31 August 2009

Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Films from Big 12 States- South Edition

Continuing the Big 12 Football Theme,,, each school will be listed next to the Top 5 in order to explain the placement of the film. The films are still listed in descending order according to quality.

5. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State: The Outsiders

The Outsiders was filmed in Tulsa, not a terribly long drive from Stillwater. This film was directed by Francis Ford Coppolla and one of the first for the Brat Pack. Coppolla is said to have enacted a great sociological experiment with this film as the actors who portrayed the Socs were given tremendous accomodations and first rate treatment, while those who portrayed the Outsiders were treated contemptuously by the hotel staff and given poor equipment. Coppolla attempted to create a real rivalry between the two groups with the experiment, which worked tremendously.

4. Oklahoma-Oklahoma: The Grapes of Wrath

The ghost of Tom Joad lives on from this adaptation of the Steinbeck novel. While accompanied by the same criticisms as the novel (communist sympathies), Tom Ford and Henry Fonda recreate the Oklahoma dust-bowl during one of the toughest times for our nation.

3. Texas-Texas A&M: Dazed and Confused

It was surprising to me that Texas had so many non-western style films in the list of best films from this state. That is primarily because two of the modern great directors hail from the state and love to return to it to make amazing films. Richard Linklater is actually from the Houston area, and even though he attended Sam Houston State, you can feel a little bit of his animosity for the Texas A&M style characters in O'Bannion. One of my favorite films of all time and a definite on the list of the best from Texas.

2. Texas-Texas Tech: No Country For Old Men

Finally, a western from the state of Texas (kind of). The recent Oscar winner for best film by the Coen Brothers takes place in the wilds of west Texas. In between the Rio Grande, the plains, and the small towns resides the unexpected. If you have ever been to the liquor stores just past the county line outside of Lubbock (dry county) you will know what I mean.

1. Texas-Texas: Rushmore

While Bottle Rocket may be a better vehicle for explaining what modern Texas is all about, director Wes Anderson's (University of Texas graduate) masterpiece, and one of my favorite films of all time happens to contain one of the greatest characters of all time and perhaps the best performance by Bill Murray. In this one he is moodier than Lost In Translation, more devious that Stripes, and more lovable than the end of Ground Hog's Day. A winning combination of hilarity and poignancy that also perfectly matches content and form.

Baylor: No movie until you get to a bowl game!!!! Actually, there is one extremely underrated cinematic gem that does remind me of Baylor, The Apostle. Check it out, it is actually pretty powerful and one of the favorite films of Dr. Blum.

I really wanted to put a high school football film in this list to tie together the football themes and the state of Texas stuff. Alas, Friday Night Lights was average at best.
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28 August 2009



Tonight I am leaving for Iraq.

I intend to try to see films and continue this blog while I am there. Of course, internet availability, leisure, and availability of new film releases, will all influence the amount of work that I am able to do.

For at least the next few days things will be in limbo. Keep checking back and before long I will have a clear picture of what kind of pace I will be able to keep up.
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Flashback Friday- Forgetting Sarah Marshall

URBAN: Funny, emotionally and literally naked, but still a great romantic comedy in the Apatow tradition.

Judd Apatow produced, this fillm contains all of those characteristics. It also stars Jason Segel in a perfect role for him.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall takes on the shape of the characteristic Apatow film almost immediately. Jason Segel, playing Peter Bretter teases us by shaking his junk just off the camera, but the tease doesn’t last long. Full frontal male nudity is horrifying, but also hilarious considering the situation the audience views. In a very key way, this early scene provides a critical method of interpreting the film. Nicholas Stoller, the director, provides the usual approach from an Apatow produced film. He doesn’t tease us much. Everything that you want to see as a movie-goer you get to see. This same principle is at work on the characters and the storyline as well. The heart of this story is found in examining how the characters and the viewers deal with getting what they want.

For example, the main character, as a viewer, we want to see him succeed and get back together with his ex-girlfriend. He does. We also want to see him make it with his new girl. He does. We want to see his Dracula rock opera. It’s all there. We definitely want to see the hot chick from That 70’s Show naked. We do. The strangest thing of all is that at once we want there to be a happy ending, while at the same time we want the relationships and ending to be realistically flawed, the way we see them in reality. All of this is in the film.

The serio-comic style of these films is reminiscent of Woody Allen. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, like Knocked Up, Superbad, and The 40 Year Old Virgin does not conform to stereotypes. It’s very raunchy, very funny, and very good. Its victories are only temporary and partial. This could have been a horrible serious film, or even worse, a lackluster romantic comedy if this same storyline was handled by anyone else. The blend of serious, comic, fantasy and reality I feel is best described near the end of the film when Segel’s character describes the success of his rock opera by saying, “Someone told me it was comedy and that opened things up.”

