Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winnie the Pooh (2011) (Rating: B)

Winnie the Pooh (2011) is short, funny, cute, sweet, innocent, and somewhat insubstantial like the stuffed bear the movie is based on.   I liked everyhting that I saw but felt like there should have been a little bit more.  I wanted to see a little more plot, especially with the minor characters.  Christopher Robin barely makes an appearance.  Much of the movie feels recycled from possibly better Pooh films.  The show kept breaking into musical numbers, and there are too many scenes showing pages of a book, all of which contributed to the feeling that the show, like the protagonist,  is stuffed with fluff.

Disney's strategy seems to have been to make only enough of a movie that people will watch it.  The shortness of the movie made me yearn for a sequel.

On a more positive note, the animation looks pretty good.

I would have felt a little ripped off had I seen this in the theater, but the movie is just right for a budget rental.   It is not very deep, but  I didn't expect rocket science.

There is an easter egg at the end of the credits that is worth waiting for.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fwd: Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse was "born" 83 years ago today.    It is not great but it started an empire.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Daily DVD Rental Price

Redbox is making an announcement about its prices today, and we want to make sure that you hear it from us first.

Starting on Monday, October 31, the daily rental charge for DVDs will change to $1.20 a day.* The price change is due to rising operating expenses, including new increases in debit card fees. Daily rental charges for Blu-ray™ Discs and video games won't change.** Additional-day charges for DVDs rented before 10/31 won't be affected, either.

In order to make the transition easier, Redbox will discount the first day of all online DVD rentals to $1.00 from 10/31 through 11/30. Additional rental days will be $1.20.***

If you have any questions, please visit There, we've provided additional information.

This marks our first price change in more than eight years as we work hard to keep prices low for our customers.

Thank you,


Sunday, October 9, 2011


"Thor to begin with is not an interesting character. The gods of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology share the same problem, which is that what you see is what you get. They're defined by their attributes, not their personalities. Odin is Odin and acts as Odin and cannot act as other than Odin, and so on. Thor is a particularly limited case. What does he do? He wields a hammer. That is what he does. You don't have to be especially intelligent to wield a hammer, which is just as well, because in the film Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doesn't seem to be the brightest bulb in Asgard."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Contagion ::

Public Enemies * * *

"Public Enemies" gives a "just the facts" style drama without really delving
into the motivation or the background of the characters. When we first meet
John Dilinger, he is alreayd a bad man doing bad things. The movie never
bothers to explain why.

Inglorious Basterds * * *

Inglorious Basterds tells an alternate history where a group of undercover commandos help end World War II by killing off the Nazi leadership.

I don't know if "Inglorious Basterds" is a brilliant film or an excessively gratuitiously violent movie. It is both.  The movie repeats the same formula over and over: Clever conversation followed by horrendous violence. It does this about 6 times, so it started to feel repetitious.  The scene at the end movie I found too disturbing.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rise of the Planet of The Apes * * * 1/2

When the remake of "Planet of the Apes" came out in 2001 to mixed
reviews, a Salt Lake City radio talk show host named Bob Lonsberry
summed it up very nicely: "I went to see a movie. There were apes in
it. That is good enough for me."

I went to see "Rise of the Planet of The Apes" with low expectations
because I thought that the trailer had given away the whole story.
Although I was partially correct, I didn't count on how skillfully
that story would be told. This is a well crafted and thought out

In several places the movie isn't totally logical or believable, but
for heaven's sake, a movie like this isn't suppose to be. Believability
takes a back seat to good storytelling.

This could be the best Planet of the Apes movie since the original.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

RIO * * *

The trailer for RIO simply plays the most eye popping scene from the movie where one blue parrot tries to teach another blue parrot how to fly by jumping off a mountain.   The trip down is pretty exciting, but this does not not end well because the two parrots are chained together and one of the parrots clearly does not know how to fly becaue he is obviously a domesticated bird.  How they got into the situation where the two chained birds are jumping off a mountain we can only learn by watching the film, which I have been wanting to do ever since I saw the trailer over a year ago.  I meant to see the movie in the theater, but I never got around to it, so I settled for video.

My favorite part of the movie by far is the first 5 minutes where a little girl adopts an orphaned baby parrot, names him Blue, and they grow up together, which is easy to imagine since some parrots live really long lives.  Within five minutes the movie establishes that the girl, Linda, has grown up and has a really strong bond with her parrot.  I don't know if it is possible for a human and a bird to have such a strong bond, but it is a necessary part of the story since Blue and Linda become seperated in Rio de Janeiro.   The rest of the movie is a somewhat familiar story about how they eventually get back together.  It is not that different from 1,001 Dalmations or Finding Nemo, but the first 5 minutes did such a great job of establishing the bond that it made the story compelling.

There are some predictable villians and some not-so-predictable villians and at least one annoying musical number too many, which is typical for animated films.  Overall, the movie is a good way to spend 90 minutes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Star Trek * * * *

I just watched Star Trek for the fourth time.  The first two times were in the theater.  I enjoyed the movie better on video only because some later action scenes were too loud in the theater.

