Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Whip It" (2009)

"Whip It" (2009)
Starring Ellen Paige, Marcia Gay Harden and Kristen Wiig
Written by Shauna Cross (based on her novel)
Directed by Drew Barrymore

Remember the other day when I said my same-sex celebrity crush was Sean Connery and Daniel Craig?  Well, my regular ol' hetero celebrity crush is totally Drew Barrymore.  Not only do I find her endlessly attractive, but her peculiar mixture of crazy and sweet just works.  Lately, she hasn't been much of an on-screen presence, which is unfortunate... and yet, also fortunate since it brings us to "Whip It," Barrymore's directorial debut.

Ellen Paige stars as Bliss Cavendar, a high school misfit who spends her days sad at school, unhappy at her job, and downright miserable as her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) forces her to participate in local beauty pageants.  One day at a store in Austin, Texas, she catches sight of an advertisement for a local roller derby and is intrigued enough to drag her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) along.  She instantly falls in love with it's infectious, brash energy.  She goes to tryouts, and quickly proves herself a talent on wheels and joins the Hurl Scouts.

Bliss adopts the derby alter ego of Babe Ruthless, teaming up with Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore) and taking on the villainous Holy Rollers and their leader, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis).  Bliss also meets a boy, Oliver (Landon Pigg) who plays in a small time rock band.  Unfortunately, Bliss can't reveal her newfound love(s) to her parents, instead telling them that she's taking a night time SAT course.  At the same time, she can't reveal to her new teammates that she's actually only 17 years old, as the league is supposed to be 21-plus. 

"Whip It" follows a fairly typical plot progression, but, frankly that doesn't matter much.  It sports a great cast that has wonderful chemistry with each other.  The bond that forms quickly between the Hurl Scouts is palpable, and their names are just as funny as the dialogue they're spouting with gusto.  Paige is a talented actress, and I hope her last couple of films won't pigeonholed the rest of her career into a certain role due to the success of "Juno."  She certainly plays a similar type here, the intelligent, indie rock-loving social misfit mature beyond her years. 

The other characters are all suitably quirky and funny.  Barrymore has a bit role as Smashley Simpson, a perennially injured teammate of Bliss'.  Bliss' parents are well-played as well, and the relationship between the three is suitably complex.  It could easily have been a one-note, child-vs-parents, but it's clear that Bliss cares deeply for her parents. 

Barrymore's direction is great.  The film might not be the most visually stylish thing you've ever seen; no new ground is broken here.  Maybe the most artful thing is a dialogue-less underwater love scene between Bliss and Oliver just as things are coming to a head with Bliss' dueling lives.  It's sweet and romantic, and very well shot.  The whole movie is, of course.  It's bright, and colorful with lots of great detail in the costumes and makeup, and the action sequences at the derby exhibitions are always easy to understand.  The rules of the roller derby are made clear, and then the exhibitions are presented clearly, never allowing the viewer to be confused as to what's going on.

So while ultimately "Whip It" is not the most glaringly original film you'll ever see, it's one that's very well made, with a funny, endearing script populated by lively characters.  That, and you get to watch a bunch of hot chicks beating the crap out of each other.

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005)

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan
Written and directed by Shane Black

Y'know who's awesome?  Shane Black.  Ask anyone out there who Steven Spielberg is, they know.  Ask the same person who is Shane Black, and you're likely to get blank stares.

Shane Black wrote one of my favorite movies, "Lethal Weapon."  He's since written a number of other pictures such as "The Last Boyscout" with Bruce Willis, but he's never seemed able to get back to that original magic.  Scripts he wrote were so heavily rewritten he barely wanted his name attached to them. 

In 2005, he directed "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," and man is it great.  More comedy mystery than action thriller, the film stars Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart, a thief on the run from the cops who stumbles into a casting session and is offered a sweet gig in Los Angeles.  There, he meets Gay Perry, a detective consultant on the movie, who offers him 'detective lessons' in order to better equip himself for the role.  While in LA, Harry runs across Harmony, a girl he loved in high school.  A natural liar, even when he could or should tell the truth, Harry tells Harmony that he's now a detective.  When Harmony's sister winds up dead and she suspects murder, she turns to Harry to help solve the case.

Meanwhile, on their first 'detective lesson', Harry and Gay Perry manage to find themselves smack in the middle of a murder.  What connection do the two cases share?  Why is someone trying to frame Harry by leaving a corpse in his hotel room?  How exactly will Harry win over Harmony when he continuously tells her new lies instead of just opening up with the truth?  These are all questions answered in a highly entertaining fashion.

Robert Downey Jr. is, as usual, a joy to watch.  The man is simply hilarious, with the ability to sell practically any joke.  He's utterly capable of playing a player, smooth and wisecracking at once.  His narration of the film, a comedic version of the noir thriller that "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" seems to both love and lampoon, is priceless.  Just when you think it might get stale, Downey goes off on a rant about robots and his father telling a joke about a cowboy's horse that's so absurd, but so naturally delivered, that you can't help but realize he's the perfect man for the job.

And what about Gay Perry?  Val Kilmer turns in a brilliantly understated performance, selling a sardonic, homosexual detective all the way.  He's not a character who's at all ashamed about his sexual orientation; indeed, he often uses it to mock other characters in the film, especially at a crucial moment toward the climax.  If anyone in this movie could upstage Downey, it's Kilmer.  Bravo.

As I said, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" isn't an action film.  There are short bursts of violence, and the climax features some solid chases and gunplay, but nothing like the final twenty minutes of "Lethal Weapon."  But it is highly entertaining and often downright hilarious.  The wit in Black's script is its key asset, helped along greatly by two extremely excellent lead performances.  Black's direction is solid, and he shows a clear talent for driving home his humor and setting up set pieces. 

Definitely give this one a go.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Outland" (1981)

"Outland" (1981)
Starring Sean Connery and Peter Boyle
Written and directed by Peter Hyams

Recently while intoxicated, I was asked what my 'same-sex celebrity crush' would be.  My answer?  A shaken but not stirred James Bond sandwich of Sean Connery and Daniel Craig.  Throughout his career, I've felt Connery has exuded a sort of old-school cool and sexy that few actors have ever matched.  Like Stallone, I think he's one of the actors whose work I'll always watch, even if I don't think the movie is all that good.  "Outland" is one such film.

