Thursday, December 28, 2006

Europe 2006

Here are just a few photos from our recent trip to France and Italy. I tried to include some that show us in front of recognizable landmarks, but I couldn't resist throwing in a picture of Wendy's absolute favorite European moment (feeding pigeons in St. Mark's Square in Venice). (Shhh...don't tell her that we have pigeons in the U.S....)
Here we are outside the Louvre in Paris... front of the Arc de Triumph (that's the Eiffel Tower in the distance)...
...standing on the Rialto Bridge in Venice...
...and in front of the Roman Coliseum.

It was an amazing trip; more fun than we could have imagined, and yet we were so glad to get back home. What did we miss most about the U.S.? Well, aside from the obvious (family, friends), I'd have to say free soda refills and public non-smoking ordinances. We're glad to be home!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Deja Vu," "The Pursuit of Happyness" reviews

I haven't seen a ton of movies lately, but did catch up on a couple over the past week. Both were satisfying movies for their respective genres, but nothing that will make me hurry out and see them again.
  • "Deja Vu": I like Denzel Washington, and have enjoyed most of the movies I have seen him in. This movie falls into the twisty sci-fi subcategory of the suspense genre, and is for the most part effective, as long as you don't think too much about the paper-thin premise. Set in New Orleans, Denzel's character is called to the scene of an apparent terrorist bombing. Once on the scene, he is observed to have an excellent eye for detail by members of a secret government agency led by Val Kilmer's character, who recruits Denzel to be part of his investigative team. It soon becomes apparent that the secret agency has access to some mind-blowing powers; powers that essentially allow them to see into the past using some high tech gadgetry and some pretty big gaps in logic. This is where you'll either love or hate the movie: if you can believe in the idea of "time-travel" and ignore your mind's tendency to ask questions, you'll enjoy the ride. Otherwise, you'll come out scratching your head and asking yourself how the movie gets away with breaking its own "rules" just to come up with a happy ending. I personally forgave the movie for its inconsistencies (some of them are pretty big) because I was entertained the whole time, but I can definitely understand how some viewers might feel duped and disappointed. Plus, the idea of deja vu is never even explained or referenced, which bugged me a little (aside from interpretation of dreams, deja vu is one of my biggest curiosities...) Overall, it's not a huge waste of time, but probably not worth the full admission price. (**1/2 out of four).
  • "The Pursuit of Happyness": Now here's a movie with an appropriate title; don't plan on smiling much during this movie until just before the credits have started rolling. Will Smith plays a humble, hard-working man whose best efforts just aren't good enough sometimes, and he spends most of the movie just trying to get by with his wife and young son (played by his real-life son). Just like in the film's trailer, the movie really is all about Smith's character trying to get a decent job. While it is refreshing to see Will Smith in a role that genuinely seems challenging, the movie wears on you a bit for its sheer lack of joy! (When the movie ended, we decided that a Xanax would have helped us endure it better...). That said, Smith's performance is genuine and seems like a far-cry from the arrogant, tough-guy that he seems to always play, and in that regard makes the movie satisfying. Plus, his son really is great in the movie--they have a believable chemistry that makes the events feel all that more emotional. Though the film could possibly send the message that the pursuit of happiness is equal to the pursuit of money, I think the boy--who remains cheery and lovable through most of the movie--serves as a reminder that happiness can be found no matter what your financial circumstances are. In the end, I'm grateful I saw the movie, and feel a greater sense of gratitude for my own blessings (material and otherwise), but can't really see myself wanting to watch this one over and over again. Some journeys are best taken only once... (*** out of four).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Where's J-Dawg?

Lest any of my loyal readers (thanks, both of you) think that I have died, I thought I would briefly post an explanation to my recent blogosphere absence. Back in November, I took some time off to travel around France and Italy with my wife. For the record, the trip was fantastic! While most of the trip was focused on the history and culture of those countries, I have to say that movies rarely left my mind completely. For example, while pacing the halls of the Louvre in Paris, I proclaimed to myself (with a great degree of pride): "I have walked where Tom Hanks walked!" And while I know that "Gladiator" was actually filmed in Morocco, I couldn't help but think to myself that Russell Crowe probably paid a visit the Colisseum in Rome to research his role. Magic!

It is my intention to post a few of our trip pictures here in the coming weeks, as well as to update my blog with the traditional movie/TV nonsense you have come to expect. Don't give up on me, bloggers; I live on in the hearts of those who believe...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Many Mini-Reviews

Since I'm going to be gone for a few weeks, I thought I'd better throw in a few quick reviews of some of the movies that I've caught lately. They'll be short and hopefully sweet, but at least you'll stop wondering what Justin thinks of such relevant and "current" movies as "Red Eye" and "Scream 3."
  • "Red Eye": This was a harmless little airplane thriller with an always entertaining Rachel McAdams and the creepy Cillian Murphy. True, it will find a happy home alongside the women-in-peril classics on Lifetime, but it's fast-paced (and short) enough to deserve a Sat. night viewing if you're in the mood for something fun. (**1/2 out of four)
  • "Scream 3": Don't ask me why I watched this on TV the other day: my only answer will be that I saw the first two "Scream" movies years ago on TV and wanted to know how it would all end. Let me save you the trouble: lots of people die--most of them you can basically write off as dead as soon as they show up onscreen. What was originally a semi-clever concept (a horror movie mocking horror movies) just feels tired here. A couple of funny lines don't save it from becoming the very movie it is trying to mock. (*1/2 out of four)
  • "The Lake House": This was another harmless way to spend a couple of hours. It was clean, the concept was semi-unique (if you've never seen "Frequency"), and the actors (Sandra Bullock and Keanu "Whoa" Reeves) were sufficient. (I have to say, though, that for a romance, it really didn't feel all that romantic.) Could have used a bit more levity, but overall was entertaining enough to be worth the rental. (**1/2)
  • "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants": Light, breezy, and semi-soapy for the teeny-bopper audience, this movie was cute enough to not completely bore me. Some of the storylines weren't as good as others, but the chubby America Ferrera was fantastic in her pre-Ugly Betty role. Definitely a chick flick, but mostly worth the time if that's what your wife wants to watch (she picked this over "Sleepy Hollow"...). (**1/2)
Needless to say, I get to pick the next movie. I think it will be either "The Prestige" in the theater or "Constantine" on DVD--something that will get all that estrogen out of my system.

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Monster House" review; Justin's TV schedule

Wendy and I had a good time watching "Monster House" this weekend. Don't be fooled by its PG-rating, the "family movie" is quite a bit scarier than most other recent CG movies. It's also a refreshing change from the recent infestation of cheery, goofy, talking-animal comedies. Though occasionally creepy in tone, this adventure/comedy has more in common with "The Goonies" than "Poltergeist." The dialogue is clever and fast, the characters transcend (if only barely) simple caricatures, and the visuals are moody and atmospheric. While the movie takes a somewhat morbid turn in its final third, it is still so clever and engaging that you probably won't mind in the end. It's a perfect movie for Halloween-time if you want to have a mild scare without the nightmares--just think twice before letting your younger kids watch it.... (*** out of four)

In other news, I've really been enjoying the new TV season so far. Most of my shows have come back in top form, and our new DVR has been the best thing to come into our lives since the cell phone. My favorite show, "Lost," has been fast-paced and fascinating, correcting the occasional season 2 error of not moving the story forward. My other vice, "The Amazing Race," has been thrilling and fun, as usual (I'm rooting for the Cho brothers, though I think it will likely be Team Barbie to win...).

