July Summary

Over half-way to Christmas!
Here are the links to this month's reviews, broken apart by genre and alphabetized with my thoughts for the best and worst of each. Enjoy!

Pacific Rim
Pulp Fiction
Red 2
Run Lola Run

Best: "Pulp Fiction" and "Run Lola Run"
Worst: "Pacific Rim"

Battleship Potemkin
Man with a Movie Camera
Paths of Glory
Raging Bull
Rear Window
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The Killing

Best: "Badlands" and "Man with a Movie Camera"
Worst: "Raging Bull" and "Battleship Potemkin"

A Hard Day's Night
Better Off Dead...
The Big Lebowski

Best: "The Big Lebowski"
Worst: "Better Off Dead..."

Bright Star
Clean, Shaven
Fruitvale Station
Gosford Park
Mary and Max
Mr. Nobody
Requiem for a Dream
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Ice Storm
The New World
Where the Wild Things Are

Best: "Requiem for a Dream", "Clean, Shaven", "Mary and Max", and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Worst: "Where the Wild Things Are"...not bad, but not as good.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Cinema Paradiso
I Killed My Mother

Best: "I Killed My Mother"
Worst: "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"

The Conjuring

Best! "The Conjuring" is one of the best modern horror movies


Best: "Hercules"
Worst: "Mulan"


Best! "Primer" is a wonderfully complex debut film from Shane Carruth

Six Shooter

Best: "Six Shooter"
Worst: "Wasp"

???? (No Genre):
College Boy

Best: "College Boy"—by definition, a music video—by execution, a brilliant work of art
Worst: "Vinyl"—horrible on so many levels

Vinyl (1965)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Andy Warhol's experimental film "Vinyl" is nothing short of a full-fledged disaster that makes all other movies seem poignant and entertaining. It attempts to take Anthony Burgess's novella A Clockwork Orange and somehow transform it into a more abstract, and perhaps effective film...an endeavor at which it fails.
In comparison with "Vinyl", Kubrick's rendition which Burgess hated, seems like a literal translation from page to screen. But although it's somewhat surrealist and condensed as much as possible, "Vinyl" feels fake, unprofessional, and stereotypical.
The movie begins with a three minute shot of a young man lifting weights in the middle of a room. On his left is a young woman in a black dress and to his right is a man sitting in a chair. He lifts the weights and we get nothing in the form of plot, then the camera zooms back and we see a little more. "Vinyl" is filmed in one shot, there are no cuts or different scenes. Everything is played out right in front of the camera, which is immobile as well. Needless to say, this really limits what you can and cannot do while developing a movie.
The little room in which "Vinyl" is shot just happens to be every scene necessary—it's a street, a jail, a torture room, and God knows what else. This isn't to say that there are adjustments to the scenery...no, that would make too much sense. Instead, Warhol lets us use our imagination to supply the differences to the surroundings. Sometimes it's impossible to tell where the characters are, because they never move more than three or four feet, yet are supposed to have traveled physical and metaphorical miles.
After the extensive screen time of lifting dumbbells, the man gets up and starts strutting. His sauntering is interrupted by a man carrying a stack of books. The man harasses the literary one and tears up all his tomes. Then he chains this man to a pole-type object in the back and does some unseen abuses to him.
By the book's standards, this would be rape or an equivalent...but who knows what's going on in "Vinyl".
Eventually, the man is taken to the jail/one-foot-to-the-right by a police officer. It's here that we only slightly start to see the resemblance between A Clockwork Orange and "Vinyl". The man is told that he can be cured from his "badness" but he has to be willing; and it just so happens that he is.
In Kubrick's version, this scene was handled much better...just sayin'. In his version, the main character is strapped to a chair, his eyelids are pried open, and he is forced to watch what his captors show him.
It's disturbing and effective; but in "Vinyl", this scene is just comical.
For the "torture" which precedes the forced watchings, it appears that Warhol just raided a sex shop. We have leather straps, hot wax, and a S&M type mask that "the doctor" forces the man to wear. Really? At what point was this too outlandish?
It's vital for you to keep in mind that the actors don't know their lines and the ones that they do know are delivered in a dry, recital-ish monotone.
The space that the camera dimly captures is about six square feet...what can you possibly do in that much space? As "Vinyl" proves, not much. It's offensive to see this lack of commitment and effort. You would think that "Vinyl" would, at least, be perfect in its own way—that is, there would be no minute long segments of fumbling with props or forgotten and stumbled over lines. I guess Warhol didn't care about such things.
The ending of "Vinyl" is filled with weird homoeroticism and visual sexual innuendos that are just there for the sake of being there.
"Vinyl" is an intolerable 70 minutes long, and every single sixty seconds is filled with large miscalculations.
To be fair, if a few things had been tweaked, Warhol could have produced a masterpiece...alas, no such tweaking occurred.
I don't know what Burgess thought of this film compared to his book; but I would guess that if he ever saw it, he would be outraged.
It's even a misnomer to call "Vinyl" a film, for it is more of a botched middle-school production than it is a cinematic experience.

Score: No stars out of 4

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Undoubtably one the most iconic music movies ever made, "A Hard Day's Night" is delightfully entertaining and sardonic. Mix that with The Beatles's music and a few self-referencial jokes and you've got yourself a hit. Such is the case with Richard Lester's comedy about a day in the life of the British band.
The day starts as the band (John, Paul, George, and Ringo) are mobbed by a group of screaming youths. They flee in a suave sort of way while the song "A Hard Day's Night" is playing in the background. Then they hop on a train and they're off to another show in another city.
There's a little old man accompanying them, Paul's grandfather (not the grandfather everyone has met, the other one). He's a quiet man at first, but wait until he gets warmed up...this grandfather is a troublemaker.
After loosing the old man several times, The Beatles find him in the back of the train and they whip out their instruments and poorly lip sync along with one of their songs whilst a group of young girls nod their heads to the beat. It's this kind of impromptu bursting into song that happens quiet often that is both the annoyance and the charm of the picture.
The Beatles don't have any star power in "A Hard Day's Night". They seem like average kids, and the film definitely caters to their youth and adolescence—they goof around and frolic in random people's yards and what not. It's not a plot driven movie.
Eventually, the band makes it to the venue where they will perform and here most of the shenanigans will occur. Grandfather will attempt to sell forged autographs, John will flirt with a girl and they discuss how much he looks like John Lennon, and Ringo will feel unwanted.
The gags that the band pulls about perceptions the public has are quite funny. Jokes about Ringo's nose, for instance, are some of the funnier moments of the movie.
Naturally, there are the cliches moments that include singing when singing isn't needed...after all, it's a movie about The Beatles and to expect anything but a musical would be naive.
Regrettably, some of the songs drone on too long and repeat too often...it's actually the humor of the script (which surprisingly eked out an Oscar nomination) that is the real reason to watch the movie.
John is portrayed as more of a loose cannon instead of sophisticated; George is cheeky but likable; Paul is...well, Paul; and Ringo is funny and morose in the same way.
I don't think The Beatles have ever been more humorous or enjoyable.
Though their music will live on far beyond their film careers, all of them do a fairly good job seeming at ease behind the lens...which would make sense when you think about it.
"A Hard Day's Night" also has a certain slapstick quality to it that it impossible to not like. The director of the concert, played by Victor Spinetti, is a fastidious man who (of course) gets on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of the foursome.
The film is shot in black-and-white and is somehow reminiscent of "Breathless"...I'm not quite sure why that film was in my mind—the two couldn't be more different.
All-in-all, "A Hard Day's Night" is a lot of nonsensical fun. It's not terribly smart or riddled with puns, but fun? Yes, it is that.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Wasp (2003) (Unrated)

