Friday, November 30, 2012

The Office - "The Target" (Nov. 29, 2012)

This week, Angela enlists Dwight to help her find someone to launch an offensive on her husband's "mistress".  Jim takes Phyllis and Stanley to lunch in hopes of convincing them to cover for him as he transitions to a part-time job while Pam begins work on a mural in the warehouse.  Everyone else in the office spends time building a tower out of customer complaint cards.
This week had me LOL'ing consistently throughout; more so than the past episode or two.  I loved Phyllis and Stanley at the restaurant where Jim takes them for lunch.  Seeing them suffer from a little too much liquid libation in the middle of the day was a riot.
For future episodes, I'm interested to see if anything happens with Erin and Pete while Andy is away.  SPOILER ALERT: It's hinted in this episode that Erin might be having feelings for Pete.  I also can't wait to see the changes that come for Angela's character now that she knows the identity of the Senator's "mistress".

Till next Thursday...

Joe Dante's "The Hole" Review

Okay, I get it.  A title like The Hole in 3D is sure to garner a few chuckles at first.  Heck, even the characters in the movie wring a double-entendre or two out of the idea because they know the entire audience is thinking it.  But otherwise there isn't a whole lot to laugh or scream about in the latest thriller from the director of Gremlins and Small Soliders.
The Hole is about two brothers who move away from the hustle & bustle of Brooklyn to a small suburban town with their mother.  In their new house, the boys stumble upon an old trapdoor in the floor of their basement.  Together with the cute girl living next door, the kids attempt to discover the secrets of "the hole", as it shows them their deepest fears and nightmares.
I think I watched a trailer for this months ago when it came out.  I knew it was about a group of kids, but I didn't know exactly how kid-friendly it would be.  After finally seeing it I thought this movie had "Nickelodeon Original" written all over it.
Genre cliches abound in The Hole, but rather than attempt to parody them like Eli Craig's Tucker & Dale vs Evil, the film falls victim to them, making The Hole a ho-hum effort overall.  Sure, they try to add a bit of depth with the examination of the characters' fears and there are some scares that are probably too intense for really young viewers, but I think any kid over the age of 8 can handle this one, despite its PG-13 rating.  It's a perfect gateway film for budding horror fans, but as an established one myself, it didn't do the trick.

2 of 4 stars

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum - "Dark Cousin" (Nov. 28, 2012)

Okay, so I'd love to give you this episode in a nutshell like I usually do, but so much craziness went down this week that I fear anything I'd try to say would spoil too much.  Just know that I think this has been my favorite episode of the season so far.
THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS: I loved everything this week.  It was taut, tense, exciting, mind-blowing, horrifying, and confusing all at the same time, but if you really pay attention, it's not that difficult to follow.  I especially enjoyed the twists involving Sister Jude and the girl she was suspected of killing years earlier.
My favorite scene was when Sister Jude meets the "Dark Cousin" (a.k.a. the "Angel of Death") in a diner to discuss the sister's predicament.  "I just come when I'm called," says the Dark Cousin, inferring that Sister Jude wishes to die rather than face the consequences of her troubled past.  But what makes this scene for me is its ending, where two waitresses at the diner look on as Sister Jude is conversing with the Dark Cousin, appearing to the naked eye as if she's talking to an empty seat.  "Maybe we should call Briarcliff," one of the waitresses says.  "At least they'll give her a bed for the night".  (I LOVE IT!!!!! AAHHH THE IRONY!!)
I am also interested to see in the coming weeks what's going to happen with Kit.  He loses someone close to him in this episode, so I can't wait to see how this affects his character.*

And poor Lana!  I swear that woman can't catch a break.  Her life is one huge train wreck after the other!

Till Next Wednesday...

*I think American Horror Story thrives on its characters.  Sure, there are aesthetics that make for a creepy atmosphere, but the true horror and drama comes from when the characters' layers are peeled back like onions.  Everyone is so multidimensional and deep that it excites me just to learn more about these people.  They all seem to have backstories fraught with pain, angst, and suffering, and I love seeing how each characters' psyche is shaped by their circumstances and how this drives their interactions.  I think that's the true "horror story".

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Sinister" Review (My First for CHH)

This is the first review I did for the College Heights Herald. It's on Scott Derrickson's "Sinister". I've reworked it from my original rough draft & the edited version that made copy.

Dated: Friday October 19, 2012

"Halloween season is officially upon us, and a fresh batch of horror movies is rolling into theaters over the course of the month.
The two that immediately come to mind are Sinister and Paranormal Activity 4. With the annual hype building steadily around the next entry in the Paranormal Activity series, Sinister may have been overlooked on your list of films to see this fall. There were a few trailers and promotional spots playing sporadically on television and on the internet, but the hype was not as huge as one might think heading into opening weekend. Sinister relied heavily on word-of-mouth from those who saw the trailers.

From a technical standpoint, it’s a very modest film compared to most of today’s mainstream genre entries. IMDb estimated Sinister’s budget at only $3 million, which could help explain why its marketing seemed so thinly spread.

That being said, I believe that Sinister, like the original Paranormal Activity, proves that you do not need a bloated budget to terrify an audience. I encourage everyone to see this movie in theaters because it is the best and most terrifying horror movie I have ever seen, and they did it without an abundance of blood and gore.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I sat down to view this movie last week. I had seen one or two trailers, thought it looked scary, and even roped a handful of my friends into seeing it. But I was not entirely clear on what the story was about or what I had gotten us all into.

From what is probably the most shocking and disturbing opening shot of any film I have ever seen, it is clear that director Scott Derrickson does not want his audience to get a wink of sleep for days. I rarely, if ever, get genuinely terrified watching a horror film, but Sinister finally shook me to my core and has stayed with me for about a week now. Any film that can do that certainly earns my seal of approval, especially this time of year.

