Monday, January 28, 2008

El Cid - dvd review

If the term “Epic Film” is ever introduced into the dictionary, it should be accompanied by a reproduction of the poster for El Cid, Samuel Bronston’s masterpiece, which has finally been given the grandiose dvd release it so richly deserves.

The film, directed by Anthony Mann, was released in 1961 and stars Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. It tells the tale of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the legendary hero of Spain. This true story is set in the 11th century, and begins with Rodrigo stumbling into a battle between Christians and Moors on his way to his wedding. He takes several Emirs captive and, deciding to show compassion rather than continue the bloodshed, decides to let them go. It is this act of compassion which earns him the title “El Cid” (which means The Lord or The Leader, from the Arabic "El Seid"), because he is both a merciful lord and ruthless fighter. This act of mercy also brings charges of treason against him, and inadvertently causes his betrothed, Chimene (played by Sophia Loren) to despise him.

El Cid follows Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar throughout the rest of his days: his journey to clear his name and become the king’s champion, his exile at the hands of a corrupt ruler, and his attempts to unite Spain. It is a truly epic adventure, and the scope of this movie is nothing short of amazing. But throughout all of this, the film never loses sight of the human side of the story and the tale of star crossed lovers Rodrigo and Chemine. El Cid tells the tale of a man who became a hero, a leader, a legend and then a myth.

I didn’t want to repeat myself too much in this review, so I consulted a thesaurus to find synonyms for the word “epic”. Astronomic, colossal, prodigious and sizable were all suitable words, and none of them can truly describe this film. The scale is just plain huge, and the detail and craftsmanship are amazing. The costumes, weaponry, sets and locations are absolutely breathtaking, and become even more so when you realize there are approximately 7,000 cast members. This is long before the days of CGI, so when you see a massive battle taking place, those are all real living, breathing human beings, not computer generated images. Each and every sword, cloak, helmet and suit of armor is historically accurate and painstakingly detailed. It’s awesome.

The only downfall of this film, if it can be perceived as such, is that it was made in 1961, and as a result, the style of storytelling and especially the acting, may be considered a bit dated or over-the-top by younger viewers. If this minor detail gets in the way of anyone’s enjoyment of the film, it is simply a matter of taste, and is really the fault of the viewer, rather than the filmmakers. On a personal level, I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed in the fact that I was born 15 years after this movie was released, and never had the chance to see it on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen. This movie ranks up there with Spartacus, The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur. It is, quite simply, a classic.

The limited-edition collector’s dvd set is just as epic as the film, which is so big, it had to be split between two discs. The discs are packaged in a really classy looking collectors case, and the film as been digitally remastered and loaded with extras. Included on the first dvd are the movie with commentary from Bill Bronston (son of producer Samuel Bronston) and Neal M. Rosendorf (historian and Bronston biographer), vintage radio interviews with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, still galleries and filmographies. The second disc includes the second half of the movie (with commentary), and several documentaries.

Hollywood Conquers Spain: The Making of El Cid contains interviews with the stars, filmmakers and historians regarding the movie’s production. Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey of a Dreamer is the life story of the man who produced El Cid, along with several other epic films from the olden days of Hollywood. Also included are brief documentaries on director Anthony Mann and composer Miklós Rózsa, as well as an interview with Gerry Byrne, who had a hand in remastering El Cid for its dvd release.

Also included are several little postcard sized pictures from the film, a huge book about the making of the movie, and even a Dell Comics adaptation of the film! If you enjoy classic films of a bygone era, you will surely love El Cid, and if you are a longtime fan who has been waiting for this movie to receive a proper release on dvd, your wait is over: El Cid has arrived.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Turok: Son of Stone - dvd review

The character of Turok has had a long and storied history. First published by Dell Comics in 1954, the story of a Native American fighting dinosaurs was a huge hit as the popularity of superheroes started to wane. Many years later, the character was revived by Valiant Comics, re-imagined as a hunter of bionic dinosaurs. When Acclaim Entertainment bought Valiant, Turok became the star of their best selling video game franchise.

In 2008, Turok: Son of Stone has been re-imagined yet again, this time as the star of an animated movie. With a screenplay by Tony Bedard, a long-time Turok fan and writer of the Valiant series, this version of Turok hews a little closer to the original. The high-tech equipment and bionosaurs of the more recent comics and video games have been jettisoned in favor of a more classic and respectful approach to the character.

The story begins when Turok, his brother Nashoba and female companion Catori are ambushed in the forest by members of a rival tribe. In a rage, Turock slaughters their attackers and nearly kills his own brother. Turok is banished to a desolate wilderness for his transgressions.

Fast forward to sixteen years later, and Chichak, the son of one of the men Turok killed so many years ago, has risen to prominence in his tribe. They have returned to slaughter the members of Turok’s former village. The only survivors are Catori, whom Chichak kidnaps, and Andar, the son of Catori and Nashoba. Vowing revenge for the murders of his brother and his tribesmen, Turok and Andar give chase to Chichak and wind up in the Lost Land, a savage world inhabited by dinosaurs and cavemen. Once there, Chichak finds a tribe of vicious Neanderthals to lead, while Turok, Andar and Catori are taken in by a group of Native Americans very similar to their own tribe. As Turok and Chichak prepare to do battle, Turok must learn to accept the darkness within his soul, and his destiny as a warrior.