In "Outland," writer/director Peter Hyams transplants the story from the classic Western "High Noon" into a sci-fi setting.  Taking place on Jupiter's moon, Io, at a distant mining facility, "Outland" stars Connery as O'Niel, the new Federal Marshall tasked with keeping the peace.  He begins to suspect something isn't quite right when several workers suddenly go crazy and commit suicide.  As he digs into those deaths and others like them, he starts to discover a frightening truth about this particular (and successful) mining facility.  It's not a spoiler for me to tell you he quickly discovers that the villain of the piece is the facility's administrator, Sheppard (Peter Boyle).  The majority of the film centers on the power struggle between the two, with O'Niel quickly realizing that if he's going to take down Sheppard, he's not going to have a lot of help doing so.

The problem with "Outland" is difficult to describe.  There's a certain stillness to the proceedings that sort of saps the life and energy out of it.  Conversations seem to occur with a strange stiltedness, no one seems to put a lot of emotion into their line deliveries.  Confrontations between Sheppard and O'Niel that should be full of tension just... aren't.  Whether this is a fault of editing or direction is hard to say.  Perhaps tension is that key thing that's missing in what's supposed to be a thriller.  There are certainly times in the film where tension is achieved, mostly during action sequences and the moments leading up to them, but everything else just seems rote.  Quiet and stillness can be very effective in creating tense situations (see "No Country for Old Men") but here, something's just not quite right about it, and that's a shame.

Certain aspects of the production design are obviously dated, which is to be expected with a movie this old, but for the most part, this is a pretty well realized sci-fi setting.  Most of the sets are detailed and make a certain sense.  "Outland" doesn't feature a slick, 'Star Trek'-style future, but more reminiscent of the recent "Battlestar Galactica" - everything here looks familiar, but somehow still a bit futuristic.  Jerry Goldsmith's score is used sparingly, but is appropriate, if not one of his classic compositions.

Ultimately, I didn't mind "Outland."  It's just good enough to like, but its potential definitely isn't reached.  In the end, it probably survives because it does build an interesting world, Connery is inherently watchable, and the action sequences are well done when they finally come.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"The Ugly Truth" (2009)

"The Ugly Truth" (2009)
Starring Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl
Written by Nicole Eastman and Karen Lutz
Directed by Robert Luketic

When I was in high school, a very dear friend of mine (and a woman whose opinion I continue to value greatly to this day) once attempted to show me the importance of "chick flicks."  As a teenage male, of course, there's little to find of value in this particular field.  We watched something with Christian Slater, and I think he had a baboon's heart or something crazy like that; I forget the name of the film.  Really, that's not important.  What is important, really is that while at the time the experiment may have not been all that successful (in return, we did get to watch James Cameron's classic "Aliens" which led to a rather bizarre new nickname for my friend) it was worthwhile to attempt.

Flash-forward to now.  I'm... Jesus, I'm in my late 20s, and although I've expanded my palette somewhat, let's face the facts: I'm an action movie dude.  While my ability to appreciate other genres has improved, I'm still a sucker for gunfights and explosions, and all that wonderful technical wizardry that makes action films so much harder to make than practically any other kind.

So yes, I watched "The Ugly Truth" starring Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl.  Why?  Frankly, who knows.  To keep my mind open, maybe.  I'm sure my friend may read this and say, "Yeah, but I wanted you to watch good chick flicks."  Yes, I should've done that.  Sorry.  But here goes:

Katherine Heigl plays Abby, a gorgeous yet entirely crazy woman who simply can't figure out men.  Her controlling ways lead her to categorize and itemize everything about her "ideal man", which she presents (literally) as a list of talking points on dates.  Obviously, this doesn't get her very far in her search for love.  Gerard Butler is Mike, the host of a cheesy public access show called "The Ugly Truth" in which he doles out chauvinistic relationship advice.

In desperate need of a ratings boost on the TV show she produces, Abby is forced to bring Mike on the show for his own "Ugly Truth" segment, even though she hates him.  She claims to hate him and the advice he dispenses, but she soon figures out that he's right - which only makes her hate it even more.  Against her better judgment, she employs Mike's help at wooing her attractive neighbor, Colin. 

Now here's where I'm going to explain where I was going with my intro: My problem with romantic comedies (not to be confused with "chick flicks" in general, though definitely a part of it) is that, I think, even more so than my beloved, cliche-ridden action genre, these stories are inherently, irreparably predictable.  Of course, this can be said about the absolute core of nearly any story.  There are only something like a couple or three dozen actual plots possible for any story, when you boil them all down to basics.  For the romantic comedy, there tends to be one: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall for each other, misunderstanding, separation, reconciliation, happily ever after.

Right from the get-go, we know exactly where "The Ugly Truth" is going to go, so the movie has to try much harder to entertain us till we get there.  The makers of the film could have thrown us a curveball by NOT having Mike and Abby fall for each other, but "The Ugly Truth" is just like 99% of romantic comedies out there. 

And so here's the kicker: I liked "The Ugly Truth" more than I liked "The Bounty Hunter."  Why?  That's easy: The R rating.  The jokes in "Ugly Truth" may not be terrifically funny (indeed, only a few are more than chuckle-worthy) but throwing in some dirty language gives them bite that "The Bounty Hunter" lacked entirely.  For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why "Bounty Hunter" was rated PG-13, as it's an utterly harmless movie.  Even the brief action sequences are bloodless and inoffensive.  At least the dirty jokes in "Ugly Truth" have some dirt in them. 

This is not to say that I liked "The Ugly Truth."  I liked certain things about it.  Gerard Butler once again proves that he's a very capable, energetic and engrossing actor.  The man simply has presence, whether it's when he's slaughtering enemy soldiers wearing practically nothing but a speedo ("300") or wooing various attractive women with a wink and a nod.  The same with Heigl, who has good timing and is able to hold her own with dirty language.  It might be fun to see her attempt an action picture again (her small role in "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" had her next to Steven Seagal himsel). 

But the simple truth is that "The Ugly Truth" just doesn't do enough to make itself stand out or break any new ground to make it a worthwhile picture.  It's a problem that most movies of the genre succumb to, one that's driven me nuts for years and years.  Because at the end of the day, at least a bad action picture has all kinds of ridiculous wizardry to distract me... But a bad romantic comedy?  What distractions does it present?  Set design?  Probably not, since it takes place in all manner of mundane locations like hotel elevators and office buildings. 

Of course, I'm always open to suggestions.  I know there are good romantic comedies and good chick flicks out there.  What are they?  Show them to me, so that I can appreciate them, too.

