Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Midnight Meat Train

Bradley Cooper (The A-Team) stars as Leon Kauffman, an ambitious New York photographer whose reckless search for a serial killer known as “the Subway Butcher” (Vinnie Jones) leads him down a dark and dangerous path that puts his own life at risk. Leslie Bibb, Dan Callahan, Brooke Shields and Tony Curran also star in this thriller from Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura, and based on a short story by horror giant Clive Barker.

Rating: 4 out of 10

This is a better film than “Book of Blood,” but that’s like saying one piece of shit smells a little better than another.  Believe me, I love Clive Barker and I love horror movies.  Both of these should have been like peanut butter and jelly but when you try to adapt a short story and don’t figure out interesting ways to expand on the original ideas, you’re left with little except grisly murder scenes and paper thin characters.

Stylistically, it’s well shot and has some suspenseful scenes but would have worked far better as a tight 30-minute thrill ride instead of a 90-minutes mess.

Johnny Got His Gun

Based on the novel by Dalton Trumbo, this disturbing antiwar film chronicles the tragic fate of a World War I soldier (Timothy Bottoms) who survives a mortar shell only to have lost his arms, legs, ears, eyes, nose and mouth. Initially, he doesn’t know whether he’s dead, alive or dreaming. And though he can’t hear, see or speak, he learns how to communicate his most fervent wish: to be taken on tour as evidence of the horrors of war. The movie also features Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Without Limits).

Rating: 3 out of 10

In many circles, people consider this film to be a classic.  Having never seen it before, I was able to judge Dalton Trumbo’s film from the perspective of how well it has aged to the year 2010.  And to that end, my answer is not very well.

“Johnny Got His Gun” is probably just as famous for being the inspiration for the song and music video to Metallica’s “One” as it is an anti-war sentiment from the middle of the 20th century.  It tries to give you perspective on the damage war can create through the eyes (or lack thereof) of a disfigured soldier who was injured from a mortar blast in a foxhole on the last day of World War I.

I’d love to have read the novel and probably will.  I’m sure it works much better in written form where you aren’t annoyed by bad camerawork, amateurish direction, and horrendous acting.  Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show),  plays the lead and never comes across as believable — especially during his narration.  The bulk of the story is told through fuzzy flashbacks that try to give you some perspective of Joe’s background to possibly create sympathy for the characters.  The problem is that the timeline is so badly executed and boring that you’re yawning by the time you get back to the present. You’re basically caught between sympathy and boredom for two straight hours. It’s not exactly what I call classic filmmaking.


At a crossroads in his life in New York, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) takes some time to figure things out and travels to Los Angeles, where he house-sits for his brother and forges an unlikely bond with his brother’s assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig). Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) directs this relationship comedy also starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rhys Ifans.

Rating: 4 out of 10

I get it that our protagonists aren’t always dashing, heroic, or likable characters. But in this case, I was so annoyed with the character and Stiller’s performance that I couldn’t enjoy this movie.

I think Baumbach is an intriguing director who understands story-telling while pulling great performances from his actors. His films have been fun to watch, and while this movie has a lot of visual style, it’s boring.

Stiller plays a loser who has avoided being happy his entire life by sabotaging it at every turn — he screwed up his band’s contract offer from a label, dates women who won’t make him happy, and keep those who do care about him at bay. There were some nice aspects to this film. I think Baumbach showed Los Angeles in an interesting light, one that’s very normal, kind of gritty and not the usual sexy, crazy location that it isn’t in reality. Stiller wasn’t ready for this role and he was the wrong choice. I didn’t care about any of the characters, and found it to be forgettable.

Operation: Endgame

When a government assassin known as The Fool (Joe Anderson) arrives at a classified underground facility for his first day of work, he discovers the boss has been killed. Now, he must uncover the murderer before they all lose their jobs — or their lives. Stars making appearances in this action-packed comedy include Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Dinner for Scmucks) Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), Ellen Barkin (Brooklyn’s Finest), Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine), Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show), Jeffrey Tambor and Maggie Q.

Rating: 4 out of 10

I saw Zach Galifianakis on the cover of the DVD, so I grabbed it. But there are a bunch of other actors that make me laugh, like Corddry, Odenkirk and I really like Rhames and Barkin. I figured I couldn’t lose.

The movie started off fine. They set up an action/comedy with a solid enough story where a group of spies and assassins will be killed if they can’t escape their underground office, which is below ground and sealed away from above. We get some great laughs by some ridiculous characters. Galifinakis and Corddry were great — the former a sharp shooter who lost his rights to be an assassin from gaining too much weight, Corddry a foul-mouthed alcoholic who spews insane insults. Ultimately, though, this film is amateurish. First-time director Fouad Mikati had a lot of talent at his disposal and failed to make it work. There were some moments that definitely made me laugh, but the humor was also squashed at times by being too crass. I feel the same way about swearing as I do about violence, they both have to be done right to work.