In case you are not aware, Star Trek is the "reboot" of the old TV series and movies into a new series of movies.  It follows the adventures of the old Star Trek characters when they were younger.  In this particular series, the "reboot" happens when Romulins travel back in time and change the course of history resulting in the death of Captain Kirk's father.  In this timeline, Kirk grows up without a father and is more of a miscreant.  A series of events propel him into Starfleet and ultimately toward leadership.  Along the way he has encounters and run-ins with other Star Trek characters, most noticeably a young Spock which the young Kirk doesn't like very much.

This is nearly a perfect movie.  The execution from start to finish is brilliant.  Every scene and every piece of dialog serves to propel the story along at a light speed.  The opening shot is a slightly surrealistic fly-by of a Star Fleet ship cleverly letting us know that reality has changed; This is not your Daddy's Star Trek.  It is cooler looking and more action packed, and more fun.  The movie takes liberties with the Star Trek characters, but these liberties make sense and fit well in the context of the story.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gone With the Wind * * *

I went almost a lifetime without seeing Gone With the Wind.  I finally decided to see it.

The opening sequence practically endorses slavery, which I find almost unforgivable.  The question is should I blame the movie or blame the book?  I have an expectation that any movie based upon a book should be somewhat true to the book that it represents, so I partially blame the book.  It is like asking if "Das Boat" is pro-Nazi?  But I find it questionable that someone chose to make a movie based off of a book that has a sympathetic view toward slavery.  The slaves portrayed in this movie are happier than they should be and incapable of independent existence.

I think that the people who saw this movie in 1939 weren't interested in the pro-slavery aspects of the film.  Gone With the Wind was a very popular romance novel.  People wanted to see the book/soap opera on the big screen.

A person could view this movie as an historical account, even if that history is not totally accurate.

Gone With the Wind is about the turbulent romance between the rogue Rhett Butler and the manipulative Scarlet O'Hara during the Civil War and Reconstruction.  It is not just just a movie.  It is an event.  At almost 4 hours in length, it takes some patience to get through.  The last hour and a half is nothing but a soap opera, and the rest of the movie is heavy in soap opera elements.  I would have been pleased if the movie had ended an hour early with Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara married and living happily ever after.  However, the movie is not content to let its characters be happy.  They must be in constant strife.   Still, I thought that the ending, which I found somewhat moving, was worth waiting for.

This is an epic film with a fantastic musical score and great cinematography.  Although the movie might be true to the novel, I think that it could have been more than just a romance picture.  The best part is the first 2.5 hours that deals with historical events, so it is too bad that last hour seems almost pointless.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens * * * 1/2

Cowboys & Aliens does not break new ground except that it combines two genres that I have never seen combined before:  Western and Alien Invasion.  The story is essentially a western from beginning to end, although in this case the bad guys are aliens from another world.    You could have substituted any classic western villain for the aliens and the movie wouldn't have been much different.  The movie is not the best western I have ever seen, but it is not bad.

The movie does gives us some interesting eye candy to look at with spaceships flying about and high tech gadgets.  The trailer looks cooler than the movie because the trailer places greater emphasis on the alien invaders.

The aliens are fully realized.  They appear like a cross between Predator and Alien.  We don't get much sense of personality except that they are aggressive and like to experiment on humans.  We are told that they came to Earth to mine gold which is "just as precious to them as it is to us."  Somehow the thought of "greedy capitalist" came to mind, which is often a classic western villain.  You would think that any high tech civilization wouldn't need to invade another world just to get gold.  I guess that humans weren't the only ones who participated in the gold rush.  

Daniel Craig's character has a lot of "The Man With No Name" in him except with less style.  On the other hand, Harrison Ford's character is a bit of a pleasant surprise.  He plays a rough hardened rancher with a bit of a mean streak that is a far cry from his usual hero character.  In this movie he looks less like Harrison Ford and more like Geoffrey Lewis.  He has a face that has been around the block a few times.

There are a few goofy moments like the aliens using lassos to capture humans and a man jumping from a horse to a flying craft.  Native Americans use some sort of potion to restore a man's memory, and there is some symbolism of a hummingbird representing the spirit of the man's dead wife. 

I have couple technical complaints:  The scene of a cabin near the end appeared out of focus.  I found my eyes trying to correct for it.  Also, there is one scene that appears to have about 50 riders on horses, or at least that is what I expected from what was described in the movie, but when the scene switched angles it appeared only to be about half as many.

I have been excited about this movie coming out for months.  Although it did not live up to my highest hopes, if you like western and/or science fiction then it is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Carrie Fisher audition tape for Star Wars

These are interesting.  These screen tests use scripts not used in the movie. ...

