Friday, December 21, 2012

Lady and the Tramp * * *

I find myself making excuses for Lady and the Tramp.  The plot is thin, but it is very cute and ideal for kids.  Some adults that I spoke to liked the movie as well.   It is enjoyable for the kids film that it is.

There are a couple of interesting songs like He's a Tramp and Bella Notte.

The Amazing Spider-Man (***); Total Recall (***)

For me it seems like a bit of an education to recently watch both The Amazing Spider-Man and Total Recall.  Since both these movies are remakes, I find myself asking what do they bring to the experience that did not already exist the original films?   The answer is not a whole lot.  Both films represent a different vision and different back story that is darker and gloomier. Both movies lack some of the charm of the originals.  The characters aren't as interesting to me but the action is more intense and there is more eye candy to look at.

If you hadn't seen either of the original movies then both films stand on their own pretty much fine.  The problem is when you compare them with the original films then you wonder why did they bother doing a remake?  (The answer is DVD sales.)

You could take all my comments and also apply them to the 2001 version of "The Planet of the Apes."  This particular remake was O.K. but now has been mostly forgotten.  On the other hand, the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a triumph of film making because it wasn't so much a remake as it was a prequel that gave us a new and original story.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dogville :: :: Reviews

His dislike of the United States (which he has never visited, since he is afraid of airplanes) is so palpable that it flies beyond criticism into the realm of derangement. When the film premiered at Cannes 2003, he was accused of not portraying Americans accurately...

What von Trier is determined to show is that Americans are not friendly, we are suspicious of outsiders, we cave in to authority, we are inherently violent, etc. All of these things are true, and all of these things are untrue. It's a big country, and it has a lot of different kinds of people. Without stepping too far out on a limb, however, I doubt that we have any villages where the helpless visitor would eventually be chained to a bed and raped by every man in town.

"Killing Them Softly" continues as a dismal, dreary series of cruel and painful murders, mostly by men who know one another, in a barren city where it's usually night, often rainy and is never identifiable as New Orleans — not even by the restaurants.

Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" is a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery. Inspired by a worldwide best-seller that many readers must have assumed was unfilmable, it is a triumph over its difficulties. It is also a moving spiritual achievement, a movie whose title could have been shortened to "life."

In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the dismal "Quantum of Solace" (2008) still in our minds, "Skyfall" triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever. 

I've rarely been more aware than during Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" that Abraham Lincoln was a plain-spoken, practical, down-to-earth man from the farmlands of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Roger Ebert:

"eventually every player ventures into that unknown land where there are more possible moves than atoms in the universe. All you have is your mind as it tries to find its way through the infinite better than your opponent can.

As a player of mediocre strength, I have no hope of playing at the level achieved by these students. But if I win, I have proven myself better than the person seated across the board from me, and every player knows the finality when the other player sadly turns over his king, signaling surrender. We know it even better when we do it ourselves."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Star Wars films


…” A new film is already in the works and slated for 2015 with plans to release a new Star Wars film every two to three years.”…

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Did you choose your religion? - Roger Ebert's Journal

"Today I saw an extraordinary film named "The Other Son," about Israeli and Palestinian baby boys who were mistakenly switched at birth.

The switch is discovered when the Israeli boy is turned down by the army because his blood type doesn't match his parents. We have two boys accustomed to think of themselves as Jewish or Palestinian, and they are legally each other."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Discovery Has Landed. (Impressive video)

Curiosity Has Landed

The Hunger Games ***.5

I am debating whether to give The Hunger Game ***.5 or ****.  It is good enough that I want to see it again as soon as possible.

The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, consists of a wealthy Capitol and twelve poorer surrounding districts. As a punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol by the districts, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by an annual lottery to participate in the televised Hunger Games. The participants of the Hunger Games must fight to the death until only one remains alive.  Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl from District 12, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, Primrose, who was selected by the lottery.

There is much to like about The Hungers Games.  The movie creates an environment that is rich in detail.  There are so many  aspects to this world that remain unsaid, but the movie conveys ideas with great imagery.  The fist half of the film is the buildup to The Hunger Games, which is intensely suspenseful, but is mostly used to give us a feel for the really crazy world that these characters live in.

The movie has some outstanding performances, including Donald Sutherland playing an old ruthless dictator with quiet reserve. 

My only complaint about the film is that it is tamer than I expected it to be.   With 24 teenagers fighting to the death, the film never conveys any sense of terror.  The characters seem way braver than I would be.  Although the movie is violent, often the violence is brief and some of it is off screen.  Also, the main character only kills in self defense.  Since I wanted to see her survive, then I wanted her to be more aggressive about killing her opponents.  She also allies herself with a 12 year old girl and helps her to survive.   This is all because the movie is based on a very popular young adult novel.  With an appeal to teenagers, the movie is rated PG-13 and is only willing to take the horror of the situation so far.

