I haven’t updated my Movie Journal in forever, so here is part one of the list I’m currently working on. I figured it would be a little better to split things up than post a massive page of about 25 movies and TV seasons.
It used to be that low-budget films veered towards the horror genre, preferably utilizing as many scantily-clad women and buckets of corn syrup they could muster. Nowadays, if you want to make a low-budget film and be taken seriously as an artist, your best chance seems to be a time travel movie. Films like Primer, Donnie Darko, and now, Timecrimes (or Los cronocrimenes, in its native Spanish), prove that you don’t need a lot of money to make a riveting film.
Hector and Clara have a beautiful home in the country, surrounded by acres of trees, but they are not so isolated as to be completely alone or without aspects of civilization. Nestled in the hills are other neighbors, paved roads, and a high-tech research laboratory that brings up images of Microsoft or Google’s idyllic headquarters.
One evening, Hector is sitting in his backyard, exploring his surroundings with a pair of binoculars. As he peers through the trees, he sees a beautiful young woman standing very still, though trembling under the surface. Slowly, she pulls her shirt up to bare her midriff, then removes the shirt entirely, exposing her breasts. Just then, Clara interrupts and, in the few moments he shares with his wife, the woman in the trees disappears. Intrigued – and, let’s face it, a little excited – Hector goes to look for her. He finds her lying naked against a small cliff face, unconscious, but alive. As he gets closer to her, he is stabbed from behind by a hand bearing a pair of scissors. He runs, but soon realizes he is being pursued by a man wearing bandages over his head. Frantic, he finds himself at the research lab, which is closed for the weekend and seemingly deserted. He breaks, finds a walkie-talkie and uses it to communicate with a man in the silo at the back of the compound. Hector runs for the silo and, once inside, the man tells him to hide inside a strange machine.
Thus begins a complex, thought-provoking, and twisted film dealing with time travel, morality, destiny, and the limits one will go to ensure his own happiness. It’s a wild ride and one that must be experienced spoiler-free, to be honest. That being said, I can comment on one aspect of the film that I really enjoyed and would seem to be key to your appreciation – it’s a little seedy.
Normally when we think of time travel we think of shiny technology and going back in time to right a wrong or some such noble deed. Not this time. Hector winds up back in time to prevent someone else from living his life, from having sex with his wife, and from making his existence null and void. He’s selfish – and the acts he commits during his time travel “adventure” prove that. He’s not a very likable hero and, honestly, I’m not entirely sure you’re really even intended to like him. From his Peeping Tom tendency to the outright assault and violence he commits in order to set his timeline straight, Hector is anything but a good guy. It’s a slightly different take on the sub-genre and is probably more realistic a portrayal of any one of us were we to find ourselves in the same situation.
The film is available on Netflix Instant Watch (or DVD, of course) and I would have to say it’s definitely worth checking out.
4 / 5 bananas
The IT Crowd: Series 1
I’m a big fan of British television, finding that a lot of it speaks to my sensibilities and interests more so than many American shows. So when I’d heard about this computer culture sitcom a while ago (on the internet, fittingly enough), I had a feeling I’d like it. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix Instant Watch, I was able to catch the first series of this pretty funny, very imaginative Britcom.
The show centers on Roy, Maurice Moss (called simply “Moss” for the most part), and recent-hire, Jen, who all work in the IT department at a giant corporation headed up by eccentric CEO, Denholm Reynholm. Roy and Moss have the cynicism and ego that you find in so many IT support people as the years of answering silly computer questions will eventually bring, though Moss is a much sweeter, simpler, nicer guy than the overly bitter Roy. Jen, on the other hand, is clueless when it comes to computers and has actually been hired as more of a liason between the IT department and the rest of the company – a Relationship Manager, as her title explains. However, as we quickly learn, she is just as socially awkward and nerdy (though in a completely different way) than her co-workers.
