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The Hangover Part II

Sort of like watching a rerun of a really good episode
The Hangover was a one joke premise that stretched into a slew of laughs. It's safe to say that a similar premise would work and be equally as funny. The problem with "The Hangover II" is that it has some good jokes, and its enjoyable to watch, but, like an all too faithful cover song, it's wayyyy too familiar and it lacks originality.

My real issue with it is that the premise is too similar to the first. Guys take bride/groom brother with them, have wild night, forget everything, have to find him. The repeat premise and some of the gags are almost cringeworthy. It's almost as if it's the same script with a little cut and paste work done on the gags for good measure.

But some of the jokes are funny. Most of the humor works because the guys are discovering what they did for the evening and forgot. It's when we see this stuff that we laugh. A couple of the outrageous moments involving Stu are hilarious.

But then there's that stuff that drags or the stuff that's too derivative. What's the deal with Paul Giamatti - such a great actor in a small part without much to do. Or the fact that some of their hijinks involves more action than humor that it seems the film, as we near the end, is going through the motions.

Perhaps the first one relied so heavily on the premise that it became a novelty film, and shouldn't have been repeated so faithfully. If there is a Hangover 3, it better have a big dose of originality. If they tried to imitate the premise again, wed end up in Friday the 13th land..and I don't think I could take another 10 of these.


Grows more relevant with age..and all by accident
I don't think Heathers ever intended to be an important movie. It's a dark comedy probably meant to take a stab at high school rom coms of the 1980s more than anything else, with a hint of social satire for good measure. Yet it's one of those films that repeat viewings scream irony after watching the news.

For the uninitiated, Heathers is a subversive black comedy that pokes fun at high school cliques and the faux "coming together" that sometimes results from a tragedy at a school, particularly in regards to teenage suicide. It was a career starter for Christian Slater and Wynona Ryder, while being laced with enough great dialogue to influence an array of writers - well, if not, at least Diablo Cody.

The film takes particularly aim at the elitist clique of girls, while taking a brief jab at jocks. JD and Veronica are that voice in the heads of so many, doing to these groups what many only imagine. JD creepily wears black clothing and at one point in the film, is carrying a bag full of something we only dread hearing about on the news.

Heathers was funny initially. Over time, it's become a cautionary tale, yet never rising to the level of significance that it should. Heathers successfully gets into the head of would be school bombers and the danger of cliques and exclusive groups. In a time where teen suicides are making news again due to these exclusive groups' persecution of others, the film takes on a whole new relevance.

The writing is sharp and dares to speak uncomfortable truths that resonate with the youth not only of the 80s, but also of today. Whether accidental or on purpose, the film is still important. It doesn't really offer a hero or even hope at the end. While the ending seems a little uncertain about how to handle any of our problems, the mere airing of our own dirty laundry provides topic for discussion. Despite the dated music and fashion, this film deserves a repeated viewing or two in this day and age.

Where the Wild Things Are

Wild and deep adaptation
***possible spoilers*** Adaptations are a tricky business, as you never want to carve out typical Hollywood fare from a beloved tale, especially one as ubiquitous as Where the Wild Things Are. Spike Jonze already did a movie about adaptations, so he should be well aware of the task was.

What Jonze does with Maurice Sendak's story is simply amazing, as it manages to capture its themes and expand on them. The film is something of a coming of age story and deals with Max wrestling with complications in his life as opposed to just causing a little mischief. Jonze has taken a simple childhood lesson and turned the story to a portrait of dealing with the difficulties of growing up.

The film has a simple exposition, which is probably a tad short. We learn quickly that Max's father is gone. We learn that he has questions about the world he's living in and how long it will last. Most importantly we learn he has an active imagination that is sometimes welcomed by his Mom. Jonze creates a good foundation for Max's reason to sail away to the world of the wild things.

Once we enter this world, we realize that it's more than a world where Max lets his imagination run wild. It's much more than a wild rumpus. The characters are visually arresting while they each possess unique mannerisms that Mas starts to recognize. He latches on to one like a father, possibly because of a figure he's searching for. There's one that they don't listen to, much like Max feels in his own world. All these traits unfold throughout the movie.

But it's Jonze's little details that make the movie something of a literary feat. Max is always trying to grasp the crown. Jonze clearly understands the power of imagination in children and how it is a world that the child can take control of when everything else in their world seems beyond their control. Yet Max learns there's limits to that as well. It's a very thoughtful take on the story.

"Where the Wild Things Are," as viewers have noted, is not a straightforward children's movie, as it delves into much deeper issues. It's great for children if their ready for the serious tone of the film and aren't going for a pure fantasy. It has it's fun moments too. The story is not as clear cut as typical films, but what can you expect from Jonze. There's a certain element of this film that shows things unfolding and happening while not having a typical plot structure. Max grows from simple interactions with the wild things and it's the interplay between the characters that's important.

It's an incredibly brave and somewhat complex take on the original picture book. For Jonze, it's a very strong 'adaptation.'

Paranormal Activity

Preys on primal fears
Is Paranormal Activity really that good? Is it worth all the hype? It achieves its goal and then some. That's enough to say it's at least worth a watch. I don't know if the acting is great, and neither of the leads are what we would categorize as glamorous. But does any of that really matter. This film is scary, and let me tell you why.

Horror films come by a formula now. To me there are rules that are followed that work really well. The Hitchock idea of suspense - that we already know something terrible will happen. He builds it up - and then doesn't show us the act. So we've built this horrifying vision in our head. In Psycho, we see the knife, but not the act. We're then afraid of showers.

Then there's another formula for horror that works. Isolation. This was mastered by George Romero. He imprisons his characters - be it in an old house or a shopping mall. That there's really nowhere to go keeps our characters hopeless. Again, we're waiting for the inevitable. It's the how that's got us spooked.