(PS: Ems, what was the name of that Christian Slater movie?)

'The Big Bang Theory' Season One [dvd]

"The Big Bang Theory"
Starring Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco
Created by Chuck Lorry and Bill Prady

I don't often care for sitcoms.  In my household growing up, I was often subjected to the overly-sugary, bubblegum adventures of "Full House" or "Step By Step."  After a while, as my tastes diverged from those of my other family members, these shows became grating.  As I learned more about TV production, became more interested in more mature and impressive shows, the gag-setup-cue-laughtrack form of sitcom TV became less and less appealing to me.  Hearing a studio audience destroys my attention to the world being created on-screen.  It makes the shows seem much more staged and artificial, whereas I prefer to be engrossed in a more natural world - no matter how absurd that world may be.

These days, I prefer sitcoms like "The Office" or "30 Rock" that don't employ open sets and laugh tracks in the typical manner.  These sitcoms develop characters and rules for their fictional universes, and with camera work and better lighting, come across as more mature productions.

"The Big Bang Theory" came to me highly recommended, and I gave it a chance, despite not being a fan of the format.  "The Big Bang Theory" is an enjoyable enough show, but still suffers from all those things I hate about sitcoms.  Dialogue has a certain rhythm to it, everyone pauses after delivering what one hopes will be a witty remark, and the likely nonexistent audience reacts raucously each time, no matter how unfunny or esoteric a comment might be.

The show chronicles the misadventures of social misfits Leonard and Sheldon, two nerdy genius physicists living together.  Their lives consist mostly of work and nerdy pursuits like "Halo" night, buying sci-fi movie props on eBay and eating at the same restaurants on a schedule.  One day, this life is thrown out of whack when an attractive new neighbor moves in across the hall.  Leonard quickly develops a crush on gorgeous Penny, even though her IQ can't nearly match hers.  What she can do, however, is teach Leonard and Sheldon how to function better in social situations.

The bulk of the season consists of building a variety of situations in which Leonard gets to pine after Penny, while Sheldon is socially oblivious or obnoxious.  There are numerous misunderstandings that require Leonard to apologize to Penny for some slight, which he believes will ultimately mean they won't get together.

The characters are likeable, and well-played by an able cast.  Penny's voice can, at times, grate, but she's easy on the eyes and has solid comedic timing.  She's able to react well enough to Sheldon's various obnoxious routines, many of which offend her.  Why she continues to put up with his presence is often beyond me.  The problem with Sheldon is that at times he comes across as socially inept, or oblivious, and sometimes he just comes across as an asshole.

The show is enjoyable enough.  There were a few gags here or there that I found laugh-out-loud funny, but for the most part, "The Big Bang Theory" is a chuckler.  I like it enough to keep watching, but it's not destined to become a favorite that I'll return to over and over.

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that this show employs a live audience, and not a 'laugh track'.  Regardless, the style is the same and doesn't change the review.  A show would never make it to air without laughter at all the parts the producers wanted it, so whether the laughter is live or simply cued really makes no difference any any way other than that the quality of that particular sound will vary.  Compare this with something like "The Daily Show", where you know when a joke bombs - in a sitcom, there's an eruption of laughter no matter how unfunny the material.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Get Carter" (2000)

"Get Carter" (2000)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Rachel Leigh Cook and Mickey Rourke
Written by David McKenna
Directed by Stephen T. Kay

I'll admit it, I have a weakness for Sylvester Stallone.  I'm not sure I can say that I like a lot of the movies he's in, but I like the man himself.  Sure, he's got that funky speech impediment, and he's not an actor with a ton of range, but in interviews he always comes off as friendly, intelligent and personable, and that always seems to get through to me so that, no matter how bad it may look, I'll always give one of his movies a shot.

"Get Carter" is not a good movie.  It's not particularly long, but it feels it.  It's the story of Jack Carter, a mob enforcer who attends his brother's funeral and then attempts to track down who killed him and why.  Eventually, there's a some reveal about an incriminating computer disc, some porno stuff, a couple of car chases... But to get there, what happens?  A whole lot of nothing.  There aren't a lot of characters in this movie.  Each scene basically consists of Carter working his way through the same four people or so, interrogating them in turn over and over again. 

Stallone himself doesn't seem particularly interested in what's going on.  The only times his character comes alive at all is when he's interacting with Rachel Leigh Cook as his niece, Doreen.  The two of them have fine chemistry together, for what little screen time they share.  Mickey Rourke is appropriately imposing as a pimp/porno producer/sketchy dude.  The rest of the cast is just... there. 

Even Michael Caine, who played Carter in the original 1970s version, delivers an uninterested performance, even when it's revealed what his role in the story and motivations are.  The scene falls flat because Caine just seems to be there, without any kind of life or menace.

Put "Get Carter" down there as another soulless remake.  There's obviously potential for a gritty, noir-ish revenge story, but none of it is capitalized here.  Even the action scenes aren't particularly engrossing, which is unfortunate, because Stallone is usually a very likable presence on screen.

"Ran" (1985)

"Ran" (1985)
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao and Jinpachi Nezu
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni
Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Written and directed by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, "Ran" is a Shakespearean tragedy of the highest order.  It is the story of Hidetora Ichimonji, a ruler who steps aside and divides his kingdom amongst his three sons after a long life of war and violence.  What he soon finds, however, is that he's raised his sons to be petty and vindictive, and they soon betray him.

"Ran" is a fantastic film, beautifully shot and featuring amazing splashes of color.  Performances from the cast are all first-rate.  The sort of harsh, staccato style of acting may seem jarring to American audiences, but it all fits with the rest of the picture.  "Ran" is also rather lengthy, but will grab your attention and hold it with it's gripping storyline and excellent, epic action sequences.

I first saw "Ran" years ago as a teenager, and didn't quite appreciate it because of who and where I was at the time.  But the one thing I did remember, vividly, was how intensely colorful it was.  The costumes, the locations and sets all feature fantastic detail and design.  It's unfortunate, then, that the presentation on the Blu-Ray disc isn't as excellent as it could, or should, be.  The picture can best be described as 'inconsistent'.  There are times of excellent clarity, and the film looks practically brand new, but for the most part, there's a softness that hurts the entire thing.  The colors are represented well, though, which is a plus.  The grass in the opening shots may be indistinct, but it certainly is GREEN.