“Turok: Son of Stone” proves that with the right people in charge, a character can be re-imagined and reinvented for a new generation of fans. Building on the classic idea of a man trapped in a lost world that time has forgotten, this story adds more depth to the character of Turok, choosing to put the focus on the man, rather than the beasts. Turok and Chichak are presented as two sides of a coin. Both are proud warriors: one seeking revenge for the murder of his father, the other for the murder of his brother. The only difference between the two is that while Turok has a great respect for life, Chichak is a ruthless killer.

The story in this film is intelligent and aimed at an adult audience, and it should be noted that this is not a children’s movie! There is a warning on the package concerning graphic violence, and it should definitely be heeded. This movie contains lots of blood, along with a few beheadings and severed limbs. It’s probably okay for older kids, but parents who are concerned about such things might want to preview it first.

Extras on the dvd include a directors commentary, and “Total Turok”, a short but in-depth look at the history of the character, and the making of the film. An interesting aspect of this documentary is the attention to detail the filmmakers paid to Native American history. They made great attempts to ensure that the weaponry, clothing and way of life shown in this film was authentic and respectful. It’s definitely worth checking out after viewing the movie.

Turok: Son of Stone was a movie that served as a great introduction for new fans, and a great retelling of a story that old-time fans have known and loved for years. I highly recommend it to both.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cloverfield review

Most of us have seen a few movies featuring, or are at least familiar with Godzilla. The sometimes scary, sometimes friendly, but almost always tongue-in-cheek monster who has repeatedly terrorized Tokyo since 1954. Godzilla (or Gojira) is a lot of fun, but have you ever really thought about what would happen if he was real? If a 200 foot tall monster actually rampaged through a big city? Have you ever considered the carnage, death and chaos that would ensue? Luckily for us, producer J.J. Abrams, director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard have, and the answer they’ve come up with is Cloverfield.

Not only have they considered the real-life possibility of a giant monster wreaking havoc in a metropolitan area, they’ve also managed to find a way to make it a truly terrifying experience: by putting the viewer directly in the driver’s seat.

Cloverfield concerns a group of young adults who have gathered for a party. Their good buddy Rob is, appropriately, moving to Japan, and they want to wish him goodbye. One member of the group, Hud, has been given the task of documenting the evening on video. When the lights go out, and everyone goes outside to see New York City in flames, Hud’s role as documentarian becomes a bit more than just drunken frivolity; he is, for all intents and purposes, documenting the end of the world as they know it.

I’m not going to go any further into the plot, because I feel that you should go into this movie with an open and empty mind. You don’t need me to tell you what happens, you just need to experience it. Because of the fact that the movie is shot (or at least appears to be shot) entirely on a handheld camera, the viewer is, as I said earlier, in the driver’s seat for this experience. And as such, it truly is an experience, not simply a movie.

Cloverfield is the type of movie that has you on the edge of your seat the entire time you’re watching it. It’s very intense and unsettling. I left the movie feeling a bit stressed, breathing heavily and wanting a cigarette, as though I had just survived a particularly harrowing evening. The whole thing sort of felt like I was watching a nightmare, and in fact, there were at least three separate instances where I thought to myself “Yes, I have had that nightmare. This exact situation that the protagonists are in… I’ve been in the same situation in a dream. A bad dream.”

A big part of what makes the film so convincing is the lack of any big name actors. One of the characters looked kind of familiar, but I don’t know if that’s because I saw him in another movie, or if he just had one of those faces. It really makes the movie hit home, because you feel like these are people you could know, not some flavor-of-the-month WB actor.

There’s a lot of very 9/11-esque imagery throughout the movie, and of course, that’s done on purpose. I know there’s already been some reviewers who’ve looked negatively on this, but I don’t feel that it’s exploitative or offensive at all. Just as Godzilla was a representation of the Japanese people’s fears concerning Hiroshima, Cloverfield, as director Matt Reeves recently said, “… very much speaks to the fear and anxieties of our time, how we live our lives. Constantly documenting things and putting them up on YouTube, sending people videos through e-mail - we felt it was very applicable to the way people feel now.” That’s not to say that Cloverfield is a political movie in any way, shape or form - it just conjures up some of the same feelings of hopelessness and desperation in a crisis situation.

But beyond all of that, Cloverfield is just damn fun. It’s a big smash ‘em up monster movie with New York City in flames and carnage all around. It’s a non-stop rollercoaster thrill ride that will have you on the edge of your seat when you aren’t jumping out of it. Despite the frightening subject matter, Cloverfield is one hell of a good time. It’s quite a rush, and it’s almost cathartic in a way. It’s the sort of movie that you simply must talk about… but you can’t, because you don’t want to spoil it for anyone. (You can imagine how hard it was to write this review!) I’ve been thinking and talking about it for two days since seeing it, and I can’t wait to see it again. Cloverfield was one movie that I truly felt lived up to all the hype.

