Monthly Archives: March 2010

Top ten movies we wish were available on blu-ray

We realize that blu-ray is a fairly new technology, and perhaps some filmmakers are holding off on the cost of producing a blu-ray. But that’s just plain stupid. Blu-ray kicks ass, it’s here to stay and there are some obvious films that should be out in this format we love so much. You down with 1080p? Yea, you know me!

10. The Exorcist: The DVD edition is terrific but this terrifying film, in HD, with uncompressed audio brings chills up my spine.  I hope it comes out soon!

9.  Aliens: James Cameron took the film “Alien” and made it even better. With today’s technology and ability to remaster older films, this one could be a stunner.

8.  Back to the Future: It’s hard to believe this film is 25 years old.  Yet, it’s still just as funny as it was in 1985.  I’d love to see an updated transfer on this one.

7.  Apocalypse Now: One of the greatest war films ever made is aging like a fine wine and deserves to be out in high definition.

6.  The Big Lebowski: This is one of my favorite comedies of all time.  I just think about the adventures of “The Dude” and I start to laugh.  On top of that, the extras on a new blu-ray could be amazing.  Jeff Bridges and the Coen Brothers consider this one of their favorite films and I’m sure they’d love to give us more insight into the making of it.

5.  Mulholland Drive: My favorite David Lynch film of all time came out on HD DVD but has yet to make its blu-ray debut. It’s a shame because this is one of my favorite films to watch and rewatch.

4.  Chinatown: The greatest film noir of all time (I know I’ll get arguments from fans of the 3rd man and M but I don’t care) is still absent from the blu-ray catalog.  It’s the best film of Roman Polanski’s career.

3.  The Indiana Jones Trilogy: Crystal Skull has made its way to blu-ray but the first three are suspiciously absent.  I’d be thrilled to add them to my collection.

2.  Jaws: The water, the fin, and the teeth all in full 1080p.  One word: Awesome!

1.  Star Wars: All of these films were made for the high def format and the DVD’s are widely considered the best films in terms of quality on DVD.  I know I’m not alone that this is the most anticipated set of movies for blu-ray.

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Up In the Air

With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him. Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga and George Clooney star in this film, which was directed and written by Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking).

Matt
9 out of 10

Life is better with company. Well, sometimes.

I’ve never seen a movie with a more honest script. There are moments where it was like listening to myself talk to myself as the characters conversed.

And, like life, it’s full of the walls we surround ourselves with and the disappointments and heartache we endure when we let those walls down. Clooney plays a devout bachelor, workaholic who spends more time on airplanes than in his barren apartment. He meets a woman who is his female counterpart. They hit it off, he lets his guard down, and is of course hurt in the end.

But from heartache and sacrifice comes growth, which is what Clooney’s character needed. He was a man whose job was laying people off — the economy and layoffs play a major theme in the film. It plays with the idea that a man who does this for a living — and does it very well — has to ward off emotions and relationships to survive.

We all have things we try to keep at bay, whether it’s love, issues in our relationships with family, friends and coworkers, death or a difficult task. You can put off heartache, or be brave enough to let yourself feel it.

Reitman, who directed and wrote, has a bright future ahead. This is a comedy with characters and dialogue that grab us with a sense of reality and vulnerability.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

A reporter in Iraq might just have the story of a lifetime when he meets Lyn Cassady, a guy who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army’s New Earth Army, a unit that employs paranormal powers in their missions. This movie has a strong cast with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewin McGregor. It seems a bit odd, but they pull it off… for the most part.

Matt
6 out of 10

This movie has a real levity about it. Of course, when you’re dealing with soldiers who use mind powers instead of guns, you kind of have to.

The film has a great cast, but the actors seem to be bursting with a cheeky grin inside as if they know how funny they are. You get a sense that they are totally in love with themselves and it’s a little off-putting. Spacey is particularly enjoyable, though, as an absolute jerk. He’s the psychic no one likes because he does things like spoil a wedding by telling the the bride and groom he’s sorry it doesn’t work out.