Apatow’s blend of serious/comic opens up a lot of life’s mysteries. While the other films mentioned above are marvelous in the way they are able to bring the story to the level of social commentary (especially Knocked Up). This story keeps its focus lower, but still manages a great bit of critical commentary about the current state of television by poking fun at crime dramas like CSI. More importantly he says a lot about relationships. As always, there is quite a bit about male bonding. The primary message about dating relationships is incomplete. As is usually the case when trying to portray abstractions like this, you can’t say it, you have to show it. And this film shows the story very well.

URBAN: Recommended
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27 August 2009

Readers Respond: 5 Favorite Films with Stephani Francl

A small-town girl from the mid-west just looking to be entertained by Hollywood, but not at the expense of those things most important in life. She watches few movies more than once, but these five are regulars which reside permanently in her living room. She's Stephani Francl and these are her 5 Favorite Films.

5. Dan in Real Life

I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and I love it more every time I watch it. Dan, played by Steve Carell, is the widowed father of three girls and the movie tracks their annual vacation at a home on the ocean with the extended family. Unlike films that mock the value of the family, this film showcases a father’s commitment to the most important women in his life (his daughters) and his honor toward his deceased wife as he falls in love with a new woman. Fabulous.

4. Sweet Home Alabama

Reese Witherspoon plays the lead, Melanie Smooter, who struggles to find her place in the world. This movie came out at a time when I was struggling internally with what I saw as similar questions – did I fit in a small town in the heartland or did I fit in a city doing something “important.” And ultimately, I had to decide, as does Melanie in the film, what really is important? It was a movie that, for me, came out at just the right time. Plus, who doesn’t secretly dream of being Reese Witherspoon?

3. Shooter

Mark Walberg plays the lead in this flat out revenge movie. If you just want to see some bad guys get blasted, this is the movie for you. It is justice in the vigilante sense, a guy doing what needs to be done - probably what many dream of doing. For me, it’s the movie version of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon that we play sometimes on the Xbox360. After a rough week of work, there’s nothing better than blowing some video game characters to smithereens…or watching Mark Wahlberg do so to some Hollywood thugs.

2. White Christmas

This movie displays the quintessential elements of two things I love: a good romance and Christmas. In the vein of the musicals of it’s time, White Christmas’ music is superb, and the dancing makes modern day dancing reality show “stars” pale by comparison. The story of Bob & Judy and Phil & Betty has been a mainstay in my Christmas celebration for about 18 years now with no end in sight.

1. Beauty and the Beast

Belle was one of the first Barbies I ever got as a little girl, and the magic of her story has remained with me through the years. Though there are other greats (The Little Mermaid, Aladin, The Lion King, The Emperor’s New Groove, and most recently Enchanted), Beauty and the Beast holds a special place in my movie list. The music makes my heart swell and Belle’s ability to see through the rough exterior of a beast to the prince inside makes a young married girl believe that maybe she is a princess.
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25 August 2009

Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Movies from Big 12 States- North Edition

With football season right around the corner I thought that it was only fitting to take a look at the films made and set in the Big 12 region. For the first edition we will get one film from each of the five states represented in the Big 12 North Division.

Nebraska: About Schmidt

Jack Nicholson has made several trips to the Cornhusker state, including a close finisher for the top spot on this list, Terms of Endearment. Schmidt gets the call on this one though because of the broad look that it gives the state. In the film, Schmidt takes off on a tour of Nebraska after he retires from his insurance job in Omaha and his wife passes away.

Iowa: Field of Dreams

Some might say that this spot belongs to The Bridges of Madison County, but there is no doubt in my mind that Field of Dreams does the best job of representing the people of Iowa and the possibility of imagination that this state offers on its best days.

Kansas: Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman took home an Oscar for best actor based on his performance in this re-examination of the forces that motivated, influenced, and inspired Truman Capote to write his bestselling "True Crime" novel. Many of the scenes that depict Kansas were actually shot in Manitoba, Canada, but they still seem to get at the heart of what it feels like during winter here.

Colorado: Dumb and Dumber

No question here. This film portrays the best part of the state in all its glory, showing off the slopes, the plains, and the beautiful mountain resort towns. This one does have some competition though. Die Hard 2 was filmed in the old Denver Airport and City Slickers was filmed in Durango. At the end of the day you have to pick Dumb and Dumber because so many of the really funny and lasting humor from the film deals directly with the local setting.

Missouri: The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

This one wasn't technically filmed in Missouri, but Alberta, Canada stands in nicely. It was set in Mizzou, around what would today be called the greater Kansas City area. Kansas City, St. Joseph, Kearney, and Platte City all feature prominently in this story of the old west as it began to grow up and reign in the lawlessness that threatened the development of the rule of law in our nation. I just think that this film is beautiful, and the story it tells is so interesting that I couldn't look away.
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23 August 2009

Missing Review

There will be no review of Inglourious Basterds.