I've somewhat reluctantly rejoined "Gilmore Girls," although I've been bothered not only by the Luke-less Lorelei, but by the new showrunner's inability to correctly capture the lightning-fast dialogue that made the show's first six seasons so entertaining. Plus, I can't see what the writers are thinking by putting the otherwise intelligent and strong Lorelei and Rory with such shallow, brainless men. In other words, this show is on my endangered list.

I've also casually watched "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" with Matthew Perry. While I like Perry and most of the rest of the cast, there's something uneven about the drama, which at times feels preachy and condescending, traits that seem completely out of place for a show that details the ins-and-outs of a "SNL"-type sketch hour. There's no doubt that creator/writer Aaron Sorkin has a terrific ability to create interesting discussion (used to great advantage on the early years of "The West Wing"), but I think the show may just be a little too self-important to catch on with mainstream audiences. Plus, the romance between Sarah Polley's and Matthew Perry's characters just feels too forced; they have zero chemistry, and don't even look good together (where's Courtney Cox when you need her?).

Finally, "The Office." I have to admit, there have been some big laughs in the four new episodes that have aired so far this season (the boardroom movie-reciting exercise was classic). But deep down, I really think that Jim's absence in the old office has been a great big disappointment; a shameless ploy by producers to prolong the inevitable. The romantic in me would be happier to see Jim and Pam interact uncomfortably in their old environment than see them move on with life as if they had never been friends. For crying out loud, bring Jim back to Scranton!!!

How have you liked the TV season so far this year? What's on your endangered list?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Random Movie Thoughts

Tonight Wendy and I saw "The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D." They gave us the glasses and everything. It was the first time I had seen the movie, and I thought it was pretty charming. Visually, it was inventive and clever and always interesting. I didn't think the songs were all that catchy, but it was just so much fun to look at that I didn't care much. The 3-D was pretty fun too, although not nearly as showy as some of the movies that are originally made for 3-D (like that Disney classic, "Captain E-O").

A couple of other movies we have caught recently are "Monster-in-Law" (silly and almost offensively predictable), "Under the Tuscan Sun" (not nearly as romantic as it should have been), "Failure to Launch" (failure to laugh), and "Over the Hedge" (forgettable story peppered with a couple funny jokes).

I have to say that I'm not dying to see many of the movies that are coming up, not even James Bond. I am intrigued by "The Prestige" and am hearing good things about it, but other than that, the only other one that appeals much to me is "For Your Consideration," the latest from the "Waiting for Guffman" gang. You can check out the trailer at

Hopefully there's a gem or two out there that's flying under my radar. Are there any movies coming up that I should be excited about?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"The Guardian" review

While reading the reviews for Kevin Costner/Ashton Kutcher's latest, I noticed frequent comparisons to "Top Gun." I must confess: I don't think I've ever seen "Top Gun" all the way through (before you lynch me, remember that there are one or two "classics" that each of you haven't seen as well...). Even so, I found myself trying to figure out what "The Guardian" had to do with "Top Gun." Anyone that can enlighten me is welcome to do so...

Now, on to the review. This Coast Guard drama/adventure is a pretty decent adventure most of the way through. Kevin Costner is likable enough in a role that is exactly what the ads make it look like: a tormented aging Coast Guard hero (Costner) takes a young hot shot (oh, maybe that's like "Top Gun") under his wing. The young hot shot is played by Ashton Kutcher, who really does seem like a cocky showoff and was perfect for the role. The biggest bulk of the movie covers the two actors love/hate relationship with each other, sprinkled with a few semi-thrilling action/rescue sequences. The acting is decent, the special effects are effective and convincing, and the story overall is interesting enough (those Coast Guard folk are pretty tough!).

I have a few minor complaints, however: the subplot detailing Kevin Costner's failing marriage wasn't quite as developed or resolved as it could have been. The movie itself was a bit too long, with several would-be endings that had me checking my watch a few times. And for a movie advertising itself as the next big adventure, it was somewhat lacking in the action department.

Finally, let's talk about the "moral of the story." For a movie that spends so much time building up and praising the efforts and sacrifices of the Coast Guard, I felt like the ending (which I will keep a secret, as should you) was sort of counterproductive. If anything, it reminded me why I never wanted to grow up and become a Coast Guard-er. Sorta like the "Miracle of Life" for the Coast Guard-crowd, because it could potentially convince its viewers they never want to go through with it...I know not everyone got the same message from the movie that I did...what did you all think?

In the end, it was a fun movie to go see on a Saturday night. Mostly clean, with the exception of one random F-bomb and a few other minor bombs here and there. My complaints shouldn't have convinced you not to see this movie, because looking back on it I rather enjoyed it. Nice to see Costner in a tolerable movie again. (*** out of four)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Guest Reviewer: Ammon Chase

My bro-in-law, Ammon Chase, offered an unsolicited and very welcome review of "Proof" with Gwyneth Paltrow. I have to admit that his review intrigued me; my thoughts follow in the "comments" section.

Overall, "Proof" was really engaging and for the most part the time passed quickly. There is a lot of plot structure but not a lot of building, meaning they lay the foundation for about an hour or so and then they start presenting a conflict. The conflict was pretty subtle and I wasn't sure until about 20 minutes before the end that what I thought might be a possible conflict turned out to be the main and only conflict.

The last thing is after laying so much foundation and finally illustrating the conflict, the resolution is only inferred at the end so when you're done you feel like maybe your DVD was corrupted and they accidentally deleted the last 15 minutes. The creator of inferred or imaginary endings is my least favorite director M. Night Shyamalan who in "Unbreakable" did the same thing only one hundred times worse by moving what would have been an exceptional plot like a tugboat moving a continent and then right when it was about to get good he stopped the movie and left all the creative and supernormal adventures Bruce Willis would have had to our imaginations. In short, this movie's ending wasn't nearly as bad as "Unbreakable," mostly because "Unbreakable" had so much more potential, although it was somewhat Shyamalan-esque.

Paltrow did a great job. It was fun trying to determine whether her character was really crazy which I think was one of the main points. Sometime there was no doubt she was, and then other times she was almost normal--so that dynamic was engaging. Spiderman (Jake Gylenhall) was also good, although I couldn't figure out why he was in love with Poultry other than that she is attractive because her character is really spastic. Hannibal Lecter also did a great job.

I give it three stars because it was engaging and if you could simulate a power outage just before the end so instead of actually knowing that the resolution is imaginary, you could just imagine your own ending and think that the movie probably would have ended that way but for the power outage, then I would give it three and a half stars.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The DVD Guru

Tuesdays are great days; almost as much fun as Fridays. You see, Tuesdays are the day when studios release all their new DVDs. So on Sundays, I make a quick perusal through the newspaper ads, taking mental note of where the lowest prices are for the week on my favorite new releases. I usually find that the lowest prices are a draw between Circuit City, Target, and Best Buy (Wal-Mart works too because they price match...). Sometimes these stores will have additional little giveaways to go along with their new DVDs to get you to pick their store. Sometimes the gimmick doesn't work; I couldn't care less about Seinfeld's puffy shirt. On the other hand, sometimes the promotion is gold, like today's Best Buy/"The Office" promotion: a deluxe "severance package" with both "The Office" seasons, Dunder Mifflin sticky notes, a magnet, and a clever Michael Scott-annotated calendar, etc. Gold, Jerry!

