The Return: Twin Peaks

My history with Twin Peaks is interesting because I sort of stumbled onto the show by accident. When I was younger I remember hearing people talk about a show set in the Northwest that was supposed to be really funny. I remember seeing the opening credits and it showing a small town on a gloomy day. I thought I remembered there being a moose in the credits. Memory is a funny thing...I couldn't, for the life of me, remember what the show was called. One day while browsing Netflix I finally found what I thought I was looking for...a show called Twin Peaks. As it turns out, the show I was actually thinking of was Northern Exposure, not Twin Peaks. I can say wholeheartedly that mistaking Twin Peaks for Northern Exposure is one of the best mistakes I've ever made in my life. Though I jumped into the series expecting to laugh, David Lynch and Mark Frost's series introduced me to a world that was "both wonderful and strange."

Once I started the show I soon became addicted. Sure, I eventually figured out the real name of the show I thought I wanted to watch, but I became so captivated by the uniqueness of Twin Peaks that I totally lost any concern for Northern Exposure (I've still not seen it). I still hold firm to my assertion that the entire run of Twin Peaks surrounding the initial mystery of the show (season one and first part of season 2) is some of the finest television to ever air (while watching I kept thinking, "How did this ever air on broadcast television?"). 

Rarely do I ever stop and think when I'm watching a show, "this is incredible", but I did at several points while watching the original run of Twin Peaks. I was captivated by the story and the acting.  Lynch and Frost use the initial mystery of who killed Laura Palmer to introduce you to a cast of characters that is totally bizarre and unique. Viewing the show over 20 years after its premiere you find yourself wondering if the acting is intentionally bad, but the truth of the matter is you don't care. It's captivating. Even though the story is top notch, I don't think the show works as well without the wonderful music of Angelo Badalamenti. I honestly cannot recall another show that is better at capturing moods and evoking feelings through its score. Of course, the show falters a bit in the middle of the second season, but rebounds in spectacular fashion, only to end on a cliffhanger that would take 25 years to be answered.

I honestly didn't know what to expect with Twin Peaks: The Return. My previous experience with reboots was with Arrested Development and I honestly couldn't stand the thought of my beloved Twin Peaks coming back and falling short of the mark in its return. When the new episodes finally premiered I stayed up until 4 AM to watch the first 4 episodes. At first I was weary as the show wasn't like the original run, but by the end of the 4th episode I started to fell like the show was returning to form. As far as the new season goes, I think I most started to enjoy it once I realized that there was a reason it was being called Twin Peaks: The Return and not Twin Peaks: Season 3. Thinking of the new episodes as short films also helped. Once I let go of my conception of what I thought Twin Peaks was, I began to appreciate that Twin Peaks: The Return is still Twin Peaks. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but I think fans of the show will understand. The tone of the two "series" are different, yet they're each unique and quirky. To put it bluntly, Twin Peaks possesses a certain "je ne sais quoi" that only those who've seen it will understand.

I am not going to use this space to discuss in detail what has happened this season as that was not my intention with this post. My intention was to finally get back into writing for this blog and I realized that in all the time I'd been searching for the perfect movie to help me jump back into things, I'd fallen in love with a TV show that is just as wonderful as anything you'd see on the silver screen. Tonight Showtime will air what could very well be the last episodes of Twin Peaks. I'm forever grateful to them for giving David Lynch and Mark Frost the chance to finish telling their story. I'm also grateful to the show's creators for not giving us fan service this season, but expanding on a universe they created and linking all the parts of it together (the original run, Fire Walk with Me, The Secret History of Twin Peaks). I feel like a lot of times movies and television shows will pander to their audience and in doing so, they become predictable. Lynch and Frost had no problems frustrating their audience this season and I appreciate that. Twin Peaks: The Return has really reminded me how important it is to keep an open mind and not let my own notions of how things should be effect me while viewing movies or television. The unpredictability of this season has helped me rediscover the joy of just letting go and letting myself be entertained instead of trying to figure it all out immediately; that is for later...if ever. 

The Fault in Our Stars Review

A few weeks ago I attended the 2nd annual Louisiana International Film Festival. The festival opened with a showing of the very solid Belle on Thursday night. After Belle ended, those of us who attended the opening screening were given the option to pick up a ticket for a “special sneak peak” on Friday night. The only clues we were given about the film were that it was one of 20th Century Fox’s biggest films of the summer and that we would be some of the first people in the world to see it. I was convinced it would be X-Men: Days of Future Past or at worst, How to Train Your Dragon 2. When they made us turn in our phones so we couldn’t record the film, I knew it was X-Men. I was wrong. 

When the film was introduced we were told the film’s lead was expected to receive award buzz, so the speaker assured us that it wasn’t going to be X-Men. To add to the suspense, we weren’t told the film’s title and only learned it when it flashed on screen during the film’s opening. It turns out we were screening The Fault in Our Stars. I seemed to remember hearing the title before, but didn’t remember seeing a trailer, so I had no idea what to expect.  I must say though, hearing the teenage girl next to me squeal with excitement and give her mother an “OMG” didn’t get me excited for the evening’s prospects. I proudly admit that the young woman next to me has good taste in movies (based on a small sample size). It turns out that not only was the speculation about award buzz warranted, but the entire film was great. 

Review: 

Usually I’d write a brief synopsis that gives you a general idea of what the film is about based on the trailer or plot outlines, but I’m not going to do that here. If you’re reading this you’ve likely seen a trailer or read the book. All you really need to know is that this is a story about a romance between two teenagers. While that might send some of you running away, please know that it is much more than a teen romance movie, it’s a movie about life and finding ways to make the best of the hands we are dealt.  

When I first started watching the movie I found myself thinking of snarky things to post in this review, such as: “I liked it better when it was called A Walk to Remember!” or “Juno would totally kick Hazel Grace’s ass!”. After I quit being a baby about not being able to see X-Men early and brag about it on my sweet blog, I ended up falling for the movie. Unlike A Walk to Remember, the movie doesn’t rely on petty conflict to stir up emotions; it generates real emotion through realistic situations and good acting*. 

Since I haven’t read the book I cannot speak to how well the book sets events into action, but with the film everything seems plausible and organic. Unlike typical teenage romance movies the two leads aren’t from “different worlds” and don’t end up realizing they’re meant for one another through some series of fortunate events. The characters are realistic, as are the situations in which they find themselves. Basically the film doesn’t create contrived situations to advance the plot or evoke emotional responses.  

While the tone of the film is more serious than your typical teen romance, the film does a good job of maintaining emotional balance. What does that mean? It means that even though the film does a good job of evoking deep emotion, it doesn’t forget that human emotion isn’t found only at the low range of the spectrum (i.e. sadness). The film does a great job of picking the audience up after it’s been down through witty dialogue or humorous acts by characters.

 

The two leads have great chemistry.

The story itself is quite beautiful. Having said that, you’d never appreciate the story without the fine performances put in by the cast. We were told at the screening that Shailene Woodley would be a star after this movie, I now have no doubt that is true. I didn’t see Ms. Woodley in Divergent, but I did see her in The Descendants and enjoyed that performance.  Her performance in The Fault in Our Stars has little to no missteps.  Watching her take on the role of the sassy and confident Hazel Grace Lancaster reminded me of watching Ellen Page in her Oscar-nominated turn as the title character in Juno. When you’re watching the performance you can’t help but fall in love with the character. While I love quick-witted characters as much as the next guy, there is always a thin line to be walked when cracking-wise because too many quips and you risk trivializing matters because everything becomes a joke. Thankfully, the story and Ms. Woodley’s performance make sure that line isn’t even remotely in view, providing audiences with a strong female lead they can easily emotionally invest in.  

The rest of the cast turn in solid performances as well. While Ms. Woodley is great as Hazel Grace, the film wouldn’t have worked as well as it did without a competent young actor across from her.  Ansel Elgort steps into the role of Hazel Grace’s love interest, Augustus Waters. Mr. Elgort is charming and confident, but not so confident as to be arrogant. As mentioned above, the film works because we are given realistic characters who are facing plausible scenarios (i.e. this isn’t the quarterback falling for the book worm). Mr. Elgort gives a good performance, but is outshined by Ms. Woodley.  Be that as it may, weak spots in the performance never cause you to become emotionally detached from the film. None of this is a slight to Mr. Elgort, but a testament to how good Ms. Woodley’s performance is. She's radiant. 

If you’re on the fence about The Fault in Our Stars, go for Ms. Woodley’s performance and stay for the charming story.  Support 20th Century Fox for providing us with a film that portrays teenagers not as children finding their way, but young adults confronting the questions that even the best of us face.  

Rating: Very Good

Verdict:  If you read the book, go see the movie.  If you liked A Walk to Remember, go see the movie.  If you are a teenage girl, go see the movie.  If you want to give your emotions some exercise, go see the movie.

I’m fairly confident I am not the target demographic for this movie, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t really enjoy it.  I’m a huge romantic, so I’m a sucker for love stories, but this one is different.  It’s not saccharine.  It’s a film that gets to the heart of that most fundamental of human emotions, love.  The film explores not only love between two young adults, but love of friends and family.  If you’re even remotely interested, I suggest you check it out.  I went in a skeptic and came out a convert.  

Notes:

Is it just me?: This past year a recurring theme in several of my courses seems to be the absurdity of life. Generally, this means that life might not have any sort of inherent meaning. If that is the case, what is the point? I think this movie does a good job of introducing these ideas and provides us with potential answers. Of course, this might all just be me trying to find a way to justify spending time watching a movie aimed at teenagers when I could have been reading a book for school... 

Strong support: While the performances of Ms. Woodley and Mr. Elgort will get most of the attention, the film wouldn’t be as successful at telling its story without help from an excellent supporting cast. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell do a wonderful job of portraying parents who are dealing with a daughter in a unique situation and avoid the trap of becoming parental clichés.  Nat Wolff could be the most significant of the supporting cast because his character Isaac, Augustus’ best friend, provides several moments of levity throughout the film.  Without his character and perfomance, the film could stray too far into heavy emotional waters.

*For the record I enjoyed A Walk to Remember

  


Final Thoughts on inaugural Louisiana International Film Festival

Although the lack of updates would indicate lounging to some, I’ve been extremely busy over the last month and a half. This doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten about the wonderful time I had at the inaugural Louisiana International Film Festival! The event was quite enjoyable, with my biggest regret being I had to miss screenings and events due to school activities. Instead of discussing my general malaise and regret over failing to make it to all of the events I’d planned to, I’ll tell you about the fun stuff I experienced!

The festival kicked off in New Orleans on Thursday, April 18th with the screening of Twenty Feet From Stardom. Unfortunately my schedule prevented my festival from beginning until Friday morning. On Friday morning I traveled to the Celtic Media Centre in Baton Rouge. The studio just so happens to be part of Raleigh Studios; as such, the facility has seen its share of big name productions, including Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Battleship and Oblivion. Although I didn’t run into Kristen Stewart (thankfully) or Liam Neeson (bummer), I did run in to a nice screenwriter named Steve Esteb. As I mentioned in my preview, the festival not only featured movies, but several seminars related to the film industry. Mr. Esteb was kind enough to give a lecture on screenwriting.

I found Mr. Esteb’s seminar informative and helpful. In speaking with Mr. Esteb before the seminar I found out that he too has a background in Political Science. Seeing that Mr. Esteb has been able to succeed in the film industry even though he didn’t start out planning to write for a living is encouraging. I really enjoy writing. I’d love to make money doing it, but that’s not why I started this blog...I wanted to share my take on movies with others in the hopes that someone, somewhere will enjoy it.

The seminar was also helpful because Mr. Esteb provided several useful tips on getting started. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll write a screenplay, but the advice offered in the seminar really got my creative wheels spinning.  While it would have been easy for Mr. Esteb to come in, hand us his card and tell us to come see him at one of his workshops, he took the time to offer everyone sound advice for taking the first steps toward realizing our writing dreams. Although I was only able to attend one seminar, the Louisiana International Film Festival offered plenty of others and I’m sure that anyone interested in the film industry would have found one or two of interest to attend.

The next event I attended was the world premiere of the director’s cut of the Jessica Chastain movie Jolene at the Manship Theatre on Saturday night. Not only did the Louisiana International Film Festival afford me the opportunity to attend my first world premiere, it afforded me the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A with the film’s director, Dan Ireland. Instead of giving an in depth review of the film, I’ll give you a score. I rate the director’s cut of Jolene a 3 out of 5. The film deals with some fairly heavy material, but does so in a way that does not leave one emotionally spent after the film has concluded. Having never seen Jolene I cannot speak to the quality of the director’s cut compared to the original, but the film I saw was enjoyable, with Jessica Chastain giving a wonderful performance. 

Of course, Ms. Chastain is no stranger to this blog, having captured my heart with her performance in The Help. Interestingly, Jolene was Ms. Chastain’s first feature film. While her performance isn’t as strong as her turns in The Help and Zero Dark Thirty, you can’t help but love her as the title character. Hearing director Dan Ireland discuss working with Jessica Chastain before she became a huge star was a fun experience. I also enjoyed hearing Mr. Ireland discuss conflict that can occur pitting creative control against the financial means to make a film. 

The world premiere of Jolene: The Director's Cut ended fairly late Saturday night, but I was still able to attend one of the festival parties in downtown Baton Rouge. One of the neat things about film festivals is meeting individuals with a common interest (movies) and discussing films with them at social gatherings throughout the festival. My late night excursion to downtown Baton Rouge on Saturday April 20th forever changed my life. It was that night that I met Jeff “The Dude” Dowd. That’s right, I met, “The Dude”. Mr. Dowd is the inspiration for Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski. Mr. Dowd was one of the organizers of the Louisiana International Film Festival and he couldn’t have been more friendly. I won’t go on and on about it, but 4/20/2013 was one of the most exciting nights of my life...until my car was towed from Louie’s Cafe in the middle of the night! 