All this had me wondering about the psychological effect that a battle to death would have on the winner?  Would the winner have nightmares or go crazy with remorse?   The movie addresses this question slightly with the character of Haymitch Abernathy, played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson.  He is a former winner and a drunken mess.

Were this just a movie about people fighting to the death then it would be rather ordinary.  Instead, I  walked away feeling that the movie had a lot to say about the depths of depravity that humans can go to.  As terrible as the premise might sound, worse atrocities happen on this planet all the time.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Superman Returns * * * 1/2

People attending The Dark Knight Rises today will be treated to the first trailer for Man of Steel, which is due out next summer.  This is the latest attempt to reboot the Superman series, just coming seven years after the last attempt, which was Superman Returns.  Superman Returns is not so much of a reboot as it is a sequel that is also highly reminiscent of the 1978 Superman movie.  A few parts of it feel like echoes of the previous film with new twists.  Whether or not you will like Superman Returns depends upon your taste, but it is highly reminiscent of the 1978 Superman movie, which I loved, while exploring new territory that is interesting.

Superman Returns
 explores the Superman story in a post 9-11 world.  After a trip to find his home planet, Superman returns to earth to find that Lois Lane is married and has a child.  It is a world that has mostly forgotten about superheroes.  

I assume that those still interested in Superman are looking forward to Man of Steel.  By now, Superman Returns has largely been forgotten.  Still, the movie received 76% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and I think that it is underrated.  If you fell in love with the first Superman movie,  as I did, then this film has everything you could want.  Watching this movie felt nostalgic, because it does echo some key points from the first movie, but there is enough new material to make it into a good film.  Casting Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was an act of genius.  He is is brilliant in this movie.

If there are negatives to the movie, it is that it is a little more brooding and that Brandon Routh  doesn't quite look the part.  The 1978 Superman movie states that Superman weighs 220 pounds.  Christopher Reeve bulked up for the movie and really did weigh 220 pounds.  Superman Returns states that Superman weighs only 120 pounds, and the contradiction bothered me. Although Brandon Routh does look somewhat like Christopher Reeve, he also looks too thin for the part.  People expect their superheroes to have some mass on them. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Milk * * *.5

Harvey Milk was a 40 year old gay insurance man who moved to San Francisco and turned into a political activist for gay rights.  He was very successful at attracting other gay men to the Castro street area of San Francisco and organizing them into a substantial political movement.  After three attempts, he was elected to city board of supervisors of San Francisco, making him the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.  Once in office, he fought for a variety of liberal issues, including gay rights.  His biggest victory was to lead a statewide campaign to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which would have fired all homosexual teachers.

Once in office, Harvey Milk developed a working relationship with Dan White, another city supervisor.  At first this relationship was amicable, but it turned increasingly confrontational as the two men disagreed on issues.  Dan White resigned as supervisor because of his frustration over low pay.  Later he tried to get his job back, but the Mayor refused.  On November 27, 1978, Dan White assassinated both the Mayor and Harvey Milk.

Harvey Milk's death lead to 30,000 people holding a candle light vigil at City Hall.  Dan White's trial resulted in him being convicted on lessor charges and getting a light sentence that seems unreasonable considering the severity of his crimes.  This light sentence sparked violent riots in San Francisco.

The movie portrays Harvey Milk as somewhat nervous, but likable, charismatic and a great speech maker.  The fact that he is a likable character is important in a movie like this.  Most of the gay characters in this movie are likable.  Although I don't know if these people were really the same as the movie portrays them to be, the movie gives us a strong sense that they were fighting for a just cause.  It would be hard to watch this movie and not be somewhat persuaded and moved.

The movie does not try to gloss over that these characters are gay and engage in homosexual acts.  It tries to show the way things were.

What makes this movie a really good film that you will want to watch at least twice?  Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as White both prove what outstanding actors they are.  Sean Penn is truly amazing in this movie and won the Academy Award for Best Actor.  Many of the supporting actors also give really good performances.  Other than the acting, it is hard for me to pinpoint why I liked the movie so much.  Part of it has to do with it being a historical drama, but the rest is that it is just a very interesting story.

Milk is available on DVD and is rated R.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Roger Ebert on the Higgs Boson

"Every second at the Large Hadron Collider, enough data is generated to fill more than 1,000 one-terabyte hard drives -- more than the information in all the world's libraries. The logistics of filtering and analyzing the data to find the Higgs particle peeking out under a mountain of noise, not to mention running the most complex machine humans have ever built, is itself a triumph of technology and computational wizardry of unprecedented magnitude."

"My childhood question remains unanswered: "Why is there something and not nothing?" No scientist at Geneva, to my knowledge, has asked why there is a Higgs boson and not a Higgs boson? But they now know that there is something and not nothing, and they have seen it and identified it and named it and it is as they thought it would be. That is an enormous discovery to come during our lifetimes...