Ultimately, the movie turned into a dramatic action film, got less funny, but was harder to watch. You could do worse if you’re in the mood for a comedic action flick, but you could do a lot better, too. I would suggest “The Other Guys.”

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Wounded in Africa during World War II, Nazi Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) returns to his native Germany and joins the Resistance in a daring plan to create a shadow government and assassinate Adolf Hitler. When events unfold so that he becomes a central player, he finds himself tasked with both leading the coup and personally killing the Führer. Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard co-star in this drama based on actual events. Directed by Bryan Singer (Apt Pupil, Superman Returns).

Rating: 6 out of 10

The core of the story is a great one: German soldiers who rebel against Hitler’s tyrannical leadership that lead to the holocaust and WWII by attempting to kill him and form a new government.

It’s all based on a true story, and it’s one that is celebrated every year in Germany with a memorial as a testament to those who rebelled against Hitler. There are some great elements to the movie, too, which embraces the spririt of the original story and pays respect to their cause and character.

There are some thrilling action sequences and intense moments as the attempt to assassinate Hitler unfolds and we truly root for the main characters, despite knowing how it all turns out. The only thing that drags this film down is all the main characters are German, yet they have a mixed bag of American, English, German and Scottish accents. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching Germans — and this is a very patriotic film for Germans. Tom Cruise is as American as pork rinds and I never lost site of that. It was sort of silly to have only one German actor in the film and no German spoken, which doesn’t help build the believability in the movie. It’s an enjoyable action/adventure movie, just don’t expect “Inglorious Basterds.”

Vic’s Classics: Somebody Up There Likes Me

Based on boxer Rocky Graziano’s autobiography and directed by Robert Wise, this poignant biopic nabbed Oscars for Cinematography and Art Direction. Raised in a slum, young Graziano (Paul Newman) has turned to a life of petty crime. He eventually discovers boxing and makes a living fighting in fixed games. But as he develops his talent, Graziano gradually gains self-respect — and spars his way to becoming the Middleweight Champion of the World.

Rating: 8 out of 10

I have always been amazed by director Robert Wises’ versatility. His near perfect command at helming such iconic genre gems like “The Haunting,” “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” “The Sound of Music,” “Audrey Rose” and even “Star Trek The Motion Picture” has made a long standing impression on me. It was once again a pleasant experience re-watching this great American drama film he directed back in 1956 called “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Pardon the pun but they don’t make them like this anymore. Think of this film as your grandfather’s “Rocky,” except that this all really happened. It is a biopic about the grisled, hard, ex-convict Rocky Graziano who was dishonorably discharged from the army.

On his way to the top of the boxing circuit, though, Graziano stumbled across a fellow inmate from prison and was blackmailed into taking a fall and faking an injury. It is quite a test of character for Graziano, portrayed by Paul Newman, whoo sees it can be no easy feat.

Wise, of course, elicits great performances from everyone involved in the film and Newman stands out. He is vibrant, intense and very fit in the role. He exudes vitality and just the right amount of ignorance and vulnerability to make it all really gel. Newman’s acting excels here and he looks great doing it. He delivers his lines with perfect pitch and accent due the character and locale. It was fun watching him grow through the punches and even the comedy of the film. Pier Angeli as his wife Norma is a sight to behold and plays beautifully opposite Newman. She keeps him very grounded in the real moments of the film and the believability comes through.The supporting cast which includes a very creepy Robert Loggia, Sal Mineo and even a young Steve McQueen all impress.

The elegant, but at times gritty black and white cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg, won an Oscar as did the art direction. Highly Recommended.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher directs this Oscar-nominated tale of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) — a man who was born old and wrinkled but grows younger as the years go by — with a screenplay adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The plot throws linear conventions upside down to explore love, loss and memory from the perspective of a character living under incredibly unique — and unexpectedly difficult — circumstances. Cate Blanchett co-stars.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Every once in a while there is a director who comes along who is so special that we’re lucky to have been alive when they were creating films.  The first time I saw “Seven” I knew a new genius had arrived.  His name was Robert Paulson…err… David Fincher (If you’ve seen Fight Club, you’ll understand the joke). He has since gone on to do the underrated “The Game”, “Zodiac”, and “Fight Club” (One of the top 10 best films of the 1990’s;  I’ll do that list soon).  So, it was with little hesitation that I saw this movie despite its boring trailer.  Well, I was not disappointed.