The excitement of Saturday behind me, I did my serious movie watching Sunday afternoon. It was on Sunday afternoon that I was finally able to see the only true “must see” film for me, Hannah Arendt. I was interested to see the movie because I was in the process of taking a course on tyranny. As mentioned in my preview, the film focuses on Hannah Arendt’s work for The New Yorker covering the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi considered one of the main people responsible for The Holocaust. It was in this series of essays that Arendt would utter the controversial phrase “banality of evil”. While I’m disappointed in the fact that the movie doesn’t really delve into the question of the nature of evil and tyranny, I still enjoyed the film. Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5. 

While I enjoyed Jolene and Hannah Arendt, the third film I saw at the festival is the one that has stayed with me the longest. That film is The East. I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed after seeing the trailer, but I’d heard it had generated quite the buzz at Sundance so I decided “to hell with school” since I’d already given it so much time during the inaugural Louisiana International Film Festival. Looking back, I’m glad I decided to take a break from school and join The East’s movement.

Going in to the film I was worried it would be an over the top hippie love fest that glorified eco terrorism & contrived events in such a way that critically thinking audience members would have little to discuss on the ride home. I’m happy to say that The East proved my initial reservations to be wrong...for the most part. Although there are a few “preachy” bits, overall I think the film does a good job of raising awareness of important issues that Americans should be discussing. Some of the issues include: corporate responsibility and domestic terrorism. I don’t want to go in to depth about these issues and give you my opinion on them either way, but I think The East is worth a look because it is sort of like an inverse Zero Dark Thirty...

Minus my car being towed and having to fork out $200 to retrieve it*, I really enjoyed my weekend at the Louisiana International Film Festival. I was able to get valuable insight into writing for the screen while viewing movies that many across the country (and world) had not yet seen. Although there were a few minor logistical hiccups throughout the festival, I think the group organizing it and all of the volunteers did a wonderful job putting on the inaugural festival. After a fun time this year I am looking forward to attending next year. I hope to see you there!

*My car was towed from a cafe near campus at a gathering with friends after the festival party...so it wasn’t an issue of the festival towing me!

Louisiana International Film Festival

When I decided to attend graduate school at LSU the blogger in me got excited about moving to Baton Rouge. One reason was the food. Louisiana is known the world over for its unique culinary tradition. A second reason was the opportunity to see films that were not released in smaller markets like Auburn. I can’t tell you how exciting it’s been to not have to wait for a home video release to see critically acclaimed films. Knowing all of this, you can imagine my excitement at learning Baton Rouge is home to the inaugural Louisiana International Film Festival (LIFF).

The festival will open on Thursday April 18th in New Orleans with a screening of the Morgan Neville Documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom and run through Sunday April 21st. LIFF will feature over 50 narrative feature films, documentaries and shorts to be screened in multiple venues throughout Baton Rouge. The films have been carefully selected to include new films, festival favorites, recent releases and a few cult classics. LIFF Programming Director Ian Birnie explains, “The LIFF line-up spotlights three themes that reflect the cultural and social history of Louisiana: Francophone films - namely films from France, Quebec and the Middle East; films that deal with environmental issues - both to honor Louisiana Earth Day (April 21st) and to reflect Louisiana’s activist interest in its own habitat; and music films that encompass musical styles ranging from doo wop and jazz to Italian opera.”

Opening day in Baton Rouge will feature a free Producers’ Conference & Industry Expo at the Celtic Media Centre. The festival will also give guests a chance to attend a variety of workshops on acting, music, development, production incentives and film financing hosted by industry professionals. For a full schedule of workshops and more information please visit http://liff2013.com/workshops.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about the festival. I can think of no better break from the monotony of my end of the semester grind than checking out some new movies and attending workshops that will help me finally figure out whether or not I have what it takes to write a screenplay! Looking at the lineup, I’ve already determined a few “must see” films for myself. The first is Twenty Feet from Stardom. As mentioned above, Twenty Feet From Stardom opens the festival in New Orleans on Thursday April 18th.

The film is a documentary that focuses on the life of a back up singer. While documentaries might not be everyone’s thing, I feel fairly confident that everyone loves music. Twenty Feet From Stardom seems to be a nice showcase of musical talent and the unseen, less glamourous side of music stardom. In the film’s trailer on LIFF’s website the film’s director, Morgan Neville, hints at the struggle between “We and I” that is found in our society. This struggle particularly manifests itself amongst back up singers as they have to put any individual aspirations they might have aside to ensure that the entire group functions cohesively (i.e. put your aspirations aside to ensure the star looks good).

A second film I’m excited to see is A Hijacking. This Danish film is about a commercial ship that is hijacked by Somali pirates and held for ransom. The trailer is only a minute long but it does a wonderful job of building up tension. I can’t wait to be stuck to the edge of my seat as the deadly chess game between the pirates and the corporation that owns the ship plays out.

As mentioned previously, I’m working on my PhD in Political Theory, so my third pick, Hannah Arendt, shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with the field. The film focuses on Ms. Arendt’s controversial work for The New Yorker during the war crimes trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann. The film will be even more interesting for me since I’m due to write a paper on totalitarianism in just a few weeks and will be confronting the “banality of evil” along with the role of individual citizens in resisting tyranny.

The final film on my “must see” list is Starbuck. The movie is about a man who through his donating sperm years early has fathered over 500 children, with 142 of them filing a lawsuit to find out who their father is. Of course the comedy of this comes not only from the fact one man has fathered so many children, but that “Starbuck” aka David Wozniak is the last person you’d want to father your child. If the trailer is any indication, many of Wozniak’s children are doing better than he is. From the looks of it, the film seems to have an “Apatow-esque” element to it; the laughs are a vehicle to deliver life truths.

Don’t let my parents know, but it seems next weekend I’ll be busy shirking my school duties in favor of watching movies (what else is new?). I invite you to join me in showing your support for the fine men and women who have worked so hard to bring us the inaugural Louisiana International Film Festival by attending a workshop or checking out a movie or two. With workshops to attend and over 50 movies to choose from there’s something for everyone.

Check out the list of films and schedule online at www.liff2013.com.

 

Why I'm Done With Redbox

I'm done with Redbox. 

I was never a big fan to begin with, but after the past week, I've decided that I will no longer put up with their poor business model. "What do you expect for around $1?" I expect the company to deliver on its biggest selling point, convenience. Redbox says it has kiosks located all over the country and you can rent a movie and return it to any kiosk! Sounds wonderful, until you get stuck trying to return a movie to a kiosk that is full. Now you're left with having to trek to another location to return the movie or eating the cost of an additional night. Of course, Redbox will gladly make things right, but to them, "making it right" isn't removing the additional cost from your credit card, but rewarding you with a free night rental (in the case of Blu-ray, a discount). Of course, at first glance a promo code and removing the charges might seem like the same thing, but they're not. A promo code has an expiration date and forces me to rent another movie in order to obtain my benefit. Taking the charge off my card keeps me from having to waste time and money finding another Redbox. Basically we have a role reversal on our hands. Someone is going to lose time and money and for Redbox, they'd rather that be you. 

Of course, this decision to stop filling the coffers of Redbox didn't come about randomly, so here's a little context: The reason I am done with Redbox is my experience with them in the past week. I am currently enrolled in school at LSU, working on my PhD and from time to time I like to take a break from school and studying by watching a movie. There's a Redbox kiosk located in the LSU Student Union, so it's convenient for me to swing by after class and grab a movie, watch it that night and return it the next day to the exact same kiosk. Last Tuesday I rented The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises on Blu-ray. When I went to return them Wednesday I received a notification that the kiosk couldn't accept my return and was given a number to call. I called the number and spoke with a gentleman at Redbox who apologized for the inconvenience and who assured me they'd work with me to solve my problem. He mentioned a nearby kiosk that just so happens to be off campus and out of my way. I was sick on Wednesday, heading to the doctor that afternoon, so I wasn't feeling well enough to trek all over Baton Rouge to return a movie. Thankfully, while I was speaking with the Redbox employee another student rented a movie, so I was able to return one of my films. Having been assured that the problem could be easily remedied if I called Redbox once I both movies, I proceeded to go to the doctor and go home to rest up.

Needless to say, I was so sick that I couldn't do much over the next few days, so I wasn't able to return my movie until a few days after initially trying to do so. I was able to return my 2nd movie to the kiosk in the student center without any problems after a few days of resting at home. I fully expected that I wouldn't get credit for every day it was late, as the problem was technically only present on Wednesday and the additional days were due to my being sick. That was fine, I was the one who got sick, not the machine. I contacted Redbox after the kiosk processed my return and the agent was helpful, but I was upset to learn that I wouldn't be getting credit put back on my card for the extra night, instead I'd receive three promo codes. I was still appreciative that they acknowledged my plight, so I willingly accepted three promo codes. 

After class on Monday I decided to grab a movie from Redbox because I had a promo code that expired Tuesday from a text message they'd sent me. I went to return the movie on Tuesday and once again, the kiosk couldn't accept my return because it was full.* I was obviously frustrated, but I perused the kiosk's selection and found another movie that I'd like to rent and decided I could utilize one of my three promo codes to free up room for my one return. I did a "one for one" (rental for return) trade if you will. Frustrated with the situation I decided to contact Redbox to request their technician check the kiosk more often. It was Tuesday evening after all and the kiosk should have had room since new releases came out that day. The representative offered to send me more promo codes, but I already had two more to use and I was just giving them a suggestion to improve their service. 

Wednesday morning rolls around and I decide to get on to campus early to grab some breakfast. I make sure I bring my movie as I want to be sure to return it so I don't incur any late fees. Unsurprisingly, the kiosk is too full to accept my return, but chalking it up to the fact the technician couldn't have made it to the kiosk at such an early time, I went ahead and decided to return the movie after class (which ends at noon). When I returned to the student union after class I once again found the kiosk full. I couldn't believe it. Sure, it had only been a few hours, but you'd think that someone complaining about a kiosk being full would result in some sort of action. It was at this point that I had reached my breaking point, I would no longer deal with Redbox. Yesterday afternoon I returned my final Redbox rental, Expendables 2, to a kiosk outside of my local CVS pharmacy.  

I know I'm not the only one who has experienced the frustration of a full kiosk, but the fact that the way the company makes things "right" is by having me spend more money on rentals (because promo codes don't cover the entire cost of Blu-ray rentals) is infuriating. Sure there are multiple locations to return films to, but the student union kiosk is convenient to me, especially since I walk to class. Thankfully I have access to an automobile to drive to a kiosk, so I'm not trapped by late fees due to a full kiosk, but not everyone has that luxury. Besides, isn't the point of the Redbox kiosk supposed to be convenience? I fail to see the convenience of having to waste gas money just to return a movie to a red cube outside a gas station or grocery store when the most conveniently located kiosk was full because the company was not smart enough to notice that the volume of sales was so low the machine was accepting more returns than doling out rentals. I'm tired of playing Redbox's nickel and dime game. The fees for extra days and gas money wasted on returns is not worth it. 

I stopped receiving Netflix rentals because I was trying to save money, but I'm now reconsidering that stance. Am I really saving money if I have to make unecessary trips to a kiosk outside of a store exclusively to return a rental? I don't think so. Between late fees and gas money I guarantee I'm close to spending the $10 a month it'd cost me to have movies shipped right to me and that doesn't even take in to consideration the fact that Redbox's selection is extremely limited compared to Netflix. 

Maybe it is because I'm old school, but I really do miss having an actual video store in town. In Auburn, we had a store called Hastings (it's still there). They rented movies and games. They also sold them in addition to music and books. Sure you had to make a car trip to rent a movie, but when you went in to the store they had multiple copies of new releases in addition to thousands of older films. They also offered rental credit which brought the cost in line with Redbox. With Redbox, you do not have the same level of assurance of the newest releases being in stock and when you go to return it, the kiosk might be full. At rental stores you don't have this problem. The stores take all returns and process them. All you do is drop them off. 

I lament the rise of Redbox kiosks because they helped to run video stores out of existence. We traded convenience for customer service. Now we're stuck in towns without a competitor for the kiosk, subject to the tyranny of someone who will never look us in the eye and will only offer us more opportunities to line their pockets instead of making sure they make things right by their customer. It's a sad state of affairs and I've had enough of it. 

*Note: Until last week I'd never encountered a full kiosk

Pre-Oscar Thoughts

Contrary to what my lack of updates might lead you to believe, I am still alive and I have in fact still been watching movies. As I mentioned in my last post, I started a PhD Program so I've been busy trying to stay afloat academically and have shirked my duties as a blogger. I hope to get better about this, but since I'd been out of the school game for 4 years, I figured it best to not try and do too much at once. I'm adjusting well and it's now a matter of getting back on the blogging horse...

So, tonight Seth MacFarlane will host the 85th Academy Awards (Oscars). Spielberg's Lincoln leads all films with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones) and Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field). I hate to use the word, "prediction" because what I believe to be most deserving isn't bound to be the winner, so my predictions would be wrong. I don't want to be embarrassed as the blogger who perfectly predicted the losers for each category, so I'll provide you all with my general thoughts on who/what I think deserves to win and will occasionally mention who/what will probably win.

I think it's important to mention a few things before getting down to the nitty-gritty. First off, I tweeted during the Golden Globes I'd have things shake out this way, Best Director: Ben Affleck for Argo and Django Unchained as Best Picture. Surprisingly, the Academy snubbed both Affleck and Tarantino in the Best Director category. I absolutely loved Django Unchained, as it is immensely entertaining but still has an emotional core to it, but I give Affleck major kudos for making me feel tons of suspense in a movie where a lot of folks were aware of the outcome. That's why I felt he deserved a lot of credit and the Best Director Award. Making you feel emotion in a situation where you probably shouldn't is a special thing and Mr. Affleck did a wonderful job creating tension and putting you into the uncertainty of a hostage situation.