This review contains SPOILERS!
"Wasp" is the Academy Award winning short film from writer/director Andrea Arnold. Off of the success of the Oscar win, Arnold would later make the critically heralded "Fish Tank"...which, to be perfectly honest, I haven't seen.
"Wasp" is a movie that is nice to look at and way too easy to hate—which is what happened with my viewing experience. What the movie lacks more than anything else is a relatable and empathetic main character.
Zoë is a single mother of four kids who is raising them in the poor part of the town. This family has nothing to eat, only moldy bread and the remnants of a snack. Zoë has three daughters, aged nine to three approximately, and one little boy who is still an infant.
"Wasp" begins as Zoë drags her children out of their apartment, down the street, and has them watch as she marches up to the front step of a building. Pounding on the door until someone answers, Zoë jumps on the woman who opens the door and the two tumble to the ground while their children are watching. They pull each others hair and scream obscenities at each other—what is this accomplishing? and why are they doing this?
The other lady is twice Zoë's size, so the fight doesn't last long. When she is let us, Zoë screams at the lady not to ever hit her kids again...ah, so that's it.
The lady threatens to reports Zoë, telling her that she will most definitely have her kids taken away. So Zoë tells her three daughters the only natural thing a mother would do in this situation, on the count of three turn around and make a hand gesture at the lady...which they all do.
So far, I see nothing that I like besides the jostling camera work that typifies the unsettling surroundings we find ourselves in. You can shrug off Zoë's parenting by saying that it's just cultural and economical...and indeed, you may have a point. Some people don't seem to be made out with maternal instincts and Zoë is the queen of these people.
On the way home from the conflict, an old heartthrob (thought to be in the military) pulls aside and talks to Zoë for a minute. She tells the man, Dave, that she doesn't have any children and that she is babysitting for a friend.
Can he come by a pick her up later for drinks?
Sure, why not? It's not like she had any other obligations like feeding her kids or anything.
So dressing provocatively and telling her starving children to shut up, Zoë dashes off the the pub to meet Dave. Upon arrival at the pub, she dumps her kids at the back and tells them to not go anywhere and then runs inside to continue her escapades of deceit and manipulation.
The kids sit outside for hours with no food, and everyone starts to fear the worst.
In a moment of interesting interaction, when Zoë is outside telling her kids to calm down, her oldest daughter asks her is she is going to sleep with Dave. Zoë is stunned for a moment, have no fear, she tells the daughter to shut up and mind her own business...what a lovely mother.
This is the problem: "Wasp" creates great tension between mother and children, yet realistically no good could come of this situation. Yet somehow "Wasp" tries to pull off a happy ending.
Though I hated Zoë so much, "Wasp" could have been a story about her children...alas, it's not.
A happy ending, a weak script, and an unattractive premise don't make a movie...just because you have nice cinematography doesn't mean you can put anything you want on screen.

Score: 1 out of 4 stars

Clean, Shaven (1993) (Unrated)

"Clean, Shaven" is a lost masterpiece. This film is never talked about, rarely seen, and has passed from all critic's minds as so many other brilliant movies have. It's interesting to see (and I know I've made this point before) which movies get picked to be classics and which ones get forgotten. Certainly, I would happily swap out any number of "classics" that I have seen for this movie...alas, I do not hold such power.
Crazy people have rarely been given justice on screen, They are treated comically, insensitively, and without much research. In the last few years I watched an episode of a television mystery show in which the girl that the detectives were investigating had MPD: the holy grail and altogether non-existent disease that plagues books and movies. But I'll admit it, who doesn't love the idea of a person having more than one person trapped inside their head? It makes great thrillers, great mysteries, and great dramas...yet, it is not fair to those who actually have mental disorders like schizophrenia.
It seems easy to have a crazy bad guy and then brush off a motive by claiming insanity in any medium, whether it be page or film.
To be fair, insanity eats up the screen time of so many features and people love it. Famous examples include "Amadeus", "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest", "A Beautiful Mind", and even "The Dark Knight"...and yet again, here's the problem: Who didn't love Heath Ledger's performance in Nolan's second Batman movie? Everyone was amazed and Ledger earned a deserved posthumous Oscar for his work. But it was too popular and too comic-book-y to do justice to mental disorder, which was not the movie's intentions at all.
But then there's a movie like Lodge Kerrigan's "Clean, Shaven", which centers around a character that is clearly suffering from a mental disease, probably a psychosis of some kind. This man is Peter Winter (a captivating Peter Greene) who is in a search for his daughter.
We don't know why he's away from home and we don't know why he's not the one raising his daughter. It doesn't seem that his daughter was taken from him; but perhaps his mind got in the way of his parenting. Either way, the mother is gone mysteriously (most likely dead) and Peter's daughter Nicole (Jennifer MacDonald) is being raised by an adoptive mother.
The film begins with Peter stealing a car and an implied act of violence. This will shape the viewer's mind one way or the other—Peter could be a villain or a tormented soul depending on how you look at him.
The film takes a step back and doesn't explain everything—vexing, but effective.
Nature and sound play very large roles in "Clean, Shaven"...much like movies by Terrence Malick (is it any wonder that I liked this movie?). The movie is filmed in what seems like New England...I could be wrong. The forest and the dusty roads, the rain and the heat—they all come together in bizarre fashions that add onto Peter's growing mania.
Peter is twisted, he cannot look at himself in a mirror and covers all the reflective surfaces of his car with newspapers and tape. He even breaks a window so he cannot see his own face—is this because of guilt or because of his brain?
Something of a neat freak, his OCD tendencies wax and wane. He abuses himself getting clean, scrubbing himself with steel wool and shaving while the mirror is covered—cutting himself all over his body with the razor.
Peter Greene looks like a combination of Cillian Murphy and Ted Levine, which reflects the mood of the movie. While it is surrealist and ethereal in parts...mysterious; it remains grounded in its brutal and straightforward story.
Peter's mother is also a source of his mania, she is really quite unfriendly.
Then we have a detective on Peter's trail, trying to track him down for a crime that he may or may not have committed.
For a debut feature, Lodge Kerrigan has an incredible sense of maturity that is impossible to fake.
As Peter's confusion and emotions start to blur into incoherence, we understand the man even more.
"Clean, Shaven" has no real dialogue in it...the film could possibly be silent for it has mastered the art of conveying thoughts and emotions with just sound and sight.
The voices yell inside Peter's head, the detective becomes obsessed in his child-like fashion, and the daughter reflects the father. The tale is simple, but the impact is complex.
"Clean, Shaven" is hypnotic and engrossing.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Big Lebowski (1998) (R)

"The Big Lebowski" is a movie about misunderstanding. One slight discrepancy leads to another which in turn leads to an even larger one until everything has been exacerbated and the whole situation is out of control...fun!
First of all, "The Big Lebowski" is as funny as movies get. I don't think that I've ever had a better time watching a movie. The movie comes from the Coen brothers, who are some of the more prestigious film makers of our day and age. I had yet to see the Coens really be funny: sure there are humorous parts in "Raising Arizona", "Fargo", and even "No Country for Old Men". Though with this film, they hit comedy gold.
The movie begins as a narrator tells us that this is the story of a man who is heroic in his own way. Enter Jeffrey Lebowski aka "The Dude"(Jeff Bridges) . He's a typical, middle-aged, unemployed, stoned, pacifist, semi-drunk, laissez faire hippie. 
In the first scenes of the movie, two men burst into The Dude's home and harass him for money. They tell him that his wife is in their debt and she owes them a whole lot of cash. One problem...The Dude doesn't have a wife. He tries to explain this to the men but not before they have shoved his head in the toilet and urinated on his Persian rug...that was a special rug. This rug really pulled everything together in terms of decoration.
After The Dude has managed to convince the two men that they are looking for a different Jeffrey Lebowski, he goes bowling with his two friends, Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). Donny is ignorant and somewhat naive while Walter finds a way to work Vietnam into every conversation. No matter what the situation, it had something to do with Walter fighting in Vietnam.
The Dude tells Walter about his little experience and Walter convinces him that his soiled carpet is the other Jeffrey Lebowski's fault. The Dude agrees and sets off to find the other Jeffrey...The Big Lebowski.
He finds him relatively soon and asks to be compensated for the rug...you see, it meant so very much to him.
The Big Lebowski has no sympathy for The Dude and shoos him away like he was a pest.
And then, things really start to go south with kidnapping, feminists, and a million dollars.
The Coens have always been able to write vivid characters well, and here is no exception. They dabble in their common themes: crime, greed, and religion. They seem to enjoy exploring certain dynamics and the strongest one present in this movie is between The Dude and Walter.
John Goodman is so fantastic opposite the clueless Jeff Bridges.
But "The Big Lebowski" is also possibly the Coens most offensive work. Take for example the bowling alley: there's a man who likes to taunt the tired threesome of bowlers. He's a sex offender with a foul mouth and his name is, you guessed it, Jesus. It's this kind of joke that holds nothing back and doesn't ask for forgiveness that makes "The Big Lebowski" so funny and so effective.
A cult classic comedy for sure, "The Big Lebowski" boasts a wide array of curse words, a fantastically twisted plot, and a general trippy nature to the whole thing.
The Dude is an unintelligent main character, though he is greatly likable. It's easy to believe that he falls into the many traps and double crossings that he does.
Although "The Big Lebowski" is mostly a comedy, there is a mystery and a crime feeling to the picture...but don't hold out for a master reveal.
It's not the plot that makes this movie so funny and great; rather, it's the characters and the dialogue that the Coens seem to write so effortlessly.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Pulp Fiction (1994) (R)