I don't understand the Higgs boson in the way a theoretical physicist does. What I know is that inside that mountain on the Swiss-French border, they went looking for something and they found it. They will keep on looking for centuries after we are dead. Maybe someday they will find God. Wouldn't that be a gas? Whatever they find, they will find more and more and more. It's not turtles all the way down."***

Roger Ebert   

*** This is a reference to a Stephen Hawking story:

Monday, July 9, 2012

FW: Movies?

From: Witmer, Robert


Spider Man


While sitting in the theater I thought, this is the same story different day.  But after listening to some of the reviews I liked it much better.  The main positive points are that  this Peter Parker has more sides to him than the previous versions of his character.  The negatives I agreed with were that the monster was pretty shallow.  The writers missed a big opportunity to a better story with a “Jekyll and Hyde” subplot.



Act of Valor


Pretty cheesy acting but I still liked it for the attempts at realism and sincerity.



Johnny English Reborn


I’m starting to like this guy.



We bought a Zoo.


Not the goofy movie I thought it would be and was pleasantly surprised.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Iron Sky

Watch the trailer and try not to laugh.

40% of Rotten Tomatoes, but I think that it might still be good for a laugh.  I don't know if this is a comedy, but it definitely should be.  I just checked the credits:  No Mel Brooks.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Prometheus ***½

Just for the record, Prometheus was a mythical Greek Titan who gave man fire.  He often represents the quest for scientific knowledge, although if there is a point to the movie Prometheus, it is that it is dangerous to stick your nose where it doesn't belong.

The movie is a prequel the movie Alien, which is often described as the most scary movie ever made.  Actually, the sequel, Aliens, scared me even more.  Although Prometheus is not a particularly scary movie, it does present us with a grand vision of the events preceding the first movie along with an interesting mythology to back it up.

The story is that archaeologists discover evidence that ancient humans were visited by an alien race, and they think that they have a good idea where those aliens are from.  They convince a corporate trillionaire to finance a huge space ship in an effort to go find the aliens.  This is the point where a person might wonder if this is a good business venture?  What they find on this trip very neatly leads up to the first Alien movie, which means that if you haven't seen that film, the ending of Prometheus won't have as much significance.

Of particular significance on this trip is an android named David, played creepily by Michael Fassbender.  He seems to have his own agenda, and protecting the humans on the ship isn't part of it.   Another person who has an agenda, is the corporate trillionaire, played by Guy Pearce.  Seems that he is a stowaway on this trip.  Charlize Theron plays his daughter, who runs the ship, and she is about as unemotional as the android.

The R rating puzzles me.  There is some violence and sexuality in this movie, but neither is very graphic.  Compared to other R rated films, this movie seems tame.  There is a little bit of alien monster violence that might seem intense.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fright Night (***)

Fright Night (2011) is a slightly teen friendly vampire horror movie remake of the 1985 film by the same name (**½).  The first film was more of a comedy and the second film places more emphasis on horror with just a touch of comedy thrown in.  That is part of my problem with this movie.  This is a genre where you either play it funny or you make it completely serious and genuinely frightening.  Anything between loses some its scariness and makes it feel lightweight.

The movie does feel lightweight.  My other problem with the film is that I don't think that it breaks any new ground.  Everything that is done in this movie has been done before.  It might as well be an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which is actually a far better show than most people realize.  Only a few Buffy fans like me understand its greatness.

There are many elements in the first film that are repeated in the remake but done better.

Despite my complaints, there is enough action in the film to get me caught up in the story.  At one point there is a battle between the vampire and people in a car.  The car loses.  Later, there is a subterranean battle between humans and vampires that is pretty well done.

I like seeing David Tennant playing an actor and reluctant vampire expert.  Too bad he left Doctor Who for this.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (***½)

Kung Fu Panda 2 lost out to Rango (***) for the 84th Academy Awards Award for Best Animated Feature.  Really?  Rango was mostly an exercise in weirdness, but never did I identify with the main character like I do Po.  Po is an underdog who doubts himself, but once again makes good as a Kung Fu master.

I could tell you the plot, but what is the point?  An evil lord rises up to conquer all of China and has to be defeated.  What makes the all too familiar story interesting is how well it is executed, the humor, and the quality of the characters.  Here Po struggles to understand where he came from and who he is.  It is revealed that Mr. Ping is not Po's real father, but that is not even a little bit of a surprise given that he is a Chinese Goose.

The computer animation is so beautiful and so detailed, it had me wondering how they do it and how much it cost to produce a movie like this? ($150 million.)  Kung Fu Panda 2 looks better than the first film and the first film looked pretty good.  The beauty of the animated scenery becomes like another character because we are entertained just by looking at it.

The first film had me wondering why the movie needed to be animated and why did all the characters have to be animals?  It seemed a little odd to see all these different animals interacting like human characters.  The original story could have used live human actors with Jack Black playing the lead, but in this animated universe the characters do extreme martial arts that would seem impossible and silly if humans did them.  The two movies have a certain amount of charm showing that many different types of animals can interact and be friends.  It also made me wonder what all these animals eat?   They all seem to be vegetarians, which is convenient given that the animals aren't eating each other.