Who should lose their spot as a Best Director Nominee to allow room for Affleck? Since I haven't seen Amour or Life of Pi I don't think it fair to automatically dismiss their directors, so my vote goes for Benh Zeitlin. I just didn't enjoy Beasts of the Southern Wild. I think this is a case of an amazing performance by a young actress causing people to overestimate the overall quality of a film. Quvenzhane Wallis was great as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but overall the film left me with an overwhelming sense of "meh" and a general amazement that so many could proclaim the film one of the years best (even the Academy put it on their list).

Once again, awards time gets me worked up on whether or not people can tell the difference between a boring movie that is artistic and a boring movie. Boring does not equal artistic. I was worried The Master would be mistaken for profound when it was actually just a couple of great performances by its lead actors that gave the film any sort of redeeming qualities. I think The Master is a great example of a boring movie that somehow takes on a transcendent quality because folks get bored by it and they instantly know that because it is boring it's profound and award-worthy. It's not. It's just a shit movie with some great acting. This again raises the question of whether or not a movie is worth watching strictly for performances and I must say that in some cases the performances are good enough to warrant that, but The Master was really terrible and even the strong performances don't make me feel like it's worth another couple hours of my time.

Ok, on to the real task at hand, discussing who I think should win and who will probably win. Let's start with Best Original Screenplay: My heart wants to go with Django because I absolutely loved the movie and Tarantino was snubbed for directing, but I must say, Zero Dark Thirty is impressive in that they seemingly pieced a movie together out of news stories and possibly classified documents. Sure, it's a dramatization, but the story seems plausible, if not accurate, and I hope Mark Boal is rewarded for the great work he did at creating order out of chaos.

Best Adapted Screenplay could get interesting. Life of Pi seems like it would have been one of those books that was too imaginative to properly translate to the big screen and they seem to have done a good job of doing that. Argo also deserves credit because a lot of folks knew the outcome of the story, but we still became invested in the characters and their plight. For me though, the best adapted screenplay award should go to Lincoln. Spielberg's film was great because it wasn't a movie about slavery, it was a movie about the American political process. Sure, slavery is involved, but the movie speaks as much about our nation's history as it does its present.

Speaking of Lincoln, throughout the entire movie I couldn't help but think, "Man, Tommy Lee Jones might be stealing this movie from Daniel Day-Lewis". Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis is a chameleon, blending into his role as Lincoln so perfectly that you don't think, "This is an actor realistically portraying Lincoln"; instead, you think, "That's President Lincoln, let's watch what he does next". Initially I figured Tommy Lee Jones was a lock for Best Supporting Actor, but now that I've seen Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook I'm not so sure. Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Dr. King Schultz in Tarantino's "Southern" and Robert De Niro finally returns to dramatic form. Hell, even Alan Arkin is great in Argo. This might be the strongest group, because the last nominee is Philip Seymour Hoffman who put in a solid performance in The Master. For what it's worth, I'll be cheering for Tommy Lee.

If Best Supporting Actor is the most competitive race, Best Supporting Actress is most likely the least competitive category. Anne Hathaway will most likely win for her performance in Les Miserables and I have no problems with that. Ms. Hathaway really nails her limited role in the film. The only potential competition I see for Ms. Hathaway is Helen Hunt. I haven't seen The Sessions, but it seems like an intriguing film and if I've learned anything about The Academy it's they like it when ladies get naked. Nudity aside, I think Anne's got this one in the bag.

If you'd have asked me when I first saw Flight if there'd be a better performance this year than Denzel's I'd have said "no". Unfortunately, the year kept moving forward and Oscars are judged on the entire performance, not roughly 10-15 minutes. Mr. Washington's performance in Flight during the plane crash is some of the best acting I've seen in a while. I almost wrote a review of Flight precisely because I wondered if anyone had ever won an Oscar in a few minutes of screen time: I'd say Denzel came pretty damn close. I think the real battle in this category is Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln vs Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean from Les Miserables.

I know a lot of folks want to go ahead and give the Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis, but Hugh Jackman really brought his "A-game" in Les Miserables. I don't know how these things usually shake out post Golden Globes, but Day-Lewis won Best Actor in a Drama for Lincoln while Jackman won Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Les Miserables. Something has to give and it'll be fun to see how The Academy voted. I'm cool with either winning although I was really impressed with how well Daniel Day-Lewis "was" Abraham Lincoln, not some over the top caricature of The 16th President of the United States. Then again, Hugh Jackman sang every line of dialogue and did a wonderful job of emoting. Well done gentlemen.

Having never seen Amour I can only say, "If Hushpuppy doesn't win, we riot". The performance Quvenzhane Wallis gave in Beasts of the Southern Wild is the only thing I really care to remember from the film. Sure there are some other redeeming qualities to the film, like its portrayal of life in Louisiana (where I'm attending school), but young Miss Wallis' performance makes the movie. If she doesn't win, I'll be upset. As much as I like Jessica Chastain, I just don't think her performance in Zero Dark Thirty was the best by a female in a lead role this year. Jennifer Lawrence was also good in Silver Linings Playbook, but let's not let the fact she's beautiful and charming get in the way of Miss Wallis winning her Oscar. (Full disclosure: I haven't seen The Impossible, so I can't make any snarky remarks about Naomi Watts' performance)

Before moving on to Best Director and Best Picture, it's important to note that Leonardo DiCaprio was most likely snubbed for his portrayal of Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. They could have easily left Joaquin Phoenix off the list (The Master) and made room for Mr. DiCaprio, but I'm starting to perceive a selection bias towards past winners (i.e. Ang Lee, Phoenix, Meryl Streep) from The Academy. I'm not saying these individuals are undeserving, but it almost feels like half of those voting didn't see some of the films and just go with the name they know will put in a solid performance (it's the college football "tradition" effect that plagues poll voting).

Since Ben Affleck isn't included in the Best Director category, I think it's safe to say Spielberg wins this one. Again, I haven't seen Amour, but I think Mr. Spielberg deserves a lot of credit for making a movie that could have easily become a preachy diatribe about the ills of slavery and Lincoln's heroic salvaging of our union much more about the realities of the political process and how real change, as painful as it is to wait for, must occur piecemeal.

Prevailing wisdom seems to be that since Affleck was snubbed for Best Director, Argo will win Best Picture. This predicament is why I hate the potential for selection bias within The Academy. Had they not possibly played favorites with Ang Lee (Life of Pi) or let their love of Hushpuppy's fine performance elevate Benh Zeitlin's stature, we could have had a true vote for Best Picture and not a make up award. I enjoyed Argo, but I don't think it was the best movie of the year. As I already mentioned, my choice for Best Picture is Django Unchained, but I doubt it will get as much consideration as it should simply because voters feel they should act to right the wrong done to Mr. Affleck. I'm not saying Django Unchained would have won Best Picture, but I simply worry there's no chance it or any of the other nominees got a fair shot after The Academy snubbed Mr. Affleck.

*Note: Pretty excited to see what Mr. MacFarlane does as host. I'm personally a fan of a Muppet Oscars, but if Mr. MacFarlane was given creative input and could use some of his circle to write jokes, it should be a fun show. If they made him use the past Oscar writers, it'll be another "so-so" show.


Feel free to comment and rub it in my face how wrong I am! Enjoy the show!

Quick Update

Just wanted to post something on here to let you all know what's been going on with me. As I'm sure you've noticed I haven't made a post since August. I have seen a few movies since then, but I've been quite busy in my "real life" lately and haven't found the time to write reviews. I could, of course, post something, but if it's halfass I don't want it going up on the site. I want to be known for providing quality work, even if that means going a while between posts. 

So, what have I been up to? Well, I had to leave my home on the Plains of Auburn, Alabama in order to begin working on my PhD at Louisiana State University (LSU). Believe it or not, I was accepted into the LSU Department of Political Science's PhD program to pursue my degree, specializing in Political Theory. Due to the fact that this huge shake up in my life occurred within a matter of a month or so, my work on the blog had to take a backseat to getting everything in order for the move. I'm settling in nicely, even having found a cool movie theater in town to watch films (check out the picture below of the outside)! I can't wait to get back to writing for the blog, but right now I'm working on making sure I stay afloat in school. It's been a few years since I was last in school, so I'm having to readjust to all the reading...and more importantly the monotony of it. 

Anyways, you might not care, but I thought it'd be better to explain to everyone why the page hasn't been updated. I haven't given up on making this the best movie blog on the internet, I've just been busy improving myself, which I believe will, in turn, make my site better. Please don't give up on me...I'm still here and I still love movies. I'm just having a hard time finding time to tell you about them right now. Thanks for understanding!

 

 

Food Network Star: How It Could Shake Out

If you follow the blog on Twitter, you know that one of my favorite shows to watch and tweet about is Food Network Star. I’ve watched the show in years past (beginning with season 4), but I missed last year because I had grown tired of seeing my favorites sent home by Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson. This year Food Network decided to change things up. Instead of there being one group of potential stars there would be three teams, each mentored by a Food Network Star. The three mentors, Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentis & Alton Brown, were each allowed to choose their own teams and from there the teams would be narrowed down through weeks of challenges.


The Mentors. 

I must admit, I wasn’t particularly impressed with Team Giada. No one on her team had the “it” factor in my mind. The only one I thought might have a chance was the Hawaiian Hunk Ippy. It turns out I was almost right as Ippy was one of the final two on Team Giada, barely missing out on the chance to shoot a pilot episode to be shown to the viewing audience who are the ones making the final decision this season. 

I also picked the first runner up from Team Bobby, Nikki Martin. From the beginning I thought Nikki had star potential, but as the weeks went on and the tweets were analyzed it appeared Bob and Susie, along with other viewers didn’t like her very much. In Nikki I see a confident young woman. Others see an arrogant young woman. Regardless, she persevered week after week making it to the final elimination, losing the chance to shoot a pilot in favor of Michele Ragussis.

From the beginning I found more folks on Team Alton who I felt had star potential. From week one I thought Justin or Emily could make it to the finals. I was right about Justin, but Emily was eliminated in one of the more controversial eliminations I can remember. Bob and Susie reamed Emily for not telling a personal story, instead opting to keep Martita who had in the same episode botched a promo, leaving 30 seconds of dead air. Emily’s elimination had me thinking, "here we go again"; they keep someone on the show that will shoot a program no one will watch beyond the first season and let someone with a fun and interesting personality go. 

As mentioned above, Justin made it to the finals for Team Alton. Joining Justin in the finals was fellow Team Alton member Martie. I must say Martie’s start to the competition was less than stellar. I actually thought she’d be eliminated early in the competition, but her Southern Charm is endearing and she has proven herself worthy of a spot in the finals alongside Ivan, Michele and Justin. 

Now that you know a little about how we got to this point, it’s time for my predictions! I’ll go through each finalist talking about what I like or dislike and will give reasons why I think they’ll win. 

Yvan Lemoine has really won me over as the weeks have gone by. Initially Ippy was the only person I saw as a potential star from Team Giada and even then it was only out of trying to find someone I thought could represent the team in a final. Over the weeks Yvan began to surge, finally learning to open up on camera and winning people over with his charm. For his pilot, Yvan chose to go with the title, Family Style.

For Yvan, cooking is a great way to bring your family together. I like that. For me, food has a wonderful social component. From tailgating to family reunions food serves as a fun way to gather together and spend time with friends and loved ones. I appreciate what Yvan is trying to do, but I feel like Food Network already has shows catering toward family. Off the top of my head I can think of Ten Dollar Dinners (with Food Network Star winner Melissa d’Arabian) and The Pioneer Woman as shows that have a cooking for family theme. 

Yvan’s saving grace could be two things. One is the poor economy. In his pilot he made a cost effective mac and cheese. In a down economy, people will be looking for ways to feed their families on a tight budget. Although he’s shooting for “family style” Yvan could stretch his concept into a meals on a budget show, but again he’s veering toward Semi-Homemade or Ten Dollar Dinner territory. The 2nd thing I think might help Yvan is the fan vote. Coming from Team Giada he might get the backing of Martita fans. In fan voting Martita was always near the top. After her elmination you have to wonder where her fan votes would go. My guess, they don’t all go to Yvan, but a lot will. Team Alton has two finalists so any potential gain of Martitia votes Justin might have gotten could be divided with Martie.

Team Bobby’s finalist was Michele Ragussis. I have never been a big fan of Michele. It’s nothing personal, I just feel like the network already has a Michele Ragussis in Anne Burrell. Another concern I have about Michele is her culinary point of view, My New England. How diverse is the regional cuisine of New England? I just don’t really see an entire series being created out of the point of view. If she does try different cuisines and the show is called My New England I’ll be frustrated because one thing we’ve continually seen contestants badgered about is a consistent point of view. With Michele fans might be voting more for her personality than her point of view. 

Team Alton’s finalists will have the toughest hill to climb in my opinion. Fan favorite Justin might have run away with the votes, but the addition of Martie to the mix really makes things interesting. Justin’s point of view is Rebel with a Culinary Cause. Throughout the competition I’ve really enjoyed watching Justin because you can definitely see him as a young Alton Brown and can’t help but get excited about the possibilities of the two working together on a show. One potential pitfall I see for Justin is him being too weird for viewers. Some might also think he’s arrogant, a “culinary know it all” if you will. 

Last, but not least, we have Martie. As I mentioned she really rounded into shape as the competition went on and set herself up for a shot at becoming a Food Network Star by getting herself to the finals. Martie’s pilot was called Martie with the Party. Her culinary point of view is more or less helping you create a fun party environment featuring good food and accompaniments, all on a budget. Martie’s biggest problem will not be with her personality, but her point of view. Sure, the Food Network already has a charming Southern woman on their roster in Paula Deen, but more-so I think the  problem Martie will face is whether or not her point of view is unique enough for her to earn a spot as a Food Network Star. Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade has a similar theme, party planning that is easy and budget friendly. There’s also the problem of Martha Stewart. She’s not on Food Network, but how many ladies do we need to be taking party planning tips from? If the network is looking for someone to build a brand around, Martie is the clear choice. She’s got a great personality so you can rest assured she’ll have fans who’ll buy products bearing her name. The big question is whether or not fans are looking for someone to sell them cookware or who can teach them how to get the most out of the cookware they already have.

