October 06, 2011

A deeper look into "Dream House"

Richard takes a deeper look into "Dream House" specifically the flaws that kept a good movie from greatness. WARNING: Clicking "Read More" contains just about every spoiler in the film. Reader beware!

Those of you that have seen the film know that Will Atenton is Peter Ward. Five years before the start of the film Daniel Craig's character witnessed the shooting death's of his wife and daughters before being accidentally shot in the head as he struggled with the killer by his wife. I have no problem with this. I personally think that the build up would have paid off more had HE been the one to kill his wife and daughters, but that would be very hard to pull off in American cinema. The biggest problem is how they got there.

So much of the film is dedicated to showing how much Will loves his family. How happy they are. I understand what Jim Sheridan and David Loucka were trying to accomplish, but it resulted in the film tragically underusing Naomi Watts as the neighbor Ann, Marton Csokas as Ann's ex-husband, Jack and Elias Koteas as Jack's hired killer Boyce.

There was an entire subplot only hinted at until the climax of the movie between Ann and Jack. After what I assume was a very nasty divorce Jack is murderously angry at Ann over the fact that he lost the house and his money and has to share custody of their daughter with Ann. Somewhere jumbled in the mix is the fact that Jack is having money problems and Ann has (what I am assuming) a large life insurance policy. The only reason the audience is even aware of this is because of an out of place scene near the beginning of the film that comes from left field, and after the reveal where we learn Jack hired Boyce to kill his wife, but screwed up and killed the Ward family instead.

That had the potential to be a wonderful story arc. Jack could be wracked with guilt over the screw-up. If not Jack then Boyce. Instead we have two massively underdeveloped sociopaths that only regret the wrong house being targeted.

On that note I find it hard to believe that Jack hired a man to kill his wife without showing a picture of her (No one can confuse Rachel Weisz with Naomi Watts) or even giving an address to Boyce. Instead the plot of the movie hinges on the fact that Boyce hit the third house on the left instead of the right.

Moving past Jack and Boyce we come to Ann. Ann was Libby's best friend. Ann and the Wards are shown together in pictures drinking, laughing and having fun. Trish and Dee Dee are implied to be close childhood friends of Ann's daughter Chloe. Ann was even the only person to come visit Peter Ward/Will Atenton in the mental home. So why is she so under developed. The few times she is on screen there is a wonderful chemistry between Ann and Will. It might not be romantic, but the friendship she wants to share with Will is painful to watch. Why waist that and instead focus on another scene where Will runs around the yard chasing shadows and ghosts.

That brings me to the car. Near the middle of the film a red Buick peels out in the show in front of the Ward/Atenton house. Will jumps in front of it and man and car play an awkward game of chicken. No one is hurt. The car is never seen from again and the view never finds out who was in it. The scene added nothing to the film other than reinforcing the notion that there are problems with the house. The director wasted his time on this instead of flushing out other characters.

In the beginning of the film the Real Estate agent that sold Will Atenton his dream house before the start of the movie drives Will to the house. Once the reveal happens this creates a continuity problem. Will was living a fantasy in his head where his family was still alive. His doctors and other patients at the mental home became Co-workers and bosses. They explain that once he realizes he went insane. Yet what mental worker would willingly drop a delusional man that may have murdered his family back at the crime scene which happens to also be condemned?

The last rant is the amnesia/fake life itself. No one knows why Peter created will. The only theory is that watching his wife and children die pushed him over the edge and he created a new persona to escape the guilt. Not once did anyone think to themselves, "Why is Peter crazy? Oh yeah. HE WAS SHOT IN THE FUCKING HEAD!" This film embraces so many tropes already. Amnesia, the I didn't kill my wife, countless horror tropes of characters running off when they should stay inside, yet the one they avoid is the one that would close one of the biggest plot holes.

In closing this movie could have been great. There were places where they could have played with flashbacks and only revealed they were flashbacks at the end. They could have made at least one of the villains sympathetic instead of evil caricature tropes. They could have made Ann have a flaw or two which would explain why Jack hated her so much. Hell, they could have made Peter/Will the killer and have the douchebag ex-husband save Ann and Chloe from the crazy homicidal protagonist instead of vice versa. And the ending. After Jack and Boyce kill each other as Peter's dream home burns to the ground we cut to Peter looking through a bookstore window at the International bestseller "Dream house." From the word GO Peter/Will is made out to be an aspiring writer. We know he has been working on a manuscript and from the composition tablets with "Dream House" scribbled in them we know the idea is sloshing around in his head. The ending could have been great. Did he write about his experiences or was the entire thing in his head and we lived out his writing process. The ending so so beautifully open and potentially meta. The only flaw was that the movie could not get me to care enough to wonder.

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"Dream House" fails to live up to the dream (2.5/5)

Every few years or so a psychological thriller changes the landscape of the game. "The Usual Suspects" "The Sixth Sense" "Primal Fear" This is not one of those movies.