Sinister is about a true-crime novelist named Ellison Oswalt, played magnificently by Ethan Hawke, who relocates his family to a home where another family was murdered in the backyard not long before their move. Ellison’s objective is to study the house and surrounding neighborhood for clues about the murders, which are the subject matter for his latest book. Using a box of Super 8 films he conveniently finds sitting in his empty attic, Ellison discovers that the murders at the house were linked to other unsolved murders around the United States throughout the 20th century, leading him on a terrifying quest to uncover the truth that puts him and his family in the path of a dangerous supernatural entity.
As the plot unfolded before us, I jumped out of my seat consistently from beginning to end, as did the vast majority of my fellow patrons in theater 7. The footage sequences that Ellison watches for his research are what kept me on edge the most.
There are also some classic haunted-house elements in other scenes, such as subdued lighting, creepy music, and jump scares (beware the attic!), that combine to create the most horrifying movie experience I have ever been a part of.

I would also like to take the time to formally apologize to the girl sitting next to me, whose hand I’m sure I nearly broke with my nervous vice grip.

I urge everyone to go see “Sinister” in theaters this season. It is a perfect Halloween movie that is guaranteed to provide nightmares of your own". 4 of 4 stars.

Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia" Review

Today for my lunch break I watched Christopher Nolan's Alaskan murder mystery Insomnia, starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank.  I was interested to find out that this was actually a remake of yet another Swedish film of the same name, released in 1997.  (Those Swedes seem to love their dark murder mysteries... See Oplev's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Alfredson's Let the Right One In.)
In Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, two Los Angeles homicide detectives go on assignment to a small Alaskan town where the sun doesn't set to help local police investigate the murder of a local teenager.  Things start getting cagey when Det. Dormer (Al Pacino) accidentally shoots his partner Det. Eckhart (Martin Donovan) while chasing a suspect on foggy mountain terrain.  From here, Det. Dormer's lack of sleep, guilty conscience, and involvement with a shady crime novelist (Robin Williams) push him to the brink as he attempts to solve the mystery.
It sounds like an interesting enough premise, and I love seeing Pacino's character work, especially with all the factors weighing against him.  But this isn't my favorite of Christopher Nolan's movies.  I hate to call it his worst because Insomnia is actually pretty decent.  But compared to all his other work, even his very first short film Doodlebug, Insomnia just doesn't do it for me.  I think it's his least entertaining, most uninspired film to date.  There seemed to be no noteworthy plot twists, and aside from Pacino and Williams, the characters seemed very one-dimensional and devoid of mystery.  I couldn't help thinking I've seen this movie a hundred times before.  I've come to expect more from Nolan, especially after his exciting work with Memento and the Batman trilogy.  I will say I actually enjoyed seeing a serious side of Robin Williams.  He wasn't melodramatic, and I enjoyed watching him toy with Al Pacino's weaknesses a little bit.  I was okay with the fact that he didn't make me laugh at all because it wouldn't have worked for the character.  It's unusual to see Williams portray the villain, but after seeing Insomnia I think he was perfect for the role.  I thought the cinematography and sound editing were also well done.  I felt like I was actually in the brisk Alaskan locations, and I got a true sense of what Det. Dormer's "insomniatic" impairments were like for him.
Check this one out if you're a fan of Christopher Nolan's work.  If not, you're better off watching something else.  3 of 4 stars.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Walking Dead - "When the Dead Come Knocking" (Nov. 25, 2012)

On this week's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, Glenn and Maggie get questioned and tortured at Woodbury, Michonne finds her way to Rick & the group at the prison, the newborn finally gets a name, Andrea helps Milton with an experiment, Merle's loyalty is called into question by the Governor, and Michonne leads Rick and Daryl to Woodbury to try and rescue Glenn & Maggie.
Even though I think things get stranger every week, there is really nothing to not love about this show.  I love how weird and complicated things get because I know somewhere down the line, there will always be repercussions.  I think everything in the world of the show happens for a reason.   SPOILERS: I thought the most exciting scene of this episode was when Merle sics the walker on Glenn during his interrogation. I also think my feelings about The Governor have been confirmed, especially after the stunt he pulls this week with Maggie.  Sick bastard.  I knew he wasn't a good guy, but from the look of things Andrea seems to be warming up to him quite nicely.  Will she stay that way or come back to the group later on?  
I'm sad that next week will be the last episode until February.  Mid-season hiatuses are the worst.

Till next Sunday...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum - "The Origins of Monstrosity (Nov. 21, 2012)

In this week's episode, a mysterious young girl is dropped off at Briarcliff.  We also get a glimpse at the origins of Bloodyface, and Monsignor Howard comes to recommend Sister Jude for a different position at a home for misplaced girls in Pittsburgh.
This episode was pretty good, but not outstanding.  It was thrilling to see Dr. Thredson and Lana act towards one another as they did.  I'm interested to see where the "Mother" thing goes.  Otherwise, not much develops between the two this week.  By that I mean no improvement in Lana's predicament.  She's still chained up in the basement.
I also wonder about the mysterious little girl, whose story didn't quite conclude.  It seems like she may be even more messed up than originally thought.  And is Sister Jude really departing for Pittsburgh?  If so, how will Briarcliff handle the regime change?  It's obvious Dr. Arden and Sister Eunice have a pretty sinister agenda, but what for exactly?  I still don't quite understand their common goal yet.  Also I kinda find their interactions awkward at times, and I wasn't spared this week.  James Cromwell is awesome in the role of Arden, but he's too old for Eunice.  I'm just glad he agrees with me in this episode.
And what's going on with Jenna Dewan-Tatum's character? I don't quite see how it connects yet.  Has she been subject to the work of Bloodyface? And if so, is it still the Doctor or is someone new carrying out his work?  The questions and possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Lincoln" Review