 

To quote Captain Planet, "The power is yours!!"

 

So who will win? The answer isn’t very simple I’m afraid. Based solely on the pilots, I would go with Michele. She cooked a clam dish. I’ve never really eaten clams, but the way she prepared them made me want to and made me believe I could easily do so. For me the Food Network is about making home cooks look like professionals. I think everyone wants something different from the network, but for me, it’s learning how to make food at home that is big on flavor, but small on complexity.

I must say I felt like Justin dropped the ball with his pilot. He took a traditional Caesar salad and jazzed it up with some fancy gelatin trickery. I appreciate thinking out of the box, but doing so on a salad seems like overkill. I’d rather Justin help me learn about exotic foods or use traditional foods in a new way than overly complicate classic dishes for the purpose of being different. It’s fun to watch, but difficult and time consuming to replicate. 

Yvan and Martie both turned in decent performances in their pilots, really showing their point of view, but not really “wowing” me. As I mentioned before I think Yvan might be saved by the poor economy. Families on a budget will be willing to watch his show to find out ways to cook good food without breaking the bank. Martie could also benefit from the down economy. She will be showing folks how to throw a party without spending too much time or money on things. Overall though, I think both of their pilots were pretty pedestrian. Michele had by far the best pilot in my opinion. 

Unfortunately for Michele, I believe the pilots alone won’t determine the winner. The fan vote decides the winner, so basically this thing boils down to a glorified popularity contest. Justin seems to have been winning the fan vote over the past few weeks. As mentioned above though, I think the big question is where the Martita vote goes. I could honestly see Yvan winning as some back away from Justin and his complicated Caesar salad and the Martita block votes for her Team Giada teammate. I’m actually going to predict Yvan in an upset. On a personal level though, I want Justin to win. I loved Good Eats because it taught me about food while teaching me how to prepare good food. Justin, working with Alton Brown as producer, could recapture this magic and teach America how to use exotic ingredients in fun and interesting, yet practical ways. We’ll find out tomorrow night!!

Magic Mike Review

Many months ago I heard about a movie about male strippers that would be starring some of Hollywood’s “hottest” men: Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum and Matt Bomer. I dismissed the movie as something I’d never see, but then I saw the first trailer. Maybe this was something I wouldn’t mind seeing. If the trailer was to be believed, the movie would be about a young man following his dream of starting his own custom furniture business...his journey just so happened to involve him making money by taking off his clothes. Plus the film seemed to be pretty funny. For the past few weeks I’ve gotten crazy looks from people because I mentioned that I thought Magic Mike looked pretty funny. Was I wrong? Was the movie not really funny, but instead a dark and dirty exposé of the seedy world of male strippers? I found out Friday...

Review:

Friday afternoon Auditorium 9 at the Wynnsong 16 in Auburn was transformed into a dark den of cougars waiting to feast their eyes on a whole bunch of man meat. I’m not kidding when I say I was one of two guys in the entire theater. The other guy’s wife made him go, I just wanted to see a bunch of dudes shake their asses (eye roll)...I must say I really was concerned I had made a mistake and would be in for two hours of nude dudes, but thankfully there weren’t any bare penises (peni?) to be found in the film. 

I think what really attracted me to the movie was how director Steven Soderbergh had managed to put a fresh spin on the familiar “stripper with a heart of gold” story. Make no mistake, Mike is a man with a dream. He wants to give up his life of manual labor and stripping to start his own custom furniture business. His custom furniture business is equivalent to Candy or Destiny’s medical school education...each does what they have to in order to make their dream a reality. Not all roads to The American Dream are paved in gold; some take twists & turns through dark alleys and down lonely back roads. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise many people will have watching the movie is Channing Tatum. He seems to be “the man” right now. After the success of 21 Jump Street, Paramount allegedly decided to push back G.I. Joe: Retaliation in order to reshoot the movie in order to capitalize on Tatum’s rising star. I’m annoyed Paramount would do such a thing as I don’t think it fair to the director to make them change their vision, but there’s no denying Tatum is proving to be a big box office draw. His performance in Magic Mike proves he’s capable of being a leading man in a more serious movie, so Paramount could be laughing all the way to the bank. 

Tatum’s performance as “Magic Mike” isn’t exactly Oscar worthy, but I think it’s a step in the right direction toward proving he’s more than another pretty face. Tatum’s performance shows depth and never once was I thinking, “Man this goofball is terrible”. In fact on my drive home I was amazed at how invested I was in the movie for the first half or so. I almost felt as if I was watching a documentary portraying a day in the life of a male stripper. 

Tatum is charming as Mike. If I’m being honest, I could imagine a male stripper with a chiseled body and killer dance moves to be a bit of an asshole, but that’s not Mike. He’s just a regular guy trying to save enough money to start his own business. He does what he does because it helps him toward his longer term goals. Sure there are perks (such as women) to his job but he doesn’t ever let the excesses surrounding his lifestyle to become a distraction. 

Channing Tatum is fun to watch as Mike, but Matthew McConaughey might be more fun to watch as Dallas. More or less, Dallas is the old timer who serves as a mentor for Mike and the other dancers when it comes to the “Dance Revue”. McConaughey really brings it as Dallas. I’ve never been to a strip club, male or female, but I venture to say that choreographed group numbers aren't done on the regular. The absurdity of this cracks me up. The man behind the madness is Dallas. Watching McConaughey coach up a new dancer in his skimpy outfit gave me a couple big laughs. 

One of the great things about the movie for me is that the film develops the minor characters enough that we get insight into their personalities without wasting too much time on them in favor of the main characters. The supporting cast is really good. Kevin Nash is a personal favorite as Tarzan, mainly because I grew up watching him as a wrestler so seeing him in a major Hollywood movie is funny to me. All of the other male strippers are unique and the actors portraying them do a good job of fleshing out their characters with limited screen time and dialogue. 

Although my thoughts so far would indicate otherwise, Magic Mike is not a perfect film. I found my interest in the film waning towards the end. It seemed the movie hit a bit of a rut and began to drag along without much happening. Perhaps this was intentional as being stuck in a rut is a theme to be found in the movie, but my guess is the story just lulls just past the half-way point. Thankfully, this is forgivable and the movie finishes fairly strong.

Rating: Pretty Good

Verdict: I really doubt there are many people on the fence about this movie. A lot of people are going to want to see it for the guys; others will avoid it for this reason. Maybe I was imagining things, but it seemed the energy level in the theater dropped as the movie went along...many seemed to come in expecting two hours of naked guys only to find a pretty good story and movie. I think a lot of people will be surprised at how human the story is. Magic Mike is much more a story about people who strip than stripping people. Mike even says as much in the trailer when he tells Brooke, “I’m not my lifestyle”. Is the movie a groundbreaking character study? No, but it also doesn’t sacrifice characters at the expense of excessive nudity and male thrusting (though there’s plenty of thrusting)...Bottom line, I think folks shouldn’t pass up the movie due to preconceived notions. If you’re feeling adventurous, check it out!

Notes:

Rising Stars: I already mentioned how good Channing Tatum is, but there are a few others who might be names to look out for. Alex Pettyfer is good as Alex. I enjoyed his performance in Magic Mike and really enjoyed watching him in last year’s I Am Number Four. He could be poised for a big break after Magic Mike

Olivia Munn is also one to keep an eye out for. Geeks already know her from her stint on G4, but I was impressed with her acting skills after seeing her in more than a small bit part like the ones she played in Iron Man 2 and Date Night. In Magic Mike she proved to me she has the talent to be more than another pretty face. She’s also has a role in the new HBO hit, The Newsroom.

Finally, Cody Horn is good as Alex’s older sister, Brooke. Miss Horn’s Brooke serves as the audience’s voice of reason in the film. She questions the career choices of Mike and Alex, asking the questions most of us would have for someone who takes their clothes off for a living. She does all of this without coming across as “high and mighty”. Miss Horn has a nice, down-home charm to her. I’m interested in seeing how her career pans out. 

Who Comes Up With This Stuff?: I was really impressed with Magic Mike's writing, from the way the potentially larger than life characters were humanized to the way the personalities of the smaller characters were portrayed in a few lines of dialogue. If IMDb is to be believed, this is the first feature that Reid Carolin has written. His only other writing credit being that of a documentary...told you it felt like a documentary!

 

Notes in lieu of Review

If you follow the blog on Twitter you probably heard me mention I'd be on a friend of mine's radio show, 3 Hour Comedy Hour (listen online here). Instead of writing a full length review for Rock of Ages and Prometheus I decided it'd be a nice way to change things up by providing you with a look at the notes I used for the show. I would love to hear what you guys think about a "snapshot" review, as I know sometimes you're in a hurry and don't have time to read a full length review. Here we go!

Rock of Ages:

History: Started as a stage musical around 2006. Hit Broadway in 2009. Now a movie.

Story:

-Fairly straight forward. Young girl heads west seeking fortune and fame. Girl meets boy. Reminds me of Tom Petty’s "Into the Great Wide Open". Young kids with world at their feet...

What you might not like:

-It is a musical. Some folks might be turned off by all of the singing, but let’s face it, a lot of Disney animation we watched as kids had a fair number of songs. Plus these tunes are some of the biggest hits from the 80s.

-The stage production was known for breaking the fourth wall. The movie tends to get a bit silly at times, not sure if that’s due to problems with the script or a nod to its stage roots and how lighthearted that production was compared to others. In a way, I’d rather them pick a tone and stick with it. Not too up and down, but some outlandish bits tend to cheapen some of the more serious bits. 

-Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. They aren’t bad, but they are outshined by their co-stars. Katherine Zeta-Jones is beautiful and a lot of fun to watch. Russel Brand is good for laughs without being too annoying. 

What Works:

-I know in Team America Matt Stone and Trey Parker teased about Alec Baldwin being the greatest actor of all time, but he’s probably one of the best character actors working today. He’s great as the owner of the night club where Drew and Sherrie work. 

-Malin Akerman is also good. The main reason to see the movie is because of Tom Cruise. I know a lot of folks can’t stand the guy, but I like him well enough. Sure, he acted crazy on Oprah’s couch, but he never gets too political and doesn’t seem to be a creeper, I find that refreshing. 

-Cruise's performance as Stacey Jaxx is excellent. I’d consider it one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. Big departure from Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible. If Robert Downey Jr. received a Golden Globe nomination for Tropic Thunder, I don’t see why Cruise couldn’t get one for Rock of Ages. He’s that good. 

-Outside of the acting I also enjoyed it because it captures spirit of rock & roll in being true to yourself and finding where you belong. 

Verdict:

-If you don’t like musicals but love good 80s music, perhaps this is the movie that’ll make you appreciate musicals a bit more. If you hate musicals, you might still walk away disappointed, so don’t go expecting any sort of genre-redefining movie. If you enjoy musicals you’ll probably like this one. If even remotely interested in the film, check it out. I think Cruise’s performance is worth the price of admission.

 

 

Prometheus:

Really hard to write a spoiler free review of Prometheus. Basically even hard to talk about the movie without spoiling any parts. So basically here are a few reasons why I think you might want to see it:

Visually, the movie looks great. I didn’t see it in 3D, but am hoping to. Some of the visuals are pretty incredible and Ridley Scott actually filmed it for 3D, instead of doing a conversion. Conversion from 2D, to me, is one thing keeping 3D from being widely accepted. That and 3D films are dim. 

Performances: 

-Noomi Rapace is really good. As the movie is related to Alien it’s nice to see another strong female character in a leading role. Sigourney Weaver is an icon and I didn’t spend any time thinking, man I wish Sigourney was here instead of this girl. 

-Michael Fassbender is phenomenal as David. His performance is a lot of fun to watch. Can’t really say much about him without spoiling parts of the movie, but I’m curious to see if everyone else enjoyed watching him as much as I did. 

Verdict:

If you enjoy sci-fi check it out. Also keep in mind it isn’t a true prequel to Alien. Keep those in mind and you should have a good time. 

**Note: I want to see it again. For me, Sci-fi is a fun genre because it allows us to look at ourselves critically, without making any real relevant political or social comments, although they could be made. For me good sci-fi is broad enough that it won’t be limited to speaking to the human condition during a certain time, but through all of our history. 

 

Snow White and the Huntsman Review

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve no doubt seen me praise NBC’s Grimm for the wonderful way they’ve successfully woven fairy tales into a detective show. It’s for this reason that I was interested to see Snow White and the Huntsman. It seemed the film’s helmers were taking a fresh approach to the legend, portraying Snow White as a young warrior princess. So, is Snow White destined to lead her troops to victory at the box office or will this be one legend that we’ll soon forget?

Review:

If you’ve seen a trailer for the film you already know all you need to know. An evil queen, consumed with vanity, is on a quest to be the “fairest” woman “of them all”. On her quest, the queen learns she only need to consume the heart of Snow White to live forever. 

My positive experience with Grimm and how they’ve updated classic stories really had me excited for Snow White and the Huntsman. After seeing Snow White and the Huntsman I must say it is only a “fair” movie. It’s by no means the worst film I’ve seen, but it’s not one I’m dying to see again either. Snow White and the Huntsman is one of those movies that you mildly enjoy and will watch when it comes on cable and you've got a little time to kill. To clarify this point, it’s best to start with what works in the movie.

Any fairy tale worth its salt needs a good villain. Fortunately for us, Charlize Theron is very good as the evil queen, Ravenna. Theron’s performance as Ravenna won’t win her another Oscar, but it does it’s job, making us despise and fear the evil queen. There is no element of camp in Ms. Theron's performance. As the film wore on I worried they wouldn’t be able to keep Ravenna's "menace level" up, but they were able to, with Theron delivering a solid heel performance all the way until the movie's end. 

Bow to your evil queen in all her glory...

