Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies set in a Mental Institution


If you've been hanging around here lately, you'll know that I've been taking part in Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme over at Wandering Through the Shelves. The quick and dirty on it is that you write about three movies that pertain to whatever category she has set up. The only parameters being they should either be your best (or favorites), worst (or least favorite), or hidden gems. It really is a blogathon-esque activity so swing by, see the categories she has set up for upcoming weeks and join the fun.

This week's theme was a tough one for me. We're talking movies set in a mental institution. Of course, the easiest route to go was pick the best and most famous of them all, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest then find two others to fill the need for three pictures. It's worthy of every drop of ink spilled and key stroked in praise of it. However, you should know me by now. When two roads diverge in a blog, I try to take the one less traveled by, and that makes all the difference.

Wow.

How dare I paraphrase the great Robert Frost knowing that in just a few moments I'm going to drop some nihilistic crap on you?

What do I mean?

Well, we're exploring one of my guilty pleasures for this week's picks: slasher flicks. These are certainly not the best movies to take place in a mental institution, for sure. Some might think they're the worst, but I don't. I wouldn't call these hidden, by any stretch. So, I guess we can call these favorites. Screw it, let's just get to it.


A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
When the kids of the Elm Street kids can't stop having nightmares, they get sent to a psyche ward where Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) goes after them, one by one. This was the first movie in the franchise to venture off of Elm Street. It's also the first to give us the wise-cracking while he kills you version of its iconic killer. If you're a fan of the franchise, then you know this is one of the better entries into the canon. Along with Freddy's change in personality, the movie also introduced some pretty cool concepts. Oh, this one last tidbit is a personal one. I'm not even sure why I remember this, to be honest, but watching this movie in theaters way back in 1987 was the first time I had heard the phrase 'sleep deprivation.' Incredibly random thing to throw in, I know, but that's what I got.


Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
So yeah, we're going from a part 3 to a part 5. Deal with it. This installment of the Friday the 13th series finds young Tommy (John Shepherd), who had just killed the iconic Jason at the end of the prior movie, The Final Chapter, being admitted to a mental institution for troubled teens. Of course, it's located deep in the woods, silly. Why yes, the kids at this institution start turning up dead, one by one. How'd you guess? Okay, I won't pretend this is some form of high quality cinema. I will say that it's one of the better pictures in the franchise.


Halloween (2007)
Lots of people hate on Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's horror classic. Ignore everything I say from this point forward, but I think this one is just about as good. Unlike the original, it spends lots of time in the place where that movie only started from and spoke of, the mental institution Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) escaped from. The actual remake part of the film, Myers following around and killing the teens of Haddonfield, is actually the weakest part. Right up through that escape, however, director Rob Zombie gives us the best story-telling of his career and some of the best in an American horror flick in quite some time (in '07, that is). I promise I'm not drunk or high. Anyhoo, a large chunk of this involves us watching Myers pass a lot of years being counseled by Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell).

Okay, tell me I'm the one who should be committed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Frozen

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
2013. Rated PG, 108 minutes.
Cast:
Kristen Bell
Idina Menzel
Jonathan Groff
Josh Gad
Santino Fontana
Alan Tudyk
Ciaran Hinds
Chris Williams

Once upon a time in the magical land of Arendelle, there lived a princess named Elsa (Menzel). She possessed the power to create snow and ice at will. While using her powers during playtime she accidentally hurts her younger sister Anna (Bell). Knowing that she would be feared as an evil-doing witch, Elsa hid her powers by isolating herself from Anna and the outside world. However, during her coronation things get out of hand and Elsa's power is exposed. She transforms the bright, sunny day into a frigid winter night. She flees the castle in hopes of starting over all alone. Anna follows in hopes of bringing her back and ending the bitter cold her sister created. However, when Elsa's powers accidentally hurt Anna again only an act of true love can save the younger princess.

Sound familiar?

Of course, it does. It's a Disney movie about a princess, or a pair of princesses, in this case. The movie floats along the oh-so-familiar path of doing what fairy tales do. Along the way, it pauses to give us some heartwarming musical numbers that help the two young ladies explain their feelings to the audience. This includes the Oscar winning "Let it Go." Yawn. And I'm sorry, but Pharrell's "Happy" is the far better song. Screw you, Academy.

Does it sound like I'm hating on this movie?

Maybe I am. Call it a knee-jerk reaction to all the unwarranted love thrown this film's way. It's treated as if the movie's creators invented the wheel when they unleashed this thing on an unsuspecting world. This, it hardly does.


To be fair, Frozen does do something somewhat original. Though it does spend a fair amount of time dealing with a pair of Prince Charmings, it's real focus is on sisterhood. This is admirable, especially given the way most princesses are merely damsels in distress. This little bit of empowerment is welcome. Also welcome is this movie's subtle deconstruction of the notion that true love can be found instantly. Nice touch.

As far as some other things go, all the wintry landscapes make for a gorgeous movie to look at. The voice work is adequate, not spectacular. Kristen Bell fares best, being her usual plucky self. Idina Menzel is okay and shines during her one big moment, singing that song. As a whole, the music doesn't seem particularly inspired, but that could just be either the cynic or the contrarian in me talking. Our two Prince Charmings did exactly what I expected them to do and were completely bland about it. And the talking snowman generally annoyed me.

Despite all I've said, I don't think this is a terrible movie. I just don't believe that should've been gushed over by anyone over twelve. Even the bonding that occurs between females was better done just a year earlier in Brave, with a far more inventive story. Though, this one does open itself up a bit more to pro-lesbian interpretation, with Elsa hiding her true nature and later "coming out." That would be cool, to me at least, but not nearly enough to make me think this is some great cinematic achievement. Frozen is cute, even enjoyable, but not special.


MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thor: The Dark World

Directed by Alan Taylor.
2013. Rated PG-13, 112 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Hemsworth
Natalie Portman
Tom Hiddleston
Anthony Hopkins
Stellan Skarsgard
Idris Elba
Chris Eccleston
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Kat Dennings
Rene Russo
Ray Stevenson

Following the events of The Avengers, Thor (Hemsworth) finds himself back home on Asgard longing for Jane (Portman), the woman he left behind in the first movie. And since a superhero's work is never done, there's a new evil to deal with. This time, all the fuss is over something called the Aether, the evil force Malakith (Eccleston) was using way back when in his quest to rule everything. He and his top dawg Algrim (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) fled before being killed. The Aether was said to be destroyed, but was just hidden really well. Lo and behold, after however many years, Jane not only finds the stuff here on Earth, but it uses her body as a host. Now that the Aether is out in the open, Malakith will stop at nothing to get it back and once again try to conquer evertything. He makes things so bad for Thor that our hero has to turn to his arch-nemesis/half-brother Loki (Hiddleston) for help.

Like the previous Thor and even The Avengers, this is a movie about the relationship between Thor and Loki more than anything else. It is a formula that repeatedly pays dividends. First of all, Chris Hemsworth continues to be the perfect Thor while Thor himself continues to show growth. His maturation process from overgrown child to a man worthy of his father's crown has been wonderfully handled across three movies. Still, a perfect Thor is almost no comparison to Loki as far as intrigue goes. The writing of the character and the performance of him by Tom Hiddleston is pure magic. Without question, he is a guy we simply love to hate. The trick is we still have a trace of sympathy for him. At his core, he is a guy rebelling against his parents because he doesn't feel wanted, particularly by his father. The hurt that feeds his hatred always shines through. Those parents, Odin (Hopkins) and Frigga (Russo) are played excellently, as well. Hopkins shows us Odin's thorough disappointment in and disdain of his son while Russo lets Frigga's motherly approach work wonders even though we can see that she's being very cautious with him.


Secondary characters, especially the human ones, don't really add much. As the damsel in distress, Portman does nothing to prove that she is the only one who should play that role. In other words, while having someone other than Gwyneth Paltrow play Pepper Potts would be a major blow to the Iron Man franchise, swapping out Portman for someone else would hardly make a difference. Don't get me wrong, she's a wonderful actress, just not given much to do. Others are there almost purely for comic relief with varying degrees of success. The relationship between the two interns played by Kat Dennings and Jonathan Howard is hit or miss. The hijinks surrounding Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is much more successful. It helps that he actually matters to the plot. Our uber-villain Malakith and top henchman Algrim give us pretty standard bad guys and aren't particularly memorable.

No matter how the rest of the movie comes together, or doesn't, it would all be for naught if the superhero stuff doesn't work. It does. When pulled into battle, Thor mightily wields his hammer. Just as importantly, the visuals back him up. Asgard looks beautiful and parts of it get destroyed quite nicely. The action involves lots of fisticuffs and spaceships and looks great. The best part is that while Algrim isn't the most memorable henchman, he is a formidable one and poses a real threat to our hero. Later, even Rene Russo impresses us in a fight scene, making us recall her days as part of the Lethal Weapon franchise.

Marvel Studios continues to bring us comic book flicks that strike a nice balance between taking their heroes seriously and providing a fun experience. It pushes the saga of their shared universe forward without relying as much on what happened in The Avengers as Iron Man 3. It's mentioned, but not the crutch upon which the entire movie leans. the ending feels like a cheat, but I'm sure we'll get some explanation of this later. Therefore, I'm willing to let it slide until a later film sheds some light on things. If viewing this as a stand alone, I can see how it would be a pretty big knock on the movie. As part of a series, as it is, it gives us something to anticipate.


MY SCORE: 7/10

Monday, July 28, 2014

On My Mind: Questions, Declarations, and Other Verbalizations


My family, my loving wife in particular, has been the inspiration for several of these "On My Mind" posts. Here she is again. As much as I adore her, there is one thing I would change in a heartbeat if given the opportunity: the way she watches movies. Watching with her means having a running conversation throughout the picture's run time. She's incapable of keeping her thoughts silent. Yes, she's one of those who talks to the screen as if the people on it can hear her. "Don't go in there." "Don't do that." "That was stupid." Of course, she's not always saying something negative. "That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!" "Go 'head!" "Yes!" Her conversating with the movie itself, however annoying, is rather innocuous. I can deal with her, or anyone, getting caught up in the emotion of the moment and being unable to contain themselves. That's part of the reason we watch movies. We want to be floored by the experience. Sometime, the excitement causes outbursts. I'm okay with that.

Far more bothersome, is the constant stream of questions. I'm not talking about the rhetorical kind she hurls at the heroes and heroines we're watching like "Why did you do that?" I'm talking about the ones she asks me and legitimately expects me to answer. For some reason, she's not content to let a movie explain itself. She has to constantly ask, out loud, about what's going to happen next, or what something that just happened means, or where someone is that hasn't been on screen in a while. I think she often knows the answers. She just wants me to confirm them for her. When she doesn't know, she's hoping I'll tell her so she can prepare herself for when it happens. Yes, she gets that emotionally involved in a film. My standard answer is "Watch the movie." She hates that. Another minute or two passes. She asks another question. If the questions start coming rapid-fire, I'll get annoyed and say "If you wait long enough, the movie will explain itself," in my perturbed-but-still-loving voice. At least, I think that's how I sound.


For the most part, I have learned to cope. Whenever I pop in a movie that we're going to watch together, I get into the needed state of mind and I deal with it. You, John and Jane Q. Public, are not ready. Therefore, it pains me to say that on those handful of occasions each year when we journey out to the theater it does not get any better. My wife tries to keep her volume level down, but the questions and comments still flow freely. My answer to all she asks remains the same. "Watch the movie." Occasionally, I'll caution her to lower her voice or even do something so indignant as to shush her, myself. Last weekend, we happened to be sitting in a fairly packed theater for a $2.25/ticket showing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (review coming soon...ish). Despite my best efforts, we wound up sitting next to another couple, with her in the seat nearest the unsuspecting gentleman. He sat politely and quietly as my lady repeatedly leaned over to me with some inquiry or another. I felt sorry for the poor guy. Or maybe, my wife wasn't speaking as loudly as it sounds to me. Neither the father and son in front of us nor the family behind mine had anything to say or shot us any evil looks. Just in case, she we were disturbing any of you good people, I apologize.