So why spend a review talking about other films? Because Paranormal Activity successfully combines these two elements and ups the ante. In the Hitchock sense, the film begins with a title card thanking the families of the main characters, alluding to something horrible that has happened to them. We're just waiting to learn how. In a classic Hitchcock way, suspense is built. We never see what is actually causing the said activity, and the most horrifying things don't happen on screen. So we're left to imagine how horrible it is.

Then there's the Romero element of isolation. This is where the film takes two clever turns. For one, it sets a rule for itself, that the characters might as well stay in their house because it doesn't matter where they are. That gives the director no reason to shift the characters elsewhere. So he keeps them in a place that by audience standards is the safest place in the world: their room. The scene of the camera videotaping the characters as they sleep as they hear things go bump in the night is horrifying because it preys on a primal fear of ours. We relate to this, and that the image is repeated, it keeps the audience on edge. This is the most terrifying form of isolation imagined, robbing us of our one safe haven. That's why the film is so scary.

The interesting thing about this film is that you can't look at the traditional elements of film alone (ie screenplay, direction, acting). Is it gimmicky? A little. There's the sense that it looks real. But I don't point to the documentary feel. I think it's just that the director didn't need to come up with anything new to scare us. He just took those things that go bump in the night and put into a movie - which hopefully survives the hype that has surrounded it.


Story not quite as strong as the visuals
"9" has a scary imaginative landscape. It doesn't appear to be the future so much as an alternate reality, as told by film clips detailing the invention of these machines designed to aid humanity. The visuals are the lure for the film. The world is dark and vast. The creators take advantage of the main characters' size to bring detail to their world.

The only sentient characters are the rag dolls. I dare not give away how they are created, because that deals with the film's central themes. The characters aren't nearly as interesting as they look. For a PG-13 film, these characters seem like stock characters from run of the mill animated fare. The young newcomer, the holier than thou leader, the strong guy, and of course the one girl. Despite this, they have a good foundation to be interesting, but the creators never bother to take them to that level.

The film is about 80 minutes and the first half is filled with the rag doll's fighting off evil machines. This is great eye candy, but doesn't really help establish a story. The story itself doesn't seem to get underway to the very end. Had the characters been a tad more captivating early on, I wouldn't mind. The film's theme is somewhat imaginative, if a little forced. There's a lot of heart towards the end of the movie, something the first half of the film lacks. This is an imaginative looking movie, but seems to lack a certain fullness to be recommended beyond the rich visuals.

Donnie Darko

Dark, funny, creepy, and full of questions to wrap your brain around
Donnie Darko has something to do with time travel and something to do with fate. The fun of the film is that it asks a lot of questions and doesn't provide many answers. It creates a strange mythology that boggles minds upon repeat viewings. The fun of watching the film is that people find themselves developing many theories. Any film that achieves cult status involves a certain mythology, like we've found ourselves in the middle of something grand and we're only given a glimpse of whats actually going on. Donnie Darko is a well crafted "hero" of sorts. To what end is up to the viewer to decide. He's horribly flawed yet has a huge burden to carry as we approach the closure of the film.

What is often overlooked about this film is the deconstruction of 80s suburbia. "The end of the world" is often mentioned in the film and Donnie Darko's character is often unraveling those uncomfortable truths about a hidden facade of safety in suburbia. His family looks perfect in the very beginning til they start cursing and discussing politics at the dinner table. What kids are learning at school is questioned by an ignorant parent, while they question vandalism at the school. The local clean cut celebrity Dr. Cunningham has a dark secret. Suddenly their world becomes a little unsafe, all thanks to Donnie Darko. All this is done with a dark, and devilish sense of humor.

I didn't care for the director's cut as much. The fun of this film is in its mythos and lack of explanation. The sci fi fantasy of the film is great as well as the suburban satire. Read too much into it, you might enjoy it less. To me though, the film seems to be a happy accident, as Richard Kelly, in all his indulgences, hasn't reproduced this kind of magic. It's a special near perfect film that loses its enjoyment with too much analysis.

The Final Destination

3D is good..that's about it
Ever been to one of those gimmicky tourist rides? You know, you pay five or 10 bucks, go inside, the seats move around and you watch a video that's probably devoid of any plot, much less a narrative and in the end, you felt the ride was all right, but too little, too short. Welcome to "The Final Destination." This film is essentially a ride. You go for the 3D. An opening race track scene is pretty neat. The gore level in the film is high and one must admit that when the occasional body part flies out at ya, it's pretty cool. The use of 3D on such things as cars, fire, and nails makes you want to grab it, and yes, the 3D is pretty good quality. But there's probably not enough of it, and the film has little else to all offer.

The plot is pretty consistent with other FD movies while the characters are torn from every horror movie cliché imaginable. We follow 4-5 characters, including a lead who can see people die. The other main characters feature a main girl a guy we'd probably like to see die, and a girl we might be a little indifferent about. I won't spoil what happens, but if you've watched any bad horror movie, you get the idea.

So what follows is a series of stale acting, bad dialogue, and a terribly illogical script. I could write a book as to why the last reel makes no sense, but I have far better things to do with my time. The end is cheap, wasting a good opportunity to give the audience a good 3D send-off. The makers of the film try to be clever with things and places that refer to dying, such as a coffee shop named "Death by caffeine" and a movie named "Love lies dying." Yes, they think they're being clever.

But in the end, the star of this film is the 3D, which is pretty good. And really, for a film with nearly zero substance, the 3D makes it at the very least entertaining. It does however make me question why a 2D counterpart even exists. A lot of these shots are made for the 3D and nothing more. In terms of substance, that Avatar preview before hand proved a little bit better.