The bulk of the comedy on IT Crowd revolves around this social awkwardness, but not to such an uncomfortable extreme as one might find on the UK version of The Office or Starz Channel’s recent cult favorite, Party Down (reviewed later in this post). The show isn’t mean to its protagonists and doesn’t paint them as assholes, but more like lovable losers who simply don’t know how to play with the other kids on the playground.
I have to say that this first series started out a little rough in patches. But by the fourth or fifth episode, the show really hit its stride. One of my favorite episodes was “The Haunting of Bill Crouse”, where Moss, who has difficulty lying to people, goes overboard and tells everyone that Jen died, when, in fact, she’s just in her office and doesn’t want to be disturbed. When flowers and cards begin to appear outside the office door, Moss tells Jen that she has been voted Employee of the Month, rather than reveal his lie. This leads to some very funny moments as she begins wandering the halls, even interrupting her own memorial service to accept her accolades as Employee of the Month. There are some great sight gags in this episode that are imaginatively setup and played to excellent comic effect.
If you’re a computer geek, you’ll probably enjoy much of the show. Even if you’re not all that familiar with the culture, there’s still plenty to like, especially if you work in an office environment. While the off-the-wall comedy might be a little too strange for some people, the general sense of fun and the show’s true love for its characters will surely win over most viewers.
4 / 5 bananas
The IT Crowd: Series 2
This series of IT Crowd was definitely a winner for me. The comedy was quite a bit darker in these episodes, specifically one where Moss responds to a classified ad for German cooking classes, only to find that the person is a German who wants to cook him for dinner (this is based on an infamous German cannibal murder trial from a few years back). But there are other examples of the comedy going to a dark place (Peter File) and to uncomfortable places similar to the UK version of The Office.
I really enjoyed this series and am looking forward to the rest as they become available on Netflix.
4 /5 bananas
Confessions of a Superhero
The joke in Hollywood is that every waitress or busboy has a script to sell. Aspiring actors do whatever they have to do to make ends meet until they get discovered, including dressing up as superheroes and wandering around in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre, snapping photos with tourists for tips. This quirky documentary examines the lives, personalities, and psyches of a few of these characters, referenced in the film by their superhero names: The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. For most of them, the superhero gig is just a job – a way to make ends meet while they continue to take acting classes and go to auditions. But for one man in particular, Superman (AKA Christopher Dennis), embodying the Man of Steel has pretty much become a way of life, almost to a slightly disturbing degree.
The thing I found most interesting about the film was not so much the peoples’ stories – most are typical Hollywood wannabes who came out to California to make it big – but the way they can be viewed as similar to their super-powered alter-egos. For example, Wonder Woman is a small-town girl with a beautiful face and nice figure, but she’s somewhat quiet and soft spoken, almost becoming a bit of a wallflower compared to the other personalities in the film. She also mentions having to reinvent herself many times in order to find a role in life – cheerleader, prom queen, actress, wife, and Wonder Woman. Meanwhile the comic book Wonder Woman also takes a backseat when compared to the big guns in the DC Universe – Superman and Batman – so much so that comic book writers have struggled for years to maintain her relevancy, often changing her backstory and her personality to find a niche. In the comics, The Incredible Hulk is a large, monstrous creature with exaggerated features. In the film, The Incredible Hulk feels that his success in Hollywood has been hindered by his less-than-typical looks, especially his poor teeth. In the film, Batman is a slightly-scary, possibly homicidal, deeply disturbed individual who hides a troubled past. In the comics, Batman is, well, pretty much exactly the same description. Finally, Superman in the film holds himself to certain standards while wearing the cape and shield – he doesn’t smoke in costume (though he does in his Clark Kent/Chris Dennis persona), he is always polite to tourists, he’s professional when it comes to receiving (or not receiving) tips for a photo, he even takes special care to only have his signature front curl of hair while he’s in costume. He’s not perfect by any means, but he does a pretty darn good job of embodying the “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” that Superman has come to stand for.