Quentin Tarantino's second feature is something of mystery—a comedic masterpiece punctuated with acts of violence, intelligence, and surprising emotions.
Tarantino's first film was the iconic crime thriller "Reservoir Dogs" which placed him on the cinema map, a place that he never left. For being such a ruthless, dedicated, and bizarre director, it's odd how successful he's become. But then when you look at the scope of a movie like "Pulp Fiction" it's easy to see why Tarantino is one of the most celebrated directors of the current age.
The movie begins with two slightly nervous lovers talking at breakfast—Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer). They are Bonnie and Clyde types; robbing and getting rich while they are still young. The love birds discuss what it's like to rob convenience stores and gas stations and grocers...etc. etc. But Pumpkin has an idea, what if one was to rob a restaurant? No one is really expecting to get robbed while they are eating their first meal, so why not? The couple then kiss, whip out their guns, and demand for everyone to shut up and get out their money—this is a robbery!
Cue the main titles and we are then deposited in the middle of a conversation between Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) concerning the differences in European and American fast-food cuisine. These two are on their way towards extortion and frightening a group of young men into giving them money and/or drugs. But you wouldn't know this the way these two carry on...they talk about the boss and his wife, hamburgers some more, and foot massages.
In the first ten minutes of the movie there is more dialogue than in some other entire films. It would seem that Tarantino has two speeds in "Pulp Fiction": very fast or silent.
A series of stories interconnect throughout the entirety of "Pulp Fiction" as characters try to manipulate, philosophize, and just stay alive.
There's the main boss: Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) and his wife Mia (Uma Thurman). They are the top dogs of the movie, although they are also the characters that are on-screen the least amount.
Wallace runs practically everything in "Pulp Fiction"; for it is a gangster and drug-lord's world that Tarantino drops us into. There's under-the-table dealing, fights, and naturally lots of high escalating violence that explodes out of no where.
The appeal of "Pulp Fiction" is indescribable. The characters are so real and so fully embodied by a cast that is virtually unrivaled...it's hard to beat good writing paired with good acting.
It's some of the minor roles that show Tarantino's character ability. Take for example Esmarelda (Angela Jones), a cab driver who acts as a get away driver. She is morbid, has a dark background, and is insatiably curious—and we know all of this from less than ten minutes of screen time.
The array of characters include a boxer who is told to throw his fight, the boxer's girlfriend who is obsessed with the idea of getting a pot belly, and a couple of drug dealers who are less than eloquent.
There is no stop to the kaleidoscope of mayhem and glorious originality that Tarantino brings to life in his sophomore film.
Though it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, it only won one—best original screenplay for Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary. To be fair though, the impact of this film goes far beyond the Oscars...it has become the quintessential crime movie, the piece that defined Tarantino's career, and a reference for all movies to follow that showed any similarity to it.
The subtle performances come from Bruce Willis and Christopher Walken; but to be honest Uma Thurman steals the show. Every scene she's in has her quirky and addicted Mia climbing over the other actors to soak up the lime light.
Tarantino uses the same actors a lot—just from "Reservoir Dogs" he takes Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Steve Buscemi (I didn't even know he was in the film until I saw the credits). He would use Samuel L. Jackson many times after "Pulp Fiction" as he would with Thurman.
 The movie is self-reflected of Tarantino's nerdy-ness—he even has one scene where Jules and Vincent tell Jimmie (Tarantino in a small role) that his clothes are dorky.
Surprising cameo roles pop up like a one-liner Kathy Griffin.
The movie's attraction lies in the multiple stories that it juggles, and how it handles them.
"Pulp Fiction" is Tarantino's crowning achievement—hilarious, morbid, and fascinating.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Fruitvale Station (2013) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Oscar Grant is a name that has faded into the background. In all honesty, I had never heard of the man until I saw the trailers for "Fruitvale Station". His name is average and not that uncommon; and regrettably his story is not entirely uncommon either.
"Fruitvale Station" begins with blurry cellphone footage of the incident in question. It's in the early hours of New Year's Day 2009. Four men are being detained by the police and violent chaos is slowly starting to permeate the situation. It's hard to make out what's going on through the grain of the footage. One man is sitting off to the side with his hands high above his head, attempting to pacify the police, while the other three appear to be less compliant (for good reasons, we will later find out). A gathering throng of people are watching and shouting which only adds to the building madness. But then, things start to go wrong—fast.
A policeman takes one of the men and throws him on the ground. Kneeling on his head, we see the abuse even through the shaky camera.
And then...a gunshot and the screen goes black.
It's breathtakingly effective and also cruel to watch something like this. I don't know if it was actual footage, though I assume that it was.
We go back one year, to New Year's Eve 2008 and we see Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz). Their small family is completed by their daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).
We jump back and forth throughout the movie in time but eventually we land on New Year's Eve of 2009.
It's only because of the first two minutes of the film that we know something tragic is coming; but none of the characters do and here the film is surprising. There are no last goodbyes or cliche words said to each other—no apologies where they might be needed. None of the characters know that they will be affected, so New Year's Eve is just a normal day.
"Fruitvale Station" is a movie that is 80% pointless. We follow Oscar around on his last day, wanting to see meaning in everything he does. Alas, most of his interactions are completely insignificant: he goes to the grocery store, he calls his grandmother, he helps a lady pick out fish, he pumps gas, etc.
Throughout this day, we feel like a passenger in his car—a friend. The entire film is shot with an extreme close-up which adds to the feeling of sitting next to Oscar.
"Fruitvale Station" has the typical independent feel to it—the depth of field, the film grain, the ever-so-slightly wavering camera.
For a film that just follows a man around, "Fruitvale Station" is remarkably powerful. It never overplays its sentimentality card, though it could on several occasions. That isn't to say that the film is flawless, because it's not. Some of the dialogue feels forced and contrived and not every scene rings true.
A certain amount of Hollywood-izing went into Oscar's story, something that couldn't be avoided.
But the film doesn't try to glorify Oscar, it shows both his strengths and his weaknesses. He is a flawed protagonist. His temper flares up unexpectedly and he won't shy away from shouting challenges and getting into fights. He pushes marijuana around (in a flashback he is seen in jail and I assume that this is why)...but he's getting better.
His girlfriend and his daughter are the reasons for him becoming a better person. He doesn't want to get sent back to jail and have his daughter grow up without a father.
We have the inner wrestling of Oscar paired with the intense feeling of family that the films manages to evoke; but we also have an increasing feeling of dread that builds up as the film reaches its final and heartbreaking scene.
Many references have been made to Paul Haggis's "Crash", though I fail to see the resemblance.
"Crash" was entirely about stereotyping and racism, and those both have their place in "Fruitvale Station". But they aren't brought to the foreground by Ryan Coogler (the writer and director) like Haggis has them.
It's impossible to escape the racism though, and we briefly see this with the police officers. They weed out suspects, i.e., anyone who is a black male.
But the film doesn't exactly condemn the policemen, though they seem villainous you have to remember that they are just doing their job as they see fit.
They are also remorseful for their actions, but "Fruitvale Station" is not about them.
It's a poignant movie, one that will affect many people.
Every facet of the movie is almost perfect. It's not the best movie I've ever seen; but it is one of the most personal.
Octavia Spencer gives a great performance as Oscar's mom—I wouldn't be surprised to see her back at the Academy Awards next year for this movie.
Instead of tackling large topics, "Fruitvale Station" is mostly about one man and his last day. It's vicious and beautiful in the same breath—allowing for sorrow to manifest; but also showing the little moments of happiness that exist even in the midnight hours of someone's life.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Requiem for a Dream (2000) (R)

