Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Alien" (1979/2003) - Alien Anthology, Disc 1

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and Ian Holmes
Written by Dan O'Bannon
Directed by Ridley Scott

"In space, no one can hear you scream."

Ridley Scott's "Alien" has been called a classic, garnering numerous awards and praises since its release in 1979.  Sharply written, and excellently directed, "Alien" is more than its simple premise might imply.  Other films had been made with similar ideas, but never in such a mature, frightening fashion.

The crew of the star ship Nostromo is awakened early from their cryogenic sleep to find that they are nowhere near Earth as they'd expected.  Instead, the ship's computer has woken them after it received some kind of signal from a nearby planet.  The crew, contract workers for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, set down on the planet to investigate and find a derelict alien vessel.  In the lower levels, one of the ship's crew, Kane (John Hurt) discovers strange alien eggs which seem to contain some kind of life form.  One of the eggs opens, and a creature attaches itself to Kane's face.  The crew brings him back aboard their ship with the creature still attached, despite the protests of second officer and pilot Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).  

"Fight Club" (1999)

Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter
Written by Jim Uhls
Directed by David Fincher

As I mentioned in my review of "Office Space" a few minutes ago, I saw "Fight Club" as part of a double feature at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.  Great little place, really.  Anyway, at first glance, I said this might seem like an odd pairing, but the two films sort of tackle similar themes in very, very different ways. 

"Fight Club," an adaptation of the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, comes to the screen under the guidance of uber-talented director David Fincher.  What begins as a sort of darkly comic exploration of corporate culture and blind consumerism running rampant in eventually turns into a twisted psychological thriller of near-apocalyptic proportions.   The film could easily collapse under its own weight, but it's Fincher's incredible sense of pace and vision that keeps the whole thing on track. 

Edward Norton is your typical office drone, working a job he cares little about so that he can buy things that he feels are important.  He narrates the film with a dry wit, talking about how he needs to acquire just the right sofa to be "complete" as a person.  His refrigerator is full of condiments, but no real food - just like himself, it's all dressing with no substance.  One day, on a business trip he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), an eccentric soap maker who tries to teach him that the things he holds important are really just worthless.  "The things you own," Tyler says, "end up owning you."

"Office Space" (1999)

Starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston and David Herman
Written and directed by Mike Judge

"Office Space" is one of those comedies that really grew on me over time.  The first time I saw it, I thought it was alright, but nothing special.  That's a pattern that would repeat with me on other movies, most recently "The Hangover."  Over time, however, catching bits and pieces of "Office Space" on TV, or the occasional DVD viewing with friends, the film just sort of grew in my mind, the restrained absurdity of it taking root.  "Office Space" failed to ignite the box office, but it has rightfully taken its place since then as a beloved cult classic.  Tonight I went and saw a double feature consisting of "Office Space" and "Fight Club."  At first glance, these two films might have little in common, but upon closer inspection, this is actually a pretty amazing pairing.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is an unhappy software programmer at Initech, toiling away day after day with little drive or motivation.  His friends Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu) are also frustrated with their repetitive, unfulfilling corporate existence.  Peter is in the death throes of a poor relationship with his anorexic girlfriend who convinces him to visit an occupational hypnotherapist who might be able to help him.  But while under hypnoses, the therapist keels over and dies, leaving Peter in a sort of uncaring, conscious hypnotic state.  With his inhibitions removed, he suddenly finds himself realizing that he does have the power to change his lot in life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Tron: Legacy" (2010)

Starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde
Written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis
Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Ah... Hm.  I've written a bunch about sequels in this blog, how they can often just seem like remakes of the original, trying to recapture the magic of the first.  I've also written a bit about bringing back long-dead franchises (Hey there, John McClane... Whatcha been up to for 15 years?).  "Tron: Legacy" is a bit of both.  As a sequel, I suppose it's rather successful.  As a rejuvenation of a dormant franchise?  I don't know.  On a technical level, it's pretty damn slick, but the script is mostly flat and there's one critical failure that saps the life out of even the big action sequences.

Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund) is the 27-year-old son of the legendary Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who in the first film traveled into "the Grid," a digital world of his own creation.  But in 1989, Kevin Flynn disappeared, leaving his son and his corporation, Encom, forever.  Now, Sam lives alone, dropped out of college and refusing to run Encom, even though he's the majority shareholder.  His father's old friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) comes to him one day and says that he's received a message from Sam's father at Flynn's old arcade. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

'Doctor Who' Season 1 (2005)

Starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper
Developed by Russell T. Davies

Holding the record for the longest-running science fiction television show in the world, "Doctor Who" returned to TV screens after a hiatus of some time.  In this incarnation, Christopher Eccleston stars as the Ninth Doctor, along with his companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).

The premise of "Doctor Who" requires some explanation, but is actually deceptively complex.  There were a race of beings known as Time Lords, of whom the Doctor is the last.  The rest of the Time Lords sacrificed themselves during the legendary Time War to stop the evil Daleks from destroying all of creation.  Only the Doctor remained, and now he travels alone in his TARDIS ship, which can travel through both time and space. 

In this new series, the Doctor comes to Earth in the present day and encounters a young department store clerk named Rose, who is being chased through her store by living plastic mannequins.  After the Doctor blows up the store to destroy the mannequins, he offers Rose the opportunity of a lifetime: to come with him on a journey through time and space, to see fantastic alien worlds, the far future and the distant past.  For the next twelve episodes, Rose and the Doctor will do just that.  They'll come across the ghosts of the dead in the 1860s, witness the ultimate destruction of the planet Earth billions of years in the future, travel to space satellites and witness other strange places and creatures.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Dexter' Season Four (2009)

Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter and Julie Benz
Developed by James Manos Jr.

Two words: John Lithgow.

Now, going into "Dexter," I'd heard many people tell me that Season Four was the best of the lot.  As I delved further into the series, from its razor-sharp first season, messy second and interesting third, I was looking forward more and more to this ultra-hyped fourth season, which would have Michael C. Hall's titular serial killer squaring off against John Lithgow's sinister "Trinity" killer.

Picking up several months after the end of Season Three, which saw Dexter and Rita (Julie Benz) tying the knot while preparing for the arrival of their baby, Season Four opens with the happy couple having settled into their new home with their new family.  They've integrated into their neighborhood as friendly newlywed neighbors, attending parties and barbecues and the like.  Their kids play regularly with the neighbors' kids, and participate in carpools to school.

Elsewhere, Dexter's sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) has moved in with her boyfriend Anton (David Ramsey) and forged a better working relationship with her partner Quinn (Desmond Harrington).  Detective Angel Batista (David Zayas) and Lieutenant LaGuerta (Lauren Valez) have begun having an affair.  Things are quiet in Miami, but Dexter finds that the daily grind of being a full-time father is depriving him of sleep.  It starts to affect his work, both as a police forensics analyst and as a serial killer.  He brings the wrong case file to a court appearance, allowing the defendant to go free, and later falls asleep while stalking his prey, causing him to lose his victim.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"The Rocketeer" (1991)

Starring Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly and Alan Arkin
Written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo
Directed by Joe Johnston

Action!  Adventure!  Romance!  Nazi Spies!  Gangsters!  Oh my!

In 1991, Joe Johnston's "The Rocketeer" hit the screens, based on the 1980s comic book.  Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) is a hot-shot pilot with impulse control issues.  He and his friend "Peevy" Peabody (Alan Arkin) have finally bought and finished their dream plane, and are ready to hit the national flying competition.  But on their plane's maiden voyage, Cliff flies too close to a shootout between fleeing gangsters and FBI agents. 