If you're watching it for the 3D, "Final Destination" will be an entertaining diversion. Just be aware this film has little else to offer, especially if your akin to the Final Destination franchise. It's a shame too because the concept could invite some good scripts.

Say Anything...

Enter Cameron Crowe
I love all of Cameron Crowe's movies. He's a master screenwriter that injects heart and smarts in the traditional rom-com and crafts characters that anyone can relate to. When you go see a traditional romantic comedy, the target audience is usually women. "Say Anything" has Lloyd Dobler. Besides being the nice guy girls like, he's an honest strong willed dreamer. He's cool but not in the typical tall dark and handsome cool but in the outsider, marches to his own beat cool. He's very nontraditional for the genre and an example of why Crowe triumphs in his films.

Diane Court is also atypical. She's the good looking "brain," who is not really popular at school, as is traditionally found in teen rom coms. She's also torn between what she wants and what her father wants. Her father's questionable dealings with a nursing home he runs also creates a serious situation for Diane. She deals with her decisions post high school, her father, and her love for Lloyd. That Crowe creates such complex conflicts for Diane in 100 minutes is nothing short of brilliant direction and screen writing.

This was Cameron Crowe's directorial debut and was a very promising one. It's still my favorite film of his if for no other reason than John Cusack delivers some of the beautifully written dialogue so well. But it IS so much more. "Say Anything" came at the end of the 80s. Teenagers grew up with the characters in John Hughes films, dealing with those high school problems. I love those films and love how "Say Anything" provided the wonderful afterthought to those films. Life after high school, dealing with our parents vs. our own desires and coming into our own as adults. "Say Anything" is often cited as a teen romantic comedy, often mentioned in the same breath of many high school romcoms. Yet the graduation and party are just a small tiny bit of the film. Crowe's characters are deeper than that. The story, dialogue, and acting helped jump-start Cameron Crowe's career yet is still my favorite of his films.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

An example of excess
I'm always torn about this film. On one hand, I loved some of the humor, notably the references to Smith's other creations, reviving Dante, Randall, Holden, and Banky into one picture. The humor at the Quick Stop that started it all is golden. Then there's moments from Will Ferrel, who's humor is foolproof and at home with Smith's crafted dialogue in spite of Ferrel's many improvisations. But Smith's films seem to reflect where he is at that moment in his life. Clerks was great, and while Mallrats suffered, they garnered a sizable cult following. Chasing Amy was a critical success and helped make a star out of Ben Affleck. It also succeeded because, like Clerks, it was very personal. Dogma, despite how outlandish the plot was, also had personal ties, as they addressed his feelings toward religion.

So what does that make "Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back?" Besides revisiting the characters we love, it seemed like an exercise in excess. There's nothing to relate to in the film. The film is too self referential for its own good that there's nothing original or new in here. The humor is sporadic - in the very beginning and in the very end, it's hilarious. But it seems more like a bunch of cameos than in an honest movie. Smith was becoming more recognizable at this time and, if anything, the film seems to be about fame. But it's too much excess for me. It lacks the humanity of his previous efforts, which however perverse, had a heart at their core. That's why I liked Clerks, loved Chasing Amy, and liked Dogma in a special kinda way. This movie doesn't say anything and the dialogue is not nearly as sharp as it could be. If you like Smith's characters, you'll be amused to see them again, but Smith doesn't explore their dimensions as he had in prior movies. Jay and Bob, maybe, but let's face - there's not much too them. The movie's very slapstick, which isn't Smith's niche. It's still mildly amusing, but I've found it lacks the repeat pleasure of his other works.

Henry Poole Is Here

A good watch, but message is a little jumbled
Despite the fact that this film does deal with the face of Jesus appearing on the side of a house, it doesn't say 'the face appeared, so you must believe.' In fact, there seems to be a message concerning overall faith, even on a secular level, in oneself. Though it fails as it becomes a jumbled affair with too many characters sending too many mixed signals.

The movie begins with an apathetic, unshaven Luke Wilson buying a rather pricey small house in California, literally drinking his life away. We find halfway through the movie (and on the back of the DVD case) that he supposedly only has six weeks to live. In the midst of all this, the face of Jesus has appeared on the side of his house, believed to be a miracle by all in the neighborhood but him.

For me, the film was a predictable affair. Perhaps by the mere description you can call how it ends. I did. The trip there was a little rough and a little fun. The good was in the acting, particularly Luke Wilson. Wilson plays the "down on his luck" everyman fairly well. He also gets a good little emotional scene that's removed from his more recent comedic outings.

And while the story is intriguing, it's muddled by too many characters that sometimes detract from the film's theme. Perhaps the writer didn't realize they were doing this. At certain points, it seems like its wearing it's religious beliefs on its sleeve, like in the priest character on in the supermarket girl Patience (which I'm sure has some meaning in this film). By the end of the film, I felt the message had a universal appeal, in spite of the supporting characters. The many characters muddled the themes.

Overall, the film is worth a watch, particularly for the always dependable Luke Wilson. It incites a little discussion and while others have felt it a little too religious need to remember that some films do require a little thought, and I personally feel that this film does speak on a more universal level, not just on a religious one. The trick is not to let the many characters distract you.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

A celebration of the child
There are two writers of in the English Language who advocated for the youngest of readers and celebrated the power of imagination above any other: Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. While Seuss penned the 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, the story reminds me more of Roald Dahl, clearly depicting the children overpowering the adults and putting the characters in rather horrifying situations (Case in point, as our young hero fears being punished by playing the drum forever, Dr. T corrects him by noting the man being punished is IN the drum).