Check out the trailer here.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Screen Rant » J.J. Abrams Discusses “Khannnnn!!!!” for Star Trek 2

Personally, I think Khan would be an amazing character to see brought back to the big screen, especially given the excellent casting of Kirk and Spock. On the other hand, it's becoming rarer and rarer to find a good original story in Hollywood these days, so part of me would rather they start fresh with an interesting new villain for the new look crew.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Battleship (film) 2012


This is a fun movie, if you don’t think about it too much.  There are some major plausibility problems.  Good to see the Navy get some Hollywood air time.


I’m always glad to see Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights and John Carter) get lead roles.  From the previews you would think this is a Transformers movie, but it’s not.  That’s good, because I dislike all the Transformer movies, but I still watch them when they come out on disk just to keep up. 




Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Tree of Life (* * *)

The Tree of Life is a highly ambitious and award winning film that tries to encompass all of life, love, tragedy and loss in the story of a 1950's family mixed with images of the universe that are reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The thing that the movie barely manages to do, however, is entertain, so the film does not rise to the same great level of its vision.

The performances are all excellent.  The Brad Pitt father character felt very real to me.  The interaction of his three boys tugged at my heart strings and occasionally made me laugh.

The movie is really a spiritual journey.  Sean Penn plays one the boys who is now an older man and questioning his place in the universe.  The entire film is about him reminiscing over his youth and his lost brother.  I am sure that the last 8 minutes won't make much sense to most people, but it is similar to the ending of Lost (****) where all the dead gather together before moving on, or even more similar to the ending of Places in the Heart (***½) where we see images of the living and dead together.

The movie is told in a non-linear fashion that makes it harder to follow, but it is a necessary part of the story to show how past and present are tied together.

I was sure that the movie would be told from a Pantheist perspective, but the film is remarkably non-committal about its view of religion and spirituality.  Whatever your faith or lack of faith might be, the film will probably appeal to your viewpoint.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Avengers * * *

I didn't realize until recently that all the recent Marvel action movies like The Hulk (**½), The Incredible Hulk (***), Iron Man (***), Iron Man 2 (***), Captain America: The First Avenger (***), and Thor (***) were all a prelude to The Avengers where all the super-hero characters come together.  In essence, those movies are like advertisements for The Avengers, which I am sure will be a huge commercial success.

Being a big Josh Whedon fan, I was delighted to see that he wrote and directed The Avengers, but it is a fruitcake of a movie;  Its disparate parts mesh together to form a whole that is interesting but does not live up to its full potential.  My chief complaint is that the last third of the film is all action that is almost as mindless, but not quite, as the last third of Transformers (**½).  For people who want an intense summer action flick, then the last third of the movie will be the "payoff" after a rather long build up.  However, it is my opinion that action scenes work best, if not brilliantly, when they also serve to reveal more about the characters.  The action scenes in The Avengers do a little bit of that, but not enough.  They are mostly just an overdose of eye candy.

I felt vaguely satisfied but wished that it could have been better.  In way too many movies when something horrendous threatens a city or the world, the movies show scenes of a small group of people on the ground with cars blowing up all around them. This has been done so many times that it has gotten old, and it is repeated too many times in this movie.  (If I never see another car blow up, I will die happy.)

Speaking of recycled scenes:  The cage that they put Loki in seems right out of X-Men (***).  The flying aircraft carrier we saw before in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (**½).

Too many of the characters in this movie do things that are physically impossible, but maybe we can tolerate that in a movie about super-heroes.  The movie defies logic at times:  A redirected nuclear missile just happens to explode at the right place and time?  A group of super-heroes have trouble putting aside their differences when faced with a threat to the whole planet?  When faced with such an attack, the military is not called out to repel the threat?  Real wars are not won by heroes or super-heroes, but by armies.

This weekend I also saw Men in Black III, which I found to be slightly more entertaining.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Men In Black III * * * ½

It is enticing to go see a movie when it first appears in the theater.  I caught the early Friday morning showing, which is discounted, of Men In Black III.   I am pretty pleased with it.  Roger Ebert likes the movie better than the original, although I am not ready to go that far.  He seems alone in that opinion.  

Adding time travel to the plot makes for a more interesting movie.  Also, Will Smith knows how to generate a persona that is just barely smart aleck enough give the movie some humor without overdoing it.

The movie seems to acknowledge that Tommy Lee Jones is getting too old to play the part of Agent K.  He even looked a little old ten years ago in Men In Black II.  What few scenes he does have in the movie he spends almost entirely sitting down.  His character is presumably 69 years old, although Tommy Lee Jones is only 65.  To get around the age issue, the Will Smith character, Agent J, travels back in time and meets a much younger Agent K, cleverly played by Josh Brolin.

I wouldn't mind a Men in Black IV, but think that it might be time for some new blood.  Maybe Agent J could take on a new partner.