It's Thanksgiving!  School is out and kids are home for the break.  For me, that means going to the movies with my history-buff of a father.  When I found out that Steven Spielberg's Lincoln would be playing in the theaters near our home, I called Dad to see if he wanted to make plans to see it.  I couldn't imagine watching this movie with anyone else.  The man reads so much that, to me, he is one of the foremost authorities on Civil War-era history, so I thought seeing it with him would be a good time.  (And I figured he'd enjoy this one more than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
And it was a good time.  We both loved the movie, and I enjoyed discussing it with him afterwards.  He and I both agreed that it was very well acted, refreshingly funny, and effectively translated, from the history books to the silver screen, the real-life drama of bringing a quarreling nation and its political parties together to end both slavery and a war.  I also think Lincoln is one of the most historically-correct movies I've ever seen.  All the Civil War battles were accurate, and even my dad said the actors in the House of Representatives looked exactly like the real thing.
As the credits rolled I felt moved, and I now admire Abraham Lincoln even more for the historical work he did for our country.  This is probably attributed to Daniel Day-Lewis's masterful portrayal of the "Great Emancipator", which should surely lend the actor an Oscar nod in February.  Props to the makeup designers as well.  They made Day-Lewis look so realistic and natural in the role, I'd swear it was HIS face on the $5 bill.
All the supporting characters receive ample time to shine as well, despite the film centering primarily around Day-Lewis's strong performance.  I think Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, etc. are all terrific.  In any less capable hands, I think the film might have suffered.  Lincoln is riveting in its drama, and I wouldn't have picked any greater or any lesser a cast to attempt to pull it off.
My favorite parts were the scenes of debate between parties in the House of Representatives as they deliberated the Thirteenth Amendment; the amendment to abolish slavery in the United States of America.  I felt like I was actually in the chambers with them, and I felt as nervous and excited as I'm sure any attending member of the House felt in those heated moments.  I also loved Lincoln's clever anecdotes.  I especially enjoyed the one about George Washington's portrait being in an English "water closet".
Overall I'd say Spielberg's Lincoln is a return to form for the director and an entertaining, insightful journey through history that rides on the more-than-capable shoulders of Daniel Day-Lewis.  It benefits from strong supporting performances, and has a script that injects some refreshing humor while staying true to history and maintaining reverence for Lincoln's work.

See this one as soon as you can.  I promise there are no vampires.
4 of 4 stars

"This Is Spinal Tap" Review

Last night before bed, I was looking for a decent movie to watch with a relatively short run time.  I got what I was looking for in Rob Reiner's 82-minute rock & roll send-up, This Is Spinal Tap.
Reiner plays film documentarian Marty DiBergi, who is on the road with fictional British rock band Spinal Tap on their North American tour.  DiBergi hopes to document the inner creative workings of "Britain's loudest band" and showcase them to the world through this film, as explained in prologue.
It should be noted that This is Spinal Tap is a "mockumentary", which is essentially a documentary style film with a fictional subject matter or fictional characters.  This style has been utilized by television shows such as NBC's The Office, and for this reason Spinal Tap plays out in a manner very similar to the popular Thursday-night comedy.  I think the format works here for the movie because, like The Office, the audience gets funny interviews with the characters as they comment on events transpiring in their lives.  I also enjoy the humor in seeing Rob Reiner, the actual director of This is Spinal Tap acting in the picture as a fictional filmmaker.
The script is hilarious, and it's cool to pick out some of the influence the writers borrowed from real-life rock bands.  I also enjoyed seeing Spinal Tap evolve and undergo creative transformations throughout the course of the film.  My favorite part is when guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest) shows DiBergi (Rob Reiner) his collection of "axes" and other equipment, including an amplifier whose volume goes all the way to 11.  1 louder than the usual 10.  It's a classic scene that I recognize from years of playing the family's favorite board game, "Scene It?".

Check this one out on Netflix for a good chuckle.  3 of 4 stars.

Monday, November 19, 2012

BloodyDisgusting's "3 Incredible Horror Short Films You REALLY Need to Watch"

I found this on Twitter earlier and thought it sounded like a nice study break.  I'm all about Halloween and horror movies, so the title immediately grabbed my attention.  "3 Short Horror Films I need to watch"?  Okay, I'll bite.

First in the lineup is The Sleepover from director and co-writer Chris Cullari.  It's about two young boys who get together for a sleepover: a native scaredy-cat and a cocky new-kid-on-the-block.  What the new kid doesn't know is that his new town harbors a dark secret.  
This movie is about five and a half minutes long.  It includes an inevitable "I-told-ya-so" moment that's classic in so many feature productions of the slasher genre.  But I loved the babysitter who's supposed to be watching the boys during "The Sleepover".  Be sure to pay attention to what the "scaredy-cat" says about her.  Important point that's crucial to the punch-line at the end.  If you get it, I think you'll savor the payoff as much as I did.

Second is a six-minute feature called Suckablood from the English horror anthologists at BLOODY CUTS. This is a Gothic horror tale about a young girl named Tilly who usually finds comfort in sucking her thumb, but can't anymore - "lest the Suckablood should come"... (IMDb).
This one is also very cool.  I enjoyed the spooky voice-over narration and the atmosphere of this tale.  Dark and mysterious throughout thanks to lighting, music, and sound effects.  It reminded me a little of Guillermo Del Toro's Gothic fable Pan's Labyrinth because of similarities in some narrative aspects.  Both feature young girls who are terrorized by wicked stepparents and who find some twisted form of solace in their encounters with fantastical creatures.  The makeup in Suckablood is also very well done.  The wicked stepmother is cartoonishly exaggerated, but it works for the story.  The monster himself is also quite spooky.