Hereafter * * * *

There are some movies that have so much stuff in them that I can watch them five times and enjoy them all five times.  Riverworld (2010), Monsters versus Aliens, Tangled and all the Star Wars movies are films that I enjoyed over and over.  (It is probably no coincidence that those are all sci-fi or fantasy films.)   Hereafter is a movie that seems to subscribe to the theory that "less is more".  The movie effectively uses emotion and relationships more than plot to advance the story.  It is not the kind of film that I would watch repeatedly, but it pulled at the heart strings so well that it felt like a deep emotional experience.  At its core are the fundamental human questions about life and what might come after.  It is the sort of gentle and subtle treatment that you would expect from director Clint Eastwood.  It might be one of his better movies.

Hereafter is the story of a man who believes that he can communicate with the dead, along with the stories of two other people who all come together at the end.

Much of the emotion of the film comes from human response to tragedy.  There is ample tragedy in this movie.  At one point there is a terrorist bombing that I found jarring  even though it was shown at a distance.  The opening sequence involves people caught up in a tsunami, and it is an amazing spectacle to behold.  We are used to seeing special effects in movies, but nevertheless I find myself wondering how they pulled off this sequence.  The opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

One might think that the movie is exploitative because it takes advantage of our fears of current events by showing a terrorist bombing and a tsunami.  Maybe it is exploiting our fears, but it does so in a gentle and reassuring way.  I can't imagine any other movie having such a soft touch and pulling it off.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


The opening sequence to this movie is a special effects bonanza that I think is a must see.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Boy and His Dog * * *

A Boy and His Dog is a 1975 low budget post-apocalyptic science fiction movie based upon a novel by Harlan Ellison, who is known for writing edgy science fiction.  It takes place in an alternate timeline where man never went to the moon, but chose to develop other technology instead.  After an apocalypse, a few humans live above ground in a kill-or-be-killed world that has little respect for life or dignity.  The boy is a teenager, played by a young Don Johnson, who knows how to live by these rules.  His dog is the result of a lab experiment, and is smarter than the boy and they communicate telepathically.  The dog acts a mentor to the boy.  Apparently there are other dogs that also have this ability.

The teenager come across a young lady in a state of undress and attempts to rape her.  They don't get very far because they are interrupted by a band of murderous thugs.  When the boy successfully defends the young lady from the gang, she temporarily becomes his lover.  But it turns out that she is bait to lure him into an underground city, which is like a Utopian madhouse (not that different from The Prisoner) ruled by religious zealots, who use a deadly android to enforce their tyranny.  The underground rulers want the boy for their own sinister purposes. 

The boy and the girl escape the underground city, but in a controversial twist ending he has to choose between the life of the girl and the life of his dog.  The fact that she tried to lure him into a deadly trap didn't help her cause.

This movie is not going to appeal to most people.  The 1975 trailer (which is worth a look) refers to the movie as "a rather kinky tale of survival."  The somewhat misogynist ending turned off some critics.  But if you like science fiction, or survival films, or post apocalyptic movies, or Mad Max films, then this movie might appeal to you.  I found the first 30 minutes to be rather slow, but I liked everything after that.  The movie is available on Netflix streaming.

Monday, June 20, 2011

FW: Tree of Life (film 2011)

From: Robert
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2011 2:40 PM


I saw it.  It may be one of the weirdest movies I have ever watched.  It will definitely turn most people off.  I had to go downtown to the Broadway to see it since it’s not in wide general release.  It’s a polarizer, some people will like it (for me I tolerated it), many people will hate it.  The story doesn’t flow chronologically, it jumps around.  It’s especially difficult to watch if you have had a family member die.  The subject matter is about a son that is killed at 19 and they reconstruct his childhood lifetime experiences many of which I could relate to.   There is a lot of room for interpretation of this film.  I’m not sure I get all that was being conveyed.  Part of the film seems like a visual documentary on the creation of the universe and evolution.  The other part is a drama about a family and their 3 boys, one that dies at the beginning of the film.



From: John
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2011 4:41 PM

I suspect that the movie looks at life and religion from a pantheist perspective.


From: Robert
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2011 8:45 AM


This looks interesting.


…” featuring sci-fi and surrealist themes and imagery through space and the birth of life on Earth, drawing comparisons in particular to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. “



Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monsters versus Aliens * * * *

Monsters versus Aliens divides its time equally between intense action sequences, and a combination of personal story with a mile-a-minute pop culture movie references.  Normally this kind of humor would fall flat, but here it doesn't, mainly because the fast pace of the movie forces us to pay attention or else we will miss out on the jokes.  (Like a mutant scientist building an atomic bomb out of Legos.  Like the general named "W. R. Monger."  Like a room so secret that you have to scan 6 body parts to get in.  I will let you guess what the 6th body part is.)   There is a parody of just about everything in this movie, but the downside is that you need to be familiar with science fiction to get some of the jokes.

For example, consider this scene:  Two scientists are monitoring the skies for UFO's.  One of them looks like he is playing a 2600 video game.  When a UFO shows up on their radar, they start to panic.  One of them calls it in.  "Supernova, this is Red Dwarf.   Code Nimoy!  Code Nimoy!"

