Movies Archive

Pilgrim....

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Back in 1971, my dad took me to see the only John Wayne movie I remember seeing in a movie theater — Big Jake. A few scenes from the movie have stuck with me through the years:

  • the posse making its way through the countryside in automobiles, with Jake McCandles' son on a motorcycle in lieu of a horse;
  • the shower/shotgun scene;
  • the revelation of the contents of the strong box.

Certain visuals are bound to make lasting impressions, but over the years I've had equally strong recollections of what are likely to be the two most quotable bits of dialogue. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the history of American film ought to recognize:

John Fain (the villain): I thought you were dead.
Jacob 'Big Jake' McCandles: Not hardly.

Not just Fain; virtually every character in the movie says the same thing to McCandles.

And then, of course, there's the most famous line in the film:

McCandles to Fain: And now you understand. Anything goes wrong, anything at all... your fault, my fault, nobody's fault... it won't matter - I'm gonna blow your head off. No matter what else happens, no matter who gets killed, I'm gonna blow your head off.

For many years, I couldn't quote that verbatim, but I never forgot it. When I bought my first VCR at the PX in Korea in 1988, Big Jake was one of the first tapes I bought to go with it.

If you haven't seen a John Wayne movie in a while, or haven't seen much of his later work, you wouldn't go far wrong with Big Jake.


This came to mind this morning as I watched McLintock! instead of sleeping, while waiting for an early morning visit from the Air Conditioning Fairy repair guy. Another great Wayne movie, definitely lighter fare, with the added bonus of the always gorgeous Maureen O'Hara.

And of course, it's eminently quotable.

G. W. McLintock: I haven't lost my temper in forty years, but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed... and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't, I won't. The hell I won't!
[Proceeds to belt "pilgrim" in the mouth.]

John Wayne was the best.

Quick Netflix Review

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Moon (2009)
Written and directed by Duncan Jones. Starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey.

Quick review: After Galaxy Quest, would you ever, I mean ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine Sam Rockwell was that good an actor?

I wouldn't have.

I know different now.

4½ stars


Seriously good movie — the kind that can make the career of a writer, director, or actor.

I think I've brought it up before, but if you haven't seen the greatest movie review ever done, I most highly recommend the seven-part brutally funny takedown of George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace.

"Brutal" is an understatement.

"Funny" doesn't come close to describing it.

And Language Warning should not be ignored by the sensitive.

Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7


While scanning channels yesterday, I noticed that the movie was airing on basic cable, so on a lark I recorded it, and watched it after work.

Wow.

It had been several years since I'd seen it. Holy cow, it really is awful. The creator of the above review could easily have gone another hour shredding the idiocy of the script (written by an eight-year-old, indeed) characters and action ("Infantry tactics? Never heard of them.") not to mention some of the ludicrous design elements. I literally laughed out loud at some of the inane things gracing the screen that hadn't been detailed in the review.

Two words: Midichlorian conception.

Fortunately, my time wasn't completely wasted. I spent the duration of the movie working on my ship model and making good progress at it; details soon.

Do be sure to watch the review above in its entirety, all seven parts. Set aside a hour or so — it'll be worth the time.

You'll never again be able to watch the movie without thinking "What is wrong with your face?"

Quick Netflix Review

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
(Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Sasha Baron Cohen, etc.)

Quick review: I knew it was going to be "dark," but... ho... ly... crap.

3½ stars


Depp, as always, impresses.

This is the sort of movie that, in a cultural literacy sense, everyone probably ought to be familiar with, to some degree, but I don't think I'm going to be watching it again. Ever. I'm not one for a lot of blood and gore on screen.

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.*

Opening in theaters this weekend: 2012

The movie postulates that Mayan predictions of the end of the world — their calendar ends in December, 2012 — are accurate. It apparently has to do with planetary alignments and some such rot — never mind that there's no actual evidence for any of those claims.

Nevertheless, a special effects extravaganza ensues.

Well, here are my predictions:

1) The movie will suck like a fusion-powered Electrolux.

2) Nevertheless, it'll make approximately 17 trillion dollars.

and the big one:

3) The world won't end in 2012.

I know for a fact that the world will end on December 31 of this year. That's when this calendar I have right here ends, so it has to be true.

Right?

Right.

Quick Netflix Review

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Knowing
(Directed by Alex Proyas, starring Nicholas Cage and a bunch of other people I never heard of.)

Quick review: 50 years advance knowledge, and the best they can do is whisper in a few kids' ears? Aliens are major league a-holes.

1½ stars


Once again, I am underwhelmed.

I'm really trying, and I can think of only two Nicholas Cage movies — Con Air and National Treasure — that I finished without wondering how to get back those two hours of my life.

Evilspeak

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Years ago, immediately after I'd graduated from high school, I was an extra in an eminently forgettable movie. It was being filmed in my hometown, and they needed people who knew how to march and wear uniforms, so they approached our JROTC department and asked for volunteers.

Having nothing better to do, I and some of my fellow cadets signed on. It was interesting to see the "behind the scenes" working of a movie location shoot, and we all pocketed a few dollars for mostly sitting around and waiting.