The films is an intriguing look at fame, self-esteem, pride, and the lengths people are willing to go to eek out a living using whatever assets they have at their disposal. As I watched, I kept asking myself, “Could I do what they’re doing?” And, really, I think getting the audience to ask that question is the entire purpose of the film. So on that level – and many others – it’s pretty successful.
3.5 / 5 bananas
If you don’t like Pixar films, then I don’t like you. Nuff said, honestly. This film is amazing and definitely ranks up there as one of Pixar’s best. With that, my review ends, but I do have an interesting observation that I haven’t seen floating around the net just yet, so read on if you care.
Despite there only being one child in the film, Russell, Up is really all about kids. Or, more specifically, encouraging people to have kids.
As we know from the heart-wrenching opening montage from the film, Carl and his wife Ellie were not able to have children. This meant they only had each other over the years, leaving Carl alone, lost, and bitter when his wife passed away. If you look at the changes in Carl once Russell comes into his life, it’s not hard to imagine how different things would have been if he’d had grown children or grandchildren around to fill the void left by Ellie’s passing.
Before Russell, Carl had a death wish. Let’s face it – tying balloons to your house and trying to fly to South America is suicidal. Even if you make it to the waterfall, what then? You have no access to modern medicine (which at his age will be a necessity) and you’ll scrounge for food and water (especially out there on that rocky cliff) – you’re not going to last long, but at least the view will be nice. After meeting Russell, Carl is revitalized and finds new meaning in life. He tries to help Kevin (the big bird) get away from Muntz, he adopts Dug, one of the Muntz’s cast-off pooches, he even stays in Russell’s life after they’ve returned home from their adventure, helping him with his scouting activities, taking him for ice cream, and going to see movies. His life is completely changed because he now has a child in his life. He has a purpose; something worth living for.
Carl and the villain, Charles, are a lot alike in the beginning of the film. Both are alone, bitter, and obsessed with living life by their rules. Throughout the film, Muntz thinks only of himself; the idea of sacrificing for the well-being of another is out of the question. He wants Kevin because the bird is a rare find that will make him famous; never mind that Kevin has chicks back in his/her nest. While Muntz has dogs that could be seen as child proxies, he uses them more as servants than as true companions. Carl is a lot like that, too, in the beginning. The only difference is Russell.
So while the film might be amazing and Oscar-worthy for sure, I think there’s an important part of the film that’s being completely overlooked – Pixar wants you to have kids. If you don’t, you’ll be alone one day – angry, bitter, suicidal, and you’ll have nothing left in your life that’s worth getting out of bed for. As a father, I think they might be on to something.
5 / 5 bananas
Party Down: Season 1
Party Down is one of those odd, under-the-radar shows that you only hear about thanks to the internet. Thats especially true for me since I don’t have Starz, the premium cable channel it’s shown on. Thankfully, the series has been running on Netflix streaming, so I’ve been able to catch a show that has garnered quite a cult following in its first season.
PD is all about unrealized dreams. The waiters at Party Down Catering are all actors, writers and comedians who just never quite made it to the stardom they hoped for in Hollywood. The one that has come closest – newest member of the crew, Henry – had his moment in the spotlight doing a beer commercial with a catchphrase that haunts him everywhere he goes. Whenever someone recognizes him, they always ask, “What are you doing here?” He and the rest of his co-workers are asking themselves the same thing, though some of them know the answer and just don’t want to admit it.
I have to say, I really enjoyed this show. I like it’s blend of laugh-out-loud comedy with more subtle moments that show how smart it really is. The characters are relateable, especially for someone who once thought he was going to be a big Hollywood screenwriter, but even for those who never had any interest in being center-stage, I think there’s a desperation present here that we’ve all felt at some point in our lives when we’re working that dead-end job we hate “until I can find something better.” I’m anxious to see how the second season turns out.