I will give her some credit. My wife is getting a little better about the type of questions she asks. She used to ask open ended ones that invited elaborate responses. Or, she would begin the debate about the morals of whatever we're watching, or some other deep, philosophical discussion while it's still going on. I would immediately shut her down and let her know that that's a conversation that must wait until after the movie. At least now, when she formulates such thoughts in her head she keeps them to herself. Mostly. Instead of bringing the subject up directly, she issues me a warning: "When the movie's over, I have to ask you something." This has led to some really interesting talks about the movie we just saw. I'm grateful for those. She's not the film buff or snob that I am. She loves movies, to be sure, but she treats them almost purely as an escape while I'm more often looking into what they have to say, how well they're written, shot, acted, etc., and formulate my thoughts on those things into reviews. She doesn't. Usually. So I appreciate when a film transcends the screen and gets her wheels turning. I just wish she could hold all her questions until the movie is over.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Pointless Lists: Top 10 Movie Police Chiefs

It's Friday. And I wanna make a list. I'm also feeling a bit goofy, yet somehow still respectful of authority. That brings me to today's topic: movie police chiefs. They're never the hero. Instead, they are thanklessly tasked with trying to keep the hero in check. Someone has to make sure the rules are followed. This usually involves lots of yelling, swearing, talk of ulcers, confiscating of guns and badges, and eating of crow when the loose cannon cop saves the day. Every once in a while, the chief will even turn out to be the villain. Oddly, this usually entails much less yelling, swearing, etc. In either case, these are my...

Top 10 Movie Police Chiefs


#10
Captain Ben Harp
(John C. McGinley, Point Break)
Hero he has to check: Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves)
This guy's job is doubly tough. The young, hotshot punk he has to deal with is used to being a big deal on the football field and now spends most of his working day catching waves and ignoring orders. To make matters worse, you can't even get a single, believable emotion out of the guy. I mean, it is Keanu Reeves. For that reason alone, I think ol' Ben Harp says things like this just to try to get a rise out of the guy...
You're a real blue flame special, aren't you, son? Young, dumb and full of come, I know. What I don't know is how you got assigned here. Guess we must just have ourselves an asshole shortage, huh?


#9
Captain Haden
(Frank McRae, 48 Hrs.)
Heroes he has to check: Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) and Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy)
Not only does he have to deal with Cates, a cop who doesn't give a crap about authority, he also has to trust that Cates can handle Reggie Hammond, a convict let out for two days to try and help crack the big case. It's no wonder he spouts off stuff like...
You goddamn Whiskey McCop! You lost a stolen bus! I got 5 deaths related to Ganz, and you blow it for a lousy n***** convict! That's right! I called him a n*****! You bet I did! Now I saw the report on that little piece of shit. If he spends one legal day in his life, it'll be a record! And this is it for you! Suspension, review board! You've had it!


#8
Superintendant Pang
(Philip Chan, Hard Boiled)
Hero he has to check: Inspector "Tequila" Yuen (Yun-Fat Chow)
Pang has to deal with a cop that has more ammo than should be humanly possible and is willing to use every last bullet to get the job done. Direct orders go completely disobeyed. It's to the point that Pang might as well have "Figure Head" on his name plate. He almost has no choice but to say...
Give a guy a gun, he thinks he's Superman. Give him two and he thinks he's God.


#7
Police Captain
(R. Lee Ermey, Se7en)
Heroes he has to check: Det. David Mills (Brad Pitt) and Det. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman)
See what I did there? Anyhoo, the unnamed captain is played by a surprisingly calm R. Lee Ermey. He takes a different approach than the rest of the guys on this list. He understands that the soon to be retiring Det. Somerset is the departments only chance to crack the puzzling case at hand. He likes Mills' spunk, but knows this is beyond the kid's level of comprehension. Therefore, he spends lots of time stroking Somerset's ego, whispering sweet nothings to him like...
You do this work you were made for and I don't think you can deny that. Maybe I'm wrong.


#6
Captain Dickson
(Ice Cube, Jump Street franchise)
Heroes he has to check: Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Tyler Channing)
Does any chief have to deal with more incompetence than Dickson? Well, yeah, but we'll get to that guy soon enough. Dickson runs a close second in the category, though. Where Dickson is the run away winner is in knowing exactly who he is. He's in on the joke that is his very existence. He lets us all know this when he says...
I know what you're thinkin': angry, black captain. Well guess what? I'm black, and I worked my ASS off to be the captain. And sometimes, I get a little angry, so suck a dick!


#5
Captain Howard
(Joe Pantoliano, Bad Boys franchise)
Heroes he has to check: Det. Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Det. Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence)
If there's one guy on this list to feel sorry for, this is him. Like a number of the others, he has two reckless cops who kill far more perps than they arrest. He also has another duo that yearns to be just like the first. Now add in the fact that his job seems to be constantly on the line and it's easy to see why his work seems to be having an adverse effect on his physical well-being. My heart breaks a little when he says...
I can't believe you guys. Do you get up in the morning, call each other up - "Good morning, Marcus." "Good morning, Mike." "How you doin'?" "Ai'ight." "So, how are we going to fuck up the captain's life today?" "Gee, I don't know, I don't know... Ooh, look! Over there. Let's kill three fat people and leave them on the street?"


#4
Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris
(G. W. Bailey, Police Academy franchise)
Heroes he has to check: Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Thompson (Kim Cattrall), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Tackleberry (David Graf), etc.
Here's the guy that has to deal with the most incompetence. He also harbors the most hatred for his subordinates, by far. Now add in the fact that he probably holds the record for appearing in the most bad sequels and you have a guy fit to be tied. You just know he means it, when he screams...
We've got you because you are the worst people here. You are "D" Squad; "D" for "dirtbags." When I say: "Hey, dirtbags!" that means you. You people are going to hate my guts for the rest of your lives. I am going to make you sorry that you ever came here.