Don't get me wrong. Jim Sterling's thriller "Dream House" is not a bad movie. It could just be so much more.

Daniel Craig stars as Will Atenton, a supposed hotshot editor who quits his job and moves into his "dream house" to be closer with his wife, Libby (The Amazing Rachel Weisz) and daughters Trish and Dee Dee. Everything seems peaceful and overly tranquil until they start seeing shadows in the windows and Will finds a cult of teenagers worshiping in his basement. It's then that he finds out his dream home is the site of a brutal killing spree from five years ago, where Peter Ward went crazy and killed his wife and two daughters before being shot in the head by his wife. As Will starts to uncover more about the crime scene he starts to suspect that his new neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts) knows more about the case than she lets on.

The acting is solid in parts and wooden in others. I know Craig has the acting chops to carry a movie like this but seemed to be disinterested some of the time. This is never more prominent than times of great stress to the characters. When they fear the recently released from a mental home Peter ward is outside their house Weisz understandably seems panicked and scared, while Craig seems to almost roll his eyes and command her to, "just go inside."

Besides some wooden acting the film suffered from some serious plot holes. When the reveal of the film happens, earlier characters that could contradict the twist found their dream homes in "mandyville" and there are entire scenes that add nothing to the overall story.

The greatest sin in my eyes lays with the use of the antagonists in the film. Without giving away too much (that comes in my next post) I can only say that I am hard pressed to find an antagonist so forced upon the audience without plot, story or character development as I am in Dream House.

Still, it was a good time if only a bit mindless. I can still see what the film COULD have been in my head though, which makes this average film hurt worse than a truly horrible one.


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Richard is back

Thousands of years ago Richard Posted on ThreeGeek.Today I have come... to stay?

I don't know about The Sherm and Thaddo, but I have "that writtin' bug" creeping back into my life so you should see some more updates, at least for the time being. Later today should be the first new content in over a year.

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January 29, 2009

"The Wrestler" -- Movie Review


"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
-Samuel Johnson

"The Wrestler" is a backstage peek, not just at the titular profession, but at life and the harsh, gritty sadness it can hold; at what happens when your give yourself so fully to one aspect of yourself that everything else withers up and dies, leaving only the aching strangeness of a phantom limb or, in this case, a phantom life.

Seeing the man behind the curtain is one of the pervading themes of "The Wrestler," and Mickey Rourke deserves the highest possible marks for not only bringing burnt-out wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson to Ram-Jamming life, but also for revealing the rickety clockwork of humanity ticking away beneath the blustering facadé of muscles and spandex.

Randy, a former pro-wrestling super star, lives a life of scraping by between weekends headlining small-circuit matches. He works part-time unloading trucks, sleeps in a crummy trailer park -- or in his van, when he can't make rent. Basically, he stumbles through the day to day, not in a literal, clumsy way, but as a man who only know how to live one kind of life: the life he has in the ring. Camaraderie, showmanship and the cheering of the crowd.

But it's not all huge men in tight clothes -- far from it. We also have Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), an aging stripper whom Randy obviously has a thing for -- though, for some bizarro-logic reason, he seems to be the only one. Unlike Randy, Cassidy has no love for the person she pretends to be, choosing that life, not for any kind of satisfaction, but merely to provide for her son. An unsavory but necessary sacrifice.

And beyond peeling away the layers from the main players, even the very scenery of "The Wrestler" is all about looking beyond the familiar surface. Randy picks up his part-time work at a supermarket, and we follow him through the storage areas, cramped hallways and backrooms behind those universally familiar, fluorescent aisles. The woods around his trailer park aren't any kind of Hollywood landscape, either. They're brown and broken, littered with tangles of brush and thin, weak examples of plant-life. Grounded and familiar for anybody who's lived the scrape-by lifestyle, I'd wager. Indeed, it's the regularity of this world that helps draw us in, leaving us that much more impacted by the lives we watch unfold.

"The Wrestler" is deep, human drama played out on an odd, but familiar stage. It shouldn't be missed by any who consider themselves moviegoers.

5 / 5

As a quick postscript: Randy "The Ram" Robinson's real name, we discover, is actually Robin Ramzinski, which makes this a clear case of "Boy Named Sue" Syndrome. Give a guy a girlish name and he'll become a giant ball of muscle and machismo. Try and give them an overly manly name, and they'll likely end up wearing spandex for an entirely different reasons. Hooray for movie tropes.

-Thad out

This film is a tragedy of great magnitude performed on a microscopic stage. The resulting contrast is an unbelievably moving opus on regret, loss, love and the masks we wear in our lives -- and how, tragically, some confuse the mask for themselves... if that makes sense. If not, don't worry. I'll try to make myself clear as the review goes on.