"Requiem for a Dream" is as fearless, brutal, and merciless as any picture that I've seen. Never once does it let you come up for air as it pounds its way towards the climatic, and visually disturbing final scenes.
Like Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting", this movie centers around characters who are only looking forward to the next score—junkies.
"Requiem for a Dream" comes from acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky, only his second feature film. His previous work was "Pi" which was disturbing on its own level, yet Aronofsky sets a new standard in this movie.
What starts off as slightly innocent, beautiful, and even somewhat comical turns into (to borrow a word from "A Clockwork Orange) a real horrorshow.
Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is a drug addict and he gets money for his kicks by repeatedly stealing his mother's television. He'll wheel the set onto the street and sell it for twenty dollars and a few minutes later his mother will follow after him and buy it back...rinse and repeat.
I can't get out of my mind that "Requiem for a Dream" is more like Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" than anything else. Both are exquisitely made, and both are bizarre in their own ways—yet Aronofsky's picture can attribute that to the drugs.
Not many movies have the courage to center around nothing but narcotics, booze, and the like—the aforementioned "Trainspotting" is one and Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" is another. Make no mistake, however, "Requiem for a Dream" makes both those movies look like Pixar features.
Harry's mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), is obsessed with a television infomercial about bettering your life. When a phone call tells her that she has been selected to appear on television (which show, we are never told), she morphs into a different person. The focus of her obsession becomes a red dress that she wore to Harry's graduation...she wants to wear it again, but this time when she appears on screen.
Harry and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), decide that they want to become drug dealers and they enter into a world, from which there is no return.
Then there's Harry's girlfriend, Marion Silver (the ethereal Jennifer Connelly). Marion is possibly the most addictive of the whole lot of them, which could be for the sake of artistry—she is a fashion designer wannabe with dreams of opening her own shop.
At first, things go well for the bunch...all things considered. Ah, but then, the glorious demise.
Every single one of the characters slides down into madness and addiction—of all different kinds.
The question that became large and looming in my head was: is this film preaching? Certainly, Soderbergh's film was preaching; but I don't think that Aronofsky's movie is. It takes no stand to condemn or bless the actions of the characters...somehow it remains remarkably unbiased. Though the depths that the characters, particularly Marion, are willing to go through just to get high are violently frightening and sexually graphic—this may be the only reason that the film could seem self-righteous.
The film is cyclical in nature, beginning with seasons and ending with seasons. It would imply that the horrors that this twisted family had to endure will end up being forced on another group of unfortunate people.
As the months pass by and the eyes widen, Aronofsky lets loose his demons...I cannot emphasize what an impact this movie had on me.
The acting is all sensational and the movie evokes great performances from all of the supporting cast. Jennifer Connelly is worth mentioning since she is physically the most wounded by the movie. I have always been a fan of Jared Leto and here he impresses again...sad, because he is surrounded by masters of the craft and they all outshine him. Ellen Burstyn got an Oscar nomination for Sara, the mother that turns into an attention crazy and pill popping unstable tour de force.
I have never been a fan of Aronofsky, the closest he ever came to impressing me was with "Black Swan" though I still had my reservations about the film. But here, he is so violent, so disturbing, and so psychedelic that it makes one great movie.
This is the kind of movie that is impossible to recommend, because it does cause some emotional trauma...maybe I'm more sensitive than the rest.
I wasn't sure at the beginning, when Sara starts to hallucinate hamburgers and deep fried food—is this effective?
Matthew Libatique pulls out every trick in the hat for stunning cinematography that is highly drug inspired. It's documentary style in parts with the camera seemingly nailed to the actor's front; and it's jarring in other, vibrating with the frequencies of the actors's voices.
"Requiem for a Dream" is a movie about four poor souls, trapped in a animalistic and tortuous world. Will they get out?
Heartbreaking, evocative, and graphic..."Requiem for a Dream" is the finest of Aronofsky's movies; but one that I will probably never see again.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Run Lola Run (1998) (R)

If anything can be said about Tom Tykwer's "Run Lola Run", it would be that it has a great sense of time. The film is short, not even 90 minutes; and yet the story takes place in 20 minutes. You are never cheated, nor do you feel that the movie is purposely longer than it should be. In the Goldilocks fashion, it's just right.
The film starts by placing the viewer in the middle of a circumstance that will gradually make sense as the movie plays out. Relationships are given no background, you have no knowledge of any of the characters—therefore, you have to make first impressions of everyone...this is the film's strength.
Lola (Franka Potente) gets a call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), letting her know that he has to have 100,000 marks in 20 minutes or he's a dead man—go!
We assume several things right from the beginning, Lola's love has to be quite strong for Manni (though that is never explicitly painted on the film, something that I like...mind you, there are scenes in which Lola and Manni discuss their love life) and she has to be willing to run her legs into the ground for him...which she does.
There is a Tarantino air about "Run Lola Run"; not as violent and more cartoonish, but still present.
So Lola takes off running, her only mode of transportation, to the only person who she thinks will help her: her father. Little does she know that Daddy has a deep secret that will prevent him from helping her so she will have to think otherwise.
We meet several people on Lola's runs and they keep coming back in bizarre ways: a boy on a bicycle, a lady who works with Lola's father, a woman pushing a baby, a man driving a car, etc. etc. Each of their lives is somehow impacted by how they meet Lola.
So the question becomes, how does one raise 100,000 marks in 20 minutes? and the answer isn't greatly plausible...but fun? yes indeed.
The film is a predecessor of "Vantage Point" and "Premium Rush", though it's twice those movies combined...not that that's a great accomplishment.
The tracking shots of Lola running are filled with speed and accuracy, in fact, the entire film's cinematography is noteworthy.
 The score to the movie is fill with percussive beats and repeating poetic phrases that give us some insight on what is flying through Lola's head while she races to Manni.
Tykwer's eye is relentless and "Run Lola Run" truly never has one dull moment contained within it.
The whole movie is not one action scene after the other, we do have love scenes that make perfect sense where they are.
The question of love never pops up in the film, rightly so. Though the viewer is often left asking, what would I do for love? Lola never asks this question.
To give a sense of how important this film was to several people's careers just look at Franka Potente, who would go on from here to star in "The Bourne Identity" opposite Matt Damon. Then there's the director himself who later made the beautiful and frustrating "Cloud Atlas" with the Wachowski siblings.
The actors and makers of this movie are not stars, they are still the dark horses of Hollywood—not soaking up all the lime light. But it's from these characters that great and original movies spring forth from and "Run Lola Run" is a pristine example of this.
It may not be the greatest movie ever made, but it does carry it's head high. Some scenes are not perfect and others don't completely make sense; yet I found myself not caring.
"Run Lola Run" is hugely entertaining, finely crafted, and well-acted.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Cavalcade (1933)

This review contains SPOILERS!
It's no huge shock to find out that "Cavalcade" was one of the first Best Picture winners—it has all the telltale signs of an Academy darling: the love stories, the jokes amidst the tragedy, the boldness (for the time), and the semi-happy ending. If you don't believe me, just look at the most recent winner "Argo" and the similarities have stayed true over eighty years.
This isn't to say that the Best Picture Oscar hasn't gone to worthy movies—on the contrary, it's a high honor that only a few films can claim as their own. But to say that all Best Picture winners are beyond compare is, frankly, a little insulting. At first "Cavalcade" seemed like one of the movies that has been honored by the Academy that I would despise, yet when the film was over my opinion had shifted.
This film is smarter than it appears.
The story begins in 1899 in England where two families are ringing in the next century. You have Jane Marryot (Diana Wynyard, who steals every scene she is in) and her husband Robert (Clive Brook) and their maid and butler, Ellen and Alfred Bridges (Una O'Connor and Herbert Mundin respectively).
The dialogue is sugary sweet with a touch of sarcasm and dark humor occasionally flitting around—through all the happiness and almost nauseatingly cuteness, we find jokes about alcoholism and references to pregnancy outside of wedlock (gasp!).
Jane and Robert have two sons Edward and Joey, who are polar opposites. Joey seems like the poster child for ADHD and Edward is the perfect angel, but Jane is the good mother and doesn't love one more than the other.
The Marryots are truly the ideal family, the wife is always loving and never backtalks the husband—the husband never wants anything unreasonable from the wife...they really love each other. Though the one complaint could be that one of their children is a little hyper, for the most part they've got it pretty good.
The Bridges are equally as lovable, though in a more caustic way. Ellen is more prone to break down and sob and Alfred is more likely to make fun of her for it...still small fries comparatively.
If you know your history, you know what's coming next: two big helpings of war.
First, the Boer War, which sees Robert and Alfred going off and their wives staying at home and helplessly watching.
The Boer War, though crucial to the plot and development, doesn't get that much screen time and it's only ten minutes later that both husbands are returning from war.
Yet we still have the 1910s to go through, and more heartache to face.
I mentioned the signs of "Cavalcade" being a Best Picture winner—here's one more sign: the topic of war. The Academy loves war sagas and none are better than the pictures made around the time period that the world wars were raging. There is no escaping that the movie is anti-war—you can get that feeling at the beginning with the sweet overacting and the typical household look.
Something bad is going to happen...yet, I was not expecting "Cavalcade" to be as ruthless as it was.
Drowning, being trampled to death by horse, dying in the war, lost love, lost children, lost husbands—all of these are because of war and its side effects.
When Joey grows older he becomes somewhat obsessed with war, and he can't wait to fight in one—guess what? He gets his chance.
It's easy, for what the film is saying, to guess what will happen to Joey; but it's still effective to watch.
An interesting thing to note is the breaking of the fourth wall—that is, the looks directed right at the camera. Several times we have Jane looking right into the viewer's eyes and saying sentences (like "Peace and happiness to all") that reflect the movie's point.
The movie is based on the play by Noel Coward, which makes sense because it has a "stagey" feel to it.
"Cavalcade" is not contrasting two families whose lives are ripped apart by war; nor is it (as its title might imply) about putting on a facade and dealing with grief—it is about the ugly nature of war itself.
Yes, it's really preachy and not at all perfect...that's why we have the lovely little family as the subject for our cruel tale.
It plucks all the right strings, but perhaps not with enough strength or in the right order.
Still, for the time it was made and the risks that it took, it is remarkable in its own way.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Raging Bull (1980) (R)

Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" is one of the most highly revered movies about boxing—scratch that, it's one of the most highly revered movies of all time. But what makes it so classic? Certainly it's not the story, for not much happens in the film. It can't be the characters, because I feel nothing but contempt for all of them. It possibly could be the way the film was shot and edited that makes it great, and here I feel is the best argument.
But a film has to be more than just pretty looking; and "Raging Bull" did not satisfy any more merit than its face value.
The first film that I started likening "Raging Bull" to was Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront"...they're both about boxers who don't live in the best circumstances. There's more to it than that, but we're just scraping the surface here—later in the film, near the end, there is a huge reference to Kazan's film including an entire section of copied dialogue...but, yet again, I digress.
"Raging Bull" is about Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro in an Oscar winning role). Jake is a boxer who is psychologically really messed up in the head. This isn't evident from the first moment; but it doesn't take much screen time to figure out that there's something wrong with Jake (my hypothesis is bipolar disorder...but I'm not a doctor).
He's confident, painfully jealous, and also suffering from self-doubt. One of the good things that "Raging Bull" brings us is a delightfully complicated protagonist—half the fun of the movie is unraveling the character.
Jake's brother Joey (Joe Pesci) acts as his manager. This would make sense since family is a huge part of most every Scorsese film.
We see Jake box and he's quite ruthless in the ring—he won't stop even when he's killing the other guy.
Jake's personal life is nothing to praise; his wife and he are always fighting (at one point she throws dishes out of the window at him while screaming profanities at the top of her lungs). One of the opening scenes has them throwing such a tantrum that they wreck the apartment...what were they fighting about? A steak....I don't get it either.
Like most Scorsese movies, "Raging Bull" is not driven by events in the plot but by the surroundings and the characters themselves. No one develops people like Mr. Martin does.
But then, there's the part of the film that I really hated—the treatment of women. Scorsese is never that kind to the fair sex, just look at "Goodfellas" or "Casino" (one of his finest); I think the nicest he has gotten is in "Hugo" and that's a kid's movie so...what am I trying to say?
Women get bullied around, kept on a leash, abused, and occupy only a small fraction of the screen time.
Jake's muse (after his first wife) comes in the form of Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) who is only fifteen when Jake meets her. For someone who seems to be only half of Jake's age, there is a wisdom in her eyes and a comic disbelief to her body. Ms. Moriarty is fooling no one about her age.
The years pass and Jake's aggression and psychosis start to show more and it all revolves around Vickie—he becomes obsessed with the idea of her having an affair, though she swears that she only loves Jake and I believe her but Jake doesn't.
Jake's anger is vented in the ring and he becomes a rising success, some scenes are very similar to "Rocky" which came four years earlier.
The movie is filled with questions...not questions about the plot, but questions in the dialogue. I have never heard so many interrogative sentences in my life. Jake questions Joey who interviews Vickie who gets beaten for it—it's two knives short of giving a different meaning to the phrase "vicious circle".
What I can't escape from is my absolute disdain for each and every of these characters. I don't feel anything for them, no sympathy...just hatred. When you hate the people you are watching, it's not a good place to start.
So, what is it about "Raging Bull" that makes it great?
I really don't know.
Certainly, it's appealing to look at—Scorsese is a master and nobody is saying otherwise; I just wished that he picked a different story to bring to screen.
Two boxing movies have won the Best Picture Oscar—the aforementioned "Rocky" and "Million Dollar Baby" which are both better movies than this. "Rocky" is more likable and "Million Dollar Baby" is more moving.
To give some Academy history just know that "Raging Bull" is one of the sad songs of the Oscars. Most people agree that it should have won Best Picture and a plethora of other awards instead of the measly two that it swept up (besides De Niro, it won film editing).
Keep in mind what beat "Raging Bull" for the award—a small picture called "Ordinary People" which carries twice the emotional impact that this film does.
I'm not saying that "Raging Bull" isn't a masterpiece...perhaps it is. Many people extol its virtues; but I am not one of those people.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) (PG-13)

To say that director David Fincher's career has been eccentric would be putting it mildly. His splash into popular films began with his work "Alien³" which, although somewhat entertaining, was a complete waste of time. Then came "Se7en" and Fincher gained an enormous amount of respect from many critics and audiences alike. After that was "Fight Club" and Fincher clenched down on his popularity and hasn't given it up ever since.
Because he tends to pick grittier projects like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"; it's extremely odd to see a picture such as "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in the mix with Fincher's other films. It's his most bizarre and most frustrating work other than "The Game".
To be completely and totally honest, I didn't care for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" the first time that I saw it. I found it illogical and too long.
But Fincher's style is undeniable and I thought that the movie merited a second viewing. I was completely blown away by what I didn't catch the first time around...these aren't crucial plots twists; but delicacies that permeate the movie. Fincher's keen eye has found himself a true masterpiece.
The movie begins in a hospital in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina rages outside. A woman sits on her mother's death bed and tries to wrap her mind around what is happening. She and her mother were not close and she doesn't want to miss the opportunity to say good-bye. Her mother's breathing is shallowing and her words aren't all coherent; but she manages to tell her daughter to read her a diary of a man named Benjamin Button who was born different.
We go back in time to the end of WWI, which was the day that Benjamin was born. His father rushes home to see what his wife has given birth to—instead he finds his wife dying from childbirth and his son deformed. The baby is wrinkled and its skin is sagging and weathered, it looks nothing like a normal child.
In a rage of cruelty, the man drags the baby out on the street and is about to throw it in the river and drown it when he is stopped by a policeman. A chase begins and the man ducks into an alleyway to escape the law. He drops the child on the first step he sees with eighteen dollars and quickly runs away from his son and his responsibility.
The house that the baby was deposited in front of is an old folk's home, a nursing home. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) runs the home and picks the baby up, taking the child as a sign from God.
It's clear from the beginning that the young child, who Queenie names Benjamin, is unique. Though he is small, his bones are riddled with arthritis and his skin looks like it belongs to an old man. The doctors tell Queenie that the child won't live long; but she cares for the boy still.
As the years pass by, Benjamin slowly gets stronger and his age starts to disappear from his face—he is growing old by getting younger, perhaps a side effect of a clockmaker trying to summon his son back from the dead.
The clockmaker's story is told by the dying woman in the hospital at the beginning of the movie. He makes a clock that goes backwards to bring hope to the families who have lost children in the war. The connection between the clock and Benjamin is never clearly explained and it doesn't have to be, for the clock is just another poetic side note that Fincher manages to hit and not detract from his story.
Benjamin (Brad Pitt) grows young and he falls in love with Daisy (Cate Blanchett) who is young when he looks old and vice versa. Their story is what the movie is about—a love saga more tragic and beautiful than anything else I've seen.
Many critics scorned "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" for its horrible similarity to "Forrest Gump". Yes, the pictures are similar and even have the same writer, Eric Roth.
But "Forrest Gump" is a movie about innocence and love and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a movie about aging and loss.
As we see the lines in Daisy's face deeper, we see them vanish from Benjamin's face.
Benjamin travels the world in his old faced youth and meets several people who will shape the person he will become.
Benjamin is indeed a curious character for he never once gets mad. The circumstances demand for a release in emotional energy; but Benjamin never blinks his eyes. Brad Pitt does a wonderfully restrained acting job in the film and earned a deserved Oscar nomination for it.
Fincher likes to shoot in the night, so the film is filled with very dark colors.
The film, because of the plight of its protagonist, gets to make wonderful observations about life, which are both true and bitter.
Roth's script has as much restraint as Benjamin does, one such scene proves it: Daisy is feeling sorry for herself and says something similar to "I hate getting old". The audience screams out for Benjamin to say in return "I hate getting young"...he never does, yet you can see it on his face.
Which is more cruel—to grow old and die with your friends; or to see your lover race in the opposite direction?
The style of the movie is unparalleled and beyond critique, the acting is flawless, and the poetry is glorious.
I find myself thinking that "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is David Fincher's finest work and his most mature.
The film's reception was mixed but it picked up an impressive thirteen Oscar nominations and won three—art direction, makeup, and special effects.
Though it might have faded now from the pop culture's mind, it remains moving and intimate.
It's exquisite and painfully full of truth.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Sharknado (2013) (TV-14)