Snow White and the Huntsman really kind of drug along in the middle, only picking up the pace in the last 15 minutes or so. As the film continued to drag along, I worried the filmmakers would end up (unintentionally) putting some cringe-inducing dialogue into the film. To their credit, the screenwriters didn’t drop the ball in this respect. 

Theron’s performance is by far the strongest in the film. It’s a shame that Kristen Stewart was chosen to be the "yang" to Theron's "yin". Stewart isn’t terrible, but I have trouble believing she could inspire someone to eat their vegetables, yet alone inspire an entire kingdom to rebel against their ruthless queen. Stewart's performance could be the most flat and soulless I’ve seen since January Jones' as Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class. At least Jones' performance could be defended by the fact Frost was supposed to be a cold-blooded character. 

Thankfully, Stewart’s lack of charisma didn’t derail the entire movie. While on the subject of disappointing performances, I must mention Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. Perhaps Hemsworth is just a victim of circumstance, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just watching a powerless Thor in Snow White and the Huntsman, not an entirely different character. Hemsworth’s performance is really uneven. There were moments where I felt he was going to shake off the Thor mold, but inevitably he fell back into it. In fairness, this could be a personal hangup of my own as I’ve recently watched Hemsworth as Thor in The Avengers, but the accent is the same, the mannerisms similar, so he wasn’t really pushing the envelope with his performance.

Even though Stewart and Hemsworth both turn in less than stellar performances, I think Snow White and the Huntsman’s ultimate downfall is the fact that it lacks “heart”. It is by no means a bad movie; in fact, it’s much closer to being a good movie than being a bad one. The film just seems to lack the “it factor” that makes me care about what I’m watching. Perhaps this lack of heart was compounded by the films length, but overall I think Snow White and the Huntsman is just missing that little spark that makes you care for the characters and their plight. 

Rating: Fair

Verdict: If you’re a big fan of Kristen Stewart you’ll enjoy the film. If you want to see Chris Hemsworth run around scruffy and dirty, you’ll find plenty to like. If you like good movies, you should probably look elsewhere.

Notes: 

Girl Power: It’s a shame they botched this film. They had an opportunity to present young women with a strong heroine who was extremely strong and independent, only to betray that with an uncharismatic lead in a heartless production. Watching the movie I couldn’t help thinking how much better the film might’ve been with Amanda Seyfried or Rachel McAdams opposite Charlize Theron.  

Don’t Bring the Kids: Although the film is only rated PG-13, I think parents should think twice about taking their younger kids to the film. It’s pretty dark.  

Fool Me Once (Shame on You): A fair word of warning, the movie has less action than the trailers would lead you to believe. There are a decent number of action scenes, but I felt the trailer portrayed the film as an action film, but it’s definitely more of a drama. 

 

The Dictator Review

It was a mild winter day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The year was 2002. I’d agreed to attend Alabama’s game against Mississippi State with my neighbor from New Men’s Dorm. Sure, I was an Auburn fan, but I was transferring from Birmingham-Southern after the semester was over, so I wanted to spend some time with one of the folks who had made my first semester of college so great, even if it meant spending an afternoon in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide defeated the Bulldogs that afternoon, but that isn’t my biggest memory from that day. Nor is it constant reminders of Bama’s 25 national titles or watching "The Million Dollar Band" put in their two cents. My biggest memory from that day has nothing to do with football. It has to do with the skinny foreigner wearing a black pirate shirt and white leather pants interviewing fans a few rows behind me. I remember being struck by how out of place he was. Years later I found out the young man’s name was Brüno and he was actually a character created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Since that day, Cohen has made himself and his characters known the world over. After releasing films featuring his characters Ali G, Borat and Brüno, Cohen returns to the big screen as Admiral General Aladeen, dictator of the Republic of Wadiya. So does The Dictator deserve an audience or should he be put out to pasture like Cohen’s other characters?

Review:

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any of Cohen’s previous “character” movies in their entirety. As such, I can’t say how The Dictator stands up against the likes of Borat and Brüno. I can tell you that I have conflicting emotions about The Dictator. Let’s start with the good. The movie has plenty of laughs and thankfully, not all of them have been featured in promotional materials. 

The movie is also intriguing because it’s a mainstream release with underpinnings of satire. I don’t expect many to go to see The Dictator for these reasons, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Cohen wasn’t playing things entirely for laughs. The film points out several of the absurdities found in our world today, all without beating viewers over the head with a “message”. 

Cohen's genius is on full display over New York.

The Dictator has a lot going for it. It is funny and pretty smart, but The Dictator is not a perfect film. One question is at the heart of my conflict over whether or not The Dictator is worth a watch: Does a comedy have to work as a “whole” or can the individual parts add up to a satisfying experience? For me The Dictator is a series of funny bits revolving around a tyrant loosely connected by a simple story. I’m not arguing that all comedies must have intricate plots, it’s just I feel like Cohen came up with a lot of funny skits involving Admiral General Aladeen and since he no longer has a tv show, he packaged these skits together as an hour and twenty-three minute movie. 

In general, I don’t know if I can truly recommend The Dictator. I think readers need to ask themselves this question: Were the trailers funny or stupid? If you think they were funny, check out the movie. If you thought the film looked stupid, wait for the DVD, as there are some good laughs to be enjoyed (especially the helicopter tour) but I don’t know if they will add up to a product you’ll feel was worth your money. 

Rating: Decent

Verdict: If you enjoy absurdist humor you’ll find some nice laughs in The Dictator. If you’re on the fence, take the trailer test outlined above to decide whether or not you want to spend an hour and a half with Admiral General Aladeen.

Notes:

Stay “Crassy” San Diego: The teaser trailer for Anchorman 2 premiered with The Dictator. Cohen’s humor is anything but “classy”. Be on the lookout for some lowbrow humor and fun camera shots, especially a particularly creative, but disturbing point of view shot. 

Straight Outta Wadiya: The Dictator might feature one of the coolest soundtracks of the year. The movie not only does a wonderful job of pairing songs with the action on screen, but it does so by utilizing covers of popular songs in Arabic. Bravo.

Cohen for the Win?: I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a talented individual. Sure, he’s a bit edgy at times, but the guy sure can create some fun characters and put them in hilarious situations. I’m hoping we’ll eventually get to see Cohen take on more serious roles. The diversity of his characters leads me to believe he could win some acting awards if given the right “serious” role. It looks like he’s supposed to play Freddy Mercury in the upcoming biopic, Mercury. We shall see if Cohen has what it takes to win an Oscar...in 2014.

 

Quick Update

The other day on Twitter I mentioned I have a few fun things in store for the blog. One of them is still going to be under wraps, the other I'm happy to announce today. I really enjoy talking about whether movies are worth your time and money. I think it's a practical approach to film reviews. In order to keep things fresh and interesting I'm going to be adding a new recurring feature to the blog entitled "Trash or Treasure".

As the title implies, I'm planning on letting you know whether or not a movie is a piece of garbage or hidden gem. The fun aspect of this is I'll be hunting for bargain movies in a variety of places; Wal-Mart, Hastings, pawn shops and even yard sales. The idea is to see if the movies you can pick up for $1 are even worth the cheap plastic they were built on. I was lucky enough to find two DVDs for $1 at Hastings last weekend. Stay tuned for my look at whether or not Chuck Norris' Breaker! Breaker! and Stallone's Eye Can See You are "trash" or "treasures"....

21 Jump Street Review

Johnny Depp is without a doubt one of the most talented actors working today. Sure, he’s made some bad choices (Wonka!) but on the whole he’s quite dependable for a solid performance. After being ripped to shreds by Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street Depp became a teen heartthrob after his leading role in the TV series 21 Jump Street. I have never seen the show, but have always heard people mention it and how it really introduced them to Depp. So is the film adaptation of the beloved show able to stand on it’s own or is the shadow of Depp too large for the film to peak around?

Review:

One thing fans of the show are probably asking themselves is whether or not they should check out the movie. I think those involved with making the movie must have thought about this and decided to create a comedy instead of working on a police drama like the TV Show. I know there are probably some purists out there that think doing this was a horrible decision, but in reality, they might not have supported any adaptation of the series. So, having never seen the TV show, what was my impression of 21 Jump Street? I liked it a good bit. 

As I’ve mentioned before, for me the mark of a good comedy these days is that the funniest bits aren’t all shown in clips and commercials. There’s nothing more annoying than settling into a theater preparing to laugh like crazy and realizing you’ve seen the funniest parts of the movie several few times in trailers. One of the points of this blog is to let you know whether or not a movie or restaurant is worth your time and money. Thankfully, 21 Jump Street is worth your time and money. 

The plot is fairly straightforward; two newly minted police officers are sent undercover as high school students to help stop the spread of a deadly new street drug before it begins wreaking havoc throughout the city. The two officers are played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Both actors have appeared in more serious roles recently, Hill even being nominated for an Oscar, but in my opinion, they are both well suited for comedy. Hill is great as the brainy Schmidt while Tatum excels as the “meathead”, Jenko. The two have good chemistry together so it’s fun to watch them interact with one another and those they encounter. 

If Depp didn't need Powerpoint, neither do we.

With 21 Jump Street I think we are seeing a new sub-genre emerging. I call it, “bromantic comedy”. I won’t get into details, but the film supplements its buddy cop core with romantic comedy tropes. I know the events portrayed in the film aren’t totally unique, but I never really noticed how closely these events in buddy movies parallel those in romantic comedies until I saw 21 Jump Street. But who am I kidding, you’re not here for an academic analysis of the buddy cop genre, you want to know why you should pay to see 21 Jump Street

Bottomline, I think you should check it out if you were at least slightly interested in seeing it after watching the trailers. There are plenty of laughs to go around. Days after seeing it I still find myself chuckling at quips that I didn’t really think much about in the theater. Revisiting Jump Street is definitely near the top of my to-do list. 

There are plenty of laughs present but the film does still have some shortfalls. The first is it might be too self-referential for some. Personally I enjoyed those bits as it showed the movie’s creators were aware of the pitfalls they might encounter when adapting a TV Show people care about into a movie. The other thing I think might turn some folks off is the plethora of references to & jokes revolving around male genitalia. Put simply, there are a lot of “dick jokes” and I don't mean detective jokes. It isn’t a constant stream of genitalia jokes, but there are a good number to go around. The jokes aren’t really forced, since the detectives are still young and could very well communicate with one another in a crass manner, but I want to give folks a heads up in case they’re totally off-put by that type of humor. 21 Jump Street is a R-rated comedy, so don't go in expecting the most high-concept, high-brow humor you've seen in an American multiplex in years. If you like to laugh and are of age, I think you owe it to yourself to check out 21 Jump Street 

Rating: Good. 

Verdict: One of the better comedies I've seen in a while. I think it's worth checking out if you can overlook the occassional crass joke or two.

Notes: 

The Buddy System: One of my favorite comedies is Hot Fuzz. It just so happens to be a “buddy cop” movie and is really my measuring stick for films in the sub-genre. 21 Jump Street isn’t quite at the same level, but they’re tough to compare because their humor is so different, one is British after all. Both feature good chemistry between their leads and a wonderful blend of comedy & action. These features are key to a buddy cop film being worth watching. I think American audiences will love 21 Jump Street. The box office results indicate as much. 

Let Your Dim Light Shine: Ellie Kemper, probably best known to those of you at home as Erin from The Office, has a wonderful turn as a teacher at the school. After seeing Ms. Kemper in small roles in 21 Jump Street and Bridesmaids I’m excited to see where her career goes. She has been nailing her smaller roles and I don’t think it’ll be long before we see her get a shot at a larger supporting role in upcoming comedies. Not sure if she’s ready for primetime just yet, but she might be one to keep an eye on. 

 

Favorite Films of 2011

As we turn the page and leave the year 2011 behind, staring the world’s potential destruction down, I feel it’s only appropriate to take stock of whether or not Hollywood delivered audiences a good time in what might be the last full year of civilized society. That’s right folks, it’s time for my favorite films of 2011! Due to my indecisive nature, I refuse to create a top 10 list, instead I’ll list categories and mention why I placed a particular movie there. Sound fun? You betcha!

Favorite Family Friendly Film:

Honorable Mention: 

I Am Number Four

Based on The Lorien Legacies, a young-adult book series, this Action/Sci-Fi flick is a fun watch. I must say it’s one of the more pleasant surprises of 2011. I went in to it not expecting much and came out of the theater eager to see the film again. The story is compelling, featuring a nice blend of action, suspense and thrilling moments. I Am Number Four isn’t exactly child friendly, but it’s a movie pre-teens and teens can enjoy with their parents. 

Super 8:

In my review of Super 8 I mentioned that it was one of the hardest films for me to review. I’m not sure if it’s because I had hoped it would be related to Cloverfield or if I let my “job” as a reviewer get in the way of my enjoying the film as a viewer. It’s a damn shame that I had this problem, as I do believe it was one of the better family-friendly films of the year. Super 8 is more or less J.J. Abrams’ love letter to the old Amblin Entertainment films such as E.T. and The Goonies

My inner turmoil aside, I ended up recommending the movie. I still believe that the train crash sequence was one of the most exciting, anxiety-producing sequences I saw in a movie theater all year, which is saying something since Super 8 shared 2011 with Mission Impossible 4. If you missed the film in theaters though, I’d say you’ll be most impressed with the great acting by the young cast. Young Elle Fanning is a revelation and her cohorts are all great in the film. Super 8 is PG-13, so it might not be for really young kids, but who knows. Check out the parental guide on IMDB and decide whether it’s something every member of the family should watch together or only mom, dad and the teens. Regardless, you owe it to yourself to check it out. 

Top Family Film of 2011:

The Muppets:

I loved this film. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with the Muppet Babies cartoon. Maybe it’s because one of my most vivid childhood memories is our van breaking down on the side of a Michigan highway in late December on our way to see The Muppet Christmas Carol, only to be helped by a nice couple from Georgia (Southern Hospitality FTW!) who helped salvage a night where I’d be introduced to chimichangas and one of my favorite adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story. I can’t say for sure why I loved the movie so much, but I was probably the guy laughing the loudest and most frequently in the theater. 