The film will be detailed in an essay that I am writing titled: The Ethics of Holocaust Art: Basterds, Defiance, and Valkyrie, Three Holocaust Films in Two Years.
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21 August 2009

Coming Up- August 22, 2009

This weekend I am looking forward to viewing the film I most looked forward to at the beginning of the summer.

The last Tarantino movie that I saw was Death Proof. This, along with with its double-feature guest, Planet Terror, provided an amazing amount entertainment. Pure Awesomeness.

Inglourious Basterds, also directed by Quentin Tarantino, has been promoted as at least the equal of Death Proof in terms of awesomeness production.

At the same time, there is another new release that seems to look a little bit interesting.

Post Grad may just be trying to take advantage of the recent recession business, but it seems to me to be the kind of story that has been ignored in a lot of ways. There have been multiple stories that tell the coming of age story from the male perspective, but few that tell the story in a seriously funny way from the female perspective.
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20 August 2009

Readers Respond-Five Favorite Films with Dr. James Brandon

Continuing with the back to school theme of this week, we have the 5 Favorite Films of a film professor.

He's a professor of theatre and speech at Hillsdale College. Along the way he has taught classes in the subjects of communication, speech, acting, directing, and film. He has directed and acted in multiple plays. He's an intellectual giant in his field, serving as an editorial board member of Ecumenica (formerly the Baylor Journal of Theatre and Performance), the Journal of Religion and Theatre,and associate editor of the Michigan Association of Theatre and Speech Journal. He even took the time to teach me a thing or two while I was in college. He's Dr. James Brandon, and these are his 5 favorite films.


Kubrick’s most controversial and uncompromising film is a beautiful and disturbing rendition of Burgess’ novel highlighted with a bravura performance by Malcolm McDowell. Featuring one of the most stylish dystopian societies ever put on film, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE skillfully encourages the viewer to both think like a teenage hooligan and learn what it means to mature in a harsh world. Renowned for its striking visuals and jarring use of familiar music, it is impossible to pick out just one defining moment in the film; but certainly Beethoven’s works and "Singing in the Rain" will never be the same.


Capra’s boisterous adaptation of the stage play strikes exactly the right tone for dark comedy. Cary Grant gives one of his best performances in this absurdly wonderful and instantly endearing film. The rapid fire dialogue and physical timing of the actors help this film to stand out in what was a great decade for American comedies.

3. FALLING DOWN (1993)

An Expressionistic and perfectly-crafted Greek tragedy set in modern day Los Angeles that follows unemployed weapons engineer Michael Douglas on an angry rampage towards his notion of “home”. Robert Duvall provides a great foil as a police detective serving his last day on the job , and there are also sublime performances by both Barbara Hershey and Rachel Ticotin. Arguably Schumacher’s best film, FALLING DOWN truly provides a cathartic experience the eloquently captures the zeitgeist of the early 1990s.

2. BRAT (BROTHER) (1997)

The signature film for both Aleksey Balabanov and Post-Soviet Russian cinema, BRAT is minutely crafted look into the staggering societal changes endured by the Russian people after the fall of the Soviet Union. Sergei Bodrov Jr.’s epic journey as a returning soldier who becomes a gangster has just the right amount of violence, philosophy, angst and betrayal, all beautifully -filmed in St. Petersburg as it makes the transition into a brave new (capitalist) world.

1. RAN (1985)

Even in a Top 5 list, it is difficult to include only one film by
Kurosawa, but his adaptation of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR into a feudal Japanese context shows the director at his epic best. Heart rending betrayal and political intrigues abound as three sons battle it out for their doddering father’s kingdom. Kurosawa’s exquisitely-staged battles, extensive use of vibrant colors, and careful mix of epic and minimalist moments make this an unforgettable and moving film, and perhaps the best adaptation of Shakespeare in the history of the cinema.
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18 August 2009

Contrarian Critics

I don't really think that I am a contrarian critic. Apparently though, it is possible to be one. Whenever I write a review, I do honestly try to achieve the standard I described in the mission statement of this site. You can read it by clicking the 'about' link to the right.

Usually when I do pan a film, I try to point to several concrete examples of things that are just terrible. This summer, there have been several of those.
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Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Back to School Movies

Its about that time.

5. The Karate Kid-

Back to school has everything to do with new. Fitting into a new place with new people one step closer to the real world. Very few movies tap into that feeling like The Karate Kid. Bullies, parents that don't understand, its all there in this one. Unfortunately, this one has too many moments of extreme ridiculousness. My personal favorite comes after the principle character has had his bike stolen and believes that martial arts is his only method of recourse. In this moment of crisis the karate kid shrieks to his mother his deepest wish, "I need to know karate!!!!"

4. The School of Rock-

Maybe it's a stretch, but this one perfectly compliments Karate Kid. Besides the period of change, back to school also has a lot to with challenges and the possibility of becoming a new and exciting person. School of Rock incorporates this theme to its zenith from the perspective of the rock and roll kids in the class and also from Jack Black in his roll as the reformed teacher making good.