Which brings me to my next point: Circuit City's bargain bin. Even when Circuit City doesn't win my business with their promotions, they almost always get a weekly visit from me to see what treasures have shown up in the bargain bin that sits in the aisle between the movies and video games. Where else can you find "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" for $7.50, or "Congo" for $3.99? One day I even found a "Spider-man" 2 pack (both movies) for $9.99! That's $5 a movie, folks, for two of the greatest superhero movies of all time!!! With prices like these, I practically feel an obligation to at least see what's in there on a weekly basis. It's my civic duty.

In any case, the best way to score some sweet DVD deals is to show up early: Monday's the best day for the bargain bin at Circuit City, while Tuesday's the day for new releases (the earlier in the day the better). Some people know where to find a cheap purse. Others can tell you where to get more money for your prostituting your plasma. As for me, I'm the DVD guru, and I've made it my goal in life to help you find the best deal in building your DVD library.

Monday, August 28, 2006

"24" and "The Office" Win Emmys

As boring as I generally find the annual Emmy telecast to be, I can't help but feel satisfied that two of my favorite shows, "24" and "The Office," got some much-deserved Emmy-love last night. No, I didn't watch the awards show--I reserve my Ritalin for the Oscars in the spring--but I was thrilled to read this morning about the event, which wisely redeemed its inexcusable omission of "Lost" among the Best Drama nominees by awarding "24" for its most consistent season yet. Also comforting was Kiefer Sutherland's long-overdue win for playing Jack Bauer, our nation's current favorite superhero (sorry, Superman). Funny to think that this show--now one of Fox's biggest hits--was nearly cancelled after season 1. Can't wait for season 6, starting in January. (By the way, the "24" movie is scheduled to hit screens next summer; only Jack and Chloe have been confirmed to be involved at this point, meaning that they are probably bulletproof during season 6...phew!)

The rise of NBC's "The Office" is one of the more interesting stories in TV these days. It first premiered in the spring of 2005 to abysmal ratings and mediocre reviews (critics compared it to the much-honored BBC version). Nevertheless, a hit-starved NBC renewed the show, hoping to nuture it into the network's next-big-hit, having recently lost "Friends," "Frasier," and "Will & Grace." While the ratings for season 2 were never stellar, they continued to climb gradually thanks in part to a loyal following on iTunes, as well as Steve Carrell's rising star. Meanwhile, the actual quality of the show improved over the course of two seasons; Carell's Michael Scott is now less of a charicature than he started out, the main supporting players (Jim, Pam, and Dwight) have hit their stride, and even the background characters have found their voices (Angela, Kevin, Stanley, etc.). As a result, critics have gradually warmed to the show, and now NBC has another Emmy-winning comedy for its classic Thursday-night comedy block (NBC's first Best Comedy win since "Friends" won a few years back). Season 3 starts on September 21.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Snakes on a Plane" Underwhelms

First and foremost, I have not seen "Snakes on a Plane." But I'm still going to talk about it...

While I was still a little generous with my numbers, I predicted here several weeks ago that the internet phenom, "Snakes on a Plane," would not live up to the hype. Several analysts had predicted "SoaP" to come in with $30+ million over the weekend; in the end it shocked everyone by bringing in less than $14 million, and barely scraped up enough money to hit #1 for the weekend.

The movie started gaining popularity on the internet over a year ago, as internet bloggers mockingly praised the movie's working title. The hype spread, and the industry thought that the buzz meant big bucks. The movie's performance brings to mind some of the Sundance favorites that were purchased by top studios and expected to be big hits, only to fizzle once released to a wide audience ("Happy, Texas," "The Spitfire Grill"). Hype is a hard thing to gauge.

There are several theories as to why "SoaP" didn't get the attention that was predicted. I think the most obvious ones were the studios' inability to discern between internet chatters mocking the movie's cheesy premise and those that were genuinely praising it. (You can just see someone like the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy laughing while taking full responsibility for the rise and fall of "Snakes.") Hoping to please the film's target demographic (men under 25 years of age), the studio asked the film's director for some reshoots that would make the film gorier and sexier, guaranteeing it an R-rating. Ironically, the harsher rating ended up excluding the web-saavy and less-discerning teenage boys under the age of 17--the studio alienated a huge chunk of the audience it was trying so desperately to please.

"Snakes" won't be a complete bomb for its studio. Budgeted at around $30 million (modest by most big studio standards), it will likely make back its money domestically and hit it big on DVD. Yet its failure to catch on is a disappointment to a somewhat fledgling studio that is desperate to launch another franchise. Additionally, it will call into question all the hype generated on the internet surrounding upcoming movies. "Snakes" was declared to be a sure-fire hit several months before it even arrived in theaters; analysts will likely be more conservative in the early predicting of box office winners because of this film's weak performance.

Studios chiefs are now likely looking at their slate of films for next year, frantically trying to rename and retool their movies so as to avoid a "Snakes on a Plane"-type backlash. While some might see this as a step in the right direction towards producing films that are genuinely clever and thoughtful, I think it really just means that we won't get as many clever movie titles in the future. That means instead of getting inspired movie titles like "Broken Finger, Bag of Blood," we'll end up with generic junk titles like "Vertical Limit." In that regard, the failure of "Snakes on a Plane" has really hurt us all.

What are some movie titles that you think could use a little kick?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer Movie Preview: 2007

It's never to early to start looking ahead at all the good movies we have coming our way. Yes, I know that technically the summer of 2006 isn't even over yet, but really, there's not much more to be excited about (with the possible exception of Will Ferrell's "Talladega Nights"). So let's set our sights on next summer, shall we? I think it's shaping up to be one of the better summer movie schedules in recent memory; here's the calendar of noteworthy upcoming films (dates are subject to change):
  • Spider-man 3--May 4
  • Shrek the Third--May 18
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (title will likely change)--May 25
  • Ocean's Thirteen (minus Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones)--June 8
  • Fantastic Four 2 (this is here for you, Jon)--June 15
  • Evan Almighty (with Steve Carell reprising his jerky newsanchor)--June 22
  • Ratatouille (Pixar's latest)--June 29
  • The Transformers--July 4
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix--July 13
  • The Simpsons--July 27
  • The Bourne Ultimatum--August 3
  • Rush Hour 3--August 10

I'm certain that there are a few of you out there that are tired of the predictible slate of sequels and TV-to-big-screen adaptations, but really...when you look at that list, you're telling me there isn't at least one movie that you're not excited about? I think not!

Any summer slate which includes Spidey, Cap'n Jack, Harry Potter, and Jason Bourne is FINE BY ME. So which of next year's big movies are you most excited about?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Poseidon" a guilty pleasure

I think you know what I'm talking about; a guilty pleasure is a movie that you enjoy despite your better judgment. There are a number of guilty-pleasure movie categories; I've broken it down below:
  • Morally offensive: movies you like, even though officially you're offended by them (Wendy's would be "Dirty Dancing")
  • Monster movies: where the only surprise is to guess which character gets eaten next ("Alien vs. Predator")
  • Dumb comedy: movies that play on your most juvenile tendencies, but you can't resist to love ("Tommy Boy," "Nacho Libre")
  • Disaster movies: whose sole purpose exist to feed our innate desire to see things destroyed ("Poseidon" fits in this category)

There are a few things that you should expect going into almost any disaster movie: first, don't expect for any serious character development. Disaster movie actors consider themselves lucky if their characters have a name, let alone a personality. Second, disaster movies are survival movies, which means that once the destruction ends, so does the movie. As long as you're comfortable with these rules, you'll like "Poseidon."

As directed by Wolfgang Petersen (director of "Troy" and "The Perfect Storm"), "Poseidon" has several enjoyably intense action sequences. The sets are pretty amazing (you don't even realize until halfway-in that they've been walking on the ceilings for most of the movie), and the visual effects are impressive and effective. It's a good thing too; that's about all there is to recommend about the movie.