This is the first Will Smith movie since the disappointing 2008 Seven Pounds (**).  The third installment in the Men in Black series has been a long time coming mainly because the second movie was not that well received.  I don't think that Men in Black II (***) is in any way a bad movie, although it is a little lightweight, but I think that it makes a good rental.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Good Will Hunting (Rating: B+)

Good Will Hunting is one of those movies I heard about but never got around to watching until now.  It was nominated for 9 academy awards and won 2.  Recently I saw a clip which intrigued me.

Will Hunting is a 20 year old punk, former orphan, who gets into fights, is on parole, works as a janitor, and happens to be a mathematical super-genius.  When he is discovered by a MIT college professor, the professor makes a deal with a judge to keep the boy out of jail and to get the boy into counseling.  Will Hunting is defiant to anyone who wants to help him and isn't willing to embrace that he might have a higher potential.

The counselor is played by Robin Williams, who is surprisingly somber for Robin Williams, although he does sneak in a couple of jokes and one impression.   Will Hunting is played by Matt Damon, who is great in every movie he is in.  He co-wrote the script along with his co-star Ben Affleck, and it is a pretty smart script.

However, I had a little trouble believing the "punk is really a super-genius but wants to stay a punk" story.  If the guy is so smart, why hasn't he tried to make a better life for himself?  Real geniuses are driven to do the things that they are good at.  In this movie, everyone wants to hand Will Hunting success on a silver platter;  All he has to do is be willing to take it.

There are way too many movies about people who are infinitely more talented than everybody else and succeed without making any real effort.  The first half of Ice Castles is an example that comes to mind.  The real world is full of talented and smart people, but few are successful in a big way, and none succeed in a big way without a great deal of hard work and maybe some luck.

If it wasn't for all the foul language and sexual references, this could be a pretty good PAX-TV movie.   There is a pivotal psycho-babble moment when the counselor tells Will Hunting over and over "It's not your fault" until finally Will Hunting breaks down and drops some of his defiance.  In some respects this movie is a Rocky equivalent, where a no-name low-life finally starts to make good.  Like Rocky, the movie is full of colorful inner-city characters.  Like Rocky, the story was written by the leading actor who was relatively unknown prior to the movie.  This is the movie that made Matt Damon a star, and he is one of my favorite actors.

I think that it is a pretty good movie.  The colorful cast of characters makes the movie intriguing.  This movie is mostly about personalities and there are plenty of interesting personalities to enjoy here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fantastic Mr. Fox versus Chicken Run

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a 2009 stop motion animated film based on an English children's book.  It might have been an interesting book, but the movie seems slow and not very compelling.   Nothing in this movie seems very funny to me, which is why the movie is pretty dull.

The characters are a little too much like human characters, wearing suits, writing stories, and selling real estate.  The plot focuses on how Mr. Fox keeps getting into trouble because he can't stop stealing from the humans, which is something that he is very good at, but some of the humans are pretty nasty.  The animation is somewhat jerky and portions of the movie look very two dimensional.   Roger Ebert liked it, but I can't see why.  Mr Fox is voiced by George Clooney.  Perhaps the movie is a metaphor for either a mid life crisis or finding out who you really are.   Rating:  C-.
Chicken Run is a 2000 stop motion clay animated film that looks smooth and three dimensional.  The characters are interesting, and there are occasional funny moments.  The story is a compelling one about how the chickens want to escape their imminent doom.  Mel Gibson voices a visiting rooster, who the chickens mistakenly think can fly.  They hope that he can help them escape.  Rating:  B+.  Roger Ebert likes this one as well.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Zombie Movies

What makes a movie or TV show enjoyable?  For me it is likable characters and a suspenseful story, or at least a story that is interesting in some way.  That is all that should really be required.  However, I know people who rule out specific genres saying that they will never watch those genres.  For example, I have heard people say that they think that Star Trek is stupid.  I think that Star Trek is anything but stupid, although some of the older shows do feel a bit dated.  Some people will never watch horror or science fiction (or science fiction horror) because they simply don't like those genres.  I have heard people say the same thing about animated films, although I can think of a few animated films that were absolutely terrific.

Much of the problem comes down to Suspension of Disbelief and how much fantasy a person can tolerate.  When you think about it, all movies are fantasy,  but if you don't believe it then chances are  you won't enjoy watching it.  There are maybe a few movies that seem so absurd that I would lose interest, but for the most part my ability to Suspend Disbelief is pretty high.  I have no problem watching The Muppets (twice) because I enjoy the characters; Some of them feel like old friends to me.  I have no problem watching a movie about a sponge who cooks burgers at the bottom of the sea because the whole thing is satire on human society; It's not about sea creatures.  It is about people in the same way that Aesop's fables are about people.  Much of science fiction and horror is actually intended to be a commentary on our society, so they could be viewed as modern fables.

The comment I made about The Ultimate Gift is that I don't necessarily have to believe it to enjoy the movie for what it is.  All that was required is that the characters be likable, and they are, and for there to be suspense, and there is.