I think what makes The Muppets so great is how clever the comedy is. On it’s surface it’s a movie about puppets trying to save a theater, but the film is a love letter to childhood and friendship. Kids should enjoy themselves, but in a way the movie might have more to say to adults. I could be wrong, but I imagine The Muppets were some of the first to really perfect the idea of comedy that appealed to adults and kids equally. The Muppets is rated PG, making it the perfect family movie. The jokes and music are great, with enough variety to appeal to children of all ages. The Muppets is probably still in theaters most places, if it is, go see it as soon as you can. It’s one of the best films of 2011. 

Favorite Comedy:

Honorable Mention:

Bridesmaids:

Judd Apatow really burst onto the scene after the release of his feature film debut, The 40-Year Old Virgin, in 2005. In the years that have followed Mr. Apatow has directed (Knocked Up), written (Pineapple Express) and produced (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) some of the most successful comedies to come out of Hollywood. With Bridesmaids Mr. Apatow scored another hit as a producer.  

Of course, the majority of the credit for the film’s success should be attributed to its star and co-writer, Kristen Wiig. As I mentioned in my review, Ms. Wiig brings “humor and pathos to the role of Annie”. The movie is funny, but I think what has captured audiences and won the movie so much praise is that the movie has a strong emotional heart to it. Life lessons and an emotional core are trademarks of Apatow films and Bridesmaids is no exception. 

I know mentioning the emotional core of a comedy makes it sound like it’s not funny, but that’s not the case. Bridesmaids delivers laughs aplenty, but it’s not a non-stop string of jokes. There are serious moments and the cast, under the direction of Paul Feig, really take the movie to another level with their ability to balance between the extremes of humor and seriousness. My message to viewers about Bridesmaids: Come for the funny cast, including Ms. Wiig & Melissa McCarthy and stay for the laughs...maybe even a few tears.  

Horrible Bosses:

Bridesmaids has been receiving a lot of praise (rightfully so), including Golden Globe nominations (Best Comedy or Musical & Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical = Kristen Wiig), but it wasn’t my favorite comedy of 2011. Although I really appreciate Bridesmaids for having an emotional side to it, I can’t say that it was the funniest movie I saw all year, that honor belongs to another movie, Horrible Bosses. Although it starts a bit slow, once it gets going, Horrible Bosses doesn’t really let up on the laughs.  

For me, one of the problems with comedies these days is we see most of the funny bits in the trailer or promotional clips. The Hangover: Part II and Bridesmaids both suffered from this problem. Horrible Bosses saves some of its biggest laughs for the auditorium. The movie’s premise is simple. Fed up with their mistreatment at the hands of their respective bosses, three friends decide to swap murders. The casting for the movie is really wonderful, from the three leads to their horrible bosses. Although everyone scores laughs, Charlie Day really steals the show. The It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star is in top form and this movie should help him land more film roles. Day’s performance is perfectly complimented by Jennifer Anniston as his sexually harassing, super-sexy dentist boss. Horrible Bosses is the funniest movie I saw this year, but it wasn’t my favorite comedy of 2011.

Favorite Comedy:

Take Me Home Tonight:

I know some probably think I’m crazy for saying Horrible Bosses is the funniest movie I saw all year but not naming it my favorite. As I’ve said before, for me, best is not synonymous with favorite. My favorite comedy of 2011 is Take Me Home Tonight. Why? Take Me Home Tonight delivers big laughs not found in clips and trailers as well as a story with an emotional heart. I had wanted to see Take Me Home Tonight since seeing a trailer and went to see it opening weekend. Unfortunately, I think I was one of only a few thousand people who caught the movie in theaters, as it was in and out of the local movie house within two or three weeks. I feel that this is a shame as it’s a wonderful movie that will probably hit home with a lot of twenty-somethings.

Normally I’d sit here and describe the acting or writing, but I think it only fair to explain to you why this is my favorite comedy of the year. There are a few simple reasons. The first is that I’ve been in the throws of an extended quarter-life crisis for a few years now. Like the film’s protagonist, Matt Franklin, I find myself with a college degree and no real idea of what to do with my life. Sure I could take a job in my field, but looking down the line, is that really what I want in life? I struggle daily with deciding whether or not I should try to find my “truth” or find a secure job, wait out mundane day after mundane day until it’s time to retire and be content with having a pretty ordinary life with a few really happy days sprinkled throughout. 

Matt struggles with similar issues. Being torn between taking the path his parents and peers have expected him to take or finding what truly makes him happy, starting by finally forming a relationship with his high school crush, Tori Frederking. Perhaps it’s the hopeless romantic in me who believes I’ll find the perfect girl & perfect job that the film truly spoke to, but whatever it is, I can’t think of a movie I watched all year that really “hit home” like Take Me Home Tonight

Ron Howard served as a producer for the film and he perfectly captured my sentiments in a piece for The New York Times, “Young people are all waiting for this night to roll around when they’re going to change, understand, find that person”. Maybe everyone isn’t bound to find happiness, meet the “one” or change the world through a job they love, but I’ll be damned if Matt Franklin doesn’t give me hope that they do.

 

Favorite Action Movie:

Honorable Mention: 

Hanna:

One of the weirder films I saw all year, this Joe Wright directed movie represents a bit of a departure for the director whose previous films include The Soloist and Atonement. Hanna isn’t a pure action film, as it has elements of the mystery and thriller genres. Although it isn’t the best action film of the year, I think Hanna is worth a look for several reasons. 

The first is Hanna herself. Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as a teenager trained in isolation by her father to be an assassin. Young Miss Ronan is pitch perfect throughout the film. Her performance has been nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award and I am a bit surprised she isn’t getting more buzz for other awards. Her performance is complimented by strong turns by Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana. 

The fine acting featured in the film sets the foundation for the movie’s good action sequences. The film feels very European. By that I mean that the action seems very practical and the stunts appear to have been performed by real people. This is a refreshing change of pace from a lot of the big action movies you see these days which rely on CGI and visual effects. The action throughout the film is perfectly accented by a score composed by The Chemical Brothers. One of my favorite songs is the devil is in the beats. If you’re a fan of action you owe it to yourself to take a look at Hanna.  

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol:

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is probably the best action movie of 2011. Honestly, it’s probably the only pure action film on my list of favorites. I’ve seen every movie in the Mission: Impossible franchise and have to say that the two most recent films are the best of the series. I think it’s rare that a series improves with time, but 2011 has proven it’s possible, with Ghost Protocol and Fast Five showing audiences are willing to watch sequels if filmmakers produce a quality product. 

I really enjoyed Mission:Impossible 3, but Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol takes the action to another level. The story might not be as emotional as M:I:III, but it serves it’s purpose by keeping viewers interested and propelling the movie along towards its amazing action sequences. I mentioned above that the train crash in Super 8 is probably the best action sequence I saw in theaters all year. That’s true, but Ghost Protocol delivers the best overall action of any film I saw in 2011. The movie is pretty relentless. The Impossible Missions Force is faced with their biggest challenge in any of the movies and as such the movie really doesn’t ease off the accelerator much. I remember being on the edge of my seat at several points during the movie. I rarely get as engrossed in the action, but Ghost Protocol draws you in and doesn’t let go until you walk to your car. 

Tom Cruise, as always, is solid as Ethan Hunt. Simon Pegg provides some much needed comic relief to help break up the tension between the suspenseful moments. Jeremy Renner proves he can be an action star like Mr. Cruise and his performance has me anticipating The Avengers even more than I was. Paula Patton is good as the gorgeous, super deadly female IMF agent Jane Carter. Of course, you won’t be talking about the acting, but the action once you see the film. Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is not only the best action film I saw in theaters in 2011 but also a film that has set the bar for what audiences will expect from action films in the future. A new bar for excitement and pacing has been set. Can’t wait to see if anyone tries to raise it. 

Favorite Action Movie:

X-Men: First Class:

As mentioned above, as far as pure action movies go, I think Ghost Protocol is tops for 2011. My favorite action movie of the year though is X-Men: First Class. The movie had plenty of action, but what really sets it apart from Ghost Protocol and Hanna is character development. In each of the other favorites the characters are more or less presented as absolute. They aren’t cardboard characters, they do have depth, but we don’t really see them develop as characters. We just know that Hanna was raised to be an assassin, we know that Ethan Hunt and his team are trained agents of the IMF. With X-Men: First Class we get to see the experiences that made Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr into the future Professor X and Magneto. 

Like The Dark Knight before it, X-Men: First Class is not only a wonderful superhero film, but also a great movie in general. It features a wonderful story, interesting characters, exciting action and strong performances from its leads (James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr). With his reboot of the X-Men franchise Director Matthew Vaughn proved that he is one of the best in the game today. McAvoy and Fassbender are both incredible in their roles and credit should probably be given to Vaughn for helping make sure a weak link, like January Jones, didn’t derail the whole operation. 

Even if you aren’t a fan of superhero movies you owe it to yourself to watch X-Men: First Class. On the surface it’s a film about “mutants” but at its core it’s a film about human beings and each of ours’ desires to find somewhere we belong and someone who understands us. Those are universal themes that appeal to people from all walks of life. I believe everyone owes it to themselves to behold the genius of X-Men: First Class. It’s an action movie with a heart and emotional center, a refreshing change of pace from typical summer blockbusters. Basically Vaughn crafted a summer blockbuster without the superficial elements. Maybe he’s a mutant. 

Favorite Sci-Fi Movie:

Honorable Mention:

Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens is one of my guilty pleasures from 2011. It was panned by critics, but I really had a good time. Is it a wonderful film? No. Is it a hell of a lot of fun? You bet.  Taken as a summer “popcorn” flick I think Cowboys and Aliens works quite well. There isn’t any new ground being broken, but what did people really expect from a movie entitled Cowboys and Aliens

As I mentioned in my review, I think it is important for viewers to look at the film as a western and not really an alien invasion film. At it’s heart Cowboys and Aliens is a western whose villains just so happen to be extraterrestrials. If you go into the movie willing to suspend disbelief for a few hours you should really enjoy yourself. John Favreau, who also directed Iron Man, does a great job of fusing sci-fi elements into a traditional western, the result is a fun movie that can serve as a great way to pass some time.   

Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

I have a confession to make: I really loved Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001). I don’t know why, but I really liked it, seeing it in theaters multiple times. Since I was so fond of Burton’s movie I was a bit upset when I heard they were making a new Planet of the Apes film that didn’t pick up where Burton’s left off*, but after seeing a special on Rise of the Planet of the Apes' production I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did. The movie really is great. To me, this film does for the Planet of the Apes Franchise what The Dark Knight did for superhero movies: it shows that the subject matter, treated properly can make a great movie that can appeal to a wide variety of people. 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes features a great story that is made even better by strong performances by James Franco, John Lithgow and Andy Serkis. Serkis’ performance could be the best I saw in any film in 2011. What makes it so amazing? For one thing, he plays Caesar, a chimpanzee. Through motion-capture technology the filmmakers created a computer generated character capable of evoking true emotion in the audience. Without this human element showing through in Caesar, I don’t think the entire film works as well as it does. 

As I mentioned above, the film’s story is wonderful. For me, great science fiction is grounded in some sort of real science or modern theory. A great example is artificial intelligence. Presently we have created artificial intelligence, such as Siri. To me good science fiction would deal with the ramifications of how much like a human we’d like to make a machine and whether or not you could create a machine that can “love”. If we create machines that feel and think, do we give them civil rights like humans? Basically I believe good science fiction can serve as a basis for us to reflect on ourselves, where we’re going and where we draw certain lines, if we even do so. 

Having laid all that out, I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a wonderful example of great science fiction in how it does raise ethical issues associated with drug development and man’s ability to control the world around him. Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction, I think that you’ll enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s just a really good movie. 

Favorite Science Fiction Film:

Source Code:

Although Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a wonderful film that raises questions based on current science, it is not my favorite science fiction film of 2011. That honor belongs to another film that raises other questions. My favorite science fiction film of 2011 is Duncan Jones’ Source Code. It’s well acted and has a wonderful premise. See it. I doubt you’ll regret it. While you’re at it, check out Duncan Jones’ other film, Moon. It might just be better than Source Code, which is saying a lot. 

Favorite Drama: 

Honorable Mention: 

The Adjustment Bureau

After seeing Team America: World Police I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to watch another Matt Damon movie and take him seriously. Thankfully I’ve been able to, as The Adjustment Bureau is one of my favorites of 2011. Had it not been for some really strong entries in the genre this would have been my favorite drama for the year.

When people ask about this movie I tell them they have to see it because the chemistry between the two leads is incredible. Their performances really make you believe that Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are in love. This chemistry is what really helps make this movie so successful as the audience really wouldn’t care if two people who didn’t seem to have any connection were being kept apart by mysterious forces. If you need to see an example of a movie hindered by poor chemistry between leads, check out Water for Elephants. Pattinson and Witherspoon might as well have filmed their parts separately in front of a green screen and had them joined together in post. That might’ve made their “love” more convincing. Maybe.

I’m pleased to see that the film has been nominated for a People’s Choice Award for best drama. In my opinion it deserves more recognition than it’s been getting. Although the chemistry between Damon and Blunt is a sight to behold, the movie’s story is compelling and features enough twists and turns to make The Adjustment Bureau a compelling thriller. Check it out, but beware, you’ll be hard pressed to find actors with better chemistry than The Adjustment Bureau’s leads.

The Help:

While The Adjustment Bureau featured the best chemistry between leads in a movie this year, The Help features the best acting amongst an ensemble. I can say with confidence that everyone in The Help holds up their end of the bargain, with several actresses putting in a couple of the finest performances of 2011. I mentioned in my review that we were probably dealing with one of the major award contenders of the year, turns out I was right. The Help was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Drama, while three of the film’s actresses were nominated for individual awards by the Hollywood Foreign Press. Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain were nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, while Viola Davis received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. 