The cast consists of several former A-list stars (Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss), as well as some up-and-coming B-listers (Josh Lucas, Emmy Rossum), none of which gets to do much more than run and swim from danger, and occasionally look concerned when the camera focuses on their faces. They are paper-thin characters with next-to-zero by way of character-development. But man do they look good wet!

The dialogue is a work of disaster-movie magic, and exists only to fill the space between the next big action scene. At one point, one of the disposable females says to Richard Dreyfuss: "How bad is it?" (She's apparently oblivious to the hundreds of dead bodies strewn across the ship, several of which she has climbed over.) Dreyfuss looks at her (with concern in his face, of course) and responds: "It's pretty bad." My thoughts exactly; "Poseidon" is a true guilty pleasure. (**1/2 out of four)

What are your favorite guilty pleasure movies?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

Finally, a summer movie that lives up to its hype; the second "Pirates" is everything I'd expect from a summer popcorn movie. It's one of those sequels that expects not only that you have seen and remember the first movie (and rewards you for it), but it also expects that you enjoyed it. So by way of disclaimer, if you haven't seen or didn't like the first "Pirates" movie, this one probably isn't for you. Otherwise, you're going to love it.

Let's start with the production values: this is one of those big-budgeted movies that shows every single penny on-screen. It really looks like it must have cost $200 million to make; the costumes, sets, locations--all exotic. Then there are the visual effects, which in some scenes really blew me away. Just the amount of detail amazes me, from the wonderfully unique designs of Davy Jones' ship and crew all the way down to the seemingly simple things, like the rust on the gates of the jail, etc. Although this is clearly a fantasy, this pirate world feels very authentic. Some have complained that the special effects (which, granted, are more abundant in this installment) are distracting and gratutitous. I disagree; the movie is beautiful to watch, and the effects are important to the integrity of the story. The movie feels epic on every level.

The story this time is a bit more complex, with a myriad of characters and subplots winding around each other. This usually works to the film's advantage; there is so much story to tell that there isn't enough time to belabor any particular plot-point or linger in one location for too long. Occasionally some of the characters speak in heavy accents that are difficult to understand (made me wish I had my DVD remote for some subtitles), and there are a few too many characters to keep track of. Overall, however, the storytelling is pretty straightforward, with every separate story coming together for a thrilling (though lengthy) series of climactic action scenes; I found myself smiling through most of the last 30 minutes.

Beyond the action and effects, the story continues and advances the storylines of our three main characters: Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) have been separated and forced to track down Captain Jack Sparrow (the great Johnny Depp) in order to preserve their freedom and finally marry. Captain Jack, however, is dealing with his own demons (literally), and can't seem to escape his pirate tendencies. The entire cast is first rate, but once again, this is Johnny Depp's movie, and never lets Captain Jack into an irritating, predictable, or boring character. As with the first movie, you're not sure whether he's a good or bad character, but he's always likable. I think he's one of the most unique and memorable characters in the movies today.

The movie does end in a cliffhanger, which may upset some. But the film does such a great job of keeping your attention (for nearly three hours, I might add) that I would have been willing to jump right into part 3. Gratefully, the wait for the next installment is less than a year, around Memorial Day of next year.

If you can't tell by now, I really liked this movie. While not a perfect film, it's almost everything that I would hope for out of a fantasy-pirate-action-comedy-summer event movie, and for that reason, I'm giving it four stars. Having seen it now, I can predict with confidence that it will not only be the biggest movie of the summer, but likely the year, and deservedly-so. It's probably not the most important movie of the year, but it's definitely the most fun. (**** out of four)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Movie Reviews: "Superman" and "Devil"
  • "Superman Returns"--After 19 years of big-screen absence, I have to say that the caped crusader's return wasn't quite as gripping as I had hoped it would be, especially coming from the director of one of film's best comic book movies ("x2"). That said, the movie is entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking, and visually stunning. The acting is adequate, and although no one actor botches the job altogether, I don't feel like anyone really improves on the original performances by Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, or Gene Hackman. The fault may be in the script, which wants to focus more on Superman as a God/Christ figure (the parallels are almost distracting) than it does on the classic Superman mythology. (I found it especially frustrating during the final 20 minutes, which almost completely abandons the fascinating love triangle between Clark/Lois/Superman.) In the movie's defense, the action is thrilling, the special effects are convincing, and the overall package is more satisfying than the most recent "X-Men" movie. It's a fun movie, and one that lays a decent foundation for a new era of Superman films. Now if director Bryan Singer can make his "Superman" sequel as terrific as his second "X-Men" movie was, we're in for a super-treat... (*** out of four)
  • "The Devil Wears Prada"--There is really only one thing that I can recommend about this movie, and it's probably the only reason anyone is going to see it: Meryl Streep. As Miranda Priestley, the horribly-wicked editor of fashion's most influential magazine, Streep is pitch perfect. She doesn't allow her character to deteriorate into a simple caricature, but rather infuses her with a fascinating and entertaining depth. In fact, whenever she is not onscreen, I found my mind wandering. (Streep may just be on her way to another Oscar nomination; Oscar voters love it when serious actors do comedy and do it well.) Oh, the coming-of-age story about Andy (Anne Hathaway) is ok, but anytime she's not interacting with Streep's character, you're wishing she was. Make no mistake, this film is an unadulterated chick-flick, and never pretends to be anything else. In that regard, it's pleasant enough. Not great, but good enough for a matinee. (**1/2 out of four)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Irresistible "Nacho"

Let's get one thing straight: if you weren't a fan of "Napoleon Dynamite" and its quirky, pointless, and warped sense of humor, you probably won't find much of value in "Nacho Libre." Still, it's hard for me to imagine anyone not being able to crack a smile--guilty or otherwise--at the sight of Jack Black in stretchy pants.

Like with "Napoleon," the story is really superfluous, and that is probably the biggest drawback for the movie. Nacho (Jack Black) dreams of being a lucha-libre wrestler, but knows that it is a sin (seeing as how he's a monk). He also pines for the beautiful new nun, Incarnacion, that has joined the orphanage where he serves. So it only kinda makes sense when Nacho decides to start wrestling in order to buy better food for the orphans--is he doing it for himself or for the orphans? For Incarnacion? It's never really clear, even in the end, but you cheer for him anyway.

Nacho's Mexican sidekick, Esqueleto (skeleton), is hilarious. He's obsessed with corn-on-the-cob and flip-flops (a winning combination in my book), and screams like a little girl everytime he gets in the ring. He's the Pedro to Nacho's Napoleon, and makes for a worthy companion to the warmhearted monk, both in and out of the ring.

But Jack Black is really the star here, and gives his best performance since "School of Rock." Both films showcase a semi-selfish dreamer with a love for children who aims high and almost reaches those heights. The role, again, is underwritten, leaving Black to improvise a bit as to his character's mannerisms and motivations, but he's always humorous, and likable enough to carry the film on his caped shoulders. Black has the most expressive eyebrows in film today, and he uses them to his advantage; just thinking about him talking about the "nitty gritty" with his wacky brows gives me the giggles.