So where does one draw the line?  Even I have a slight problem with the movies where the dead come back to life because I know it is impossible.  To believe such a thing would require us to believe in supernatural forces, which is the problem that I have with most horror movies.  Still, it can be fun to pretend.  It can be fun to imagine what we would do if we were faced with such a situation.  But if the situation doesn't sound interesting to you, then maybe Suspension of Disbelief goes out the window?

The best show where the dead come back to life is not a movie, but The Walking Dead television show.  This show has great characters - really great characters.  Because of this, I am a die hard fan.  Do yourself a favor and watch the first 15 minutes.  You will meet some very interesting people.  Everyone I know who has watched it, loves it.

Not all zombie movies are movies where the dead come back to life.   The most successful zombie movie ever made, the Will Smith version of I am Legend, is really about a virus that turns humans into homicidal maniacs.  In fact, the producer of 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, both of which are pretty good movies, argues that his movies aren't zombie movies at all;  They are about the spread of a "rage virus."  Another really good movie, The Crazies, has the same premise, except that it is a bio-weapon.   The comedy Zombieland, which I happen to absolutely love, claims that it is a mutated form of Mad Cow Disease, which doesn't sound that impossible to me.

I prefer this type of zombie movie where a disease has infected most of the human population.  In this respect, movies like this are not much different than a movie like Contagion, which is terrific movie about a pandemic.  The primary difference is that Contagion doesn't have hordes of crazy people chasing and killing the non-infected.

Almost all zombie movies share certain characteristics:
  1. The breakdown of society.  I think that this is the major part of the appeal.  Most zombie movies are post-apocalyptic.  In that respect, they are not that different from Mad Max movies.
  2. Man's greatest enemy is still his fellow (living) man.  Most zombie movies have people at odds with each other.  I would think that under these circumstances, people would put aside their differences and unite against a common non-living enemy, but that might not make for a very interesting movie.  Instead it is the living people who end up killing each other.
  3. Gore.  Personally I can live without excessive gore in my entertainment, but it does give the story an extra urgency when you see people ripped apart by a horde of attacking zombies.  The George Romero series of zombie movies and The Walking Dead TV series tend to be excessively gory, but the other movies that I listed above aren't nearly as bad.
  4. Social Commentary.  Most zombie movies comment in one way or another about the human condition, but the George Romero movies are especially famous for this.
I recently watched all 6 George Romero zombie movies, which is the series that started the whole zombie fad.
George Romero's first Zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968 version) started it all.  It has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  It has been heralded as a groundbreaking movie that spawned dozens of imitators.

For me the movie is just O.K.  It is obviously low budget.  The acting and production quality are second rate.

There is a whole genre of movies about people hiding in a building or a house while being attacked from the outside.  These movies have the advantage of of creating a suspense that carries the film because the audience wants to see how it ends.  Despite the cheap production quality, the movie is suspenseful and  occasionally exciting.

At first I was disappointed that the movie ended with such a predictable tragedy.  After some reflection, I felt satisfied with it.  One common theme in most zombie films is that even though there are monsters everywhere, man's greatest enemy is still his fellow man.

One thing that makes George Romero zombie movies stand out is that they all have a certain amount of social commentary.
George Romero's second zombie movie, Dawn of the Dead, was for the longest time the king of zombie movies.  Roger Ebert rates the movie at 4 stars.  I liked the movie quite a bit.  It is not necessary to watch any of the other zombie movies to see this one.

After a Zombie Apocalypse, a small group of humans hole up in a shopping mall and make a life for themselves there. Their biggest threat is not the zombies, but other humans who want what they have.

There is some unpleasant gore at the end, but it is not as bad as some other zombie movies.
George Romero's Day of the Dead (1986 version) is the third installment in his zombie series.  The only reasons to see it are ...
  1. You like zombie or horror movies.
  2. You are interested in the George Romero series.
I give the movie a generous B- because I fit into both categories.

Romero originally intended the movie to be a much more epic film, but couldn't get the funding for it.  The film looks somewhat cheap, like a made for TV movie.

I could have done without all of the gory special effects.  Every zombie movie has at least one scene where a massive hoard of zombies attacks people, but here they take the special effects to a new level by showing live people being ripped apart.  The special effects are interesting in a clinical sort of way, but reality would be much messier.  Therefore the gore in this film is more on the comic book level, although extreme, which almost makes it tolerable.

I have a problem with any movie where the characters spend a lot of time arguing with each other.  Here the conflict is between a small group of scientists doing research in an underground bunker, and a small group of soldiers assigned to protect them.  You would think that if these people thought that they might be last people on earth, that they would put aside their differences and band together to fight a common enemy, which is the zombies.  Much of the conflict revolves around the head scientist and the head soldier, both of which have gone a little crazy.