This film plays with the idea that the army funded a psychic branch that used telepathy, telekinesis and other mind powers in the hopes of creating a new super warrior. Bridges plays Bill Django, a hippy general in charge of this new brigade who smokes dope, drops acid and leads them in meditation and Native American rituals. Clooney plays Lyn Cassady, his protege, who years later is reunited with him while on a crazy adventure with a reporter he meets outside of Iraq, played by McGregor in a straight-man role.

The film largely follows McGregor and Clooney on this Middle Eastern adventure, with Bridges and Spacey shining in the flashbacks that tell the back story of the New World Army and all the crazy nonsense that goes along with it.

The film moves smoothly between the adventure and the back story, but falls incredibly flat and gets a little too silly at the end when all the characters meet. With a stronger ending, this movie could have easily been an 8. I hate seeing a great concept and story go to waste.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

A young girl tries to overcome the worst possible conditions

In Harlem, an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child by her father is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.

The film stars Gabourey Sidibe as Precious, with an incredible supporting role by Academy Award-winning actress Monique. The film was also nominated for best picture and best director to Lee Daniels, who steps out in this breakthrough film.

Matt
Rating: 9 out of 10

Daniels makes an incredibly bold movie because it speaks the truths we don’t want to hear. Women and girls like Precious, victims of rape, incest, physical and psychological abuse, live and breath in the communities we inhabit. There are dark places few people want to talk about, let alone sit in a theater and watch for a couple hours.

In this film, Daniels shows us an onyx-dark side of humanity. A place where a barely literate girl, held back in the eighth grade for years, is raped by her father and beaten by her mother, escapes her life with fantasy.

But it also shows us that human kind endures. In our darkest moments, we can rise.

Precious is the story of a girl with the world stacked against her, but she’s trying to go to school, get away from her abusive parents and create a life for her two children.

Monique steals every scene she’s in with a character so hideous and vile, you hope the movie just ends so you can walk out the theater. But sometimes we need to see the dark to appreciate the light.

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Brian
Rating: 5 out of 10

It’s impossible not to be emotionally involved during this film.  While some movies are delicate in the way they handle uncomfortable situations, this film grabs you by the face and rubs your nose in it again and again.  It’s a heavy handed approach that is completely unflinching, which I respect, but does so to such lengths to stack the odds against the protagonist that I never felt a sense of hope at all.  At the same time, what I dislike about the story is more than made up for by the performance of Mo’nique as Precious’ uncaring and selfish mother.  She is such a fleshed out character with a total lack of empathy for her own child that she dominates the film.  I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to this woman that made her this way.  So, while I respect the well deserved Oscar performance, I can’t recommend this film. There has to be some light at the end of a tunnel when you’re dealing with a morbidly obese teenage girl who has two babies from being repeatedly raped by her own father who gave her AIDS.

Top 10 Movies of the 00’s

The 00’s were a great decade for film, and each of us are charged with the task of picking the ten best of the bunch. Not surprisingly, we picked “The Wrestler” as the best film of the decade — a movie that is powerful, dynamic and overlooked. However, we have very different taste on the rest of our picks.

Matt

10. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Odd that a kung-fu movie would make the list, but to look at it like that is being shortsighted. This film broke ground for action with spectacular fight sequences that boggled the mind and kept us at the edge of out seats. It also wove wonderful love stories with characters the director was patient enough to develop with wise and subtle story lines. This is a cerebral film wrapped in a candy, action-packed outer layer.


9. Passion of the Christ: Mel Gibson may be a anti-Semitic jerk, but this movie has none of that, despite protests. There’s a reason this movie is one of the highest grossing of all time — and it’s not just because the world is largely Christian. This is filmmaking at its boldest. It takes guts to release a film in Aramaic, a dead language. It is the story of how a man is brutally tortured — whipped, beaten, stoned, and, ultimately, crucified. That’s it. That’s the movie. Not easy to watch, but inspiring. Gibson got this one right.