This review contains SPOILERS!
To review "Sharknado" in the appropriate, odd lighting that we find ourselves sitting in, would be a colossal undertaking of the most monstrous of proportions. Certainly, the film is (putting it mildly) crap. But sometimes, we all don't want to see heavy dramas that makes us cry...imagine watching "Schindler's List" everyday for the rest of your life. So films like "Sharknado" prey on this need for stupid, mindless entertainment; and in this film's case, they can become famous for it.
To be honest, "Sharknado" is a movie that is billed as being "so bad that it's good" which is a paradox that cannot exist...right? Not so, for if by bad movies standards, "Sharknado" would reign supreme.
I don't know why I feel like mentioning this, but I have seen "Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus"—"Sharknado" is the masterpiece of good/bad movies.
That being said...it is also incredibly, sensationally, incomprehensibly, hypnotically dumb.
The "movie" begins with a deal of some kind happening on a boat in the middle of the ocean. What this deal is for and what it consists of...who freakin' knows?
Two men sit down at a table after we see loads of poorly CGI-ed (yes, I did just make CGI a verb) sharks being butchered on the ship's deck. Then one man with an accent that makes it impossible to understand what he's saying, tells the other man to drink this weird soup stuff. The man drinks said soup stuff and then offers Accent Man some money for "it"....was is it? One thing's for certain, it's not what Bill Clinton was alluding to.
Then the men get into a gun fight...whywhywhywhywhy?...and the man with the money gets eaten by a shark that jumps on board.
Keep in mind that this scene will never ever be explained so don't get your hopes up.
Then we cut to people surfing and having fun while a hurricane hits California.
Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) is not the typical surfer dude. He's got incredibly white skin and red hair, but still, he's out on the ocean trying to catch some waves. He's out there with his Australian buddy Baz (Jaason Simmons) who can never runs out of stereotypical catch phrases. While they are swimming, sharks attack.
Keep in mind that sharks rarely attack humans and they usually don't travel in a pack. But here there are twenty to thirty sharks that decide it's time to munch down on some humans.
They nip Baz in the leg and Fin almost becomes a snack; but they escape and make it back to the shore where Nova (Cassie Scerbo), a waitress at the restaurant that Fin owns, is waiting anxiously. She is unashamed to admit that she has the hots for Fin.
So the shark attack and massive carnage of unimportant characters behind them, they go back into the restaurant and keep serving...because that's perfectly normal.
News of the looming hurricane spreads to Fin and his establishment; and he shuts down the restaurant and calls his ex-wife to see if their daughter is okay.
Right as he's about to leave, the hurricane, which just pops out of nowhere, brings huge waves into shore carrying handfuls of sharks. It would seem that you couldn't walk into the water without stepping on three sharks in this movie.
Fin, Baz, Nova, and George (the creepy old man who sits at the bar) pile into Fin's car and they take off to save Fin's family.
By the time they get to the house, the ex-wife April (Tara Reid) is fine staying where she is and won't let the weary travelers into the house. It only takes a drain exploding and a shark shooting high in the air to convince her otherwise.
Then we meet the new boyfriend, who is unkind to Fin and we all make mental notes about who is going to be fish food next.
Fin's daughter, Claudia (Aubrey Peeples), is not that kind to him. She'd rather be complaining while sharks rain down from the sky.
Nova and Claudia look the same age, which I find creepy. Also, Fin does not look old enough to have a teenage child, let alone two...wait, he has two kids?—yes, indeed.
The traveling companions now need to go get Matt (Chuck Hittinger), Fin's other child.
On the way there are scenes that involve the infamous Hollywood sign, a school bus, and.....at long last, the sharknado.
Three huge tornadoes carrying large amounts of sharks are tearing through the city of Los Angeles.
Then there's chainsaws and propane and a romance that is really weird. I think I would have liked it better if Nova had ended up falling in love with one of the sharks...now that is good drama.
Yes, it's a bad movie. I don't know how you could have walked into this thinking otherwise. Short of being blindfolded and tied in front of your television, I think that it's impossible not to know what you're getting yourself into.
The typical signs of a "bad movie" are here—the horrid editing, the discontinuity, the terrible special effects, the bad acting, the stupid script, and the need for scenes to lengthen the movie.
There is no reason for the popularity of "Sharknado".
Though I'll give it this, the movie is quite entertaining....if only to make fun of. Though it's not really a movie—it's more of something to pass the time.
There are already demands for a sequel...I'm not sure how that will turn out.
How about a sharkcano, a huge crevice in the earth that shoots forth magma and sharks?...I'll let you have that one for free.

Score: Half a star out of 4

Red 2 (2013) (PG-13)

"Red" was a surprise. Not only was it a fun movie with jokes that actually worked, but it also had a surprisingly interesting and smart plot. It wasn't particularly well-reviewed and did fairly well at the box office and now has a sequel in the year of unwanted sequels.
2013 is proving that it is the year for taking movies and making franchises out of them. "Despicable Me 2" is currently still doing very well for itself though it hasn't rung true as a classic and the same goes for "Monsters University" (I know it's a prequel, relax). Then we have "Star Trek: Into Darkness" which I think is the best sequel of the year so far...the new "Hunger Games" movie comes and rumors have already started about  movies to follow both "Man of Steel" and "The Conjuring".
All this to say, that people who make money off of sequels, will always make more.
"Red 2" is a movie that I'm not sure will be the middle movie of a trilogy. I don't see it doing too well at the box-office to merit another movie, and I'm fine with this; because I think that it's good enough leaving this franchise alone.
"Red 2" starts exactly where it should—right where it left off. Ex-big shot Frank (Bruce Willis) and his newly determined girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are trying to settle into a real relationship which turns out to be harder than it sounds when everybody is attempting to kill you. While Frank is winding down and thinking about digging in his roots, the adrenaline that Sarah tasted in the first movie is enough to make her go a wee bit crazy. She wants an adventure, danger, and a gun...and what's wrong with that?
Right from the start, "Red 2" makes it clear that it doesn't take itself too seriously, which is key when you're pulling off a action/comedy. At first the jokes aren't all crystal and some of the plot devices are clumsy, but it doesn't take long at all for the film to start warming up.
The acts of violence that are portrayed so casually for the sake of humor all give me an evil sense of satisfaction—this is dark humor at its near best.
"Red 2" wastes no time jumping right into the plot so I'll try not to reveal anything important. The movie is never boring and jumps from one scene to the next with breakneck speed that is vital in keeping the movie interesting.
Also trying to keep himself sane in the wake of the past experiences is Marvin (John Malkovich), while Victoria (Helen Mirren) is still in business as normal.
There are new faces in "Red 2" like Neal McDonough who is essentially replacing Karl Urban from "Red".
The script is weak at the beginning, needing more jokes and less severity. I was worried for a minute; yet John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker alone are worth seeing the movie for.
Much of the humor is conveyed just by Parker's facial expressions.
The zaniness of the movie is true to the original.
The cast is filled out by Byung-hun Lee (the weakest link), Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Anthony Hopkins.
As the team attempt to find a weapon of mass destruction that was accidentally "lost" in Russia, "Red 2" manages to bottle lightning as the original did. The plot, though silly in parts, is still quite interesting and holds a few plot-twists that even the characters end up saying "I didn't see that coming".
The violence is bloodless which is somewhat of a disappointment, though no where even close to the monstrosities of "Man of Steel". It's a "PG-13" action movie and as such, the stereotypical one usage of the "f-word" finds its way onto screen. But its cliches are what make the movie, the movie embraces the comical and the tried and true.
"Red 2" changed hands from its predecessor in directors. Dean Parisot directs this one and the visual styling is different, though still fun.
It's not as good as the first one, but still a load of fun and good laughs.
If there should be a ""Red 3", I will be in the theater, eager to see.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Mulan (1998) (G)