Last is Rot, a 30-second, black & white film that essentially is one long time-lapse shot portraying the decomposing of a human body using basic cosmetic makeup and paint.  There is droning music and strong sound effects here.  Props to the mixing team.  The leaf is also a cool symbol for the human life that's crumbling away next to it. The makeup, music, sound, and use of black & white all combine to cram more dramatic atmosphere and imagery into 30 seconds than some films do in 90 minutes.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Walking Dead - "Hounded" (Nov. 18, 2012)

In this week's episode, Andrea and the Governor bond, Michonne is pursued by Merle but escapes, and we start to find out that Rick may be going crazy.  SPOILER: It's revealed that the phone call Rick received at the end of the last episode came from people in Rick's life who have died.  In today's episode, he gets another phone call from Lori, who we assume is deceased.  She tells Rick that she loves him and that he must take care of Carl and the new baby.
I think each episode of this third season gets better by the week.  A lot of twists have happened in each recent episode that I think add more dimensions to the characters.  Their circumstances keep changing each week, and I love seeing how this affects everyone.  I've been especially interested in Rick's transformation since Lori died.  The fact that he may be going crazy and imagining the phone calls isn't surprising.  I think Hershel clued us into this when he picked up the phone and didn't say anything.  No hints at a dial tone either.  But I can't wait for the next episode to see if Rick really might be nuts or if the phone calls are somehow real.  Either way, I'm sure the reveal will be exciting.
Can't forget about Glenn and Maggie getting dragged to Woodbury by Merle while on a supply run for the group.  Not much happens after they leave the store with Merle, so I can't wait to see what happens next.  Will they be welcomed into Woodbury as Andrea has?  Will they try to escape back to the prison?
SPOILER:  And how about Daryl finding Carol at the end???  I was certain she was dead.  Wonder how they'll explain that one to the group.

Till next Sunday...

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Review

Tonight's movie was a documentary feature that I've been wanting to check out for some time now.  I had first noticed David Gelb's "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" on as part of a list of movies that were "Certified Fresh" in theaters back in the spring.  On the site, it posted a 99% critics rating and a 93% audience approval rating.  This indicated to me right away that it had to be a good movie, but it just didn't peak my fancy at the time.  This isn't the type of film I would make a point of trying to see in theaters.  But now that it's on Netflix, I decided to give it a look. 

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" is a documentary that profiles sushi chef Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old master whose 10-seat, $300-a-plate restaurant is legendary among Tokyo foodies, according to the Netflix synopsis.  It seems like a pretty simple concept, and as one critic of Jiro's famous sushi notes, "Ultimate simplicity leads to purity".  
And it's true because this is an outstanding feature.  It's beautifully made and offers food-for-thought long after the credits roll.  For a foodie and sushi lover like me, I was hooked like an ahi tuna from the first few minutes.  I enjoyed seeing the presentations of mouthwatering varieties of sushi and learning about the techniques associated with preparing them.  
Although I will say that I think you really have to enjoy seafood and cooking technique to totally appreciate this movie.  A variety of edible sea creatures are present throughout, both living and dead, and the only real "action scenes" are when the chefs are hard at work preparing the sushi.  I can see how it might fail to grasp the attention of some, but I found it tremendously entertaining.  3.5 of 4 stars.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Lockout": When Bad Things Happen to Good Actors... or Athletes

From hearing the title, one might think that a film called "Lockout" would be a riveting drama about the recent players' union lockouts of professional sports leagues such as the NBA, NFL, and NHL.  Instead what the movie "Lockout" gives us is a ho-hum sci-fi action thriller about a man wrongly accused of conspiracy against the United States who gets a shot at redemption when he is called upon to save the President's daughter from an outer space prison that has been overrun by its psychotic inmates.

Yeah, the sports drama sounds better, doesn't it?

This movie stars Guy Pearce and is produced by the same team that brought us "Taken" starring Liam Neeson.  I usually enjoy Pearce's work, and I think his performance was the saving grace of this movie.  If not for him, "Lockout" would have been nearly unwatchable.  He's good here, but it's unlucky for both him and the audience that he is given such a bad script to work with.  His character is pretty one-dimensional, and he speaks in enough one-liners to give Henny Youngman a run for his money.  I believe Pearce is a much better actor worthy of stronger material.  For proof, see Christopher Nolan's "Memento".
In addition I think "Lockout's" visual effects are garbage, and the action is cheesy.  There is an extremely stylized chase sequence at the beginning that is so hectic, I couldn't tell what was going on.  I didn't know why Snow (Guy Pearce) was running, who he was running from, or why they were after him.  The CG world around him in this scene looks as if it were animated for a bad video game.

THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS: The ending was dumb too.  First we get something of a double-cross when Snow finds out that his friend Harry is the one guilty for the crimes the former is accused of.  Interesting, but it's ruined by more bad dialogue between Snow and Emilie, the president's daughter played by Maggie Grace.  "I've got this feeling your old man's not going to approve of this.  I mean, I can't really see this going anywhere, can you?" says Snow.  "Depends on how good you are in bed," replies Emilie.  "Well in that case, I give it at least 10 minutes," says Snow.  AAAAnd roll credits.

"Lockout" is streaming now on Netflix, but there are so many better movies available on Instant Play worthy of your time.  Go ahead and skip this one.  1.5 of 4 stars.

