Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Chick and the Dead: Alison Lohman Tries to Reverse the Curse in the Fantastic “Drag Me to Hell”

If you see one movie this summer, go see “Star Trek.” If you see two movies this summer, go see “Drag Me to Hell.” Simply put, it’s one of the most ridiculously amazing movies of the year. Cult director Sam Raimi who moved into mainstream success with the “Spider-man” flicks finally goes back to his roots with a campy horror tale of a woman cursed by an evil gypsy woman. The movie is funny, scary and totally outrageous. It is probably one of the most fun times you’ll have at the movies this year and is certainly one of my favorites so far this year.

I enjoy “The Evil Dead” but it’s not one of my favorite movies. The 1982 super-cheap cult horror flick which Raimi made with a bunch of his friends with very little money is still considered his bread and butter. As the years have gone on, he’s made bigger budgeted flicks, but its obvious he’s always had a desire to revisit his campy past. He does that with “Drag Me to Hell,” which is quite possibly one of the best movie titles in the history of cinema. It’s more than a title it’s a promise. A promise from the filmmaker to the viewer that they will see someone onscreen being dragged to hell. Of course, the big question is who exactly.

The flick starts in the 1960s where a young boy has been cursed. His family brings him to a medium who fails at saving the poor boy and he’s… yes dragged to hell. Flash-forward to present day where we meet Christine Brown (Alison Loman) who works as a loan officer at a bank where she’s up for a promotion. Her boss says she’s near the top of the list, but he’s looking for someone who is not afraid to be tough. When an old creepy woman named Mrs. Ganush (exquisitely played by Lorna Raver) comes in to ask for a third extension on her mortgage, Christine sees an opportunity to prove that she can say no when needed. She can’t be a pushover. The woman, who coughs up yellow phlegm, has a discolored iris, and takes out her teeth to eat a treat from Christine’s candy bowl, begins to beg on hands and knees. She’s visibility upset. Then she visits Christine later that night in the parking garage, in of the film’s greatest sequences (hello stapler as weapon!) in which she steals a button off Christine’s coat and curses her. She insists that it will be Christine who will come begging to Mrs. Ganush.

At first the whole curse thing just seems silly to Christine, but then strange things begin happening. Scary shadows, loud noises, you know, standard Exorcist/Poltergeist type stuff. She goes to a fortune teller who, despite a price tag of 60 bucks, insists that Christine has been officially cursed and after three days of torment by an evil demon, she will be dragged to hell for all eternity. What is pretty refreshing to see, first of all, is Christine’s college professor boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) doesn’t really believe her but he continues to support her. He slowly realizes that maybe everything weird going on isn’t exactly just in her head, like when a fly comes into the bedroom at night, and goes down her throat and she proceeds to have a “dream” that the old woman is lying next to her and she proceeds to throw up thousands of mealworms all over her face. Yes this movie is gooey and gross and fantastic. The violence is so over the top you can’t help but laugh at it.

The movie has a certain sense of humor about it and that is due to Sam Raimi (and his co-writer & borther Ivan Raimi) expert balance of humor and horror. They don’t let it get too scary or too funny but they spread out perfect layers as if they’re award winning chefs designing the perfect dessert on Ace of Cakes. They know exactly what they’re doing and what exactly the audience wants to see. And the way they go about it, with traditional horror movie staples such as loud, scary noises, creepy camera angles and stylized editing which all congeal to form a perfect roller coaster ride of frightening fun.

Like I said, the movie is utterly ridiculous (hello goat!) but it’s super fun. It knows exactly what it’s doing and just how to do it. I dare you to argue how this isn’t one of the most original and enjoyable movies to come out this summer. The summer movie season always has one sleeper horror hit and Drag Me to Hell is sure to be that movie. Remember the title is a promise: someone gets dragged to hell, so go see it to find out just who that is. GRADE: oh what the hell, A

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sky Tension: Pixar’s “Up” is a Fantastic Adventure That Receives My Highest Recommendation

Well geez how boring is this? Pixar and Disney have teamed up to make their 10th full length animated feature and you know what? It’s just as good as all the others. You’d think there’d be room for a turkey somewhere right? But no, “Up” is simply another marvelous, colorful extremely fun adventure with great characters and wonderful animation that yet again pushes the boundaries of anything you’ve ever seen before. The story follows one of the most unlikely relationships ever between a grumpy old man and a naïve little boy who experience a journey like no other. Pixar has added another winner to their already overly prestigious crop of films and prove yet again that they have the most talented and original filmmakers on the planet Earth.