But if the story is reminiscent of anything, it's something like the Wizard of Oz in the mind of a young child. The imaginary world (or is it real, in a way?) draws parallels to the real world, while Bart deals with his overbearing piano teacher and a mother who seems all too agreeable with the piano teacher. It sounds like a child development case study, but this is way more fun. The story isn't nearly as poetic as OZ, but it's full of those gentle Seuss touches, such as puns, nonsense words, and a few memorable songs.

But if there's any failures in the film, the look of the film makes up for it. Forget the Grinch and Cat in the Hat. If Dr. Seuss was to be translated into live action, this is what it'd look like. It looks like a simple Seuss world lifted from his books. The children's hats and the many abstract but colorful set pieces aren't scary or disturbing, but rather, dreamlike and imaginative. Neeless to say, for 1953, it's a strange looking movie and it could be easy to dismiss it.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is worth a look, especially among Seuss fans. It's also an amazing visual achievement for its time. I wouldn't consider it classic Seuss or even classic cinema, necessarily, but it should strike some joyful curiosity among cinephiles and Seuss fans alike.


Pixar proves they're infallible, once again
One of the greatest assets of Pixar besides always raising the bar on animation is storytelling. Beyond that, they have the ability to take characters or basic plots that sound okay at best and make them first class entertainment, both on a commercial and artistic level. This was the case with Cars, as talking cars seemed to not be on par with the humanity of Pixar's prior scripts. But they pulled it off, making a highly enjoyable film. Wall-E does the same.

Admittedly, I was not immediately attracted to the idea, as robots in computer animated fare is hardly anything new, as numerous shorts and a whole film had come earlier. There was also the early head's up that a good portion of this film didn't have dialogue, leading one to believe that Pixar would shed its storytelling in favor of fantastic visuals. Not so.

The marvel of Wall-E is the ability to tell a story with little to no dialogue. Pixar's people know that the visual's serve to enhance the story, not replace it. The film begins on a deserted earth, with Wall-E, a robot designed to clean up earth while everyone is away in space. He's alone. He collects knick knacks and as we can see from his collection, has developed heart. He's attracted to a love scene and dance number in "Hello Dolly." The brilliant animation conveys so much emotion in Wall-E's robotic face. Besides some advertisements for the "Buy N' Large" corporation and the Hello Dolly clip, the first third of the film is spent with little to no words. The rich landscape and our attraction to Wall-E's little gestures are all we need to tell the story.

The rest of the film is focused Wall-E and Eve, a robot sent to find life on earth, and their attempts to save the one bit of plant life found on earth, as well as themselves and the rest of mankind. It's a cute story and it has a lot of heart. But the film also has more depth in terms of its message. It shows a society becoming dependent on technology, thus becoming overweight and unable to care for themselves or even appreciate what exists beyond TV, shopping, and consumerism. And the obvious message about protecting earth from over pollution, or it won't be able to sustain life.

If kids don't get the message, that's fine. However, the gifted folks at Pixar told the story so well, that I wouldn't be surprise if the message does sink into children, as the vivid pictures clearly convey the story's message. It doesn't really have any political slant either (those on the far right think otherwise), as it's a simple message to clean up. There is some satire criticizing our current administration and consumer culture that may not reach the little ones, but is no less enjoyable to them because it's there.

So can Pixar do any wrong? If Wall-E demonstrates the caliber these guys are capable of now, probably not. They don't have a bad film and they demonstrate that animation is real, honest film making. Outside of Japan and Studio Ghibli maybe, there are no real contenders in the field of animation who have been able to mix groundbreaking animation and rich storytelling. Wall-E has raised the bar, as it's one of Pixar's best to date.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Unbearable only half the time
Kid's films several varieties these days. There's the fairly good fantasy book adaptations (Harry Potter), Oscar worthy Pixar films, middle of the road animated fare from Dreamworks, and cheaply made garbage that will make money because there's no other family fare. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is almost of the latter variety, saved by good voice cast and couple clever jokes.

So this is one of those films I saw because I was with children and wouldn't have watched it any other way. The setup was not promising, featuring dolled up dogs in LA, a locale that is all but nauseating to see on film. The human cast helped very little. Jamie Lee Curtis (who seems to have a contract with Disney for this type of fare) is the rich, snobby owner of Chloe (voiced by a whiny Drew Barrymore). She needs to leave for a bit and leaves her daughter played by Piper Perabo in charge of the dog. While Curtis is away, Perabo and a couple friends go to Mexico to party, Chloe escapes and our adventure ensues.

The film is predictable from this point on and this is one of those "grin and bear it" ones for adults. The redeemable moments come in the form of a talented voice cast, at least the Hispanic side. Barrymore whines her way through this. But the rest of the voice cast, led by George Lopez and Andy Garcia seize the moments and make it slightly enjoyable. Oddly, the filmmakers have Chloe get kidnapped by people who put on dogfights (a scary reality these days). They manage to introduce it in a nonthreatening way to kids and actually give a humorous moment in the cages that I think got a good laugh from the entire audience.

But y'know, that's about it. Andy Garcia does some good voice work as Delgado, the former police dog and Cheech Marin makes a memorable voice cameo. But the quality voice fare can't save a very mediocre script that goes through the motions of kid films. While I will say this isn't as bad as it could've been (Does anyone remember Cats & Dogs), it's not much better. It undeservedly made a lot of money. The problem with this and some of Disney's other non Pixar fare is that the storytelling is uninspired and the way many of these films are shot seem to feed into the fears that such films and TV shows may cause ADHD. This is lightweight diversional fluff. And while it's not horrendous, it lacks the artistic merit and multidimensional characterizations that actually stay with kids and actually challenge them to think about what they watched. So far, it seems like Disney's cohorts at Pixar have been the only ones to rise to that challenge.