Still, "Ran" is a first-rate picture.  Even with a disappointing Blu-Ray presentation, it still needs to be seen.  Hopefully, someone will come along and give it the proper video transfer this luscious film deserves.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Bolt" (2008)

"Bolt" (2008)
Starring John Travolta and Miley Cyrus
Written by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams
Directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams

Another non-Pixar CG animated flick, this time from Disney themselves, "Bolt" stars John Travolta as the titular dog who goes on a cross-country journey to find Penny, his "person".  Bolt, a super-powered dog, believes Penny has been kidnapped by Dr. Calico, "the Green-Eyed man," who plots to take over the world.  In reality, Bolt is actually a canine actor on a TV show about a super-powered dog.  Penny is an actress who has gone home for the weekend.

The director of the show goes to extremes to make sure that Bolt doesn't know that Penny really isn't in danger in order to get the best performance out of his canine star.  Unfortunately, this means that when Bolt gets loose in the real world, he has no idea how to function as a real dog.  On his own, in a strange place, Bolt attempts to find Penny by whatever means necessary, coming across a number of strange characters and new situations.  He puts together a rag-tag team consisting of an alley-cat named Mittens and a hamster in a ball named Rhino to help him.

"Bolt" is an okay feature, but nothing overly special.  The movie functions best when Bolt is learning how to be a real dog and not a super-powered show dog... so basically, a solid portion of the 2nd act.  The rest of the action is entertaining enough, but comes off feeling pretty standard.  Luckily, as an animated feature, "Bolt" is short enough that no part of the film ever outstays its welcome.

The cast is able, with John Travolta providing the voice of the titular dog, and Miley Cyrus as Penny, Susie Essman as Mittens and Mark Walton as Rhino.  Probably the best parts go to all the quick, one-off characters.  The movie has a number of bird characters that are all cleverly characterized depending on geographical region.

"Bolt" is well-animated, though the character designs are all fairly standard.  It's entertaining enough to distract your kids for an hour and a half, but it's probably not likely to become a favorite in too many households.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Oldboy" (2003)

"Oldboy" (2003)
Starring Man-sik Choi, Ji-Tae Yu and Hye-jeong Kang
Written by Garon Tsuchiya
Directed by Chan-wook Park

Lots of revenge stories are pretty simplistic: someone is wronged, and goes on a killing spree to avenge said wrong.  In "Oldboy," a Korean film from 2003, the violence takes a back seat to a noir-ish style, and a twisting, turning revenge tale that never seems to go where you expect it.  Where does it go?  To ridiculous depths of torture of different kinds. 

"Oldboy" is the story of Dae-su Oh, a husband and father who finds himself imprisoned for 15 years.  He is kept in a room that seems much like a hotel, but features a heavy steel door he can't get through.  He is regularly drugged to keep him in line.  He maintains his sanity by keeping track of time and slowly hatching a plan for escape and training his body.  Just before he manages to escape, he's visited by a hypnotist.  He soon awakes on the roof of a building, out in the real world, and begins his quest to track down those who imprisoned him and took his life away.  He finds he's wanted for the murder of his wife, and discovers that his daughter has been taken to another country.

After passing out at a restaurant, he's helped and nursed by a young sushi chef named Mi-do, and the two quickly fall for each other.  As Dae-su attempts to get his revenge, unraveling a conspiracy against him that stretches back for his entire life, "Oldboy" turns everything upside-down on its audience.   The finale is a sequence absolutely drenched not only in blood but in emotion, one that will leave you simply stunned.  Just who is getting revenge on whom and for what here?  To what depths would you go to get back at someone? 

Going into it, I thought "Oldboy" was going to be another blood-soaked "Kill Bill" sort of affair.  But once I realized exactly what I was getting into, I was hooked.  The film can feel a little over-long at times, but ultimately, it was an intense and draining experience.  It has bursts of action that are well-done and entertaining, but ultimately this is a revenge drama, not an action film.  The performances are excellent, and I was surprised that even the English dub had managed to find worthwhile voice actors to fill in these parts.  Normally, one is subjected to all kinds of terrible voice acting, but "Oldboy" fares quite well when translated. 

"Oldboy" is not for the squeamish, however.  The final reveal is sickening, and there are several scenes of torture and bloody violence, as well as sex and nudity.  It's an intense film from start to finish, but one that I can highly recommend to those who can stomach it.

"Sunshine Cleaning" (2008)

"Sunshine Cleaning" (2008)
Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin
Written by Megan Holley
Directed by Christine Jeffs

"Sunshine Cleaning" is a charming dramedy starring Amy Adams as Rose, a former high school hot-shot cheerleader who finds that her life hasn't fulfilled all the promises it made back then.  While many of her friends are well-to-do and married, Rose is a single mother struggling at her job as a house cleaner.  Her sister, Norah, is rough-around-the-edges, unable to hold a steady job.  Her boyfriend is... well, he's married.  Her father, Joe, is a man always managing to find a new, sure-thing business venture that never pans out.  And her son, Oscar, just got kicked out of school for licking a teacher's leg.  In short, life isn't so rosy (har-har).

One day, Rose's boyfriend Mac (Steve Zahn) tells her about how much money she could make cleaning up crime and trauma scenes.  Taking his advice, she starts her own business, Sunshine Cleaning, and recruits her sister Norah to help her out.  Unlicensed and inexperienced, the two charge almost ridiculously low prices (compared to their competitors anyway) and start picking up jobs all over town. 

"Sunshine Cleaning" isn't a full-out comedy.  It's not laugh-out-loud funny; instead, it's more the kind of movie that just has you smiling most of the way through.  The characters are quirky, but relatable.  Humor comes from their responses to certain situations, rather than from slapstick or typical jokes.  There's humor in the dialogue, sure, but it's not quite the sit-com style setup that can end up seeming very flat or theatrical.  "Sunshine Cleaning" has a very natural ease to it, and much of that comes from a capable cast.

Amy Adams is the star of the show here, exuding an extremely likable presence as Rose.  Blunt does fine as Norah, the more damaged of the two sisters, as she undertakes her own journey after discovering something at one of the crime scenes she cleans.  The two of them have great chemistry as sisters, as well, and handle the lighter, comedic aspects of the film with ease.

Underneath it all, however "Sunshine Cleaning" is a rather typical tale of self-discovery and improvement.  It's the details that make it special, with an inspired premise and interesting characters. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"The Bounty Hunter" (2010)

"The Bounty Hunter" (2010)
Starring Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston
Written by Sarah Thorpe
Directed by Andy Tennant

Let's start off with this right now: Pitchers of beer didn't make 'The Bounty Hunter' a better movie.  This romantic comedy stars Gerard Butler ("300") and Jennifer Aniston ("Friends")... and that's about it.  There's a story here, but none of the characters really pay any attention to it.  There are other characters, but we never really learn anything about them. 

Instead, what we get is basically two hours of Butler and Aniston squabbling.  It's supposed to be funny, and then it's supposed to be sweet, but really what it is is just... there.  The setup has potential for action comedy gold, in the style of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" from a few years back, which starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (and famously broke up the marriage of Pitt and Aniston). 

Here we have Butler as Milo Boyd, ex-cop and now bounty hunter - he hunts down bail jumpers for a living and then goes drinking with his cop friend Bobby.  Aniston plays his ex-wife, reporter Nicole Hurley, who was arrested for assaulting a police officer (a charge, which, when you finally learn the whole story is one of the few genuinely humorous parts of the movie).  Hurley gets a tip on a story she's working that could be huge, and misses her court date.  Milo is hired to bring her in, a target which would net him a sweet $5,000 - which he needs since he's $11,000 in the hole to an Atlantic City loan shark named Irene.

Of course, since their divorce was so bitter, Milo thinks this is the greatest thing that's ever happened to him, and he takes off to track down Nicole and bring her to jail and collect his $5G.  Nicole, meanwhile, is tracking down a snitch who's been kidnapped after finding out a little bit too much about evidence that's gone missing from a police lockup.  Once Milo finds her, it turns out that they're in the sights of just about everyone: Cops, Irene's debt collectors, drug dealers... It's a worthy setup for an action comedy, as I've said.

The problem is that... nothing really happens.  Milo and Nicole spend a good amount of time bickering in the car, bickering at a casino, bickering in their hotel room.  They have only two encounters with the drug dealer, only one encounter with the loan sharks, in the entire movie.  All Milo has to do to collect his cash is drive Nicole from Atlantic City back to New York City.  Somehow, this ends up taking them an entire weekend because they keep stopping at casinos, hotels and bed and breakfasts. 

This utter lack of plot momentum could be dealt with if the jokes were funny, but most often, they're simply not.  "The Bounty Hunter" commits that annoying sin of telling and not showing, and has the characters simply declare things and tell stories to each other.  Earlier, I mentioned Nicole's arrest for assaulting an officer.  This scene was chuckle-worthy, but it would have been hilarious if actually shown.  One of Aniston's talents is her ability to react to things, and a simple, maybe 10-second flashback here could have been the highlight of the movie.  Instead, the script calls for her to simply explain it to Butler while they sit in his car just before the film's climax.

The rest of the film is filled with inoffensive slapstick.  At one point, Milo and Nicole end up at the bed and breakfast where they spent their honeymoon.  This could easily have been a biting, satirical sequence but the script won't take any chances with anything, so it's just another in a long list of missed opportunities in this movie.

Alright, so I've been pretty hard on "The Bounty Hunter" so far, but let me say that there are some bright points.  Butler and Aniston have chemistry together.  Butler, especially, seems to be having a lot of fun in his role.  I just wish we were having that much fun watching it.  In the end, it's these two that make "The Bounty Hunter" watchable at all.  They're both lively presences on the screen that attract attention, it's just too bad that they weren't given better material to make it more fulfilling. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Monsters vs Aliens" (2009)

"Monsters vs Aliens" (2009)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie and Seth Rogan
Written by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky
Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon

Though Disney/Pixar may be the kings of CG animated films, Dreamworks has proven themselves no slouches with their popular 'Shrek' series, and now 'Monsters vs Aliens', a 2009 sci-fi comedy hit.  Boasting an all-star cast and first-rate animation and a wittily absurd script, 'Monsters vs Aliens' is easy to recommend and highly entertaining.

The story concerns Susan (Witherspoon), a bride-to-be who is struck by a radioactive meteor on her wedding day.  Suddenly transformed into a 50-foot-tall woman with enormous strength, she is quickly captured by the US government and imprisoned with other monsters such as Dr Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), Missing Link (Will Arnett) , Insectosaurus and a gelatinous blob named B.O.B (Seth Rogan). Their prison warden is the hard-nosed military general W. R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland, employing a cartoonish but effective southern drawl). 

When Earth is attacked by the evil alien Gallaxhor (Rainn Wilson), the President (Stephen Colbert) allows Monger to unleash the monsters to protect the planet in exchange for their freedom.  Susan, fighting off a giant alien robot nearly by herself, realizes that the old life she longs to return to isn't all it was made out to be.  And when her fiance, Derek (Paul Rudd), makes her realize what a selfish jerk he is, she begins to accept her freakish new friends and role in life. 

There's a decent message here for a powerful female protagonist to realize that she's stronger than the man she thought she loved, standing up for herself and realizing that the freaks are the best friends she's had in life.  Whether that's me reading too much into the situation or not doesn't matter - 'Monsters vs Aliens' is pretty hilarious.  There's lots of hijinks going on, with a movie this filled with lunacy and absurd characters.  Colbert makes the most of his short runtime as a dimwitted politician obsessed with his own importance (his opening attempt to communicate with the aliens via synthesizer music is a riot).  Seth Rogan does a fabulous job playing a gelatinous doofus, always forgetting who he is since he has no brain.  In one inspired bit, he laments that a bowl of jello he hits on at a party may have given him a fake phone number.

"Monsters vs Aliens' is a win for Dreamworks.  It may not reach the emotional highs of Pixar's efforts, but it certainly makes up for that with plenty of silly humor and knowing pop culture and sci-fi references. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'Stargate Universe' Season 1, vol 1 [blu-ray]

'Stargate Universe' Season 1, Vol. 1 (2009)
Starring Robert Carlyle, Justin Lewis, Brian J. Smith
Created by Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright

Slacker genius Eli Wallace is recruited by the U.S. Air Force to help with a special space program called Project Icarus, an attempt to dial the mysterious 9th and final chevron of the stargate.  When the base is attacked, Dr. Nicholas Rush manages to dial the 9th chevron and evacuate the base personnel through the stargate.  They find themselves on an Ancient starship called Destiny, billions of light-years from home.  Low on supplies, the expedition team, led by Colonel Everett Young and Lt. Matthew Scott try to hold the ship and themselves together until they can figure out a way home.

Sci-Fi Channel (now lamely called SyFy) pisses me off.  Their airing schedule is flat-out retarded.  They'll show 10 episodes of a series, then take it off the air for months.  This led to all kinds of problems for the network's excellent 'Battlestar Galactica' series, and it continues to do so here for the newest 'Stargate' spinoff, 'Universe'.

'Stargate Universe' is presented as a two-disc, half-season (yet full-priced) set.  The ten episodes here are:

"Air" Parts 1, 2 and 3

'Universe' presents a major stylistic departure for the franchise.  The two previous entries, 'Stargate SG-1' and 'Stargate Atlantis' were jokey, action-adventure shows.  The episodes were snappy and fast-paced, filled with over-the-top villains, witty exchanges and big, special effects-laden action sequences.   'Universe' on the other hand is slow, more character-centric and, at least in these first ten episodes, light on action and alien encounters.

Everything here is changed - Dialogue isn't nearly as jokey.  Characters argue with each other, half of them flat-out don't like the others.  Everyone is much more serious.  Only Eli remains as a vestige of the silliness of previous 'Stargate' shows, with his sarcastic demeanor and nerdy references.  Tension is supplied amply in place of previous shows' action sequences.  Instead of huge space battles, we're witness to situations where the ship and crew are placed in danger by their environment or by their own actions, lending the show a feeling of adventure over action.

Each episode focuses on a different necessity.  In the pilot, the ship's life support system is failing and the expedition team must find a way to repair it before they suffocate.  Other episodes feature them searching for water, or attempting to replenish the ship's energy stores.  In an excellent riff on the time-loop story made famous by 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and a previous (and absolutely classic) 'SG-1' episode, 'Universe' even allows for the exploration of time.

Although stylistically very different from the previous 'Stargate' shows, 'Universe' still definitely feels like part of that, well, universe.  Guest appearances by SG-1 characters like Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), as well as using certain franchise tropes such as the stargate itself and the rules it works by, help make 'Universe' feel like a different slice of the same pie. 

The show's production design is much darker, as well.  The sets all look much more impressive and not nearly as cheap as the previous shows, as well.  'Universe' is a very slick show, with high production values.  The 'Stargate' crew hired the photographer of 'The Shield', and that dramatic shaky-cam aesthetic is used well here.  Special effects are also a notch above what we saw in the previous shows, as well.

All this said, 'Stargate Universe' is not without fault.  A few of the episodes are a bit too slow, the musical score can be dull when it shouldn't be, and not everyone in the cast is quite up to the task.  Still, after 15 seasons and two direct-to-dvd movies, it's a nice breath of fresh air to see the 'Stargate' franchise take itself a little more seriously for a change.  It may not be a revelatory character drama, but it's solidly crafted and entertaining.

There are five episodes on each blu-ray disc, presented in 1080p High Definition.  Visually, the show looks quite good.  The show is surprisingly colorful, and blu-ray's ability to reproduce stronger, bolder colors than DVD is put to good use.  Fine detail is strong, with lots of great textures visible in clothing and on the grungy sets and CGI special effects.  It's not consistent, however, with the occasional flare-ups of excessive grain and softness.  Overall, though, the video presentation is great, even better than the show's HD broadcasts.

In terms of sound, the surround track is excellent.  There's a lot of ambient work coming from the surrounds, dialogue is always intelligible from the center, and bass is solid.  The 5.1 tracks on the previous 'Stargate' DVDs were always excellent (as far as TV soundtracks went) and there's no change here.  Well done.

"Command Performance" (2009)

"Command Performance" (2009)
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Melissa Smith and Hristo Shopov
Written by Dolph Lundgren and Steve Latshaw
Directed by Dolph Lundgren

Well, color me surprised.  When I first saw the trailer for "Command Performance," written, directed and starring Dolph Lundgren, my first thought was, "Oh you've got to be kidding me."  Lundgren stars as Joe, the drummer for a rock band caught up in a terrorist attack on a concert in Moscow.  In the bathroom when terrorists storm the stadium, Joe manages to go overlooked when the crowd is massacred and the VIPs, the Russian president and his two daughters, are taken captive along with a pop singer and the American ambassador.  As the military gears up for a strike outside, Joe teams with the lone surviving security agent inside and the two set out to rescue the hostages and find a way to escape.

Now, "Command Performance" is by no means a great film.  But as a direct-to-video actioner, it's surprisingly competent.  The storyline is hardly original, but is solidly written and direction by Lundgren is also fine.  The man knows how to stage action sequences, even when limited by his budget.  There are a few stumbles here or there, times when the camera gets too shaky even in scenes that don't call for it, but overall this is an impressive effort for the man who once nearly killed Sylvester Stallone by punching him too hard in the chest.

While well-shot and lit, giving "Command Performance" a slick look, its budgetary limitations become somewhat apparent during the larger action sequences.  But when the action stays small and constrained, the movie works pretty well.  The acting isn't particularly great; Lundgren has never really been much of a performer, and here he surrounds himself with no-names, some of whom are fine.  Some of the Russian characters are pretty bad, though.

Still, with some well-done action sequences and a solid albeit somewhat unoriginal story, "Command Performance" is an enjoyable 90 minutes.  It's not nearly as ridiculous as the trailer makes it out to be, and it definitely knows that the premise is silly and pokes fun at itself a few times, with good effect.  With a few more dollars in the budget, this could have been released theatrically and I won't lie, I'd have gone to see it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Cobra" (1986)

"Cobra" (1986)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen and Brian Thompson
Written by Sylvester Stallone
Directed by George P. Cosmatos

Sylvester Stallone stars as Marion "Cobra" Cobretti in this mediocre mid-80s action flick about a cop trying to protect a witness from an evil, murderous cult.  With a slim runtime of only 90 minutes, "Cobra" moves at a brisk pace, leaving no time for any real development of character or even its own paper-thin plot.  The movie is loaded with every kind of cliche, from the macho lone-wolf cop to the antagonistic by-the-books detective, the spineless captain, the innocent blonde witness... It never ends.

There are a few reasonably well-made action sequences to prop up all the nothing going on here, but for the most part, "Cobra" is definitely a lesser entry into the 80s action genre, and in Stallone's filmography.  Probably the only bright spot to "Cobra" is Stallone himself, who gets in a few good cheesy one-liners here and there.

Unfortunately, nothing else really works.  Stallone has no chemistry with Nielsen, who is a flat-out terrible actress.  The other characters in the film are flimsy, and not even really all that well cast.  Andrew Robinson ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") does admirable work in a cliched but stupid role as another detective opposed to Cobra's methods.