4 / 5 bananas
Red Dwarf: Series 1
Back in the mid-90s, I had two friends – Steve and Travis – who were obsessed with this British sci-fi spoof. Over the years they’ve both sat me down at various times to watch a small sampling of episodes on VHS and, while I always found it funny, I never really dug my teeth into it. Well, I decided I’d go ahead and start watching the series in its entirety, now available on Netflix streaming video, to see what all the fuss was about.
In case you’re not familiar, the show tells the story of Lister, the last surviving human from the mining ship, Red Dwarf. The rest of the crew died due to a radiation leak, but Lister was spared because he was put into stasis (like prison) for illegally bringing a cat on-board. 3,000,000 years later, Lister is revived to find his anal retentive roommate, Rimmer, had his soul saved in the computer’s database, which is then brought back as a hologram. There is also another creature on-board – a cat-like human who is the evolutionary descendent of Lister’s illegal cat.
This first series sets up the show and is, quite frankly, not all that great. The concept is there, some of the “world” is put into place, but as for laughs, they are few and far between. But with a premise that’s so clever, I’m anxious to look into the rest of the series.
2.5 / 5 bananas
Robert Crumb was one of the primary forces behind the underground comics movement in the 1960s and 70s. Best known for his “Keep on Truckin” comic, Crumb is a brilliant, demented, talented outcast, never as cool as the culture he helped define.
This 1994 documentary by Terry Zwigoff (who would go on to helm the 2001 alt-comics masterpiece Ghost World) give us an intimate look into the life of this bizarre personality. Filled with interviews of former girlfriends, his wife, his daughter, and, most memorably, his brothers, one gets a real sense of the chaos that helped fuel his creative desires – as they say, “Dysfunction breeds genius.”
Riveting throughout, I cannot recommend this documentary enough.
5 / 5 bananas
Recently I was going through a stressful period in my life, when I felt my creative endeavors had hit a real stand still. In an effort to kickstart things, I decided to re-watch this inspiring little documentary about Mark Borchardt, a Wisconsin-based filmmaker.
I hadn’t seen the film in years, and the thing I found most interesting this time around, was the way Mark is so focused. Maybe it’s just the film crew following him around that helps him maintain that singular vision, but I honestly don’t know if that’s entirely true. The guy is just a machine – constantly working on scripts, trying to piece together his film Coven, and doing whatever he can to get his vision on the screen. I have to admire him for that, because it’s something I’d love to be able to do.
However, I also have to wonder if the devotion to his craft has left him unfocused on the more important things in life – namely family, career, and personal health. I wonder, will his kids grow up to think fondly of the times they slept on the hard floor of a film editing room in a local junior college? Or will they resent their father for spending more time with his 8mm camera than he ever did with them?
4 / 5 bananas
He’s Just Not That Into You
As you can probably imagine, I watched this one with my wife. She wanted something funny, brainless and ‘not too heavy’, so this seemed like a better fit than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Yeah, this is a chick flick with some really eye-rolling moments. But it’s also a clever film that has a fun structure – sort of a Pulp Fiction for the romcom set. The characters are generally annoying and do stupid things, but you kind of expect that. Still, there are some fun moments, some very true observations about relationships, and, hey, you get to look at Scarlett Johannsson for a couple of hours. I can think of worse ways to spend my time.
Will I ever watch it again? Not unless forced to in order to be polite. But, honestly, I don’t know if my wife would ever really care to watch it again, either, so that should tell you something.
2 / 5 bananas
Tokyo Gore Police
It is the near-future and the Tokyo police force has been commercialized. Knowing they only have to answer to the stockholders, the force has grown arrogant, corrupt, and brutal in dealing with criminals. So a new form of criminal has been developed – The Engineers – a group who are genetically altered to become living weapons should they ever be injured.
For example, about midway through the film, a woman is shot in the chest. It looks like she’s dead until, a few minutes later, she wakes up, pulls her lower half away from her torso, and, in place of her legs, is a set of snapping, alligator-like jaws. She lifts her “legs” off the floor and chases after her assailant, clamping down on his thigh and tearing it off at the knee.
