Friday, December 30, 2011

Roger, Roger. What's your vector, Ebert

Although I do not always agree with Roger Ebert, especially when it comes to his opinion that video games could never be considered art, I just read a post I agree with concerning the reasons for slumping box office returns.  The wife and I, after receiving very generous movie gift cards from her brother for Christmas, saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows this past week (review to come shortly :).  I couldn't believe that ticket prices are up to $11 a piece.  I long for the days when I was a teenager and a trip to the movies cost $4.25.  Friends and I ventured to the cineplex much more frequently then I do now.  Of course, I also recall many more sold out showings back in the day too.  Maybe someone should introduce Hollywood to basic economics.  I know, too much to ask for but here's hoping!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Travesty of Jurassic Proportions

Jurassic Park (1993)
from IMDb

During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

Jurassic Park stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum.  It was directed by Stephen Spielberg.  Normally I would list some of the more popular movies that the director worked on, but if you don't know Stephen Spielberg then you probably shouldn't be reading this site.  However, who am I to judge.  Maybe you've had a long day at the office and your brain has shut down for the evening.  It's okay.  I've had those kind of days.  Go ahead, click on the link and refresh your memory.  I'll wait...

You're back?  Good.  We can carry on.  You've probably read by now that Spielberg is one of the greatest directors of all time.  I'd put him only behind Alfred Hitchcock on my favorites of all time, and that's probably only because of Spielberg's involvement in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Shitty Skull.  Fortunately Spielberg directed Jurassic Park 15 years prior to that heaping pile of a movie and before he started phoning it in.

Jurassic Park tells the story of John Hammond, played by the incredible Richard Attenborough who "spared no expense" to create a fantastic theme park filled with dinosaurs for all the world to see and enjoy.  However due to an accident, the investors have concerns and require some outside expertise to sign off on the park before they will allow it to open.     

Sam Neill, paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant, and Laura Dern, paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler, provided excellent performances and had a great chemistry.  Dr. Grant's introverted, and serious personality expertly plays off of Dr. Sattler's more outgoing and playful persona.  Jeff Goldblum plays mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm masterfully.  His performance of the eccentric chaos theorist stole the show and provided bits of comedy when he wasn't predicting the epic failure of the park.  

Jurassic Park is an exceptional movie that revolutionized special effects for years to come.  Spielberg and Industrial Lights and Magic were able to create realistic dinosaurs using CGI and animatronics where all previous attempts had failed.  Watching the film 18 years later, I was amazed how well the special effects still held up.  Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies of all time and should be seen by everyone.

To be clear, I saw Jurassic Park in the theaters in 1993.  In fact, I've seen it many times.  It's one of those movies that whenever I come across it on TV, I stop what I'm doing, sit down and watch it.  Every time I see it, the film takes me back to my childhood and my love of all things dinosaur.  My bedroom as a child looked like the souvenir shop of the natural history museum and if not for my wife would potentially appear the same today.  Jurassic Park brings me back to the days when I had dreams of being a paleontologist.

So the question you may be asking yourself is why is this post titled "A Travesty of Jurassic proportion" when everything you've read is how great I think Jurassic Park is.  Well the answer to that is Jurassic Park is NOT on the list of the top 250 movies according to IMDb.  I made this realization after I recently watched the film and the thought occurred to me that I hadn't seen it on the list.  I couldn't believe this and after checking the list 3 or 4 dozen times, I lost a little faith in humanity.  Jurassic Park revolutionized the special effects industry.  It was directed by one of the best directors of all time and had very good performances from Academy Award winners and nominees (and Newman!).  Oh yeah, it also one 3 Academy Awards and shortly held the all time box office record.  But forget all that.  The 3D version of Ferngully needs to be on the list instead.

Okay enough of me pointing out blatant oversights on the part of the voters for the List.  This is my second movie in a row that wasn't on the List.  I'm going to try and get back into the swing of things soon, well, unless Jurassic Park is on TV again.  Then I make no promises.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Resident Evil Degeneration (2008)
from IMDb

A warrior seeking revenge unleashes a deadly virus in Harvardville.  Responding to the threat are former special forces members Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, who look to bring down a mutated monster before history repeats itself.

