August Summary

I think everyone realizes how this works by now. Here are the reviews for the movies that I watched this month.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Now You See Me
Raiders of the Lost Ark

Best: "Elysium"— by no means perfect; yet perfectly entertaining
Worst: "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"—too much of a good thing

Blonde Cobra

Best: "Deseret"
Worst: "Blonde Cobra"


Best: "Tom Jones"—sometimes I surprise myself
Worst: "Ben-Hur"

Broadcast News
Harold and Maude
Hot Fuzz
Shaun of the Dead
The World's End

Best: "Harold and Maude"
Worst: "Admission"

Sound City

Worst! "Sound City" dissolves near the end.

Before Sunrise
Blue Jasmine
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Full Metal Jacket
Lee Daniels' The Butler
The Falcon and the Snowman
The Great Gatsby (2013)

Best: "Blue Jasmine", "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", and "Full Metal Jacket"
Worst: "The Great Gatsby"

Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night
The Blair Witch Project

Best: "The Blair Witch Project"
Worst: "Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night"


Best: "Alien"
Worst: "Aliens"—this isn't to say that it's not good...just not as good

"The Butler" Serves Us Lies?

Note: This isn't a review. Instead, it's unashamed venting at "The Butler".

Marty (1955)

"Marty" is a movie where nothing happens. The characters walk around a block and talk for the entire movie, which in its own way is courageous. But talking is not good enough to elevate the fluffy script from paper to film.
Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine in an Oscar winning role) is a man who doesn't have a wife. Thirty-four years old, Italian, still living with his mom, a butcher, and self-described as "a fat, sad, ugly man"—Marty is sure of one thing: he's going to stop trying.
His butchering job is not the best, but it pays the bills and Marty is content with that. What isn't great is the constant heckling he gets from all his customers. They nag him about getting a wife and starting a family. More than one person tells Marty that he should "be ashamed" of himself for letting all his younger siblings get married before him.
All this, plus constant rejection, has led Marty to believe that he was meant to live life as a bachelor. When he shares this thought with his mother, she shouts at him and asks him what he will do if he never has a son. Is children the justification for getting married? Will progeny give life fulfillment?
Marty doesn't think so; he stays at home and commits to his newfound life as a single man.
That, naturally, doesn't last fact, I think it only lasts ten minutes. Marty's friends convince him to go dancing where there are good "tomatoes".
Dragged to the festivities, it's one strike after the other with the ladies for Marty—he makes the comment that whatever women want, he doesn't have.
Then there's Clara (Betsy Blair), a woman who is being taken to the same dance that Marty's attending. She is there with a blind date who is less than enthused by her physical appearance...she is called a "dog" several times. Not ugly, but not the bearer of the typical Hollywood good looks; she is an outcast of sorts. She is perfect for's only evident that they will end up together.
Her date, who keeps one-upping himself as a total jerk, sees a beautiful ex and decides to ditch Clara for this woman. Not a complete scoundrel, he goes around and solicits men to spend the night with Clara—offering them five dollars for their services.
Not keen on the idea of this girl being whored out to people, Marty refuses the man's invitation. But every time a person accepts the five dollars and sees the girl, they run. It's quite cruel the way that Clara is treated.
Marty is able to see underneath the not-perfect exterior of Clara and the two strike up a conversation that leads to a moonlit walk.
That's basically all the happens in "Marty"—of course there are characters that I didn't mention like an aunt, two cousins, and the best friend; but you get the idea.
"Marty" tries to be comes from legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky whose work "Network" is a explosive drama that is one of the best. Going from conspiracies and corrupted TV shows to a movie where a man eats a meal feels like you're loosing'd be right if you think this way. "Marty" was the first work that won Chayefsky an Oscar..."Network" wouldn't be made for another few decades.
Here's the problem with the movie—it doesn't commit to the dark side (of the force). It could have been a very effective drama instead of a half-funny comedy. Even if it had been a drama, it couldn't have reached the depression levels that "The Lost Weekend" peaked at.
SIDENOTE: "Marty" is the only official winner of both Best Picture at the Academy Awards and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The other notable exception is "The Lost Weekend" which won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film (a predecessor of the Palme d'Or and considered to be of equal importance).
Women are sexual objects to everyone but Marty, thus cementing the fact that he is our bumbling hero.
Why couldn't he have just stayed a single man? Why did he need to find love or some form of it?
You could argue that "Marty" represents a social class more than a'd be correct up to a point. The movie's social commentaries are gentle but ring true of the era it is creating.
"Marty" is charming, in a dull way. Ernest Borgnine is likable; but he is given some very odd lines.
Remember Chayefsky is the man who gave us "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore"...anything less feels childish.
Yes, "Marty" goes against the typical "romance"—does that immediately make it great?
The movie is easy to hate...then again, it's easy to defend. But I think it's easiest to fall asleep during "Marty".

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Now You See Me (2013) (PG-13)

There is nothing special about the plot of "Now You See Me". The acting is pretty terrible and the script staggers from one scene to the next, filled with odd interactions and forced dialogue. Yet "Now You See Me" is a movie that embraces its oddity and its stupidity. It doesn't reach for the stars—it is only trying to be entertaining.
Magic is portrayed on screen very often: the most notable movies of this odd sub-genre are "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist" (on a side note, a docudrama about Howard Thurston's life would be appreciated). Both these movie stressed the need for a third act reveal, though "The Prestige" beat it into the viewer's mind with Michael Caine's voiced prologue popping up more than once in the film. "The Illusionist" was more of a love story than a magic trick and it treated the source material with much more dignity—it's a very underrated movie.
Yet both these movies are viewing magic as a thing of the past. They are subtly saying that true stage magic may be gone forever—when magic was slight of the hand, mirrors, and sans-technology. But then you have slick Vegas acts like The Four Horsemen as exemplified in "Now You See Me" which prove to everyone that stage magic is alive and well.
Of course, the members of The Four Horsemen weren't always together...something or someone brought our four protagonists together.
Movies love to have moral villains. Their acts may be illegal and they may be criminals...but it's okay to break the law if you have a really good reason. Perhaps the legal system is corrupt and this is what leads our good-bad guys to do the things they do.
Commentaries on law, ramifications for crimes, and anything dealing with ethics—you won't find these things in "Now You See Me". Though the movie has two sides—the clumsy pursuers and the sleek pursued—it's not a movie with a brain. It won't stand up to analysis or probably even multiple views; but don't let that deter you.
Somehow, though (much like "The Prestige") there is a voiced prologue that repeats many times in the movie; it stops being about the reveal and becomes more about the characters...shocking, I know.
Maybe this is just my justification because the third act reveal was a real downer. Nothing can drag a picture down like adding implausibility onto implausibility.
We meet out four magicians through a series of fast showcases—like watching four side acts one after the other.
 J. Daniel Atlas (a cocky Jesse Eisenberg) is the flashy magician. He deals with card tricks and big lights...seeking to impress more than amaze.
Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist (not like the TV show), a psychic if you will. Taking cues from facial twitches and using hypnotism, the movie never really states if his brand of magic is real or not.
Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist with a very unusual flare for theatrics.
Lastly, we have Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), a street performer and a pickpocket. Honestly, although Franco is likable as Wilder, this felt like a forced character that is only in place so the act these magicians will form could have an apocalyptic name.
All getting invitations on tarot-looking cards, the four make their way to an apartment where they find lots of interesting documents...cue the main title.
Giving themselves the name "The Four Horsemen", the act storms into Vegas with the help of Arthur Tressler (Michael he in everything?).
Then there's Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman...who is in everything!), a man who makes his living by figuring out how magic tricks are done and then shaming the magicians. His success is their downfall.
The first real magic act that we see done by the Four Horsemen involves a bank and a lot of money. The FBI becomes involved and then we meet Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent). These two, while not fanning imaginary romantic flames, are chasing down the four magicians to bring them to "justice".
SIDETRACK: the name "Four Horseman" could refer to the apocalypse and the book of Revelations.....or it could be a reference to the four horsemen of the Supreme Court. I think the latter is more likely because they magicians are essentially Robin Hood characters.
The rest of the plot will remain a mystery...if you can avoid watching the trailer, I would advise that you do that. The trailer for this movie gives away everything...I'm usually horrible at guessing the reveals. But because I had seen the tell-all trailer, it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
The acting is really quite bad, Woody Harrelson does the best job followed by Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine (duh!). Dave Franco, as previously mentioned, is likable; but felt somewhat unnecessary. Isla Fisher has one facial expression, but luckily that is a smile so she isn't that reminiscent of Kristen Stewart. Jesse Eisenberg is at home as a smug jerk; it's nothing breathtaking.
But then...there's Mark Ruffalo. He is simply awful as the obsessed cop. Frankly, it wasn't an original character; but come on!
I'm a fan of Mélanie Laurent, and she is respectable here. But as for the forced romance between Dray and Rhodes...really? Is every B-movie in need of some form of screen love? There is no bond between them—even in their best "hot" scenes, they couldn't burn oxygen....ah, chemistry jokes.
Bad quips aside,  the movie would have been better without Ruffalo in it.
The camera-work is relentless. It seems like the cinematographers, Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong, could only work in circles. There are so many shots, circling the begins to get old after a while.
Still, the movie is a success, in that it was entertaining the whole way through. There's not really any dull moments...even it's bad parts are still fun.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Tom Jones (1963)