But no, I never saw the movie; I heard it was really truly awful. I have no idea if I ever got any screen time.

Oh, you want to know the name of the movie? "Evilspeak."


Forward to today. The excruciatingly tedious Senator Harry Reid has described vocal town hall protesters as "evil-mongers."

Pelosi earlier this week called protesters un-American.

Not to point out the obvious, but it takes one to know one.

I used to subscribe to the notion that one should never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity. Now, I'm not so sure. I sense malice galore — malice towards and hatred of the principles on which this nation was built, the fundamentals which made this country what Lincoln rightly and presciently described as the "last best hope of earth."

Just how morally bankrupt does one have to be to suggest that people talking — or shouting, even — at their elected representatives is evil or un-American? Particularly when the one making the suggestion is one of those public servants?

Reid and Pelosi need to be reminded that they work for the people. (Given recent poll numbers, though, I suspect Reid won't be representing Nevada much longer.) They are employees, not our rulers. And they seem to have a moral blind spot you could drive a Peterbilt truck through.

Speaking up to your representatives is neither evil nor un-American.

Sending thugs to silence dissenting opinions is evil and un-American.

Forcing people into a medical care rationing system they neither need nor want is evil.

Denying people the opportunity to seek medical care because "it isn't worth it" is evil.

Lying about the content and effect of bills that you are trying to enact into law — that's evil and un-American.

Chattel slavery — the worst evil of the 19th century.

Statism — the worst evil of the 20th century.

And yet what Reid, Pelosi and Obama and their cohorts continue to press for is nothing less than the enslavement of the entirety of the population to the will and the whim of the State. The mere fact that this is now the 21st century changes the equation not one whit.

They call it "reform," an effort at equality, and a way to address social ills, but the equality one has under the yoke of the State is still slavery. And that is evil.

As, I believe, are its primary advocates — nothing more, nothing less. I ascribe no positive motives to any of them. Mere stupidity can explain some peoples' willingness to "sign on" to the program, but it very definitely cannot explain the depth and breadth of what the leaders of that movement are attempting to do to our health care system, to our economy, and to our liberty.

It is evil, and un-American.


Update: Please, flag me. I insist.

Quick Movie Review

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Star Trek
Directed by J. J. Abrams, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, and Simon Pegg

Quick review: Don't blink, or you'll miss the part where Kirk graduates from the academy, is commissioned an Ensign, is promoted up through the ranks while demonstrating his leadership skills and character, until through great talent and merit he finally achieves the exalted rank of Captain and earns command of the newest, finest ship in Star Fleet.

I blinked.

4 stars


Actually, if you ignore the unusual path Kirk took to the command chair, it wasn't horrible.

A long-standing complaint I have with modern CGI effects is true in this film: they try to put way too much into each frame of film, moving way too fast, such that it can be difficult to tell just what is happening in the effects shots.

The casting, by the way, was superb. I didn't like every little bit the director/writers had them do or say, but on the whole the cast performed admirably.

Update: Lileks reviews it well.

I may be a geek, but I've never been a comic book geek, either as a kid, or since.

Once, though, while in the throes of boredom between trips up to the DMZ during my service in Korea, I borrowed a friend's copy of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I'd never heard the expression "graphic novel" before; I thought it was just a bigger-than-usual comic book, but I was quickly corrected, and was convinced to give it a look. I was impressed. This was no mere kid's comic book, and it helped set the tone for the Batman film which followed not too long after.

I really was impressed, but not enough to get me into the genre as a whole.

Fast-forward to the present. It's been 20 years, and exactly one other graphic novel has joined the ranks of the hundreds of books I have owned and read: Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons.

I was drawn to Watchmen by its inclusion on someone's list of 100 great works of English literature; I saw it referred to, looked it up, and had my curiosity piqued enough to buy a copy. There's no way I can describe it and do it justice, except to say I was far more impressed than I remember being by The Dark Knight Returns.

And now, 14 years after the book was published, there's a Watchmen film, which opens today. I'm working, of course, so I won't be able to go see it until Monday — but see it I will. I don't get out to see movies all too often (the last was the eminently regrettable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) but sometimes something comes along that makes the sheer physical hassle worthwhile.

I hope the film does the book justice.

Big Hollywood

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Despite what you may have thought, Movies Are Your Best Entertainment Value. Just ask Iowahawk, writing at Big Hollywood.

I haven't seen any numbers, but I'm willing to wager that the biggest hits of 2008 were decidedly not anti-American/anti-military, while the biggest flops were.


OK, I did a bit of googling. "Space Chimps" brought in about three times the box office that "Stop-Loss" pulled. Heh.

Quick Movie Review

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Hot Fuzz
(Directed by Edgar Wright, starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton — rated R for language and graphic violence.)

Quick review: Small-town life is so much better without all the murders... but nowhere near as entertaining.

4½ stars


This is a fun one; I'm glad I put it in my Netflix queue.

Most Americans who know of Simon Pegg only know him from Shaun of the Dead, another gruesomely funny movie, but those of us who occasionally see BBC America's "Britcoms" will also remember him from the hilarious (and tragically short-lived) series "Big Train", as well as a variety of smaller roles.