This film stars the voices of Paul Mercier and Alyson Court and is directed by Makoto Kamiya.  Mercier and Court are actually reprising their roles from the Resident Evil video game series.

You may be saying to yourself, I didn't see any resident evil movies on the list of the top 250 films, let alone an animated version.  What gives?  Well after spending an extended period of time watching great movies, I wanted to make sure that I still could recognise a craptacular movie when I saw it.  It's like being in a candle store with the wife.  After all the smells in the store, you kinda want a big whiff of coffee to reset the system.

So I fired up the ole Netflix and picked a movie off their list of new arrivals to stream.  I mention this only so you know that I didn't waste any money on this film, just time.  Not that I've never regretted a movie purchase before...I'm looking at you Carrie 2: the Rage.  Though watching the oldest of the Home Improvement kids getting shot in an uncomfortable place with a harpoon gun was almost worth the price of the DVD.  But I digress.....

Resident Evil Degeneration fit the bill of an extremely craptacular film.  Although it was released in 2008, it's computer animation looked pretty awful.  The director seems to have used the video game engine for Resident Evil circa 2004.  It fails to even compare to the animation from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within which was made in 2001.  The characters' fingers don't appear to move independently, as if they were taped together.  The dialogue didn't match up with the lips of the characters which proved to be fairly distracting.  Upon looking up the movie on IMDb I learned that this film was originally released in Japan and this version had the English dubbed over.  This is probably more the fault of Netflix, but it would've been better if it was shown in the original Japanese with English subtitles.

The film starts with a town being destroyed to control an outbreak of the T-virus.  This obviously didn't control the outbreak otherwise the movie would be over before it began.  The infection begins to spread again at the airport, probably due to baggage fees.  Claire and a small group of people, including a senator are trapped in one of the VIP lounges and call out for help.  By this time the military has already mobilized and quarantined off the airport.  Once they receive the distress call, the military formulates a plan to breach the airport to rescue them with the help of Leon, a special government agent.  Leon takes two military personnel with him to breach the airport and rescue the survivors, because three people should be plenty to take down an army of the undead.  They probably only brought one clip of ammunition with them too just to ramp up the difficulty a little more.  The three navigated through the airport towards the VIP lounge with only the flashlights on their weapons, because you wouldn't want to pierce the darkness.  Leon and the two military rescue the survivors and make a break for it through the front door.  But this is only the beginning.  From here the story becomes more convoluted with the head of a pharmaceutical company involved in releasing another virus, the B-virus I believe.  The two plot lines seem to be completely separate movies.  I feel like I zoned out and someone snuck in and changed the channel to a different equally crappy movie.

So in case you haven't figured it out yet.  Resident Evil Degeneration is a very bad movie.  The dialogue is cheesy which is to be expected if you've ever played a Resident Evil game.  There were also random diatribes by numerous characters whose sole purpose was to fill in the back story from the games.  The creators must have blown the budget on their animators that they couldn't afford to have the writers incorporate the back story more creatively into the film.  They did however budget in every action movie cliche possible.  There were two slow motion jumps away from falling debris, a slow motion jump from an explosion, a final leap to a platform and only able to grab the ledge, and the guy who sacrifices himself to save the group.  During the characters escape from the airport, the film must have gotten to hard for the characters.  They needed to type in the unlimited ammo code, because no one had to reload a single weapon.

In the words of one of the characters, Angela Miller, "You're too pathetic to kill".  Well unfortunately that rings true for Resident Evil Degeneration as well since according to IMDb, the sequel was announced for 2012.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kids in the Annie Hall

Annie Hall (1977)
from IMDb

Romantic adventures of neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer and his equally neurotic girlfriend Annie Hall. The film traces the course of their relationship from their first meeting, and serves as an interesting historical document about love in the 1970s.

Annie Hall stars Woody Allen and Diane Keaton and was directed by Allen as well.  It won four academy awards including best picture and best actress.