3. Lucas-

I will be the first to say that I don't really understand the direction that David Seltzer was going with this one. Lucas, a freshman without many social skills, is hardly lovable. He stalks that poor girl. You just can't forget about him though because he is such a loser. This film only does two things well. First, it does a great job of portraying multiple sides of the same character types. Jeremy Piven and Charlie Sheen are both football players, but they treat Lucas in entirely different ways. This film also provides one of the greatest examples of emotional manipulation. The viewer has just sat in horror while the 100 lb. title character without his helmet is mauled in a high school football game. Immediately after, a slow clap is raised for this same character by Charlie Sheen as Lucas pulls a letter jacket out of his locker. In this way it is a perfect high school movie, depicting the extremes of what a person is willing to give up in order to achieve status among peers.

2. Back To School-

First of all , the comedy is great, these jokes all have a lot of setup, and the payoff is usually worth it. Rodney Dangerfield leads the way in this one with his usual brand of "If your so smart how come you ain't rich?" type of humor, but it is usual college environment seen from the perspective of a guy who, unlike Socrates, is wise because he does know. Two scenes really make this one- the scene with the yelling history teacher, and the stuff with Kurt Vonnegut, "Hey Kurt, can you read lips?". Really an underrated film in the entire scope of 80's comedies and obviously the piece upon which Van Wilder was modeled.

1. Mean Girls-

This one covers all of the same issues as Karate Kid, but instead of karate, screams about needing makeup and boyfriends. All joking aside, Mean Girls engages all of the ingredients for back to school films that are mentioned in the other films on this list. Its funny and topical, while both the students and the teachers play interesting characters. The troubles of fitting in, and the possibilities/challenges are given relatively equal import. Maybe not a classic in the Criterion Collection mold, but nonetheless, it tells a humorous story that people will remember.
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16 August 2009

Son of Rambow

URBAN: A touching film full of youthful imagination.

In this British film two boys come together despite their family situations to create a brilliantly unique film.

URBAN: This film is vastly superior to Be Kind Rewind, another 2008 film release with similar content, if for no other reason than it is set in the proper time period.

As much as I can't believe that director Jennings was able to pull these performances out of so many child actors, the basis for this outstanding production is simply the art of imagination.

Will fills his notebooks and his Bible (he belongs to a strict Christian sect, more on that later) with sketches and drawings that illustrate a lively life of the mind. After his captive viewing of the Rambo movie, First Blood, his lively imagination gives birth to an amazing interpretation that he aptly titles- "Son of Rambow"

His content is given form by his bullying and troublemaking best friend Lee. Lee uses his older brother's camera while supplying the direction for the inspiration along with the technical know-how.

You see, Will belongs to an extremely conservative sect of a denomination known as the Plymouth Brethren. He isn't allowed to watch any television, even if it is only a documentary in his 5th grade class. His cohort Lee is from the other side of the tracks. While he may be considered wealthy, his parents have almost no participation in his life. His older brother pays him almost no attention, even though his brother's friends constantly bully the younger Lee.

The tension between these two and their families as they attempt to make this film between classes. The other source of tension comes from the other kids at the prep school that the two go to. French exchange students have arrived and the coolest one of them all sees the possibilities and attempts to become involved in the filming as a star actor.

Will is startstruck. Lee is jealous. It almost all falls apart. What results is one of the most moving portrayals of friendship, family, and creation that I have seen in quite a while. It isn't a perfect film, but its depiction of the creation of imperfect film comes awfully close.

URBAN: Recommended
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15 August 2009

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

URBAN: A story with really funny characters. The attempt at making a story kind of gets in the way.

Jeremy Piven heads up a great cast of funny people in a film from the people who brought you Talladega Nights and Step Brothers.

If you want to see a funny and crude comedy in the same vein as Old School, Anchorman, and The Hangover, then this will be a great film for you for two reasons-

A: Most of the jokes from the previews occur in the first 10 minutes (there is plenty of other funny stuff).

B: There are as many strip club visits as there are great cameos.

This is a conventional film in many ways. It places a character with a set of odd quirks in a unique profession. After the audience has observed the character interacting in his profession a crisis in introduced which separates the character from his profession. You can probably guess what happens from there.

Within this conventional storyline the film is able to hit on a number of jokes and well placed references to other works. Ving Rhames character has a great crack when referring to a scene from Total Recall, and Piven as Don Ready can't help but remind me of Ari Gold when he refers to his female co-worker as "Babs". The one time I even noticed the camera work is during the climactic sale and does an excellent job of depicting the isolation that car buyers sometimes refer to as they are drawn into the persuasive powers of a salesman. Of course, I'm definitely setting the bar low. Aside from clever allusion, avoiding obvious goofs is about all you can ask for in a formula film like this.