There is also some horror movie parody.  Consider this scene:  Two teenagers are parked on lover's lane in a convertible.  He's a school athlete whose bumper sticker says "gym nasty", but he is too nervous to even get to first base with his girlfriend.  Something comes up behind them, and he thinks it is the cops.  It is not.  This is typical monster movie fair where something horrible is about jump out of the bushes, except that in this case it is not a monster.  It is something a little more interesting and the funny twist is that the girl ends up rescuing the guy.

Whoever made this movie had a great attention for detail, because there is a lot of detail in this movie, along with some over-the-top hardware.  The important point is that the combination of action and intense detail kept my attention completely in same way that "Speed" captured my attention and never let it go.

But I feel that this movie has been slighted by the critics who put the film at about two and a half stars.  Where should it be rated?  For someone who understands the in-jokes, it is about 3.5 stars.  Otherwise, it will come across as a slightly silly action comedy, worth about 3 stars.

*** Since I first wrote this, I have seen this movie three more times and enjoyed it thoroughly each time.  I am not afraid to say that this silly action comedy should be rated 4 stars.  It has to be the most under-appreciated movie in recent memory.

Monsters vs. Aliens Featurette - Gallaxhar

Monsters vs. Aliens Featurette - Gallaxhar

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Green Zone * * *

The Green Zone seems like a dumb movie to me because it is about a fictional conspiracy involving a fictional informant who fabricated evidence about the Weapons of Mass Destruction that lead to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  So if you are going to make a movie about the false reasons that we went to war with Iraq, then why not make it about the real story, instead of giving us a simplistic fake one?  I am concerned that some people are going to think that they are watching historic events..

The real reasons that we went to war were complex, involving a great many sources, including Russian, British and CIA intelligence, all of which were in agreement with each other.  We later found out that one of the key informants had lied, but that fact alone might not have stopped us from going to war had we known.

The only reason that I can recommend this movie is that it works as war action picture.  The movie gives us some sense of what it must be like to be a soldier in Iraq.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You Don't Know Jack * * *

"You Don't Know Jack" is the HBO movie about Jack Kevorkian, which is interesting and thought provoking.  It stars Al Pacino, who gives a great performance as always, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman.  About half way there is a 2.5 minute argument between Jack and his sister that is about 2 minutes too long.  It is boring and repetitious.  Other than that, it is an interesting movie.

Kevorkian would film and interview the people he helped die.  The movie makes use of actual film footage to show that people really were suffering.  I found this touching and it gave the movie more realism.

It should be noted that Kevorkian's friend and advocate, Janet Good (played by Sarandon), who he also helped to die, may not have had pancreatic cancer after all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

True Grit (2010) * * * 1/2

I enjoyed this quite a bit.   I thought that it was more intelligent and realistic than the 1969 version, although none of the characters are particularly nice people.   The Younger and James Wild West Show at the end was real.  Both men had been part of the Jesse James outlaw gang before giving up the life of crime.  (Most of the members of the gang had been killed or died.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace * * * *

Oh, how time flies.  12 years ago I stood in line for hours to get tickets to Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace, which was the first Star Wars film after a 16 year hiatus since Return Of The Jedi.  By now, half the planet has seen this movie, and almost everybody knows what it is about:  Young Anakin Skywalker will some day grow up to be the evil Darth Vader, but in this prequel he is all sweet and possessed with magical abilities that ultimately save the day.  (I like what Dr. Laura said on her radio program:  "See what happens when a boy has no father and you take him away from the mother?  He turns into Darth Vader!")

Months before the movie came out, they released an amazingly cool teaser trailer that didn't give away too much.  This is why people stood in lines for hours.  When I actually did get to see the movie in the theater, the audience went nuts over the opening scenes.  They waited 16 years plus a few hours in line to see another Star Wars Movie, and they were going to be one of the first ones to see it.

The first five minutes of the movie did not instill confidence.  The first shot is of a slightly goofy looking spaceship followed shortly by some goofy looking aliens.   Moments later the Jedi Knights display their remarkable powers.  I had some concerns that this "Episode I" of the series would confuse people about "Jedi Knights" and "The Force" if they weren't already familiar with the other Star Wars movies.  George Lucas thinks that people should watch the Star Wars movies in episode order, as opposed to the order in which they were actually made, but it is really "Episode IV", the first movie made, that introduced us to the ideas of the "The Force" and "Jedi Knights."

Despite my concerns, I think that the movie is a masterpiece.  The story is simply too good.  But it is a masterpiece with a nearly fatal flaw.   There are a number of "aliens" in this movie whose style of speaking is hard to understand.  Now I understood almost everything that was said in this movie, but it requires a good ear and careful attention to follow the dialog.  But I know a number of people who think that this movie is full of gibberish.  So, by all means, turn on the SUBTITLES if you are going to watch the movie at home.