Make no mistake, Jared Hess (the director of "Napoleon") probably lingers on Jack Black's curvy frame more that is necessary; it's a joke that makes you giggle until about 2/3 through the movie, when you start hoping for a bit more substance. Consequently, "Nacho Libre" won't change your life. But it will make you smile, so long as you check your intellect and maturity at the door. (*** out of four)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Summer Box Office Update & "X-Men" Review

I'm no expert, but I'm proud that at least a few of my box office predictions are coming true:
  • While "The Da Vinci Code" is raking it in internationally, it will probably end up in the $200-230 million range domestically, meaning that it's almost a certainty that "X-Men," "Superman Returns," and "Pirates 2" will beat it as the biggest movie of the summer. Some were predicting "Code" to be the big winner...not me.
  • OK, so my numbers were way off with "M:i:III" and "Poseidon"--the former is a disappointment with about $125 million so far, and the latter is an expensive bomb, with only just over $50 million. Since both of them are believed to have cost upwards of $160 million a piece, the studios had better pray that audiences rediscover the two cruises (Tom and sunken) on DVD. I did predict that the two would underperform, but I couldn't have guessed that they would be doing as poorly as they are.
  • Some had predicted "Over the Hedge" to be huge. While it has been successful so far, it will never reach $200 million. Again, I think my vague prediction was correct here.
  • Even though early numbers for "Cars" will be out tomorrow, I'm publicly guessing again that this movie will underperform. Most websites are predicting that it will have a $70 million weekend. I'm putting it in the $50 million range. I may have to eat my hat on Monday...
  • One more change to my predictions: I left "Nacho Libre" off the list of possible hits. It opens up next week against stiff competition from Keanu Reeves (who is always stiff) and Sandra Bullock (in "The Lake House"), and the latest direct-to-DVD-movie-that-somehow-made-it-to-theaters sequels to "Garfield" and "The Fast and the Furious." I think Jack Black and his spandex-covered crack will enhance the rich heritage of Mexican lucha-wrestling.

Either way, you can always check your favorite movie's financial progress at

Here's the thing about "X-Men: The Last Stand": I don't believe for a second that we've seen the "last" of these guys as the studio is saying. For one, there's a Wolverine movie in the works (with Hugh Jackman), as well as a possible Magneto prequel. But don't forget the big "reveals" at the end (and very end) of the movie, which seem to set up another go around with the X-Men themselves. So unless the movie stops making money today (it won't), I doubt we've seen the last of these mutants.

Now on to my thoughts about the movie itself: From the get-go, I think the film lacks the polish and depth that former director, Bryan Singer (who left this project for "Superman Returns"), brought to the previous two movies. "X2" in particular remains one of the best comic-book movies ever, right up there with the "Spider-man" movies. So the new director, Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour"), already had his work cut out for him. The good news is that he doesn't botch the job completely; "X-Men: The Last Stand" is fast-paced and fun.

Let's start with the good: the look from the first two movies remains. Oh, the actors have aged a bit (it's never disclosed how much time has passed since "X2"), and they have new haircuts (superheroes have to look good, you know), but they live in the same sets and drive the same jet. It's nice to see the whole cast back, even if some of our favorites don't get the time they deserve. The special effects, overall, are impressive, even though some of them looked like they could have used some more polishing. The action scenes are thrilling and some of the dialogue (some of the dialogue) is clever enough to evoke a smile. And the story itself is intricate enough to keep us interested.

Now the bad: Some of the dialogue is embarrassing--a few of the comebacks are dreadful. The movie almost has too much going on; there are at least enough stories in this movie to have stretched into more sequels (or at least a longer movie). As a result, all are underdeveloped. Who is this kid that is "the cure"? How do they extract the cure from him? What's the deal with this "angel" character (who has like two scenes)? And for crying out loud, couldn't we have learned more about Jean Grey? All we get is a few loud sequences and lots of sad staring, but few answers to her character's transformation. In fact, the characters in general get the shaft, and have to take backseat to the overly-busy story. Only Magneto and possibly Wolverine get much by way of character-development.

Oh well. The good outweighs the bad, bottom line. It's not the kind of movie that a newcomer to the franchise will enjoy, since most of the layers were developed in previous movies and only hinted at here. But it does provide at least some resolution to a few of the ongoing struggles from the other films. And again, the final two scenes (including one after the credits--why do they do that?) are ambiguous enough to whet your appetite for "X-Men: The Lastest Stand." Can't wait! (*** out of four)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Don't Pass this "Stone"

Wendy and I somewhat skeptically rented "The Family Stone" on Saturday, worried that it might either be dirty or boring or both. And while it had a few bits of "colorful" dialogue, it was also surprisingly engaging and entertaining. Here's Wendy's take: "It made me laugh and cry, all in a matter of moments." Here's my take: it was surprisingly funny, but also had a heavier (more dramatic) tone to it than you would expect from the movie's whimsical trailers. I only include that to mention that it is a little heartier a movie than you might expect.

The movie has a dream cast, including Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Claire Danes, and some men too. All of them are surprising and charming and funny. My favorites were Luke Wilson (as the slacker brother with a big heart) and Rachel McAdams (taking a surprising supporting role as a frumpy, snotty sister). Parker and Keaton also had their moments, but didn't really get to share any great scenes together.

The basic premise of the movie is fairly pedestrian: the oldest Stone son (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his uptight almost-fiance (Parker) to meet the family for Christmas. The Stone family is, of course, very liberal and open--affectionate, emotional, loud, etc., and isn't too thrilled about the new would-be addition to their tight-knit group. Over the course of about two days, there are lots of comical fights, uncomfortable conversations, and family secrets revealed (though none of them of the "skeletons in the closet" variety). And by the end, everyone ends up exactly where you hope they will. Predictable, but not offensively so.

Though the Stone family is more liberal on social issues than I would be, happily the movie is almost more about showing how liberals can be just as stuffy and closed-minded as conservatives, so I never felt like I was being pandered to. The most refreshing thing about the Stones was how much they all loved each other, despite their quirks and foibles. It has some tear-jerker moments, but never becomes depressing or melodramatic. It's not perfect, but it is worth the few dollars for the rental. In the end, it's a feel-good movie, and sometimes that's just what you need on a Saturday night. (***1/2 out of four)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cracking the "Code"

I'm happy to announce that Ron Howard's adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code" isn't nearly as bad as some of the critics made it sound (*** out of four). Oh, it's not that I disagree with what many of them had to say about the film: it is, after all, slow-paced, long, and not nearly as fun as it could have been. That said, it is fun to watch the litarary mystery visualized; the locations are exciting, and the acting is satisfactory (though a sleepwalking Tom Hanks has never been so forgettable, greasy hair notwithstanding...).

What I felt like was missing from the movie, though, was one of the book's greatest strengths: the code itself. As with the adaptations of many beloved novels, the screenplay seems so determined to fit in all the important locations and plot developments, it forgets to emphasize the mystery itself--Da Vinci and his paintings feel woefully underused in the movie, even though they played a major role (maybe the BEST role) in the book. This becomes apparent about 90 minutes into the movie, when Teabing (the spirited Ian McKellen) gives Robert and Sophie a Reader's Digest version of the grail lore using Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" as an example. Suddenly we realize what has been missing: the clues from the paintings that made the whole preposterous mystery so much fun. Although I thought the book was sometimes a little too dense with history, I think the movie could have benefitted from a little more--easier said than done, I realize. (Thank goodness I never have to adapt a bestselling novel to the screen!)

Oh, fans of the book won't be too upset--Dan Brown gave the movie his thumbs up and so do I; I'd rather have a movie that is too faithful to its source than one that completely ignores it. The movie is at times a little graphic--don't really know how you can sugar-coat a murderous, masochistic, albino monk (who by the way, isn't shy about showing his albino-bum to the be warned!). Not a bad way to spend two and a half hours, but you might be able to read the book in just as much time. Or you can just rent "National Treasure," and spend your time trying to decide whose hair looks more unnatural: Tom Hanks' or Nicholas Cage's (although I'm no fan of Tom Hanks' current hair, at least it's REAL hair...).