If you have been reading the reviews on Darren Aronofsky's newest offering you would have undoubtedly read such blurbs as “Mickey Rourke's come-back performance,” “a one in a lifetime marriage of actor and role,” and, my personal favorite, the overly melodramatic “...witness the resurrection of Mickey Rourke.” I can't imagine where these people were when Rourke turned loose his brilliant interpretation of Marv in “Sin City.” His Marv was one of the best performances in prosthetics since Ron Perlman's Hellboy.

Semantics aside, Rourke does give the performance of his career. He's a force of pure, physical nature in this film. He takes the hits and the falls in the arena, while outside he conveys the emotional hits and falls from life. Randy “The Ram” Robinson is a cyclone of brutality, sportsmanship, loneliness, ache and determination who ultimately realizes that life is a play which holds no part for him.

Marissa Tomei's stripper with a heart of gold may well be a cliché, but Tomei manages to pull a rabbit out of that hat by infusing her with simple, down-to-earth sweetness and confusion at her genuine feelings for Randy. Tomei, at 45, is only getting sexier and more fearless with age. Her scenes with Rourke are the true wrestling scenes, as she tries to comprehend her growing affection for this beaten old man.

What they both fail to understand is that both of them are actors in a part, Randy is “The Ram” and Cassidy is merely a stage name hiding Pam, the single mother. Both play a part, and both try to discover what are pieces of the persona, and what is truly genuine.

At the same time, you get the sense that both characters are more comfortable in their stage persona. For they only truly mess up when they leave their characters and try to inhabit the world outside of their respective arenas -- Tomei's stripper realizes she is in love with a man who can no longer operate in the real world, while Rourke's wrestler who is forced, in his silver years, to re-enter society and finds he is not entirely welcome. He learns that his years away from a real life have left him unable to live life without screwing up.

And now I would like to take some time/space to address a certain grievance I've noticed with other critics: that Evan Rachel Wood is the the films only hiccup, and that she hits mostly false notes. This, in my opinion, is untrue.

True, Wood's performance as Randy's daughter, Stephanie, is not of the same mood as Tomei's or Rourke's -- possibly because, out of the trio, she is the only one without a stage persona. She lives, breathes and operates totally in the real world. Her “overly melodramatic performance” could be attributed to a young girl letting loose on her father for his transgressions against her, both past and present. Out of the three, oddly enough, she's the most well-adjusted. To me, her performance rings true, and just as close to the bones as her co-stars.

I must confess something, before I wrap up. This is my first, but certainly not my last, Darren Aronofsky film. I'm aware of his others and have added them in my Netflix Queue. From what I know of his other films though, this is the most simple, yet subtle, movie of his career. There is plot and story, but the attention to these three characters as they live and love is astounding. This is a film filled with rage, regret and yearning. For being his fourth feature film, it is simply startling.

“The Wrestler” is a film much like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Gran Torino” that will linger with you among your subconscious. The length and intensity of that lingering is what separates merely great movies from all-out masterpieces. I'm not quite sure which one “The Wrestler” is, but I have a sneaking suspicion it might be the latter. If nothing else, Randy “The Ram” Robinson belongs in the great pantheon of cinematic characters, of that much I'm certain.


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January 24, 2009

"Gran Torino" -- Movie Review

More and more I'm convinced I was in right in a thought I had four years ago: Clint Eastwood is a modern John Ford. That is to say, much like the forgotten great, his style is subtle and surprisingly touching. Unlike Danny Boyle with “Slumdog Millionaire,” Eastwood feels no need to pull out the stops. You'll find no wild cuts, zooming camera movements or any other flashy stylistic choices. Eastwood prefers to sit his camera down and let the characters and story do all the heavy lifting.

Don't get me wrong, “Slumdog Millionaire” is still one of the best films of the year. And another is “Gran Torino.”

Eastwood paints a subtle, complicated and incredibly moving portrait about a man who is far from ready for his generation to hand over the reigns of the world. He doesn't understand what the fast-paced, spoiled, lazy rabble the present generation -- including his own family -- has to offer.

With his increasingly concave features, grizzled expressions and unmistakable growl, Eastwood dominates the screen. This is the meanest we have ever seen Eastwood. It's also the best we've ever seen him, acting wise. A bittersweet landmark, as Eastwood has since announced that he is retiring from acting.

For those who still don't know, “Gran Torino” is about Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) a Korean War veteran who, after his wife dies, is left alone and embittered against... well, people in general. To top it all off, his neighborhood consists largely of Hmong (an ethnic group hailing from Southeast Asia), which irks Walt to no end.

After he inadvertently saves a young boy next door, Thao (Bee Vang), from a local gang one night, Walt finds himself inundated with unwanted attention. Thao's sister, Sue (Anhey Her), begins to realize -- along with the rest of us -- that Walt, while spouting slurs left and right, is really anything but a racist. He's just an old man who is disappointed with the entire human race, and doesn't care much about the decorum of political correctness.