8. Dark Knight: This is a Batman movie wrapped in Christopher Nolan’s pulpy, noir take on the classic comic book character. We follow Batman in his quest for the Joker, played so wonderfully by Heath Ledger. This is one of the best comic book films ever made because it is not afraid to be dark and as realistic as you can when your protagonist is dressed like a bat.

7. Up: In Pixar’s best effort we follow a widower as he escapes life in a senior home by strapping a million balloons to his house and floating off to remote jungle. Sound silly? Well, a little boy gets caught up by being on his porch when the house lifts off, and they meet a talking dog while searching for a rare bird. This does sound ridiculous, but this film has a soul and heart that is rarely seen in any film, let alone animation. This is a wonderful, heartwarming story of growing up, growing old, and growing as a person.

6. Inglorious Basterds: This is a chilling, fun, horrifying, realistic, fantasy. I know I completely contradicted myself, but Quentin Tarentino lays a masterful film together that combines several stories into one amazing, jarring piece of film making that challenges and entertains us.

5. Spirited Away: Hayao Miyazaki is a master story teller and director. There’s no way around it. And in this coming-of-age fantasy story, we follow a girl through an incredible world where we see creatures and characters that could only be born from the imagination of Miyazaki. Animation is an often-overlooked genre that people don’t take seriously. There was immeasurable care and effort placed into this movie and it shows in the detail and rich characters that inhabit a beautiful world. 

4. United 93: A real time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers foiled the terrorist plot. When I first heard about the movie, I thought it might be too soon — the film came out in 2006. This movie was heartbreaking from the moment it started. We all know how the story ends. But what we don’t know is the heroic details in between, which is what Paul Greengrass portrayed so wonderfully in his Academy Award-nominated direction. There is no heroic monologue by a Hollywood star that rallies the passengers. This is a movie with unknown actors who portrayed real people in the way they really behaved under terrifying circumstances.

3. No Country for Old Men: Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin and more than $2 million in cash near the Rio Grande. Josh Brolen plays the lead of a man hunted for finding the money of drug dealers and Javier Bordem, in his Academy Award-winning role as the villain, Anton Chigurh, is the inhuman bounty hunter tracking him down.  The movie combines suspense, action, and smart characters in a film that deserved its best picture award.

2. The Departed: Two men from opposite sides of the law are undercover within the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish mafia, but violence and bloodshed boil when discoveries are made, and the moles are dispatched to find out their enemy’s identities. This is one of those rare films where the casting is perfect, the writing is exquisite and there may not be a better director alive than Martin Scorsese. Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and Jack Nicholson combine to make the movie inexplicably intriguing, dynamic and believable.

1. The Wrestler:This is the best movie of the decade and it also includes the best performance of the decade. Mickey Rourke is superlative as the aged wrestler Randy “The Ram,” a man who has spent his life seeking the love of strangers. He meets and falls for an aging stripper, played wonderfully by Marisa Tomei, who also performs for a living. Randy has a daughter he’s lost touch with that he is trying to mend ties with, and he struggles because of his selfish personality. His character has two sides — one very sweet, playful, endearing and fun, the other, a self-obsessed man who spends his free time in tanning beds, shooting steroids to keep his figure, and shaving his armpits. Rourke’s performance ranks among the best ever. He took on the emotional dynamics of The Ram’s life — he is broke, living in a trailer park always in the shadow of his former fame, but also a sweet and likable man. At the same time, Rourke had to become a professional wrestler, battering his body while making it look like he’s a man whose been doing this for 30 years. This is an exceptional movie with exceptional performances.

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Brian

10. King of Kong:A fistful of Quarters:  Top ten of the decade?  A documentary about who wants the high score from an 80’s arcade machine?  Yes, it really is that good.  This mesmerizing and extremely fun documentary follows the exploits of Steve Weibe, a school teacher and father that goes against the greatest coin op gamer in history for the world record in Donkey Kong.  It’s a true life Rocky story that inspires more than it ever should.

9.  Downfall: The final days of Hitler’s bunker told through the eyes of his closest confidants.  Bruno Ganz’s performance of Hitler was snubbed by the academy but not here. It is my pick for the acting performance of the decade just in front of Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood.