"Casa De Mi Padre" Review

Earlier this May, I bypassed seeing Will Ferrell's homage to Mexican melodrama "Casa De Mi Padre".  I thought it looked dumb from the previews, so I decided to take my pesos elsewhere.  Now that it's streaming on Netflix, I decided to take a chance on it.  I'm glad I decided to watch it, but I made the right decision by saving my $10.
I loved that the film doesn't take itself too seriously as it spoofed cliches of hispanic film.  It plays out like a melodramatic Spanish soap opera, and seeing Will Ferrell do an entire movie in fluent Spanish is enough cause for consistent chuckling throughout, even if the jokes aren't always on point.
My favorite scene is when Armando (Will Ferrell) meets Agent Parker, a "gringo" police officer played by Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson).  At first, Parker tries to communicate with Armando in English, using a thick American accent.  Once he discovers that Armando can't understand a word he's saying, he switches to fluent Spanish, albeit with a horrible accent that would make any gringo who's taken a Spanish class cringe.  I just thought it was ironic how this man who sounds at first like he doesn't know a word of Spanish suddenly begins speaking fluently.
I also loved all the cheap special effects.  There are no CGI gimmicks here.  Everything is animatronic, prosthetic or painted, and the filmmakers make no point of trying to cover this up.  Errors in continuity appear intentional, increasing the laugh-o-meter even more for me.
The only gripe I have against this film is that the script is a little weak on story.  Watching Ferrell trying to be Mexican is enough to keep me laughing, but the plot is thin.  The humor of course is classic Will Ferrell: so stupid that it's hilarious.  Entertaining, but I'm glad I waited for this one on Netflix.  3 of 4 stars though, check it out and decide for yourself.  It's a movie you really have to see to believe.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Act of Valor" Should Have Had a Different Title: "Call of Duty: The Movie"

I just caught this past February's "Act of Valor" streaming on Netflix.  This was that war movie starring real active Navy SEALs in the lead roles.
It starts off with the team on a mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent.  At first I thought this was the entire plot, but thankfully I was wrong.  After rescuing the kidnapped agent, the men go up against a religious supremacist trying to bring suicide bombers into the United States.  It ends up being a decent enough plot for what it's worth from Kurt Johnstad (co-writer of "300"), but it's not Oscar material by any stretch of the imagination.
The entire time, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching the ultimate propaganda film or Navy recruiting video.  There were a few badass POV shots that felt like the audience was right in the middle of the action but by the end I felt like I had been playing "Call of Duty" for two hours.  In fact I probably could have gotten just as good of a story, if not better, from doing just that.
I even started to notice some of the film aesthetics became "Call of Duty"-esque during the climax.  The POV shots start to feel and look like the screen of a first-person shooter.  SPOILER: There was even a scene where Chief gets badly wounded and we get a few sequences from his perspective.  A filter of red light becomes apparent, and you can even hear a pulse in the background.  During this time, Chief also reloads his handgun and shoots one last assailant.  Looks and sounds an awful lot like the "Last Stand" feature from COD if you ask me.
SPOILER: But I must say, "Act of Valor" concludes nicely with a memorial service and the reading of a letter from a deceased father to the son he never gets to meet.  It pulls the heartstrings after nearly two hours of nonstop, adrenaline-pumping action.
Overall I'd say "Act of Valor" is just okay.  The action is entertaining enough, and the SEALs do a good job of playing themselves.  But it all seemed too much for me.  If the directors had set down their Xbox controllers and focused more on the characters & plot, the film would have been much better for it.  2.5 of 4 stars.

1924's "The White Shadow" - The 'Lost Hitchcock film'

Online today I found a story from 'The Telegraph' about a "lost Hitchcock film" from the 20s that was now available online for free to the public.  The "Hitchcock" in question is of course the great Alfred Hitchcock who is widely considered today as a master of the suspense genre and a legendary film director and storyteller.
But what's interesting about this lost drama is that it's not exactly a "Hitchcock film" in the sense that he directed it.  Movies such as "The Birds" or "Psycho" are Hitchcock films.  This film, titled "The White Shadow", was one of the first projects Hitchcock worked on.  He played the role of film editor, screenwriter, production designer, art director, set decorator, and assistant director; but he did not direct the feature itself.  That job went to Graham Cutts.  But there is evidence here of Hitchcock's knack for creating drama with sheer imagery.

It's hard to decide whether or not I liked this movie or to say if it's worth your time, but it drew my attention for two reasons: the circumstances surrounding it and the idea of a "lost film" from Alfred Hitchcock.  "The White Shadow" is a film that many in the industry considered to be gone forever; corrupted by the aging process that film strips undergo over time.  But roughly 45 minutes worth of the original copy was recovered and restored by the National Film Preservation Foundation.  It's now online here if you care to take a look.  
If anything, it's cool to see what remains of a motion picture that could have very well been gone forever without being seen.  I enjoy watching silent films on occasion because they are so different from today's fare, and it's nice to see firsthand what movies were like for that generation.  Also, old films harbor physical imperfections that are visible onscreen, and I think that adds to the idea of considering film as a work of art.  "The White Shadow" in particular carries imperfections that look as if they could be portions of the film that were almost lost.  Like I said, only 45 minutes of this movie were recovered, so it cuts off before the end, but the NFPF provides title cards that explain what happens in the lost final reels.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Office - "The Whale" (Nov. 15, 2012)

On this week's episode, Dwight tries to learn the basics of selling to women, and Angela suspects that the Senator might be having an affair, so she brings Oscar along on a stakeout at the local yoga studio.