How does Pixar do it? How do they come up with such rich and creative ways of telling stories? “Up” is a wonderful story that may not seem like much on paper but it comes brilliantly to life up on the screen. We’re introduced to Carl as a young boy who urges for adventure from the likes of his movie idol Charles Munz (Christopher Plummer). Carl meets Ellie who is adventurous as well. They fall in love and spend a happy wonderful life together which we see all before our eyes as the film begins. They even have a scrapbook which will document all their life’s adventures. One of their biggest dreams is to go to the wilds of South America, but as they grow older that isn’t meant to be. Ellie then passes away during one of the film’s most touching and saddest sequences and now Carl (voiced as an old man by Ed Asner) is all alone. Grumpy and crotchety and refuses to sell his house to the land developers in charge of the construction going on all around his quaint home.

One day Carl decides he’s had enough and since he’s got nothing left to lose (he’s already being forced to move to an old folks home) he attaches thousands of balloons to his home in hopes of floating all the way to South America. The only dent in his plan is a young wilderness scout has stowed away on his front porch who just wants to help an old person so he can get a new patch. The young boy’s name is Russell (Jordan Nagai) and he’s one of those slightly annoying young kids who you hate at first and come to love once you get to know him. These two characters seem like polar opposites, but it’s their love of adventure that gives them that connection.

I don’t want to talk too much about what happens after they lift up and head for South America because that would be ruining most of the fun. I will say that they certainly have one of the most wacky and outrageous adventures this side of an Indiana Jones flick. We’re treated to giant colorful birds, talking dogs and a villain that is certainly worthy of the title. Oh and is this movie funny! There are sequences in which you may find yourself not being able to hear the dialogue because you or those around you will be laughing so hard.

And you all know this going it, but “Up” has brilliant animation. I seriously believe we’re looking at the next Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature (and hopefully a best original screenplay nod). I didn’t see the film in 3D because I wanted to take in the gorgeous animation first, but I will be checking the 3D version soon. You’ll definitely want to see “Up” more than once because once just isn’t enough when it comes to Pixar. GRADE: A

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dr. Loomis: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love “Halloween”

With just about three months to go until Rob Zombie's next chapter in his Halloween reboot, I've decided to go back to the beginning and figure out just how John Carpenter's original slasher classic "Halloween" became my fourth favorite film of all time and the definitive American movie from the 1970s (sorry Mr. Corleone but you got nothing on Michael Myers). Look I've even seen the Myers house in person --->

I can remember it so clearly. I was at my grandparents’ house. It was someone’s birthday. My grandma? My grandpa? My uncle? Who knows? It was a family celebration that would forever change my life. Most family get-togethers revolved around the TV set. My parents would hang out with the adults while my sister and I would retire to the television. We had finished watching a movie, of which I can’t remember, and the spot on the TV announced the next movie coming up was “Halloween.” “Uncle Georgie!” I cried at the ripe old age of about 9 or 10, “Halloween is on next!” My uncle insisted it was a great movie and that I watch it. I’m not really sure what he was thinking, but I was never against a solid film recommendation at that age and so I watched it anyways. I watched and watched. I sat there unglued and yet unflinchingly terrified at what I was actually witnessing. And this was the TV version no less. I remember leaving my grandparents that night still shocked at what I had witnessed. That night, when my mother put me to bed, I, without hesitating, flicked my closet light on, which before that time had never really had any use except for trying to find a good toy to play with. I had Michael Myers on my mind and in my dreams and I was forever a changed human being. There have always been two points in my life: pre-“Halloween” and post-“Halloween.”

I’m not really quite sure why “Halloween” affected me so strongly but I have a few ideas. First off, Michael Myers was and is, to me, the scariest villain I’ve yet to come across in a movie. The mask he chose to steal from the hardware store is simply chilling. I literally couldn’t even look at the mask without getting goose bumps. It didn’t help that director John Carpenter’s simple yet haunting score simply scared the crap out of me. Just hum a few bars and still get the creeps. Like John William’s shark theme from “Jaws,” its simple notes put effortlessly together manage to create a foreboding atmosphere unmatched by nearly any other film composition. Unless of course you count Bernard Herrman’s shower scene music which, along with “Halloween” and “Jaws” are the horror movie score trifecta of terror.