I'd like to start off that I was not excited about this movie.  I had a closed mind about Woody Allen films.  Originally I didn't think I would enjoy the self deprecating humor that Woody Allen is known for.  However, recently after enjoying movies like Zombieland starring Jesse Eisenberg, Superbad and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World starring Michael Cera, I thought I needed to give Woody Allen a fair shot.  Besides it's on the list so even if the movie is awful I have to buckle down and power through it.

And I'm glad I did.  Annie Hall was a very good movie and I fully understand why it won all the awards it did.  From all the "Ferris Bueller" moments with Woody Allen talking directly to the audience to the cameos by Jeff Goldblum and the always great Christopher Walken the movie entertains throughout.  The relationship between Diane Keaton and Allen exemplifies the opposites attract standard that have been beaten to death by every film starring Katherine Heigl.  Diane Keaton plays the title character, a ditzy space cadet who falls in love with the overly anxious Alvy Singer played by Woody Allen.  The film has many laugh out loud moments including the animated sequence where Alvy has a relationship with Snow White's evil stepmother, a great scene with Annie and Alvy meeting separately with their therapist and Alvy rushing over to Annie's apartment at 3 AM to kill a spider because Alvy has "been killin spiders since I was 30".

Annie Hall was a pleasant surprise.  Although extremely hesitant about this film I could not be happier with the experience of watching it.  I have a new found respect for Woody Allen, as an actor and director.  When I began the movie I figured Allen's self-deprecating humor would become old rather quickly, but it was quite the opposite.  I laughed throughout the entire movie and even felt as though the ending was well deserved.  This is a highly recommended movie and I definitely have a better feeling about having to watch Manhattan, another of Woody Allen's films on my list.

Have you seen Annie Hall?  What did you think?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Network (1976) 
from IMDb

A TV network cynically exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor's ravings and revelations about the media for their own profit.

Network stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall.  It was directed by Sidney Lumet who also directed Dog Day Afternoon and the exceptional film, 12 Angry Men.

The movie begins with Peter Finch's character, Howard Beale, as an aging news anchorman who learns that he is being fired due to poor ratings.  He obviously doesn't take this well and announces on air that on his last day as anchorman he would commit public suicide.  This causes a media sensation that blows the ratings for the program through the roof.  And there lies the quandary in movie.  What do you sacrifice for the benefit of ratings?  The network decides that they are no longer going to fire Howard, but give him a platform to rant about whatever is on his mind.  A mind that slowly decays as the movie progresses.

Overall, Network is a very good movie.  The acting was exceptional.  Peter Finch gives a tremendous portrayal of a man going insane, but isn't on screen enough in the second half of the film.  Prior to this film, I don't remember ever seeing Robert Duvall play a villain, but his depiction of Frank Hackett was done masterfully enough that I actively disliked him and wanted bad things to happen to him.  The pace moves reasonable well, though seems to slow down after the iconic "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" moment.  At a certain point the film seems to become fractured though.  It breaks off from what I believe is supposed to be the message of the film, that anything can and will be done to make more money, to include a separate message concerning the great effect that television is having on the knowledge of the world.  This secondary theme seems to be the epitomized with the character of Diana Christensen, played by Faye Dunaway, and Sidney Lumet attempts to use Diana to join the two themes of the movie.  Diana is the highly motivated director of programming who will exploit anyone for ratings and will do anything for her rise to the top.  The end of the movie is a perfect example of the lengths she will go.

Network falls apart a little with the inclusion of a love story between Max Shumacher, played by William Holden, and Diana.  The two appear to be strange bedfellows and I'm left to believe that it's purpose is an attempt to humanize Diana or possibly show how empty of a human she truly is.  Throughout the first half of the movie you develop sympathy for Max for how he is treated and the helplessness he must feel seeing his best friend's downward spiral into insanity.  Until, of course, he cheats on and subsequently leaves his wife to be with Diana.  The relationship comes across as forced to me and unnecessary for the plot of the movie.  It almost feels like filler.

So in my opinion, Network is worth the watch.  It would've been better had they concentrated more on Howard Beale and less on the side story.  It starts like a lion and ends like a lamb, well except the final scene but I won't spoil that.

So there it is.  My first review.  How did I do?  Did I hit the nail on the head, or completely miss the mark?  Throw a comment below to let me know!