He and the rest of the cast very ably inject comedy into what could have been played straight as a crime thriller. Very well done.

Quick Movie Review

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett)

Quick review: Commies. I hate those guys.

Quick *spoiler* review: E.T., phone Jones. (click and drag to highlight.)

3½ stars


Again I have ventured forth to the theater, and again, I enjoyed getting out. I give this one three and a half out of five stars.

(I'd rate Raiders as a 5, Temple of Doom at 2.5, and Last Crusade as 4, maybe 4.5.)

Additional:

The premise of the film (the "Crystal Skull" part, not the "nearing-retirement Indy" part) was pretty unusual, but if you're willing to dismiss the silliness and just enjoy it as popcorn fodder, you won't be disappointed with how it goes, though I thought the end and epilogue were a bit weak and/or contrived.

Karen Allen's return serves to remind us that Indy's other romantic interests pale in comparison to Marion Ravenwood.

Shia LaBeouf didn't completely suck. Color me moderately surprised.

20 years from now, Indiana Jones and the Adventure of the Golden Bedpan would probably get me out to the theater.

Quick Movie Review

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Urgh: A Music War (1981)
(Directed by Derek Burbidge)

Some "music war." If only there had been some casualties. I was hoping for an airstrike.

"Codswallop" might be too polite a term for this collection of mostly awful tripe.

½ star


The "film" consists of live New Wave and Punk performances by various — and I use this term in its broadest possible sense — "artists."

This isn't film, it's the early-80s equivalent of a modern concert-goer with a cell-phone video camera posting a low-res video to YouTube.

You have a better chance of making a good film if a random person in the street bumps into you, says "here, hold this camera," and proceeds to do a song and dance number. In fact, a much better chance.

The first number, The Police performing "Driven to Tears," is pretty good. It goes pretty steadily downhill from there, with one or two bumps, until the two closing numbers, "Roxanne" and "So Lonely," also by The Police.

The half-star rating is solely for the presence of The Police... but even they aren't good enough to salvage this train wreck and pull the rating higher.

Quick Movie Review

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Iron Man
(Directed by Jon Favreau, starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard)

Wait... terrorists and their enablers, and not the US military, are the bad guys? I can't imagine why anyone would like this.

(Hollywood lefties, are you taking notes?)

4½ stars


So, yesterday I did something I haven't been able to do in over a year: I went and sat in a theater to watch a movie.

It's been a long time since I've seen a movie that I wished hadn't ended so soon. I could have sat through two more hours.

If all of Downey's past problems had happened for the sole purpose of bringing him to the point of making this movie, then they were worth it. He's absolutely superb in the role.

Paltrow is gorgeous, in a smokin' hot librarian sort of way.

Be sure to sit all the way through the credits.

I'm glad I went, and though there are few things as pathetic as going to the movies alone, I'll continue doing so, as long as there's decent fare... which, given the tidal wave of sheer crap coming out of the movie studios these days, it might be another two years before I'm willing to sit in a theater again. I hope not, though — it's good to get out of the house.

Film legend and past NRA president Charlton Heston has died.

Though he was best known for his iconic roles in such films as Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments and Planet of the Apes, the lesser-known El Cid, in which he plays the part of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar during the Reconquista, has always vied for the honor of being my favorite Heston film.

I can't imagine Hollywood these days making an epic-scale movie about a hero fighting the Muslims. Pity. If you haven't seen El Cid, rent it. Heston is great, and Sophia Loren provides some tasty eye-candy.

One day back in the early '80s, while I was home on a break from college, our family got dressed up "spiffy casual" and drove down to L.A. to see a show. We'd done so many times previously, and this particular time we were off to see "Nicholas Nickleby."

I remember nothing about the play itself... but I remember that the Hestons were sitting in front of us, and I remember that Mr. Heston was very gracious to those few people who dared to approach him.

He was a legend, while pretty much all we have these days are over-hyped "stars." They don't make many like Heston any more.

Quick Movie Review

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300
(Directed by Zack Snyder, starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham and Dominic West)

Official tagline: Prepare for glory!

Better tagline: Putting the 'graphic' in 'graphic novel.'

4 Stars

Movie Q&A

Yips (or would that be orgle-orgles?) go to Robert at Llamabutchers for this one.

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.

The entirety of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

2. Name a movie that you've seen multiple times in the theater.

Each of the Star Wars trilogy. Many times each.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.

Tom Hanks. Seems like a decent likeable guy.

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.

Sean Penn. I would pay money to not see him, in anything, ever.

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.

Three come to mind immediately: The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, and of course Caddyshack.

6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. At least, I used to know all the lyrics... it's been a while since I've seen it.

7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with.

Man of La Mancha. I don't know it all, and I sing rather less well than Peter O'Toole's voice double did. But it's an absolutely terrific musical.

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go,
To right the unrightable wrong,
To love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star.

This is my quest, to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
To fight for the right, without question or pause.
To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause.

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable star.

I don't know how anyone with a backbone can listen to that song and not get a lump in his throat.