One final question: why does Paul Bettany's albino get to wear a cloth in the trailer (, but the movie has him naked? I'm guessing it was an issue where they filmed the scene both ways, and will use the clothed version for TV and airline viewings...doesn't really make sense to me, but that's my guess. One of these days I'll discuss the how this issue relates to the MPAA and Hollywood, but for now we'll settle on discussing the naked albino.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"Mission: Impossible III"; Summer Box Office

  • "Mission: Impossible III"--I'm so happy to report that the circus freak that we know as Tom Cruise doesn't ruin this summer's first (and hopefully not last) big thrill ride. Under the capable direction of J.J. Abrams (co-creator of TV's current greatest show, "Lost"), the third installment of this franchise is injected with some life after a nearly franchise-ending "Mission: Impossible II." From the very beginning, the pace is quick, the acting is convincing and engaging (even from Mr. Cuckoo-Ca-Cruise), and it never slows down. The action scenes are terrific, and the plot is passable (not without its holes, but the story is secondary anyway). It's just what you want out of a summer movie, and a promising start to 2006's big summer season. (*** out of four).

In other news, I've been dying to get around to making some predictions as to the box office winners this summer. I'm basing these guesses on nothing more than my impressions of this summer's movies, but here goes:

  • The two biggest movies of the summer will be "Superman Returns" and "Pirates 2." That's a risky prediction because the biggest movie usually comes out in May, but I think these two will be huge, and will be fighting for upwards of $275 million. Captain Jack may just prove mighter than the Man of Steel...
  • I think "X3: The Last Stand" (what a dumb name) will probably fill in the third spot, with $230 million. Comic book fans are loving this summer.
  • Look for "The Da Vinci Code" to last throughout the summer, and probably end up with $200 million. Should endure beyond opening weekend (despite what Stephen King thinks) because it appeals to adults, who have a longer attention span than teenage boys.
  • "Mission: Impossible III" will end up with around $180 million--not bad for a third entry in a franchise, but lower than last year's "War of the Worlds" and the previous two "Mission" movies.
  • "Poseidon" could open decently, but will probably taper off with a final gross of around $150 million. Special effects only go so far without engaging characters...
  • Other probable $100 million hits: Adam Sandler's "Click," Vaughniston in "The Break-Up," Dreamworks' "Over the Hedge."
  • Possible disappointments: As much as I love Pixar, I fear that their car-heavy "Cars" will fall short of expectations--probably somewhere near $150 million (small by Pixar standards). Additionally, I smell stinkers with the tired "Garfield" and "Fast and the Furious" franchises.
  • Finally, the phenom that is "Snakes on a Plane": Even though internet chatters are loving the campy title and premise, it was only last year that "Anacondas" flopped at the box office--are airborne human-eating snakes that much more entertaining than Amazon human-eating snakes? I predict this will disappoint with less than $80 million--not bad for a cheap horror flick, but poor when compared to the amount of buzz it has received.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New trailers for "Superman Returns," "Pirates 2," "Casino Royale"

Here are links for trailers to a couple of this summer's most anticipated movies, "Superman Returns" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." The third link is to the new James Bond remake (or should I say James Blonde), "Casino Royale."

I've never graded movie trailers before, but I think tonight is a good time ot pull out the red pencil...personally, the trailer for "Superman" looks good and interesting (*** out of four), but can't keep from being giddy about some more "Pirates" mischief (**** out of four). Although I think James Bond in general has become a little bland and predictable, there are a few things about this new trailer which show a bit of promise (including more backstory about Bond), so we'll see (**1/2 out of four). What do you think? And what movies are you most excited about?

Monday, May 01, 2006

"Memoirs of a Geisha," "The Sentinel"

I saw two mediocre movies over the past couple weeks, so without further ado, here are my thoughts:

  • "Memoirs of a Geisha"--Probably the prettiest movie I've seen in a long time. The movie displayed its budget in every sparkly, glossy shot, and definitely deserved the Oscar love it got for costumes, cinematography, and art direction. I also have a soft spot for John Williams, whose emotional score was another of this films delights. That said, the acting, script, and direction just didn't live up to the pretty surroundings. The life of a geisha is clearly an interesting one, but this film's main character, Chiyo (played by the beautiful but Englishly-challenged Ziyi Zhang, from "Crouching Tiger..."), was difficult to feel for. I think the biggest mistake was asking actors who aren't proficient in English to try and emote using words that they clearly didn't understand--we watched half the movie in subtitles just to tell what was being said! In the end, we felt relatively little for poor Chiyo, and for an epic like this, you need a strong character to care about. Not bad, but definitely not as good as it is pretty. (** out of four)
  • "The Sentinel"--You'd think that pairing Michael Douglas and Jack Ba--I mean Kiefer Sutherland--together would have paid off in an entertaining battle for the loudest line-readings. Unfortunately, they're trapped in a surprisingly muddled and plot-hole ridden thriller, which wastes a lot of good talent. It makes me wonder a bit what Sutherland and his costars (Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger) were thinking when they read the script, since none of them has much to do other than stand around and wonder what Michael Douglas' character is up to. The pacing is inconsistent, the plot is incoherent, and the conclusion is ridiculous. With the exception of a few good chases and a cast that does its best, this was a real letdown. Watch "24" if you want to see an engaging political thriller. (** out of four)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Last night's "The Office"

Can't tell you how sad I'm getting that all of my shows will be ending soon for the summer. My only consolation: summer movies. In the meantime, here are a few gems from last night's episode of "The Office." Let me know if I missed any zingers!

Michael to Jim: "Are you sure? That looked like it was gonna be good."
Dwight: "I think Oscar could be a drug mule."
Jim interrogating Dwight
Dwight: "You might remember me from the urine test a couple of years ago...mine was green."
Dwight: "Question: How many orange cones do you have?"
Kelly and Jim's heart-to-heart by the vending machine (when Jim didn't say anything)
Dwight: "I didn't take this job to make friends...and I HAVEN'T"

I'm sure I missed some...

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Dick and Jane" is not fun, "Shattered Glass" is.

  • "Fun with Dick and Jane"--Here's the thing: I'm not a big fan of Jim Carrey, and think that he's only made one movie where he didn't drive me nuts in at least one scene ("The Truman Show"). But even with my general apathy towards the actor, I don't think he's the one that ruins this movie. That honor goes to the director and screenwriters, who can't decide if this comedy is a broad and silly farce, a dark satire, or a sad commentary on our materialistic society. The result is a hodgepodge of semi-clever moments mixed in with some drastic tonal shifts that make it nearly impossible to decide if the Dick and Jane (Carrey and the always charming Tea Leoni) are the good or the bad guys. At one point, Dick and Jane go on a wild crime spree--robbing banks, convenience stores, etc.--so that they can keep their home and their big-screen TV. Who are they trying to get back at? These are our heroes?!?! When the final credits roll, the movie is mockingly dedicated to Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, etc. (of Enron fame), as if the sole purpose of the movie had been to expose insider trading (which it doesn't). To quote the always verbose Randy Jackson, this movie was just "aaaah-ayytt" for me. (** out of four)
  • "Shattered Glass"--Much better is this 2003 drama, starring Hayden Christensen (Darth Vader from the newer "Star Wars" movies) and Peter Sarsgaard (the air marshall from "Flightplan"). This little-seen indie depicts the real-life rise and fall of newswriter Stephen Glass (Christensen), who is suspected of having fabricated several of his stories for "The New Republic." The result is a splendid cautionary tale that is all the more fascinating because it is based on a true story. With the exception of a few whiny moments that are too reminiscent of "Episode II," Christensen gives a charismatic and convincing performance as a master storyteller. Much more interesting to watch, however, is Sarsgaard as the magazine's editor, who struggles to find the truth while walking the tight-rope of trust and integrity with Glass. Sarsgaard's performance is nuanced, believable, and fascinating to watch. Interesting as an inside look at print journalism, the movie is even more gripping as a commentary about the risks of telling little white lies, and the danger of trusting someone who is prone to share them. Though a little profane for my tastes, the movie is definitely worth a rent. (***1/2 out of four)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