"Mulan" is about feminism, honor, and self-image more than it is about a girl and a dragon. The cross-dressing is Shakespearean and the comedy is full of double meanings. But all-in-all, "Mulan" is of the first Disney movies that features an incredibly strong female lead, though it wasn't until Pixar's "Brave" that a kid's movie really did the female warrior princess justice.
Mulan, the title character, is stuck in a semi-oppressive culture right at war time. She's a tomboy who would rather not have to dress up like a geisha (though those are Japanese) and go see the matchmaker, which is what she does in the first five minutes of the film. Even though she's all about woman power, the first sight of a hot man with no shirt on has her swooning. It was a good step in the right direction, but it wasn't a far enough step.
The Huns are attacking China. Why? you might ask and that is a good question...but one that the film never answers. They are lead by the gray skinned Shan-Yu, who is out just for power.
I noticed that most Disney villains are motivated by a greed for power and/or money. But of all the Disney bad guys, I find that Shan-Yu is the least developed. Scar ("The Lion King") wanted his brother's throne, as did Hades from "Hercules". Madame Medussa and Cruella De Vil were both evil for personal gain, but both were incredibly believable in their greed. Shan-Yu doesn't spend enough time on screen to share the likes of the other Disney villains like Ursula and Jafar.
When the word spreads that Huns are taking over the land, the Chinese government demands that one man from every household must fight for China. Mulan's father is wounded from the last war and walks with a limp.
When the draft comes for him, Mulan asks why he can't just stay home since he already fought in one war. She is told to shut-up and get back in the kitchen. Her father tells her that she has brought dishonor to her family.
But Mulan's concern for her father outweighs her sticking to traditions and she steals away in the middle of the night with her dad's armor.
Then it's off to save the world.
"Mulan" deals heavily with the power of the spiritual and the ancestors of those living. When "Mulan" leaves, her ancestors awaken and decide to send a spirit to fetch her back before anything bad happens. By a sheer accident, Mushu, a demoted dragon ends up going after Mulan.
Mushu is determined to bring Mulan back a war hero to prove to the ancestors that he's still got it; and naturally things don't always go to war.
Mulan dresses as a boy in the army and if she is revealed to not be a man she will be killed—bummer for women.
So it's a little bit of "Twelfth Night" mixed with a small portion of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
The animation of "Mulan" isn't the best, indeed it can be childish at times.
The voice acting is good, though it falls into the familiar trap of Disney in that it American-izes the cast.
This isn't the best Disney, but it is fun...if too preachy. Also, the ending is decidedly anti-feminist for a movie about strong women.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

The Conjuring (2013) (R)

Horror has it hard. There is nothing inventive that this genre can do that hasn't already been done. Gore and scary moments and anything that deals with the supernatural—they're all up for grabs. I don't think that it's possible to count the number of exorcism movies that have come out in the last three years, and with that...nothing incredibly new has emerged. There are movies with generic names like "The Haunting of ______" or "The Exorcism of ______"; yet none have really caught the mainstream's eye. In the last fifteen years, there have only been a few successes in horror movies and most of them aren't in English. The only notable exceptions that aren't remakes are all works relating to James Wan. This is the man who brought to life the "Saw" franchise and also directed the more recent "Insidious".
Admittedly, I've not seen "Saw" and have no plans to; but "Insidious" (which I did see)  proved a point about modern horror movies—they don't know how to end. Even "The Cabin in the Woods" which was a parody of sorts, fell into this trap. Great build ups lead to horrible third acts and we are left unsatisfied.
But with Wan's "The Conjuring" he solves the problem of the wrap-up and breathes new life into the horror genre.
When "The Conjuring" opens, it focuses on the creepiest doll you've ever see. It resembles the clown doll that Michael Douglas finds in "The Game"; but even more so. It's showing a tried and true example of effective horror—using innocent items malevolently; and it wouldn't be the first to do this.
But the movie isn't about the doll that looks evil, nor is it about sounds that come from under the stairs—"The Conjuring" is a horror movie about family, knowledge, and obsession.
Any time I see that a horror movie is based on a true story, I immediately assume the opposite. How many ghost stories can you shake up from under a mat? I guess one more.
As "The Conjuring" played out, the intensity picking up, and I felt the hairs on my legs stand up on end; it amazed me to see how fresh and intriguing "The Conjuring" actually was.
It revolves around paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively). They are a husband and wife team who seem (almost) as normal as could be expected. They have a room in their house where potentially possessed objects from each of their cases are kept; and at the film's opening the cliche creepy doll symbolically gets locked inside the room. They assume that it's safer to keep them in their house than have them out on the street—Ed likens the dangerous tokens to guns.
Focus now on the Taylor family, a family of seven who have just moved into an old house. The house is pleasant enough on the outside and filled with unpleasantries on the inside. They will soon find that their paths and the paths of the Warrens will have to cross—the consequences of the two families not meeting would be fatal.
The first thing that struck me about "The Conjuring" was how beautiful it was to look at.  John R. Leonetti's cinematography is absolutely stunning and is very reminiscent to Kubrick's odd angles at times. The film's scares come in anti-cliche moments. You think that something is going to jump out at you and indeed it does—but not from where you're looking.
It's so smartly crafted and so well orchestrated that it transcends its own genre. Light and sound play a larger part than some of the actors in "The Conjuring". The way that huge beams of lights are focused and then taken away add to the theme of the slow gaining of knowledge throughout the film. Sound is also featured more than you would think—this isn't the creaking of doors and floorboards (though those moments aren't completely gone). Instead it's the deep booming bass sounds and the unearthly sound of ropes quivering and dragging along that sent shivers up my spine.
The color schemes are striking and many visual metaphors spring forth from them.
"The Conjuring" manages to feel realistic throughout its entirety. The looks that exchange between parents and children are enough to make the film believable.
All of the acting in the film is spot on, though Vera Farmiga does outshine all of her co-stars. She can make her eyes widen farther than was thought possible. I don't think that I've seen an actress with a more expressive face.
Patrick Wilson, who also collaborated with Wan in "Insidious", is a strong actor, though nothing spectacular here.
Recurring shots of the exterior of the house give the film a feeling of passing time. The clarity of the movie comes from the slow zooms and the magnificent tracking shots.
Sometimes the desperation of the characters becomes almost unbearable. I can remember one particular scene that had one scare lined up so neatly behind the next one that it was almost like watching a horror ballet.
It is not possible to emphasize how sensational the camera-work is in this movie. Sometimes the camera looks at the back of a head and follows a character around in an Aronofsky fashion and other times we get large, wide angles—there is one moment that is even upside down.
The obsession of the film isn't obvious until the last climactic scenes which show the possessive nature of ghosts (no pun intended).
A thought came across my mind—why is it always the attic or the basement? Surely if the characters hadn't pried open the boards that led to the basement in the beginning, none of this would have happened.
It's always the unknown that is more frightening... and what is more unknown that someone else's basement?
"The Conjuring" really surprised me for its style, its story, and its execution.
I am glad that I saw this in the middle of the day though; and I'm also glad that my house doesn't have a basement.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