The Good Night

Good old fashioned dark comedy
There's something about dreams that requires relaxation and patience. They have a certain fluidity about them that if they're hurried or rushed they just aren't as effective. As is fitting for a film about dreams, "The Good Night" works because of good acting and gentle pacing. The result is one of those good old fashioned dark comedies that walks the line between drama and dark humor.

Martin Freeman is one of these actors that takes grips on the "average guy" role and has as much fun as he can with it. As Gary, the band member turned commercial music composer, he is effective in demonstrating his lack of joy in his current relationship with Dora (Gwyneth Paltrow) and sinking into obsessive dreams about the make believe Anna (Penelope Cruz). Freeman is always a good lead because no matter what he does, he's likable and we're always rooting him on, even as Dora calls him a jerk and she's probably right at one point.

But a lot of the humor in the film comes from the supporting players. Simon Pegg is always a no brainer for comedy because of his spot on delivery. As Gary's friend and boss, Paul, he jumps into the role of the somewhat amoral friend with his own relationship problems. However, he does still listen to Gary and even takes joy in some of his obsessiveness.

Then there's Danny Devito, playing the typical Danny Devito character as he hosts a dream support group but works odd jobs and hasn't had a relationship of his own for over 40 years. Despite all this, he still hears Gary out and Gary takes a lot of his advice. Devito has a lot of good one liners and a very funny introduction scene.

As to the movie as a whole, it's good but not great. Definitely worth a look. Part of me saw this as a dark comedy going through the motions and becoming very predictable as we got closer to the end. The premise was very fresh though and director Jake Paltrow really seizes the opportunity of capturing the dreamlike quality of some of the scenes. The performances and well paced direction really glue the movie together though, and at 90 minutes, it's not a bad movie to give a watch.

The Dark Knight

Dark, grim, and magnificent
Superhero movies have become about as ubiquitous now as disaster movies were about a decade ago. Similarly, there's been something of a followed formula with these said films. Spiderman was exciting. X-men brought us a certain human element. Then there will subsequent sequels, filled with CGI and piling on more and more faces. As the screen got more cluttered, we cared less and less about the characters.

Enter the "Dark Knight," the literate sequel to to "Batman Begins." This is unlike any superhero movie that has been put on the screen. The color and the humor of Batman's theatrical past have vanished,no one has any superpowers, and the conflicts presented to Batman reach far beyond a painted up madman.

Christopher Nolan's take on Batman injects a pulse in the comic book to film genre by reminding us how Batman is different from all those other superheroes. He is human. The script, penned with Nolan's brother, forces Bruce Wayne/Batman to deal with the moral complications of his character. For the first time on screen, we really feel how a "superhero's" actions may have dire consequences.

But the Dark Knight is a carefully paced story that doesn't provide simple answers. Heath Ledger's manic Joker, who sounds like Tom Waits when he's doing poetry or on stage banter, is the most vile of villains captured on screen. Rather than making him a simple evil doer, Nolan crafts the character as a foil for the very existence of Batman. Ledger's performance drives the character into unchartered territory.

But beyond the fight between the Joker and Batman are a well casted group of characters that Nolan chooses to not simply introduce and waste, as in other superhero films, but to makes us actually care about. Fans of Batman may have an idea about Harvey Dent's character, but this portrayal might be the best of both comic and film. The likable Aaron Eeckhart portrays him as a character we root for and he is constructed so well that his final act in the film never seems superfluous, as his character has been treated in other versions of Batman.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this film is that it inadvertently poses the question, 'What if Batman was Real?' It might look like the Dark Night, where the line between good and evil and right and wrong looks grayer and grayer. It's appropriately titled, as this is an extremely dark film with no clear cut answers. The words, images, and pictures play like poetry, as "The Dark Knight" raises the bar for superhero films.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Let there be lips!
Rocky Horror Picture Show is a strange sort of film. This is not because one of the main characters is a transvestite from outer space or because it has inspired a following that congregates on Fridays or Saturdays at midnight or even because the highly regarded Susan Sarandon got her start here. It's strange because in all it's oddness, it's actually good. It's also achieved a certain fan base that has worked Rocky Horror into modern culture. Dare I say, it's a classic.

A classic does not necessarily mean it was better than the rest of the films that came out that year. It's a classic because it is something that was so different and memorable that it sticks with you over time. It's not just because of the audience participation midnight shows either. Rocky Horror Picture is campy fun with a good soundtrack to boot.

The film (and the play it's based on) is both a send up and tribute to horror films. At the same time, it seems inspired by the sexual exploration of the day. While it dwells on sexuality on a larger than life scale, the film's openness of this exploration is a sign of the time it was made. The characters of Brad and Janet seem like they are ripped out of the opening scene of Night of the Living Dead. Brad has those glasses and never does seem to get the right words out, looking bound to stumble into trouble. Janet, meanwhile, is the lovey dovey blonde. Their weaknesses allow them to stumble into temptation quite easily.

But the star, of course, is Tim Curry, who shamelessly prances around the screen as Dr. Frank N. Furter, singing such classics as "Sweet Transvestite" and "Rose Tint My World" with impeccable quality. He's never had a sweeter role that utilized his musical talent. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a lovely ensemble, including Meat Loaf's memorable cameo as Eddie belting out the rockabilly inspired "Hot Patootie." The music, by Richard O' Brien, is brilliant. Although funny, this was a musical that broke conventions by fusing it's naughty dialogue with a non traditional mostly rock n' roll soundtrack. It's not without sentiment either. "Dammit Janet" is funny and a cute profession of love, while "There is A Light" merges ironic hope to a tearful lament. Then there's the dance number. You know - "The Time Warp." It's a classic that even people who don't know Rocky Horror know this one.

