Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why I love Kevin Smith

There's a lot about Kevin Smith I didn't know a year ago, and I was probably a better person. However, now that I know more, I do have even more respect for him as a person and not just as a film maker. First, I love most of his movies. Mallrats was the first of his movies I saw, and watched it over and over. It was hilarious, talkative, and probably dirtier-mouthed than any movie I'd seen that far. Jay and Silent Bob were some of the most innovative characters I'd ever seen. Afterward, I've see Clerks, which I can't love like Mallrats, but still think is pretty amazing. Chasing Amy was pretty amazing, again opened doors I'd never even known existed. And finally Dogma appealed to me on a personal level. I'd always wondered about a lot of the rules of my own religion and Kevin Smith just put them all into a movie, and still made it funny and crazy while not disrespecting religion, just questioning certain elements. I love it, I watch it all the time still. Okay, so those are the movies (I can't wait to see Zack and Miri make a Porno). But there are other media that Kevin Smith has started that are almost more intriguing. First is his podcast: Smodcast available on itunes. He and usually his producer Scott Mosier sit and talk for an hour about whatever floats their boat that day. Then they ponder various incarnations of it, and how it relates to sex, love and such. It's usually very funny, always fairly vulgar, but if that bothers you, you already don't like Kevin Smith. He has some guest hosts too, notably his wife Jennifer Schwalbach who is hysterical. Other guest hosts are fun too. He did a father's day episode talking about poo with his daughter. It was actually pretty sweet. And finally, I just started watching "An Evening with Kevin Smith" through Netflix on my Roku and it's also hysterical. It's a series of Q&A interviews he did at college campuses edited together. It's funny, informative, and silly. I like it so far. And these are among the many reason I love Kevin Smith.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews: 2003

Year: 2003
Film: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Box Office Gross: $377,019,252
Awards: 11 Oscars, Best Picture, Best Director for Jackson, and many others, all technical
Actors: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortenson, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, and many many more.

I'll fully admit that I enjoy the sci-fi/fantasy genre immensely. I read "The Hobbit" when I was pretty young and then right after college when I moved to Africa, I read the rest of the trilogy. I loved the final book in the series and other than the first hour of the first film, I like Return of the King the best too. I like it because, like most fantasy fiction, it can be taken or left at many levels. There are so many subplots throughout that listing them would probably make someone lash out saying I'd missed one. So I'll go with what I found most interesting rewatching it yesterday. The use of light and dark throughout really helps viewers understand the entire tone of the film. If you're not sure where someone sits on the spectrum of helpful or evil, their wardrobe, the lighting and often the music will help you out. I know I'm oversimplifying it, but it really struck me this time around, so I'm going with it. Given that the two major bad guys in the movie have virtually the same name (Sauron and Saruman - c'mon Tolkein, gimme a break), and many of the other names are so similar it's hard to keep track of exactly who fits in where. The places even sound the same - Mordor, Gondor, Rohan, etc. So I found the light and dark throughout to be really helpful in tracking the progress of the movie. It's a wonderful film with lots of well conceived action sequences that bring the diversity of Middle Earth to life much better than my imagination did when I read the words. Most of the acting is just fine for what it needs to be, with Sean Astin giving a wonderful performance as the loyal partner of Frodo. Plus, Orlando Bloom has never really been hotter than he was as an elf. Sorry guys, but that's the real reason any girl agrees to see this movie more than once. This trilogy will definitely be held up as a standard for all future mega-movies.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Movie addicts, I need your help

A friend of mine is a professor teaching a class, through films, that helps freshmen transition from high school to college. He takes elements that might become problems for students and uses films to discuss the challenges. For example, one problem is living up to your parents expectations rather than finding your own path. He shows Dead Poets Society to foster discussion.

He's asked my help in finding a film to carefully show the problems and solutions with drug use. It can be a movie that takes place in high school or college, but he's looking for something that's not too violent or sexual, but would foster discussion. There are only two I could think of off the top of my head: Loser and Charlie Bartlett. Any help or advice would be most welcome! Thanks.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday, August 22, 2008


Thank you to Lara Croft and all the wonderful people who read the essays and voted for her (and me) over at the LAMB. I appreciate it.