At the end of the day, if you are looking for laughs, you will get them from this film. It is full of the politically incorrect and perverse, and manages to do so without really having any redeeming characteristics. In that way it is kind of like the "Used Car Blowout" people that it depicts. Whatever you leave with won't be with you for very long, but you feel like you got your money's worth.

URBAN: Recommended, but only for the few reasons listed above.
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13 August 2009

Readers Respond: Top 5 Films With Alex Harner

When I asked him about his profile he told me that he wanted it to include the fact that he liked "stories and pictures". He possesses one of the most eclectic minds you could ever find. Right now he shows it off as an architectural graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's Alex Harner and these are his 5 Favorite Films.

5. Raising Arizona

Though it might not be the Coen Brothers’ best movie, it’s my favorite. Like Judd Apatow’s recent hits, Raising Arizona is a comedy that manages to be both funny and heartfelt at the same time. Despite the absurdity of the plot, there’s a genuinely human quality to the characters that keeps everything feeling important. Also, the narration is top notch. I think voice-overs take a lot of flack because they’re easy to do poorly. Raising Arizona shows that, with strong writing, the voiceover only makes a good movie better.

4. Barry Lyndon

Yeah…it’s Kubrick…so yeah…it’s pretty much formally perfect. That said, the art major in me can’t help but love a film wherein every scene looks like an 18th century painting. Also, there’s plenty of dueling and bastardry…if you’re into those kinds of things.

3. The Incredibles

I’m not sure I can sum up the brilliance of The Incredibles with just a few sentences. Blanket statement: it’s everything right about animation. On a more personal level, however, every time I watch The Incredibles, I feel like an eight year old at recess. That’s got to count for something.

2. Seven Samurai

I like to think of Seven Samurai as the great grandfather of action/adventure movies. As Luke already noted, it’s the one that started it all. While I won’t say Kurosawa invented the character archetypes that show up in Seven Samurai, I think he deserves crediting for first realizing them in film. Everyone since has simply followed suit. And when are samurai not awesome?

1. City of God

I’m especially fond of any fiction that can run the full gamut of human emotions. Really, that’s what great fiction does. Rather than making us feel one thing, it makes us feel everything, and in so doing reminds us that being human is actually pretty damn cool. I like to think that each of the films on my list provides a full plate of human experience, but I can’t think of any film that does it better than City of God. Humor, tragedy, horror, redemption…City of God does it all and does it all well. And it looks lovely in the process.
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07 August 2009

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

URBAN: Completely over the top. Not quality, but somewhat entertaining.

Stephen Sommers directs this loud, wild, and fast paced battle that never ends.

URBAN: Unlike some of the other ridiculous action films of this summer, Transformers-with its soldiers engaged in the war on terror in Iraq and Wolverine-with its references to the Vietnam Conflict, this film makes no attempt to claim it has a connection with the real world. For that, it is almost refreshing, especially since this film is so ridiculously over-the-top.

The characters are the most obvious lack of real world connection. All of the characters are amazingly able to survive the calamities that befall the myriad of stooges on both sides of the conflict. One of them is able to leap over flying vehicles and another can avoid death even after he ejects from an airplane that has escaped the earth's atmosphere.

Weaponry also plays a part in identifying this world from the real one. Here, there is a type of funnel force field weapon that sounds like a weapon fired by the Geonosis characters on Star Wars: Battlefront. As you might expect, there are also multiple jets and tunneling machines that confound the imagination. Most confounding of all, is the underwater base that Cobra uses. Actually, the most confounding thing is the physics that exist during the battle around the sea base. People are afraid of ice sinking and crushing the base. Subs hit by rockets spin off as if they were in space. It really does seem like another planet.

Also, I know that several other reviews have mentioned the sound level being a little extreme. I know this sounds like an old person thing to say, but the sound levels were ridiculously loud. While I would like to think this was some sort of rookie mistake, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker, the credited sound editors, have both won academy awards for work in action/war films before. Hopefully, this isn't a signal of things to come.

The story is bare there,, and the flashbacks intended to explain it are even worse. I was laughing out loud at many of these, especially the ones of young storm shadow, who is the same kid who plays the drug lord on Tropic Thunder.

Most infuriating about this film-the characters aren't American. GI Joe is no longer the Real American Hero, although all of the characters still speak English.

Despite this long list of what is wrong with the film, I would still say it is better than Wolverine: Origins and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. It manages to do so by completely ignoring reality and focusing on creating a world of superheroes that fight against each other with James Bond technology and change identity with the ease of Mission Impossible face masks. With pure action and awesomeness such as this,,, you know that they would set themselves up well for a sequel.

I guess that if you lower your expectations, this film would be alright. I just imagined that this story would be able to convey so much more.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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Coming Up, Friday August 7

There is actually something of a competition this week.