TV Recap:

In a recent Entertainment Weekly article, Stephen King (a very clever pop-culture analyst) refers to himself as a "TV-whore." While I laughed at the shocking incoherence of the title (he's basically just saying he's become a couch potato), I can't help but join with him in praising the current state of network television. "24" has never been better (I'm just praying they don't botch the president-twist from last week), "Lost" has recaptured my imagination after a mid-season flashback funk, and "Gilmore Girls" returned from its 5 year hiatus with an episode that had me tearing up in laughter. If this is what being a couch potato is like, I hope they have this career path in heaven.

"Rumor Has It," "Howl's Moving Castle," "Cheaper by the Dozen 2"

Please excuse J-Dawg's lengthy hiatus, as I've been out of town this week. My trip did, however, allow me the chance to check out a couple of truly mediocre films, as well as a pretty fantastic one. Can you guess which of the three is the good one without looking at my reviews?

  • "Rumor Has It"--This quasi-romantic comedy has a really icky premise, one that pretty much ruins the movie: Jennifer Aniston plays a beautiful, slightly neurotic, commitment-phobe (haven't we seen her in this role before?) who discovers that her mother and grandmother slept with the same man years before. The charming lothario is played with some ease by Kevin Costner, who shows up and succeeds in seducing Aniston (Generation #3), in what is supposed to be a hilarious and touching coming-of-age film. There are a few things going for the movie: It has a great cast--in addition to Aniston and Costner, it also boasts Shirley Maclaine, Kathy Bates, and Mark Ruffalo (much more charming than in his last two generic boyfriend roles). It also had one brief sight gag midway through the movie that had me giggling. But that was about it, and one laugh does not a great romantic comedy make. This is especially disappointing coming from Rob Reiner, director of some true classics ("The Princess Bride," "A Few Good Men"). I fell asleep midway through the movie, and woke up just in time for the contrived and sappy ending. (*1/2 out of four)
  • "Cheaper by the Dozen 2"--Do I really need to say much about this one? If you've seen the first "Cheaper" or either of the "Father of the Bride" movies, you've seen this Steve Martin retread. Predictable, offensively trite, and just plain dumb: has Steve Martin stopped reading scripts altogether? And for crying out loud, aren't there any good comedies being made anymore?!?! (* out of four)
  • "Howl's Moving Castle"--This Japanese import is another bizarre delight from Hayao Miyazaki, creator of "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away." The visuals are imaginative, the animation is unique and breathtaking, and you'll never guess where his stories are going. If you've never seen one of Miyazaki's films, you might want to start with "Spirited Away" first, but if you're looking for something dazzling and refreshingly quirky, this fantasy is a great option. And even though Walt Disney Pictures is distributing this movie domestically, this is a far cry from "Lilo and Stitch".... (***1/2 out of four)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Harrison Ford isn't on fire...

Harrison Ford's latest, "Firewall," returns him to his trusty role of a likable, trusting family-man who gets into some really nasty trouble at the hands of some really nasty people. It's no different a character from those he has played in "The Devil's Own," "The Fugitive," "Clear and Present Danger," etc. In fact, when it comes right down to it, the plot oddly resembles his last big hit, 1997's "Air Force One." Here, instead of PotUS, Ford plays a healthy bank's CIO, whose family is ransomed by cyber-saavy bankrobbers (instead of terrorists) for access to the bank's biggest customers' accounts. Well, as you can imagine, there are lots and lots of coincidences that work in the bad guys' favor, as well as a few that work against them (how convenient that Harrison Ford's character gets a new trackable GPS-ish leash for their dog on the same day as the you think that will come up later in the movie?) The result is a predictible rehash of things we've seen Ford do in a dozen other movies.

Having said that, Harrison Ford is comfort food, and when we've seen him try to do other things ("What Lies Beneath"), it usually tastes like that dish you shouldn't have ordered instead of your traditional favorite--you always wish he'd stick with what works. (If only this one worked a little better...). The movie is harmless, has a few laughs, a few thrills, and lots of gratuitous shots of that new Chrysler. Won't be included on Harrison Ford's lifetime achievement award reel, but it might be worth a DVD rental, if only to remember the type of character we love him to play. (**1/2 out of four)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Walking the Line

Tonight was a perfect night. I cuddled up to my sweetheart under a blanket with a bowl of popcorn (air-popped of course) and watched a good movie in the dark. I can't think of very many things that I'd rather be doing.

The movie was "Walk the Line" with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Without having seen any of the other Oscar nominees, I can state with complete subjectivity that Joaquin was robbed. He was stunning as Johnny Cash--not only electric and emotional, but entertaining as well. That said, the Academy got it right by honoring Reese, who was the epitome of charm as June Carter. They were two of my favorite performances in a looong time, and made the movie completely convincing. I hope to get the soundtrack soon too--those two can sing!

The movie is yet another example of something that has become clearer and clearer to me as time goes on: behind every great man is an even greater woman. I don't condone some of Mr. Cash's actions, but found comfort that he finally achieved happiness and stability once he found himself with a woman who loved and supported him, even through his ugliest of days.

Wendy and I have one painting hanging on our wall at home; it's a print of James Christensen's "Poofy Guy on a Short Leash." It humorously depicts a stalwart-looking woman keeping a, well, poofy guy grounded, who otherwise would fly away without direction or boundaries. Anyone who knows me knows why the painting hangs in our home. I guess that's one thing I have in common with Johnny Cash: we both ended up with our June Carter.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pride and a bit of Prejudice

At the risk of offending my massive reader-base, I feel I must confess my thoughts upon finishing the book "Pride and Prejudice" (here only three weeks after book club...): Overall, I admired the book; the prose is beautiful and witty, several of the characters are unique and memorable, and there are some genuinely poignant moments.

That said, I have to admit that I do not find myself on the list of Austen fanatics that will quote this book--or even really remember it--a few years down the road. Part of the problem may be that I allowed myself to read it over too long a period of time (2 months I think), which gave the lengthy book an even longer feel. Another challenge is the book's British origins; sometimes the writing was just a little too fancy for my simple mind. (As an English major, I should probably disclose that I much preferred American literature to British, so take my comments with a grain of salt.)

Reading "Pride and Prejudice" was a pleasant experience--a clever study of human nature and communication--and I'm happy that I got through it. Time will tell if it grows "more dear" to me, but for now, I'll settle on the 2 hour DVD version (no thanks on the A&E marathon...) if anyone in my house needs a quick-fix of Jane Austen. In the meantime, I'm excited about this month's American book: "Cold Sassy Tree."

Monday, March 06, 2006

Brand new X-Men 3 Trailer!

Special thanks to recently alive Jack Bauer for giving us our first look at the new X-Men 3 trailer. Fortunately for us, the only thing more exciting than the trailer itself was the episode of "24" that it appeared during (have fun with that sentence, grammarians). For those of you that haven't gotten hooked on "24," you're missing out!