Crackling with sexual themes through and through, it's a wonder that "Tom Jones" ever managed to eek out an Oscar nomination. Yet with an impressive ten nominations and four wins (including the coveted Best Picture category), it would seem that many people appreciated the adult humor that this period piece brought to the table (both figurative and literal).
A film that helped launch Albert Finney's career, "Tom Jones" is forgotten most of the time when mentioning the films that have raked in the big awards at the Oscars. When up against movies like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or "No Country for Old Men"; it's easy to see why. But then again, "Tom Jones" is unlike anything that I've seen from the year and era it was made.
If you were to take out the zane of the picture—the wittiness, the merciless editing, the happy score, the playful innuendos that never cease—you would be left with a dramatic combination of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Dangerous Liaisons".
Based on the "steamy" 1749 novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding; "Tom Jones" makes no qualms with using every trick in the book (or movie, as the case may demand) to reaffirm its oddity.
Before getting into the actual plot, which seems mundane when you write it down, it should be noted that "Tom Jones" is filmed with a ruthless hilarity. Jumping from one scene to the next with no care, the movie employs many techniques that seem out of place in the 17th century. There is a fast-forward section set to quick music (similar to "A Clockwork Orange"), breaking the fourth wall, and freeze frames which lead up to other gems.
Now, the plot: Tom Jones is an orphan son who was found by a rich man and his sister. Raising the child as his own and giving him a proper education, the man felt that he had treated the boy justly. But Tom didn't care about the philosophies and religions that he was taught, he would much rather have inappropriate relations with all the local women.
The women find Tom irresistible and vice versa—hist acts being unthinkable and unspeakable, the people hush their mouths and don't say anything about the reputation that Mr. Jones is gaining for himself.
Keep in mind the year that this was made: there isn't going to be much spice on the screen. But the jokes are a gentle reminder that "Midnight Cowboy" would come just a few years later. "Tom Jones" prepares the way for other, more adult movies to follow.
A charming man, Tom is naive and sophisticated in the same breath—putting it as nicely as possible, Tom is a womanizer.
Then there's Sophie Western, the woman that Tom becomes interested in. He wishes to pledge his undying love to her and win her heart—which is easy enough. But his past follows him around, rather his past lovers do. After a run-in with one of the local women, Tom's reputation is muddied. Yet he keeps on pursuing Sophie and every time...he almost gets her. He looses her again and again to foolishness, drunkenness, and pure bad luck.
Somewhat of a situational comedy, "Tom Jones" enjoys showing over-the-top performance; while gently critiquing the class that it represents.
Not having read the enormous novel, I cannot say whether the bizarreness of "Tom Jones" compares to the book. But I like it better this way—it's a stand alone piece and should be viewed only as such.
Chaos sets in, the situations get more outlandish, and you begin to wonder how the censors let so much slide by.
At the beginning of one sex scene, we cut away before we see anything and the narrator tells us that this is for prudence, for well-being, and to placate the censors. He makes other such comments throughout the film.
But to make up for lack of nudity, the sexual comments abound time after time—even jokes about rape are made.
If anything, this film predates "Airplane!".
Probably the most infamous scene of the film involves Tom Jones and a woman eating dinner across from each's amazing how sexual pears, apples, and oysters can be made to look.
All that being said, "Tom Jones" starts to sound like a borderline pornographic is not. It sounds worse on paper than it actually's a kid's movie compared with some current comedies.
Surprisingly crass and full of purposeful melodrama, "Tom Jones" is a movie that manages to hold its own with the company it keeps while still proving to be one of the most unique Best Picture winners to date.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (1979)

"Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night" is an almost verbatim remake of the 1920s silent, horror classic "Nosferatu." Though all the actions of the characters are almost identical, the nature of the vampire is what changes.
In the silent movie, Nosferatu (never referred to as Count Dracula...instead he was Count Orlok) was a creature and not human. Perhaps it was the surge of modernism and realism that made the change to the beast—but more of that latter.
The movie starts much like the original did—a man, Jonathan, and his wife, Lucy, are a happily married couple. Jonathan works for a man selling real estate. This man (a Peter Lorre lookalike) is obviously in cahoots with Count Dracula....and there is blood sucking to be done.
Jonathan's boss volunteers him to go sell Count Dracula of Transylvania a house. Really all that's going on is a lamb being sent to the slaughter.
From here on, it's just like the original: the wife gets dumped at a friend's house because she's not that stable (there is some psychic connection between Jonathan and Lucy), the husband goes off to the castle, he gets sidetracked by a group of locals who tell him ghost stories of the castle and the land surrounding, the husband sets off on foot, and eventually he meets Count Dracula.
Then, after seeing a picture of the wife's neck, Count Dracula decides to go to Jonathan's home town and bring the plague with him...because, that's what everyone does.
There are only two notable things that change from the original to this—the very ending and the aforementioned nature of the vampire.
In the original, it was clear that Nosferatu was not human...I believe I mentioned that before. He was a beast, perhaps even a plant. He fed for survival, wanting no malice done to humans—simply enjoying their blood for his nourishment.
Although this movie also has the line: "Blood is life" spoken as the 1922 movie did—it is an entirely different connotation in this film.
The vampire of this movie is a human trapped by his desires and urges. Within the first few minutes of meeting, Jonathan, Count Dracula muses about how wonderful it would be to be able to die.
If this guy had a bumper sticker it would be Immortal and hating it! 
The original made no attempt to describe the lore of vampires...that is, what happens when you're bitten. This movie does—and it goes into crucifixes and daylight and whatnot.
I can't help but reminisce about "Let the Right One In" particular scene that has sunlight meeting a vampire. The woman explodes into a pillar of fire that lights up the room—it's so effective.
Going from that to looks childish.
The camera work is interesting because it predates Aronofsky. The camera becomes another character that follows Jonathan in particular around.
Lucy is an angelically bleak character whose love is the subject of Count Dracula's attraction.
This film delves more into the sexual side of vampires—though, I'll admit it, you do have to look hard to find it...but it is there, I promise you.
Between the three main characters: Lucy, Count Dracula, and Jonathan; I doubt you could find a more boring bunch of people.
The music is too synthesized and cheerful to be taken seriously.
This is one remake that needs a remake.
It is very interesting and, at times, it's almost poetic in its approach. More epic in scope, but somehow just as cartoonish "Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night" doesn't achieve greatness.
You'd be better off just watching the original.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Blue Jasmine (2013) (PG-13)