The other nearly fatal flaw is the character of Jar Jar Binx.  I don't think that this is a flaw at all, because I like the character, but a great many people don't.  The reasons why people don't like Jar Jar is that he is a bumbling fool mainly in the movie for comic relief, and he is also the character who most frequently sounds like gibberish.  Despite this, I think that it is good to have a comic relief character in an otherwise serious movie.  But the negative reaction to Jar Jar Binx caused this character to be less utilized in the next two movies.

All these concerns are minor.  This is a really good story that is rich in detail and stunning to look at.  I am almost sorry that I waited ten years to watch it again.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones * * * *

Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones is the story about how the war began between the Galactic Republic and the separatists. Starting with the attempted assassination of Senator Padmé Amidala, which parallels the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand that helped start World War I, a series of discoveries are made that cumulate in a massive battle. It is also the story of Anakin Skywalker's budding relationship with Padmé, and his gradual (or maybe sudden) descent into the dark side.

I am very impressed with how Hayden Christensen consistently portrays Anakin as a tormented character.  This is a tough trick to pull off, since we already know that the sweet boy from Episode 1 turns evil. The question is how did he get there?  Here Hayden Christensen makes the transition very believable.

It gets confusing talking about episode order versus production order.  This is the fifth Star Wars film, but it is called Episode II.  George Lucas suggests that people watch the movies in episode order, but I disagree. There are people and places in this movie that take on much less significance if you have not seen the first two movies made, called episodes IV and V.  It is better to see the original trilogy first.

Star Wars movies are difficult to evaluate because there have been enough of them that different people have different ideas about what a Star Wars movie should be.  Every time George Lucas takes the series in a different direction, which he has done with almost every Star Wars film, a certain number of people rebel against the change.

In 2002, I was blown away by this movie, but now just a little less so. In terms of action and special effects, this is the most intense Star Wars film. Technically and visually it is an amazing achievement, but it borders on turning into a video game;  There is almost too much detail.  The story is good, but a little less compelling than the best Star Wars movies. The relationship between Anakin and Padmé is simplistic making it less believable.

Since this is the second movie in the second trilogy, it is tempting to compare it with The Empire Strikes Back, which is widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies, and by me as the best movie ever made.  However the two movies and the two trilogies are very different.  The first trilogy was about good people rebelling against evil and caring for one another.  The second trilogy is about the rise of evil.  The emotion in this film comes not from a close group of people who care about each other, but from the struggle and suffering of the main characters.  Personal relationships take a back seat to intense action and violence.

Middle movies in trilogies are transitional films because they have no clear beginning or end.   The second movie in this trilogy seems overly intent on explaining events leading up to the first Star Wars movie.

Roger Ebert criticized the movie for not looking good (and for simplistic dialog). On the first release of the film, I noticed some brief technical glitches in the special effects that seemed to be gone 3 weeks later. This means that the movie was rushed to meet it's release date, but then the film was remastered and sent out to theaters again. The DVD version looks gorgeous and has no such problems.

Like The Phantom Menace, whatever flaws this film may have, it still feels like a masterpiece to me.  The story is simply too good and the movie is a feast for the senses.

I happen to like the teaser trailer.  The full trailer is here.

Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith * * * 1/2

Star Wars Episode III:  The Revenge of the Sith is the final Star Wars movie made, and the third out of six in episode order.  It is about the fall of the Galactic Republic, the rise of the Galactic Empire, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the force.  The rise of the Empire somewhat parallels the fall of the Roman Republic.

The first 33 minutes is a series of action sequences that serve as the intro to the movie.  I could not help but think that this is overkill since it is the longest intro sequence I have ever seen, and the movie seems to be trying to impress us with its special effects, which are indeed impressive.  33 minutes into the movie we get to meat of the story, which is a series of events that lead to the downfall of Anakin.  When he finally does succumb to the dark side at the hands of Chancellor Palpatine, he goes on a killing spree against the Jedi order.  

Some people might find the story to be a bit of a downer, but this was the intent all along.  This is about a man's descent into hell and the triumph of evil.  The movie is technically and visually amazing, but maybe there was a little too much emphasis on special effects making the story a little less compelling than its predecessors. 

The last movie ends where the first movie started:  On Tatooine.  I found the final shots of an infant Luke Skywalker and the setting Tatooine suns to be very emotionally stirring and reminiscent of the first movie.

The audio commentary available on the DVD is worth listening to.  It gave me new insights into the film.

Star Wars Episode IV: The New Hope * * * *

In 1977 this movie was released just as "Star Wars."    The film borrows ideas from Samurai movies, westerns, old war movies, 1930's serials,  Laurel and Hardy, and even The Wizard of Oz.  It is also inspired by The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the cold war.  Despite enormous production problems, and a cast and crew who refused to take the movie seriously because they thought that it was just a "kiddie film", George Lucas stuck to his mythical vision as best as he could, and the final result was a near perfect film for its time.  One of the Fox executives broke down and cried when he saw the screening, saying that it was the greatest movie he had ever seen.