Anyway, here's the link to the new trailer:

It looks pretty good, considering a new director and writers. Can't wait for that summer movie season to start kicking into high gear...
Oscar thoughts

With no Oscar Party to keep me entertained, I quickly remembered why I started holding an Oscar Party in the first place...the show is surprisingly dull for about 75% of the time. The clips are too long, most of the awards are uninteresting, and the "banter" is awkward and forced. Last night's show, in particular, had a few particularly puzzling elements: What was with the band playing through the winners' speeches? And why oh why do they ask senile old screen legends (like Lauren Bacall) to give stilted old speeches that are impossible to read without bifocles? Did the show's producers learn nothing from Elizabeth Taylor's embarrassing "Glaaaadiator" debacle at the Golden Globes a few years back?

That said, there were a few bright spots from last night's show. Reese Witherspoon's win was as welcome as her acceptance speech was cheery. I also enjoyed Jon Stewart overall. And I could actually hear the collective gasp when "Crash" won the Best Picture award, stealing the thunder away from "Brokeback Mountain." Oscar surprises are so rare; it was fitting that the best surprise of all was reserved for the end of the show.

As predicted, however, this year's telecast was the 2nd least-watched Academy Awards ceremony since 1974. Cry as he might, George Clooney just doesn't get that Hollywood really is out of touch with the rest of the country. Here's hoping that next year's awards will give us something to cheer about.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"The Island" and "Zathura" DVD reviews

Wendy and I caught up on another couple of DVDs last weekend, and surprisingly, neither of them was half bad.
  • "The Island"--This was a decent sci-fi action movie/mystery with just enough big chase scenes and mystery to keep the story going for most of the movie. Ewan McGregor doesn't really seem like the ideal action hero, and Scarlett Johansson is bland as usual, but the premise itself is just intriguing enough to allow us to forgive the plotholes and casting mistakes, at least for a while. Sort of a bigger-budget cousin of "Gattaca"--a high concept fantasy that works most of the time. (*** out of four)
  • "Zathura"--The studio tried to get some real leverage out of the inevitable "Jumanji" comparisons, but for once, I think the advertising hit it right on the head: "Zathura" really is just "Jumanji" in space. That can be a blessing or a curse, but this movie never pretends to be anything different, and as long as you go into it thinking that it's going to be all about a magical board game that causes things to come to life, you'll enjoy yourself. The acting is decent--especially by the youngest of the two brothers, who is adorable--and the movie has a pro-family (especially pro-brothers) theme to it. The special effects are impressive, there is plenty of humor mixed in with the action, and there is a happy (if not entirely logical) ending to wrap up all the mayhem in the middle. A decent 90 minute diversion that is appropriate for most of the family (might be a little intense for younger kids). (*** out of four)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Oscar memories...

I suppose I should probably discuss something that hasn't been nearly as engaging for me as it has in year's past: The Oscars. It seems like every other year has at least had one major nominee that I wanted to root for, including three years of "Lord of the Rings" love. But this year, for the first time in a while, not only have I not seen a single nominee for Best Picture, I have almost no desire to see any of them. That apathy towards the nominees has carried over into my favorite element of the Oscar season...the Oscar Party, which will not take place for the first time in five years. But instead of whining over how corrupt and political Hollywood is, I'd rather reflect on some pleasant Oscar memories of years gone by....

I can't really explain my interest in the Academy Awards--it probably dates back to the year when "Beauty and the Beast" was nominated for Best Picture, and I hoped in vain that it would beat out "The Silence of the Lambs." While I was a teenager, it seemed like the hometeachers always wanted to come on Oscar night, and since the internet and Tivo were still brewing in Al Gore's imagination, I was forced to tape the ceremony and try to catch up what I missed during the commercial breaks.

My first "Oscar Party" took place back in 2001, when my invitees included me, my brother Jon (more interested in his popcorn), and Lindsay Arnett. It was a wild party, and we were sad when our favorite nominee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") had to settle for Best Foreign Film rather than Best Picture (no thanks to "Gladiator"). Lindsay and I sat on my parents' floor downstairs and marked our guesses along with the winners. I can't remember who won, but I know it wasn't Devry....

The following year was a banner year for the Oscar Party: it marked the first year when our guests necessitated a move upstairs where there was more room for visiting, predicting, and watching Devry sweep the game (which she did for the next three years...). Sometimes the party included special visits from Legolas and Gimli, and always included lots of food. They were probably more fun for me to host than for people to attend, but everyone was a good sport and occasionally won a prize (if Devry didn't show up).

I can't say I've ever agreed with a majority of Oscar nominees/winners--so often the Academy honors the political choices (this year being a perfect example) over the actual best films. But yes, I will still be watching, and will still be making predictions as to who I think will win the awards. It will be interesting to see which movies win this year, although I expect that some friendly cowboys and bigmouthed celebrity activists will probably run away with the biggies. So on Sunday when George Clooney decries the war in Iraq and Heath Ledger talks about how stupid Mormons are, we can curse our TVs in the privacy of our own homes and laugh the following day when we find that this year's Oscar telecast was the least watched in recent history. Here's hoping at least...until then, we have one more year to brush up our skills before we're back in competition with Devry all over again.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cowboys, elves, and dogs, oh my!

And on to the movies...I think that maybe it's time for a quick note about some movies Wendy and I checked out on DVD recently:

  • "Elizabethtown": I can't blame this "fiasco" on Orlando Bloom, since the handsome elf gave it his best (and made us forget, temporarily, that he's not American). Kirsten Dunst adopts a southern accent, and occasionally remembers to stick to it from one scene to the next. She plays a character who is so annoyingly bubbly and ambitious that she actually causes motion sickness in anyone who watches her. But the biggest blame belongs with director Cameron Crowe--so spot-on with his "Jerry Macquire"--who can't seem to decide on a focus for this comedy-drama-romance-roadtrip-family-tragedy-coming-of-age two-hour snoozer. (** out of four)
  • "Must Love Dogs"--Must not see. Bad jokes, bad acting, bad script, no chemistry between leads, and one of the most awkward and contrived car-chase scenes ever captured on film. (*1/2 out of four)
  • "Serenity"--Wendy and I actually enjoyed this sci-fi adventure, once we figured out that the characters were talking like cowboys for a reason. I know, it sounds strange--people on spaceships talking like cowboys. That said, it was also pretty clever, thrilling, and actually made us interested in the cancelled TV show that it is based on ("Firefly"). Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night, especially if you are not allergic to sci-fi. (*** out of four)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

For my first blog posting, I think it is appropriate to honor the television shows that have brought me so much joy over the past several months. These are the shows that are making me seriously consider an investment in Tivo, in no particular order (here come the bullets...):

  • "24"--What can I say about Jack Bauer, Chloe, Rudy Rutiger, and terrorists? That they give us an automatic FHE activity, and make our own jobs seem like a breeze. I'm not saying I wouldn't like to do a commando-roll from time to time, though...
  • "Lost"--Our most fascinating and frustrating addiction. And will they ever run out of deodorant? For everyone's sake I hope their next discovery is a boatload of Right Guard.
  • "The Office"--the best pseudo-documentary this side of Blaine, Missouri.
  • "The Amazing Race"--counting down the days until my next trip around the world.
  • "Gilmore Girls"--if anyone can find a more charming TV character than Lorelai Gilmore, I'd like to know about it. She's equally witty and silly, vulnerable and tough. And can anyone watch that annoying theme-song intro without giggling at the little dance she does?

Did I miss any Tivo-worthy shows?