The ultra-violence is thick in this film, with bloody fountains spraying out of every sliced off limb and plenty of people getting decapitated or split in half by a well-placed katana blade. However, the film also features quite a bit of social commentary (there are commercials featuring spunky high school girls hocking designer label razors so they’ll look cool while cutting their wrists), so you have to believe the violence serves a deeper purpose as well. Still, it’s not for the faint of heart, the easily offended, or, well, most well-adjusted people, to be honest. But if cartoonish violence, a few demented scenes of depravity, and a little dark, dark humor are your thing, check it out.
3 / 5 bananas (Honestly, this is more for the sheer guts the film displays by not pulling any punches than any real sign of quality)
I decided to watch the original again before venturing out to see the latest sequel. In hindsight, that might not have been such a good idea. Not because the original doesn’t hold up – quite the contrary – but because it seriously tainted my opinion of the sequel.
The Terminator is truly a snapshot of its time. The soundtrack is pure synthesizer cheese, the clothes are disastrously bad, the film stock is grainy, and the stop motion special effects have started to age. But the story is still relevant and still pretty kick ass, so that’s really all that matters. While some might find the original a tad slow compared to T2, I think it makes sense in this case. The T800 is a determined, but not necessarily speedy adversary, reminiscent of a zombie from Night of the Living Dead, who is suddenly on top of you even though you’ve been running for 10 minutes and it’s just been plodding along. It’s that relentless, slow-paced drive that is a constant presence in the film, and that’s really where the tension lies.
If it’s been a while since you’ve watched this one, give it another shot. I think you’ll find there’s still a lot to enjoy here.
4 / 5 bananas
When I went into T4, I was enticed by the trailers that featured impressive special effects, amazing action sequences, and the promise of finally seeing John Connor, the real hero of the Terminator films, finally become the man he had been prophesized to be.
What I got was 2 hours of disappointment.
First, I didn’t care about any of the characters. This made the action scenes completely meaningless. The special effects were generally very impressive, but that’s not enough to hang a film on (despite what Michael Bay might say). But I think the aspect of the film that saddened me most was the lack of focus on John Connor.
Even the first film, in which he is conceived, he is more the center of the film than in this one. I mean, the entire point of that film is to make sure that Sarah Connor survives so that her son can be born. Here, the entire point of the film is some character we’ve never met before figuring out that he’s a robot. Sure, it gives us some history for the terminators, but it felt more like fanfiction or a comic book plot used to fill in the gaps in the film’s canon. It wasn’t the epic storyline we need for a Terminator film, with long-lasting repercussions for future films. Sure, we saw how Connor got his facial scare, but that’s really the only piece of the puzzle that was solved for us. Otherwise the movie was completely inconsequential.
2 / 5 bananas
I’ve never been a huge Star Trek fan. I watched The Next Generation pretty religiously for a while in junior high, but I don’t remember much of anything about it; it wasn’t a cultural touchstone for me by any means. That being said, I am a geek, so I do know some of the Trek mythos – Tribbles, the Kobayashi Maru, the green, bikini-clad alien girls that Kirk always makes out with, the horrible fight sequence with the lizardman, etc. – but I was always more of a Star Wars fan, the Trekkie’s mortal enemy.
That being said, the latest Star Trek movie was made specifically for guys like me. I didn’t have any baggage going into it, but I knew enough about the Star Trek tropes to feel comfortable in the world being presented. And feel comfortable I did. In fact, I had a blast with this film. It’s what I would consider the perfect summer blockbuster – fun, flashy, exciting, yet there’s enough meat to enjoy on repeat viewings.