Those gangsters have stolen an experimental piece of technology: The X-3 rocket pack, designed and built by the great Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn).  They hide the rocket in the seat of Cliff's old plane, and switch it for a vacuum cleaner.  But their escape doesn't work out as planned, and Cliff's maiden voyage is cut short by gunfire and a crash.  The gangster's car hits a fuel truck and explodes.  The feds think the rocket was destroyed in the explosion, but Cliff and Peevy find it in their plane.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Live Free or Die Hard" (2007)

Starring Bruce Willis, Justin Long and Timothy Olyphant
Written by Mark Bomback
Directed by Len Wiseman

A full 12 years after "Die Hard with a Vengeance," John McClane returned to theatres with "Live Free or Die Hard" and I'm still not sure whether it was a good idea or not.  A fourth go around wouldn't have been a bad idea in the 90s, but more than a decade later?

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is now an aging senior detective with the NYPD.  He's long divorced from Holly, and his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is now in college and wants nothing to do with him.  John McClane is tired.  One night, he's ordered to drive to New Jersey to pick up a computer hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who is wanted for questioning by the FBI.  When McClane arrives to pick up Farrell, the two are attacked by mercenaries.  Barely escaping, McClane and Farrell head to Washington DC to meet with FBI Director Bowman (Cliff Curtis) and they soon discover the full scope of the threat: someone has initiated a "fire sale" - a full-scale attack on the technological infrastructure of the United States.  Transportation, communication, utilities, all going down one after another and chaos breaks out across the nation.

It seems the architect of this carefully laid plan is Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphan) and his girlfriend, Mai (Maggie Q).  Gabriel used to work for the US government, but was drummed out when his work became a bit too radical for his superiors to handle.  He's spent the last few years putting together this plan, including using a bunch of computer hackers like Farrell to create small bits of code necessary to pull of his plan, and then killing the hackers when they finish.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Die Hard With a Vengeance" (1995)

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons
Written by Jonathan Hensleigh
Directed by John McTiernan

This is more like it.  While "Die Hard 2" may seem like a big puff of 'whatever,' "Die Hard With a Vengeance" brings the fun back.  Bruce Willis returns as John McClane, once again a cop in New York City, split up from his wife Holly once more.  McClane is pretty much in the dumps when the next big adventure drops right in his lap, whether he wants it or not.

Someone going by the name Simon (Jeremy Irons) takes responsibility for the bombing of a downtown Manhattan department store.  He says that if John McClane doesn't do exactly what he says, when he says, more bombs will start going off around the city.  McClane, fighting a massive hangover, reluctantly agrees to play "Simon Says" for this whackjob.  His first task is to stand, half-naked, in the middle of Harlem with a sign bearing a racist slogan.  Before he's attacked and killed by a local street gang, McClane is rescued by Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson).  Simon decides that Zeus will be playing his game now, too, and sends them on a journey all over town to find and disable more bombs before they go off.  One massive explosion rocks Wall Street, but Simon keeps them hopping, even though McClane's instincts tell him something isn't right.

"Die Hard 2" (1990)

Starring Bruce Willis, William Sadler and Bonnie Bedelia
Written by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson
Directed by Renny Harlin

After the massive success of "Die Hard," how could Fox not go for a sequel?  Unfortunately, though they threw some extra money at it, a weaker script and a less talented director meant that lightning didn't quite strike in the same place twice on this one.

Once again, Detective John McClane, now a cop in Los Angeles, must contend with terrorists over Christmas as a disgraced military colonel seizes control of Dulles International Airport.  McClane is waiting for his wife's plane to land, but Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) has other plans.  His men manage to cut off control to the air traffic control tower, leaving dozens of planes circling overhead, some running low on fuel.  They're waiting for a particular plane carrying General Esperanza (Franco Nero), the deposed dictator and drug lord of a South American country who is being extradited to the United States.  They plan to free Esperanza and escape to a non-extradition country and live out the rest of their lives in paradise.

McClane, being the troubleseeker he is, manages to get involved when he notices two of Stuart's men mucking around the airport's luggage area.  A fight ensues, and McClane manages to kill one of them, which brings him to the attention of the airport's chief of security, Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) who instantly resents McClane, dismissing him as some fame-seeking LA asshole.  But when McClane manages to prove that the dead guy isn't just some punk stealing luggage, he convinces the airport's chief controller, Trudeau (Fred Thompson) that something worse is happening.  Now the race is on to find Stuart and prevent him from escaping with Esperanza before planes begin dropping out of the sky.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Die Hard" (1988)

Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman and Reginald Veljohnson
Written by Steven E. De Souza and Jeb Stuart
Directed by John McTiernan

"Die Hard" is the best Christmas movie ever.  It has rightfully cemented itself as a modern classic, an action picture that changed the genre entirely, set the stage for three successful sequels and made a career for its star, Bruce Willis.  Filled to the gills with suspense, action, humor and lively, memorable characters, "Die Hard" is just an all-around awesome movie, the kind of summer blockbuster that moves beyond simple, disposable fun.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a New York detective visiting his estranged wife and kids in Los Angeles for the holidays.  Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is now a high-powered executive whose job has taken its toll on their marriage, since John simply couldn't handle the fact that in order to further her career, she would uproot the entire family across country.  But with this visit, John hopes to patch things up and reunite with his family.  He's picked up at the airport by Argyle (Deveroux White) and driven to the Nakatomi building where Holly works.  The only people left in the building are the skeleton security staff and a bunch of employees having a Christmas party on the 30th floor, including Holly, her slimy associate Ellis (Hart Bochner) and her boss Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta). Not long after John and Holly's brief but tense reunion, the party is cut short by the arrival of a group of heavily-armed terrorists led by the classy, well-educated Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman).

'Dexter' Season Three (2008)

Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter and Julie Benz
Developed by James Manos Jr.

If there's a major theme in the third season of Showtime's "Dexter," it's trust.  Practically everything that happens in this season revolves around characters trusting other characters, or perhaps the lack thereof. 

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) has settled back into life as usual after the events of Season Two.  The crimes of the Bay Harbor Butcher have been pegged on the deceased Detective Doakes, and Dexter is free to continue his work.  He's also back together with Rita (Julie Benz) and the kids.  Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) is close to becoming a full detective with the Miami PD.

But, of course, something must happen to throw this happy little world into chaos.  One night while Dexter is preparing to kill his next target, he gets into more trouble than he'd bargained for and, in self defense, ends up killing the wrong man.  Enter Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits), a prominent assistant district attorney.  Turns out the man Dexter kills is Prado's younger brother, Oscar.  Dexter is brought onto the case the next day in his capacity as a forensic analyst.  But Dexter still hasn't killed his original target, who is now on the run.  When he finally tracks him down and kills him, Dexter is shocked to discover that Miguel has, as well.  Now Miguel knows Dexter's secret, but instead of turning him in, Miguel keeps that secret and strikes up a friendship with Dexter.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Ninja Assassin" (2009)

Starring Rain, Naomi Harris, and Ben Miles
Written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by James McTeigue

Whenever someone asks me "Ninja or pirate?" I have to reply ninja.  Ninjas are just fucking cool, yo.  At least, they're supposed to be.