Go ahead, call me quixotic. It is a label I would bear proudly.

8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.

Master & Commander - The Far Side Of The World. Most highly rated.

9. Name a movie that you own.

Many many many, so let's go for obscurity here: Crazy Moon.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.

After seeing Invincible, I would say Mark Wahlberg meets the criteria for this category.

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?

Not terribly many. The last was Red Dawn.

I'd like to see drive-ins make a comeback, but let's face it: cars aren't as comfortable as they used to be, and bratty teenagers are noisier and more disruptive now than they ever used to be.

12. Ever made out in a movie?

In a movie? No. At a movie? Well, ya, of course... but not lately.

13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven't yet gotten around to it.

Yojimbo. I've seen a lot of Kurosawa's films (own a number on DVD, even) but I've never gotten around to seeing this one.

14. Ever walked out of a movie?

Not that I can remember. It would have to have been a truly awful movie, and I try to steer clear of anything with even a hint of stink.

15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.

The cemetery scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan. It just kills me.

16. Popcorn?

Butter and salt.

17. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?

Once, maybe twice a year. It's got to be something I'm reasonably sure I'll like, and it has to be the kind of visual spectacle that warrants schlepping to the theater... which, for me, is pretty rare.

18. What's the last movie you saw in the theater?

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest. That definitely warranted a trip to the theater.

19. What's your favorite/preferred genre of movie?

Science fiction, comedy, mystery.

20. What's the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was The Sound of Music. I even remember the theater — thirty years later, I saw Independence Day in the same theater in San Jose. It must have been a re-release, though, because I was only three years old when it was first released, and I'm pretty sure I was older than that when I saw it; I remember it too well, and I haven't seen the whole thing again since then.

I believe I saw my very first movie at a drive-in. When I was six years old when the folks bundled us kids into the back of the '67 Ford Galaxie station wagon so they could go see Planet of the Apes. It was another 10 years before I saw the whole movie again... and I remembered a goodly portion of it.

21. What movie do you wish you had never seen?

Star Trek - The Motion Picture. It was utterly awful, though it did have the sole redeeming virtue of enabling the subsequent making of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the best of all the Trek movies.

22. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

Nacho Libre. Went to see it with my sister-in-law, niece and nephew. Though unusual, it turned out to be pretty good family fare.

23. What is the scariest movie you've seen?

Alien. It still completely creeps me out.

24. What is the funniest movie you've seen?

Tied: Return of the Pink Panther, and Team America - World Police.

The former makes me a connoisseur of comedy.

The latter makes me a bad, bad man.

Quick Movie Review

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Open Range
(Directed by Kevin Costner, starring Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening)

People looking to criticize Costner's acting or directing will have to find a different movie to justify their criticism. This one is good.

Not that there aren't plenty of bad movies from which to choose.

[By the way, Open Range has one of the best western gunfights ever set to film, and it's playing all this month on AMC. Be sure to see it.]

4½ Stars

Quick Movie Review

Flightplan
(Directed by Robert Schwentke, starring Jodie Foster, Sean Bean and Peter Sarsgaard)

The absence of evidence that you are sane is not proof that you're crazy... but it's understandable if people take it that way.

4 Stars

Quick Movie Review

Cast Away
(Directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt)

Lesson learned: never travel without a solar-powered satellite phone in your pocket.

4½ Stars

Quick Movie Review

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Invincible
(Directed by Ericson Core, starring Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks and Kevin Conway)

Think "Rudy turns pro."

Good football/underdog/inspirational/true-story movie, excellent family fare.

4 Stars

Quick Movie Review

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Old School
(Directed by Todd Phillips, starring Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn)

The world needed a definitive "old people acting like college students" movie.

This ain't it.

Back to School, on the other hand, is.

Wilson, Ferrell and Vaughn couldn't have carried Rodney Dangerfield's jock.

1½ Stars

Band of Brothers

Today is St. Crispin's Day.

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd. . . .

Go see the Greatest Speech Ever, and more, at the Llamabutchers.

Object Lesson

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Part 1 of ABC's docudrama The Path to 9/11 airs tonight and, as Tigerhawk points out (h/t: Prof R) due to the Democrats' incessant blathering in every available media outlet about the unfairness of it all, it'll likely have a significantly larger audience than it would have, had the community of Clinton defenders simply pretended the miniseries didn't exist.

No one I know of is claiming that the miniseries is completely accurate, any more than The Longest Day was a 100% completely faithful account of the D-Day landings — but that movie is still a good way to learn about the Normandy invasion.

Perhaps this can be an object lesson for the Left on the difference between "reality" and "reality-based."

Quick Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
(Directed by Gore Verbinski, starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley, with Billy Nighy as Davy Jones)

Wow. That's put me right off seafood.

4½ Stars

One Good Scratch Deserves Another!

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back near the litterbox...

PAWS 2

Coming sooner than you think.

Another* Mycah the Cat production.


Don't miss the Friday Ark at the Modulator, or the Carnival of the Cats, coming Sunday to For The Junta.

Coming to a Movie Theater Near You


Mycah the Cat presents:

The terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller.