Moments With Fidel - review

First Run Features has released Moments With Fidel, a rarely seen film from the Cuban Film Archive, as part of their Cuba: Paths to Revolution series. It’s a collection of archival footage which highlights some of the more important moments in the Cuban leaders lifetime, from the toppling of Batista’s imperialist regime in 1959, to present day.

I reviewed this movie hoping to learn a bit more about a subject in which my knowledge is sorely lacking. The fact that this movie was not made in America made it all the more appealing, as I knew it wouldn’t be tainted by an anti-Castro slant. I was hoping to get a more balanced look at this controversial figure than the American media typically provides. Moments With Fidel didn’t quite deliver on all counts, but it did offer a little more insight into Fidel’s motivations.

The filmmaker seemed to assume that the viewer had a decent knowledge of Cuban history. As I mentioned before, I have only the vaguest knowledge, which worked against me, as I couldn’t keep up with a lot of the information. I didn’t walk away with any more knowledge of Cuban history than I did before, but I did get to see a bit more of the personal side of Fidel Castro. Footage showcasing visits to a schoolyard does not show the vile dictator we’ve been taught about on the news. Rather, it shows a very genuine man who cares about the people and the culture of his country. Politicians can stand on a pulpit and lie through their teeth, but seeing Castro play baseball and basketball with a group of schoolkids shows both a love of the game and a free spirit. You can’t fake that.

I was also impressed with various speeches that were part of the documentary; speeches in which Castro was more than willing to admit mistakes the Party had made, and accept responsibility for setbacks which had befallen the people of Cuba. In a world where leaders are quick to pass the buck and blame everyone but themselves, it was shocking and refreshing to see this very humble behavior. Again, I walked away feeling like there’s a lot more to this man than we are usually told.

The extra features on this dvd release are three rare films. My Brother Fidel is a 1977 conversation between Fidel Castro and a 92-year old man who met Cuba’s national hero, Jose’ Marti. The First Delegate recounts the history of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Condemn Me, It Does Not Matter discusses Fidel’s role in the Moncada Assault of July 29, 1963. Once again, I felt a little lost watching these short documentaries. It seemed that a slightly more than rudimentary knowledge of Cuban history was necessary, and I was a bit lost.

Despite my lack of knowledge and mild trouble with these films, I still enjoyed them. At the very least, you will get to see another side to a man so often maligned in the American press, and perhaps learn a little something. On another note, it’s worth it just to watch Castro deliver a speech to the Cuban people. His oratory skills, even though he speaks a language I do not understand, are inspiring and captivating. I was very glad to spend just a few moments with Fidel.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) - Review

I’ve often said that everything Guillermo del Toro touches turns to gold, and “The Orphanage” is no exception. On this one, del Toro is producing, rather than directing, but one cannot help but feel his influence in terms of both style and story. That’s not a knock on director Juan Antonio Bayona, who is clearly very capable. It’s just that when you’re watching a Spanish ghost story featuring children, something just screams “del Toro!” That’s not a bad thing.

On with the review…

Laura and her husband Carlos have recently purchased the old orphanage where Laura spent her early years. They are planning to move in with their son Simón, a bright young boy with an overactive imagination. Simón often speaks of several imaginary friends , and while exploring some nearby caves with his mother, meets a new friend, Thomás.

A visit from a mysterious social worker reveals to the viewer that Simón is not only adopted, but also HIV positive, two secrets Simón himself is not aware of. Soon after, Simón reveals to his mother that he is aware of both of these facts, which were seemingly revealed to him by his imaginary friends. After an argument during a party, Simón disappears. Laura and Carlos try every method available to find him, from police investigators to psychic mediums. Along the way, they unearth many secrets about the mysterious social worker and her connection to horrors that took place at the orphanage.

I won’t go into any more detail about the plot, because I’m already afraid I’ve revealed too much. I went into this movie knowing very little, and I liked it that way. I will tell you this: director Juan Antonio Bayona has made a movie that is as touching as it is terrifying. He clearly understands that it is mood and setting that create true horror, not something jumping out of a closet and yelling “BOO!” every 15 minutes. The tension in this film builds and builds for nearly two hours, only letting up briefly every once in a while to let you catch your breath. I spent a large portion of this movie looking slightly to the left of the screen, or attempting to casually cover my eyes with my hand as I silently cursed myself for coming to see yet another scary movie… but at the same time, it was impossible to look away. Good stuff.

The performances are top notch as well. Unlike American horror, where everything must be played over the top and exaggerated, this movie revels in it’s subtlety. I’m not usually a fan of child actors, but Roger Príncep is fantastic as young Simón. I would dare say you could watch this movie without subtitles and still understand the basic gist of what’s going on, which is a testament to it’s storytelling. Of course, if you speak Spanish, you wouldn’t be reading the subtitles anyway, but that’s beside the point.