While I included GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra in the list of films I was looking forward to, I have to say that I have been let down by most of my picks. So far, the big budget action films this summer have all focused on explosions at the expense of even the slightest amount of story.

I fear that GI Joe will be no different.

I'm not sure I'm really excited for either of these options this week. I fear that GI Joe is going to more closely resemble the recent onslaught of second-rate superhero movies, plus I wasn't a big G.I. Joe fan growing up (I tended towards the Ninja Turtles). When I see the previews, the guy in the camo parachute pants and 90's beret makes it hard for me to want to watch that fashion statement for two hours. However, I am a sucker for hi-tech weaponry, and I don't doubt this would be full of it. This is a movie I'll rent, but don't think I'd want to see in theaters.

With this in mind, Julie and Julia has been holding its own. It looks like something another blogger might be able to watch and enjoy.

I actually think Julie & Julia is going to be a better movie top-to-bottom, mostly because I expect it'll have a story that a lot of people can relate to. I can't exactly relate to chasing down a corrupt arms dealer (GI Joe: Rise of Cobra), but I think we've all asked ourselves what we're going to do with our lives (Julie & Julia). That said, if I'm going to the theater, I want to see a movie that's going to be enhanced by the big screen, and that's definitely G.I. Joe. Also, if it's able to hit in the same vein as the first Transformers (another Hasbro collaboration) and less The Mummy Returns (also directed by Stephen Sommers), then it definitely has the upside potential.

What it comes down to is that I'm much more excited for the trifecta coming out next weekend: District 9, The Goods, and The Time Traveler's Wife, all of which I think have sleeper potential.

I will agree wholeheartedly with the first two for next week,,,,, but THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE!!!!! No Way!!! When I saw the preview for that, the only thought that entered my mind was CREEPY! You could prominently hear people whispering the word "pedophile" to each other after seeing the opening part where adult Eric Bana tells that little girl that she would fall in love with him... That was just weird.

As for tomorrow, still undecided, so look for the review tomorrow morning.
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Flashback Friday-3:10 to Yuma

Infamous Outlaw Ben Wade and his vicious gang of thieves and murderers have plagued the Southern Railroad. When Wade is captured, Civil War veteran Dan Evans volunteers to deliver him alive to the "3:10 to Yuma," a train that will take the killer to trial. But with Wade's outfit on their trail-and dangers at every turn-the mission soon becomes a violent, impossible journey toward each man's destiny.--------from the back of the DVD case.

While it was really great to see a shoot'em up in the classical western form, several glaring flaws in the plot and character development really took away from what could have been a film that re-introduces the genre as a vehicle for great acting performances, film auteurism, and box office sucess. For the purposes of this review, the original 3:10 To Yuma from 1957 will be ignored in order judge this film.

To begin, the film looks really good. The sets, costumes, and backgrounds of Arizona canyons look absolutely real. I for one, would have played up the scenery with more wide shots of the surrounding nature in order to give more perspective regardingIf the relationships of important parts of the film (Dan Evan's ranch to the town of Bigsby, How the pass through Apache territory would save time, how far from the hotel to the railroad).

The relationship between Wade (Russel Crowe) and Dan Evans (Christian Bale) along with several members of his family is sufficiently interesting to keep one's attention throughout the entirety of the film. The two go round after round examining each other's reasons for making the choices that they have made; Wade for becoming a murderer and stagecoach robber, Evans for accepting $200 to become a part of the posse that takes Wade to the train that will take him to prison. If the film had been made up entirely of this relationship, punctuated with running gun battles, the film would have been much improved. By the way, the gun battles involved are typical western fare, and yet, quite exciting, especially when the stagecoach defends itself with a gatling gun. In this same vein, the film was at its best for only a few seconds. (spoiler warning) These were the moments when Wade shoots members of his own outfit. They are totally unexpected, and the camera focuses on the violence for just a second longer than the viewer expects. These scenes really make the film.

On the other hand, the plot really doesn't do a lot of justice to this kind of story and these kinds of actors. Four flaws, which deal primarily with the plot of the film, really bring this film down. First, I have no idea why the Hollanders burn down Dan Evans's barn. If they wanted him off the land so badly, there were a number of more subtle things that they could have done in order to necessitate his departure. Second, as much as I am for gratuitous sex and violence, some of it within this film takes away from the story. Wade's tryst with Emmy Nelson serves only to provide the filmmakers an excuse for why he was caught. After shooting one of his gang members for "weakness" it doesn't make any sense for him to be caught for an even more blatant discretion. Along the lines of gratuitous violence, Bryan Mcelroy (Peter Fonda) has no real function other than to be hit, shot, kicked, and then thrown over a cliff, without the downshot depicting the dead man at the bottom which we have all come to know and love. You could also throw the entire sections involving the Apache Indians into this category of unnecessary. Finally, at the end of the film, Ben changes his character completely, deciding to board the train, only to communicate that it is no real sacrifice to do so. This change, like the previously mentioned portions, does not have sufficient reason. The filmmakers here do not provide the necessary foreshadowing necessary in order to portray changes of this type. For this reason, the lack of evidence on all fronts, the film fails to become a great film, though it is quite entertaining at times.