There were twists and turns all over the place here.  When Pam & Dwight go to their meeting with the woman they're selling to, they discover they are selling to Jan, a former flame of Michael Scott's and a "psycho lady", as Pam says.  And when Oscar accompanies Angela to the yoga studio to investigate the Senator's affair, the Senator makes a phone call to none other than Oscar himself, revealing to Angela that he might be the "mistress" in the suspected affair.  (Up to this point, the Senator's true sexual orientation and his affair with Oscar has been kept a secret from Angela.)

I loved this week's twists with Jan and Oscar at the yoga studio.  I also thought the prologue with Andy Skyping from the boat was a riot.  He's red as Cornell crimson from the sun and shows signs of hysteria.  "He's been sailing for two days," says Daryl.
But it seems the shit is hitting the fan at this point in the farewell season, and I love seeing how these characters deal with it.  It's hilarious, and it's why I love watching the show every week.  They'll be sorely missed after next spring, but for now I can't wait to see what's in store after "The Whale".


Till next Thursday...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum - "I Am Anne Frank, part 2" (Nov. 14, 2012)

On this week's episode of FX's thriller, Sister Jude hires a Nazi hunter to gather some info about Dr. Arden. Later, Kit makes a crazy confession about killing his wife.  The patient claiming to be Anne Frank goes under Dr. Arden's knife for a lobotomy in the hopes of restoring her senses and returning to domestic life with her husband.  Dr. Thredson also manages to make his way out of Briarcliff with a patient named Lana.  (Thredson doesn't believe she belongs in a mental hospital, so he agrees to smuggle her out with him.) When the two go back to his home, we get an absolutely mind-blowing twist that I never saw coming.

THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS: I got the feeling that something wasn't quite right once Lana & Dr. Thredson arrived at his house. I thought maybe something was going to go wrong for one or both of them.  But I totally did not see the twist with Thredson trapping Lana in his basement and revealing himself as the serial killer "Bloody Face".  It blew me away, and I can't wait to see how it develops.  The show seems now to truly be an amalgamation of "your worst nightmares"; Multiple storylines all with something horrifying going on.
I also enjoyed the ending with "Anne Frank" back to her normal life as a housewife because something seems fishy there as well.  The way the husband got rid of the box of info gathered on Dr. Arden.  The way he said, "Trash?"  It appears almost like a Stepford syndrome where things appear perfectly domesticated on the outside, but turn out to be truly sinister.  Hopefully we'll find out next week.
I also loved the very end with the picture of a young Dr. Arden standing in the background behind Hitler.  I'd say the odds of him coming out clean from all this are not really in his favor.  That guy is screwed.

Till next Wednesday...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Walking Dead - "Say the Word" (Nov. 11, 2012)

Season 3 just keeps getting weirder and weirder. In this week's episode, we see Rick go on a rampage as he tries to see for himself what happened to Lori. Daryl & Maggie make a run for baby formula. Andrea also deals with the departure of Michonne, and we find out that the Governor has some secrets of his own.
I thought the zombie fight night scene was pretty messed up. It seems that the Governor and his people may have some sort of twisted agenda that's not quite as good on the inside as it looks on the outside. And who the hell was on the phone that Rick answered at the end?? Can't wait to find out. Till next Sunday...

"The Evil Dead" (1981 Original)

Ever since the beginning of Halloween season, and since the redband trailer for its 2013 remake was released, I've been wanting to see Sam Raimi's original horror classic "The Evil Dead".  Some of my friends have seen it and regard it as one of their favorite horror movies.
I was upset when I went looking for it over Halloween on Netflix to find that it wasn't there.  But of course, in typical fashion, they decided to make it available in November after the Halloween season had ended.  Nevertheless, this didn't keep me from immediately jumping at the chance to watch this film.
And I really am glad I did.  "The Evil Dead" is awesome bloody fun that actually delivers some genuine scares among the onslaught of cheap special effects.  I was under the impression that this may have been a horror-comedy, but I was corrected by a friend who told me that the film isn't so much a horror-comedy as it is a horror movie with a few comedic elements.  I agree with this assertion.  It wasn't a hilarious horror-comedy like "Zombieland" or "Tucker & Dale vs Evil" or even delivered the same amount of chuckles as Joss Whedon's meta horror flick "The Cabin in the Woods".  "Evil Dead" is probably one of the most gut-wrenching horror flicks I've seen, but there were elements that had me laughing out loud.  My favorite part was when Bruce Campbell falls into a pit and severs his girlfriend's head. (Hear me out...)
Her headless corpse lands on top of Bruce, and he gets a big ol' burst of blood right in the face from his girl's headless stump.  Absolutely repulsive, but I LOL'd so hard.  I also enjoyed the twist where the girls change from possessed back to normal again, and then back to possessed.  Throws a nifty curveball at our hero, and it's fun to see how he deals with it.
"The Evil Dead" came out in 1981, and I just watched it for the first time in 2012, just months before its remake is due out in theaters in Spring 2013.  30 years later, the original is one of the goriest and nastiest horror movies I've seen, and the idea of updating it for an edgier, modern day audience scares the shit out of me.  Expect some hard, disturbing, R-rated ridiculousness in 2013.  If you've seen the intense redband trailer online, I think it will only get crazier from there.  (SEE THE ORIGINAL BEFORE NEXT YEAR'S REMAKE)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Skyfall" Review