In short: if you like your horror to be a little more cerebral, and you can appreciate a tale about the bond between a mother and her child, I’ve got a great ghost story for you. It’s called The Orphanage.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Death Sentence DVD Review

When the film Death Sentence was released in 2007, I was intrigued. It looked like an update (or rip-off?) of the 1974 film Death Wish, with Kevin Bacon in the lead role rather than Charles Bronson. Okay, that’s fine – a lot of movies look like rip-offs of Death Wish, because a lot of movies are rip-offs of Death Wish. That in and of itself does not necessarily make a film bad. I’ve got no beef with a B-Grade action movie, and I’ve got no beef with Kevin Bacon, so this movie seemed like it might be fun. I never did end up seeing it in the theaters, but when I had the chance to review the dvd, I jumped. I’d finally find out whether or not it had any merit.

Now here’s where it gets kind of interesting. The novel that Death Sentence is based on was written by Brian Garfield, and it’s the follow up to another hit he’d written titled Death Wish. The same Death Wish that was made into a movie starring Charles Bronson. So it’s a rip-off of Death Wish that is actually based on the sequel to Death Wish. Weird and interesting, but as it turns out, the movie left me with a deathwish about halfway through.

The film opens with a montage of home video footage of the Hume family. Father, mother and two sons. A family so disgustingly happy, you are actually hoping for their deaths by the time the opening montage is finished. Brutal, gruesome deaths… well, maybe that’s just me and I’m just sick. At any rate, the older son is clearly the golden child, handsome and bright and excellent at hockey, while the younger son just falls of his bike a lot.

While stopped at a gas station on the way home from a hockey game, Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) witnesses his son’s murder at the hands of a violent gang of thugs. Now, you can tell these guys mean business, because they all have tribal tattoos on their necks and/or faces. Real bad mamma-jammas. It’s not even a mugging or a robbery, it’s an initiation ritual for the youngest member of the group. In the ensuing scuffle, Nick unmasks the murderer and subsequently identifies him in a lineup a day or two later.

Realizing that the law will not grant him the justice he deserves, Nick refuses to testify against his son’s murderer, deciding to enact his own brand of vengeance. One cliché leads to another, and Nick ends up killing the guy, which sets off a chain reaction of revenge between the surviving members of the gang, including the slain criminal’s older brother and father, and Nick’s own family. Lots of bullets, lots of knifings, lots of bullet dodging. These guys are terrible shots.

The film plays a lot on the whole “protect your family” theme, and the idea that violence only begets more violence. An eye for an eye, and all that. It’s actually a pretty neat concept, and I can imagine that on paper, this seemed like a good idea, but in reality, it’s just a very run-of-the-mill shoot ‘em up. Like I said earlier, I’ve got no beef with a solid B-Movie, and I don’t mind a cliché or seven thrown in for good measure. Hell, “Lone Wolf McQuade” is one of my favorite movies. But this flick, despite a few good action scenes, just doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and it’s barely worth watching.

What it does bring to the table is bad acting and homage after homage to Taxi Driver and the Saw films, which happened to be directed by the same guy that directed this film (the Saw films, not Taxi Driver). There’s a scene after the older brother’s death in which the family, who at this point are apparently not able to speak above a whisper, all lie in bed crying and listening to some crappy Sarah McLachlan song. Yeah, seriously. It doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings, it attempts to forcibly remove them, but in the end, you just end up laughing at it.

The DVD includes both the theatrical release and an unrated cut of the film. My review is based on the unrated version. Who knows, maybe the tamed down theatrical cut tamed down some of the lameness as well? Might’ve been worth checking out. The extras featured on this disc are: Making A Scene, a mini-documentary originally shown on the Fox Movie Channel, detailing how director James Wan shot a particular action sequence. Since the action sequences are the best parts of the film, this was actually worth watching and far more interesting than the movie. An episode of the Fox Movie Channel’s Life After Film School and a bunch of webisodes are also included. The former being something of a “poor man’s Inside The Actor’s Studio” hosted by three film students, and the latter being a bunch of little behind-the-scenes vignettes which appeared on the movie’s website. Again, both proved to be far more interesting than the film itself.

In the end… if you’re lying around the house on a Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do and Death Sentence comes on the tube, go ahead and watch it. I’ve definitely seen worse movies in my lifetime, and the action sequences in this one are pretty decent. Just be sure to get up and make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when the action stops and people start to talk.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore Review

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, starring Ellen Burstyn, was directed by Martin Scorsese and released in May of 1974. It's a good flick, and Burstyn took home the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance.

Here's the movie in a nutshell: (there's a spoiler or two here, but the movie is 30 years old, and anyway, it's nothing you can't figure out by reading the back of the box) This lady Alice is married to this guy Don, who is a domineering jerk. He dies and Alice and her 11-year old son, a young snotty jerk, hit the road and try to make it to Monterey, California, where Alice hopes to rekindle her singing career. Along the way, she makes a pitstop or two, briefly hooks up with another guy who ends up being abusive, played by a very young Harvey Keitel, and ends up in Tucson, Arizona. There, she finds true love with Kris Kristofferson and gets a job as a waitress at Mel's Diner, working with a sassy lady named Flo and a nutjob named Vera. If the last part sounds familiar, it's because this movie was the inspiration for the tv show Alice. More on that later...