#3
Captain Murphy
(Steve Kahan, Lethal Weapon franchise)
Heroes he has to check: Det. Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Det. Riggs (Mel Gibson)
If Cpt. Howard of the Bad Boys flicks is on the verge of keeling over from the stress of his job, then Cpt. Murphy is his polar opposite. When it comes to not caring what his loose cannon cops do, he is the undisputed champion. Sure, he has a job to do and he genuinely wants to do it. He's just not going to let it kill him. That's why you have to give him thumbs up when he sighs...
I don't give a fuck, Riggs. That's why I don't have an ulcer, because I know when to say "I don't give a fuck."


#2
Chief Gillespie
(Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night)
Hero he has to check: Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier)
Chief Gillespie runs his town with an iron fist. This of course, includes his police force. And he's a product of his time, so being a bigot is pretty much in his blood. At first. Combine that with the thick southern accent and every time he speaks, country bumpkin comes out. However, this belies the fact that he's a brilliant psychologist. Not only does he know people well, he's not afraid to tell them about themselves either. We realize this when he rips off this beauty...
You're gonna stay here if I have to go inside and call your chief of police and have him remind you of what he told you to do. But I don't think I have to do that, you see? No, because you're so damn smart. You're smarter than any white man. You're just gonna stay here and show us all. You've got such a big head that you could never live with yourself unless you could put us all to shame. You wanna know something, Virgil? I don't think that you could let an opportunity like that pass by.


#1
Inspector Todd
(Gilbert R. Hill, Beverly Hills Cop franchise)
Hero he has to check: Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy)
When I decided to do this list, there was no doubt Inspector Todd was going to grace the top spot. The man is just a ball of rage. The mere sight of Axel Foley makes his already ridiculously high blood pressure skyrocket. He is who Captain Dickson of the Jump Street series pays homage to. He is also the man I'd be most afraid to work for. You see, I don't have Axel's knack for comedic improvisation or for taking such authority figures so lightly. Therefore, I would probably stay out of it when he says...
I didn't just walk into this town from the cotton fields! Whoever killed your friend wasn't worried about your little narrow ass. If they were, you'd be lyin' beside him in that meat wagon. Just don't do a damn thing. Stay out of this!


So there's my two cents. Of course, I haven't seen every movie with a police chief in it, so feel free to let me know if I've missed some of your favorites.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies with Ensemble Casts - Hidden Gems


It's Thursday once again, so it's time for another entry in Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme. In case you're just joining us on this little adventure, and please do, bloggers are asked to pick three movies every Thursday based on the subject she has selected. You can either go with the best (or your favorites), the worst (or least favorites), hidden gems, or take a crack at multiple categories.

This week's subject is movies with ensemble casts. As opposed to last week's meme, this one is an extremely broad topic. With so many out there, I chose to go with hidden gems. These aren't totally obscure, to be sure, but they've gotten a lot less recognition than I think they deserve. I just want to shed a little light on three pictures that have faded away with the 90s.

My hidden gems are:

The Big Hit
(1998)
The Ensemble: Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bokeem Woodbine, Antonio Sabato Jr., China Chow, Christina Applegate, Lela Rochon, Avery Brooks, Robin Dunne, Sab Shimono, Lainie Kazan, Elliott Gould
Less than a year earlier, Mark Wahlberg had his first real big hit, another ensemble cast flick by the name of Boogie Nights. When this action-comedy flick hit theaters, it opened #1 at the box office, but was quickly forgotten in subsequent weeks. I find it to be a very funny movie about a team of underappreciated team of assassins. When they take a job kidnapping a rich Japanese businessman's daughter, their star player, Wahlberg, finds himself trying to protect the girl. Much like in Boogie Nights, he's just lovably goofy. Lou Diamond Phillips is amazing, here. So, too, are most of his co-stars. Most critics dismissed it. Audiences were rather lukewarm. I had a great time watching it.


Get on the Bus
(1996)
The Ensemble: Charles S. Dutton, Andre Braugher, Isaiah Washington, Hill Harper, Ossie Davis, Bernie Mac, Wendell Pierce, De'aundre Bonds, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Gabriel Casseus, Albert Hall, Steve Hall, Charles Robinson
A year earlier, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam led The Million Man March on Washington, D.C. It was to be a day of atonement for African American men. It was well attended with many communities sending busloads of black men to the event. Spike Lee's Get on the Bus is a fictional account of one such trip. There are a broad cross-section of personalities representing all walks of life. It's a fun ride with something to say. As far as the public was concerned,  it was met with indifference. It was well reviewed, but has fell out of favor over the years. I'm not sure why. Sure, it's not one of Spike's best, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Set it Off
(1996)
The Ensemble: Jada Pinkett Smih, Vivica A. Fox, Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, Blair Underwood, John C. McGinley, Ella Joyce, Charles Robinson, Dr. Dre, Chaz Lamar Shepherd
It's not a list of hidden gems unless it uncovers a 'hood classic. This one follows a group of four young ladies facing some serious financial woes. What other way is there to fix your money issues than to start robbing banks? Well, maybe there are other ways, but that's what these ladies decide to do. It becomes an inner-city crime drama that tells most of its story from the bad girls' point of view. There are a number of really good performances, but the real treat here is Queen Latifah. Her character Cleo is by far the most thugged out of the crew. Everything about Cleo runs completely counter to Latifah's well crafted public persona. I don't know how well known it is outside of 'hood movie aficianados, but it did well at the box office grossing roughly four and a half times its $9 million budget. Still, it was hardly a huge crossover success. That's why I call it a hidden gem. It's an underrated heist movie that deserves more eyeballs.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ender's Game

Directed by Gavin Hood.
2013. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Cast:
Asa Butterfield
Harrison Ford
Viola Davis
Abigail Breslin
Moises Arias
Ben Kingsley
Hailee Steinfeld
Aramis Knight

Fifty years ago there was an alien invasion that wiped out much of humanity. Eventually, us earthlings were able to defeat the extra terrestrial invaders when a brave soul named Mazer Rackham (Kingsley) rammed his ship into the bad guys' mother ship and all of their smaller ships started falling out of the sky. Apparently, he saw Independence Day. Anyhoo, his sacrifice has made him a legend and we've been preparing for another attack ever since. Of course, all of our fighting vessels have lots of buttons and big screen displays and kids are allegedly more adept at using those things than adults, so it's decided that we only train child prodigies to be our future fighters. The program is run by Colonel Graff (Ford). He goes all Morpheus and thinks he has found "the one" in the form of Ender Wiggin (Butterfield). Trying to get him ready for the next invasion ensues.