As the movie progresses, a friendship begins to form between Walt and his neighbors. Despite whatever else happens in the movie, these three are the core. It is to the credit of both Bee Vang and Anhey Her that they manage to shine, even while being encased in the shadow of Eastwood's performance.

Eastwood outdoes himself with every film he directs, his work growing more textured and vibrant with each passing year. It must be said that, even at 78, he shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. For the second year in a row, he has managed to put out two movies a year, while directors half his age do well if they crank out one.

For those who point to Eastwood's retirement from acting as a sure sign of the mega-talent starting to slow, I counter with this: It is my belief that he is retiring from acting so he can bump his quota to three films a year.

Mark my words, the only thing stopping this guy is death, and from what I saw in "Gran Torino," Clint could probably make the reaper crap his pants and move right along to the next person. Masterpiece!

/ 5

Walt Kowalski is not racist.

It may be easy to confuse him with the like, what with the constant stream of ethnic epithets he issues forth to anyone who pauses in front of him for too long. As my former room mates and I often said, old guys can do whatever they want. And Walt doesn't want to mince words. So yeah, maybe he buys into stereotypes, but he also gives credit where it's due... it's just that most of the people in his life haven't earned shit. And nothing hacks a man off more then dumbass entitlement.

"Gran Torino," which I totally knew beforehand was also the name of a car, is a film about people that the world doesn't want. Specifically, Walt and Thao.

Walt's family -- his two sons and their respective families -- don't see him as a person. To them, he's more like leftovers. Grumpy, gravely leftovers. A relic of a world that doesn't exist anymore. Utterly dismissible. As we grow to know the man, we see this callousness of those who should be closest to him as utterly terrible. And yet, these aren't terrible people. They're normal... which may be the most horrible part of all.

Thao is also dismissed by his family. Quiet and introverted, he's easily pushed around by pretty much everyone, from his well-meaning sister to his bastard cousin Spider (Doua Moua). After Spider and his gang 'protect' Thao from the bullying of another, Hispanic gang, he pushes Thao to join them. The initiation: steal the Gran Torino.

With Sue as the catalyst, Walt and Thao strike up an odd relationship. Walt finds family for the first time -- not counting his departed wife, whose funeral opened the film -- and Thao learns how to be a man... though Walt's teaching methods are far from orthodox. His teaching Thao "how men talk," with help from his barber (John Carroll Lynch) was absolutely hilarious.

Actually, there was a lot of humor in "Gran Torino," even among the grit and harshness and sadness and drama.

Not to be pigeonholed, "Gran Torino" is a movie about life and death and rebirth. It's about the things we should pass on and the things we should learn. It's about the meaning of being a man, and of family. It's about sweet, American-made muscle car.

5 / 5

Do not miss this movie.

-Thad out.

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"Seven Pounds" -- Movie Review

“Seven Pounds” is designed to make you cry and, depending on who you are, it probably succeeds. It's a little hard to review a movie like “Seven Pounds,” where so much of the purpose of the movie is trying to solve the puzzle that it lays out. To be armed with too much knowledge, in this case, will do you more harm than good.

Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is an I.R.S. Agent. Ezra (Woody Harrelson)is a blind telemarketer. Emily (Rosario Dawson) is a woman with severe heart problems. Dan (Barry Peppers), a friend of Ben's seems, emotionally distraught over a deal he made with Ben. There's a social worker Holly, (Judyann Elder), who's happy to see Ben. Connie Tepos (Elpidia Carrillo), a mother trapped in an abusive relationship, wishes only to escape with her children to a new life.

Discovering who these people are and how they are connected is the joy of “Seven Pounds.” It is so integral, in fact, that I'm not sure how enjoyable the movie would be on repeat viewings. Suffice to say, if you were to ask me what the movie was about, I'd say it was about sacrifice... and jellyfish.

The movie has been charged with being manipulative, and it is unquestionably guilty. Yet, when it's done well, I have absolutely no problem with being manipulated. I don't think you will either.

/ 5

There are many movies where the overall quality is so grand and appealing that even when all the great twists have been revealed, you'd still be full-willing to watch it all over again. I had the endings of "Fight Club," "The Sixth Sense," and "The Matrix" spoiled for me before I ever saw them, but that didn't keep me from enjoying them the first time or any of the enumerable, subsequent times.

"Seven Pounds" is not any of those movies.

Not to say it's bad, but I heartily agree with Jeremiah on the point of... well, most of the things he said, to be honest. It manipulates you -- but in a charming way, as opposed to a psychotic ex-significant other sort of way. A solid story, with some top-notch talent, but it just doesn't have the clout to make it any kind of enduring classic.

"Seven Pounds" is a movie for people who enjoy feeling ways about stuff. If you tend to shun emotions, because they are for sissies and meatbags, you would likely be happier trading your money for a ticket to a different movie. If, however, you enjoy smiling and crying; stories of a more limited, human scope; and watching as pieces fit together into a full picture, this is probably just the ticket for you.