PAWS

Don't go near the litterbox.



Don't miss the Friday Ark at the Modulator, or the Carnival of the Cats, coming Sunday to Music and Cats.

Quick Movie Review

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Big Night (1996)
(Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, starring Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm, Minnie Driver and Isabella Rossellini)

Timpano? Wow. I have got to find a good Italian restaurant.

5 Stars

Not Soon Enough

I'm planning to go see United 93 as soon as I can. I have no doubt that I'll be a wreck afterwards — I already find my heart leaping into my throat when, in the TV ads, I see the passengers rushing into the aisle to begin their charge.

Some people say they're "over it." Others say it's too soon for a film about the attacks of 9/11.

Well, I'm not "over it," I'll never be "over it." The majority of America isn't "over it." And a film of this sort is long overdue.

I am reminded of the 1942 film Wake Island, released less than a year after the valiant but doomed struggle of a Marine battalion, abandoned to their fate because of the inability of the Navy to reinforce or withdraw them. (The cold calculus of war dictated that a battalion of Marines was not worth the risk of losing two aircraft carriers in the weeks following Pearl Harbor; strategically, it was the right choice, but I'm glad it wasn't me that had to make that awful decision.)

In 1942, no one had the complete story of what had happened at the end, only radio reports. The garrison and the island were lost. The film was made anyway — indeed, work on it began before the battle was over — and can rightfully be called a masterpiece of wartime filmmaking.

60+ years later, the story of Flight 93 is much the same as that of Wake Island. We have the cell phone calls, we have the cockpit voice recordings, and from them we can make a good guess what happened on the flight. But we know the result: free Americans stood and fought, and though they lost their lives, they prevented a much greater tragedy. Their efforts and sacrifice must not be forgotten.

In a different time, a film memorializing them would have been in progress before the end of the year. In that different time, Hollywood was on our side.

Varifrank has a terrific piece about his plans to go to see United 93, about survivor's guilt, and about supporting the making of the film.

(via Tanker at Mostly Cajun.)

(Reviews and more from Hot Air.)

Quick Movie Review

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Phantom of the Opera (2004)
(Directed by Joel Schumacher, starring Gerard Butler as The Phantom, Emmy Rossum as Christine, Patrick Wilson as Raoul)

I really identified with the Phantom. Almost completely.

Except for being French.

And all the singing and strangling, of course.

5 Stars.

One-Hit Oneders

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Suppose you're a young but solidly established — indeed, award-winning — star in Hollywood who, as many actors are wont to do, would like to direct movies yourself. You have a few TV projects under your belt, but the silver screen is where you'd like to go next. What would you pick for your first film project?

An edgy thriller? A schmaltzy romance? A crime drama? When Tom Hanks directed his first film, we can all be glad it was none of the those, but rather a tribute to the spirit of a time when no dream seemed unattainable.

1996's That Thing You Do! will not go down in history as a great film, but it deserves to be remembered as a good one — a simple tale told in a straightforward and engaging way, about people just like people we all know, getting a shot at greatness.

In short: an early-60s going-nowhere garage band makes a change, which leads to their song becoming a hit locally, and then nationally. The film follows The Oneders from their humble beginnings in Erie, PA to their peak of success as The Wonders and thence to their ultimate destiny as a group and as individuals.

This isn't High Art, folks — just the telling of a story. The characters make mistakes big and small, achieve successes big and small, and are variously cruel and kind. You know — just like real people.

Unlike much of real life, however, this movie is almost entirely suitable for family viewing. Very little bad language — none "blue" that I can recall — and no sex or drugs, despite the rock-and-roll.

There's drama, albeit not terribly heavy. This isn't a film that requires deep thought; you might be disappointed to find that the most profound point of the movie is that sometimes people use other people for their own ends. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much like real life.

There's a fair amount of humor as well (much of it inspired by the bands poor initial choice of a name) but it goes by so quickly that it seems to have been included in the movie in order to set a general light-hearted tone rather than to inspire laughs... but I laughed often enough to want to see it over and over.

This is a movie that is simply made to be enjoyed for itself, and I certainly did.

Some notes:

* Tom Hanks, fresh from Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, is the big name on the playbill, but he's not the lead. The part of Mr. White, the agent, could have been filled by many people. Hanks works so well in the role because when the character has anything to say, you have to pay attention to him — his interjections are often important to understanding where the movie is going.

* The cast rehearsed as a band for weeks before performing on film, though most (if not all) of their performances were dubbed. Nonetheless, the members of the band clearly loved what they were doing. I suppose it could have been good acting, but I don't think anyone is that good an actor. Seeing the band onstage in their suits, singing and playing their hearts out, the one emotion that came through clearly to me was Joy.

* I don't imagine the big record labels are much different today than they were in 1964, in the way they treat people.

* Liv Tyler's role as Faye could have been played up a bit more, but she made good use of the part. There was one point at which Faye becomes ill, and I expected there to be a hard choice to be made along the lines of "if you stick by your girlfriend and get sick yourself, you risk your career." The setup was there, but the script took a different direction. Tyler, however, did a rather good job for an 18-year-old. Oh, and yeah — she's totally cute in the part.