Right away, the movie puts me in position to actually contemplate its premise. I like it, but at the same time it sounds like complete rubbish. To begin with, people who are really adept at video games are simply people who love video games, regardless of age. Kids tend to play them a lot more often due to having more time, less responsibility, yada yada, which is why they're generally better. Where I'm going is I don't think it would be wise at all to utilize children for such a program because of the real life ramifications of what you're asking them to accomplish. Do you really want to place your fate in the hands of button happy children? Since that's what the movie is going with, that's what I'm going with. The sooner you let go of the questions, the sooner you can get into the movie.


To help us get into it, it presents us with the dire reality that the powers that be aren't just preparing for a possible attack, they're fairly certain one is coming. Next, they run our hero through a series of training exercises. These are mostly interesting, particularly the floating war games thingy. On top of this our hero clashes with whoever his leader is every step of the way, so there's lots of arguing about everything. Lots of this arguing is done by Col. Graff and his right hand man woman Major Anderson (Davis). Her only function throughout the film is to say the exact opposite of whatever Graff says. Their back and forths are amusing, even if Ford seems to be phoning it in. Davis is her usual intense self. I swear that woman could make twiddling your thumbs sound like an urgent matter that must be addressed. Our star, Asa Butterfield, is rather meh, but helped greatly by appearing normal next to the scenery chewing Moises Arias (of Hannah Montana fame) as one of those leaders he clashes with. Ben Kingsley shows up later to chew whatever scenery was left over. Butterfield gets a nice emotional centering from Abigail Breslin as the girl who takes a shine to him and helps him out from time to time. This reminds me, as always, there is a budding romance shoe-horned in, though it never really goes anywhere.

Ahhh...never going anywhere. That's the movie's problem. I understand that the whole thing is meant to set up a sequel. However, that doesn't mean that it should completely anti-climactic. I hope I'm not spoiling it, but the way the movie plays out it's training, argue, training, argue, training, stupid twist, The End. It quite literally pulls the rug out from beneath your feet. My first reaction to what happened was "What? That's it?" Usually, when that happens I put my brain to work trying to dig a little deeper. Maybe I missed something. Perhaps something profound is lurking just beneath the surface that I didn't initially grasp. No, not really. It just kind of says "We were pulling your leg this whole time," and drops the mic like it just finished rocking the house. My house wasn't rocked.

Monday, July 21, 2014

We're the Millers

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Jason Sudeikis
Jennifer Aniston
Emma Roberts
Will Poulter
Ed Helms
Nick Offerman
Kathryn Hahn
Molly C. Quinn
Tomer Sisley
Luis Guzman
Thomas Lennon

David (Sudeikis) is the local weed man in the Denver community where he lives. Yeah, I know. Circumstances dictate that he desperately needs to repay a debt to his supplier Brad (Helms). Brad tells him all will be forgiven if he goes down to Mexico and brings back "a smidge, smidge and a half" of weed. David hatches a plan to pose as a family hoping that he won't get harassed by Border Patrol that way. Since he doesn't have a family of his own, he has to recruit one. He gets troubled, but very different teens Kenny (Poulter) and Casey (Roberts) to play his kids. To complete the picture he gets Rose (Aniston), the stripper who lives across the hall and is facing eviction, to play his wife. And away we go.

Early on, We're the Millers does what it sets out to do. It makes us laugh. While Sudeikis is getting in lots of great lines, much of the humor comes from Kenny's naivete. Jennifer Aniston continues to poke fun at herself for, of all things, being her age and still looking great (see most of her movies in the last decade). The situations are appropriately zany, giving us the giggles on that front. Finally, Ed Helms is a riot. It all adds up to the first two thirds being fast and fun.


As it must in all movies, the third act eventually comes. When it does, things take a turn for the mundane. It's not really all that bad, just generic. In place of all the sizzle of the earlier parts, we get a steady descent into sentimentality. The filmmakers seem hell bent on making the ending as cute as possible. It comes off as them taking the easy way out. To do this, all of the loose ends are tied too neatly. This leads to predictability. In fact, nothing unexpected happens as the movie rushes toward its climax. Action picks up and the laughs mostly subside. Action and happy endings aren't inherently good or bad, but in the context of We're the Millers they're the expected and, therefore, less satisfying outcome.

Being pretty good for two thirds of the run time, however is a fate that befalls many a comedy. In trying to solve their conflicts, the last third is often filled with shootouts, explosions, and getting everyone happy. This is no different. In fact, it follows that pattern to a tee. Thankfully, WtM successfully humors us early, making it easy to forgive its flaws. It's still not enough to make us completely overlook them. If you don't laugh early, then forget it because it's not getting any better. For those of us that do, even if we have a number of deep belly laughs, we can't help but think it could've been much better.


MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Versatile Blogger Award

John at Hitchcock's World saw fit to nominate for the Versatile Blogger. Rather than questioning his judgement like I should, I'll humbly accept. After all, it's my first one of these blogger awards that go around every year. I'm getting a bit misty thinking about it...


I just feel so appreciated right now...


Oh...ahem...um...okay...I'm good.

The first thing I'm supposed to do in order to officially accept this award is thank the person that nominated me and link back to their blog. John, thank you very very much.

Next, I'm supposed to nominate 15 other bloggers and tell them about it. I read a number of blogs, so coming up with 15 shouldn't be a problem...except I want to nominate blogs I haven't seen already receive this particular honor. If I nominate you and you have already gotten this, take it in stride like the pro you are. My nominees (alphabetical, so don't get pissed about not being at the top):

The Cinematic Spectacle
Dan the Man's Movie Reviews
Flick Chicks
Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights
Jeffrey K. Lyles' Movie Files
Karamel Kinema
Keith & the Movies
Life vs. Film
Mettel Ray
My FilmViews
A Space Blogyssey
Surrender to the Void
Two Dollar Cinema
Vic's Movie Den
Wandering Through the Shelves

Finally, I'm supposed to spout off seven interesting facts about me. Hmmm...not sure there are seven things, but I'll give it a shot.