"Ninja Assassin," brought to us by the makers of "The Matrix" and "V For Vendetta," somehow manages to make ninjas not that cool.  It should be easy as hell, but they just try too hard.

Mika (Naomi Harris) is a forensic researcher for "Europol," some kind of European law enforcement agency based in Berlin, Germany.  She's somehow managed to uncover a money trail linking various high-profile assassinations with, um, well, these mythical ninja clans that aren't supposed to exist.  Her boss, Maslow (Ben Miles) tells her to be careful.  But, of course, she decides to just keep on going.  This leads her to come to the attention of the ninja clans, who decide she must be eliminated.  She's rescued by Raizo (Rain), a former member of the Ozunu Clan.  

Raizo tells her that she's been targeted by the clans, and so has he.  Maslow manages to capture Raizo, but not long after, the Europol safe house is attacked and destroyed by the ninjas.  Raizo is wounded in the escape, but he and Mika manage to make it out alive... but not for long.  Mika plants a tracking device in Raizo and the ninjas capture him and bring him before Lord Ozuno (Sho Kusogi), his former master. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Falling Down" (1993)

Starring Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall and Rachel Ticotin
Written by Ebbe Roe Smith
Directed by Joel Schumacher

Joel Schumacher is one of those filmmakers whose wildly inconsistent body of work leads to a lot of negativity surrounding his name.  Having directed two infamously awful Batman movies, he went on to do a short string of failures, which pretty much negated all the positive cred he'd built up with hits like "St. Elmo's Fire," "The Lost Boys" and "A Time to Kill."  But we tend to forget that he is actually a capable film director, having made the aforementioned films, as well as smaller movies like "Phone Booth" and "Falling Down."

Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) is having a bad day.  Sitting in traffic in the sweltering Los Angeles heat, surrounded by noise and aggravations at every turn, he finally snaps, leaving his car in the middle of the road and wandering off and muttering something about "going home."  Dressed simply, with a white shirt and tie, carrying a briefcase, he walks into a nearby convenience store to get change for a payphone.  When he learns that his purchase of a can of Coke won't give him enough change for the phone, he loses it completely, smashing up the store's displays with a baseball bat and ranting about inflation and the fact that the Korean store owner can barely speak English.  But Foster pays for the Coke (the price he wants to pay, not the price set by the store owner) and leaves. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Young Frankenstein" (1974)

Starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle
Written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder
Directed by Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks is a damn genius.  As I get older, I find myself suffering from that same thing I told myself growing up that I never would: more and more I think the old stuff is better than the new stuff.  The other night as I was watching "Young Frankenstein" I came to a terrible realization: Someone in the room wanted to watch the flop-tacular "Grown Ups" rather than Brooks' comedy classic.  This saddens me, to no end.

I don't understand how this attitude exists.  Don't get me wrong, Adam Sandler has made some funny movies.  But really, not much that he's done can stand the test of time like the run of Brooks' films through the 70s and 80s.

"Young Frankenstein" stars Gene Wilder in the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Fron-ken-steen!), great grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein.  After his grandfather dies, he leaves his fiance (Madeline Kahn) and travels to the family castle in Transylvania where he meets his assistants: Igor (eye-gor!) (Marty Feldman) and Inga (Teri Garr).  He also meets the mysterious Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) who seems to have had some kind of relationship with his grandfather.  Although Frankenstein rejects the ridiculous notions that his grandfather had created some sort of monster in a secret laboratory, he soon finds that the rumors were actually true.  Becoming obsessed, Frankenstein goes about attempting to recreate his father's experiments and breathe life into dead tissue.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

'Supernatural' Season 5 (2009)

Starring Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins
Created by Eric Kripke

I generally feel like five years is a pretty solid number for a show to run.  Sure, a well-written show can be extended further, but five years is a pretty decent amount of time to both explore a premise with a certain amount of depth while still not sticking around too long to outstay its welcome.  But alas, the business of TV is just that... a business.  And when business is good, it's hard to stop.  Such is the case with the CW network's "Supernatural," which had planned to end with this fifth season.  Unfortunately, the CW noticed that "Supernatural" was one of its most popular shows.  As a struggling smaller network, it could barely afford to let one of its hottest properties simply expire.  Of course, it had pulled the same move with "Smallville," which has gone on about five seasons too long as it steamrolls into its 10th idiotic season, playing fast, loose and stupid with the Superman mythology.

But I digress.  I'm here to talk about the fifth season of "Supernatural."  The fifth season finds demon hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) dealing with the repercussions of their major blunder at the end of season four: Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) has been released from his prison in Hell, jump-starting the Judeo-Christian apocalypse.  Now, as the demon army mobilizes, Sam and Dean find themselves accosted from all sides: Lucifer wants Sam to be his vessel on Earth, the Archangel Michael wants Dean to be his vessel, and once the human hunters find out who brought all this death and destruction down on them, well, even they want a piece of the Winchesters' hide. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

'Dexter' Season Two (2007)

Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter and Julie Benz
Developed by James Manos Jr.

While the first season of Showtime's "Dexter" seemed much like a sharpened scalpel blade, Season Two feels a bit more blunt and unwieldy.  Much of the first half of the season is spent dealing with fallout from Season One, while the second half starts to throw a bit too many things into the fire at once, making the season come off unfocused.  While the individual episodes are mostly still quite good, the overall package feels like a misstep. 

After Dexter (Michael C. Hall) has successfully dealt with the Ice Truck Killer, he tries to settle back into life as usual, with his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and sister Debra (Julie Benz) at his side.  Unfortunately, Dexter's solutions to some of his problems have had unforeseen consequences.  Rita discovers that it was Dexter who shot up her ex-husband with heroin in order to get him back behind bars, and she now believes that he, too, is addicted to heroin.  Forced to go along with the lie rather than tell her the truth, Dexter joins a local Narcotics Anonymous group where he meets Lilah (Jaime Murray) a former meth addict who becomes Dexter's sponsor.

At the same time, the suspicious Sergeant Doakes (Erik King) has been following Dexter.  Doakes is certain that Dexter is not what he seems, and is determined to prove it.  To make matters even worse, a number of bodies of Dexter's victims have been recovered from the ocean floor, and an FBI agent named Lundy (Keith Carradine) has been brought in to help the Miami PD investigate the killer dubbed "The Bay Harbor Butcher" - aka, Dexter Morgan.  So now Dexter must contend with all of his friends investigating his kills, Doakes on his trail at every turn, and his deteriorating relationship with Rita once Lilah starts putting the moves on him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

'The Walking Dead' Season One (2010)

Starring Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal and Sarah Wayne Callies
Developed by Frank Darabont

Anyone who knows me knows my love of Robert Kirkman's THE WALKING DEAD.  That's right, I love it so much that I usually type the title entirely in capital letters.  I can't help it.  Every time a volume of this comic book series comes out, I rush to get it ASAP.  When I heard they were developing a TV series based on it, I was immediately intrigued.

When I heard that it was being developed for AMC by Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Mist") and Gale Anne Hurd ("The Terminator," "Aliens") and that comic series creator Robert Kirkman would not only be a producer but a member of the writing staff... I couldn't have been more excited.

And now that the show has premiered, I still couldn't be more excited.  The premiere episode, "Days Gone Bye" is simply a fine hour of television.  It was so good, I watched it twice in a row.