Then would you believe the film has a moral? In all it's sick brilliance, it still manages to churn out a theme about lost innocence and temptation. Watch the movie again - laugh as you always do. Yell at the screen. But remember, there is a work of art here. Oft referenced, parodied, and played every Friday and Saturday night somewhere, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become part of our culture. And yes, I would say it's a classic.

10 Items or Less

Fun little film driven by its characters
In all honesty, if someone told me the director of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, City of Angels, and Caspers was going to do a neat little low budget indie film and that'd it be real good, I'd say that person must be joking. But that's what director Brad Siberling did. And it was really good.

"10 Items or Less" has a similar conceit to films like "Before Sunrise," "Lost in Translation," or more recently "Once." It involves the chance meeting of two people who if serendipity didn't put them there, they'd probably never cross paths, or if they did, they wouldn't say word one to each other. Like those films, "10 Items or Less" focuses on the relationship that builds and how the characters come to understand each other and build on each other's strengths and weaknesses.

The story involves Morgan Freeman, playing an unnamed actor who goes to research his role as a grocery store employee for an upcoming independent movie and because of things beyond his control, ends up spending the day with the lady in the 10 items or less lane played by Paz Vega. She has a rotten marriage and is hoping to land a new job as a secretary. Initially, Freeman's character just needs a lift home. After spending time with her, however, he wants to get to know her and maybe even offer her some advice.

Brad Siberling builds the characters almost entirely through the exchanges between Freeman and Vega. The plot is merely a setup for these two characters to interact with each other for most of the film's 80 minute duration. Freeman has fun with his character, as he appears an outsider in lower class world that Vega's character, Scarlett, inhabits. Vega, in the meantime, grows beyond the stubborn checkout clerk upset with her life's situation looking to move on.

There a couple things that really stood out in this film. First of all, Siberling has probably taken note from independent cinema to make sure the relationship is sincere and doesn't fall into any Hollywood pitfalls. It's a very mutual friendship that develops convincingly throughout the film. It works, even though the situation itself does seem a little inconceivable.

I am also impressed with the performances. While Freeman's presence gives this film credibility from the get-go, he shows a certain amount of charm and fun not usually seen from him. Paz Vega, meanwhile, is priming herself for a breakthrough in US film sometime in the future. I loved her in Spanglish and she's equally good here as the tough, no-nonsense Scarlet. Towards the end of the film, she successfully conveys the growth of her character. I'm looking forward to seeing her in more films.

Overall, 10 Items of Less functions best as a character piece, well scripted and directed by Brad Siberling. He hasn't done much writing and his feature film work has consisted mostly of big Hollywood films. Yet there's certainly an artist at work here and am anxious to see if he'll take this road again.

The 'Burbs

Light dark comedy
The 'burbs is a fun diversion from the usual neighborhood comedies. Joe Dante has a way of combining dark humor and outright horror and make it convincing to a mass audience (see 'Gremlins.') That this film has a lot of dark elements and remains just a light romp at the end is a feat unto itself. All credit goes to Hanks' good natured comedic performance and Dante's fun with the material.

Dante paints a portrait of the neighborhood at the very beginning. Hanks plays Ray, probably the most normal among the neighbors. Art is like a big kid and the first one to suspect the neighbors of foul play. Bruce Dern plays a war vet where Ricky Butler, played by Corey Feldman is the loud teenager. All is well in suburbia until clues pop up that might reveal the new neighbors, the Klopeks, as murderers.

With any other talent behind the film, this could have been a very dark comedy. But instead of playing up the horror, Dante has fun with it, playing up the comedy talents of his performers (notably Hanks and Dern, who take turns chewing scenery). Dante also has fun with visuals, notably in a hilarious dream sequence that Ray has.

Everything comes together to make this film work, including a great score by Jerry Goldsmith, that is part suburban comedy and part horror, complete with organs culled from a funeral march. This film is far from perfect, but it's fun diversional comedy and reminds of the great comic actor that Tom Hanks once was before becoming Oscar's golden boy.


'Grindhouse' a fun experience
'Grindhouse' leads to a tricky situation when it comes to talking about the film. Do we discuss the individual films for their merits and their weaknesses or look at it as a whole? Is this a unique work or a pastiche of the grindhouse sub-genre of films? Did the public by and large actually get it? The answer to that last question is no. For the rest, it all depends on the audience.

For me, watching 'Grindhouse' was an experience unto itself. Unless midnight shows start cropping up, I fear it's one that won't be repeated. Let it be said that it was a great, fun movie-going experience. The idea of a double feature alone made it worth the price of admission. The quality of the two films was great while the trailers were just hilarious.

'Planet Terror' is Robert Rodriguez's homage to zombie films. He plays up the grindhouse experience more than Tarantino by displaying many conventions of the schlocky genre, including more than one gratuitous female shot in the first 5 minutes and the much talked about "missing reel" that probably threw your run of the mill theater goer for a curve. He also throws in a number of intentionally 2 dimensional characters full of faux emotions. Rodriguez's contribution is funny, clearly laughing at itself throughout the film. Rodriguez is a visual director and his fun effects are always worth a look, notably Ros Macgowan's leg/gun - it's used to great effect. 'Planet Terror' is almost parody. As it's intentionally camp, viewers may be turned off if they're looking for a good scare. 'Planet Terror' has its tongue firmly planted in cheek.

'Death Proof' is probably the more original of the two films and it's originality really seeps in after a couple viewings. Of particular note is how Tarantino successfully plays up the suspense in the first half with Kurt Russel as Stuntman Mike. We know what's going to happen, but Tarantino has a lot of fun with the payoff. The second half of the film is a really fun chase movie. It's very original, while still paying homage to the celebrated grindhouse genre.

