of creepy moments, because the audience's expectations are toyed with whenever someone gets close to the box. I love the red lighting every time violence happens, even if it has no meaning. The only thing that I really didn't like about this tale is the fact that the beginning meanders far too long. Granted, it gives exposition on the abusive wife, but we can see this throughout the whole film, especially with the extensive murderous dream sequences, and so it feels like the beginning is just too stretched out.

"They're Creeping Up On You!" - It's a simple premise, but a really disturbing and creepy one. "They're Creeping..." actually makes your skin itch, what with all the roaches running around and how ruthless Upson Pratt really is. There's no sense of remorse for the man - all through the movie, we have the feeling that he's getting what has been a long time coming. The way he treats his employees and even his doorman shows he has led a really spoiled life, and now his spoiled attitude is going to get the boot. There are plenty of gross-out scenes for those who hate insects, so it's good,scary fun.

As a whole, Creepshow works. There are a couple of duds, but most of the time it manages to entertain, spook, and have you laughing at the same time, which is really what one wants from a movie that tries to mimic the '50s horror comics. It's supposed to be corny, and it obviously is, but if you go in knowing that the film is sort of gimmicky, it's a great two hours to spend reminiscing on those horror comics of your youth.

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