URBAN: Recommended
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06 August 2009

Funny People-Revisited

You might have noticed that for a couple of months there hasn't been as much back and forth on this site. Here's an attempt to fix that.

Chase Francl has given his Five Favorite Films on this site, and here is a chance to see what he thinks about a recent film. If you want to compare it to my thoughts on the film click here.

I really didn’t know what to make of this movie. It felt like it couldn’t decide whether to be a comedy, romance, drama, or buddy movie, so it ultimately succeeded at being none of these things. It had no identity.

I caught myself looking at my watch with about 20 minutes to go, not so much out of boredom, but because I just couldn’t figure out where it was headed. It was actually building up to be a good movie about friendship, but then there was the one-hour romantic interlude that was relevant, but somehow didn’t quite fit. To me, this movie fell somewhere between a biography (where you expect some stuff that doesn’t adhere to a true story-telling mold) and a buddy movie.

The movie also wasn’t as funny as I’d expected. It struck me that throughout the film, there wasn’t a single moment that the entire audience burst out with laughter. I certainly enjoyed parts of it, but it wasn’t memorable stuff, and it didn’t have those lines that are going to carry it into posterity. The swearing also became so tiresome that it lost the comedic effect that a well-placed curse can sometimes bring.

I actually liked the cameos, even that of Eminem. Maybe if they had let him direct the movie, they would’ve taken his suggestion and found an ending that really worked.

The movie did have plenty of upside, though. Going in, I honestly thought there was no way Sandler could effectively play the terminal illness card, and instead he played it to perfection. He and Rogen also played off each other well, and Rogen’s character was one of the more endearing I’ve seen this year. It was truly enjoyable watching him evolve from beginning to end.

It’s always interesting to see how characters handle an impending death. Sandler certainly makes you feel the emotion of it, but we were cheated out of the breadth of what it really brings. Sure there’s going to be a long list of “what if’s” and some fear when you know you’re probably going to die, but I don’t think they mined this as deeply as they could have. I wanted to see more of the intrapsychic material.

The supporting characters were marginal at best. Jonah Hill steals the show when he’s on screen, and Eric Bana’s fleeting character is wildly entertaining, albeit a little unbelievable.

In the end, I thought seeing Sandler and Rogen on screen together was enough to barely salvage the movie. It becomes apparent early on that this isn’t going to be your typical comedy, so once you shift your mindset to that, there are some really enjoyable parts. I wouldn’t recommend this movie to the casual moviegoer, but it fills a niche.

FRANCL: Not recommended.
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04 August 2009

Listless Tuesdays: Top 5 Baseball Movies For Kids

Yes, the boys of summer will continue to grind out their regular season for another 2months, but baseball for kids is probably at the point where the championships are being played. Here's to all of them and the parents that make it happen.

5. Angels in the Outfield-

This film equates escape from a seriously painful issue with miracles. This one is good only if you feel that the pain of others is your single method of catharsis. I can't stand it, but it has been fairly popular and a lot of people seem to think it is good for kids.

4. Bad News Bears (The new version)-

This is Bad Santa with baseball. The first part of this is pretty funny if you are a 20 something and can imagine yourself in your current state being saddled with responsibility that you don't care about. Eventually though, the coach's principles do shine through and teach a good lesson.

3. Rookie of the Year-

You might not believe it, but in this one a young pitcher for the Cubs burns his arm out in the clutch. A prophecy directed toward the future of Kerry Wood. Tom Milanovich as the antagonist really makes this one shine. He's a total ringer for John Kruk.

2. Little Big League-

One of the few baseball movies that actually focuses on baseball strategy. I like that the kid has no amazing ability. He's just smart (and well connected). It's also nice to see a movie where the good guys don't magically win the pennant.

1. The Sandlot-

No surprise here. The characters are great, the scenes are funny and quite memorable. There really is no one comparable to Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez as a hero. He is the Odysseus in this mythical story. Its ones like this that make you wish that kids organized their own games instead of adults.
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03 August 2009

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow directs this war movie that is short on staged battles but big on suspense. Sergeant First Class (SFC) James (Jeremy Renner) takes over an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad after their previous leader is taken by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). James is a good deal more reckless than his successor and the action stems primarily from this, as well as the ever-present hazards of the terrain.

After all of the rave reviews and best film of the year talk, I was expecting this film to provide the summarizing thesis of the Iraq War - A key to grant an understanding of why, what should have been done, that nevertheless endears the viewer to the servicemen who wage this war.