* Charlize Theron made one of her first appearances in this film. Brief, and ultimately forgettable.

* The four main cast members have all been working steadily since TTYD, but I don't think I've ever seen any of their other films. Sahara, which co-stars Steve Zahn (guitarist Lenny), is in my NetFlix queue.

* One of the main reasons I wanted to see this film was for the music. I enjoy early-60s music, and got quite a good dose of it in the movie. That none (or very little) of it is authentic product of the 1960s is of little consequence to me. Good is good.

* I wonder if the cast might have thought they were being set up to be a retro version of The Monkees?

* The DVD is nearly devoid of extra features, though it does include music videos for the title song and a second Wonders song, Dance With Me Tonight. Both are quite enjoyable.

* The title song, had it been written and performed by an actual 1964 band, could indeed have propelled that band to stardom. It's catchy, memorable, and tight — not a wasted note. Funnily enough, the song did indeed propel a band to a certain degree of stardom, more about which later.

I enjoyed That Thing You Do! quite a bit, and though it is not going to go down in film history as a classic, Tom Hanks nevertheless deserves credit for directing this little gem. I highly recommend this movie as an addition to your rental queue or even to your DVD library.

Reviews and Recommendations

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[Updated and revised.]

One thing those of you who have read my occasional TV, DVD, movie or music reviews might have noticed is that I don't do in-depth reviews of anything after viewing or listening just once. Usually, that's because I don't partake in entertainment in order to write a review. I simply try to enjoy it.

Add to that the fact that I rarely actually go to the movies, and I don't buy, willy-nilly, every CD that comes out, nor do I watch the "popular" TV shows. Most of them are utter dreck. (Well, I do watch NCIS and CSI and its variants. Good stuff, but I don't ever expect to write reviews of them.)

Nonetheless, there is quality entertainment to be had. One aspect of quality, per se, is the ability to stand the test of time. Perhaps that's why the CDs I occasionally buy were usually released a few years before I buy them.

Sometimes, however, the label "instant classic" really does apply. Something need not be twenty or more years old to have demonstrated qualities that will let it hold its own in the future. By way of example, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which is now just two years old, is one such film. I recommended it here, and received some very good feedback. It is, I think, a film that will be eminently watchable for generations to come.

So if you see an in-depth review of mine, it will probably not be something that aired on TV last night, it probably won't be something you can still go see in the theaters, and it probably will not be something currently on the Billboard top-100 list. Probably not.

Furthermore, I don't intend to review too many things I would not recommend. My time is too valuable to me to waste becoming familiar enough with something I don't like, just to write a full review. If there's something don't like, I'll say so and move along.

Rather, I intend my reviews to be justifications for my recommendations. (Again, refer to M&C.) If I recommend something, you can be sure I either already own it, or it's in my shopping basket — putting my money where my mouth is, you might say.

All that having been said, I expect my next reviews to be of the 1996 movie That Thing You Do! and the CD Welcome Interstate Managers from 2003. Both, as you might expect, will be recommended.

Sci Fi Movie Meme

Via the Llama Butchers (Rob, in particular) we have the latest "list of things I've read, heard, eaten, done, or seen."

This time around, it's Sci-Fi movies.

Actually, with a list like this, it'll be easier to cross off the ones I haven't seen. I've bolded the ones I own on video.

* The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! — one of my all-time favorites; vastly underrated. "Laugh while you can, monkey-boy."
* Akira
* Alien
* Aliens — Best action/adventure sci-fi film ever. "We'd better get back, 'cause it'll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night... mostly."
* Alphaville
* Back to the Future
* Blade Runner — My brain hurts after I watch this... but it's not a bad sort of hurt. "It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?"
* Brazil
* Bride of Frankenstein
* Brother From Another Planet
* A Clockwork Orange
* Close Encounters of the Third Kind
* Contact — "I... had an experience."
* The Damned
* Destination Moon
* The Day The Earth Stood Still
* Delicatessen
* Escape From New York
* ET: The Extraterrestrial
* Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
* The Fly (1985 version)
* Forbidden Planet
* Ghost in the Shell
* Gojira/Godzilla — "Ogata, humans are weak animals." Weak, yes, but they make excellent kindling.
* The Incredibles
* Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
* Jurassic Park
* Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
* The Matrix — "What is real? How do you define real?"
* Metropolis — ". . . ." (Hey, what do you expect? It's a silent movie.)
* On the Beach
* Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
* Robocop
* Sleeper
* Solaris (1972 version)
* Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
* Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
* Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
* The Stepford Wives
* Superman
* Terminator 2: Judgement Day
* The Thing From Another World
* Things to Come — "Is it this? Or that? All the universe? Or nothingness?"
* Tron — "End of line."
* 12 Monkeys
* 28 Days Later
* 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
* 2001: A Space Odyssey
* La Voyage Dans la Lune
* War of the Worlds (1953 version) — "I'd say that 'gizmo' is a machine from another planet."

You Can't Take The Sky From Me

I've been eagerly looking forward to the premiere of Joss Whedon's Serenity, the follow-on film to the cancelled (because Fox programming executives are nitwits) series Firefly.