The lead scientist is especially crazy because he has the wacky idea that he can train the zombies to be non-aggressive.  The trouble with his theory is that the humans are outnumbered by a hundred million to one, so his chance of  training all the zombies is nil.  He actually makes progress with a captured zombie that he has nicknamed "Bob" (pictured), who oddly enough starts to develop a bit of a personality.  Bob ends up being so interesting that he makes the movie almost worth seeing.

Despite all the flaws, I couldn't help but think that the movie is entertaining.  It has a whopping 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  When the humans start to kill each other, there is a certain suspense in wanting to know how it turns out.
Land of the Dead is about the conflict between rich and poor in walled off city after an Zombie Apocalypse.  Dennis Hopper plays the most powerful person in the city with his usual sliminess.  Meanwhile, like in the preceding movie, the zombies start to develop some personality and begin to organize against the humans.

When I got the movie from Netflix, I was disappointed to see that it was the director's cut.  I knew that this meant that it would have extra gore and violence, which it does.  George Romero seems like a pretty weird person to add 4 minutes of extra violence and gore to a movie that is already gory and violent.

Despite this, it is a pretty slick film with many interesting characters and an interesting story.  It is a major step up from its predecessor.  This movie has many memorable quotes.
Diary of the Dead is essentially a reboot of the zombie series because the zombie apocalypse takes place in more modern times.  It follows a group of film students who decide to film the zombie apocalypse as it is happening and post their film to the internet.  Overall, the movie is pretty interesting and not as gory as some of its predecessors.

Survival of the Dead is about the conflict between two feuding families living on an island after a zombie apocalypse.  In a way, this movie is a throwback to western films.  This is also the first George Romero zombie film to include some characters from the previous movie.

This is the only George Romero zombie movie to get a bad rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I think that the movie is underrated.  (I give it a B.)  

My favorite zombie movie is not any of the George Romero films, but 28 Days Later.  The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, is still pretty good, but I prefer the original.  Of all the George Romero films, Dawn of the Dead should probably not be missed.

If you like your zombie movies more on the funny side, I thought that Zombieland was great in so many ways.  Shaun of the Dead is a lessor movie that is still funny and made Simon Pegg famous.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Muppets (Rating: M for Muppet)

Disney The Muppets is about the silliest movie I have seen in long time.  What was I thinking?  However, the movie is smart to play it this way, because it pokes fun at The Muppets with a lot of inside jokes, recognizing that The Muppets might be a little past their prime.  At one point when things aren't going well, Amy Adams says "This is going to be a really short movie."

I started to feel a little nervous when the opening sequence was a happy street song and dance number in Smalltown, USA.  The movie is full of happy song and dance numbers.  It lacks any pretense of seriousness, but there is something infectious about its zaniness.  It is suppose to be silly, but I kind of miss the original Muppet Movie which was much more subtle, deeper, and had soul.   This film is like a echo; It reminds us of the things that we like, but it is not as good as the original.

The plot is a simple one about trying to revive the old The Muppet Show.  If you didn't like The Muppet Show, then you won't like this movie.  However, I have fond memories of The Muppet Show, so I enjoyed this movie for the same reasons.  Somehow the story is just barely strong enough to carry the picture.

The movie introduces a new character, named Walter, who is an underdog that idealizes The Muppets.   

There are a ton of cameo's in this film, the most significant of which is Mickey Rooney.  The man is 91 years old and doesn't look bad.  Maybe he is letting us know that he is not dead yet.

The Muppet Movie finished the end credits with a surprise and was maybe the first movie to do so.   Many other movies have since imitated this.  I was disappointed that this film didn't do the same.

Check out the trailer here.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Netflix streaming catalog?

I have the same problem…


From: Robert


Is there a place you can look that lists what currently is in the Netflix streaming catalog?


I’m not interested in scrolling in their interface.  I want to see a list that I can browse by title or search.  Is the list a secret from the competition (Apple)?  You don’t know if something is available until you go look for it and see if it is or not?  And that’s only after you signed up for the service?


I wanted to watch Titanic over the weekend but couldn’t figure out if it was in the streaming catalog or not.  I got indicators that it was, but since I dropped streaming long ago I could not see what was in the catalog.  Well my streaming is now active and I see that Titanic is not in the streaming catalog.   PHFFT!


Monday, April 23, 2012

The Immortals and The Darkest Hour

From: Witmer, R


I watched Immortals and The Darkest Hour.  Both were big disappointments for me.  I cannot recommend anyone watching either of them.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Crow (Rating: B)

The Crow is a Gothic-revenge-action-picture comic book adaptation staring Brandon Lee.  It takes place in an evil version of Detroit ruled by thugs, where it seems to be mostly night and raining.  Eric Draven is resurrected by a mystical crow so that he can avenge his murder.  Since he is already dead, it seems that he is invincible, and he goes around killing the bad guys without mercy.

I found myself wondering what the point of the film was?  The main character is in essence a super hero who goes around killing people with impunity.  If he can't be killed, and he gets shot dozes of times without suffering any real harm, then where is the suspense in that?    Well, it turns out that he has a vulnerability and the bad guys figure that out in the last 20 minutes of the movie.  If it wasn't for this, then the story might have seemed flat.