It's easy to underestimate the power of films that just use the bare minimum of movie making. In a year filled with huge budgets and fantastic special effects, looking at Woody Allen's new movie, "Blue Jasmine" carries the shock of watching a 20s silent film. Just in the last few weeks we had "Elysium" and even "At World's End" which relied heavily on special effects for their end goal.
But in "Blue Jasmine" besides the poorly animated CGI plane that opens the film, nothing that I could spot was anything other than real people in real sets. There is no need for stunts and explosives; yet here we have Cate Blanchett giving an incredible performance in one of the year's best films.
Jasmine is a woman who knows what it's like to get the rug yanked out from under her. At the beginning of the movie (after the plane is seen), she is pouring out her life to the woman sitting next to her on the ride to San Francisco. When the plane lands, we see the two women walking to baggage claim—up and down stairs and across terminals. All this time, Jasmine is running her mouth about every detail of her life: she was married to a man named Hal (Alec Baldwin) who was older than her but swept her off her feet. On her first encounter with Hal (open the pod bay doors), Jasmine remembers the song "Blue Moon" playing in the background. She was still in college, studying to be an anthropologist; but she was enchanted by the suave was a fairy tale romance.
But then, the luggage comes and the ladies part ways.
If Woody Allen has taught us anything in his years of movie making, it's that rarely do the expected happy endings really occur. Look at "Annie Hall" for example—the only Allen picture to win Best Picture. It's hilarious and quirky...but also quite realistic in its portrayal of two lovers who gradually drift apart.
"Match Point" is another great example of Allen's dark side—heck, even "Manhattan" is bleak.
Somehow Allen manages to top himself with "Blue Jasmine"—it's deeply fascinating, engrossing, and very dark.
At the peak of her wealth (and I mean, wealth!) Jasmine had it all—the picture perfect family. She had an adopted son, a loving husband, the gorgeous house(s), and all the designer clothes that money could buy. I don't think the movie intends to dissect the lives of the rich and opulent—instead, it is just about a woman whose way of living has been cut in half.
With no money to her name, Jasmine is force to move in with her sister and her two nephews. This is quite a culture shock—from high society to a a cramped room in the somewhat run-down part of town.
Jasmine's sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) works bagging groceries at a local store. Everyone makes it clear that Jasmine is only staying until she can get her feet back on the ground.
Wanting to do something with the rest of her life and trying to bury the past, Jasmine seeks employment. It's a shame that she's such a snob—she finds working as a dentist's receptionist to be demeaning (the dentist's advances on her don't help her deteriorating situation).
The stress, the lack of money, the desire for better living—they all drive Jasmine to the verge of a breakdown.
We know through dialogue that Jasmine was once found of the side of the road, babbling to herself.
So we enter her mind for some parts of the movie; going back to see her life as a rich, clueless wife.
Flashbacks intermingle with Jasmine's life in San Francisco. It's clear to everyone that she still pines for her luxury.
Growingly unstable, Jasmine becomes a pill-popper and an alcoholic...she is rarely seen without a drink in her hand.
"Blue Jasmine" is a movie about love and family...and about the selfish desires that kill us. It's not a preachy film, nor does it desire to bring about change in anyone's heart; but if viewed under the right situations, I'm sure it could.
Allen's casual view of sex is gone for this film, every action has a reaction that could be devastating to a relationship or a person's well-being.
Jasmine is such a complex character; but Cate Blanchett nails her performance. She puts on a strong facade while inside she's's breathtaking to watch.
Allen's need for authenticity is key—the movie looks and feels very Californian.
Although the story is somewhat dire, it's not a painful movie to watch. The scenes I usually cringe at were very watchable.
Employing a strong cast featuring Louis C. K., Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, and Bobby Cannavale; Woody Allen has made a movie that is sure to be considered one of his best.
If the Academy knows what they are doing, "Blue Jasmine" will gain Cate Blanchett another earned Oscar nomination. She is terrific—so is the movie.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

The follow-up project to the very successful "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" proves that not every sequel is flawless.
The movie opens in 1935 in Shanghai—a deal is being made. We see three men sitting at a table, they are waiting for a certain Dr. Jones (Harrison Ford returning to the role). Equally suave and clumsy, Indiana Jones soon joins them; but in the stereotypical way...things start to turn sour quickly. Double-crossings and the quintessential dumb blonde exacerbate the situation until Jones is fighting a group of twenty or so villains in a room filled with balloons while trying to find the antidote to the poison that he just drank.
The situation just keeps getting more and more outlandish as each minute ticks by—punches lead to kicks which lead to screams which give way to jumping out the window into a moving car.
The stunts, as in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" are very impressive and bring back thoughts to Buster Keaton (though he was never as bloody as this movie gets).
We meet Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), an American showgirl who somehow managed to find herself in China in the 30s. This woman is despicable—there is not one scene with her in it that didn't make me cringe at the awkwardness. She is written so flatly and with such disdain. A gold-digger, beauty obsessed, dumb girl: Willie jumps from scene to scene with only screaming and broken nail comments in her repertoire. These could have intended as funny...I can't think of anyone who would find them humorous.
Once escaping the men who seem important in the first five minutes but will fade from the movie entirely, Indiana Jones and his side kick Short Round bring our increasingly annoying showgirl onto a getaway plane that is conveniently being piloted by the bad guy's hired muscle.
A few hours later, the pilots have dumped the fuel and jumped, that's is, plane. Inflating the emergency raft and diving from the sky leads to an intense ride down the side of a mountain into India.
There the unfortunate trio meet a starving people who tell them of a magical stone that brought prosperity to their land. This stone was stolen from their village and now resides in a temple (of doom) some few hundreds of miles off. Now, without the stone, the village is starving and in need of samurai...I mean, Indiana Jones (I don't know how you could even confuse Kurosawa and Spielberg).
Dr. Jones's heartstrings are pulled—you see, he's really a nice guy—and he decides to go fetch back the stolen stone.
While Indiana Jones is an archaeologist, he never runs out of adventures to have.
The need for that typical kiss is needed in "Tempe of the Doom"—but it is so unbelievable because Jones and Willie essentially hate each other. Perhaps it's just the sexual tension, but I doubt it.
Even more so than "Raiders of the Lost Ark", this movie deals heavily with the supernatural and the worship of sacred objects. Although this isn't the Ark of the Covenant, it's just three out of five somewhat roundish rocks.
If all five of the rocks are collected, it would give the wielder unlimited least, that's what I assume because everyone's looking for the other two and won't give a reason why.
World domination is the attraction for the bad guy, though it isn't clear exactly who the villain is until the movie is almost over.
Also present and accentuated is the gross-out factor. The film doesn't hold anything back from its cartoonish's actually not that effective at all.
Where the film really succeeds is in its stunts and sets. The stunt work is just as exciting as it was in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"...maybe even more so.
The movie's chase scene is well-timed and well-executed.
There is no historical reference to "Temple of Doom" and this is where I think the film lost its footing. The first movie had Hitler chasing a relic to rule the world—this one has the Thuggee chasing five stones. It feels racist and unneeded.
Spielberg treats everyone else other than his three main characters as comical and stupid foreigners.
One scene that exemplifies this is a feast scene: Willie and Short Round are freaked out by the courses that are being laid before them. There's a steamed snake with the live babies still inside (we see the squirming things go down one man's throat), then there's baked beetles (which are devoured and then induce belching), a red soup full of eyeballs, and a monkey's head with brains for desert (it is served inside the furry cranium, coconut-style). It is gross to Willie and Short Round; but to the other insensitive foreigners, it's a delicious feast.
If only for Willie's screaming and screaming and screaming, the movie gets on your nerves.
It is commendable for its production, and pitiful in its plot.
Spielberg can make an action movie, I'll give him that. I just wished he'd picked a different project.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Aliens (1986) (R)