I don't often go to the theater to see movies anymore, mainly because most of them are unadulterated crap, but occasionally I do decide well in advance that I ought to enjoy certain films on the silver screen, rather than waiting for the DVD or cable. Master and Commander, e.g., was one such. Having enjoyed Firefly on the air and via DVD, Serenity is definitely in the "must see on the big screen" category.

Even better was the prospect of getting to see it early, as a potential blogger reviewer. Sadly, however, the preview here in the Raleigh area is tonight, at 7:30... and here I am, working the swing shift, chained to my desk. My work schedule was apparently not taken into account when the time and place for the preview were set.

Dang.

I'll just have to wait, like everyone else. But I will not be denied my dose of Serenity.

At least you can rest assured that the Internet won't come apart at the seams on my watch tonight.

Quote of the Day

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Nehring reviews the movie Constantine:

When you see dogs sniffing one another, they’re actually checking to make sure the other dog doesn’t have the stench of this film on it. This thing is truly awful. It is a grand, brilliant gem of vile stupidity.

And those are among the nicer words he has to say about the movie.

New Classic

| 12 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

It seems like it's not often, these days, that a "war movie" can be made without its characters devolving into introspective weepiness, riddled with self-doubt and prone to questioning the point of the conflict. Either that, or the protagonist is an abominable sort of character.

Master And Commander – The Far Side Of The World has no such problems.

Being something of an enthusiast for the whole "Age of Sail" genre — I grew up reading my Dad's Hornblower books — I made a point of seeing M&C in the theaters when it came out in late 2003. I was prepared to be disappointed, but I need not have worried. I was hugely impressed, and as soon as the DVD was available, I snapped up a copy. It may be that a better film about war at sea has been made, but if so, I've not seen it – and I've seen most of them.

Based on the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian, and taking its name from the first and tenth books in the series, the movie is a blend of elements of the entire series, rather than just one of the novels put to film. Those familiar with the novels will recognize the general plot outline as being from "The Far Side of the World," with incidents and dialogue (including a fair amount of humor) taken in pieces from the full range of books and blended into a seamless whole.

Over at Llama Butchers yesterday, Robert had the temerity to criticize the casting of Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey, calling him "broody and moody." I beg to differ. By curious coincidence, I had watched the DVD the night before, and suggested in the comments that

Crowe didn't play Aubrey as originally written (for starters, Aubrey was severely obese....) But more to the point, I can watch the movie over and over, and I never think "that's Russell Crowe" – he completely subordinates himself to the role.

Having watched it again last night, I'll stand by that.

Some further observations:

• The movie is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, related images, and brief language. The language is in fact very brief. There are plenty of "damns" to go around, but only one very quick interjection of anything harsher; the use is apt, given the context. If someone had stolen two years of my work and burnt my ship, I'd swear, too.

Master and Commander won two Oscars and was nominated for eight others. [Every one of those eight was won by Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.] The award for cinematography was well-deserved – this film is simply beautiful.

• This is a man's film, about manliness and duty among men at war. There are no women in the featured cast. A few women appear on screen for a few seconds early on, but they are quickly passed and the film continues.

• The role of Dr. Maturin in the film is primarily that of Aubrey's conscience; unexplained in the film is that Maturin is more than Aubrey's best friend, a physician, and a naturalist – he is also an intelligence agent. The character, being a naval neophyte, also occasionally serves a useful purpose when nautical matters need to be explained for the benefit of the viewer, who might not be likely to know what the "weather gage" (for example) might be.

• There is a lot of violence, of course – it's war on the high seas. Blood, a bit. Lots more gritting-of-teeth than actual gore. Mostly, it's violent action without a lot of organs and limbs flying about.

• There is some death, of course; this is a war movie. It's handled very poignantly, however, without the characters getting overly maudlin. Sometimes death cannot be avoided, and may be necessary. After the death of a sailor in an accident that could have been avoided if Aubrey had not been doing his duty as he saw fit, the following exchange takes place:

Aubrey: This is a ship of war, and I will grind whatever grist the mill requires in order to fulfill my duty.

Maturin: Whatever the cost?

Aubrey: Whatever the cost.

• One thing I found particularly impressive was the portrayal of the midshipmen. The film does a astoundingly good job of presenting teenage boys as something other than trash-mouth self-centered whining snivelling little turds. This film should be mandatory viewing for all teenage boys.

• Max Pirkis, as the 12 or 13 year old Midshipman Lord Blakeney, is especially noteworthy. Despite suffering a grievous injury early in the film, his character soldiers on, and in the climactic battle is simply remarkable, demonstrating leadership, initiative and resolve far above the capacity of most people many years older. That Pirkis won two acting awards for his performance is entirely appropriate. That neither of those awards was an Oscar is a shame.

• The musical score is perfect. 'Nuff said.

Master and Commander is destined in years to come to be looked back at as a classic. If you haven't seen it, rent it. If you have seen it and don't own it, buy it.

Aslan Lives!