The plot, as I said, is paper thin and still under-developed.  If the origins of this cult (or any explanation as to how they recruited police officers as well as street thugs and what appear to be respectable businessmen) were revealed, I must have missed it.  Why any of the other police officers have trouble believing Cobra's "theory" that there is more than one killer is also beyond me, since Cobra has left a string of bodies in his wake that should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that something's going on here.

Sadly, despite some promise, "Cobra" just isn't all that entertaining.  There's nothing particularly special about it.  The cast doesn't gel, none of the characters or plot are given any development, and logic flies completely out the window in certain parts.  A well-meaning Stallone and some decent action sequences can't save this one.

Unless you need to see every Stallone movie ever made, there's not much reason to bother with this one.  Or unless you're trying to choose between this and "Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Twin Dragons" (1992)

"Twin Dragons" (1992"
Starring Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung
Written by Hark Tsui and Barry Wong
Directed by Hark Tsui and Ringo Lam

Jackie Chan plays a double role as scruffy mechanic / car racer Boomer and his twin brother separated at birth, master orchestra conductor John Ma.  The two brothers are reunited, never having known the other existed, when John comes to Hong Kong to direct the biggest concert of his career.  Mistaken identity leads to a variety of comedic situations, which Chan excels at. 

While physically identical, the two characters are quite different.  Boomer is horny, rough, rude and an excellent martial artist to boot.  John, on the other hand, is simple, humble and couldn't fight to save himself.  The two brothers notice something is going on when they can feel what the other is doing - Boomer's hands move as if playing the piano when John is, John gets seasick when Boomer gets into a boat chase.

The movie starts strongly, with Chan taking on a whole nightclub full of goons, flipping and tumbling about, using microphones as weapons.  It's the kind of slapstick martial arts Chan is known for, and it's a joy to watch.  Unfortunately, things slow down a great deal for much of the movie, and Chan isn't really given another chance to let loose until the climactic fight in a Mitsubishi testing facility.  There are some fun chases, including a scene where a mob boss is busted out of a police convoy that features some great stunt driving and crashes.

But once that final fight starts up, "Twin Dragons" really starts firing again.  Unfortunately, "Twin Dragons" just can't hold up to other Chan movies I've watched recently, especially the excellent fights in "Drunken Master" and "Thunderbolt."  It's entertaining enough as a slapstick comedy with a few spurts of action, but really needed more oomph.

"The Rock" (1996)

"The Rock" (1996)
Starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris
Written by David Weisberg & Douglas Cook
Directed by Michael Bay

"Welcome to the Rock."  A preposterous action film from the talented minds of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, "The Rock" sees Force Recon General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) steal a payload of rockets filled with a deadly nerve gas and aim them toward the city of San Francisco.  Taking hostages on the former prison island of Alcatraz, Hummel demands a payment of $100 million from the US government as restitution for the families of fallen soldiers under his command on top-secret missions over the years.

The FBI recruits chemical weapons specialist Stanley Goodspeed (Nic Cage) and former Alcatraz prisoner John Masion (Sean Connery) to find a way into the supposedly inescapable prison and defuse the situation.  And for the next two hours and twenty minutes or so, that's pretty much what they do.  Mix in car chases, gunfights, explosions and some witty one liners from Sir Connery, and you've got "The Rock."

Before taking his 'Bayhem' style to ridiculous heights of stupidity ("Armageddon", "Pearl Harbor") director Michael Bay was actually quite good at crafting high-octane action films with style and wit all their own.  Sure, they were never going to be best picture winners, but Bay knew how to stage chases and fights with flare the likes of which few had seen on screen before.  When people say that such and such a movie was "shot and edited like a music video", well, they can thank Mr. Bay for that... oh, and Tony Scott, too.

Probably the only problem with "The Rock" as a film is that it takes, and I kid you not, exactly one hour before the characters even attempt their infiltration into Alcatraz.  The previous hour is spent introducing characters and destroying half of San Francisco in one single car chase.  The film employs standard action movie tropes like reading aloud the qualifications of its badass main characters, as though all that nonsense is supposed to impress us.  Listening to the director of the FBI run down Goodspeed's qualifications, with Goodspeed standing right there in front of him, is a bore and a total waste of time.  We'd already been introduced to the fact that Goodspeed is highly qualified in an earlier scene where he defuses a bomb inside of a child's doll.

So the front end of the film could use a little trimming, since once the movie gets to Alcatraz, it starts to finally run on all cylinders.  In fact, the second half of the movie steams by so fast, you wonder if the movie is really as long as its runtime suggests.

But "The Rock" is still a wildly fun ride.  Connery gets in a bunch of great lines ("Your best?  Losers always whine about their best!  Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.") and the action is varied and well-done.  There isn't much in the way of twists and turns to the plot - everything here is predictable to a T.  The fun comes in watching all the destruction and mayhem unfold, not from trying to guess where the "story" will go next.

Friday, March 12, 2010

'Caprica' 107 - "Imperfections of Memory"

'Caprica' 1x07 - "Imperfections of Memory"

Daniel continues to fend of Vergis' attempts to buy the Caprica Buccaneers while Joseph searches New Cap City for Tamara's avatar. 

This episode gelled better than the last.  Dramatically, it was much the same.  There's very little to distinguish the two episodes, as they're both essentially just a continuation of the same storylines.  What began in the last one continues here, and will continue again in the next.  Problematic is the brevity of certain scenes, which are so short as to lack a point.

One scene in particular with Joseph in New Cap City, where his guide leads him to the entrance of a building.  This scene can't be more than 20 or 30 seconds long, and doesn't have a single bit of new information in it.  Joseph reiterates that if he dies in New Cap City (therefore blocking him out of the virtual game) he will have lost all chance to find his daughter.  Well, frankly, not only does the guide already know this, but so do we as the audience.  The scene could only serve the purpose of padding out the show's runtime, which is absurd since it already moves at an incredibly languid pace.

There are some action bits here to spice things up - New Cap City proves once again to be a violent, sci-fi tinged noir world.  And Zoe-Avatar goes on another date with her lab technician, this time into a Viper flight simulator. 

Ultimately, the thing that makes the entire episode worthwhile is the cliffhanger ending.  It's a moment that we've been building for through the last seven episodes, and hopefully it'll pay off next week.  It's a moment at the crux of the Daniel Graystone character - it factors into both his business and personal life storylines, and has huge implications for both. 