The tagline for the movie was "A movie for anyone who has ever dreamed of a second chance", and that pretty much sums it up. Alice begins the movie in a pretty bad spot, being totally subservient to a husband who is emotionally unavailable and very short tempered. She spends most of the movie chasing the dream of a singing career in Monterey, shown in an idyllic childhood scene at the beginning of the film, and after some hard times and bad luck (and a bit of advice from Flo), she ends up feeling pretty good about herself and life in general. She doesn't give up her dream, but she does stop running away from her problems, and starts a new life with a pretty cool guy.

The writing in this movie is top notch. None of the dialogue or situations felt forced, and all of the characters were very believable. They felt like people I've worked with, went to school with and am related to. That being said, I found Alice to be a bit of a drama queen at times, and her son was a snot-nosed brat. But were they real? Oh hell yeah... Every performance was perfect.

The main reason I rented the movie was that I grew up with fond memories of the CBS televison series Alice, which ran from 1976 to 1985. Kris Kristofferson's character wasn't in the tv show, but in an interesting turn of events, Vic Tayback played Mel in both the movie and the series, and Nancy McKeon's brother Phillip was Alice's son. I've seen the show recently, and frankly, it doesn't really live up to my memories... it's a lot like Monterey was to Alice, just a childhood dream that can never really be relived. One thing that does hold up is the theme song. Download it if you can, or pick up one of those tv theme compilations - it's one of the best tv themes from the golden age of tv theme songs, second only to the end credits from The Incredible Hulk.

Lastly, I'll leave you with another bit of bizarre trivia. The character of Flo was eventually spun off into her own tv show and replaced by Diane Ladd, who played Flo in the movie! Ladd played Belle, who didn't last long, and was replaced by yet another southern waitress named Jolene, who often mentioned her distant relative, J.D. "Boss" Hogg... yes, that Boss Hogg. How weird is that?

(to be fair though, I should mention that I got that Boss Hogg info from Wikipedia, which is known to be wrong from time to time)

Anyway, any review/article/blog about Alice would be incomplete if I didn't say "Kiss My Grits" at least once.

So there you have it.

Beowulf: The 3D Imax Experience Review

I'm lucky enough to be blessed with an IMAX theatre just a few minutes down the road. Last night, I took in Beowulf: The 3D IMAX Experience. All I can say is "Holy Crap!"

If Rankin-Bass and Guillermo del Toro did a moving pop-up book version of Clash of the Titans, it would be Beowulf.

Remember the first time you saw The Matrix? Or Lord of the Rings? Or even Final Fantasy? Imagine somehow seeing them all at the same time... that's sort of what Beowulf felt like.

If every action hero that Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ever played was rolled into one, and that one character slaughtered everyone in The Chronicles of Narnia... that's Beowulf.

If 300 was even more manly... so manly that it was 600... that's Beowulf.

It was just a great roller coaster thrill ride. I know that sounds cliche', but what else can I say? The new 3D technology is nothing short of breathtaking, and this was the perfect movie for it, to say nothing of the fact that I saw it on a screen 10 times larger than most peoples imagination. If you do not have an IMAX theater in your area... please, do yourself a favor and at least see it in 3D. It's the only treatment this movie deserves, and you owe it to yourself. It's not just a movie, it's an experience.

If studios are worried about slumping ticket sales and threatened by dvds, then they should release more movies (at least, more action movies) in 3D. This will put people in theaters. I walked out of that movie last night pledging to see every movie ever released in 3D, even if they looked like the sucked! Hell, you could put Beaches in 3D, with Bette Midler's snarling horse face bigger than life and twice as ugly, and I'd probably still enjoy it. (gosh, I hope Bette Midler never reads this blog - my face would be so red!)

Anyway... back to Beowulf. I've read a few reviews that dogged the story, saying that the movie is all sizzle and no substance. Bull. Those people are raving lunatics. No, it isn't the most complicated story I've ever heard of, but here's the thing - it's not just an epic action tale, it's THE epic action tale. This story dates back to sometime between the 8th and 11th century, if it's still around after all this time, clearly it's got something going for it. Not to mention, if it's that old, odds are it's going to seem a little simple to our 21st century tastes. No, there's not a lot of crazy plot twists or surprises, it's just a good old-fashioned honest epic. There's nothing wrong with that.

The animation (if that's really the right word) is amazing. There's a lot of emotion in these characters, partly because the cast is freakin' fantastic, partly because the CGI/rotoscoping/whatever it's called captured their performances so well. Crispin Glover as Grendel is absolutely heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time. The only thing that kind of took me out of the movie a bit was Angelina Jolie as his mother. Her performance was fine, but ... well, you could kind of tell that the king was Anthony Hopkins, and you could sort of see that John Malkovich was the king's advisor, but Grendel's mother just looked like a monster with Angelina Jolie's face plastered on it. Not that I don't like looking at a naked Angelina Jolie with a scorpion tail, mind you... but like I said, it kind of took me out of the movie a bit.