It only seems fitting that during the 50th anniversary year of "Dr. No", James Bond's first film appearance, that we would get yet another entry into the epic motion picture saga of Agent 007.  This time around, James' loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her in the form of Silva (a former MI6 agent with a vendetta against M for abandoning him; played by the sinister Javier Bardem).  As Silva works to carry out his villainous plot, James does what he does best: attempts to eliminate the threat no matter how personal the cost. (IMDb)
And Silva does make it personal.  He brings the battle to "Skyfall" (hence the title), Bond's boyhood home.  While preparing for the final square-off with our villain, our hero recalls the traumatic experience he faced as a child: the death of his parents.  While there are no flashback scenes, the audience still feels empathetic towards Bond in the same manner.
I really enjoyed the references and the setup at the end for a return to a more Classic Bond feel for films to come.  I liked that "Skyfall" felt like the classic Bond movie that fans have come to know and love for the past half century, while at the same time remained grounded in the realism that made 2006's "Casino Royale" a fan favorite.  I'm still not clear if this is my favorite of 007's adventures.  I think that title still remains with "Casino Royale", but "Skyfall" is an extremely close second.  Daniel Craig truly is Bond for a new generation, Bond 2.0 as it were, and I'm excited to go on future adventures with this guy.  Sign me up for Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Tales from the Darkside" Mediocre at Best

Finally finished watching 1990's Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. It's a horror anthology composed of 3 segments whose stories come from the hands of George A. Romero, Stephen King, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Michael McDowell. The stories are okay, and the plot that strings them together with the little kid avoiding being cooked by the witch is entertaining. But overall I think I enjoyed Romero's "Creepshow" better. The stories in that one are more fun and the characters are better. Really enjoyed seeing Stephen King act in Creepshow. In fact I liked him better than established players Christian Slater & Steve Buscemi in TFDS. Check Creepshow out on Netflix. Skip Tales from the Darkside.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Office - "The Boat" (Nov. 8, 2012)

Another hilarious entry.  This time around, Kevin finds out about Oscar's affair with the Senator by accident and so he struggles to keep his mouth shut about it.  Jim, Pam, Nellie, and Daryl also play a prank on Dwight where they pretend to be a radio show crew interviewing Dwight about Dunder Mifflin.  They fake a crisis in the middle of the call for him to deal with.  As for Andy, his father is getting ready to take off to The Bahamas with the prized family boat.  But Andy and Erin arrive in time for Andy to take the boat on a 3-week cruise with his recovering-alcoholic brother, leaving Erin back stateside.  The episode ends with Erin coming back into the office and agreeing to go get drinks with newcomer Pete and some of his buddies.  Now I'm still not quite sure how I feel about this.  Andy and Erin are just classic together.  But will she end up falling for Pete while Andy is away?  Til next Thursday...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum - "I Am Anne Frank, part 1" (Nov. 7, 2012)

This show really continues to baffle me, and I think that's why I enjoy it.  This week, we get a new patient who attempts to expose Dr. Arden's history as a Nazi doctor.  We also learn why Grace ended up in Briarcliff, and we get the beginnings of a love interest between Grace and Kit.  It will be interesting to see how that plot line plays out in the midst of all the sinister goings-on at Briarcliff.  I am also interested to see what happens with Dr. Arden, especially since he leaves us in this episode bleeding on the ground of his lab with a bullet in his leg.  Till next Wednesday...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island"

Marty takes a step into horror territory with Shutter Island, a mindbending thriller about a former U.S. Marshall (played by Leo DiCaprio) who is brought to a mental institution to investigate the disappearance of a patient.  But things aren't always what they seem on Shutter Island...

I found this on tv Monday night and had to watch it.  My favorite scene is when Leo talks to George Noyce (played by Jackie Earl Haley) looking for clues to help him solve the case.  Their exchange takes place from between Noyce's jail cell bars, but if you're watching closely it starts to get disorienting after a while and eventually you can't tell who is the one really behind bars: Teddy or George.  So many plot twists in this one that you have to see to believe.  If anyone were to ask me to explain this film to them, anything I'd say would be a gross injustice.  It really has to be seen from beginning to end multiple times to be understood and appreciated.

So sit back, relax, and pay attention.  Whether its you're 5th time viewing it or 500th, you'll find something new that you never noticed before.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, Remember the 5th of November with "V for Vendetta"

God, I love this movie!  There's really nothing to not enjoy.  The Wachowskis and director James McTeigue craft a wonderfully entertaining political thriller.  Love the characters.  Love how the hero's face is never revealed because it doesn't matter who he is.  What matters is what he believes.  It's a crime if you haven't seen this movie.  Great way to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day.

Here is the rough draft of my review for the paper:

THE REEL: Remember the 5th of November with “V for Vendetta”


            “Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot.  I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot…”  Anyone who logged into their Facebook accounts or accessed their Twitter feeds yesterday morning likely read the endless list of statuses and tweets containing these lines in commemoration of November 5th, which in Great Britain is Guy Fawkes Day.  This 19th century English folk rhyme also serves as the opening lines for the popular film “V for Vendetta”, about a freedom fighter who uses the ideals that Guy Fawkes once stood for to fight against his totalitarian English society.  This freedom fighter, known only as “V”, even wears a mask resembling Fawkes when exacting revenge against those responsible not only for the fear and tyranny plaguing the whole country, but also for ruining his life.
            It’s easy to see from yesterday’s infinite number of status updates and tweets that “V for Vendetta” is a very popular film, but it’s popular for good reason.  This is an immensely entertaining vision of the future that is thought-provoking, terrifying, humorous in wit, and strong on plot and character development.  The film makes a few political assertions that some may find irksome, but there is little otherwise to not love about “V for Vendetta”. 
            The film is written by Andy and Lana Wachowski of “Matrix” fame and is probably the most exciting political thriller I’ve ever seen.  I enjoy the twists the plot undergoes as well as the acting performances by the entire cast.  I give special props to Natalie Portman for her portrayal of Evey Hammond, the lead female character and only ally of our masked antihero V.  She shaved off her real hair for the scene in which she is held captive and tortured for information regarding V’s whereabouts.  Talk about commitment to character!
            The only criticism I have of this film is a minor complaint.  In fact, it’s hardly worth mentioning.  I don’t mind the politics because I understand that they are all used for the purpose of telling a great story.  I just find the ending to be highly improbable, even for the stylized world that the film takes place in.  V places explosives on a subway train for the purpose of attacking the Houses of Parliament.  The train reaches its destination, and it does detonate, but I should think that an explosion originating underground at the building’s center won’t cause the Big Ben clocktower to explode violently from bottom to top, unless V placed explosives there that the audience doesn’t know about.  Regardless, it’s a minor criticism that doesn’t ruin the film’s overall effect. 
            Finally, anyone who has seen “V for Vendetta” has to have some affection not necessarily for V’s beliefs, but for the way he delivers them.  “Behind this mask there is more than flesh.  Behind this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof!” says V in a final act of defiance against England’s chief of secret police.  It’s an intense scene that I’m certain is etched in the memory of everyone who posted Facebook statuses or tweeted in reference to the film’s first lines yesterday.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Walking Dead: Killer Within