1. Legend has it that I learned to walk by following around the little girl in my neighborhood whom I had a crush on. I can neither confirm nor deny this tidbit of info, but I can openly admit I was in love with the same girl for the first 15 years of my life. We were friends, but she never loved me back. Sad, but true.

2. The only movie I ever cried over was the 1979 version of The Champ. I was eight years old and damn if didn't rip me apart. I've not shed a single tear over a movie since...but I've never watched The Champ again, either.

3. I might actually break down and cry if my beloved New York Knicks actually win an NBA title.

4. I went to high school with Fredro Starr. If you don't know who that is, he started as a member of the rap group Onyx and later became an actor with a rather lengthy career (nearly 50 credits according to imdb.com). His biggest movie was probably Save the Last Dance. We knew each other, but weren't friends. We hardly ever spoke, actually. So no, I've not seen nor spoken to him since those days. Just something I think is interesting.

5. I won my school spelling bee in sicsth grade. See what I did there?

6. I am a published poet.

7. During one particular summer in the 80s, my brother and I watched Rocky III at least a dozen times. Each time we acted out the training montage scene between Rocky and Apollo.

So there's seven things. Before exiting stage left, I'll thank John one last time for nominating me. In my head, I'll pretend that he speaks for the entire movie blogosphere and take this award as proof that...




Saturday, July 19, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon


A few months back, Nostra at My Filmviews started up a blogging relay based on iconic movie characters. It wasn't his first, but it caught on like wildfire. Soon, there were several other copycat relays, including one I started myself. Nostra is back with another relay that he's presenting in association with the Dutch movie blog De Protagonisten, but like the great ones always do, he's managed to kick things up a notch. How so? This relay is actually six different relays all going at once. Yup. Top that, punks.

The concept is based on the age-old six degrees of separation game. Basically, each blogger lucky enough to get passed a baton will have to make the connection between two personalities or entities that have something to do with the movies in six steps or less. For instance, to use the example Nostra used in his original post, let's connect Matt Damon to Arnold Schwarzenegger:

 ...

Step #1: Damon grew up with Ben Affleck.

Step #2: Affleck starred in Changing Lanes with Samuel L. Jackson.

Step #3: Jackson has appeared in a number of movies directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Step #4: Tarantino directed Micheal Keaton in Jackie Brown.

Step #5: Keaton starred in Batman.

Step #6: In Batman and Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Mr. Freeze.




With me, so far? Cool.

The last part of this is the passing of the baton. I'll let Nostra explain this in his own words:

At the end of their post these bloggers will assign it to another blogger and set the endgoal for that blogger. The next blogger will start with the movie/actor/director the previous blogger ended with and make the connection to in six or less steps to the assigned endgoal. Example: Ruth ends with Transformers and set the endgoal to Cary Grant then the next blogger will have to make the connection between the two. Please make sure that you link back to the previous post(s) as this will help your readers follow the blogathon and it will also help your fellow bloggers to some extra readers, which I’m sure you’d agree will help everyone.

Make a connection, use who or whatever you connected as the starting point for the next blogger and randomly pick an end point for that person. Got it.

So, where did I get the baton from? Due to my constant begging, on bended knee no less, Shah at Blank Page Beatdown took pity on me and forked it over. In his post, he was successfully able to link Robert Downey Jr. to The Godfather. His task for me? Connecting The Godfather to Lindsay Lohan.

Boys and girls of all ages, I'm not just going to make the connection. I'm going to do so in record setting fashion.

Step 1:
The first Godfather in the franchise, the one and only Don Vito Corleone was portrayed in Oscar winning fashion by Marlon Brando, however...


Step 2:
...the role was also played a young Robert De Niro in the The Godfather Part II.


Step 3:
Robert De Niro appeared in Machete with Lindsay Lohan.


Looks like my work here is done.


Yyyyyeeeaaahhhh, that's it. Get some.

Oh, almost forgot to pass the baton. I'm going to hand it to John at Hitchcock's World. His task? Connect Lindsay Lohan to Sidney Poitier.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Vampire Academy

Directed by Mark Waters.
2014. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes.
Cast:
Zoey Deutch
Lucy Fry
Danila Kozlovsky
Gabriel Byrne
Sarah Hyland
Olga Kurylenko
Dominic Sherwood
Cameron Monaghan
Sami Gayle
Ashley Charles
Claire Foy

Vampires were once cool. They were bloodthirsty, yet refined and highly seductive creatures barely able to hide their deadly intentions beneath the mischievous twinkle in their eye. Ones that couldn't hold it together were downright savages, literally going for the jugular of whomever was in their path, finishing meals with fresh blood staining their faces. Whatever the case, vampires were not to be trifled with. Then, they were suddenly named Sullen Cullen, moped around looking constipated, sparkled in daylight, had emo girlfriends, and got jealous of her platonic werewolf friend like a little beyotch. Now, there's a whole high school full of emotionally fragile blood suckers. Sigh.

Before we even get to the school we find out there are three types of vampires. The Moroi make up the ruling class. They're described as peaceful, and mortal. Mortal. Yeah. How mortal, like what's their life expectancy? Never comes up, but I will say they seem like a bunch of wusses. It doesn't help that instead of declaring a major, all these Harry Potter wannabes have to declare which magic they'll practice. You know the magics - fire, water, etc. - like this was The Last F'in Airbender. We're told sunlight bothers them, but other than characters randomly saying it hurts a little there's no real evidence of this. The one true vampire thing about them is that they can only digest human blood. However, they get that from Twilight fans who volunteer it willingly so even that part sucks. Okay, bad pun. And the volunteers aren't Twilight groupies. Explicitly.

Let's move on.


The Dhampir are half-human/half-vampire. They exist solely to protect the Morons Moroi. To be honest, I've no clue what makes them even remotely vampiric since the sun has no effect on them, they can eat toaster strudels, and I'm fairly certain they've never heard of Bram Stoker, nor are they aware of the fact that they're pissing on his grave. Hell, I think some of it is trickling over into Bela Lugosi's casket and staining his red satin lined cape.