Long story short - it's awesome. If you like action and sword n' sorcery tales, you've really got no excuse for missing this movie. Go see it, and for god's sake, see it in 3D!

The Watcher in the Woods Review

As a young lad, holidays were always a special treat at school, because it meant we got to have a party or watch a movie rather than do actual schoolwork. One such movie was Disney's The Watcher in the Woods, which, to my fourth-grade sensibilities, was the most terrifying film ever made. I recently had the opportunity to revisit the proverbial scene of my adolescent trauma. Would it hold up after all these years? Would it be as mystifyingly scary to me as an adult as it was as when I was a child? Or would it just feel like a long episode of Goosebumps guest starring a decrepit Bette Davis? Turns out it was a little of both.

The story centers around two sisters who begin having strange premonitions and seeing visions shortly after their family moves into an old mansion in the country, owned by the elderly Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis). It turns out that the eldest girl, Jan, bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Aylwood's daughter Karen, who disappeared 30 years ago during a séance of some sort.

Visions of a blindfolded girl crying out for help begin to haunt Jan more and more frequently, and she just can't shake a feeling of dread every time she goes near the woods surrounding the old house. Now, I'm not the type to give away the entire plot of a movie, but in a spoiler-free nutshell, clues begin to surface regarding Karen Aylwood's mysterious disappearance and the ominous presence in the woods, but her childhood friends, who seem determined to keep the secret under wraps, continually rebuke Jan’s detective work.

Do we ever learn the story behind Karen's disappearance? Just who or what is the Watcher in the Woods, and how does it all tie in to the solar eclipse? Well, you'll have to see the movie to unravel that mystery, but I can tell you this - it's worth your time to find out.

Okay, it's a 1980 live-action Disney "horror" movie. That should sort of clue you in regarding the film's quality, but if it doesn't, I'll give you my two cents - it ain't bad, but it ain't a masterpiece either. Having done a little research into the film, I uncovered a tale of many rewrites and reshoots, which led to the film's somewhat ambiguous ending. In this case though, I actually think it might work in the movie's favor. As an adult, I see the film as being sort of odd, and not making complete sense. As a kid though, I felt like there was a lot more going on that my brain could fully comprehend, and it actually made the movie even creepier. The movie is, after all, made for kids.

And yes, it is pretty creepy for a Disney movie. I may be a bit of a scaredy-cat, but there were a few instances that were somewhat frightening, and the overall mood was one of tension and supernatural terror. All in all, I'd say that if you've got any nostalgic feelings towards this movie, go ahead and rent it, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. If you've never seen it before, but have younger kids who are just getting into scary movies, this is probably a good choice for them as well.

The Simpsons Movie Review

I probably don't really need to write a review for this movie. Most likely you're either going to see it or you're not. Reviews and critiques aren't likely to change your mind. But for those of you who might be on the fence, I'll offer my two cents.

I'm a longtime Simpsons fan. I've been watching the show for eighteen long years now, and I even have a Hellfish tattoo. Yeah, I'm that geeky. I hate to be one of those stuck-up snobs who throws his nose in the air and says, "The Simpsons isn't as good as it used to be," but let's face it, it certainly ain't what it used to be. In my opinion, the show lacks the heart it once had and seems to have been simply going through the motions for the past few seasons. Yes, I still think it's one of the best shows on television, but that's partly because I think 90% of what's on television sucks. Anyway, I'm getting off track here, back to the movie. Luckily for us crotchety old nerds, the movie is a lot more Season 8 and a lot less Season 18.

I won't get too into the story, 'cause I don't want to give anything away, but it's worth seeing whether you're a longtime fan, or if you've never watched the show in your entire life. It's funny, it's (somewhat) touching, it'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry. Well, it probably won't make you cry, but there were a couple of scenes with Homer and his pig that made me laugh so hard tears flowed freely.

It's not perfect by any means - there are times when you feel you're watching a true epic, the movie version of The Simpsons and there are times you feel like you're just watching a really long episode. Because you are. Homer even mocks the viewer at one point, asking why anyone would pay money to see something they can watch for free on tv. Hey, that's just how we do.

Anyway, there you have it. The Simpsons Movie: well worth the price of admission for curmudgeonly old fans and new fans alike.

Dracula A.D. 1972 Review

"Past, present or future, never count out The Count!" This was the tagline for Dracula A.D. 1972, regarded by many as the worst of the Hammer Dracula films. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing reprise their roles as Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing in this groovy update of the Dracula mythos.

The film opens with a flashback of sorts to 1872. Van Helsing and Dracula do battle on an out-of-control stagecoach, and both men end up dead. Flash forward 100 years to "modern day" England, and a group of hippies looking for kicks. Well, their kicks just keep gettin' harder to find, and all their kicks ain't bringin' them piece of mind... naturally, they decide to participate in a black mass, led by the newest member of the group, the suspiciously named Johnny Alucard.

Johnny's not out to raise the devil, but he manages to resurrect the long-dead Count Dracula. As fate would have it, one of the members of the gaggle of hippies turns out to be Jessica Van Helsing, the great-great grandaughter of the very same Professor Van Helsing who managed to slay Dracula 100 years ago. The Count makes his comeback, the slaughter begins, and Jessica's grandfather, another Professor Van Helsing, has to save the day. All of this amidst the psychedelic backdrop of swingin' 70's England.