In all honesty I don’t think I can express why I loved The Help any better than I did in my review, so please check it out

Favorite Drama:

Drive:

A few years ago I experienced a strange phenomenon. I watched a movie and knew I had just seen something amazing, but couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why I knew it was a great film. The movie that evoked this feeling was No Country for Old Men . It ended up winning the 2008 Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. I hadn’t experienced that feeling again until seeing Drive this year. The more I thought about Drive, the more I longed to see it again to try and pinpoint exactly what had evoked “the feeling” again. 

I’ve had a month or two to think about it and I’m pretty sure there are several reasons I loved Drive. The first is it’s just a cool movie. It is, without a doubt, the coolest movie I saw all year. How is it cool? I think one of the key elements to making the movie so cool is the soundtrack. It’s very understated. This helps because the movie itself is very understated. There’s no unnecessary dialogue. There’s no unnecessary action scenes. The film is clean and well put together. The story never drags, but takes its time developing, without being plodding. This is how you make a movie.

This movie made me fall in love with Carey Mulligan. She’s great in it. Ryan Gosling is even better. It’s amazing that in the same year The Adjustment Bureau showed me how much great chemistry can help a film, Mulligan and Gosling come close to matching the chemistry of Blunt and Damon in The Adjustment Bureau. What’s remarkable is how well Mulligan and Gosling portray how much their characters care for one another with very little dialogue. Instead the two rely on subtle expressions such as appreciative smiles and longing glances to show their characters’ mutual affection. Their chemistry really helps you remember the reason you love being in love, the small moments you share with one another. 

I do think there are two things you should know about Drive other than it’s awesome. The first is it’s not really an action film. Of course the film features action sequences, but this isn’t Mission: Impossible 4. It’s much more a character study so don’t expect the wall-to-wall action. As I said the film is very deliberate, so when there’s action it’s for a purpose and well done. 

A second thing to know is the film features some violence; some brutal, realistic violence, so use caution. If you’re squeamish you might want to hold off on seeing Drive until someone you know personally has checked it out. For you ladies out there, this ain’t The Notebook’s Ryan Gosling. This is the Ryan Gosling your man is going to wish was his buddy; he drives cool cars, kicks ass and wears the sweetest jacket this side of Gene Chizik! Drive is one of my favorite movies of the year. It’s unlike anything you’ll have seen this year, probably ever, so check it out when you get the chance. 

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The list is nearing the end, but as I mentioned in the opening, I wanted to know whether or not Hollywood delivered fun to audiences in 2011. To me, that’s what movies are all about: having a good time and if only for a few hours, escaping from the monotony of everyday life. Watching a movie in a theater will always hold a certain charm for me. It’s not just the big screen and sound, it’s the entire experience. It’s being treated like a special guest as the theater opens it’s doors and rolls out the red carpet for you as a customer. It’s the ability to share the fun and experience with complete strangers. It’s sharing  a special bond with fellow audience members as you exit the theater unscathed after a run in with danger or  have just returned from a journey to a far away land. It’s simply, the magic of the movies. 

So what movie delivered the most fun for me this year? Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I absolutely loved Sherlock Holmes. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I was really excited to see the sequel, but in my heart I was worried that it couldn’t recapture the magic of the first. Thankfully, Guy Ritchie and crew have quelled my fears. A Game of Shadows is better than the first Holmes movie.

The action is superb, as is to be expected with a Guy Ritchie film. I know some don’t like Ritchie’s style, but I personally love it. The slow-motion fighting allows viewers to see what they’re looking for once the fight is played out in real time, as well as showing off Holmes’ keen intellect, letting us know he’s always thinking several steps ahead of those he’s battling with. 

Chemistry between leads was a big element in two of my favorites of 2011, The Adjustment Bureau and Drive. The rapport between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is great. The two seem to not have missed a beat in picking right back up where they left off with the first Sherlock movie. I know some might think it’d be easy, but look at a movie like The Hangover: Part II. The guys still get along, but a lot of the magic from the first is gone from the second. You have to believe part of it can be attributed to the fact that the leads have been apart from one another and away from their respective roles, making it difficult to get back into character. 

As far as the story goes, the stakes are much higher in A Game of Shadows than the original film. Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ arch-nemesis and intellectual equal, serves as a nice counterbalance to Holmes’ genius, helping add suspense to the film. I highly recommend the movie. It was the best time I’ve had at the movies in quite some time.

 

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Now some end of the year awards:

Best Actors:

Ryan Gosling (Drive) = Gosling has been nominated for 2 Golden Globes, neither of which is for his performance in Drive. I’m surprised, but he was wonderful in Crazy, Stupid, Love and I’m sure he’s equally as good in The Ides of March.

Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) = As mentioned above, X-Men: First Class features some of 2011’s best performances. While James McAvoy is great as Professor X, I think Fassbender’s performance as Magneto is more impressive. It’s one of the better performances of the year and I feel it’s only being overlooked because it’s in a comic book movie, which is a shame. Ironically, Fassbender is getting recognition for his work in Shame.

Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) = Arguably the best working in motion-capture performance today, Mr. Serkis has a history of strong motion-capture performances, having played both Gollum and King Kong. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes he’s taken motion-capture performance to another level. The amount of humanity he brings to the role of Caesar is a sight to behold. His performance is remarkable because you get just enough of the human to show through without losing the illusion that you’re watching a chimpanzee. It’s good stuff. 

Best Actresses:

Octavia Spencer (The Help): Ms. Spencer’s performance as Minny Jackson is one of the best of the year. Minny’s a character audiences can get behind and cheer for. Ms. Spencer’s performance will have you howling with laughter and wiping tears from your eyes. She really nails the performance. Probably my favorite bit of acting from any actress all year. 

Saoirse Ronan (Hanna): Ms. Ronan does a wonderful job of playing a teenage assassin. Hanna isn’t a film made for teenagers, it’s a film aimed at adult audiences that just so happens to center around a teenage protagonist. Ms. Ronan is able to show great maturity and childlike vulnerability when needed. It would’ve been easy for someone to make Hanna a total “wild child” since she was raised in the woods, but Ms. Ronan is pitch perfect as Hanna.

Elle Fanning (Super 8): 

Thankfully Dakota Fanning’s younger sister doesn’t play Dakota’s role from a lot of her earlier films, screaming/crying young girl. In fact, Elle Fanning, does just the opposite. She plays a level-headed young woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances and doesn’t once make you wish she’d get off the screen because she’s annoying (which always happened with Dakota). As I mentioned above, the kids in Super 8 are wonderful. Elle Fanning is the best of them all. I’m fairly confident, barring a Lohan-esque breakdown, Elle Fanning will be displaying her fine acting skills for audiences for many years to come. 

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If 2011 does end up being the last full year of civilized society, I’d say we were sent out with a pretty good lot of movies. Sure there were disappointments along the way, Sucker Punch and Rango come to mind, but overall I think Hollywood provided a good variety of films that will appeal to many different audiences. Of course, I’ve only listed my favorite films, I make no argument that they’re the best films of the year, but that’s not what this blog is for. I’m here to tell you whether or not a movie is worth your time and money. I think each of the above films are worth your time and money. Thanks for taking the time to read and support the blog during it’s first year. I look forward to seeing more of you in 2012. At least until it all ends...

 

*part of this is probably because I was looking for answers to that ending that I couldn’t come up with as a 17 year old 

 

Donations

Over the past few months I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support my little blog has received. It means a lot to me that you all take the time to stop by and read what I have to say. I've enjoyed working on the blog for the past few months and I hope you've found the information useful and entertaining. I've learned a lot while working on the site and am excited about the direction the blog is heading. 

If you enjoy reading the blog please consider donating to the site using the link on the right side of this page. Please do not feel that you have to donate at all. The blog isn't in any danger of being shut down, I just thought I'd ask for any help you could give me in paying the expenses that come along with running a blog each month (fees for hosting, domain name, etc). In order to sweeten the deal for everyone from now until January 2nd a $15 donation will entitle you to a free Movies N' Munchies t-shirt! I tweeted the design a few weeks ago. They'll be gray shirts with the blog's logo. Of course, donating is not the only way to get a shirt, I just figured most would like the option to help out while receiving something in return for their donation. 

When donating $15 or more, be sure to include your address and shirt size in the message section when donating through PayPal. This will help me keep track of everyone's sizes and where to ship the shirts when they're ready. I'm holding off on the order until this little "donation drive" is over so I'll know how many should be ordered.

Once again, I thank each and every one of you for your support over the past few months! I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

Logo

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm proud to show you my official Movies N' Munchies logo! I just want to give a big thanks to the fine folks at Stamp in Auburn. They were extremely helpful in translating my ideas into a coherent logo. Shirts will more than likely be on the way, so please let me know if you are interested in spreading the word about the blog! Thanks for your support!

   

 

The Eagle is Auburn

 

A few months back I was approached by Jeremy at The War Eagle Reader to see if I would be interested in contributing to his website. The idea, which came from Jeremy’s wife Jennie, was to look at Netflix Local Favorites to see whether wins or losses affected the rental patterns of Netflix users in college towns, specifically Auburn and Tuscaloosa. In week two a movie I had missed in theaters, but wanted to see, The Eagle showed up in the list of local favorites for Auburn. Immediately upon seeing the movie on the list a phrase from the trailer came to mind, “The Eagle is Rome”. Ever since that night I’ve been wanting to write something about The Eagle. So here I sit on the eve of the Iron Bowl, typing away on my computer late into the night to relay to you what The Eagle can teach us about Auburn.

 I think our discussion really has to start with the question “What is Auburn”? In the simplest of terms, it’s one of the largest universities in the South, located in the small town of Auburn, Alabama. Auburn University offers over 140 different degrees across 13 schools and colleges. As of Fall 2010, over 25,000 students were enrolled at Auburn.  In the simplest terms Auburn is just a university in the South. At Auburn we know there’s more to Auburn University than that. There’s an intangible element that makes Auburn unique. For lack of a better term, I’ll call this intangible “The Auburn Spirit”.

Auburn Men and Women through the years have embodied this spirit and have strived to live their lives according to The Auburn Creed. While watching The Eagle I was struck by how many of the ideas put forth in the stanzas of The Auburn Creed were apparent in The Eagle. The movie revolves around a young Roman centurion, Marcus Flavius Aquila, who has requested a post in Britain. We learn that Marcus’ father was the leader of the Ninth Legion which went missing 20 years earlier, along with its eagle standard. The young man has asked to be stationed in Britain to reclaim his family’s honor. 

What does this have to do with Auburn? Well, the movie and its themes should be familiar to anyone who has ever read the Auburn Creed. The first stanza of the creed says, “I believe that this is a practical world and  that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore I believe in work, hard work.” This stanza is a favorite among Auburn Men and Women. At Auburn we value hard work, on the football field and in life. In Marcus Auburn Men and Women will see a young man who embodies the Auburn Spirit in how he doesn’t want to sit back and send others to do his bidding, he leads his men into battle and is willing to put in whatever hard work is necessary to keep his men safe. 

The Auburn Creed’s fourth stanza begins, “I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid.” Marcus is again a great example of someone with a spirit that is not afraid. He bravely leads his men into battle, even when they are outnumbered. On a few occasions Marcus faces death with courage. This fearless spirit has been a hallmark of Auburn football teams in the past. Auburn loves being the underdog and never shies away from a challenge, regardless of how daunting the task might be (say for instance: your biggest rival coming into town with a number 2 ranking and chance to play for a national title). 

The sixth stanza of The Auburn Creed reads, “I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.” Throughout the film Marcus shows that he has a genuine concern for the well being of his men and also the well being of his slave, Esca. 

So why focus in on The Eagle instead of other films? Again, it goes back to the line in the trailer, “The Eagle is Rome”. The complete phrase from the movie is, “The Eagle is Rome. Wherever The Eagle is, we can say, ‘Rome did that’”. I believe one could make the argument that "The Eagle is Auburn". Of course Auburn’s official mascot is a Tiger, but “War Eagle” is a phrase used by Auburn Men and Women the world over as a greeting & battle cry. There are several different versions of the War Eagle Legend, but my favorite involves a Civil War veteran who finds a wounded eagle upon a battlefield. The young soldier takes in the wounded bird and keeps it as a pet. The bird goes everywhere with the man, remaining on his shoulder as it can no longer fly due to its injuries. 

Legend has it that the bird accompanied the veteran to an Auburn football game. Things weren’t going well for the Tigers at the time, but out of nowhere the eagle flew from the veteran’s shoulder and began circling the field. Auburn fans noticed this and began shouting about the “war eagle”. As the eagle soared above them, Auburn rallied to win the game. Sadly, the eagle was too exhausted from his flight and ended up collapsing onto the field, never to get up, having given his all to help Auburn achieve victory. 

Of course, there may never have been a civil war veteran who attended Auburn that rescued an injured eagle. That’s not the point.  For me the eagle is not an actual bird, but an embodiment of the Auburn Spirit. An eagle is proud and strong. One might even say it possesses a “Spirit that is not afraid”. The phrase “War Eagle” is used by Auburn Men and Women to show their support for one another and admiration for a university that has given so much to so many of us. 

One of the things Coach Chizik has told his young team this year is that “Tradition never graduates”. He’s right. The Auburn Spirit is unending. It’s “ever to conquer and never to yield”. The Auburn Family knows win or lose, “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger”. If Auburn wins the Iron Bowl, we’ll go roll Toomer’s Corner for what could be the final time. If Auburn doesn’t win, the sun will still rise on Sunday and we’ll still be proud of our university and what it has achieved on and off of the football field. For at Auburn we know football seasons will come and go, but The Auburn Spirit never goes out of season. To that notion I say War Eagle Today, War Eagle Tomorrow and War Eagle Forever!