It's impossible to emphasize the pop culture impact that "Aliens" had. Widely considered to be one of the best, if not the best sequel ever made; "Aliens" strayed from the simplistic (and effective) approach of its predecessor and made use of the movie's budget.
The difference in the first movie and the second could be the shift in director; it's interesting to note that of the four movies in the official "Alien" franchise, no two had the same director. It would seem that each man thought he had perfected the series and the mantel was passed on to the next one. From Ridley Scott to James Cameron—you'd be hard pressed to find two better directors than this. Even though David Fincher took the reigns from's only "Alien" and "Aliens" that are worth anything in the series.
It could be the writing that forced the series into the ground, but why mess with near perfection? "Alien" had it all—it seemed like the kind of movie that doesn't demand a sequel; but leave it to James Cameron to silence the critics.
"Aliens" picks up right where "Alien" left off—Ellen Ripley floating out in space, waiting for someone to find her. Cocooned in a hyper sleep pod with her cat, Jonesy, she eventually flies into the path of another space ship.
From there, it's just a short trip to a hospital—Ripley is fighting nausea and bad dreams...not common side effects from hyper-sleep. But there's a reason for that, she's been floating around in space for fifty-seven years.
Since the Notromo incident, the Weyland-Yutani has become a strong force. They have started terra-forming, that is, making the air of foreign planets breathable in order to send settlers there.
Ripley, in a series of frustrating meetings concerning what happened with the Nostromo, finds out that the planet where she and her crew first encountered the aliens is being colonized.
Enraged at the idea, she condemns the corporation and tries to get on with her life.
Then there's Burke (Paul Reiser) who is the slimy corporation guy—he tries to convince Ripley to return to the planet when contact is lost with the settlers. He fears the worst and manipulates Ripley into coming with him. She makes it very, very clear that the only reason she is going is to wipe the creatures out. There will be no scientific experimenting here.
So Ripley gets loaded onto another ship going out to the derelict outskirts of civilization only to encounter a ravenous species with a special need for human flesh—or as Mr. Schwarzenegger calls it: "summer vacation".
With "Alien", Ridley Scott made it clear what kind of movie he was making: frightening, grotesque, and intelligent. James Cameron, on the other hand, ditches the "intimate" (for lack of a better word) approach that Scott used. In "Alien" there were only seven characters, plus a cat and the alien. In "Aliens" there are over twenty and each of them always carries around a high powered explosive making machine.
There is ten times as much action in "Aliens" than in "Alien". But in doing this, Cameron actually hurts himself. Although terrifically entertaining, "Aliens" doesn't measure up to the sophistication of Ridley Scott's movie. It begins to get somewhat mindless, though never to the extent of modern movies, such as "Man of Steel".
To be perfectly fair, "Aliens" has the same script as its predecessor with more guns and more explosions. It's virtually the same plot—people get trapped in an isolated area with the bad guy(s), there is no way to escape...let's blow everything up.
"Aliens" is much more about corruption than "Alien"'s one of the few science fiction franchises that looks at future companies and the power they will hold.
This movie's impact, as previously mentioned, is huge—the knife game, "Game over, man", Ripley's stunning one-liners—they all show how big this movie was when it came out. "Aliens" won the franchise its second Oscar in special effects and the movie also saw Sigourney Weaver being nominated. It's hard to win the Academy's respect when you're an action's a testament on how brilliant Weaver is as Ripley.
"Alien" bottled lightning, and "Aliens" comes really close. To be fair, I don't think that Cameron was setting out to create a great, smart science fiction/thriller. He was making pure entertainment...and with that in mind—"Aliens" is a smashing success.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

The World's End (2013) (R)

"The World's End" concludes the unofficial trilogy from the minds of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. It seems appropriate for a movie like this to come out in a year filled with apocalyptic movies. "This Is the End" proved that end-of-the-world movies can be funny—but "The World's End" has another, even larger layer of well-seasoned absurdity to it.
The plot: five friends will try to recreate a teenage dream of "The Golden Mile". They will travel to twelve different pubs in one night and drink a pint of beer at each stop...that's sixty beers altogether. But this movie isn't just about drinking. No, that would be far too simple. 
Instead, the movie throws us a big, blue, robotic curveball. 
As compared to "This Is the End" which just justified all its over-the-top violence, gore, sexual references, and profanity with religion; "The World's End" is far more quirky and even dramatic.
This movie is mainly about aging and the mindset of a teenager.
In the beginning scenes, we are shown the life of Gary King as a young man. He's the leader of a posse of five, rounded out by four other boys. The ringleader, Gary is infamous for making bad decisions—he's also somewhat of a egomaniac, therefore he can never be wrong or even questioned.
The other four friends are Peter (the one that was bullied—the odd man out), Steven (someone who Gary considers a least, when concerning the ladies), Oliver (always game for whatever crazy schemes that Gary cooked up), and Andy (the best friend).
The day in the life of these young boys when they tried to conquer The Golden Mile ended with vomit, spilled beer, and hangovers. Yet, Gary (Simon Pegg) considers it to be the best night of his life. In his drunken stupor, watching the sun rise to let him know a new day has begun—it's possible that Gary had an epiphany.
But The Golden Mile was not completed—they stopped short for numerous reasons including being too high and too drunk to even continue.
Now, decades later, the five boys have grown apart. This inseparable band of young men have now moved on with their lives—that is, except for Gary.
Peter (Eddie Marsan) sells cars and is partners in a company that his dad owns; Steven (Paddy Considine) had his own firm, but got bought out and is seeing a 26 year-old fitness trainer; Oliver (Martin Freeman) sells million dollar homes; Andy (Nick Frost) works as a corporate lawyer; but Gary is stuck in adolescence. He's carefree and commitment free. Though he masquerades as a tough guy, it's clear that he's suffering both physically and emotionally.
On a whim, he decides to get the boys back together for one more night of total chaos in their home town...what could go wrong?
It's easy to convince all of the guys other than Andy, who had "an accident" and is still mentally recovering from it. But Gary is a man on a mission, and he finagles Andy into coming.
At last, the band is back together and they will return to the quest of The Golden Mile. 
The mile is finished when the last pint is downed at the last pub, named "The World's End". Gary is determined to get there even if it kills him, which it just might.
Although "The World's End" deals with alcohol quite a lot—this movie isn't glorifying the consumption of spirits as some, too eager critics might think. Rather, it is condemning the nonchalant way that people go about drinking—particularly, the younger generations.
Compared to "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", "The World's End" doesn't have the level of humor that it should. It's a far more poignant work than one might assume. This isn't to say that the film doesn't have funny parts—a laugh is never too far off.
It's easy to see Edgar Wright's handiwork—the quick edits and the treatment of the main man...but he crafts "The World's End" with much more intimacy than what was expected. It's not a happy story—simply about a sad man who is trying to relieve his past.
The protagonist is more shattered than Shaun or Nick from Wright's previous works. But this helps the audience come to closure with the end of the trilogy.
Simon Pegg, as always, gives a solid performance. Ultimately, however, it is Nick Frost who outshines him in many scenes. Going against his typical character, Frost has to be uncaring-ly caring...not the easiest thing to accomplish when you're trying to seem human.  
The film overstays though—if it had only ended one minute earlier, it would have been much better. Alas, the implications of the last scene are not good—depressing even. What was intended for good fun doesn't stand up to analysis. 
Though it is, in my mind, weaker than both "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz"; "The World's End" remains frightfully entertaining and hilarious.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Nosferatu (1922)

A landmark in horror cinema, F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" (originally titled "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens" which translates to "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror") is something that could no longer be considered frightening.
Consider the trailer for the "Evil Dead" remake—graphic and disturbing just in the brief amount of time it consumes. But "Nosferatu" seems comical if anything looking back with eyes that have been beaten into submission by gross out movie after gross out movie.
There is no blood in "Nosferatu"—yet blood is life for our character...for this film is one of the first vampire movies ever made. Based on Bram Stoker's book Dracula, "Nosferatu" is the ancestor of all monster movies. Later would come "King Kong" and even movies like "Them!" where incredibly large ants terrorize the population—they all takes cues from "Nosferatu".
The bad guy is obvious to all who look upon him, and by "all" I mean the audience. For even though he looks ridiculous, with Burton-style makeup darkening his eyes and finger extensions making it clearly hard for him to grip things, he is inherently evil.
This ain't no "Twilight"—there is not a redeeming quality about the vampire here. He goes by two names, either Count Orlok or Nosferatu (which is more than once referred to as the song of the death bird...curious).
Then again, Nosferatu and Edward Cullen are two characters that are impossible to compare. One of the them is portrayed as a man (this is key) who is trapped by his lust for human flesh and blood. The other is a creature who is by no means human—only in figure appearing similar.
The movie begins with the pages of a book—we are being told this story in the Disney way.
Our narrator is unclear to me, though I have a guess as to who it is—but it is neither Nosferatu nor our leading man, Hutter.
Hutter works for Knock, an estate agent—one that is in business with Count Orlok/the blood sucking neighbor.
Knock sends Hutter to Count Orlok (who's moving from his country) to sell him an old abandoned house—conveniently located right across a river from Hutter's own house.
So Hutter sets out to Transylvania—the land of phantoms and thieves.
The party who accompanies him refuses to travel further than a given point—superstitions run deep in these people. Setting out to find the elusive Count Orlok alone, Hutter finds himself in the middle of a creepy forest at night.
Along comes the typical carriage careening down the path and here is where we get the first look at our vampire. He is the driver, sitting hunched over at the reigns with his coat covering most of his face. His eyes gleam over the black fabric...this man is clearly the villain.
Alas, poor Hutter doesn't realize this as he walks right into the spider's web. We fade out and change scenes before we see anything; but Hutter wakes up the next morning with two "mosquito bites" on his neck.
Hutter has a wife, Ellen who is so distressed about him leaving and going to Transylvania that she has to stay with a friend. There is some connection between Hutter and his wife—right before Count Orlok feasts on Hutter for presumably the second time, Ellen dreams of something horrific and screams out her husband's name. Just like that, Nosferatu recedes and leaves Hutter alone.
It goes to show that Murnau was not afraid to shy away from the supernatural.
While the plot is nothing too sophisticated, a straight shot from beginning to end—nature plays a curiously dark role in the movie. We see the Venus fly trap devouring a victim and it is said to be just like a vampire. Perhaps the blood sucking creatures are actually plants of some kind. One thing is for sure, the movie is clear that they have no conscience.
Nosferatu could also be capable of mind control......just throwing that out there.
The most iconic image of the movie is the vampire rising from a coffin with his arms outstretched—you can feel the people of the 1920s screaming. It's quite ugly looking, and a different kind of scary than the jump-scares we get in today's horror cinema.
Lars von Trier, though disturbing on so, so many levels, came close to recapturing this kind of horror with his 2009 work, "Antichrist". His film is not one that scares you by throwing things at the screen, instead it unsettles you at your core.
Though I wasn't spooked at all by "Nosferatu"—it's admirable in its own way.
Mas Schreck gives the performance of his lifetime as the iconic bad guy. He is the actor that made the line "What a lovely throat!" tied to vampires forever.
It's a bleak and deliciously gothic movie.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

"The Butler" Serves Us Lies?

(I usually don't stray from reviews, but this one felt needed. Oh, and SPOILERS for the movie!)
Yesterday while watching "Lee Daniels' The Butler", I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching a poor representation of a man's life. I made that comment in my review (Lee Daniel's The Butler). My exact words were: "True story, sure—but I found that I believed more in Whitaker than in Gaines".
Let's just say: I love being right.
For as I was sitting in the theater, the movie was screaming fake; and it turns out that my first assumptions were correct.
Perhaps it's the way that the movie bills itself: "Inspired by a true story" flashes on the screen during the movie's opening scenes—this leads the viewer to think that most everything in the movie is true.
We meet Cecil Gaines and we watch him mature through adulthood. In the ending scene, Mr. Gaines is tottering along on the way to meet Barack Obama. On a side note, I was very much looking forward to a cameo by President Obama; but that didn't happen. 
Usually, at the end of biography movies, we have a last line of what happened with the characters after the final fadeout. Either that, or a photograph with the real people's faces, to show that they were, in fact, real. But we didn't get that with "Lee Daniels' The Butler"—and to put that in perspective, we did in "The Conjuring". 
As the movie played out and the instances of charity kept getting more outlandish as Gaines makes his way to the White House, I asked myself over and over: what? 
I understand that movies Hollywood-ize their subjects, and I'm perfectly fine with this. I was a huge fan of "The Impossible" which white-washed the cast and changed the names—but at the very end, showed a picture of the family with their names, so I guess that's permissible. 
My internet was dodgy yesterday and I was tired so I didn't do the research that I should have—but early this morning I was reading up on the film and found an interesting fact—Cecil Gaines never existed.
Yes indeed, the man who carries the movie never was. I'm sure there are plenty of people named Cecil Gaines in the world—but none of them had a movie made about them serving seven Presidents. 
Instead the movie drew its inspiration from a man named Eugene Allen. 
Before I go into my diatribe about the movie, I should say that Allen's family could have requested anonymity—I don't know about this, but some part of me doubts it. 
Now let's pick apart the movie:
The movie begins in 1926 on a cotton farm in Georgia where Cecil/Eugene's mother is raped and his father is killed.
First lie of the movie: Eugene Allen was born in Virginia and while I don't want to be presumptuous enough to say that his mother was never raped; we do know that his father was never killed by Alex Pettyfer or any other actor/model. Jokes aside, his dad was not shot in front of him.
Eugene did serve in the house as a child and did run away from home, though it's safe to assume that his mother didn't become catatonic after the non-death of his father.
Also not present was the breaking and entering/butler training that happened when Eugene stole a cake.
Eugene was not approached about the butler position—he started work in the White House under Truman's administration and not Eisenhower's. He worked as a pantry worker and then was promoted to butler years later. This is important to note because a large portion of the film deals with white men getting promotions and black men not getting them. I'm not negating the fact that African American citizens were treated poorly, even brutally—this is just about the movie.
Eugene married Helena and they had one child together, Charles—who did serve in Vietnam as portrayed in the film; but lives on to this day. Louis, on the other hand, is a pure fabrication.
This is the son that was a Freedom Rider, demonstrated the power of sit-ins, became a member of the Blank Panthers but didn't want to kill anyone so left right before everyone else in the movement was shot down, didn't attend his not-so-dead brother's funeral, attempted reconciliation but was rejected, and finally—the coup de grâce—ran for Congress.
Everything you just read was a does that make you feel?
I felt like a sentence should have popped up at the end of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" saying "Gotcha! HAH!" with Peter's face from "Family Guy" right next to it...that would have made it all worth while.
So they got the family, the job, the number of presidents, and the whole point of this man's life wrong.
Herein lies my biggest problem: what is so un-filmable about Eugene Allen's life. Why should we have to dramatize it until it reaches this point? Couldn't we just have a quaint drama about a man who served a lot of important men their tea—pair this with the segregational thoughts of the time and (to my mind) you have a solid movie.
But no, the film reached for that extra point, that extra Oscar—it compromises itself doing so.
Oh, and yeah, Terrence Howard wasn't necessary because Helena wasn't a alcoholic two-timer.
This makes me very mad.
But I can still hear the voice of reason—surely other biographies have taken more liberties than this one. Yes, it's true. This movie is probably not the worst of offenders.
Still it came to the end, when Cecil/Eugene is shuffling towards the first African America president—it's this moment that is supposed to make us cry like watching Lincoln's back walking out the door to his ultimate demise in Spielberg's "Lincoln". But Lincoln was killed in Ford's Theater, we all know this—Eugene Allen campaigned for Obama and attended the President's inauguration (which, by all accounts, is more powerful than walking down a hallway). As far as we know, there were no other meetings. Eugene Allen died in 2010.
So what's the problem? I feel like Allen's life was more meaningful than the film gives him credit for.
I mean, the movie has a runaway son calling up for money and the death of the other son—all on Cecil's birthday! Sure it could have happened, but the way it was done left no room for self-criticism. It doesn't point out its own flaws—something that will ease the viewer's mind because someone was asking the same questions they were.
If it was for anonymity, I can understand. Why not just make the movie you wanted to make and dedicate it to Eugene Allen instead of leading the viewer on a rabbit-chase of facts? I feel manipulated.
Thus endeth the rantings.

Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) (PG-13)

This review contains SPOILERS!
I was walking out of the theater after seeing "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and I happened to notice the wall of posters for movies currently playing and those to come. I saw the poster for the movie I had just seen—it seemed typical of a drama movie. It displays a man's back...he is in a doorway, looking out into the bright and glorious future. How inspiring!
Other posters of "The Butler" have a silhouette of the man, colored in with the American flag...not too subtle, are we?
Below the very long list of actors featured in the movie was the tagline "One quiet voice can ignite a revolution". Really? Did these people even see this movie? 
For "The Butler" is most definitely not about one man's voice igniting a revolution—unless the tagline is referring to the title character's progeny; and then in that case, yes the line is fitting. But I think these people actually think that their main character sparked a revolution—not so, as anyone who has seen the movie will tell you.
I digress...
"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is a movie that seeks to encapsulate all of the civil rights movements, an intimate family portrait, and the administration of seven different Presidents—by any definition, this movie has bitten off more than it can chew.
This movie comes near the beginning of this season's slew of race movies—movies that are intended to pluck heart strings and land themselves a seat at the Academy Awards. The movie I predict to do the best job is the much anticipated "12 Years a Slave", not that you needed to know that...oh well.
While waiting for "The Butler" to start, I saw the trailer for "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"—this movie portrays the iconic man as an action star. It seems like 2013 is a good year for movies about black/white tensions. It's a genre that can never run out of ideas—like the Holocaust. I'm not trying to be mean, but I think that civil rights and the end of WWII are two times periods that never cease to have movies made about them.
As such, I have seen a number of movies concerning racism; and "The Butler" is just another doesn't stand out at all.
"Lee Daniels' The Butler" starts with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the sight of an old man in the White House lobby—then we fade back to Cecil Gaines' childhood on a cotton farm. We are told in voiced narration by adult Cecil (played by Forest Whitaker) that cotton was the only thing he knew as a child.
He didn't mind working for a cruel white man (played briefly by Alex Pettyfer) because he got to spend all day with his dad.
In the first three minutes, we are supposed to assume that Cecil and his father have a great relationship—one that is put under strain by the slave handler/owner.
Cecil's mother (cameo by Mariah Carey) is raped by the owner and it is implied that this has happened more than once...this is the situation that the film drops us in when it starts.
Young Cecil provokes his father to do something, so his father starts to speak up to the owner—he doesn't get two words in before he's shot in the head and bleeds out in front of his son.
Then the kindly old mother (she could be an aunt or something, that part isn't spelled out) feels sorry for Cecil and tells him that he should dry his tears—she's going to train him to serve in the house. Keep in mind, they have this conversation while the corpse is sitting right out in front of them....what?
Eventually, Cecil leaves home and finds himself hungry and alone in a white man's world. Perhaps not caring what will happen to him, he breaks into a shop and steals some cakes—getting caught by the black servant/butler. Instead of kicking Cecil out; he bandages his wounds, slaps him for using the "n" word, and makes him into a butler.
Now Cecil will serve white people for the rest of his life—but it's a living, and that's more than a lot of Cecil's cohorts can say.
The time comes where Cecil is offered a position in the White House as a butler and he accepts. This job places him privy to many historical conversations—all which happen while he's in the room and not one of the other five butlers that were mentioned.
Cecil has a booze drinking, cigarette smoking wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey in a return to film) and two sons, Louis and Charlie (I'll give you a hint, only one is important).
Cecil serves and Louis stews...he doesn't like the idea of his father serving gold platters of fine food to white Presidents who don't care about the Negro population.
Louis will become a civil rights activist, an act that will separate him from his father.
So we get to see inside the White House—cue all the cameo appearances. You have Robin Williams as Eisenhower, James Marsden as JFK, Liev Schreiber as Johnson, John Cusack as Nixon, we conveniently forget Ford and Carter, and then Alan Rickman as Reagan. The actors of worth here are Marsden, Cusack, and Schreiber.
Marsden is quiet and good-looking, making Kennedy one of the most human characters of "The Butler"...we feel genuine sorrow when he gets assassinated. Cusack I'm generally not a fan of, plus I wouldn't have cast him as Nixon on physical appearance alone—but he surprises all, quite a good role. Lastly, Schreiber as LBJ—a delightfully crass and good performance.
But here's the movie's problem: it doesn't let the emotions sit long enough. One scene has Cecil comforting the blood soaked Mrs. Kennedy right after John is killed. The very next scene has Cecil and Gloria fooling around with one of Kennedy's ties sitting on the bed next to them....can you say "Yeech"?
But the movie boils down to a relationship between a father and a son—one that is just plain boring.
The films assumes that great people will have had meaningful conversations with our main characters—who knows? Maybe that happened...but then again, maybe not.
All I know is that it took Martin Luther King, Jr. to convince Louis that his father was a good man and Ronald Reagan to ease the tensions between Cecil and his son.
It could have happened, but the movie feels fake.
There are too many instances of cliche moments lined up so perfectly with clumsily worded sentences for this movie to be taken seriously.
One such moment that was good in theory was the beating of activists while we see Cecil set the table. It's comparing the two worlds, fighters and those who abstain from fighting—but it just felt awkward by the time it was finished.
Also, on a tangent, was Terrence Howard really necessary for this movie? It was a subplot that only took time away from everything that actually mattered.
One movie that was twice as effective and half as preachy was "Fruitvale Station"—if you watch that.
I was very aware of the fact that I was watching a movie. True story, sure—but I found that I believed more in Whitaker than in Gaines.
"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is, at its core, stagey and predicable. It's all shades of stereotypical—the thing it was trying to avoid...better luck next time.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Before Sunrise (1995) (R)

Love at first sight—does it exist? Is it just a dream that we all fantasize about? If only I could just meet the right person at the right time. Maybe it's because we're so fed up with our monotonous lives that we think a random meeting with a very sexy person (why sell ourselves short?) will be the answer to all our prayers.
Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" seems to be a very optimistic film about the possibilities of love at first least, that's what anyone who hasn't seen the movie would say.
Once inside Linklater's dream-like European world, we find that it is grounded in realism and logic, while still leaving space for fancy and whims.
Only two people are of interest in "Before Sunrise", Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Their meeting is coincidence, the kind of chance that people dream of.
Celine is riding a train back to Paris from Budapest where she was spending time with her grandmother. She makes the misfortune of sitting next to a very angry German couple who argue their way into a frenzy. Changing seats, she finds herself sitting next to Jesse, who has come from Madrid.
Jesse's stop is in Vienna, where he will fly back to America. An American and a resounds as something very Gene Kelly.
A semi-awkward conversation springs up between the two young people. They converse about the angry couple and then they get lunch on the train together. It's purely out of interest that they keep talking, a spark has been lit between them...though not a spark of love. They find the other person interesting and that's a great place to start.
They only have a few hours or so to talk before Jesse has to get off the train at Vienna; yet they fill that time with such intimate stories and personal ideologies that it would be very forward to any other person. But to Jesse and Celine, it's the necessary way to communicate. They're blunt and borderline rude with each other sometimes—they both juggle poeticism and pragmatism.
It's Jesse who first seems like the dreamer, he wants to spend his life finding meaning and he recounts stories of his childhood without blinking. Celine is scared of flying, but more of dying. She fears the moments in which you fall to the earth, knowing that you are going to die. The inevitable and looming face of death scares her.
Yet, she too is a dreamer. Perhaps it's her fear of death that makes her appreciate palm readers more than Jesse, who think that she is being swindled.
Enjoying Celine's company so much, Jesse is a little crushed that he has to disembark at Vienna. He has until the next morning to get to the airport and has no money—he plans to walk the streets of the city and wait for the sun.
He invites Celine to go with him, and after only a brief hesitation she grabs her bag and goes with him.
Thus begins the saga of the two lovers, told differently than any other movie I've seen.
There's passion, intelligence, beauty, but also a dread that fills the air—they both know that they will have to part when the sun rises.
At one point, a Cinderella reference is brought up—how fitting. Though they may not get turned into pumpkins, Jesse and Celine know that the hours they have with each other are magical and numbered.
It's this brief meeting with each other that allows them to share deep thoughts. They don't care about being judged, so what if they other person turns out to hate you? You only have a few hours with them.
But they share and share—soon they are falling in "love".
I hesitate to use the dreaded "l" word here...for even though the film uses the word many, many times; it's always with questions. What is love? Does love exist? etc. etc.
The film doesn't ponder the nature of love like Malick's epic "To the Wonder" does—instead, it showcases it in a somewhat "Slumdog Millionaire" fashion. Love can awaken anywhere in odd circumstances.
It's actually a cruel movie, for Jesse and Celine will have to leave each other. Though they try to be adults with rationality, their emotions get the better of them.
The movie's protagonists are both blisteringly good looking but in unconventional ways. They let their personalities seduce their partner and the viewer.
This is the kind of movie that avoids cliches so well.
It's intimate and engrossing.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Do you remember the day in history class when your teacher told you that Hitler wanted the Ark of the Covenant so he could rule the world? Yeah, me neither. But that's the story nonetheless in Spielberg's outrageous comedy/action classic "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
I guess that Hitler never read the Bible so he didn't know that those who touched the Ark fell down dead; but that's just semantics.
To be honest, I had not seen "Raiders of the Lost Ark" before—or any movies of the Indiana Jones saga. I don't know how I missed out on this....but whatever.
I wasn't expecting the campiness of the movie and the slapstick nonsense that ensues—but it was entertaining. Maybe I had formed a preconception of the film, but that quickly waned.Within the first five minutes of the film there were up close cartoonish screams when eyes are rested upon a statue and other such over-the-top nuggets.
The movie begins with Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) searching for a small gold figure. They maneuver through the jungle without the use of GPS (this is 1936) until they find a temple of some kind. They evade obstacles that include spikes that shoot out of the wall and arrows that are flung from statues's faces. Then comes the infamous rolling ball and finally rivalry archeology.
So begins one of the most successful and acclaimed series.
Spielberg unintentionally made marine biology a popular profession after "Jaws" was released. Who didn't want to be Richard Dreyfuss? I can see how "Raiders of the Lost Ark" made archeology a hot topic. Indiana Jones is a total boss. He's suave, handsome, funny, and he has wonderful adventures—he fits the perfect criteria for women to love and men to idolize.
Harrison Ford, at this point in his career, had already scored big with the first installment of the "Star Wars" franchise (and by "first" I mean "fourth".....naturally). But "Raiders of the Lost Ark" reaffirmed that Ford was a genuine star who could carry an action movie like few of his contemporaries.
Anyways, Dr. Jones returns to teaching, something that he is slightly awkward at (perhaps all the lady students showing him private love notes written on their eyelids distracts him). He is visited by several well-to-do people who tell him that the Nazis have a plan to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant and use it against the world...too bad it doesn't come with an instructions manual.
But the men who tell Jones of the nefarious Nazi plan don't actually know what the Ark we all get a little education. The Ark of the Covenant contains the original ten commandments that Moses received from God (the film doesn't mention that Ark's other contents such as Aaron's rod and a jar of manna...but no matter, after all the film has Hitler running after the Ark so it's not winning plausibility and accuracy points).
So after the lecture, the men convey that they want Jones to get the Ark before the Nazis do.
But getting the Ark is complicated since no one actually knows where it is. It becomes a big treasure hunt, one that we know that Jones will be able to complete. After all, what can Harrison Ford not do?
Jones then has to travel to get a crystal medallion which will lead him to a room where the location of the Ark will's all very complicated.
The film is quite something, not taking itself too seriously (something that I deeply appreciate); but also being very zany and full of good, entertaining action. The production value of the movie and the stunts are worth mentioning—they're quite impressive.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" is the movie that proved everyone—Lucas, Spielberg, Ford, and even John Williams—to be stars. The movie has one of the biggest followings of any movie there is... probably outdone only by "The Rocky Horror Picture Show".
It's over exaggerated and purposely droll—but that's what makes it fun. I doubt that there is a dull moment in the film.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Alien (1979) (R)

One of the great science fiction epics, Ridley Scott's "Alien" has stood for decades as the quintessential space movie and with good reason. Though the company it keeps is intimidating with works like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and (I hate to say it) some of the "Star Wars" movies, "Alien" manages to feel entirely different than its contemporaries.
It firmly recognizes itself as a film that is not as perplexing as Kubrick but also more adult than Lucas. There is no clear villain until the movie is half-way over. The bad guy of "Alien", also the title character, the most brutal of any space movie there is—it is a character that does not get to experience redemption.
The movie captures momentum quite well—from the beginning scene to the last, there is always a body in motion. The crew's ship zooms through space almost's a subtle way for the movie to keep building towards a climax. The times when the ship isn't moving, the crew is—someone is always in motion.
The opening titles are ominously creepy and effective—one of the better known facets of the movie. The title slowly fades into the screen with large sharp angles. Then begins the story.
The towing vessel Nostromo is carrying back thousands of tons of mineral to Earth. The crew is in hyper-sleep when the ship receives a signal. The ship's computer, ironically and effectively named "Mother" receives the message and the crew gets woken up. They think that they are almost to Earth; but it turns out that the are far away from their home planet.
They try to figure out what's happening by asking Mother...all they can deduce is that the signal is a distress beacon of some sort. By contract, they are obligated to go check it out or they will receive no money for the past months of work.
They land on the planet and go exploring—only to find something a little more hostile than they were expecting.
The crew of the Nostromo is perfectly odd, a feat that would be duplicated in the movie's sequel "Aliens". There's a team of engineers who are entirely about money, a woman who just wants to get home, the somewhat at ease captain, an adventurous man who gets the first taste of the mysterious, a science officer who is curiously fascinated with everything on the new planet, and one of the great film heroines, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in a star making role).
The film also marks the start of Ridley Scott's career as a great director.
"Alien" is stifling, it manages to capture claustrophobia better than almost any other movie. It becomes a locked house thriller—the villain inside with the crew. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.
The tag-line from "Alien" is one of the best that's ever been made: "In space no one can hear you scream." Does it get freakier than that? I think not.
So many things are revolutionary with "Alien" including the inducting of a new following to the science fiction genre. "Alien" was not as "corny" (for lack of a better word) than "Star Wars". It grounded itself in grittiness and false realism. The ship is falling apart, things don't always work, and the equipment looks old and knocked around. Neill Blomkamp takes a lot of his cues from this movie.
It also made people realize that horror didn't always have to be ghost stories. It was a blend of genres that shocked audiences—"Alien" has become one of the most highly regarded science fiction movies because of this.
Also not present, that many modern movies demand, is explanations. We don't know everything about the villain—how do the aliens morph into adulthood? We aren't told and it's not necessary to tell...the film is about the human element and not the monster's lifespan.
"Alien" is great, the effects are still sleek looking and the action can never be questioned.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Conversation (1974)

Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" is a movie that embraces the stillness and the madness of obsession. It's a movie about secrets and the lack thereof—it is also about context.
The movie's main character, who spends a majority of the film in silence, is Henry Caul (Gene Hackman) ...a surveillance expert. He's the best of the best, even his jealous colleagues admit to this.
The eye of the camera is another character who spends the movie following Henry around. It adds to the whole idea of surveillance and reconnaissance. Christopher Nolan's "Following" takes it a step further, but "The Conversation" is less insane than Nolan's film.
The movie begins as the camera zooms in on a street. There are many people all doing individual activities. No one really sticks out expect an annoying mime who is harassing some of the meandering crowd. Closer and closer the camera comes until it targets the head of Henry.
Henry is unique among the crowd, he seems awkward. The way he walks differs from the easy gait of everyone else, like he's trying to hide something or trying to evade someone.
We then see a couple talking, their talks is jumble with technological faults. It soon becomes clear that Henry and a team are recording the conversation between the couple—a young, bespectacled man and a short brunette girl. They seem at ease, though the clear snippets of their conversation are filled with odd remarks.
This is the conversation that the title of the movie is referring to and we keep revisiting it as the movie continues.
Henry gradually deciphers the unintelligible parts of the recording and we hear more and more of the conversation over time. Each time, there is a new sentence that changes the meaning of the entire meeting's quite clever writing. Coppola wrote the script as well and though he's most known for "The Godfather", remember that his first Oscar was for screenwriting for "Patton".
Henry has a conscience...that's important to note. I think that it comes and goes at convenient moments during the movie—sometimes it seems like he doesn't care, and other times he's weighted down by guilt.
A man of mystery, Henry would rather just leave the room than be questioned. One point has him opening up to a woman, an act that is extremely intimate, even more so for Henry. Though he doesn't say much, it just shows that it takes a lot to make Henry discuss his personal life. Naturally, he gets burned for his tender words—it adds on to Henry's privacy.
Somewhat OCD and paranoid to an extent, Henry is a curiously dull character to have lead your movie—though Gene Hackman gives a great performance.
This film was nominated for three Oscars including a nod to the sound department—deservedly recognized. The sound is something that stands out in "The Conversation" because of how the recording changes.
Henry Caul becomes haunted by the conversation of the young couple and the implications that it mights have.
Also added onto the film's awards is the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or which was the first of two that Coppola would win (the other one was for "Apocalypse Now").
Yes, the movie is intriguing and inherently fascinating. The jazz of the soundtrack is atonal enough to reflect the growing apprehension and obsession in the mind of Henry Caul. The bleak quietness with which the movie is shot lures the viewer into a false sense of security...and then, comes the thriller ending.
The third act reveal is good, but not great. It's not about the reveal as much as it is about the next step of Henry's obsession.
In the end, the film drags. It takes too much time for characters that are undeveloped. It's also somewhat random.
To be honest, not much happens in "The Conversation"—though it was very interesting.
"The Conversation" is still remarkably relevant...just look at all the controversies happening right now over breaches of privacy. It just goes to show you that some movies never age; and to its credit,
"The Conversation" is one such film.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Hot Fuzz (2007) (R)

A parody of the typical buddy-action movie, "Hot Fuzz" is the follow up work of the dynamic trio that is Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright.
Their previous work, "Shaun of the Dead" both amusingly disgusted and entertained the mass was a smashing success. Expectations were high for the next movie, and it didn't disappoint.
"Hot Fuzz" is about Nicholas Angel, the best policeman (um, I mean "police officer") in London. He's broken record after record: running, driving, stealth, etc. etc. He's so good at his job that he starts to make all the other officers look bad, and the chief inspector can't have that.
The powers that be (played in cameo roles by Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, and Bill Nighy) decide to make Nicholas Sgt. in the quaint town of Sanford.
Sanford is a town where nothing happens—the people are nice, the homes are homey, and the work is easy. Essentially, it's a living hell for Nicholas. He is used to action, criminals, and stress.
Right before he leaves he tells his ex-girlfriend Janine (another cameo by an uncredited Cate Blanchett) that he's going to be gone for a while. She doesn't really care, he was always married to the police force. The only thing Nicholas really loves is his Japanese peace lily...the plant that travels with him to Sanford.
Nicholas, moody and restless, spends the entire trip moping and watching his cell phone reception slowly fade away.
When he gets to Sanford, the first thing he notices is the warmth that everyone shows him. These are the kind of people that are mean, but with the decency to be rude behind people's backs. Just say "Bless their hearts" and you can gets away with saying anything.
Nicholas meets Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) who he arrests for drinking and driving—turns out that Danny is a police officer as well. On the first day in Sanford, Nicholas hasn't made many friends.
The team at the police headquarters are a rag-tag bunch of individuals that include two detective both named Andy, an older officer who speaks in indistinguishable mumbles, an incompetent officer, and a policewoman (um, I mean, a "female police officer").
Nicholas is all about being politically correct: traffic accidents are called "traffic collisions", paperwork must be filled out, etc.
But Sanford holds a dark secret. People will start dropping like flies and Nicholas is the only person who thinks that they were murdered. Now it's up to him to figure out who's murdering who and why.
"Hot Fuzz" is hilarious...there's no way around it. It's an unbridled joy to watch Pegg and Frost on the screen. It's easily funnier than "Shaun of the Dead" and its plot is surprisingly twisted and confusing.
Though it does present a good mystery, "Hot Fuzz" (as mentioned earlier) is a parody. It makes fun of the cheap buddy-action movies. It does this by accentuating the homoeroticism between the two leading men—Nicholas and Danny become docile lovers who go on little dates while maintaining their "masculinity". They fall asleep on the couch together, Nicholas wants to buy nice gifts for Danny, the list goes on.
Yet Pegg and Wright find a way to do this without seeming too offensive. It's just there for's good fun and not meant to be mean in any way.
Danny and Nicholas complement each other—Danny is laissez faire and Nicholas is high strung.
Shot with the same intensity and mockery that "Shaun of the Dead" was, "Hot Fuzz" is devastatingly entertaining and quite bloody sometimes.
Don't be fooled into thinking that Sanford is a peaceful town—"Hot Fuzz" is just as gruesome as "Shaun of the Dead".
A cult comedy in the making, "Hot Fuzz" satisfies its audience with another comedic gem.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4