Phew. Deep cleansing breaths. Sorry. Tangent.

Finally, we have the Strigoi. They are the downright savages I mentioned earlier. Strangely, they're never referred to as immortal even though it's stressed that the Morons Moroi are not. By the way, a Moron Moroi can turn into a Strigoi. I guess it works like your favorite good guy wrestler turning heel. Whatever. At least they can't come out during the day. Better yet, they can be killed by silver. Oh wait. That's supposed to be for...you know what? Screw it. I'll give them credit for being badasses. Unfortunately, they disappear for large chunks of the.movie. Boo.

Alright, I've been at this review way too long and haven't gotten anywhere. The point of this whole movie is that Dhampir Rose (Deutch) is assigned to protect Moroi Lissa (Fry), heiress to the throne, from the Strigoi. Well, that's what it's supposed to be about. What we really get is Lissa maneuvering her way around the school's cliques and rumor mill while Rose crushes on her dark haired Fabio of a combat instructor. I swear Rose is written and performed like a rip off of Ellen Page from Juno. We meet a made up to be really old and decrepit Gabriel Byrne try to pass time until he could cash his check his one big scene, and watch Olga Kurylenko impersonate Elizabeth Banks from The Hunger Games. Later, we say "Look, there's that girl from Modern Family who looks like she could be Mila Kunis' little sister." Well, she looks like that to me. Anyhoo, none of this is very interesting. Exception made for the thinly veiled anti-lesbian sentiment. Well, I read it that way. Toward the end, we get a couple of unsurprising twists to cap off this particular teen soap. The credits roll and we realize yet another novel for young adults (that I'll never read) has been made into a crappy movie.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Favorite Stephen King Adaptations


Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves is hosting the Thursday Movie Picks. It's a cool, blogathon-esque activity which calls for bloggers to submit three picks each Thursday based on the theme she has chosen. She's got some great ones lined up. You can read all about it, here.

This week's theme is "Movies based on a Stephen King book/short story." There are lots to choose from, and a few different ways I could approach this, but I settled on going with my three favorite such movies. Without further adieu, here they are...


Misery
Misery is the first King novel that I read before seeing the movie. Needless to say, I was apprehensive about watching it. I figured they would butcher it. Well, other than a few small changes (to make it less gory, believe it or not), it survived intact. Kathy Bates gives a jaw-dropping performance and provides us with one of the best movie villains of all time. What makes this my favorite of all the horror movies adapted from King's work is that you can feel the writer's own paranoia bleeding through. Where most of his horror stuff seems to come from a twisted imagination, Misery seems to be the manifestation of his own worst fears. Why wouldn't he be afraid of a crazed fan holding him hostage, he's only the most recognizable American fiction writer of all-time.


The Shawshank Redemption
This is just an amazing piece of story-telling. There is never an unsure step taken and each one draws you a little deeper into the lives of the men on the screen. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman deliver masterful performances and help create the greatest bromance of all time. Now, it's not the best movie ever made like the users at imdb.com would have you believe. Still, it's a truly outstanding picture. (Click here for my full review)


Stand by Me
Every time I watch Stand by Me, I'm instantly a twelve year old boy again scared out of my mind, but compelled by the prospect of seeing a dead body. Everything about this movie works for me. It's dripping with tension, it's got lots of humor, and the camaraderie on display is amazing. As the boys make their journey across occasionally treacherous terrain, I'm right with them. Whenever there are run-ins with the older boys, I'm quaking in my boots. And please don't mention the train. I could go on, but suffice it to say this movie is magical to me.


Those are just my faves. The great thing about Stephen King is that so much of his work has been adapted, there are lots more that I really like and just didn't include today. What are your favorites?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blue Jasmine

Directed by Woody Allen.
2013. Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Cate Blanchett
Alec Baldwin
Sally Hawkins
Bobby Cannavale
Andrew Dice Clay
Peter Sarsgaard
Louis C.K.
Michael Stuhlbarg
Max Casella
Alden Ehrenreich

Jasmine (Blanchett) is no longer with her husband Hal (Baldwin), but can't stop going on about all the wonderful things they used to do together to anyone within earshot. It turns out they were once fabulously wealthy. Her days were spent having expensive lunches with her friends and planning charity events. Circumstances I won't spoil forced them apart and put her in the poor house. With nowhere else to go, and having to start over, Jasmine takes what money she has and flies to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Hawkings) who has a couple of young sons and is on the verge of having her fiance Chili (Cannavale) move in with her. To say all of this is a shock to her system is putting it mildly. Jasmine trying to put the pieces of her life back together while flashing back to what once was ensues.

Two things jump out at you as outstanding aspects of this film. The first is Cate Blanchett's performance in the titular role. She dazzles with her portrayal of a woman frayed at the edges, and with full knowledge of that, resolutely clinging to her self-righteousness. She's in touch with the reality of her situation, but not entirely sure how reality works. It's a complicated act akin to juggling chainsaws. One false move would mean certain death for her believability. Fortunately, each time she tosses a saw in the air she manages to catch it safely by the handle.

The other great aspect of this movie shines through Blanchett's performance. She makes it easy to recognize how well written Blue Jasmine is. Even during her least stable moments, it doesn't seem showy. It feels like a person having a difficult time coping, not an actor trying to impress the academy. Of course, that's exactly what she did and took home Oscar gold. A large part of that was the dialogue she and everyone else was given. From her, when talking to others, it is a constant stream of needling insults. No one thing she says could incite a riot, but her ever growing verbal combinations drives others insane. This is why the people around her blow up in her face from time to time, and take great joy in doing so. Her holier than thou attitude and complete stand-offishness gives them gless during the various moments in which she receives her comeuppance. When speaking to herself, whether others are present or not, she goes on strangely coherent rambles. By that, I mean what she's saying makes complete sense it just just lacks context to whoever is in her midst. They can easily figure out what she's talking about. They just won't be able to understand why. Writer/director Woody Allen pulls this off brilliantly. He puts his protagonist in a world where she can have control of her surroundings even as she is losing control of her life. If something is not about her, she makes it that way. The question is whether or not she can fix any of it.


It would be tough to sell a movie with one great performance and not much else going for it as worth the bother. Fortunately, I've already mentioned Allen's writing. His directing deserves credit here, as well. He shoots scenes with the appropriate intimacy or distance depending on what's happening with Jasmine. Whenever she's trying to separate herself from a situation, she's off to one side, almost detached from whatever is happening. When others are probing her for answers to personal questions they get close-up, putting them in our face to suggest that they're also in hers. It's a bunch of subtle touches that come together to form our picture.

To help this picture take shape, others in the cast also perform very well. Alec Baldwin is perfectly slimy as Jasmine's beloved Hal. Bobby Cannavale sweats his way through an excellent portrayal of a guy who is happy with his station in life and whiny when things don't go his way. Sally Hawkins does well as the smarter-than-given-credit-for Ginger. However, I'd be lying if I didn't say I thought Sarah Silverman might have stolen the show with this role. For me, the one weak link is a guy who received tons of prais for his work, here. That's Andrew Dice Clay. It's not that he was necessarily bad, just terribly miscast. An integral part of his character, Ginger's ex-husband Augie, is being a San Francisco guy not used to swimming with the financial sharks of New York. In fact, he's never even been to the city. It comes off as the most artificial part of the movie because whenever he opens his mouth, that unmistakable Brooklyn accent comes flying out of it. It was utterly impossible for him to sound more like a native New Yorker.

That small misstep aside, Allen has crafted a wonderful film. The dialogue is sharp and the camera is very purposely placed throughout. Both of these things add the finishing touches on an already sizzling story. Being a Woody Allen script, there is humor, for sure. However, it's of a darker variety than his usual fare. Helping it get that way is Cate Blanchett, standing in for Woody himself. She takes his normally neurotic and longing for love protagonist and adds a layer of growing instability and denial. Idiosyncrasies are no longer the joke, but symptoms of more serious problems. That this is going on within a person who has a huge ego only complicates things. By the end, Allen impresses by offering no easy explanations. He presents us with a set of events and asks us to draw our own conclusions. Yup, I'm a sucker for well done ambiguous endings. For my money, this is the best Woody Allen movie at least since Vicky Cristina Barcelona and possibly as far back as Match Point.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Against the Crowd Blogathon: Links!


LINKS!!!

A couple of weeks ago, I started this blogathon and received a number of great entries. I'd have to say it's been a big success. Lots of the bloggers I already read on a regular basis participated, but so did some bloggers I hadn't heard of before. Needless to say, I'm glad to have met more of the wonderful people who share a passion with me. As a thank you to everyone who got involved, I'm centralizing all of the links to these entries here in this post. Hopefully, this will bring us all a few more readers. The bloggers that took part came up with some excellent choices so I highly encourage you to check them all out.

Sati @ Cinematic Corner takes Terrence Malick to task and blissfully reminisces on that one movie where Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman both played witches.

Over @ Movie Reviews from James, the titular writer did something so blasphemous as taking a Hitchcock film down a few notches and sang the praises of the sequel of a kiddie cartoon from the 70s turned live-action movie.


The Flick Chicks, Jenna and Allie, took a Christmas classic and a costumed hero to task while going to bat for a very morose Will Smith and driving needlessly fast.


Anna from Film Grimoire gets all up in David O. Russell's hind parts and breathes new life into a 90s pop sensation.


@ Hitchcock's World, John laid the smack down on John Carpenter's most iconic movie. After that, he made a case for Indy's worse.


Rhys @ Feeling Fuzzier wasn't feeling too fuzzy about one of James Cameron's epic adventures, but was about a video game movie.


Over @ Big Screen, Small Words, whirlwind.supernova has a serious problem with kiddie love, but not juvenile delinquents.


Around here, I've torn down many a dance movie. Angela @ Cinema 13 hits one I missed. On the flipside, she takes up for people we all hate - politicians.


In Coolsville, Ms. Coolsville herself may have slain the biggest giants of them all by bagging Humphrey Bogart AND Ingrid Bergman, but showed her gentler side when Anthony Hopkins climbed into the director's chair.


Karamel Kinema explains that one of my favorite horror spoofs of all time isn't so brilliant and actually laughed more at something starring Reese Witherspoon.



That Dandy Boy, Dan, is bored to tears by a highly regarded horror flick starring Donald Sutherland, then sucker punches all of us with his love for Zack Snyder's fetish flick.


The lovely lady @ Let's Go to the Movies was depressed by a Danny Boyle "feel good" picture and feels good about a Jennifer Aniston movie that depressed everyone else.


Brittani from Rambling Film gets in on the action by letting us all know that James Dean ain't really all that cool. Then, she does the unthinkable and goes to bat for a Halle Berry horror flick.


While Wandering Through the Shelves, Wanderer found herself on a distant planet created by James Cameron, and didn't like it. She much preferred the tender embraces of a hated rom-com.


m. brown of Two Dollar Cinema can't stand the way a certain Gothamite ended his career, but he laughed hysterically at a movie no one else did.


@ Poisonous Tongue (love that name), Modesto tells us that a coming of age flick starring Juno Temple is perfect, but the one where Emile Hirsch tries to do the same is horrible.


Mettel Ray nearly fell asleep on the worldwide manhunt conducted by Jessica Chastain. Thankfully, the sight of Jeffrey Dean Morgan's backside perked her right up.


Novroz from Polychrome Interest hates on Disney's latest princess. Therefore, it should be obvious that she's all in for a horror movie with a realistic ending.


Josh of The Cinematic Spectacle joined the party by not feeling the rhythm of a beloved 50s musical, but loving every beat of non-musical from M. Night Shyamalan.



Right here at Against the Crowd Headquarters, I pissed off the entire blogosphere by letting everyone know that I'd rather sit through a Michael Bay flick than one of Stanley Kubrick's most revered movies.


Technically, I set the deadline for yesterday, but I've been known to ignore one or two of those in my lifetime. Therefore, you can still get in on the fun. If you submit an entry sometime this week, I'll update this post to include a link to your work. Once again, thanks guys!