Presumably George Lucas went to Hawaii to hide because he thought that the movie would be a flop.  Instead it was the highest grossing film for a few years.  It also started the greatest film franchise to date, and made famous the cast, the most successful of which is Harrison Ford.

But George Lucas could not resist tinkering with the film later.  The 1997 Special Edition added improved special effects, extra scenes and minor changes.  The most controversial of these changes is where Greedo shoots at Han Solo first.  This is almost universally met with disapproval because it takes away from the rogue image of Han Solo.  Other minor changes were made in the DVD version, and more changes are planned for upcoming Blu-Ray and 3D releases.  It is unlikely at this point that you could see the original Star Wars as it appeared in theaters, unless you have an old video tape copy, but I am happy with the DVD version, which is the current standard for the film  The upcoming Blu-Ray release may become the next new standard version of Star Wars.

I have seen the movie somewhere between 10 and 12 times.  I have lost count.  I found myself wondering if I would be bored seeing it one more time?  Apparently not.  I found myself quite caught up with the film.  My only criticisms are that:  1.)  It takes a while for the story to get going.  We don't meet Luke Skywalker until exactly 15 minutes into the film, and Luke doesn't decide to leave his home until 30 minutes into the movie.  2.)  The last third to half of the movie is almost all action, and as good as that is, it leave less room for character development, which is done better by the next movie.

The original movie trailer is actually pretty dreadful and does not do justice to the film.

Also see:
Also see:
Also see:
Also see:

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back * * * *

There are good movies, and there are really good movies, and there are also great movies.  But only one could be called the best ever made, and I think that this film might be it, although that also might depend upon one's taste.  (By the way, Citizen Kane, often cited as the best movie ever made, is a bit dull.)

Having seen this movie several times, I was concerned that I might not enjoy another viewing.  I needn't have worried.  This is a really great film.  It retains everything that was great about the first Star Wars movie while doing several things better:

1.)  Character Development.  The love story between Han Solo and Princes Leia makes the movie.   The story arc of Luke Skywalker is also very good.

2.)  Acting.  If you look at all the different mannerisms of Han Solo, I defy anyone to find a better Harrison Ford performance.  Carrie Fischer also does great work here.  Mark Hamill shines more toward the end of the movie, but I don't think that he was given as much to work with.  I think that he does his best work in the third movie.  Finally, David Prowse should be given some credit for his intimidating presence as Darth Vader.

3.)  Sets.  Every room in the cloud city is like a different work of art. The other sets, for example on Hoth and on the star destroyer, are good too.  This movie is a feast for the eyes.

4.)   Special effects.  31 years later, most of the special effects hold up really well.  There are some scenes that are just breathtaking.

5.)  Ideas.  Most writers would have been proud to come up with one really great idea.  This movie has several.  These include the ice planet, the walkers, Yoda, the city in the clouds, Luke having an imaginary battle with Darth Vader,  Yoda's grammar and witticisms, the asteroid field, the space monster, and finally Darth Vader's revelation to Luke.

6.)  Pacing.  Rather than start slow and end with all action, The Empire Strikes Back mixes the action with story and character development to produce what may be a perfect movie.  The only time I was a little bored is during the early scenes with Luke on Degobah.  These scenes seem to drag out a little long before switching back to the story of the pursuit of Millennium Falcon .

The 1997 re-release of the movie introduced a few new special effects, mostly when the Millennium Falcon flies into the Cloud City, it does a flyover of the city.  This makes the city appear larger than it did in the original release.  I don't think that this meshes well with the original special effects because it looks too "real."  The original special effects are all stop motion capture, and although they look very good, sometimes you can tell that they are stop motion capture.  The added scene is all computer generated and looks more like what you would find in the second trilogy.  I found myself wondering why do we need this?

The 2004 DVD release also changed the scene between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine to have Palpatine played by Ian McDiarmid.  The original shot of the Emperor was actually played by an uncredited woman in heavy makeup.  Since the original scene was fine, I once again wonder why we need the change?

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi * * *

The Return of the Jedi is the least impressive of the Star Wars movies and was somewhat controversial when it was released because it was more geared toward children than the previous films.  The introduction of the teddy bear like Ewoks put off some people, and with the final scene featuring singing Eworks, I felt like George Lucas had damaged Star Wars forever.  Fortunately, in later editions of the film, the Ewok singing was taken out.

Nevertheless, it is a satisfying conclusion to the 6 movie series.   The events that happen here are interesting and necessary to conclude the story.  The best scenes are the rescue of Han Solo, a high speed chase through a forest, the Death Star battle, and the final confrontation between Luke Skywalker, Emperor Palpatine, and Darth Vader.

Mark Hamill does a really impressive job portraying Luke Skywalker in this film.