 

My Personal Favorite Scary Movies

Today is Halloween. Instead of dressing up in some skimpy outfit and parading around town, I figured I’d share something even scarier with you, a list of my favorite “scary movies”. Please note that I’ve used “my” as a descriptor. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my picks, but that’s part of the fun. I also think it’s important to note that favorite doesn’t equate to best in my mind. I know some find it odd that I’d make such a distinction, but my favorite movies aren’t always the best movies I’ve ever seen. A great example is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s one of my favorite movies, but I have no delusions that it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Some probably think I’m crazy for making the distinction between favorites and best, but it’s how my mind works. 

I have been thinking about this post for some time and as such I’ve gone over a lot of movies in my mind that I’ve watched and tried to decide which ones were my favorites. To start with I’d like to mention a few of the ones that were left on the cutting room floor. 

Honorable Mention: Two films that really creeped me out or disturbed me, but aren’t favorites (more or less because they terrify me) are House of 1000 Corpses and The Exorcist. The first was created by Rob Zombie. It’s probably the only movie I ever remember watching and immediately feeling dirty. I’m not kidding when I say I felt like I needed to head to church after finishing the movie. I can’t really recall whether or not I was scared or just kind of creeped out and disturbed by how strange it was. How weird is it? There’s a clown in it who runs a fried chicken joint, as well as a guy named Dr. Satan. Oh and you must see what happens to Dwight Shrute. 

The Exorcist is one of the movies my mom warned me not to see. She mentioned how much it bothered her, but being a modern teenager I had to see how cheezy the “horror” film from years bygone really was. Well, I probably should’ve listened to my mother. At the time I wasn’t bothered by the movie, but to this day I only need to start thinking about Regan MacNeil and I get the heebie-jeebies. I know it sounds silly to some, but I was genuinely kind of worried about being possessed. It was terrifying to think that there really wasn’t much you could do other than bring in a priest to remedy the situation. I could handle a ghost moving my furniture around, but having a demon inside my body, not so much. 

So, on to the favorites: 

Land of the Dead/Diary of the Dead: I don’t know if these really qualify as horror films, they’re both zombie movies and the extent to which people are scared of the undead varies, but I like them. I’m sure there are much scarier zombie flicks out there, but I really enjoy these two films from Director George Romero. The main reason I enjoy them is they offer social commentary in the form of “mindless” zombie fun. 

 I won’t delve deeply into the social comments made in each film, but needless to say I was able to write two term papers on Land of the Dead, including the final paper for my Movies and Politics course (if I get brave I’ll post it for you guys to read: warning it contains spoilers). In the broadest terms, Land of the Dead deals with consumerism and class in American society. Although I wrote a final paper on Land of the Dead, I think I’m a bigger fan of Diary of the Dead, even more so since the rise of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Diary of the Dead raises questions about the role of objective journalism in an age classified by nihilism. Basically if there’s no agreed upon right or wrong, who’s to say what’s really true?

Paranormal Activity: Recently Paranormal Activity 3 has been dominating the American box office. I haven’t seen this most recent entry or the first sequel in the franchise, but the original is on my list of favorite scary movies. I actually saw the first movie alone and enjoyed it, but wasn’t bothered by it. A few days later I went to see it with a friend on Halloween and the ensuing discussion got me pretty damn freaked out. How freaked out? I slept with the light and tv on for awhile.  

Paranormal Activity, with it’s bumps in the night and unseen terrors, is exactly the type of movie that really scares me. Sure slasher films are fun and I get some thrills from them, but for a movie to really scare me it usually involves some sort of supernatural element. Perhaps it’s the Protestant in me, but movies dealing with the supernatural, whether it be ghosts or demons, really get to me*. The original Paranormal Activity really messed me up, not only because it dealt with ghosts/demons, but because the crazy shit happened to the protagonists in the daytime. Usually I equated daylight with safety, but no more. Seeing a swinging chandelier in the foyer will now send me running under my covers any time of day (or night).  

The Ring: My freshman year of college The Ring was taking the college crowd by storm.  I don’t think I was really scared by the concept, I wasn’t too afraid of watching a viral VHS tape that would kill me (I’d already moved onto DVDs). The thing that scared me the most were the images on the tape. The sequence of images shown in the video that got you the infamous phone call, while not all scary, were so random that the overall effect was unsettling. Maybe the filmmakers put subliminal messages in the video to create fear in viewers, but whether they did or not I got creeped by the clip.  

The biggest reason I love The Ring (besides Naomi Watts), is that it took an everyday item and made it scary. I remember being up late one night, the cable cutting out and the television displaying “snow” accompanied by it’s usual cacophony. I bolted for my parents’ room (I was still a freshman in college) and waited outside until I heard the soothing voices of regular cable programming. By associating television and “snow” with a creepy girl crawling out of your tv set the creators of The Ring were able to scare viewers long after they had left theaters. Bravo. The key to being a successful scary movie, for me, is if you can keep the fear going in an audience once they leave their seat. If you associate an ordinary, everyday object with your film, viewers won’t view it the same for weeks. They’ll more than likely tell someone about this and boom, you’ve grown your audience without spending a dime.

Pet Sematary: What scares me the most about this movie is they didn’t spell cemetery correctly and it’s caused subsequent generations to undervalue the importance of spelling and grammer. J/K. I wasn’t really allowed to watch horror movies growing up, but I do remember hearing my older cousins talk about this movie when we were kids. I didn’t see it for the first time until high school. In fairness, my parents made the right call in not letting their five year old watch this big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. It freaked me out the first time I saw it and still does. I couldn’t imagine how messed up I’d be if I’d seen it as a child. 

The first time I watched Pet Sematary I began watching after the first 10-15 minutes, but  after that first viewing I have never been unable to un-see Pascow with his damn head busted open talking to the living. After seeing the movie in its entirety Pascow’s image was replaced with several others as the most terrifying from the movie. All I can say to the filmmakers is “no fair”. You keep me coming back to the movie for the scares and moral lessons. 

You've been Pascow'd

Scream: I was originally going to say the entire franchise, but honestly I figured why not dwell on why I love the original. This was probably one of the first “scary” movies I ever watched. I tried watching it one night in our basement with my sister and her boyfriend, but the opening scene was too intense and we had to wait to watch it until the next day. I watched the opening scene just before writing this to make sure it’s still as terrifying as I remember and it is. The movie hooks you within the first five minutes, but the substance that’s in the first Scream is what keeps me coming back. 

In one of my film classes we discussed genres and the evolution of a genre. Scream, for me, represents the final stages of the evolution of a genre, parody. Basically the idea is a genre will eventually come to a point where it makes fun of itself and then someone will come along and reestablish conventions for the genre. I think Scream served as the parody for 80s slasher films such as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the striped shirt wearing janitor is even named Fred! The movie’s acknowledgement of genre conventions was fun & refreshing. I think Scream serves as a wonderful introduction to the slasher genre as it does a great job of mixing horror and comedy.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: I know many have been critical of Netflix’s lack of quality movies on their streaming service, but I owe Netflix a debt of gratitude for introducing me to what is one of my favorite scary movies. The best way to describe the film is probably as Scream in the form of a documentary. The film follows a man who is preparing to become a serial killer in the vein of Michael Myers and Fred Krueger. In order to build up his legacy, the man, Leslie Vernon has agreed to allow a group of college students to shoot his exploits as a documentary. 

This is such a fun and clever movie. It could possibly be my favorite scary movie. It’s that good. The movie has all the thrills of your typical slasher flick, but it is laced with humor and insight into the genre’s conventions. On another level the film serves as a critique of our society and sensationalist journalism. Of course this level is not played up so the film isn’t too preachy, it’s just a fun look into the mind of a serial killer without being too heavy. If you watch any movie on this list tonight, let it be Behind the Mask.

^^Quick note, I wouldn’t say my list has been in any particular order, but I’d say these next two and Behind the Mask are probably the top 3. I can’t name a true favorite, but the top 2 are a notch above the others, followed closely by the exploits of Mr. Leslie Vernon.^^

The Descent: In 2006 I remember hearing about a wonderful British horror film called The Descent. I saw trailers and couldn’t wait for it to hit US theaters. How pumped was I for the movie? Instead of going out on the town after my college graduation I went to see The Descent**. I must admit I was pretty surprised that I ended up loving the movie so much after waiting so long to see it. Usually I end up being somewhat letdown by movies that are so hyped by myself and the media (looking at you Sucker Punch). 

There are several things I love about the movie, but the pace is probably what makes the movie work as well as it does. The film does a great job of setting up the story before anything really crazy happens. The film also works because of how it’s filmed. The movie is about a group of women who go spelunking and the terrors that lie in wait in the caves. The lighting design for the movie really helps build up the tension and heightens the sense of claustrophobia. By the time the women encounter a creature you’re already on edge, being able to really sympathize with their fear. This should be one of the first movies on the list you watch. When you do watch it, get the unrated, extended version. That ending really helps take a wonderful film to another level. 

The Haunting: By far the oldest movie on my list, you could really argue it’s the best of the entire bunch if only for it’s ability to stand the test of time. This is an extraordinary film. I can’t remember when I first saw the movie, but I remember being mesmerized. What makes the movie so great is it is doesn’t rely on cheap thrills. There’s no open fridge door followed by a non-threatening character or madman chasing teenagers. This is straight up, crazy shit going down in an old house terror. If I had to compare it to another movie on my list it’d be Paranormal Activity 

As mentioned before, the ultimate test for me as to whether or not something is genuinely scary is how long it is impacting me after viewing it. This movie and it’s final sequence has been stuck in my head since I first saw it many many years ago. This movie is a testament to the fact that you don’t need extreme visuals to create terror. With the proper use of visuals and sound you can create a truly terrifying film without once showing a ghost. Some probably wonder why A Nightmare on Elm Street didn’t make my list. A main reason is that the effects are now outdated and serve as a distraction that breaks the willing suspension of disbelief. The Haunting doesn’t rely on extravagant visuals or effects. It scares you with sound and simple visuals. This reliance on viewers using their own imaginations to build the terror should serve as an example to Hollywood that always showing us what is chasing the protagonist isn’t always the best choice. If you want to see how to make a scary movie, set your DVR to record The Haunting when it airs Monday Night (Tuesday Morning) at 1 AM Central on Turner Classic Movies. Whatever you do, please watch the original and not the 1999 version, even though it is in color!!

 

Have a "spooktacular" Halloween!!

*Disclaimer: I once saw an apparition in a hotel room in West Virginia, so it’s the fear of seeing something again that really bothers me. 

**Yes ladies, I am still available!


TV Review: Grimm "Pilot"

Halloween is fast approaching and to celebrate I’m planning some special items for the blog, including a rundown of my favorite “scary” movies. Before revealing how big of a little bitch I am by telling you what scares me, I’ve got an advance review of the pilot episode of the new NBC series “Grimm” which debuts Friday, October 28 at 8 pm central. For the first time I can remember, social media provided me with a benefit, the folks at NBC allowed the show’s Twitter followers to watch the pilot a few weeks early. So was the early viewing a cruel trick and waste of time or was it an amazing treat that could be the start of something special? 

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the show, “Grimm” is basically a police drama with a twist. In the “Grimm” universe creatures from the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm actually exist, but their existence is only known to those who can see them, descendants of the Brothers Grimm. I first became interested in the series after hearing about it, as the premise reminded me of the graphic novel series, Fables. So with my interest piqued I waited patiently until a few days ago when I was finally able to see the finished product from the comfort of my own home.

Per my policy, I’ll try to keep things as spoiler free as possible. Perhaps the most important thing viewers should understand about the show is it isn’t necessarily a horror show. I know that the previews make it look like the show is really scary, but the pilot was not very scary. Of course there are some thrills, but the show does a wonderful job of breaking up any tension with humor. As mentioned above, I think it’s important for viewers to know the show has more in common with police/crime dramas than “Tales from the Crypt” or “American Horror Story” (at least from what I’ve seen). That’s not to say the show is without scares or later episodes will not be much more terrifying, I just think folks should have an idea of what they’re going to watch so they’ll better enjoy it.

So what stood out? For one, the show moved at a good pace. As is the case with most detective shows we see an entire case solved in one episode. If the pilot is any indication the show will feature “cases” which are related to a particular fairy tale each week. Considering the pilot had to setup the show’s concept, introduce & develop key characters and solve a mystery all in around 40 minutes, I think the episode is a huge success. I feel like we were given enough background on the main characters to become emotionally involved in their exploits, but there are still plenty of things to be learned about them which will keep us engaged past the solving of individual cases each week. 

Another thing that stood out is how accessible the show is. Sure it’s inspired by fairy tales, but the show doesn’t get too geeky or obscure with references and influences. In general I feel most should be vaguely familiar with the character archetypes, so they’ll have fun watching the show from the start, but hardcore viewers have been left little breadcrumbs of obscurity to discuss in minute detail. Basically I think the show has something for everyone. It’s a fresh take on the police drama, but it incorporates elements of fantasy and horror in a way that should appease fans of each genre. 

Verdict: 

I think everyone should give Grimm a shot. The trailers make the show seem a bit scarier than it is, but perhaps the pilot is just a teaser of the true horrors waiting later in the season. For fans of shows like “Law & Order” you have your detectives working to find bad guys and put them away. Fans of fantasy will appreciate the creatures and supernatural elements of the show. The only people who might not appreciate the show as much are those who really love horror, but let’s be honest, it’s a show that comes on broadcast TV on a Friday night, so it can’t be too scary. Horror fans owe it to themselves to check out the show as it’s from some of the folks who made “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. I’d say the horror is similar between the two shows. Nothing too hardcore, but enough supernatural elements to give you the creeps and keep fans coming back. 

Bottomline, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the show develops. The pilot is a great introduction to the universe and characters inhabiting it. The small details I picked up on during my 2nd viewing have me excited about a show that seems to be going for a more sophisticated, intelligent audience. I’m not even going to get started on the cliffhanger at the end of the pilot that has me counting down the days until November 4th when the 2nd episode premieres!!