Andrew Lincoln stars as Rick Grimes, a sheriff's deputy who is wounded in the line of duty.  He falls into a coma, and when he awakens nearly a month later, he's shocked to discover that society has collapsed and hordes of the dead roam the Earth.  Rick manages to escape the hospital and make his way to his home, only to discover that his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) are nowhere to be found.  Instead, Rick finds Morgan (Lennie James) and his son Duane who have been squatting in the house next door.  Morgan explains to Rick what has been going on, and about "the walkers."

'Dexter' Season One (2006)

Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter and Julie Benz
Developed by James Manos Jr.

The first season of Showtime's hit cable show "Dexter" is pretty damn fantastic.  It's easy to see why the show has garnered the following that it has, filled with lively characters and gripping storylines.

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a forensic analyst for the Miami Police Department, specializing in blood spatter.  He's often called to grisly murder scenes to help reconstruct the crime by looking at sprays and pools of blood littered liberally about.  To his coworkers, he's friendly enough, but a bit weird - they write it off as a necessity of his job.  But the truth is that Dexter hides a dark secret: he's a killer, a man who rarely feels emotion of any kind, and spends his night tracking and killing his prey.

At first, this might seem ghastly, but we quickly realize that Dexter follows a strict code: he only kills those who "deserve" it.  That is, he rids the world of other killers, like him, but unlike him, killers who have no code to protect the innocent as he does.  In order to fit into civilized society, Dexter has become an expert at faking normal human behavior.  He acts scared when he should, laughs at jokes, and shows remorse or sympathy for his actions even though he rarely feels that way.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Kick-Ass" (2010)

Starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Nicholas Cage
Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

I have a very shaky relationship with Mark Millar.  He seems to come up with great ideas, but then ruins a lot of them in the execution in one way or another.  I found "The Ultimates" to be a fairly enjoyable update of Marvel Comics' "Avengers."  But "Wanted" disgusted me, going beyond a mere deconstruction of superhero comics and into the realm of overt sadism. 

It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached "Kick-Ass," a film by Matthew Vaughn based on Millar's comic of the same name.  "Kick-Ass" is the story of a kid named Dave (Aaron Johnson) who decides he wants to try being a superhero.  Of course, the real problem is that Dave has no superpowers of any kind, and he's not particularly athletic in any fashion, either.  But he is driven, and dressing up in a silly costume energizes him.  He quickly finds that he's in over his head when he attempts to stop a car theft and gets stabbed in the gut and hit by a car. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"The Human Centipede: First Sequence" (2009)

Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie
Written and directed by Tom Six

I vowed for a long time never to watch this film.  I'd heard rumblings of it over the past months, and eventually looked it up to see what it was about and was thoroughly, flat-out disgusted by its premise.  "The Human Centipede" features what I can easily say is the most repulsive idea for a movie that I've ever heard.  I didn't want to watch it, I never wanted to watch it.  I could easily go my entire life without having watched it.

But beer and pretty girls are like kryptonite. 

"The Human Centipede" is the grotesque story of two American tourists, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who get lost in the woods in Germany on their way to a party.  Their car suffers a flat tire, and like many horror movie protagonists before them, they head off in search of help.  Unfortunately for them (and for us) they come across the home of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) a world-renowned surgeon specializing in the separation of conjoined (Siamese) twins.  Only now, in his twilight years, Heiter has become psychotically obsessed with creating them instead of separating them.  Lindsay and Jenny find themselves drugged, and wake up strapped to hospital beds in Heiter's basement, along with a Japanese man Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) and Heiter determines the three are an appropriate tissue match.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"The Substitute" (1996)

Starring Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson and Marc Anthony
Written by Roy Frumkes and Rocco Simonelli
Directed by Robert Mandel

Everyone remembers 1995's "Dangerous Minds," right?  That movie with Michelle Pfeiffer as a former US Marine who becomes a teacher and whips a bunch of under-privileged minority students into shape?  It was a big box office success, and the soundtrack featured the massively popular single "Gangsta's Paradise" from Coolio.  Yeah, you remember that movie.

So do you remember that a year later there came "The Substitute"?  Probably not.

Jonathan Shale (Tom Berenger) is a mercenary employed by the United States government to do off-the-books black operations.  His latest mission to infiltrate Cuba and destroy a drug manufacturing facility doesn't go well, and three of his teammates are killed and left behind.  As a result of their failure, the government must cut ties with Shale and his team, leaving the men desperate to find employment.

Shale returns home to Miami and finds that his girlfriend, Jane Hetsko (Diane Venora) has been targeted by a local gang known as the Kings of Destruction, or "KOD".  One day while jogging, Jane is knee-capped by one of the gang members, and must stay home from her job as a high school teacher for several weeks with a broken leg.  Shale concocts a plan to get himself hired as a substitute teacher to track down these gang members, and soon enough discovers that there's even more going on than just simple gang violence.  He notices that these gang members all have expensive phones and cars, and begins to suspect that they are involved in the drug trade.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Lie to Me' (Season Two)

Starring Tim Roth, Kelli Williams and Brendan Hines
Created by Samuel Baum

Tim Roth stars as Dr. Cal Lightman.  He specializes in reading facial expressions and body language to determine whether someone is telling truth or lies.  Together with his staff of experts including his best friend and possible love interest Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams, who I think looks like my friend Lauren), specialist Eli Loker (Brendan Hines) and Ria Torres (Monica Raymund) who has a natural gift for determining deception, Lightman takes on various cases in conjunction with the FBI to solve murders, kidnappings, you name it.

Lightman has to deal with a variety of personal situations in Season Two, not the least of which is making time to raise his 16-year-old daughter Emily (Hayley McFarland), and dealing with his ex-wife Zoe Landau (Jennifer Beals) who is now a defense attorney with her own practice, which sometimes brings her interests into conflict with Lightman's.  Foster is also fresh out of a divorce, and Loker and Torres seem to be growing closer on a personal level, which could endanger their professional relationship.

As a procedural, "Lie to Me" mostly follows a similar plot structure episode after episode.  There's little in the way of ongoing storylines here, and what threads do build over the season often happen in the background.  Still, the episodic nature of "Lie to Me" makes it easy to jump in and out at almost any point.  The show is plot heavy rather than character-focused, which makes it fairly disposable entertainment.

"Cop Out" (2010)

Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan and Sean William Scott
Written by Mark and Robb Cullen
Directed by Kevin Smith

You know when people talk about a movie, sometimes they say "The best parts are in the trailer"?  When talking about Kevin Smith's "Cop Out," that's totally true

Jimmy Munroe and Paul Hodges (Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan) are New York Police Detectives, and have been partners for nine years.  Like with other buddy-cop pairings, there's the straight man and the crazy one - here, Jimmy is the straight man and Paul is the crazy one.  Jimmy allows Paul to conduct an interrogation wherein his entire routine is to simply shout lines from movies that sound threatening to the suspect.  Strangely, it works, and the two are tipped off to a deal going down very quickly that would allow them to make a sizable drug arrest.

Unfortunately, the bust goes bad; the suspect gets away and Paul is caught on video assaulting a bystander while dressed in a giant foam cell phone costume.  As a result, the two are suspended without pay.  This couldn't come at a worse time for Jimmy, who is struggling to pay for his daughter Eva's (Michelle Trachtenberg) wedding.  He decides to sell a vintage collectible baseball card worth some $80,000.  Things get worse when, while getting the card appraised by a local dealer, the store is robbed by a thug named Dave (Sean William Scott) who steals the card. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Hot Tub Time Machine" (2010)

Starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson
Written by Josh Heald, Jarrad Paul and Sean Anders
Directed by Steve Pink

I was wary going into this one.  I'd heard from a couple of people that it was just downright stupidly unfunny.  But last night, over at Andy's house with some pizza and a couple of beers we threw in "Hot Tub Time Machine," and you know what?  We loved it.  It's just our kind of geek silliness, with references to all kinds of 80s culture mixed with nerdy time travel jokes.

Adam (John Cusack) comes home to find he's been dumped by another girlfriend.  He's grown apart from his two best friends Nick (Craig Robinson), a former singer who now works at a pet grooming salon, and Lou (Rob Corddry), a party guy who can't seem to get his life together.  Adam's anti-social nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in his basement, spending his time playing videogames.  One day, Adam learns that Lou is in the hospital after an apparent suicide attempt, which he denies.  Adam and Nick come up with the idea of taking Lou away on a weekend getaway to a favorite old ski resort of theirs from their youth to try and have some good times and reconnect.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Date Night" (2010)

Starring Steve Carrell, Tina Fey and Mark Wahlberg
Written by Josh Klausner
Directed by Shawn Levy

Every week I watch "The Office" and "30 Rock," which despite what any fan of very unfunny "The Big Bang Theory" will tell you, are actually two of the best sitcoms on TV.  Carrell and Fey are hysterical comedians, and I had high hopes to finally see the two of them headlining a feature together. 

Fey and Carrell star as Claire and Phil Foster, a married middle-class couple stuck in a rut.  Each week they have "date night," where they go to the same restaurant, eat the same food, and then go home and collapse and wake up the next day and go through the same routine with their kids and their work.  After learning that two of their friends are getting a divorce, Phil decides to surprise Claire by having date night in the city at a fancy restaurant.  Unfortunately, they don't have a reservation.  Phil makes the bold decision to take someone else's reservation.  Partway through dinner, they're interrupted by two men Collins and Armstrong (Common and Jimmi Simpson).  Thinking they've been caught by the restaurant, Phil and Claire follow Collins and Armstrong out into the alley. 

"Aeon Flux" (2005)

Starring Charlize Theron, Sophie Okenedo and Marton Csokas
Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Directed by Karyn Kusama

I hate it when a good idea is made into a shitty movie.  "Aeon Flux" is just such a film.  In the world of this movie, the majority of humanity has died off due to some kind of virus in 2011.  Four hundred years later, the survivors live in a futuristic city called Bregna, under the rule of the Goodchild family, the same family that developed a cure for the virus centuries earlier.

Bregna is a glistening metropolis filled with fantastic technology.  The people are safe... sort of.  At any point, any one of them can disappear, never to be seen again.  There is a resistance group that has sprung up, the Monicans.  One of these Monicans is Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron).  She is, in fact, their greatest agent.  After Aeon's sister Una is killed by government agents, Aeon is sent on a mission to kill Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), the leader of Bregna.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Toy Story 3" (2010)

Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack
Written by Michael Arndt
Directed by Lee Unkrich

There comes a time in every child's life where we simply outgrow the things we have - whether its clothes, or certain interests, or toys.  While I've maintained an interest in many of the things I enjoyed when I was younger (certainly, comics and animation still occupy a large chunk of my time) I have long-since packed away all those old action figures and models in my parents' basement.  If that box even still exists, who knows. 

"Toy Story 3" finds Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang from Pixar's hugely successful series in just that situation.  Andy (John Morris) is now grown and going to college.  His mother tells him anything that doesn't get packed in the attic or thrown out in the trash will be donated.  Due to a mixup, his childhood toys including Buzz, Jesse (Joan Cusack), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, taking over for the late Jim Varney), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Andy's sister's Barbie (Jodie Benson) end up in the trash.  Thinking that Andy threw them out on purpose, the toys escape the trash and decide to allow themselves to be donated to the local daycare.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Get Him to the Greek" (2010)

Starring Russell Brand, Jonah Hill and Sean "Diddy" Combs
Written and directed by Nicholas Stoller

"Get Him to the Greek" is a kind of funky comedy, a spin-off sequel to "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."  Russell Brand reprises his roll as obnoxious, out-of-control rock star Aldous Snow.  Jonah Hill returns also, but playing a completely different character.  Here, he's Aaron Green, a young employee of Pinnacle Records, and huge fan of Snow's. 

After Snow releases a critical and commercial failure called "African Child," he fades into a drug- and booze-fueled obscurity.  Green, however, never gives up on his rock star hero.  When the head of Pinnacle Records, Sergio Roma (Sean "Diddy Combs, spoofing his producer image with great effect) asks for ideas as the company struggles, Green proposes an anniversary show at the Greek Theater for Snow to make a big comeback.  Surprisingly, Sergio agrees and sends Green to London to pick up Snow and... "Get Him to the Greek."

Over the course of 72 hours, Snow's outrageous behavior will bring Green to the breaking point.  Green suddenly has to come face to face with his childhood hero and realize that this man is nothing like he imagined.  One sex, drug and booze-fest after another as Green struggles to control Snow's behavior and get him to the Greek on time for the show.  Sergio is constantly bugging him, with Green's job on the line and possibly the future of Pinnacle Records resting on the success of Snow's show at the Greek.

"Superman / Batman: Apocalypse" (2010)

Starring Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and Summer Glau
Written by Tab Murphy
Directed by Lauren Montgomery

You may recall I didn't particularly care for Warner Bros.' adaptation of "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies."  The script felt bare and the animation was subpar at best.  Even the presence of fan-favorites Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy reunited as Superman and Batman could save what was a lackluster effort from the DC Universe brand.

"Supergirl" was the sequel to "Public Enemies," picking up where that story left off in the comics in "Superman/Batman" issues 6-12.  Here, that story is adapted into animation as a sequel to the "Public Enemies" movie, renaming it "Apocalypse" and again bringing back castmembers Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy and also bringing back Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman and Ed Asner as Granny Goodness.  The film recasts the villainous god Darkseid with the voice of Andre Braugher, and adds Summer Glau as Kara/Supergirl.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Lone Wolf McQuade" (1983)

Starring Chuck Norris, David Carradine and Robert Beltran
Written by H. Kaye Dyal and BJ Nelson
Directed by Steve Carver

Just... wow.  I love the 80s, seriously.  The 80s have given us many wonderful things.  Music.  TV shows.  Incredibly cheesy Chuck Norris movies.  "Lone Wolf McQuade" is a laugh riot, from start to finish. 

Norris stars as JJ "Lone Wolf" McQuade, a Texas Ranger who doesn't like to play by the rules... and certainly doesn't like to play with others.  He refuses to take on a partner, often going alone into dangerous situations.  At the outset of the movie, he finds himself saving a group of Texas State Troopers from a band of marauders, including a young rookie named Kayo (Robert Beltran).  Afterward, McQuade's captain decides the two should be partners.  McQuade is not enthused, and does everything he can to scare off Kayo (including pulling a gun on him).