Heart of Darkness

The most famous adaptation of Heart of Darknessis Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 movie Apocalypse Now,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The American * * *

The American is the story of a man who lives in Europe and makes guns.
He not only makes guns, but he knows how to use them as he
dispatches two hit men out to kill him early in the film. He spends
the rest of the movie looking over his shoulder wondering who might be
trying to kill him next. Early on, we meet his boss, who is
presumably Mafia, but we never know for sure. The rest of the movie
is exactly as I thought it would be: We see the American spend a lot
of quiet time making his gun, laying awake at night, driving though
the pretty Italian countryside, and constantly being afraid of just
about everybody. To make the movie a little more interesting, he
develops a relationship with a sexy prostitute and befriends a well
intentioned priest.

This is the kind of movie that is just a little too slow, but keeps
you going because you want to see how it ends. The suspense is the
only thing that carries the movie, but having seen the ending, there
is no reason why I would want to see it again. I honestly can say
that I enjoyed the movie, but even so, it was a borderline film for
me. I think that for many people this movie won't be enough.

I was hoping that this movie would give me a more favorable impression
of George Clooney movies. Oh well.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Good Night and Good Luck * * * *

If we measure a movie by it's ability to take us to another time and place, then "Good Night and Good Luck" is the best example that I can think of.  The movie is relies more on atmosphere than plot, but that atmosphere feels like we are ease dropping on the real events as they are happening.  It is interesting how the camera will follow people around.  It creates a slight sense of confusion, but adds to the "we are there" feeling of the movie.  By cleverly showing us archival footage on television screens, we feel like the events are happening right now.  The movie never bothers to explain anything at all; it assumes that we are smart enough to keep up.  Since the film is mostly people having conversation, it adds to the feeling that we watching real events, but a few of those conversations might try people's patience.  Which is why on Rotten Tomatoes, 94% of the critics liked the movie, but only 73% of the audience liked it. 

I was worried that the movie would hit us over the head with a political message about McCarthyism, as other films have, especially since it was written by the left leaning George Clooney who also gave us politically slanted duds like Syriana and Michael Clayton.  (The latter is not terrible but stretches believability.)  But if there is political bias in this movie, it is subdued and overshadowed by a very intelligent script that is just trying to present events as they were.  At one point the movie is smart enough to ask "What if we are on the wrong side?", which is an interesting question since some people today still defend McCarthy in his hunt for communists.  But I find myself not caring if the movie has a political message, because it entertains so well.

My one nitpick is that too much attention is spent on a Jazz singer who is completely unrelated to the plot.   Her singing is there just to set the mood.

Almost all the actors in the movie are television actors, many of which I have seen in some of my favorite programs.  Even George Clooney is a former television actor, so I thought that maybe the movie is trying to make some subtle point about television, but it might have just been a matter of budget.  This movie was made on a shoestring budget, but it gets its money's worth.  It is very well acted.  David Strathain blew me away with his portrayal of Edward R Murrow.   

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Clash of the Titans

From Bob:


I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it.  When it came out last year the critics blasted it so badly I wasn’t expecting anything.  I put it on my Netflix queue and forgot about it.  It just came up in my queue and I watched it over the weekend.  I would have enjoyed seeing this on the big screen.




Friday, May 6, 2011

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tangled * * * 1/2

"Tangled" is Disney's excellent re-imagining of the fairy tale "Rapunzel".

I have a disagreement with a friend.  He and I both watched the two part season finale of season 3 of Star Wars The Clone Wars.  He said the show doesn't hold his interest because it is animated.  Since I think that the one hour season finale is excellent, I asked him if he would have liked it if it had used live actors.  He answered affirmative.  But he says that animation is not "real" enough for him.  This is where I have a problem.  Any show with good story will hold my interest.  It can be in any format.  It could be a comic book.  A novel doesn't use live actors, but most people like novels.

So I find myself wondering if the people who don't normally like animation, will like this movie.  I figured that the 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes would make it a shoo in, but now I am not sure.  The movie feels like it was designed by a committee whose desire was to please everyone.  The first and second halves have a different flavor.  The first half gives us slapstick, an overly intelligent horse who behaves more like a dog, and singing bandits.  The kids will love this part.  It reminded me of "The Emperor's New Groove" which is pretty funny.  The second half is more grown up and sentimental.  The second half also has some breathtaking computer animation.  It is not a giant leap forward, but I think that Disney had to invent some new technology to make this movie.  The beauty of the animation makes the movie special.  I am thinking that those who can see it in 3D might find it really impressive.

There is a lot of action in "Tangled" and more violence than I would have expected for a kids film.  At least one person gets stabbed.  Some of the violence takes place off screen.  Given that we are in the age of violent video games, I don't think that it is too intense for children.

I stated before that I didn't think that the many musical numbers were particularly memorable, but I guess that I was wrong.  I still remember some of the songs, which aren't bad.

How is it that a girl trapped in a tower for her whole life can swim?   No matter I guess.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Riverworld (2010) * * * .5

Official Trailer for RIVERWORLD.