Then there are those trailers. Rodriguez's 'Machete' is probably the coolest, but Rob Zombie's 'Werewolf Women of the SS' is just hilarious. These are just those extra special ingredients that made this such a fun experience.

In the end, that's what this film is - an experience. I had the pleasure of watching this at the Alamo Drafthouse, where we were treated to real grindhouse trailers beforehand, adding to the fun. I doubt seeing this film again will have the same effect. The Weinstein's handling of the DVD releases of the films by themselves has been telling of this. They are enjoyable, but nowhere near as much side by side without the trailers. That being said, it's hard to look at each film by itself without taking in the whole experience.


Hate to rehash the reviews, but it is indeed only semi funny
Semi Pro is half good. It starts off great. We are introduced with Jackie Moon's big hit "Love Me Sexy" and learn that his team, The Flint Tropics team isn't that good and Moon spent his money for the team really for his love of basketball.

The first half is great, as it applies a usual Will Ferrel formula - have a very basic plot to allow Will Ferrel and co to display their antics with really little attention to the plot. We go to see Ferrel display his antics after all. The best display of this is when Jackie Moon and some of his friends are playing a poker game. It has some of the fun ad libbed dialogue Ferrel's movies are known for and is one of those scenes you know will have outtakes on the DVD.

The film's failure is it's plot. In a Will Ferrel movie, Ferrel should be the center of attention, yet as the plot moves forward, that honor seems to pass to Woody Harrleson, who's good in his role, but doesn't supply the necessary humor the film needs. Meanwhile, Ferrel is left with little to do except for some of the wacky bits like Ferrel wrestling a bear.

So as the film progresses, there is a feeling of the usual basketball film, where the rag tag team tries their best to be successful. In all this, the humor seems to be dissipating, and the Ferrel machine seems to be running out of gas. Really a shame, because the promotional materials for this movie were hilarious.

The Cat in the Hat

This is vile
Children's movies of late are an interesting lot. They try to have kid appeal with non threatening plot and humor while trying to sneak in enough for adults to keep their attention while being dragged to the multiplex. Some of that type of humor is really clever and not so offensive that sharper kids who spot them won't be offended.

There is, however, a difference between smart humor and downright crude, vile humor. "The Cat in the Hat" falls in the latter category. This film is the most vicious sick form of kid's entertainment I've seen in years. I would have not watched if it weren't for the fact that it was playing at kid's pizza place that I was attending with a child at the time.

There are a number of scenes where the children just stare at the cat pulling off one crude gag after another. Bodily function humor abound, I'd have the same reaction. Then there are SO many other scenes that have coarse adult humor. No, it isn't sly innuendo, it's sick. The sad part is, it's not even funny. I watch a slew of animated films and if it's smart adult humor that goes over the head of the little ones, that's fine. But this is sick.

The plot is similar to the book. Seuss's words in the book are magical. The plot and message are simple. The kids fall prey to mischief - how do they clean up before mom gets home. How that gets screwed up is beyond me, but this film does it. Innocent mischief, this isn't.

While we're on the subject of inappropriate adult humor, let me point out that this film FEATURES PRODUCT PLACEMENT FOR AN ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE. Sickened yet? Try Mike Myer's insipid performance of the title character. This is vile and a miserable excuse for children's entertainment.

The Dark Backward

Looking backward...
Adam Rifkin has a resume of films that could have been. They are inspired, ambitious, original, but at the same time almost incomplete. The Dark Backward encompasses all these qualities and more.

The film opens promising enough. Judd Nelson as Marty, looking something like Crispin Glover in Back to the Future, sweats on stage delivering some horrible stand up comedy. We then meet Gus, Marty's "friend" played with villainous comic timing by Bill Paxton. He urges Marty on to keep at the stand up.

The film plays off like a twisted moral anti fairy tale. It's the almost rags to riches story gone awry, as Nelson plays a horrible stand up comic who's only talent seems to be an extra appendage out of his back.

Rifkin's allegory is great and the ending is a spectacular take on show-business and what it truly takes to come to fame. But it's the middle that sort of fails. It's painful to watch. Such pains are great to see in some films when writers are able to spice it up with great dialogue or endearing characters, but most of it is just revolting schlock. Rifkin goes to great lengths to show how pathetic the lives of Gus and Marty are. It's a bit much.

The saving grace of the film is Bill Paxton. He makes some of the disgusting material work, going from pure disgust to some shocking laughs. Sadly, Paxton doesn't do much comedy. For better or worse, this film may be the reason why. He is unbelievable and the way he sinks into the material (and other things) makes the film almost work.

Adam Rifkin seems to be full of half baked ideas. They're good ideas and strange ones at that. His projects never seem to have a fullness to them, but they are full of strange inspired moments that are unlike any other film. I don't know if we'll ever see Rifkin's material reach their maximum potential as these ideas don't sell to the mainstream, but we should enjoy strange sick gems like the Dark Backward from time to time.

Run Fatboy Run

Enjoyable, but a little predictable
"Run, Fatboy Run" succeeds almost entirely on the strength of the comedic performances here. First thing the viewer needs to keep in mind is that this is not "Hot Fuzz" or "Shaun of the Dead." That's not to say Pegg's performance isn't key to this film. It is. But it's a different kind of humor, including more broad physical comedy that we don't see in the aforementioned films.

The basic premise of the film is that Simon Pegg's character, Dennis left his pregnant bride, Libby, at the altar. A few years later, his girlfriend has hooked up with Whit, played by Hank Azaria, who Dennis learns runs marathons. Wanting to prove himself to Libby, the out of shape Dennis decides to run in a marathon.