I know a lot of folks, Christopher Lee included, think this movie is a turd, and it's not hard to see why. One gets the impression that the so-called "hip slang" the kids use was already dated by the time the movie was released, and compared to the other films in the Hammer series, this one is more than a bit lacking. Still, one has to respect a movie in which a 60-year-old man has to pull a bunch of hippies' fat out of the fire after they resurrect the Lord of Vampires.

The thing is, despite its faults, this movie is a lot of fun. It still has that gothic Hammer style that I love so much, and it's also got that cheesy 1970's wanna-be cool style that I love even more. I recognize that my tastes may not be shared by everyone, so I'll bring up the most important point - it has Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. These men, in these roles, can do no wrong. No disrespect to Bela Lugosi, but for my money, no one can touch Christopher Lee's portrayal of The Count. Granted, he is woefully underutilized in this film, only appearing in a handful of scenes, but his presence is still felt. Cushing, of course, is suave and debonair as the anthropologist/vampire hunter.

Throughout a lot of this movie, I felt like I was watching the film version of the Marvel Comics' 1970's Tomb of Dracula title. It's more than just a bit cheesy, and strays a tad into the ridiculous, but by no means do I consider either of those things to be negative. If you share those sentiments, then maybe you'll find this movie to be a good time. If you like your horror movies gory and deadly serious, this probably isn't the film for you.

The Mist Review

The Mist has long been a favorite among Stephen King fans, including myself. Coming in at 133 pages, it is a short novel, or a novella, by most authors’ standards. By King standards, it's simply a long paragraph. At any rate, it's a beloved tale, and was a highly anticipated movie. Finally released in 2007, it was adapted for the screen and directed by Frank Darabont, who is no stranger to Stephen King adaptations, having handled directorial duties on both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

The story takes place in a small New England town that has been enveloped in a mysterious, monster-filled fog after being hit by a vicious thunderstorm the night before. Our hero, commercial artist David Drayton, heads to the local grocery store with his young son to pick up some supplies to help them make it through what will undoubtedly be a few days without power. While at the store, a local shows up frantically warning the other townsfolk about "something in the mist." It doesn't take long for the monsters to show themselves and the chaos to begin. Naturally, Mrs. Carmody, the town cuckoo, is in the store, and her belief that the biblical Armageddon is upon them slowly but surely whips the survivors into a frenzy. The film becomes a race against time for David and the few remaining rational people in the store, as the danger begins to mount from both inside and outside the store.

The movie reminded me a lot of the old Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street," in which an unexplained power outage leads to paranoia and eventually to outright hysteria, with neighbor pitted against neighbor. It's one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, and the idea that in a crisis situation, ignorance and fear are often the greatest threats, is handled well by Darabont. It's sort of like Lord of the Flies with a bunch of big, nasty multi-tentacled bug monsters. As social commentary, The Mist is pretty good. As a horror movie, however, it's somewhat lacking.

Thomas Jane basically sleepwalks his way through this role. At no point in the film was I suitably convinced that he gave a damn about his son, or for that matter, anyone else in the grocery store. He seemed to be simply reading his lines, adding a tiny bit of inflection here and there. The rest of the cast was better, especially Nathan Gamble as Drayton's young son Billy. I mean, all the kid really does is whimper and cry through the whole movie, but he does it quite convincingly.

The Mist is not really a very scary movie either. Now, I'm the type of person who gets scared pretty easily, it took me three viewings before I could watch The Descent without covering my eyes with my hand, and don't even ask me about The Exorcist, so if I tell you a movie isn't scary, it just isn't scary. Despite the fact that the store is surrounded by a fog so thick you could cut it with a knife, and that fog is filled with freakish creatures from another dimension, there just isn't really a whole lot of tension, save for the scenes with the crazed religious mob. Now, I understand that Frank Darabont was trying to make a point here, and that the movie is more about the monsters inside than the ones outside. Still, I think he could've tried to make the ones outside a little more threatening, or at least made me jump a little bit.

In conclusion, The Mist is not a great movie, nor is it a bad movie; it's just sort of there. I will say that I enjoyed it, and I'd definitely give it a thumbs-up, but it's the type of flick that is probably better seen as a matinée, or perhaps when it hits your local discount theater.

In short, I'd describe it as "The best made-for-tv movie ever made, that just happened to end up on the big screen."For fans of the book, yes, there have been a few alterations, but none so major that it's worth getting riled up about. The ending has been changed quite a bit, but to be totally honest, I thought the ending of the movie was actually better.

Underdog DVD Review

A favorite of children and grownups alike for nearly 50 years, Underdog finally made his big screen debut in 2007 with a live-action film from Walt Disney pictures. While it’s not exactly what I’d call a grand success, it’s sure to please the under 8 set and maybe even put a smile on a few adult faces as well.