One night, McQuade's daughter, Sally, (Dana Kimmell) is out on a date with her fiance when they witness the hijacking of a US Army convoy in the desert.  The fiance is murdered, Sally lands in the hospital, and a truckload of weapons as gone missing.  McQuade and Kayo run down some leads and run into Snow (William Sanderson) who tells them that there's a big-time gun-running operation going on.  McQuade has also entered into a romantic relationship with Lola (Barbara Carrera), the romantic partner of the film's villain, Wilkes (David Carradine). 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"The Faculty" (1998)

Starring Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster and Josh Hartnett
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

I have to give it to Kevin Williamson - he owned the 1990s.  Not only was "Dawson's Creek" (somehow) ruling the airwaves, making mega-stars out of it's (dubiously) talented cast, but the "Scream" franchise had taken theatres by storm.  In 1998, he penned "The Faculty," a horror/sci-fi update of the classic "Body Snatchers" story set in a rural high school.  The film plays with some of the high school conventions, which meld pretty well with the alien invasion story, involving themes where characters are ostracized or feel like outsiders. 

Teachers at Herrington High School are beginning to act very strange.  A select few students begin to suspect something is up.  Casey (Elijah Wood) is a fairly typical teen nerd, picked on by the other students.  Delilah (Jordana Brewster) is the popular editor of the school paper, whom Casey has a crush on.  But Delilah is the girlfriend of Stan (Shawn Hatosy), captain of the football team.  Stokely (Clea DuVall) is an outsider who pretends to be a lesbian to keep people away from her.  Zeke (Josh Hartnett) is a drug dealer, repeating his senior year, but he hides a fairly incredible intelligence.  Finally, Marybeth (Laura Harris) is the new girl in school, and doesn't really know anyone.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs The World" (2010)

Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ellen Wong
Written by Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall
Directed by Edgar Wright


Pure fun, from start to finish.

Whatever else I say in this review, that's that sentence that matters.  From the opening shot to the close of the credits, "Scott Pilgrim vs The World" is total, nerdy fun. 

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young man with a broken heart.  He plays bass in a band, Sex Bob-omb, with his friends Stephen (Mark Webber), Kim (Alison Pill) and layabout Young Neil (Johnny Simmons).  Scott has just begun dating a high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but he's still not particularly happy.  A year earlier, his girlfriend Nat (Brie Larson) broke up with him and began dating the bassist of her own band. 

Scott begins to have strange dreams of a girl with purple hair, and one day finds out that she actually exists: Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young girl from New York who just moved to Toronto to start a new life after breaking up with her boyfriend, Gideon (Jason Schwartzman).  Over the protestations of others, he pursues Ramona while still dating Knives, just as the band might have a shot at getting a record deal in an upcoming Battle of the Bands tournament.

"W." (2008)

Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks and Richard Dreyfuss
Written by Stanley Weiser
Directed by Oliver Stone

It's tough to review a film about a guy you don't like.  It's even tougher when it turns out that it's not even that good of a movie.  "W." is the story of George W. Bush, the former President of the United States.  Y'know, the one who led us into a vicious cycle of wars and disastrous economic and foreign policies.  One of the least popular presidents in the history of the United States.

So, you'd think a film like this would be an easy sell, right?  Well it turns out that a good film is a good film and a bad film is a bad film.  "W." is just okay, neither good nor bad, the fault mostly of a script that doesn't really seem to know what it wants to do or how it wants to play things.

"Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)

Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto and Madhur Mittal
Written by Simon Beaufoy
Directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan

"Slumdog Millionaire" charts the lives of two brothers, Jamal and Salim Malik (Dev Patel and Madhur Mittal, when grown) who grew up together in the slums of Bombay, India.  Jamal is a contestant on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", hosted by the charismatic Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor).  After winning an unprecedented sum of money on the show, Jamal is arrested and charged with fraud.  He's accused of cheating, and in his defense, he begins to tell the police the story of his life, explaining how he knew each of the answers without ever having gone to school.

After their mother is killed in a riot, Jamal and Salim meat Latika (Freida Pinto, when grown) and the three form a sort of "three musketeers" group.  They fall in with a gangster named Maman (Ankur Vikal), who they think will help them become rich and famous.  When they discover otherwise, the group tries to split.  Jamal and Salim manage to escape, but Latika is captured.  Jamal and Salim take off on their own, committing petty crimes and schemes to get money, food and clothes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Stigmata" (1999)

Starring Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne and Jonathan Pryce
Written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage
Directed by Rupert Wainright

"Stigmata" is a religious/supernatural horror film from 1999.  Gabriel Byrne stars as Andrew Kiernan, a priest who is also a scientist.  He works for the Vatican, investigating and debunking "miracles," like the appearance of the image of Jesus on a wall, or perhaps a grilled cheese.  On a trip to Brazil, he discovers a statue of Mary that bleeds from the eyes, but is unable to discover how.  It may be a true miracle.  But his supervisor at the Vatican, Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) wipes it under the rug and sends Kiernan to the United States to look into reports of a young woman suffering from the Stigmata - wounds resembling those sustained by Christ during the crucifixion.

That woman is Frankie (Patricia Arquette) a young hair stylist who began suffering from visions, fits and strange wounds after receiving a rosary in the mail from her mother, who bought it in Brazil... from the same town where Kiernan discovered the bleeding statue.  At first, Kiernan doesn't believe that Frankie is suffering the Stigmata because, historically, only extremely devout people get them, and Frankie doesn't believe in God.  But he decides to continue his investigation anyway, and eventually comes to believe her, even if he doesn't understand why this is all happening.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Crazies" (2010)

Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson
Written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright
Directed by Breck Eisner

David (Timothy Olyphant) is the sheriff of the small farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa.  On opening day of the high school's baseball season, a man walks onto the field carrying a shotgun.  David confronts him in front of much of the town's youth, and is forced to kill him dead.  At first, David believes the man was just drunk, but the medical examiner's tests prove otherwise.  Soon after, another man locks his wife and child in a closet and burns down the house.

As the bodies begin to pile up in the morgue, several hunters discover a downed plane in the river nearby.  Unfortunately, the river drains into some of the town's drinking water, and David starts to think that something in the plane must have gotten into the water.  Not long after, the military arrives and begins rounding up all the townspeople, testing them and separating them into fenced-off areas.  David's pregnant wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell) is separated from David for running a high body temperature.  David tries to tell the soldiers she only has a fever because she's pregnant, but they wont' listen.  David eventually meets up with his deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson) and the two manage to slip away back into town to try to rescue Judy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Omen" (1976)

Starring Gregory Peck, David Warner and Lee Remick
Written by David Seltzer
Directed by Richard Donner

What would you do if you found out your child was actually the Anti-Christ?  Damn.

Gregory Peck stars as Robert Thorn, an American diplomat in Rome.  He is told by a priest, Father Spiletto (Martin Benson) that his newborn son has died, but that there is another child in the hospital whose mother died in childbirth.  Robert makes a deal with the priest to raise the child as his own, not even telling his own wife Katherine (Lee Remick) about the switch.

Five years later, Robert is now the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  Along with Katherine and son Damien, he moves to the UK to begin his new duties.  Life seems to be going well until strange things begin to happen surrounding Damien.  First, at the child's 5th birthday party, his nanny commits suicide in front of the entire gathering.  Soon after, another priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) informs Robert that Damien is actually the son of Satan - the Anti-Christ.  Katherine is pregnant again; Brennan tells Robert that Damien will kill the unborn child, but Robert doesn't believe him.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Legion" (2010)

Starring Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid and Lucas Black
Written by Peter Schink and Scott Stewart
Directed by Scott Stewart

Every so often, a movie comes around that is just so totally absurd that you almost feel like you need to watch it again just to make sure that you weren't dreaming the first time.  "Legion" is one of those movies.