8.  Mulholland Drive: Easily the best work of David Lynch’s career.  It has that haze where everything feels like a touchab;e dream.  The revelations at the end are like a book in that they reveal many interpretations of the same events depending on the viewer.  Classic!

7.  No Country For Old Men: At its most basic level, a perfect film.  No wasted time whatsoever.  Every moment has to do with the progression of the story and characters.  It’s also one of the most suspenseful films I have ever seen due to the incredib;e action and oscar winning(deservedly so) of Javier Bardiem.

6.  Inglorious Basterds: The best film of 2009 is also Tarantino’s best film since 1994’s Pulp Fiction.  A perfectly cast Brad Pitt leads a renegade force into war torn France to take on the Nazi with bloody and sometimes hilarious results.  The climax is worth the ticket price alone.  This is filmmaking at its best!

5.  Dark Knight: The best film of 2008 and one of the best crime thrillers ever made.  It features one of the great performances in cinema history where Heath Ledger redefines what can be don a screen villian.  He’s the best since Hannibal Lecter graced silver screens almost 20 years ago.

4.  United 93: Paul Greengrass’s “Was it released too soon?” film follows the tragic flight that crashed over Pennsylvania and the brave passengers that fought back to save lives while sacrficing their own.  It reminds us just how brave and amazing human beings can be when faced with the worst circumstances imaginable.  You’ll be gasping for breath by the time the credits roll with tears in your eyes.

3.  Lord of the Rings: I am including all three films as once since that was Peter Jackson and Tolkien’s vision.  These could have turned into a disaster.  For decades, Hollywood couldn’t figure out how to bring Lord of the Rings to the big screen without going massively overbudget and having to comprimise the story because of the massive scale it required.  But, Jackson not only took the material and ran with it but the series has the record for st nomination for a film series.  A monumental achievement in filmmaking.

2.  The Departed: One of the greatest crime films ever made and finally earned legendary director Martin Scorsese his first Best Director and Best Picture winner about 30 years too late(He should have won Best picture and Director for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas in their respective years).  Incredible performances by the entire ensemble particularly DiCaprio who comes into his own as one of the best of his generation.

1.  The Wrestler: My top pick for film of the decade goes to Aranofsky’s The Wrestler.  It’s an absolute gem of a film highlighting the career performance of Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Taylor as he comes to the crossroads in his life with both his professional and personal life.  It’s a stunner of a movie that should be experienced by everyone.

Star Trek

This is a chronicle of the early days of James T. Kirk and his fellow USS Enterprise crew members from the original television series “Star Trek.” The film stars a group of lesser-known actors, minus Zachary Quinto of ABC’s “Heroes” who plays Spock, and works as the origin story of how Kirk, played by Chris Pine, and the rest of the crew met. The film is directed by J.J. Abrams, his first major movie. We bring in Star Trek expert (i.e. nerd) Shawn O’Halloran to give his review against Matt, who knows nothing about Star Trek.

Matt
Rating: 8 out 10

I wish the last installments of the “Star Wars” films were this good. I am not at all a Star Trek fan — sure, I’m like everyone else; I know who Capt. Kirk and Spock are, but I couldn’t tell you anything in detail about them.

But the beauty of this film is that you don’t need to know anything about “Star Trek.” It’s an origin story, and a good one. This movie has all the visual eye candy you can handle, but it also has humanity despite its alien setting. It shows us the vulnerability of living beings, not just space-talk and fancy ships that soar through space — although it has lots of fancy flying things and action that are loads of fun.

I’m told this film really messes up the time line of the Star Trek arch and many nerds are mad. The rest of us — 98 percent of the intended audience — will have fun munching on our popcorn while we follow Kirk and Spock on a fun ride with smart action and smarter character development.