Instead, the film has much more to do with war in general; seen through the particular details of this war. In doing so, it subtly makes a point that will take some time to tease out, but will ultimately provide some of the most remembered images and tensest/darkest meanings of the war.

This film comes as a welcome breath of fresh air for no other reason than that it maintains internal consistency and coherency. The first screen of the film contains with the phrase "War is a Drug". The words eventually fade out and only that phrase remains. This becomes the central tool for understanding the motivations of the characters and of the film as a whole.

The adrenaline rush is the fix that drives these characters. There are really only three: SFC (E-7) James, Sergeant (SGT, E-5) Sanborn, and Specialist (SPC, E-4) Eldridge. Each participates in the adrenaline rush to a different degree and it becomes apparent that SFC James is far and away the biggest junkie of the group. He feeds off of danger, especially the kind that is found while in his bomb suit, separated from the group, and alone with his life-or-death decisions in defusing explosive ordnance.

It is in these situations that the film looks its best. Crane shots that depict the scale of the setting and the isolation of the character compliment the war as a drug interpretation.

At other levels the interpretation stays consistent as well. SGT Sanborne loves the adrenaline, but worries that his draw to it will hurt his chances at promotion, and at life. SPC Eldridge deals with the other side of the rush. He clearly prefers the safety of prescribed work and taking orders, but in his talk with an Army doctor (mental health) he draws his superior in to the fray by relying on the "you have to go outside the wire to understand me" defense. The Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Doctor, drawn to the thrill and the status it brings, goes out on a mission but doesn't come back.

From my perspective, as someone in the Army, the film may miss in several tactical areas but more than makes up for it by nailing the feel and the mood. First, the most obvious issue is that trucks never travel alone in country. There will always be at least 3 or 4 in a convoy. The second is that the rank of E-7 is very difficult to come by. I know that my platoon sergeant would neither be breaking the rules by drinking downrange or fraternizing with his men. He definitely wouldn't have been the one taking the outrageous risks. At the same time, the strong feelings, the physicality, the empowering of junior soldiers to make difficult decisions, these all seem to ring very true.

Overall, as described above, the film looks great and the form is matched to the content really well. I sometimes felt that the camera panned too quickly and too often in some cases. These scenes generally were accompanied by a fuzziness and blurring of the picture. Eventually I came to understand this blurriness as a sort of visual clue that helps the viewer relate to the confusion present on the battlefield. The only shots I disagreed with was the slow motion shot of the sniper rifle casings hitting the ground. This seemed to directly copy the slow motion casings falling from the helicopter on Black Hawk Down. Not only was it a copy, but it stood out because it was only used that once. It didn't fit the rest of the film's gritty and real-time telling of the story.

This review could go on and on. The few areas of failing really only stand out because the rest of the film is so good. I will end the review by saying that the film is tense throughout and even channels the dark comedy of Catch-22 with a running count of the days left in the deployment and the macabre joke runs full circle when the last scene is viewed. At this point the message of the film becomes overtly simple, just like Snowden's secret.

URBAN: Highly Recommended
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02 August 2009

Funny People

Judd Apatow, in his third written and directed feature, extends his range and discovers that death and stand-up comedy are more than enough to carry a film.

URBAN: I wasn't disappointed, but in the end, it didn't deliver the punch and the flush that his other films did.

This film is a bit difficult to review. It was extremely broad. The funniest parts were the stand-up routines and the most artistic parts,,,, well, they just weren't there. Suffice it to say, that in summation, it goes along pleasantly until Marshall Mathers shows up.

By incorporating the stand-up routines as a major storyline, Apatow hamstrings the great strength of his writing- the comedic give and take between his characters. Don't get me wrong, the Jonah Hill one-liners are still there, but they fall flat compared to the dynamic stand-up performance that he gives.

The story is not too long, but it seems so because of the editing. The plot line that tells the story of George (Sandler) and "the one that got away" could have been cut into the rest of the story in a way that didn't make it seem like it was 'added'.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I felt that the other two Apatow films were much more aware of their content and because of this the form was much easier to match. This point is best understood by thinking of two specific images.

1. In The 40 Year Old Virgin, the shot of the room from the floor up after his friends have cleared all of the "nerdy" things from his room

2. Knocked Up, the entire birth scene and the images of Seth Rogen and Heigl together in the car and the crane shot that shows their place on the feeway.

Both of these do a great job of capturing the characters, the mood, and the message that these films carry-and they do so in a way that provides that feel-good moment that so many look for in a film experience.

This film, as much as it is about death, is also about stand-up comedy. This theme, opposed to romanticism and the beauty of life, does not provide that same feeling. The most appropriate shots in this film are the furtive glances that Simmons sends to his lover and the conversation that Simmons and Eminem have at Simmon's "I made it" party. They both speak of futility and unmet expectations-

The same ones that I had for this film.

URBAN: Recommended, but its not the same type of comedy that you would expect from Apatow.
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