In a season of Must-See Movies, "Seven Pounds" just doesn't quite measure up. But if you've already seen the heavy-hitters, or you just want a good cry or something, you could do a lot worse.

3.5 / 5

-Thad out.

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January 15, 2009

"Slumdog Millionaire" -- Movie Review

Danny Boyle's “Slumdog Millionaire” is a life-affirming, emotional roller-coaster of a fairy tale, filmed with such ferocity and virtuosity that it will leave you, quite frankly, breathless at its beauty. The plot is straight out of Dickens, yet told in a fashion that feels as new as the last breath you took.

Jamal (Dev Patel) is a poor Indian boy who has grown up in the slums of Mumbai: a slumdog. After managing to become a contestant on an Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, he defies the odds as he pushes closer and closer toward the top of the million-dollar heap. He's not a genius, not particularly educated at all. But nevertheless, he has each answer -- because each question relates to the traumatic or dramatic moments of his life.

As we follow him back through these moments, we meet Jamal's older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and the love of Jamal's life, Latika (Freida Pinto). There are many more, but much like Dickens's, they are too numerous to mention -- though their roles are equally crucial to the the movie.

Boyle and co-director Loveleen Tandan show you the whole beautiful, miserable mess that is India, boils and all. The effect is a dizzying visual poem of that nation and its people. All in all, a true cinematic feat of joy, longing, regret and the magic of that lofty idea of true love.

It is written, after all.

/ 5

For me, the beauty of "Slumdog Millionaire" is in how well the story and the characters and the world are woven together into one beautiful, continuous tapestry of love, struggle and the unbearable condition that is human life.

Fancy words aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the actors (and actress) playing Jamal, Salim and Latika from youth to adulthood. Normally, children -- with their minute stature, greasy hands and banshees' wail -- are to be avoided at all costs... in film. Or retail.

Anyway: Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubiana Ali steal your heart as the youngest Jamal, Salim and Latika, respectively. From the brothers' bittersweet first meeting with Latika, through the growing bonds of friendship and on to their tragic separation, they pull you into their world and simultaneously beat the living guts out of foolish, lesser child-actors... figuratively speaking, of course.

This leads us to Tanay Chheda, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala and Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar as the teen-years trio, and to describe what these characters go through in their reunion, which is any way but what you expect, would be a crime to those yet to see it.

And while I'm playing the name-game, I'd like to throw an honorable mention up to Anil Kapoor, who portrays gameshow host Prem Kumar -- imagine a parallel universe where Regis Philbin is Indian, and slightly more sinister, and you wind up with a surprisingly accurate picture of his performance... but I mean that in the nicest way.

Beyond gushing accolades on the acting and directing, it's important to note the appearance of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" on the soundtrack. I dig that song. She's also featured in an original piece by the film's composer, A. R. Rahman. So if you're a fellow M.I.A. fan, that's another little treat for you in what I could only describe as a holiday-huge meal of a movie... only no matter how much you eat, you never get full or throw up. Fantastic.

So, yeah -- see "Slumdog Millionaire."

5 / 5

And don't you dare miss the credits.

-Thad out

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January 04, 2009

"Transporter 3" -- Movie Review

Due in part to a rash of recent temporal anomalies, but largely to the tawdry lifestyle of The Editor, the following review is well beyond recent... but if you haven't read it, it's new to you! And so, ONWARD!

I haven't decided whether I should recommend “Transporter 3” to you or not. It's a fantastically fun movie to be sure, and yet parts will push you back in your chair and just about roll your eyes for you -- but, oddly enough, the scenes I'm talking about will not be the ones where the filmmakers blatantly, and with unrepentant joy, rape the laws of physics on the screen. The guilty scenes are found in the subplot of blossoming romance between Frank Martin (Jason “Bad Ass” Statham) and his cargo Valentina (Natalya “Making Freckles Ungodly Sexy” Rudakova).

Those scenes press the audience's level of suspension of disbelief, not because of the age difference, but because the dialogue was written by what must have been a hopelessly romantic junior-high-schooler, with such gems as: “No, that's what you're thinking. I'm talking about what you're feeling.”

And yet, when the movie is not concerning itself with blasé emotion or focusing on the sizzling sex appeal of its stars -- as both of them are undeniably pretty people -- it's giving you a healthy dose of impossibly unrealistic action sequences that hark back to the days of “Commando.” It's a fine way to wile away an hour and forty minutes on a Saturday night.

Now, a word about the action sequences: I enjoyed the way the director, the fantastically named Olivier Megaton, used a steady cam for certain action scenes. Sure there are cuts, but they're there only to switch views and done entirely without our old foe The Shaky Cam. Not to mention that he seems to be just as in love with Rudakova as the audience is.

There were times where I couldn't shake the sense, both from Rudakova and Statham, that they could be doing better. They were simply not pushed to do so. That, I blame on the script, co-written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. But since I love Luc Besson, I'll credit him with the the good stuff and blame the other guy for the stuff I didn't like. Is that not professional? Then you're going to hate this next line.