The story (heh) concerns the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) who comes to Earth and removes his wings and begins to arm himself.  He's soon set upon by two police officers, one of whom is suddenly possessed by some kind of creature, warning him against his plans.  He kills the creature and takes the police car.

Next we're introduced to a small roadside diner in the desert owned by Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid).  At the diner that day are Percy (Charles S. Dutton), the diner's one-handed cook, Sandra Anderson (Kate Walsh) and her husband Howard (Jon Tenney) and their daughter Audrey (Willa Holland) whose car has broken down.  They're waiting for Bob's son Jeep (Lucas Black) to repair it so they can continue their journey to Scottsdale ("The worst place imaginable").  Also at the diner is Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), the very pregnant young waitress and object of Jeep's affections.  Soon enough, a lost driver pulls up looking for directions and a phone: Kyle (Tyrese Gibson).

"Child's Play" (1988)

Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif
Written by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Tom Holland
Directed by Tom Holland

"Child's Play" isn't really a great movie, but it does have one contribution to make to the world of film that makes the whole thing worthwhile: Chucky. 

The story, absurd though it may be, concerns a murderer named Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) who is pursued and shot by Police Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon).  Ray takes refuge in a toy store and performs some kind of wacky voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into a popular talking toy doll before he dies.  The ritual destroys the store, and Ray is pronounced dead.  Later, a peddler manages to find an undamaged doll and sells it to Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) for her young son's birthday. 

What neither Karen nor Andy (Alex Vincent) know is that the doll is actually the one into which Ray installed his soul.  The doll introduces itself to Alex as "Chucky," and quickly begins to assert a bad influence on the child.  Worse, Chuck wastes almost no time killing Alex's babysitter, Maggie (Dinah Manoff) by beating her in the head with a hammer and knocking her out the window. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

"I Am Legend" (2007)

Starring Will Smith, Alice Braga and Dash Mihok
Written by Akiva Goldsman and Mark Protosevich
Directed by Francis Lawrence

I love Richard Matheson's original novel, "I Am Legend."  Not only is the whole thing fantastically written, but it has what I feel is one of the best twist endings of all time.  Matheson created a horrific and lonely tale of Robert Neville, the last man on Earth, in 1954... and there's still no truly great film adaptation of it.

It's been tried, of course.  Vincent Price starred in "The Last Man on Earth" in 1964 and Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man" in 1971, and while both of those films have their strengths and weaknesses, neither is particularly great.  Price's version has since ended up in bargain-bin video sales, while Heston's is considered something of a camp classic.

In 2007, Will Smith starred in "I Am Legend," directed by Francis Lawrence which ends up being the best of the three adaptations, but still falls pretty far short of that original novel.  "I Am Legend" is two-thirds of a great movie - but it falls apart in the final act, throwing out all the good will it had built up over the first and second acts in favor of flashy CGI effects and a shoe-horned happy ending that rings pretty hollow.

"Slither" (2006)

Starring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker
Written and directed by James Gunn

Well, it's Halloween time again, which means I'm going to be taking a look at some horror pictures in celebration of the season.  I'm not really much of a horror movie fan.  I certainly don't mind creature features, the occasional slasher flick... but I simply can't stand those movies where people get tortured to death.  No thanks.

Last weekend, I went to an Alice Cooper/Rob Zombie concert and there turned out to be a horror convention going on.  There, I met Alex Winter (some of you may remember him as Bill S. Preston, Esq. of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure") who I was surprised to learn was now a director of teen-friendly horror films.  He told me he was directing a remake of a 1980s film called "The Gate," which I told him I had no knowledge of and that I was not very well versed in the genre in general.  Very kindly, without any kind of condescension, he replied, "Well, the horror folks around here know it."

But there are a few horror movies that I know quite well, even love.  "Slither" is one of them.  I first saw it in 2006 during its theatrical run with a couple of good friends, and we all had a blast.  James Gunn (who did a fine job scripting Zack Snyder's 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" remake) writes and directs this deft mix of horror, comedy and sci-fi.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Driven" (2001)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds and Kip Pardue
Written by Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Renny Harlin

Renny Harlin has a strange career as a director.  For every solid movie, he's got two or three that are just pretty dang awful.  "Driven" is one of those awful ones. 

A young race car driver, Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) is seen as the next big thing in racing as he comes up from nowhere to challenge the reigning champion, Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger).  But Bly is young and inexperienced, and has trouble handling the pressure of being the big star in the spotlight.  The team's owner, Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) decides to bring in his old friend Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) to be Jimmy's partner.  Joe used to be in Jimmy's position - the hot young star, but he lost it all because he couldn't handle it and lost focus on his driving.

But Jimmy's problems are several: His brother, Demille (Robert Sean Leonard) is also his manager, who puts far too many demands on Jimmy.  He's too focused on making them both rich and famous, and Jimmy can't really handle it.  Jimmy is also developing a crush on Brandenburg's fiance, Sophia (Estella Warren).  We follow Jimmy and Joe through their ups and downs as the racing season continues, coming down to the big championship in Germany. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Revenge of the Nerds" (1984)

Starring Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards and Curtis Armstrong
Written by Jeff Buhai, Miguel Tejada-Flores and Steve Zacharias
Directed by Jeff Kanew

"Revenge of the Nerds" is one of those movies I'd seen on TV a lot while growing up.  As such, I really didn't have much of a notion that the movie is, in fact, rated R.  Rewatching it, I noticed many familiar jokes, but also a more adult level to the language and situations that I'd never noticed as a kid.  It's a lot like how I grew up thinking that "Ghostbusters" was really just a cool ghost story rather than one of the funniest comedies ever made.

Best buds and ultra-nerds Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Anthony Edwards) are heading off for their freshman year of college.  Once they arrive, they're immediately faced with a familiar situation: persecution by jocks.  The members of the football team are also in the Alpha Beta fraternity, who manage to burn down their house during a drunken party trick gone wrong.  As a result, Coach Harris (John Goodman) bullies Dean Ulich (David Wohl) into allowing the team to move into the freshman dorm, displacing the freshmen into the gym. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

'The Spectacular Spider-Man' - Season One (2008)

Starring Josh Keaton, Lacy Chabert and Ben Diskin
Developed by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook

Marvel Comics' Spider-Man has been a cartoon mainstay for a while.  After the much-loved 1990s "Spider-Man" series, he disappeared from the airwaves until 2008, after Spidey gained a massive boost in popularity from the live-action film series that was a huge blockbuster success. 

"The Spectacular Spider-Man" borrows elements from a variety of incarnations of the character.  The first season takes place not too long after teenage nerd Peter Parker (Josh Keaton) was bitten by a genetically-altered spider that somehow imbued him with superhuman abilities.  He becomes the spectacular Spider-Man, swinging around the city and stopping crimes.  Parker also gets a job as an intern at the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Dee Bradley Baker) with his friends Eddie Brock (Ben Diskin) and Gwen Stacy (Lacy Chabert).  He also tries to help his best friend Harry Osborn (James Arnold Taylor) up his grades at school.