The other storyline here, of the budding 'friendship' between Amanda Graystone and Sister Clarice didn't have much movement, either.  That Amanda is seeing the 'ghost' of her dead brother is interesting more for what it could mean than for how it's played.  Is this a sign of things to come?  Is Amanda an instrument of god like Kara Thrace and Gaius Baltar?  Or is she just becoming unhinged over the death of her daughter, and then discovering her connection to the Soldiers of the One?

There are only a couple more episodes before the show takes a lengthy hiatus until the fall.  Hopefully, there will be some more movement in these storylines.  It's hard to keep interest in a show that only gives you a few minutes to grasp on to in each episode to keep you coming back for more instead of being thoroughly engrossing for the entire hour.

'Caprica' 1x06 - "Know Thy Enemy"

"Caprica" 1x06 - "Know Thy Enemy
Starring Esai Morales and Eric Stolz
Written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman

Daniel Graystone faces a corporate rival while Sister Clarice closes in on Zoe's avatar.

"Caprica" is a series that is taking a long time to really grab my attention.  By its nature, it's much slower-paced than "Battlestar Galactica."  This is also its problem - The show will be constantly compared to "Galactica", being a prequel to it, and the two are entirely different animals.  I can forgive a slow-burn of a TV show.  Lord knows, I've seen enough shows that don't have nearly as much action as "Galactica".

The problem is that "Caprica" is not really an interesting slow-burn.  There are snippets here or there, but overall, it's a world populated with uninteresting characters and meandering storylines.  The previous episode, 'There is Another Sky,' was easily the show's best.  It was the only one that seemed to have focus and move at a pace that doesn't make the whole thing seem dull.

Here, in "Know Thy Enemy," we are introduced to a character named Vergis, a Tauron inventor Daniel stole a key piece of Cylon technology from in the pilot episode.  Vergis tells us that it is his goal to tear up Daniel's dreams as revenge for the deaths of two of his employees.    These scenes work as the highlight of the episode because it feels like something is happening.  The other storylines in this episode, with Zoe-Avatar setting up a v-world date for a lonely lab technician and Joseph trying to find Tamara's lost avatar don't work nearly as well, especially Zoe's.

When I think of the world of "Battlestar Galactica", the one image that is farthest from my mind is that of a Cylon nerd matchmaker.

Daniel's story works because it's the kind of intrigue and prequel storytelling that this show should excel at.  We're digging into the history of the creation of the Cylons, and that is interesting stuff to mine.  It's when the show takes detours into other places that it stumbles, as though it doesn't really know what to do with itself.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Dead Snow" (2009)

"Dead Snow" (2009)
Starring Vegar Hoel, Stig Henriksen and Charlotte Frogner
Written by Stig Henriksen and Tommy Wirkola
Directed by Tommy Wirkola

"Dead Snow" starts out like your typical young kids take a trip to a scary cabin in the woods story. As such, it takes a while to get going, but once it does, it's a non-stop, hilarious bit of violent camp. We're introduced to the main cast quickly as they make their way up a mountain to their friend Sara's cabin, far outside cellular range and miles from the nearest neighbors.

What they don't know is that Sara had arrived earlier and already been killed by the vicious creatures that inhabit the area - the reanimated remains of a garrison of World War II Nazi soldiers searching for treasure they had stolen from the locals sixty years earlier before dying in the mountains.

Of course, this treasure is buried directly under the cabin. Why is never explained, but frankly it doesn't particularly matter. Once the violence starts, any kind of plot just plain disappears. But again, once the violence starts, you'll be having so much fun nothing else matters. There are some brutal, well-made kills in "Dead Snow", and to describe any of them in any kind of real detail would just ruin the entire experience.

There are a few places in the movie where budgetary limitations rear their ugly head, but it rarely gets in the way of the enjoyment. "Dead Snow" is loaded with all kinds of fun violence, some witty one-liners and a few genuinely creepy situations. If you're looking for a good, fun-filled zombie romp, if you can't pass up the idea of ZOMBIE. NAZIS. then look no further - "Dead Snow" is for you.

"Commando" (1985)

"Commando" (1985)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alyssa Milano and Rae Dawn Chong
Written by Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman
Directed by Mark Lester

There are probably few movies as incredibly dated as 1985's "Commando", an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick that tastes like a block of cheese from first bite to last.  Schwarzenegger stars as John Matrix, a retired special forces soldier who just wants to live a quiet life and raise his daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano).  Of course, this can't be allowed to happen since then there'd be no movie.  Jenny is promptly kidnapped, and Matrix is given an ultimatum: Work for a former enemy to take out the newly installed leader of a fictitious South American country, or the girl dies.

This, of course, is completely unacceptable to any character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  What follows is a rampage nearly unrivaled in Schwarzenegger's filmography.  Brutally, quickly, and with unparalleled ease, Matrix kills anyone and everyone who gets in his way.   Gunfights, car chases, explosions, and cheesy-ass one-liners... "Commando" has it all.

Now, as I said, "Commando" is about as dated as it gets.  It's synth score, tinny sound effects, clothing and hair styles, everything about this movie positively screams 1985.  There's literally no way around it.  In "Commando", whenever something happens, people immediately rush to the nearest payphone.  Beyond all the details of the time, the simple truth is that they just don't make movies like this anymore.  The days of the superhuman, muscle-bound action hero are gone.  Sure, we have superhero movies up the wazoo, but it's just not  the same.  No, nowadays we often expect our action heroes to be the John McClane every-man.  Schwarzenegger's heyday has passed.

But watching "Commando" brings it all back.  By the time the ludicrously overblown finale comes along, and Schwarzenegger marches through the enemy stronghold killing dozens of men, it's hard not to be grinning from ear to ear.  The blood is brightly colored, the one-liners are terrible (and that just makes them even more hilarious) and ... well... You won't be disappointed.  "Commando" is the definition of a guilty pleasure, one that I stop and watch each and every time it's on TV.

Welcome to "For Reelz"

This is my third blog in addition to my web comic, "Olympus Mans" and my funny/weird news blog, "For the Record."

What will "For Reelz" be about?  Well, movies.  Taking a page from Noel over at One Hot Geek, it will be mostly movie reviews as I work my way through my Netflix queue, but also reviews and discussions about other things such as TV shows, comic books and videogames.

In other words, "For Reelz" is where I get to geek out in a way my other blogs don't let me.  I hope you enjoy it.