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Shawn O’Halloran
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
I eagerly awaited with great anticipation and some trepidation the J.J. Abrams interpretation of Gene Roddenberry’s  classic TV series “Star Trek” which was released last summer.  I come from the perspective of not only being a die-hard Trek fan, but also a fan J.J. Abrams, a science fiction enthusiast (read: geek) and probably more than anything, a fan of films and film making. The difficult part for a film like Trek for anyone — whether it be fan, critic or average film-goer — is deciding the standard on which to judge the film.  Because Star Trek is a re-imagining, I’ve decided that a review based on a hybrid standard of judging the film on its own merits as a feature film and judging the film from the perspective of someone with intimate knowledge of the best and worst of the franchise, is the most appropriate approach.
Despite the complaints from old fans about the complete abuse of the established “canon” storyline of the franchise, “Star Trek” is an excellent film but I don’t think it’s as good as many people, especially other critics, believe.  Abrams comes from the perspective of being a casual viewer of the franchise who has a great reverence for the original materials and characters.  His lack of connection to the franchise and the fact that he is self-professed fan of “Star Wars” is without question the greatest strength of this film.  The dialogue for the most part is brilliant and certainly appropriate for these classic and beloved characters (except for that dopey fight scene between Spock and Kirk on the bridge).  Abrams’ and the production staff’s vision of scale is unlike any we’ve ever seen in any Trek film before and, of course, the special effects are absolutely fantastic.
Now for the bad news.  Let me preface this by saying that the biggest problem with Trek as a franchise is the fans, period.  Whereas Abrams himself is not a fan, EVERYONE else who worked on this film is either a fanboy or has worked on Trek before, which is pretty obvious.  The intent of the film was to relaunch Trek in such a way that appealed to contemporary audiences while at the same time not offending the fan base that has sustained the franchise for 40-plus years.  As a fan, I can honestly say that if the franchise is going to be taken seriously in the future, they’re going to have to dump that strategy.  Star Trek’s biggest problem in recent years has been the same tired and predictable format since 1987 and the only people who don’t seem to notice this are the fans. And for some God-unknown reason, Trek producers still seem to believe that they owe this tiny fraction of the general audience (2%, to be precise) some great deference and it shows in the the writing of this film.  In an effort to make everyone be happy and sing “Kum-by-ya” together and not do anything too controversial, this film suffers from many of the same problems that the most recent offerings of Trek do.  It’s loaded with huge plot holes and inconsistencies, downright ridiculous premises and of course the obligatory 2-dimensional villain and uber-confusing-time travel subplot (which is always the great fallback position of Star Trek when the writers can’t come up with anything original).  The fact of the matter is that the whole story is very generic, just like Trek has been for the last decade and it’s all in the name of being safe and not pissing off the fans.

— Shawn O’Halloran is our cousin, but he’s also a giant Star Trek nerd. I mean, like, huge. Like, an entire room of his house is full of Star Trek stuff. Huge nerd. Huge.

Shawn with some Star Trek people who are probably important, but we have no idea who they are.

The Princess and the Frog

A fairy tale set in jazz-era New Orleans and centers on a young girl named Tiana and her fateful kiss with a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again. The two are on a mission through most of the film, since they both become frogs, to transform back. Along the way we meet enemies, funny friends and enjoy some great music.

Matt
Rating: 7 out of 10

This movie, in many ways, follows the formula of Disney’s hand-drawn animated films. There is magic, love, and zany talking animals who make for entertaining and funny sidekicks as we skip along to the happily-ever-after.

The cast is strong, with Anika Noni Rose in the lead, Keith David as the voodoo villain Dr. Facilier, and best of all Jim Cummings as Ray, a lovable Bayou hillbilly firefly who is deeply in love with a star he thinks is another firefly. If you don’t know who Cummings is, the guy has more than 300 voiceover credits to some seriously iconic characters like Winnie the Pooh and Tigger — http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0191906/ .

The music is great, very jazzy, with zydeco, creole and blues mixed in that are nicely blended in big numbers featuring all kinds of Bayou animals, colors and rhythms that pay tribute to Louisiana and New Orleans.

This film will entertain kids and most grown-ups, too. My only complaint is that it leans too heavily on formula, which waters down some of the other great original aspects of this film that do stand out from the rest of the Disney catalog. Definitely worth a viewing for animation and Disney fans.