By the time you reach the famous scene from "Battleship Potemkin" which involves the city of Odessa and a staircase; you have already made it through over two-thirds of the movie. Why then, is this scene the most famous?
By title itself, you would think that this is a movie that involved a ship, and indeed it does. Yet, the point of the movie is about revolution and...yes, a staircase. Keep in mind that people in 1925 had rarely seen anything like the famous action sequence; but for those of us in the 21st century—"Battleship Potemkin" may have lost a little something in time.
The movie begins on a battleship at sea where the crew of the Potemkin are uneasy. They are sick of eating rotting meat, meat that the ship's doctor proclaims is fine to eat.
Revolution has started to seize much of Russia and the sailors are starting to contemplate the idea.
Mutinous thoughts are spreading throughout the ship, headed up by two or three sailors. They don't put any action behind their words until the ship's commander starts to kill those who speak out against the chain of command.
The sailors throw a revolution and take over the ship, not without casualties. Their leader is killed before the mutiny is finished.
The crew drops his body in the city of Odessa with a note on the corpse, explaining about the mutiny and the revolution.
The people of Odessa read the note and enter into a rather hasty frenzy. They scream and shout and give a large portion of their possessions to the sailors of the Potemkin. Then the ship sails out on the sea and does inspirational things, like staying in one place.
But the people of Odessa are still in an uproar, and the military invades and then comes the famous scene with the staircase.
"Battleship Potemkin" is a very famous movie, if only for that one action sequence. The rest of the movie takes too long, is too muddled, and doesn't have a clear enough motive.
For a work that seems to be propaganda of revolution and democracy, it's not very flattering of either. The people who riot are mindless and full of radical emotions.
Racism abounds in one line when some guys randomly screams out something like: kill the Jews! A line to which people give him dirty looks and he pulls down his hat and walks off, ashamed.
The movie is too hasty and too drawn-out in the same breath. It develops too quickly and also takes far too long in landscape scenes that don't continue the plot.
The scenes at sea contain shots where men set up and take down and polish the equipment, etc. etc. Yeah, it's cool that you can show these scenes; but what are they doing? Showing the day-to-day hardships of sea life? I don't think so.
There are some odd images that are remarkably contemporary, like a pair of glasses that are hanging lonely on a rope after a man was thrown overboard.
While some may praise "Battleship Potemkin" for its ingenuity, I fail to see what makes this film a classic.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Better Off Dead... (1985) (PG)

This review contains SPOILERS!
If you were to condense Savage Steve Holland's movie "Better Off Dead..." into a ten minute short...you could have saved yourself almost 90 minutes. This film shows how much it really sucks to be in highschool, to breakup with your lover, and to be a teenager.
Instead of a movie like "The Breakfast Club" in which you rooted for teenaged protagonists and appreciated the conversations that they were having; "Better Off Dead..." is a movie that makes its laughs by poking fun at adolescent stereotypes while still falling into a few itself.
The movie begins with Lane Meyer (John Cussack) being obsessed with his girlfriend. His wall is decorated with picture after picture of Beth (Amanda Wyss). What he doesn't know is that she is planning on dumping him for a hot, sexy ski captain. This little tidbit of information she plans on passing on to Lane after the tryouts for the ski team...the day that the film opens on.
Lane is devastated because of Beth's absence and becomes more and more emotionally unstable. If this person weren't a caricature; you'd be concerned for their mental health. Lane tries to kill himself several times and fails at each attempt: when he tries to hang himself in the garage, he gets control of himself right before his mother opens a door and pushes him off the stairs and unknowingly starts death by asphyxiation. Then he starts to jump off a bridge before his friend, Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong) stops him...he falls off anyway and lands in a garbage truck which leads to a semi-racist moment in which a black men comments to his friend: Now that's a real shame when folks be throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that. 
In fact, the film's treatment of non-white characters is very odd. Two Asian boys drive up and attempt to race Lane several times (for no good reason, just because the film wasn't crazy enough already).
"Better Off Dead..." isn't that offensive as far as ethnicity jokes go...though it does seem to take a rather too light-hearted view of suicide.
Lane's parents are exaggerated versions of the typical mom and dad. The mother wants to cook but can't (at one point her meal gets up and walks away) and the dad tries to speak his son's language but can never say the pubescent idioms correctly.
As with most teenage movies with a male lead "Better Off Dead..." employs the thought of lost manhood. It can be regained through an act of physical exertion...in this movie's case, the skiing of a dangerous slope.
Lane thinks that if he can just manage to ski down the K-12, Beth will return to him.
In the first five minutes of the movie, it's impossible to not know what's going to happen. Monique, the cute but overlooked foreign exchange girl who lives across the street has eyes for Lane, though they don't officially meet until over half the movie is over.
"Better Off Dead..." is nothing special—deeply predictable at every turn.
However, there are some jokes that do work, most of which include Lane's parents. Yet the majority of the jokes don't work at all.
Charles De Mar is a drug addict in a town where there are no drug dealers...he gets "high" by snorting JELL-O and snow. Ricky, the boy who Monique is staying with, snorts nasal spray and is "comically" fat and awkward.
The jokes also include Lane's younger brother reading a book on how to pick up trashy women and then having a plethora of hookers over for New Year's Eve, a hat that makes Lane look like a pig, and Beth going on a date with a teacher.
"Better Off Dead..." tries to be funny by showing what the worst day in a teen's life could be and then having the viewer laugh at that. It's extremely uncomfortable in parts and innocent in others.
The script also is not convincing and is made up of awkward lines that Lane and Charles say like: Well, honk my hooter. and Dude, you're the hottest thing since sunburn.
But amidst the lame attempts at humor and the laughable romances; "Better Off Dead..." is vaguely entertaining.
The only truly enjoyable part is a young paper boy who turns into a spoof of a horror movie as he chases Lane down and demands two dollars.
Savage Steve Holland (the writer and director) admitted that "Better Off Dead..." was a semi-autobiographical work. When Holland broke up with his girlfriend, he started making depressing movies which everyone else found funny.
In truth, this is what "Better Off Dead..." should have been. It toes the line of "cutesy" way too often to do any good.
It's not funny, edgy, or likable enough.
Though it does include a scene where a hamburger comes to like a sings a song with a guitar...which, I'll admit, is something that I hadn't seen before.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Badlands (1973) (PG)

"Badlands" is a "Bonnie and Clyde" type of story. Our main characters are not the typical good-guys; they could not even be considered as ethical. Yet, we have them as out protagonists.
"Badlands" is the debut film from Terrence Malick, who has become one of my favorite directors. But I don't think that if you didn't know it, you could have pegged "Badlands" as a Malick film. In fact, all the telltale signs are almost missing completely: the gorgeous cinematography, the nature shots, the whispered narrations, the sound editing, and the score itself.
You have to remember what happened in Malick's own life while directing. He made "Badlands" and then "Days of Heaven" and after that—he vanished. He earned a mysteriousness while on leave from directing; and after several years he made "The Thin Red Line" and then "The New World".
The gap in his career between his first two movies and his third may account for the stylistic changes that can be observed.
But Malick still seems to give us a sampling of the works yet to come: a dual nature in man is still a theme that is muddled yet present. Nature still appears as a character on the screen; and we do have a voiced-over narration—though it differs from most everything else Malick has done.
"Badlands" is Malick's most plot-driven film.
Kit is a wild-child. He has a job as a garbage man and is always heckling his colleagues, trying to get an extra dollar out of someone. He is modeled after James Dean, a man who is mentioned more than once in "Badlands". The tight, white shirt and the blue jeans...the perfect hair—when he meets Holly, it doesn't take much to sweep her off her feet.
Holly is a very wise, young girl. She is still in highschool, trying to find some excitement out of her life. When she meets Kit, it's clear in an instant that both of them will have some sort of future together.
Kit is ten years older than Holly, a fact that makes her father infuriated. They keep their "romance" very secret.
Their relationship is odd at best. The platonic view of sex and the logical ways that lead them to crimes are very bizarre...yet by Malick's hand, altogether plausible.
"Badlands" is modeled after the Charles Starkweather case—a young man who, although likable, was a hardened criminal.
"Badlands" was a jump start to both its leading actors's careers. Martin Sheen plays Kit and Sissy Spacek plays Holly. Spacek is calm and innocent, letting the camera eat up her bright eyes. On the other hand, Sheen is reckless and embodies the teenage rebel spirit quite well.
Holly grows up in a home with only one parent. Her mother died when she was very young and has been raised by her father, who is somewhat cruel. He can be irrational though he only wants the best for his daughter. When he discovers that Holly has been running around with Kit, he kills her dog as punishment.
Holly is precise, not wailing as most girls would, nor being emotionless.
As previously said, I don't think that you could have figured out that "Badlands" was a Malick film...it's so different from anything else that he has done.
The violence, which serves no philosophical purpose (as it did in "The Thin Red Line" and "The New World") is something quite unusual to see.
Malick is always kind to women and Holly is yet another strong female character that he crafts. Though the film centers around Kit, as the parallel to Starkweather, the actual main character is Holly...it is her voice that he hear for the entire picture.
It's funnier, edgier, and wilder than any other film Malick has made. The car chases and gun shots ringing through the air, make you forget the intense poetry of the director. But there are times, like the ending, which showcase the director and the man that he would become.
It's impossible to see "Badlands" without making comparisons to Malick's other works. Yet, as a stand alone film, the movie is incredibly good.
It is a bizarre twist of a romance that starts and ends mathematically.
"Badlands" is curiously riveting.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars