Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quick Update

Apperently I just found out that those who wanted to post comments on my blog cant unless I say it's OK and I just realized how to switch it off. Sorry 'bout that! So if you want to comment, feel free to do so and tell me how full of it I am.

Also, like the new logo up there? So do I :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: Monsters Vs. Aliens

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Keifer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, and Stephen Colbert
Written by Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Rob Letterman, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
Directed by Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon

DreamWorks Animation has had, to be kind, a rough ride in terms of quality since it's existence. With the exemption of the charming Shrek and Shrek 2, they've plowed through a forgettable filmography of Shark Tale, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, Bee Movie, and Shrek 3. However, the studio gave a surprising great turn to form with the charming and visually gorgeous Kung Fu Panda. After years of mediocrity in the shadow of the mighty Pixar age, I was with a lot of movie goers that thought Spielberg's mighty animation studio was turning into a nightmare. This was until Monsters Vs. Aliens which turned the once sinking ship of a studio into a shining force that not only keeps the Dream alive as a raging, funny force to reckon with.

Monsters Vs. Aliens is a about Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon), a woman who got hit by a meteorite on her wedding day and turns into a giant woman straight out of Attack of the 50 ft. Woman. Naturally the government comes in and takes her to an underground prison for 50's style monsters and give her the name Ginormica. But when a giant robot from the alien Gallaxhar (Riann Wilson) comes looking for the meteorite, it's up to Ginormica, B.O.B. (Seth Rogan), a big blue blob, Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie), a half man, half cockroach mad scientist, The Missing Link (Will Arnett), a creature from the black lagoon, and a giant bug called Insectosaurus (Conrad Vernon) to stop him from taking over the world.

As you're able to tell from the plot summery to the poster, the movie is a spoof of 1950's monster movies which even though were B movies made some pretty impressive special effects for their time. When Monsters Vs. Aliens was released, it was promoted as a great landmark for 3D technology and special effects. The version I saw was the DVD without 3D glasses added in. Just as Black Dynamite put a great effort in being a Blaxplotation film and a spoof, Monsters does the same thing here; the imagery, art and mighty explosions in the film are visually stunning to look at. Two scenes that come to mind were the fight on the golden gate bridge, the alien spaceship and the robot itself.

If I did have an issue with the film, it's the 3D gimmick. It makes sense to have this gimmick being a parody of a time when film was all about having 3D monster mashes, but it's really not immersive or inventive at all. Monsters doesn't use the 3D gimmick too much by making hands fly toward the screen which I applaud the filmmakers for. It actually shares the same problem with Up from Pixar this year; both films are impressive artistically and the only thing 3D does is literally give me a headache.

So the film is a spoof of 50's monster movies but does it work? Well absolutely it works; the film has some pretty funny moments that riff on references from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, An Inconvenient truth, and a pretty funny take on countdowns which I wont give away with this review. The highlight of the comedy is Stephen Colbert as the president of the united states and yes; it's as funny as it sounds. His underground meetings almost steal the show with the riffs on Armageddon. If Spaceballs had a spiritual sequel, Monsters Vs. Aliens is it.

Don't think that clever riffs on the sci-fi genre is all Monsters Vs. Aliens is about, the focus is more on Susan's transformation to Ginormica (mental transformation that is). The film's theme is simple: check your ego. Susan always put herself second to everyone else and has a pretty low view of herself; it's OK her husband wants something besides Paris, he needs to get the job. Then when she became a giant and starts fighting other giants, she realizes that she shouldn't shortchange herself simply because she's, well, a woman. Society still tells us that men should go after their dreams while the women are there for support and she learns she has enormous strength as Ginormica or Susan. It's really refreshing to see a heroine who fights for herself and becomes independent; it's been a while since we've had a great action heroine and we have a pretty damn great one here.

Finally, an awesome action heroine

There's another side to the ego trip too; her husband and Gallaxhar have way too much pride in themselves that they're both shallow, selfish fools. Gallaxhar's main plan to conquer earth is to use the meteors power to make an army of himself. The big message of the movie is about how you should have respect for yourself and respect for others in spite of what society says about you. It's a great theme to have in a kids movie; it's something the younger crowd will understand and the older audience can appreciate. Having a great balance with kids and adults in an animated film is pretty great to have these days.

Stephen Colbert may steal the show, but the rest of the cast is pretty excellent too. Reese Witherspoon is an actress I've never really cared for before but she gives a lot of life to Ginormica. The same goes for Rogan, Laurie, Arnett, and Wilson; we've seen these characters all before but it's pretty fun to hear it come out of this cast. It may look like a big celebrity whoring but I honestly didn't know it was Rainn Wilson as the villain. I've never watched 24 either and Keifer Sutherland was wonderful to listen to as the underground monster general. The kids probably haven't seen 24, The Office, Legally Blonde, or Knocked Up (let's hope not that last one) but they're going to have no problem hanging out with these monsters.

A lot of critics panned the film for a few things like the supporting cast being one-dimensional and uninteresting and they're right; without the cast they would have been pretty boring. The critics also didn't enjoy the 3D catering and I agree with them that it should die out. There are a few issues with the film but in all honesty a lot of the complaints they had with the film didn't bother me at all. I was too busy having fun hanging out with the characters, enjoying the great scenery, and laughing at the humor. Monsters Vs. Aliens probably wont start a revolution but it's a great watch to have with your kids and even with yourselves.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Review: Black Dynamite

Staring: Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Tommy Davidson
Written by Michael Jai White, Byron Minns and Scott Sanders
Directed by Scott Sanders

Grindhouse cinema has had a bit of a revolution in mainstream media these days; Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez came out with their "Sleaze-Filled Saga of an Exploitation Double Feature" Grindhouse which unfortunately due to it's Easter weekend release and over three hour run-time bombed at the box office. This time, a bit hit from the Sundance Film Festival Black Dynamite is ready to take on the genre not touched upon in the three hour extravaganza: Blaxploitation. The trailer for Dynamite is a fun video you may find in the film Grindhouse alongside "Werewolf Women of the SS" seeking to spoof the genre it's in. The question that's raised is this: Does the concept which makes for a great trailer translate into an hour and a half spoof of the genre or is it just a one-joke pony? In all honestly, if this movie were three hours long, I believe it could pull it off; Black Dynamite is the funniest movie of the year and absolutely one of it's best.

At this point, I would normally give a brief synopsis of the movie, but the Trailer does the job for me and the film gives you a lot of what you would expect from a spoof. The film is about our hero Black Dynamite who's brother was killed by the local mob so Dynamite has to fine the people responsible "all the way to the top." It leads him to the local mob syndicate, an island leading to a conspiracy, and all the way to the white house before going through crack houses, rooftops, the highway, and lots of blood, bodies, and women.

Whenever someone does a spoof of a genre, it usually looks like a 2nd rate version of what it's making fun of usually in attempt to put the genre down the level. Dynamite is a spoof that while it is making fun of the conventions on the genre puts an extraordinary amount of work into making look like it came from the 70's. It's shot to look like an old film stock shot from the era, the world has elaborate designs from the costumes to the special effects and the film even begins with a fake trailer for Anaconda Malt Liquor, "the drink that make's you go Oooooooo!" While it makes fun of the genre, the work that went into the art of the film puts it in the Blaxploitation genre.

Don't go in the theater thinking this is going to be a deep, nostalgic reflection of Black rebellion in the face of change and oppression of the 1970's; it's ultimate goal is to make a silly parody of movies like Dolemite and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. You know exactly how this film is going to end and how it's going to play out. The only really intellectual thing I can say about the film is that what it's trying to say is that the Blaxploitation films get a reputation of being the great crusade of rebellion that was a release for a movement when in reality these films for the most part are poorly crafted and frankly stereotypical. Black Dynamite is a kind of call back to reality for what the genre is but still revels in being one itself; and loves every second of it!

Sometimes it's not so much about what your delivering but the execution. All the actors in the film play the situations like they're life or death in the most ridiculous over-the-top situations which is what makes everything in this film work. You've probably seen star and co-writer Michael Jai White in The Dark Knight or fighting David Carradine in Kill Bill but here he really shines. All the kung-fu is preformed by him and while he gives a straight face bad motha preformance, he even shows sincerity in his role. He's not just a one note person but has an impressive, multilayered performance. It really is a shame comedy actors don't get Oscars more because White truly earns one here.

Michael Jai White gives a Brilliant Performance as Dynamite

Dynamite is a movie that like it's main character seeks to top itself with every scene; when you think the main bad guy is gone, another worthy opponent shows up along with another worthy opponent. Most of the movie has very obvious winks from a hilarious chase between Dynamite and Cream Corn(yes, his name is Cream Corn), the stock footage used more than once, parts of intentionally bad continuity including a tear, and a boom mic that should get it's own IMDB page. So many moments in this film I asked myself "what? WHAT?!?!" So much of the clever site gags and jokes took me by surprise and left me holding on to the seat with laughter. I honestly haven't had as good a time at the movies since I saw Borat.

I could go on and on praising the the individual scenes that I found myself repeating and quoting with friends long after but I wont spoil anything. I honestly dont have anything to knit pick about; all the jokes worked and made me laugh to the point where I'm happy I didn't eat anything before it. I loved all the music, performances, choices, how Anaconda Malt liquor plays a role in it all and the hilarious final fight between Dynamite and the President of the United States. Also, this movie isn't just for Blaxploitation fans or for Black people only; speaking as a white suburban male with only an intro to the genre there's plenty here for the frat-boy demographic and the film fanatics to dig into. It's not playing wide just yet but when it does go there opening night for a terrific parody. I don't usually like to swear in my reviews but it really earns it: Black Dynamite is a fucking blast!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Death of Blockbuster's Monsters

This is a pretty sad day for cinema....

Halloween is coming up soon again and this time my family wants to be festive. We decided that we're gonna have a haunted-themed night with pumpkin carvings and creepy food as a fun little get together and I thought it would be a great idea to look for a pair of movies my parents introduced me to at a young age: the Bela Lugosi Dracula and the Boris Karloff Frankenstein. I started my search at all the places I knew of: two family videos, a Lion video, and a blockbuster. The glee I had in the video stores were apparent enough looking for the legendary film icons that are as timeless as Popeye the Sailor.


In the video sections, I searched for the D's and F's, the classic sections, the horror sections, and even the family sections in search and found nothing. They're gone! All four places I go to regularly don't have Dracula or Frankenstein I'm guessing because they're on VHS and not DVD.


I write this with a rather sad realization (besides not having Netflix at the moment). The video stores in my mind always carried the essentials that most people will watch; the movie that stay in our hearts and what we look up to the most from the medium and two of the greatest icons in film don't have a place in the stores of 2009. It makes me wonder what I'm missing with all these movies not around and reminds me of when the Kung-Fu films started to vanish from my favorite store.

It is a new age where I thank the heavens for Netflix and all it has to offer, but the sad fact is not everyone can get Netflix. Dracula and Frankenstein were great memories watching with my family just like Nintendo, pumpkin seeds and Charlie Brown. There was always that feeling of seeing the movie you want from the shelf and watching it 20 minutes later, it builds suspense that I still find myself going back to every week. Netflix has that but once you get it in the mail, the suspense is over. Sure you can get instant films but that just kills the suspense.

There's probably no way to get this back, just as impossible to have a grind-house movie, go to a drive in or watching effects with stop-motion figures like Army of Darkness. It's also sad to know that Young Frankenstein will be as much as we can get from the two classic films. It's really sad to see something like this go for simple convenience and quick timing but I cant help but think we're trading in charm for the convenience.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Uma Thurman at the Chicago International Film Festival 09

The Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF). Chicago has always been a great town for movie lovers; everything from the classy art-house of the Music Box to the loose, let's have fun theaters like Brew and View. If the mainstream wasn't your thing, you have an endless list of choices both new and old to choose from. If you like movies, Chicago is indeed heaven on earth.


One of the festival's best events was it's opening night featuring the art-house film Motherhood about a mother juggling her daughter's birthday party with a blog contest on Motherhood. It is written and directed by The Adventures of Pete and Pete fame Katherine Dieckmann and starring Uma Thurman. The film was pretty good but the experience of being there was pretty awesome.

What was really special about the event is that my older sister had VIP tickets since she works for one of their sponsors. With VIP tickets means that I'm in the front row of the theater. It's not really good to watch the movie but it was the absolute BEST seat for the opening ceremonies. It started out with WGN's Critic Dean Richards delivering an impressive intro to the fest as he introduced all the fest heads and a few sponsors including my school Columbia College's President Dr. Carter, the head judges, and even the Mayor Daily said a few words which was pretty cool. He made a little joke about Chicago losing the Olympic bid which was a nice little line.

The biggest honor of sitting in the front row however was the film's star Uma Thurman was there to accept the festival's Hugo Career Achievement Award. To get a little personal about this blog, I must confess that Kill Bill Vol. 1 is my favorite movie ever which I don't think a single blog could express my thoughts on that. Strangely though, I heard about the movie from the review on Ebert & Roeper and went to see it back in 03. What was even more bizarre about the screening was that film critic Roger Ebert was in attendance. So the actress of my favorite movie and the person who told me about the movie are in the same was just as strangely surreal as it was fucking awesome!

Uma Thurman at the Chicago International Film festival

After accepting the award, she said a few words about working in Chicago for the film Mad Dog and Glory (not a bad flick) which helped her start her career before Pulp Fiction came out. After thanking everyone and getting some applause, the film started. It was a good screening, the audience had a good time with it. Afterwords, there was a Q&A with the director and she actually didn't get a lot of questions. It's a good sign if a film speaks for itself and the audience doesn't need to be explained anything.


Overall, it was a great screening and will be a pretty good memory. I got to see one of my favorite film stars, a pretty good movie and got to see it with my sister Aly and my cousin Kim. Extra special thanks to my sis, so 1337! That's another thing off my list of things to do before I die, now I just need to see Quentin Tarantino, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu, and Vivica A. Fox and my life is complete. Thanks to CIFF for an awesome night and awesome festival.

Here's a Video of the event; you can just see me in the front row wearing white

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review: Zombieland

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Elle Stone, and Abigal Breslin
Directed by Ruben Flischer

Why do we have so much fun with Zombie movies? Cinema, comics, and video games really do have a weird moral decision base for it's audience. We root for the bad guys, don't care about the good guys, and sometimes want death and destruction we normally would never want to wish upon another human being. If a zombie apocalypse happened, it would be the most devastating experience for everyone who lives or tries to live; your forced to kill family, friends, and complete strangers simply for survival. It would be an event comparable to the Black Plague and I drought we're gonna have George A. Romero movie called Night of the Almost Dead Living. This is a question that ponders the mind after experiencing the latest addition to the zombie genre Zombieland.


The film tells the story of four people known to each other only by their home towns but the story is told in voice-over by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy survivor who has 31 rules on how to survive a zombie invasion. While traveling to get back home, he meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a hot-tempered cowboy with a cadillac, love of killing zombies and twinkles. They decide to team up temporarily to take Columbus to a certain point when they come across a pair of sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). After a string of events and mistrusts, the four decide to travel to an amusement park in California so Little Rock can enjoy it one last time.

Before the film came out, the marketing of the film through it's trailer became intriguing. It depicts our hero teaming up with Harrelson to kill of zombies in a car marked with a three on it's side. Viewing the trailer one would assume that the film is about a competition where the lone humans are out on the world to kill as many zombies as possible; almost a voluntary Running man or Madworld with zombies. Also, there seem to be all sorts of aspects of playing a real life video game in the film: we're given rules from Columbus as though we're being prompted on how to play the game and Columbus himself is a gamer playing World of Warcraft and having a modest game collection in his room. However, the film seems to shift it's focus from the zombies themselves to a sort of romantic comedy between Columbus and Wichita.

This is the first problem with Zombieland; it has elements of a fun zombie kill-fest but that just seems to get thrown to the side to have a pretty bland love story. There really isn't a lot to bring to merit with the love story and doesn't seem complicated at all. It's actually an annoying hollywood cliche that they have to throw in a love story into a zombie movie, war movie, thriller, action and ironically sometimes in romantic movies. Why not just stick to the kill-fest or have some more development of who these characters are? As it stands they just come across as one dimensional.

Another problem with the film is how there just doesn't seem to be enough conflict to go around. Most of the zombies are pretty easy for these characters to handle and there just isn't a lot of the undead to go around in the world. There is an uneasy alliance between the four characters; the reason they dont give their real names is because they don't want to get too attached to one another. Most of the movie, however, is about these four characters essentially bonding and having fun in this world. Alliance doesn't seem to be that big a problem; they sit around talking about pop-culture and twinkles.

In terms of the acting, the four leads just aren't given anything to do. Jesse Eisenberg, who was terrific in Adventureland (no relation to Zombieland) and The Squid and the Whale is reduced to playing dumbed down Folgell from Superbad; he's just an awkward, nerdy guy trying to get laid in the movie, nothing else. Harrelson doesn't fair better either and is just reduced to a comic relief clown of ht group. Emma Stone or Abigail Breslin of Superbad and Little Miss Sunshine respectably are left as the motherly, eye rollers who outwit the men at every turn and predictably need to be saved like the damsels in distress they are. These are all certainly capable actors that just don't have anything to chew on, which is ironic in a zombie movie.

On the bright side, the film does have one or two high moments. There is one place in which our four members find themselves in which creates a pretty creative cameo which I wont give away in this review. If you are interested in this movie, DONT go to IMDB, DONT read spoiler reviews, and DONT ask your friends about it. The appearance is so crazy, inventive, and hilarious that it saves the movie from being so bland.

It also does seem to have this geek-friendly quality and atmosphere to it. Throughout the film, I couldn't help thinking of the famous Max Brooks book The Zombie Survival Guide. The film seems to come from these fun conversations of "What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?" which would benefit the film had it spent more time with this. It's refreshing to see that all his video games and nerdiness seem to win the day for our heros instead of just condemning him as a social pollutant like Grandma's Boy or Fanboys does.


The excellent cameo and geek love aside, everything just seems so by-the-numbers for a mainstream film that I found myself asking too often this question: Who cares? The characters are one dimensional, the situations aren't funny, it has themes and ideas other films have handled more competently and it just gives no impression whatsoever. It's a victim of not being able live up to it's trailer or the really impressive slow motion opening sequence. At the end, I'm still not sure why we have so much fun with Zombie movies, maybe I just need to watch Planet Terror again while I inevitably forget Zombieland in six months.