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I thought I had found this at Absinthe & Cookies, but now I don't see it there.... Oh, well. From FoxNews:

Lions Save African Girl From Abductors

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — A 12-year-old girl who was abducted and beaten by men trying to force her into a marriage was found being guarded by three lions who apparently had chased off her captors, a policeman said Tuesday.

My first thought on seeing the story was "Aslan lives!"

That this thought occurred to me is almost certainly the result of having seen one of the previews shown before the movie I saw last week. Said preview was, of course, for the upcoming The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

It looks absolutely, stunningly, incredibly good.

Granted, previews are supposed to put the best possible face on the movie they advertise, but if the highlights are anything whatsoever to go by, LW&W has the potential to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy look like a crap sandwich... and I say this as a guy who thinks LOTR is one of the finest things ever recorded on film.

I rarely go out to the movies anymore, despite the fact that I actually like going to movies. More specifically, I like going movies that interest me for one reason or another, which might explain why I so rarely go. For instance, Revenge of the Sith was the first movie I've gone to see since last October.

It surely won't be another eight or nine months before I go to the next. LW&W is due to hit theaters in early December.

A Load of Sith

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I finally broke down last week and saw Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. There's no need for me to review it, as such — plenty of folks already have done so.

I will say that I thought the script was pretty thin — like butter scraped over too much bread, so to speak — but given that script, the movie came out all right. It was better then I expected, though it lacked the one thing that would have redeemed all of Lucas' previous errors: the very public, very graphic dismemberment of Jar-Jar Binks.

Mee-sa still sooOOoo bloody annoyed.

I'm sure I'll have further reflections and commentary later.

Memorial Day Movie Classics

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The two major cable channels that show "classics", American Movie Classics (AMC) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) are showing military-themed movies this weekend. Apart from that general topic, the film selections couldn't be more different.

I don't have a list of all the films the two channels have already shown this weekend, but the guide on the digital cable can tell me what's coming up for the rest of today and tomorrow.

Looking at the list of movies below, I get a distinct impression about the attitudes of the two stations as to what constitutes an appropriate film for a Memorial Day marathon.

Movie Manners

Hey, John — us tall people have to sit somewhere. Maybe the theater chains should force you short folks to sit up front.

And shooting babies is just wrong. Stupid parents, though... sign me up.

Compared to TA:WP, the cuss-fest South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was a Disney-esque stroll through flowery fields.

I still laughed myself silly at both of them.

Yes, that makes me a bad, bad man.

Yes, yes. I'm ronery too. But you don't see me dealing with terrorist scumbags.

On the other hand, if I had a nuke or two, I might "deal with them" in my own particular way.

When creating their special effects, Parker & Stone should have experimented on the non-puppet Michael Moore before shooting that particular scene.

Is there anything so sad as a missed opportunity?

Freedom isn't free. I know that.

But I'm pretty sure that $1.05 is a lowball price, too.

I am not old enough to see this movie.

You can stop terrorist marionettes by using a bunch of fancy armament.

But it'd be simpler to cut their strings.

Cheaper, too.

Reflections on Team America: World Police

America? Yes. Yes, indeed.

You betcha.

All previous snarkiness notwithstanding, I enjoyed the movie. It is unquestionably the best movie I've gone to see this year.

OK, OK, so it's the only movie I've gone out to see this year. I don't get out much.

Note to Angelina: the Hathaway Man look is really only meant for, y'know, men.

The next time I'm in trouble and need armed and dangerous assistance, I hope it's not Angelina Jolie who comes to help, whether she has an arial armada at her disposal, or not.

Update: Emily Procter, with or without the armada, would be just fine.

The real Sky Captains:

I wanted to buy a gallon of sepia at the home improvement center, but they were out. Seems Sky Captain had used it all. Every bit of it.

Gwyneth Paltrow or not, backseat driving is still backseat driving. Even in a P-40 Warhawk.

Especially in a P-40 Warhawk.

Update: I have been chastized for my un-comradeliness for failing to link to this P-40 Warhawk page. I'll expect my axe-wielding assassin in the morning.

Is there some new law on the books in Hollywood that says a man may perform high-risk deeds of derring-do only if a woman bails him out at the last minute?

Sir Laurence Olivier? OK, I guess... but I could have played that part. For less money, too, I bet.

What is it with evil scientists and giant robots, anyway?

Meme Rampant

John of Castle Argghhh! has spotted the latest meme to surface: "which of the top 100 grossing movies of all time have you seen?"

I rarely go to the movie theater anymore. I like seeing a good movie on the big screen; I just don't like being wedged into a theater with a couple hundred boorish teenagers.

I'll distinguish between films I've seen on the big screen, in bold, and those I've seen on cable/pay-per-view/DVD, in bold italics. See the extended entry for the list.

Battle of France

After watching the gutsy and inspiring film Battle of Britain, I got to wondering if there might be any such film about France. They really need an inspiring film to redeem their (deservedly) tattered reputation.

Battle of France? No such creature. But there was, to my surprise, a movie named Battle of Paris, an inspiring tale of valiant French arms fighting a desperate battle against the Nazi onslaught.

Well, no, not quite...

Actually, it's a musical from 1929, alternately titled "The Gay Lady."

There's a double meaning in there, somewhere.

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