The story begins in Capital City, where we see our hero in his humble beginnings as a police dog. He’s not a very good one, as he leads his masters to a ham which he mistakes for a bomb. Shunned by his co-workers (a trio of German Shepards), he quits the force and begins a life on the streets. He is quickly abducted by Cad, the henchman of Simon Barsinister, a mad scientist who specializes in genetic manipulation. A madcap chase around the lab, coupled with a chemical spill and an explosion leads to the little dog gaining superpowers. He quickly escapes and is found by Dan Unger (played by Jim Belushi), an ex-cop who names the dog Shoeshine and takes him home to his son, hoping that their relationship, strained since the death of Dan’s wife, can be rekindled.

As it turns out, Shoeshine not only has superpowers, but he can also speak English. He forms a bond with the boy, Jack, who eventually convinces him to use his powers for good while Shoeshine convinces Jack to give his dad another chance. One shrunken sweater and torn towel later, Underdog is born and with him, a crimefighting legacy. The rest of the film basically consists of a very generic plot that feels like it’s been recycled from a million previous children’s movies. I’m sure that if left to your own devices, you could probably figure it all out by reading the back of the dvd box. In fact, I’m sure that if you put 20 monkeys in a room filled with typewriters, eventually they would come up with the Underdog plot. It’s not too original.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. I’m a 31-year old man. If I was a 7-year-old boy or girl who didn’t realize how derivative this film was, I’m sure I would find it to be very entertaining. I’m not a parent (yet – I’ve got one on the way in a couple months), but if I had a child who had an attention span long enough to sit still for an 80-minute movie, I would have no problem sitting down with them to watch this one. It’s certainly not offensive in any way, and it’s actually got a few decent, if clichéd, jokes. And honestly, who doesn’t love talking animals? Especially talking animals in little red sweaters and capes.

I would definitely recommend Underdog to any parent of young children, and to any adult who can set their standards fairly low and just enjoy a good talking dog/superhero movie.
The dvd also features a bloopers, deleted scenes, a rap video that I didn’t watch, a little documentary about the dog who played Shoeshine/Underdog, and an episode of the old tv series.

Jackass 2.5 Review

When it was announced that Paramount Pictures and MTV would be making the latest offering from Johnny Knoxville & Co. available for free download, I was intrigued. It was an interesting way to promote a movie, and I certainly wanted to check it out for my review. Unfortunately, I was caught in the middle of a winter storm and my internet was knocked out all weekend. Lucky for me (and you), I received a copy of Jackass 2.5 in the mail, so I was able to watch it after all.

Before opening the package, the question entered my mind: Do I actually need to review this movie? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past eight years, you know the cast of the Jackass tv show and films, and if you know who they are and what they’re all about, you already know whether or not you want to watch this movie. I’m not going to convince you that you want to watch a bunch of drunks hit golf balls off of tees perched precariously in their buttholes. If you want to watch these guys fill squirt guns with urine and shoot them at each other, my negative review will do nothing to stop you from doing so. You either like Jackass or you don’t, there isn’t usually much of a middle ground. People generally fall into two camps, those who find the Jackass boys to be humorous and those who find them to be… well, a bunch of jackasses.

The story behind Jackass 2.5 is that they filmed tons of footage for Jackass Number 2, and this is the leftovers. The stuff that didn’t make the cut for a variety of reasons. Actually, as far as I can tell, there’s only two reasons. One is that a lot of this stuff just isn’t that funny. It’s a lot of rehashed jokes that you’ve seen before, or jokes that just didn’t deserve to be in the movie. You pick the best skits for a theatrical release, and the stuff that isn’t good enough gets recycled as a dvd extra or, in this case, another, not-quite-feature-length, movie.

The other reason a lot of this material didn’t make the movie is that it’s really disgusting. I mean, disgusting even by Jackass standards. There’s more puking in this movie, more flatulence, more accidental (and intentional) pooping and more nutsacks in this movie than in any other Jackass movie, and this one is only an hour long!

While it is the most hit-or-miss of the Jackass films, when it hits, it hits hard. I’m not going to act like I didn’t laugh out loud on more than one occasion (but to be fair, I had been drinking… which is probably the preferred state of mind when watching a movie like this). It was pretty cool and somehow very appropriate to see the boys in India with the man who holds the Guinness World’s Record for the longest fingernails. It was even cooler to see Steve-O drink beer poured over that man’s 50-year-old growths, and then throw it all back up. I mean… that’s entertainment! We also got to glean a little insight from Johnny Knoxville concerning his love of the “old man” character he often plays. It’s the only time he can go out in public without being recognized and pull some pranks like he used to back in the old days.

Long story short, it goes like this: If you like Jackass, you’ll like this movie. You probably just won’t like it quite as much as all the other Jackass stuff that came before it.

The dvd features a Making of Jackass 2.5 feature, which is basically the same movie, but told in a slightly different way. Sort of like the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, the only major difference being that in this film, you get to see the star peeing on the director. There’s also a Making of Jackass: The Game, which shows how the guys did some motion-capture stuff for their upcoming video game, which actually looks pretty fun. A lot of work went into making sure the game captured the essence of the show.