I don’t really have anything new or original to say since this film has been reviewed all over the place, so I’m not going to go on and on all day here. I will say that I’m really interested to see how the sequel(s) are handled. Because for me a large part of the reason the film worked was the influence of director JJ Abrams. When he eventually leaves the series, I just wonder if it will maintain that sense of wonder and excitement that was such a huge part of this film. I guess we’ll just have to see. But, for the first time, I’m really excited to see future Trek films.
5 / 5 bananas
I remember being vaguely intrigued by this film from the one and only trailer I ever saw for it. So when I noticed it was available on Netflix Streaming, I decided to give it a shot.
The film has a strange premise – a young couple goes camping, but leaves the woods early because their tent broke. So as they are traveling back to civilization to get a hotel room, they stop to help a woman standing in the middle of the road. Her pistol-carrying boyfriend then comes up to the window and kidnaps the couple, forcing them to drive. The man has apparently committed some crime and his girlfriend, who seems a bit unstable, is along for the ride.
The foursome stop at a gas station where they are attacked by a man that has been infected by a strange condition that causes spikes to grow out of his body and contort his skeleton in most unnatural ways. The girlfriend is killed almost immediately, while the criminal boyfriend and the innocent couple become trapped inside the gas station. The rest of the film plays much like a typical zombie film with the folks inside trying to escape while the monster is trying to get in.
The film might not be breaking new ground in the horror genre, but it’s still an enjoyable romp with some pretty good special effects. I was a little annoyed with some of the directorial decisions – namely the otherwise steady camera shots suddenly becoming very staccato whenever the creature is the center of the frame. I understand what they were going for – the creature itself is very herky jerky, so the editing reflected that – but I think it would have been much more effective for us to see it as the characters would see it, instead of a stylized view. Maybe that would have revealed problems with the special effects, though. Who knows? For the most part I had a good time seeing the standard monster movie standbys with a few twists thrown in. It’s not going to change your life, but if you don’t think too much, you should have fun with it at the very least.
2.5 / 5 bananas
Ahh, the classic “A Boy and His Dog” scenario. It’s brought us films like Old Yeller and the Don Johnson post-apocalyptic weirdo sex romp, uh, A Boy and His Dog. Here, with a great twist on the genre, is “A Boy and His Zombie”.
After radiation from space reanimates the dead, the geniuses at the Zomcom Corporation develop a collar that is able to negate the zombies’ hunger for human flesh. The collar has restrained them to the point they are able to complete menial tasks, placing them in the roles of butlers, landscapers and factory workers. Of course having a zombie of your very own is just one more way the 1950s suburban family strives to keep up with the Joneses. When the Robinsons get their own zombie, nicknamed Fido by son Timmy, they soon find that the newest (undead) member of the family changes them all in unexpected ways.
While, yes, the film is funny, for me the best part of this movie was the way it subverts the Leave it to Beaver stereotype that was presented as fact on 1950s sitcoms and films. On the surface, the Robinsons appear to be perfect in every way. However, they are anything but, so it’s especially genius when, ironically, it is the introduction of a zombie that makes them live again.
Final conclusion: It’s a fresh take on the zombie film and one definitely worth watching.
4 / 5 bananas
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Honestly, I don’t really have an opinion on this one because, well, it’s critic proof. It’s cheesy, it’s cliché, it’s poorly acted, the script is horrible, the story is ludicrous – but it does what it’s supposed to do: entertain. Sure, the puzzles are fun and creative, but no one really cares why Nicolas Cage is running all over the world doing the things he does. The audience forgets the MacGuffin long before the journey begins, we don’t care about the romantic subplots, we really don’t care about Cage’s parents’ relationship – we just want to see some Indiana Jones-style adventure.
And that’s what you get with Book of Secrets. No more, no less. If you liked the first one, you’ll like the second one. Although I have to say, the final reel gets a little slow and then starts stretching the suspension of disbelief a little too far, so that it loses some of its willy-nilly feel.
Still, it is what it is and it’s a fun distraction for 90 minutes.
2.5 / 5 bananas