Having just watched RIVERWORLD for the third time, I am very impressed with it.  It got me to read the book, which I have been meaning to read for 30 years anyway.  The 2010 version is the best, but the 2003 version is not bad either.  Both were SyFy pilots that didn't get picked up, but both were well worth watching.  Neither pilot seems to follow the book exactly, but given that there were a series of Riverworld books, the made for TV movies might have come from material that I haven't seen yet.

Richard Francis Burton is the Villain in Riverworld movie but the hero in the book.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mega Mind * * *

Not long ago, there was a time when every 3D animated film was a rare and special event. Like Shrek. That is because 3D animated films cost a $100 million to make (Final Fantasy cost $200 million), so special attention was paid to things like characters and plot. But these days it seems that we are flooded with animated films, many of which feel routine.  Because animated films are in such demand right now, it is profitable to make movies that are just O.K

Mega Mind feels like a cartoon comedy, and it is, but for what they spent on this movie, I expected more. I read that it cost $150 million to make, and it really does look terrific, but the story feels close to "Despicable Me", which is another animated comedy that failed to blow me away. These two movies are good, but the stories are nothing special, and the movies are even a little silly at times.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Harry Brown * * *

Harry Brown is an interesting movie.  It is the British equivalent of “Death Wish”, although it pushes the R rating because of violence and language.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Crazies * * * 1/2

The Crazies is not a zombie movie, but close. A biological weapon
gets loose in a town and turns people into homicidal maniacs. What
happens next is a well written story that cumulates in a surprise
ending. This is one of my favorite movies that I have seen recently.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Monsters * * * 1/2

I cannot review this film without quoting somebody on Netfix:

"If you like movies about good-looking people having trouble making travel arrangements, then this is the film for you! But if you were hoping that Monsters would be about something else - like, oh I dunno, MONSTERS? - then youd better keep looking. Seriously, its 90 minutes of two people sitting on a train, sitting on a boat, sitting in a car, walking in the woods, and making the occasional telephone call. To the extent that the eponymous monsters do show up, alls I can say is that Ive seen scarier aliens in an episode of Alf. "

The trouble with this comment is that it expects the movie to be something it isn't, while ignoring what it is.  Monsters is a movie about 2 strangers, who might be right for each other, struggling to get home while traveling across what is essentially a war zone.  The fact that the war zone is occupied by rarely seen extra-terrestrials is besides the point.   The film creates a crafty suspense that turns the movie into something well worth experiencing.  I am very glad that I saw it.

The fact that a movie of this quality was made on such a low budget is amazing.   The entire crew consisted of only 7 people, including the two main actors, who drove around central America in just one van.  There are many extras in the film, but these are just people they met along the way who they convinced to be in the movie.  Sure, the low budget does show occasionally, but for the most part the movie feels like a much more expensive film.

Roger Ebert agrees.

Spoilers below ...

From: Robert

I watched it last evening.  I liked it a lot.   It’s very suspenseful.  I like when they don’t show the monster because that builds the anticipation.  I wasn’t planning on finishing it all in one evening.  But I did anyways because I had to see how it ended.

I didn’t like what I learned about the opening scene though.  In the commentary they make it clear that the opening scene is actually the very end of the movie.  I wanted a happy ending where the girl and the guy make it home and they live happily ever after.  They don’t dwell on it too much and it’s not that obvious.

From: Robert  

So now that you have seen the movie I can tell you what I didn’t like about the story. 

In the commentary, at the very beginning, the director makes a comment saying, “and there is a dead Samantha being dragged away by Andrew”.   So the possibility that she actually dies before she is rescued was something I didn’t like.  But the movie doesn’t make it obvious so I think it can be debated whether she dies or not.  I prefer to believe she made it home and she gets married to Andrew instead of her fiancé.  In real life she does get married to her co-actor playing Andrew.   It’s like the ending of “The Mist” where everyone dies, I was hoping for a friendlier happy ending.

The director says the monsters are a cross between crabs and squid from an ocean below the ice environment from one of Jupiter’s moons.  They don’t bother you unless you provoke them.  But I thought it was a bit unrealistic to have them take down an F-15 or helicopters from what we are shown they can do.

From: Coffey, John R


I might not have made the connection between the opening and the ending were it not for reading what you said.   I had to go back and watch the beginning in slow motion to understand what was going on.     I felt that it was left open to interpretation but I assumed that that girl was dead.    I like this because it says that you can be alive one minute and dead the next.   

Like you, I also wanted a happy ending.

The fact that they couldn’t stop the monsters is not realistic given that you could have a scorched earth policy like in “Cloverfield” or "The Crazies".    But I like the themes of fighting a war that you can’t win – and the parallel to illegal immigration  - and not being able to fight nature.   I don’t necessarily agree with the messages they present, but I think that the themes are entertaining.

On my blog I gave it * * * .5.  What would you give it?
Best wishes,
John Coffey 

From:  Robert 
3.5 at least but probably not a 4.0