The film is a fairly formulaic romantic comedy. Pegg, who co wrote the script relies not so much on dry sometimes subtle humor, but rather a broad physical humor. He's really good at it and reveals himself a more versatile comedian. The scened where he's working out and actually running attest to that.

The other high point of the film is Gordon, played by Dylan Moran. Gordon is Dennis' friend and Libby's cousin. Dylan Moran has a way of inserting his own comedic personality into things, usually providing some sort of torment for others. This is no exception as he uses various means to urge Dennis to run. Moran is another performer with great comedic timing. He also gets some of the best lines.

Hank Azaria plays Whit. Oddly enough, funny man Azaria gets the straight man role. That doesn't stop him from being entertaining as Dennis' antagonizer. He especially shines when he's trying to take jabs at Dennis' desire to run in the marathon.

Overall, Run Fatboy Run applies a familiar romantic comedy formula. The story itself is rather straightforward and seems a little sophomoric. This film succeeds largely on its actors, especially Pegg and Moran. One strength this has over other rom coms is that despite the outrageous circumstances in the film, it does seem to have a genuine heart that gives the film a brief break from the usual rom com nonsense. It's worth a look, and enjoyable if you're willing to accept that this is a different kind of film than what Pegg has been doing.

Diary of the Dead

Stop and look
George Romero has a knack to creating horror movies with social relevance. Romero practically created the zombie genre and has, for the most part, remained its master. "Diary of the Dead" harks back to Romero's original "Night of the Living Dead." Like all his zombie movies, it explores man's primal urges trapping his characters. Instead of trapping our "heroes" in a house, shopping mall, or a military compound, they are trapped by a camera.

The film opens with Jason, a film student, filming a horror movie with his fellow peers and their college professor. They hear news on TV about something going on, but they aren't quite sure what it is, just knowing that the world has been thrust into a state of shock. They decide to head for some sort of safety in a Winnebago, learning that the dead are coming back to life. Jason is documenting the whole thing via his camera, hoping that people will see what really happened instead of what the media showed. We see the film through his lens.

"Diary of the Dead" is Romero's take on our voyeuristic culture. He shows such things as government cover ups, media sensationalism, and how the you-tube blogging culture has created a way for us to present our own take on things. His observations are smart and current. But as helpful as Jason's film may be, is he truly helping with his story, or is he just another gawker, wanting to watch the horror unfold? "Do we stop to help or just to look?" is a question posed by the film.

As social satire, the film seems to be a scathing indictment of the media and particularly the hysteria associated with it. There are references to 9-11 and the fear that followed as well as referenced to hurricane Katrina and Rita (listen closely for a line about buses). For this film, it seems the zombies are almost taking a backseat to Romero's satire, which is much more overt than his previous zombie outings. There are scared and there's gore, but Romero asks us to think throughout the entire film instead of pondering it in the aftermath. It's good stuff, but the horror seems to take a lesser position than the film's social themes.

As for the quality of the production, Romero wisely chose mostly unknowns for his leads. It's to the franchise's benefit and its detriment. The quality of the actors is a mixed bag. The male leads are okay, though the actor playing Jason sounds like he's channeling Crispin Glover at times. The story's narrator, Debra is spot on as she provides much of the story's theme and conflict, arguing with Jason about the filming of this story. The rest are typical the typical lot you find in B grade horror.

This is not the quintessential 'dead' movie, as it feels too self important at times, waving its message into audiences' faces. Debra's narrations wear thin in third act. The on screen action speaks for itself and some of the narration seems non-essential. That being said, this is still probably Romero's most effective satire, albeit rather obviously, since Dawn of the Dead, and has the feel of a good cult horror film. While it has its problems, Romero is still at the top of his game when it comes to creating a thinking man's zombie film.

Be Kind Rewind

Fun film, though script is lacking
Michel Gondry is a very talented filmmaker especially when it comes to visuals. His music videos and films go beyond simple video marvels into a world of simple visual trickery. This is something Gondry is very good at. Furthermore, he has a do it yourself mantra when it comes to filmaking. He's not into the marvels of CGI. He's more into what you can do without it.

But it takes a little more than visual trickery to make a film a success. Be Kind Rewind is a prime example. The film starts off well enough. Mos Def helps run a video store owned by Danny Glover's character. The store is probably one of the last remaining stores catering to VHS. Jack Black is Mos Def's left of center friend who works at an electrical plant. Through some plan to sabotage the plant, he becomes magnetic, erasing all the tapes.

Our heroes are forced to re-record the movies and do it through a process called "sweding," producing 10-15 minute versions of the film, using a wide array of do it yourself techniques that Gondry himself has utilized in his work. An example is a simple trick where filming through a fan makes the film look old. All of this is fun. The way the guys try to truncate the film's stories into a little time or their lack of knowledge regarding some films like Driving Miss Daisy. the crude effects are fun and are prime examples of why we love Michel Gondry.

The downside to the film is the script, penned by Gondry. Clearly, the film is built around the sweded films. But I was starting to think that watching the sweded films would've been more fun than watching Be Kind Rewind itself. Gondry never fully fleshes out his characters or resolves some of the subplots. The visuals are fun, but when Gondry's forced to wrap up the movie, it becomes a little sporadic and we start to realize the the film doesn't go much beyond its rich concept.

There is something great to take away from this film. And while I have some reservations about the film, my recommendation for the film is based on Gondry's filmaking vision. That is to say, there is clearly a joy of filmaking associated with Gondry that will have me continue to look forward to his work. If you're not sure what I mean, take a look at his promotional materials or at his other short films. The man loves filmaking and has fun with this movie. However, I'd recommend he build an alliance with some good screenwriters that would help his visions become fully realized, and not just good natured diversions, as this film is.

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