What an incredible episode! Soooo many shocking things happened. I had to watch the replay again immediately afterwards. The scene with Carl and Lori had me misty-eyed. I'm interested to see how Lori and T-Dawg's deaths will affect the group, especially Rick and Carl. I also can't wait to see how this change will influence Rick's character when he finally meets the Governor.
Til next Sunday...

Disney's Got Another Gorgeous Short Film: "Paperman"

"Paperman" was a short cartoon film that played before "Wreck-it Ralph" in theaters and will hopefully be available on the Blu-Ray/DVD release in a few months.  I'd love to see it again.  I think Disney is gunning for an Oscar with this one.  Beautifully hand-drawn animation which we rarely, if ever, see anymore.  It hearkens back to the Disney of old which gave us classics such as "Bambi", "The Aristocats", "101 Dalmations", "Lion King", "Sleeping Beauty", to name just a few.  What I loved about it is that it tells a funny, charming, and heartwarming story without a single word of dialogue.  The world populated by the characters is also largely devoid of color, aside from the bright red lipstick of the woman our "Paperman" is after.  I think the use of black & white represents not only the literal appearance of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of printed paperwork, but perhaps hints at the drab, uneventful, boring life of our protagonist.  Then his life changes when he meets the woman who adds a bit of color to his life (literally), even if it's just a small amount.  Look for this one in the "Best Animated Short Film" category at the Academy Awards in February.

This Halloween, Have Some "Grave Encounters"

I'm not sure if this review will get to see the light of day yet, so I wanted to be sure that if it doesn't make it to the paper, you can at least read it here.  It's older, but still kinda relevant.

Movie Review: This Halloween, Have Some “Grave Encounters” (2011)

Ben Conniff, @thereelbennyc
Directed by The Vicious Brothers
Released by Tribeca Film

While assembling a queue of horror movies to watch over the course of the Halloween season, I received a suggestion from a friend back home to watch a movie called Grave Encounters.  He didn’t tell me anything about it, aside from the fact that he thought it was really scary.  With this lack of knowledge, I got on Netflix and decided to watch it.  I felt that the scares were nothing that Paranormal Activity hadn’t prepared me for, but Grave Encounters is still the scariest movie I’ve seen set inside a sanitarium. 
Alliteration aside, it seems that the idea of spending time in a house full of crazies, or lack thereof, is pretty terrifying.  A whole host of movies have been set in or around mental facilities.  I’ve seen Brad Anderson’s spooky Session 9, I’ve seen Milos Forman’s not-so-scary Oscar-winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s spine-tingling Shutter Island.  Grave Encounters, from aptly named directing team “The Vicious Brothers”, is still the scariest of them all.
Grave Encounters is a found-footage horror film about a team of paranormal investigators who visit an abandoned mental hospital, hoping to discover the facility’s spooky secrets for the purposes of their television show.  The hospital starts to look like a dud at first, but, as one would expect, the crew soon finds more than they bargain for. 
The film does take a few minutes to get going.  It’s not until the first half hour is up that things start getting intense.  It plays out like a cross between Paranormal Activity, Shutter Island, and an episode of Ghost Hunters.  The use of night-vision and handheld flashlights to film in the dark really contributed to the atmosphere of this film.  There is a sense of dread that permeates each frame, since the film is set entirely in the darkness of an abandoned, allegedly-haunted mental hospital.  Knowledge of those rumors, as well as the lack of a reliable light source, is enough cause for concern.  That’s what kept me on edge until the nerve-shredding scares started coming in the second half.  I jumped from my wooden desk chair multiple times at the end.
If you consider yourself a fan of the Paranormal Activity films, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, or the bevy of ghost-investigation shows on television, watch Grave Encounters this Halloween.  You’ll never think of your bathtub or your doctor the same way again.

"Wreck-It Ralph" Review

I went to see a late show of Disney's new "" this past Friday.  LOVED the classic game references & other clever tidbits that make Disney cartoons fun. 
Lots of 8-bit references in the animation itself. (Ralph smashes a cake and the splatter marks pixelate everywhere) Gorgeous use of colors and stunning animation. 
Fun, entertaining characters that you can empathize with. Fun to see Ralph's villain-hero change. Voice talents great as well, including John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Alan Tudyk, and Jane Lynch.

The only thing about this film I didn't immediately understand was Vanellope's (played by Sarah Silverman) glitch. I thought it was supposed to stop after she crossed the finish line. Later revealed as a superpower. Cool!
"Wreck it Ralph" is so entertaining and satisfying! Great twist towards the end that you have to see to appreciate! Has something for gamers & non-gamers alike. See it.