For those of you who might scoff at the non-realism displayed by Frank Martin and his Audi, might I remind you to blow it out your ass? (Told ya.) It's a “Transporter” movie. The previous entry into this series had Statham breaking a dude's back in an underwater fight inside the hull of a recently submerged airplane.

Should any human being ever one-arm a rocket launcher? Arnold Schwarzenegger, I'm looking your way. No. Do I need to see Stallone, in a business suit, standing in front of an oncoming bus, almost daring the bus to hit him? No.

But that's the fun of a great bad action movie, and “Transporter 3” is just that. Stuff 'splodes; impossibly sexy girls from Czechoslovakia get themselves into distress; and our hero will sit in his car, all steely eyed, on a bridge with both exits blocked, surrounded by machine-gun-toting henchmen. And yet miraculously, amid the hail of bullets, no one will be hit -- even though the bad guys stand on opposite sides of the hero, unloading ungodly ordinance and their enemy and each other. Trapped, our hero has only one option left to him: he must drive...

And if you need me to finish that sentence, this movie is not for you.

/ 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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December 24, 2008

ThreeGeek Presents: Watch These Movies On Christmas!

I must admit, I've not seen many of Christmas movies, especially older ones, and the ones I have seen tend to fall between "A family-fun-filled holiday romp" (a.k.a. boring shlop) or "An adult take on the holidays" (see also: crude shlop) So, Sherman has a one-up on me here... and I would not be surprised if Thad does as well. That being said...

Richard's Holiday Picks:

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (Dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989) -- 4/5

"Hey. If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, fore-fleshing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is. Hallelujah. Holy shit. Where's the Tylenol?"

This movie has all you could want in a comedy: sight gags, falls and tumbles, witty dialog... and it's just crude enough to be funny without turning into a Farrelly Bros. film.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) are hosting the extended Griswold family Christmas. This means bringing in their parents (the stellar John Randolph and Diane Ladd as Clark's parents and E.G. Marshall and Doris Roberts as Ellen's), senile Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) and snarky Uncle Lewis (William Hickey) as well as the lovably dysfunctional Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family. It also features the third set of kids to play Russ and Audrey (Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis), and top it all off with the snobbish neighbors played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest.

In typical old Lampoon fashion, little goes according to plan. Christmas trees burn, turkeys fry and Santas fly through the air in a blaze of methane glory. And yet the comedy comes from how true-to-life most of it feels.

Besides a great Christmas, filled with enough lights to cause a blackout, Clark wants to surprise his family with news of a new pool he will be installing thanks to his Christmas bonus. He and his family count down the days to Christmas (and the bonus) as the family arrive. Yet life, and family, throw them a curve.

I can't pick a favorite moment from this film. Is it the sled racing across hill and highway and into the shack? Or perhaps the squirrel running rampant in the house? And there are always the Christmas lights, and Clark's eventual meltdown near the end...

One thing is for sure, this movie is funny the whole way though.

"Die Hard" (Dir. John McTiernan, 1988) -- 4.5/5

"Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."

Fuck yeah, "Die Hard!" What Christmas list would be complete without the greatest Christmas (and Action) Movie of all time. I could go into detail about the plot and the actors... but why? If you haven't seen this movie, you fail as an American. And, beyond that, as a human being.

John McClane (Bruce Willis, for all of you dirty, unAmerican pinkos out there) is the greatest action hero to ever live. Why? Because he is. This cop flies back from working the streets of New York City to spend time with his ungrateful wife (Bonnie Bedelia), who would rather have a good job than be with this baddest motherfucker of all time. Still, John misses her and the kids so he goes to her lame corporate Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza. Little did he know that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) plans to fuck all kinds of shit up in one of the most elaborate heists of the 1980s.

As Hans and his crew start to fucking murder Japanese businessmen and cocky cokeheads, does John run away? No! He drags his shoeless ass through miles of ventilation and kills him some terrorist thieves.

John McClane is a real man. He is not invincible, like some pansy "I'll be back" action heroes, nor does he feel the need to jump out of a helicopter while shooting a tripod mounted gun or yelling "It's ok, I don't shop here!" to supermarket bombers. HE FEELS PAIN, AND HE PUSHES ON. Why does he do it? To save his wife? Because he is a cop? NO! He does it because if he doesn't some German asshole gets away with countless millions in bonds as well as killing a building full of chumps.

Watch Die Hard. DO IT NOW! Then try to tell me it is not the greatest motherfucking Action/Christmas/Love Story ever told.

Jeremiah's Christmas Cavalcade:

“It's a Wonderful Life” (Dir. Frank Capra, 1946)

This holiday classic is loved by millions and stands as a television staple this time of year. It's one of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra's most celebrated cinematic offerings. In addition to that though, it just so happens to be one of the greatest American movies ever made.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is considered by todays' cynical masses to be "too corny," while simultaneously being hailed by a select few as a dark portrait of failure and repressed rage at life. Personally, I think the former are not giving the film the credit it deserves, while the latter may be reading to much into bad acting by some of the side characters while also misreading the main character's reaction to and towards certain others. Still, that's why I love movies... and art in general. We all saw the same movie, yet we all interpreted that movie in different ways.

In this reviewers' opinion, it is an amalgamation of the two theories. I believe it is a dark portrait about failure and repressed rage -- rage at the injustices one believes were unfairly dealt to us. At the same time it is corny... wait, no. No, it's not. And I'll tell you why: “It's a Wonderful Life” is sincere, through and through. It actually believes in the precepts put forth to the viewer.

Every time I watch “It's a Wonderful Life,” I cry. But not always at the same thing. Sometimes I will cry at the end, as most people do -- overwhelmed by the sheer humanity and sacrifice displayed. There are times, though, that I've shed a few tears during the scene where George Bailey defends his Dad to the board of Trustees and Potter, after his father's death. The monologue where Stewart rails against capitalism has moved me beyond words. Yet, still there are times where the tears come with George telling his father how he feels about him over supper on his last night home before college.

In short, “It's A Wonderful Life” is a masterpiece that I will review at length some other time. It's one of my favorite Christmas movies and, hell... it just may be one of my favorite movies, period.

“The Shop Around the Corner” (Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)

Many of you may have seen the less sublime, less witty, less human, and in all other ways inferior remake of this movie, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, known as “You've Got Mail.” Please be so kind as to ignore the movie altogether. There are better movies with Tom Hanks. There are better movies with Meg Ryan. Hell, there are better movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (my vote is for “Joe Versus the Volcano”), but I digress.

Lubitsch's film is not about two people who work together in a shop called Matuschek and Co., who start out hating each other only to discover they were made for one another -- well, it is, but that's not all it's about. Lubitsch dares to populate Matuschek and Co. with other employees as well and, furthermore, dares to give you glimpses into their lives as well!

These are not stock characters put in the movie to be the wacky and sage advice dispensing best friend, the tempestuous boss, the smarmy kid who fires off one liners whenever he's on screen, or various other cliches. That's who they are in other, lesser movies, but in “The Shop Around the Corner,” they are people with hopes and dreams and loved ones who live off-screen, but who we feel must exist because they makes us believe they do.

This movie has a very Altman feel to it. By that, I mean it feels like that we are merely peeping into these characters' lives, getting the gist of it and moving on . There are side stories -- in fact the Stewart/Sullivan romance doesn't even take center stage until the latter half of the film.

I have much more to say about this movie, but all that's for another time. Until then, take my word for it: this is a Christmas classic worth seeing.

Thaddeus's Technically-Valid Christmas Film Favorites:

"Lethal Weapon" (Dir. Richard Donner, 1987)

To be honest, I'd forgotten that the original "Lethal Weapon" took place during Christmas until I caught in on the tube recently. Maybe that's stupid of me, I don't know. Either way, it always makes for a good time. I mean, who doesn't love Buddy Cop movies?

North Africans, that's who. Heh... "It's just been revoked."

Yeah, yeah... I know. That's from the second one. But that's the thing about "Lethal Weapon" movies. They're like delicious potato chips: you can't eat just one*. One reminds you of things from the others, and on and on...

Watching the four-piece set has you following these characters through over a decade, all told (with rumors of more to come). Riggs (Mel Gibson) gets less crazy... kinda, Murtaugh (Danny Glover) consistently proves that, while he may sometimes say so, he is decidedly not too old for this shit and they transition from partners to friends to family. And isn't that some kind of heart-felt, holiday thingy.

It may start with a drugged-up hooker taking a high-rise nose-dive, but it ends somewhere far more special... Gary Busey getting the crap smacked out of him in a thunderstorm. Hallelujah!

"Ghostbusters 2" (Dir. Ivan Reitman, 1989)

If you've met me before, you may have picked up on the fact that "Ghostbusters" is my Favorite Movie of All Time and Through All Other Dimensions, Including Ones Where It Was Never Even Created. But its sequel's tenuous connection to the holiday season is not the only reason I meantion it here. "Ghostbusters 2" is a fine, fun and heartfelt film that deserves some holiday acolades, dammit!

Also, I used it to save myself from watch "A Christmas Story" for the googolplexth time when I was helping my mom wrap presents last year and she insisted we watch Christmas movies while doing so.

But enough of that. What I find so engaging about "Ghostbusters 2" is that, after the first film, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) did not get the girl (
Dana Barrett, as re-portrayed by Sigourney Weaver). Instead, their relationship eventually disolved and she had a son with some other guy, who we never see. One of the most important things, for me, is the scene wherein Venkman tags along with Ray and Egon (co-writers/renaissance men Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) to investigate Dana's possibly haunted apartment, only to share a moment with the baby, Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf/Henry J. Deutschendorf II):

"Y'know, I shound've been your father. I mean, I could've been..."