Any action picture wouldn't be complete without a good cop and a bad cop and cute little girl thrown in, which makes the movie seem a little cheap,  but it does give the movie a little variety.  The movie works as a revenge picture because most of the characters are somewhat interesting.  That includes the good guys and the bad guys and a couple characters who are a mixture of both.

Brandon's Lee's performance is good when he is being all Gothic and vengeful, but in a couple of  moments where his character tries to just talk to people, his character seems inconsistently wimpy.

It is unfortunate that Brandon Lee died from a gun shot accident on the set of the film.   After this tragic accident, his mother and fiance both supported the completion of the movie.  Other actors were used to finish the incomplete parts of the movie.

Snow Doesn't Melt Forever

Bizarre trailer.  I believe that it is a Russian made horror movie due out in 2013.

Introducing "David 8" from the upcoming movie Prometheus (An "Alien" spiff off)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Ides of March (Rating: A-)

I have been disappointed with a few George Clooney movies because I thought that those movies hit us over the head with left leaning political messages.  I was a little uneasy about watching "The Ides of March" because I thought that it would be more of the same.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  This movie is not about politics, but politicians and the campaign process.  Given the hotly contested Republican  primary that is taking place right now, it couldn't be more timely.  I like this movie for the same reason I liked Good Night and Good Luck;  The movie is really smart and knows its subject matter.  This film might be better than Good Night and Good Luck which was more of an ensemble piece, because this film creates a tension around one central character, played by Ryan Gosling.  He plays a naive junior campaign manager who quickly becomes corrupted when he gets in a little over his head in a political scandal.

I like that Clooney only plays a supporting character.  He plays a smooth politician who behind the scenes is a little less than holy.  We get to experience Clooney's character through the eyes of Gosling's character, who starts out so full of hope, but soon gets a few hard lessons in reality.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie.  I pretty much know that when he is in a movie that it is going to be a good film.

The expression "Ides of March" literally means middle of March, but it can also refer to the betrayal and assassination of Julius Caesar.  There is a whole lot of backstabbing that takes place in this movie.  The movie is rated R only for language, but that strong language is there to illustrate that behind the scenes politicians are tough bastards who aren't afraid to get their hands a little dirty.

The ending is an extended shot of an actor's face like in Michael Clayton.  It was a disaster in that movie and only barely works in this one.  It can get a little dull, but at least in this film it has more of a  point.

It seems to me that everything in this movie could apply to the current Republican primary race, but this movie is about Democrats.  Everything I saw in the film made me think of Republicans, so why isn't the movie about Republicans?  Either Clooney didn't want to play a Republican, or it was a deliberate decision to not infer anything about the people currently running for office.  It might have been fun to see Clooney play a conservative for a change.

I notice that a portion of the movie takes place in Kentucky, as do many Clooney movies.  Clooney is from Kentucky.

The movie makes a passing reference to "Operation Chaos."

Since George Clooney wrote and directed this film, I am starting to develop a new appreciation for his work. I might actually become a fan.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Dangerous Method. (B+)

A Dangerous Method is the story of psychoanalyst pioneer Carl Jung, his affair with a patient who would later become a psychoanalyst herself, and his rivalry with Sigmond Freud.  This movie works on so many levels ...

1.  A lurid love affair.  Seems that everyone in this movie is interested in sex.  Freud studies it and everyone else has it.  The movie is not very graphic, no more than say "Titanic", and probably should have been rated PG-13 were it not for one naughty word.

2.  An insightful history lesson about early psychoanalysis.

3.  An extremely well acted and beautifully filmed period piece.  I really like how well the actors portray these characters.  Jung is frequently conflicted but subtly so.  Freud seems determined to maintain some sort of superiority.  

Near the end the movie seems to slow down a bit.  I thought that maybe it was becoming too much of soap opera, but everything up to that point I found deeply fascinating.  If you have no interest in history nor psychoanalysis then you might get a little bored.  

Best wishes,

John Coffey

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo (2011) (B+)

I found myself wondering what the point of "The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo" is?  The movie starts out as a slow moving murder mystery.  It turns into an intense thriller about a serial killer.  The movie is rated R for violence, torture, nudity, strong sexual themes including rape, and language.  But the real point seems to be to introduce the character of "Lizabeth."  She is the punk pyscho-bitch of investigators.  She is the equivalent of Dirty Harry.  Even as she is being raped, she is setting up her rapist for a big fall, and believe me, she really knows how to get revenge.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo" is the first movie in the remake of the Swedish trilogy.  Since the movie still takes place in Sweeden, as far as I can tell the film is identical to the original in every scene except that the spoken language is English.  Some critics still prefer the original, but both versions are a real visceral experience.  The nastiness of the subject matter might turn off some people, but I think that everyone will agree that the movie is intense.

I can't wait for the sequel.  I might just watch the Swedish sequel.