But Spider-Man has become a major problem to the criminal element in New York City.  Mob boss "Mr. Big," aka Tombstone (Kevin Michael Richardson) concocts a plan to keep Spidey out of the way: he hires Dr. Otto Octavius (Peter MacNicol) to create an army of super-powered villains to keep Spider-Man occupied (or destroy him entirely, whichever) to allow crime to take place in the city once more. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

"The Losers" (2010)

Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana and Chris Evans
Written by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt
Directed by Sylvain White

Based on the comic book of the same name, "The Losers" stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("Watchmen") and Zoe Saldana ("Star Trek").  Morgan plays Colonel Clay, leader of a special ops outfit sent on a search-and-destroy mission into Bolivia which goes horribly wrong when they learn that their intended target has children present.  When they try to call off the air strike, they are informed by a mysterious voice calling himself Max that the mission is on regardless of the children.  The team disobeys orders and goes into the compound to rescue the children, and place them successfully into their evac helicopter.

Unfortunately, the helicopter is quickly taken out by Max, killing all the children, and the blame is placed on Clay and his team.  They go on the run, leaving behind their friends and family, unable to return to the US.  That is, until Clay is contacted by a woman named Aisha (Saldana) who tells them where and when to find Max, and will help them get back into the US if they'll help her take him out.  Clay gathers up his team once more, including Roque (Idris Elba), Jensen (Chris Evans), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Oscar Janeda), and they stage a hijacking of a truck they believe Max is traveling in.  Instead, they find a computer hard drive, and the team begins to suspect Aisha is screwing with them.  But against the team's protestations, Clay continues with the plan and tries to get the code that will unlock the information on the drive, hoping to use it as leverage against Max.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Forbidden Planet" (1956)

Starring Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis
Written by Cyril Hume
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox

"Forbidden Planet" is one of those sci-fi movies I've heard about for a long time but never got around to seeing, much like "The Day the Earth Stood Still."  Recently released on blu-ray, I rented it from Netflix and finally got down to seeing what the hubbub was all about.  I've known for a long time that "Forbidden Planet" heavily influenced "Star Trek," of which you should know by now I'm a huge fan.  I think I was a little unprepared for just how heavy that influence was, however.  "Star Trek" seems like a straight rip-off, to be perfectly frank.

Leslie Nielsen (!!) stars as Commander John J. Adams of the star cruiser C-57-D.  His ship is on a mission to investigate the planet Altair IV, where a research ship named Bellerophon disappeared some 20 years earlier.  Upon arriving at the planet, Adams and his crew are met by Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), the lone survivor of the Bellerophon expedition.  Adams and his first officer, Lt. Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) and "Doc" Ostrow (Warren Stevens) meet with Dr. Morbius and discover that Morbius is not alone: he has constructed a magnificent robot named Robby, which is capable of incredible feats... and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) who has never seen a human besides her own father.

"TiMER" (2009)

Starring Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth and John Patrick Amedori
Written and directed by Jac Schaeffer

I've made my feelings about the romantic comedy genre fairly well known.  It's one of the hardest genres of movie to make - make a bad action movie and people can still be fairly entertained.  Same goes with bad sci-fi or drama... make it bad enough, and people will still love your movie.  But a romantic comedy?  If your romantic comedy is neither romantic nor funny... you're boned.

Recently I caught part of "Darkness Falls" on TV and thought to myself, "Hrm, I wonder whatever happened to Emma Caulfield?"  Not too long after, "TiMER" showed up on Netflix's Instant Streaming service.  I don't watch a lot of romantic comedies, mostly because most of the ones I've seen simply aren't very good.  You get the occasional Ryan Reynolds gem, but for the most part, you end up with some pretty lame stuff.  But the plot description of "TiMER" and the presence of Caulfield piqued my curiosity. 

"TiMER" presents an interesting sort of alternate reality where most people have a small device implanted in their wrist which counts down until the day when they're destined to meet their one, true love.   Emma Caulfield stars as Oona, an orthodontist about to turn 30 years old.  But Oona's timer is blank... which means that either her one true love doesn't have a timer, or that she may not actually have one.  Oona lives with her sister, Steph (Michelle Borth) who doesn't seem to have much ambition in life.  While Oona is practically obsessed with finding her "one," Steph's timer has already informed her that she's several years away from finding hers, so she likes to simply have a series of one-night stands without consequences.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie" (2004)

Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate and Paul Rudd
Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Directed by Adam McKay

Okay, this is just plain weird.  "Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie" is a whole movie made up entirely of deleted scenes.  Will Ferrell and Adam McKay shot so much material for "Anchorman" that they had enough left over for an entire second movie. 

In this strange, alternate version of "Anchorman," the plot follows the same sort of beats, but with entirely different circumstances.  The ongoing news story that runs through the plot is (instead of the impending birth of a new panda) a group of radical bank robbers who call themselves "The Alarm Clock."  Paul (Kevin Corrigan), Malcolm Y (Chuck D.), Kanshasha X (Maya Rudolph) and Mouse (Tara Subkoff) rob banks in order to bankroll their dreams of a social revolution in America. 

As in "Anchorman," Ron and Veronica fall for each other, but then Ron's jealousy and dislike of women in his profession come between them.  They begin to try and one-up each other, each trying to get leads on the location of "Alarm Clock," knowing that the resulting scoop will make their careers.  Ron manages to use Veronica's information to track down the Alarm Clock, but unfortunately, they get the best of him and steal his news van.  Later, determined to use a famous news anchor to read their manifesto to the world, Alarm Clock kidnaps Veronica and takes her to the San Diego Observatory to make their broadcast. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004)

Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate and Paul Rudd
Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Directed by Adam McKay

I have to admit, I avoided "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" for a long time.  A lot like what happened to me recently with "The Producers," so many people told me that it was utterly, totally hilarious that I knew that as soon as I saw it, it could never live up to that reputation.  Eventually I did see it, and I liked it quite a bit.  But since then, it's actually taken several viewings before I realized that it has actually grown on me even more.  It's combination of blunt, obvious humor and almost surreal absurdity is a winning one.

Set in 1970s San Diego, Will Ferrell stars as Ron Burgundy, the #1 nightly news anchor in town.  Along with his news team and best friends, sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner), field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell) he practically owns San Diego.  Their lives are filled with debauchery, drinking, sex, and all kinds of lunacy that comes with their level of celebrity.  But one day, when the station hires a female reporter, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) their world is turned upside down.  The group is immediately opposed to a female coming into what they see as a man's world, and are threatened by her even more when it turns out that Veronica is actually quite tenacious and talented.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Pan's Labyrinth" (2006)

Starring Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones and Maribel Verdu
Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro

(There will be spoilers of the end of this movie.  Beware.)

Guillermo del Toro has a fabulously inventive visual mind.  His eye for fantastical creatures and settings, for creating haunting and lyrical moments in film is unparalleled in the semi-mainstream.  It's hard to call del Toro mainstream because for the most part, I'm not sure anyone really knows who he is outside of comic book fans.  Ask any Joe Schmoe on the street if they know the films of Guillermo del Toro and they'll probably give you a blank stare or maybe you'll be lucky enough that someone actually saw "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" and bothered to read the credits.

"Pan's Labyrinth" (or, perhaps as it more accurately should be titled, 'The Faun's Labyrinth') is a fairy tale-influenced period drama.  That's right.  The story concerns a young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who is brought with her very pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to live in the mountains of Spain where her step-father, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez i Ayats) leads a campaign against local guerrilla fighters.   There, she discovers an ancient stone maze.  One night, a creature she takes to be a fairy leads her into the maze to the center where she encounters a faun (Doug Jones), a sort of half-human, half-goat creature who tells her that she is the reincarnation of an ancient princess, and must complete three tasks before the full moon so that she may enter a mythical realm to be reunited with her father.