Then he shakes the little baby's hand. It's sweet, damn you! If you want to argue, I'll be hiding behind that thing Sherman said about art and perception.

And let's not forget that, in the end, it's the city coming together in the joy of the season that breaks through the wicked Jello-shell erected by Vigo the Carpathian (Also known as Vigo the Cruel, Vigo the Torturer, Vigo the Despised, and Vigo the Unholy... and Wilhelm von Homburg). There's your Christmas (or, y'know... New Year's) spirit -- weilding joy as a mighty weapon against an undead sorceror.

Happy Christmas (or whathaveyou)!

*Do not eat the movies.

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December 02, 2008

The Queen Nixon -- Double Movie Review

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" - Henry IV, Part II

That line is presented to the audience on a black screen, followed by Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) sitting for a portrait. The painter and the Queen have a little back-and-forth about the election that has just seen Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) elected to Prime Minister. After the conversation, the Queen looks the camera directly in the eye and the title flashes onto the screen.

This is the opening to Stephen Frears's "The Queen" -- a quiet film, with masterful performances. There were times when I felt lost, or a bit like an outsider looking in, but that's more to my being an American than the fault of the film. It's quite difficult to sympathize with the Royal family, simply because we've been taught that they are unnecessary. Yet, with that in mind, it is an interesting look inside British tradition and government.

Granted, the movie is not about either of those things. Instead, it's about England and the Royal Family's reaction to the death of Princess Diana. In reality, what we get is an astonishing portrait of how someone like the Queen handles grief. Not over Diana, for we all know how she felt about her, but for her grandsons who have lost their mother.

The movie swings between the Royal Family, Tony Blair's administration, and the varying reactions. Blair, in the beginning, is bemused and somewhat taken aback by the Queen's apparent stubbornness against listening to her public. By the end, though, he too begins to empathize with her. Being someone with great power, it's hard to decide when one should bow to the people's will and when they should stand up against it.

Mirren does a superb job at portraying someone who is alive and well and still in the public eye. She plays her without trying to imitate her, choosing rather to imbue her with a restrained humanity. And James Cromwell as Prince Phillip is pitch perfect as always. It is, after all, James Cromwell.

The images, both blatant and subtle, are no less than astounding at times. There are moments when the view is absolutely sweeping, as the camera glides through the acres of Balmoral, the Queen's private residence. If you're not careful you'll miss the instances where the movie will subtly symbolize itself. In one scene we see a picture of Princess Di in one of the papers. Later, we see a deer slaughtered and hanging, with the floor about it looking curiously like the background of the picture from the papers. Whether this was intentional or merely the fevered imagination of this reviewer, I can not say. But if it is intentional, then it's absolutely marvelous.

I also noted times, especially in scenes with Tony Blair, where the film quality changed for the worse. But while listening to the commentary, (yes, I'm one of those people), I heard the director explain that he used different film stocks to present the different classes. Brilliant! If what I've described so far interests you in the slightest, then I'd highly recommend this movie...

/ 5

If not, then perhaps the next film will be right up your alley:

“What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”- Matthew 16:26

From the crown to the President. Oliver Stone's “Nixon” is a bombastic Greek tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, with allusions to “Citizen Kane” sprinkled in here and there. In short, it's everything “The Queen” is not. "The Queen" is a great movie, but “Nixon” is a somewhat-flawed masterpiece. Where Frears is quiet, subtle and restrained, Stone is loud, blatant and totally unhinged.

That's not to say it's bad -- it's just American. And don't get me wrong, there are times where Stone is absolutely everything I credited to Frears... if that makes any sense.

Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) is portrayed as a man with the potential for greatness, with his biggest flaw being himself. There are moments where Nixon's paranoia and slow descent into madness is almost heartbreaking to behold. Hopkins, well... it almost goes without saying how good he is. Almost.

Visually, Stone never lets up. The editing is amazing -- when Nixon is giving his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Stone imposes newsreel footage over the set, to foreshadow the soon-to-be-broken promises throughout.

Filled with an all-star cast and a story of epic proportions, Stone proves a master of his craft. The story weaves in and out of chronological order, giving you a Time Lord perspective of Nixon's life.

After watching this film, one gets a little mad at Stone for not giving “W” the full Stone treatment. Sure, “W” was good... but not great and certainly not near the epic “Nixon” is. One wonders why Stone decided to try and finish “W” before the election, effectively dumping out a gutless biopic. Whereas in "Nixon" it's nothing but guts, as Stone asks you to understand this wounded soul.

Was Richard Nixon a crook? Undoubtedly so. But thanks to Oliver Stone, you also realize he was also a man cursed by his own psychosis. I can't think of a good way to end this review so I'' just leave off he--

/ 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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