Fincher is a marvel with a camera.  There is a visual style to his work that is completely identifiable and unique.   Every shot almost looks like a painting.  If that wasn’t enough, his work with actors and storytelling is equally good.  He was always known as someone who could make a gripping tale but rarely an emotional one.  Benjamin Button proves he’s adept at that as well.  There is an aura of originality to this film that is almost otherworldly, like a lucid dream.  You become involved with these characters and when their hearts break, so does yours.  It takes a talent to pull off that feat.  If there’s one criticism I’d point of this film, it’s that it does take a long time getting to the end.  I suppose it’s hard with a film like this where you could fall in love with every shot to leave some of it on the cutting room floor.

Paranormal Activity 2

People hovering over beds for hours while asleep, moving shadows across the floor — the unexplained, terrifyingly real supernatural forces are back, and this time, a baby and a dog become part of the nightmare as the camera rolls. Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor) directs and Michael R. Perry (“Persons Unknown”) writes this spine-chilling sequel to the wildly popular 2009 flick. Gabriel Liotta and Katie Featherston star.

Rating: 8 out of 10

This could arguably be the best sequel to any horror movie ever.

It’s seldom a sequel outdoes the original, but this one does. The original was pretty average, as I previously reviewed. But this one builds on the story as a prequel that includes the original characters, a young man and woman whose house was haunted in the original. This time around we see what happened to the  family of the woman’s sister. The family in this film is haunted by the same demon as the first and we learn a little more about why.

This movie is subtle and patient. It’s the patience that makes it work so well. We wait and wait on the edge of our seats and are often rewarded with some shocking and creepy moments that truly scared me. The acting is sharp, believable and the use of security and hand-held cameras are very effective. The special effects are chilling and the storyline is sharp, knowing when to take some pressure off with moments of humor. Horror fans will eat this movie up.


This Oscar-nominated drama profiles the notorious Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), a provocateur so addicted to words that he used an uncommon ink — his own blood — to write salacious stories while locked away in an insane asylum. Although the outraged Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) tries to prevent the Marquis from writing, a young worker (Kate Winslet) takes his dictation and stirs the passions of the asylum’s abbot (Joaquin Phoenix).

Rating: 5 out of 10

Quills is two different movies all coming at you at the same time.  One is a movie about character interaction in an interesting setting which is terrific and the other is a meandering mess about free speech that goes nowhere.  The character interaction works so well because the three main performances by Geoffrey Rush (Academy Award Winner), Kate Winslet (Academy Award Winner), and Joaquin Phoenix (2 time Academy Award nominee) are stellar.  In fact, they feel so fleshed out (no pun intended considering the subject matter) that we feel we know these people by the end of the story.  It’s great when a film can do that because no matter where the story turns, we’re hooked.

Unfortunately, for all the positive aspects these brilliant actors bring, the script is a befuddled mess with no clear message or intent.  Do we really need to see characters tortured in order to sympathize with the Marquis De Sade?  I know a lot of this is based on fact but for the sake of the storytelling process, fine tune your focus.  It makes zero sense to place a film within a claustrophobic setting and then have all these plot lines going on.  A great film like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” understood that.  It stripped the story down to nurse verse patient and added colorful characters.  “Quills” wants to be a sex romp, a free speech message, a period piece, an artistic statement, and a love story all at the same time.  It just doesn’t work.

Speed Racer

Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) stars as Speed in this big-screen adaptation of the popular 1960s-era Japanese animated series from directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, the minds behind the blockbuster Matrix trilogy. With the support of his parents (Susan Sarandon and John Goodman), his girlfriend, Trixie (Christina Ricci), and his onetime rival Racer X (Matthew Fox), Speed sets out to conquer a cross-country race known as the Crucible.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Make no mistake about it, the Wachowski brothers’ interpretation of this classic Japanese cartoon is a children’s movie.

If I were 8 years old, I’d love it. The racing and worlds are shiny like new plastic toys. The racing is action packed with physics that only apply to your Matchbox cars. The characters are developed enough so that adults can find something engaging, and the music and racing are very unique. The world is almost like the strip in Las Vegas. Everything is bright, loud, technologically advanced, and full of weirdos.

I give the Wachowski brothers credit for doing their own take on this film and essentially taking a cartoon and making its adaptation as cartoon-like as possible. As a grown-up, there wasn’t much to appreciate. I did chuckle a few times and it kept my interest enough, but it’s not a great movie. If you have young kids, they’ll probably eat this up like a bowl of Count Chocula. The rest of us will be eating our Total. (don’t talk shit about Total)

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