DVD Roundup

Given the current climate of films at our local cineplex, I've been checking out a few more DVDs. And luckily, I really haven't been disappointed at all. Two very, very different, but equally enjoyable movies have arrived in the mail recent. The first is The Counterfeiters (Die Falscher) which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 2007. The tagline for the movie on IMDb is, "It takes a clever man to make money, it takes a genius to stay alive", but that barely describes the depths of this movie. Salomen "Sally" Sorowitsch is imprisoned by the SS prior to WWII for counterfeiting IDs, passports, and even the American dollar. He works in the prison camps for a while, and then is sent to a concentration camp once the Holocaust is underway. However, the officer of the SS (now a leader in the concentration camp schemes) searches for him (it's always amazed me the records the Nazis kept of their horror) and brings him to join Project Bernhard. It's in the middle of a concentration camp, but the inmates have soft beds, showers, lots of food, and even a ping-pong table for weekends. In return, they have to counterfeit the British pound and eventually the American dollar. In the largest counterfeiting scheme in history, the Nazis intend to fuel the war effort by flooding the currency market with perfectly forged currency. As our hero Sally was the best there is, he's brought in to be sure perfection is achieved. He's a bit of a smarmy, little, soft-spoken weaselly guy that only looks to survive. He does everything he's told. However, the other key player in Project Bernhard is Burger, an expert in the technology needed to make the dollar, but who refuses to collaborate with the Nazis. Imprisoned for printing anti-Nazi propaganda, Burger continues to sabotage the efforts to produce the dollar. He constantly makes the argument that it's better to die than to help them, while Sally represents the surviving at any cost argument. The acting throughout is superb, with every character winning your affection and dislike repeatedly. This is a terrific movie that focuses on a single element of the Holocaust and the different methods, arguments, and morals that go into fighting for what is right. I loved the whole film. 5 of 5 stars/lambs.

The other movie I saw on DVD, coincidentally, takes place just prior to WWII also, though in London. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a movie made from a book written by a woman ahead of her time. Frances McDormand plays Miss Pettigrew, a destitute former governess searching for work. She stumbles upon Delysia LaFosse (Amy Adams) in need of a social secretary, and manages to work her magic to get Delysia the lead in a new play. She moves among the elite of London society for the day, attending a lingerie show and a party at the club where Delysia performs her final night. During this day, our straight-laced Miss Pettigrew meets the 3 men who claim to love Delysia - Phillip, the producer of the play, Nick, the owner of the club and her caretaker, and Michael, the penniless piano player who wants to take Delysia to New York to start fresh. The movie attempts to be a '40s style farce with mistaken identity, misunderstandings and love triumphant. It does a very good job of achieving them all. It's a cute romp about living in a man's world and still trying to find love and be yourself. Very cute 4 of 5 stars.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sisterhood Continues

I confess, I'm nearly 30, but I've read all the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books by Ann Brashares. The main reason was a friend gave me an autographed copy of the 4th one knowing I'd enjoyed the first one years ago. So, in order to read my gift, I went to the library and read the middle two also. Yes, there are 4 books in the series and I've read them all and now I've seen both movies based on the series. And, in a moment of brilliance, the movie makers chose to make the first and fourth books rather than sticking to the series. Given that the actresses had aged (and the two middle books are pretty boring) it definitely makes sense. Also, the story lines from the last book are much more interesting. They follow Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen as they have summer adventures during college - RISD painting class, NYU summer school, archaeological dig, and summer stock theater in New Hampshire, respectively. Each of the stories is told well, with each of the characters going through something big in the growing pains category in finding their identities. They suffer through angsty broken hearts, family loss and growth, and figuring out how to stay friends with your childhood pals while growing up. Unlike the previous movie or the any of the books, the "pants" connection is really lost in this movie. Yes, they mail them back and forth (as if mail would go to and from Turkey in less than a week?) but the idea that they have magic in them and good things happen when you wear the pants is lost. They jump between characters without the pants being very involved. Also, while I understand they are "magical pants" I have trouble believing a pair of jeans will continue to fit the same 4 girls throughout high school and into college. My own jeans didn't last that long. In general the acting is good (though, Alexis Bledel should stick to TV as much as it pains me to criticize Rory), the stories interesting and believable. Overall, it's a great little movie, entertaining and worth watching on TV someday where I'm sure it will enjoy endless hours of play. 3.5 LAMBS/stars

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Final Round of the LAMB Action Hero Roommate Battle

I know it's Tuesday and you were probably looking forward to a new post about the top-grossing movie of one of the last few years. However, something very important has come up and I need to ask for your help.

Please go to the LAMB and vote for Lara Croft after you read the essays about why she would be the far superior roommate to silly Tony Stark.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tropic Thunder has no spark

I was really excited to see Tropic Thunder. I love Robert Downey, Jr. and thought watching him for a while would always be worth it. And if this movie had cut Jack Black and Ben Stiller from the cast, the movie almost would have been worth sitting in the theater. Mostly the movie just never gets going, and Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise are the best things about the movie, particularly Cruise's over-the-top office boss. The main story is that diva-like actors are filming a movie about a rescue attempt in Vietnam. The director can't get control, so he puts his main 5 actors (Black, Stiller, Downey, Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson) into the forest and plans to film them in real situations out of reach of their agents, managers, and assistants. Downey, a full method actor, thinks it's great, Black starts coming off his heroine high and acts crazy, and Stiller decides he needs to lead with no one to follow. Lots of crazy mishaps occur and finally they have to really rescue some of their group from a drug processing camp. Most of the lines are delivered as one-liners that could be put in a trailer and as such rarely make for actual conversation. If they were funny, this would be a great gimmick, but rarely are they even interesting and often unintelligible. There are a few points with real humor, but mostly it's forced over the top insanity. McConaughey as Stiller's agent is funny throughout with his obsession about getting Stiller a TiVo on location. Downey really commits to his insane character and when other people challenge his need to stay in character, even he doesn't understand why he's doing it, causing laughs. Overall, I really didn't like the movie and would give it 2 of 5 stars/lambs. Stiller and Black were wasted and just uninteresting. The supporting characters all around were a lot more interesting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Step Brothers: Funny if it's new to you

A fellow blogger at The Dark of the Matinee wrote about his dislike for the new Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy Step Brothers:

"If you're curious about what you're in for, pop in the DVD of WALK HARD, BLADES OF GLORY, or TALLADEGA NIGHTS. That's the bottle of humour you're in for...except with STEP BROTHERS you're getting the bottle that's been opened and left on the counter for three days. In the sun."

However, if you haven't seen Walk Hard, Blades of Glory, or Talladega Nights then I assume the logic is that Step Brothers is all new comedy. And that's about how I found it. I really liked parts of Blades of Glory, but haven't seen the other two movies, and thus found Step Brothers really funny at parts and just as stupid as all Will Ferrell movies for the rest of it.

It starts with Mary Steenbergen and Richard Jenkins falling in love and getting married. They have to move their nearly 40-year old sons into the same house. However, these kids are barely more than teenagers. They won't take care of themselves, still see all the value in bunkbeds, and can make best friends by reciting several facts in common. These guys take the "Failure to Launch" concept to a whole new level. They're not just taking advantage of their parents, but nearly incapable of getting and keeping a job or an apartment or anything else most 40 year olds are capable of attaining. Ferrell also has another full sibling, Derek, who is a total jerk that I would have punched a bunch of times, and when Reilly does punch him, it cements his friendship with Ferrell. They make plans and vaguely attempt to be grown-ups for a while, but their child-like fascination with themselves wins out and they become successful as they are. It's not a terrific movie, but there are a lot of really funny moments like the bunk beds collapsing, the wookie mask, and the Randy Jackson sword. I found it very entertaining and know a lot of people who probably would too, unless they've already seen the same story already.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews: 1998

Year: 1998
Film: Saving Private Ryan
Box Office Gross: $216,119,491
Awards: 5 Oscars, Best Director for Spielberg, also sound, sound editing, editing, cinematography,
Actors: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, and lots of cameos

I have a lot of respect for both Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg for using their enormous influence to bring attention to parts of our global history that might be forgotten as the original participants are no longer around to remind us. That said, it doesn't always make the greatest of movies (though some amazing documentaries). The first time I saw the beginning of Saving Private Ryan I was amazed, saddened, shocked, awed and about a dozen other emotions. Since that first viewing I usually fast forward to after the beach is stormed. It's just not something I can appreciate over and over. However, the rest of the movie is wonderfully rewatchable. Tom Hanks leads a small group of guys to find a guy named Private James Francis Ryan whose 3 brothers have been killed and thus he qualifies for discharge. There's lots of dialogue between smallish action sequences as the group makes their way across France to find Ryan. Ed Burns and Adam Goldberg are really terrific arguing the films main point that all lives are sacred, thus sending a bunch of guys through enemy territory to find one guy isn't a good idea. There's a fantastic scene that gets me every time when Hanks' crew is looking through a huge bag of dog-tags to find out if Ryan has already been killed. They're looking through them very abstractly commenting on the condition of them. However, a long line of troops is walking by and you can see it in their eyes the massive amount of death in the pile of tags. Giovanni Ribisi realizes what is going on and grabs them all and asks for some dignity. It makes me cry most of the time. The whole movie ends with an incredible (and pretty long) climax where Hanks' crew joins up with Ryan's to defend one of the last bridges still standing. They set up an elaborate defense and all kinds of action goes on simultaneously with the group translator (Jeremy Davies - recently of Lost) ferrying ammunition between all the scenes. It's just amazing. With Tom Hanks' final words to Damon being "Earn this" I also usually cry, but it's a pretty amazing moment. This is a terrific movie that can be rewatched due to its incredible dialogue throughout and all kinds of historical references that make more sense to me every time I see it.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mamma Mia, here I go again...

I haven't seen the original Broadway show of Mamma Mia! even though it's been out forever, but I've always known the music of ABBA so I was pretty intrigued to actually see how they put all those funky songs into some version of a cohesive story. And I was very pleasantly surprised. I think they did a terrific job taking a stage musical and removing the staging pretty well. Very few moments were flat or like they'd been presented from one view. In this respect, I thought Mamma Mia was actually better than Chicago. The story is very contrived to fit the music, but still isn't totally implausible. It's the story of a young girl (Amanda Seyfried) getting married on a Greek Island and wants to invite her father, but doesn't know which of 3 possible men it might be (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard). They appear on the island and throw her mom (Meryl Streep) into a tizzy. However, she has her 2 best friends (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) to keep her cool. They used to be part of a hippy girl-group. Seyfried tries to figure out which one might be her dad, but you'll have to watch it to see which it is. There's lots of drama and lots of people bursting into song when they have an emotion to express, but if that doesn't scare you off, it's pretty terrific. But it's a light-hearted funny romp around a Greek Island and through Streep's checkered past. I liked it, 3.5 stars (or LAMBS) of 5. Oh, and Colin Firth is just terrific as always, funny and awkward all the time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesdays Top-Grossing Reviews: 2007

Year: 2007
Film: Spiderman 3
Box Office Gross: $336,530,303
Awards: Not so much
Actors: Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace

This is a cheat because I haven't seen much lately, but this is last year's review of Spiderman 3.

I want to say I was sucked in to seeing Spiderman 3 by the advertising, but really I just wanted to go prove my point that the Spiderman franchise was a big mistake after the first one. However, I was wrong. This is a great action movie that redeemed all the faults of #2. There are awesome action sequences that, for a change, don't go on for 10 minutes without dialogue or humor. There's terrific CGI that is probably incredibly cutting edge, but is done so appropriately and creatively that you don't think about CGI or special effects, you just think "I wish I'd been there to see that". And in a break with it's predecessors, it doesn't feel like you're watching a comic book. And best of all, the movie doesn't take itself too seriously - which is good for a plot dependent on a creature that lands from outer space and a villain created by "demolecularization". There are half a dozen moments that you're not sure should be funny, but they are anyway. Toby Maguire doing his evil dance is probably supposed to be just a moment showing the change in his personality, but it's pretty hysterical, and very well choreographed - very much invoking Jim Carrey in The Mask. And so as not to spoil the end, but since it's a pretty terrific ending sequence (again peppered with funny dialogue and humor, rather than 30 minutes of CGI and Spidey swinging around), let's just say that you'll be satisfied with who dies and who lives. It's a huge improvement over the last one, and a good movie in it's own right.

Large Association of Movie Blogs