“Halloween” had always been just “the scariest movie I’d ever seen in my entire life.” It now not only stands as of the scariest movies I’ve seen but one of my favorites. It currently ranks as number four on my list of all time favorite films. It sits just behind “Mrs. Doubtfire,” as strange as that seems, but perhaps it’s hard to beat out any film that has won a Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Golden Globe Award. In my opinion, not only is “Halloween” scary but it is a completely well-made and efficient thriller. Carpenter and his co-writer and producer Debra Hill (who also produced my #2 favorite “Adventures in Babysitting”) made the most of their very limited budget. They used the camera in a subjective way that had been used very little up to that point in time. The original “Black Christmas” used the subjective camera many years earlier, but it never quite caught on with American audiences. Carpenter also had a crazy idea to open his film, which included a tour of a small Midwestern suburban house and a murder, all in one take. He ultimately used three takes with well-placed edits, but the entire opening sequence feels like one long and suspenseful take. We are shown a house, a young couple make out and run upstairs to do the nasty nasty. We travel into the house, open a kitchen drawer, pull out a knife, make our way upstairs, put on a clown’s mask and before we know it we are stabbing a naked girl to death. It is revealed just seconds later that we were looking through the eyes of a young boy. We are looking at Michael Myers. The story picks up years later when Michael escapes from a mental institution where he proceeds to stalk one young Laurie Strode ('Sream Queen' Jamie Lee Curtis' big break) and her slutty girlfriends. Michael’s psychologist Dr. Loomis is on his trail and he must stop him before the town of Haddonfield, Illinois becomes a bloodbath.

John Carpenter was a young guy who just wanted to make movies and he succeeded in not only creating one of the most successful independent films of all time, but certainly one of the scariest. You can feel his presence in nearly every frame. He created one of the most evil and memorable and freakiest villains ever put on film and he certainly scared the ever loving crap out of me. For a while, I couldn’t even hear the name “Micheal Myers” without screaming my head off. Needless to say it was a while before I had watched “Halloween” again. It played the next year on TV and I was ballsy enough to tape it. It wasn’t until years and years later when I got my first DVD player that I even watched the theatrical version, in widescreen of course.

“Halloween” has since influenced my entire taste in movies. I prefer a slasher movie (which “Halloween” basically helped to create) over nearly every other genre, although I’m generally non-exclusive and enjoy watching whatever I can get. I love Freddy and Jason and Leatherface, but for me, Michael Myers will always hold a special place in my heart, even if he scared the crap out of me so many years ago. GRADE: A+

Check out the trailer for Halloween 2:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rage Against the Machines: “Terminator Salvation” Proves This Franchise Must Be Terminated*

When Christian Bale can’t even make your movie interesting, authentic or emotionally satisfying then your movie isn’t that good. I can’t believe I just said that mostly because I’m not even the biggest Christian Bale fan. I mean I like the guy and he’s a great actor who is capable of playing an extremely wide range of roles, but I don’t necessarily get super excited just because he shows his face. And wasn’t his growling Batman voice a little ridiculous? But I digress… back to the important issue at hand. Guys and gals, the new Terminator movie kind of stinks! I guess I’m not really too disappointed seeing as though I didn’t think it was a good idea and never really looked to amazing to begin with but here we are with “Terminator Salvation,” the only salvation being is that it’s less than two hours.

“Terminator Salvation” takes place in 2018 which, in my opinion is the biggest mistake right there. I enjoy the Terminator flicks because they are sci-fi movies that take place during the present day, I’m not so interested in the aftermath of ‘Judgement Day’ and I assume a lot of people aren’t seeing as though it took this long to make a movie about it. So in this future the machines have taken over like the past three movies have told us. They’ve also created some sort of human/machine hybrid which here is played by relative new comer Sam Worthington (he’s from Australia so he’s new to us Americans). Worthington is Marcus Wright a man who is going to be executed but not before agreeing to “donate his body to science.” Turns out he’s giving his body to Cyberdyne the company that is responsible for Skynet and the whole apocalypse thing. He becomes this film’s half-man half-machine and while the guy is a good actor, he certainly can’t replace Arnold in whole acting like a machine thing.

Speaking of which. This doesn’t really feel like a Terminator movie. Arnold is severely missing, which is only time I’ve really missed him. And I still miss Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor which is one of cinema’s greatest female action heroes (well she was in T2 not so much in T1, whoa that hair!). We do get Bale playing an adult John Connor who is helping to fight the machines who have waged a war with the humans. Bale is decent, but can’t help cover up the weak script by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris who also penned “Terminator 3.” Terminator 3 was more successful in that it felt more along the lines of the first two films even though it wasn’t nearly as good. This new vision of the bleak future hardly even stands on its own as an interesting view of how dreary things will eventually be for mankind (I’m assuming ‘The Road’ which opens in the fall will be better).

At least the writers have shown us more of Kyle Reese who here is now played in a younger former by Anton Yelchin. Reese as any Terminator fan knows was a solider sent to the past to protect Sarah Connor who would eventually give birth to John Connor who would then lead mankind to victory over the robots in the future. Mr. Reese ended up helping to conceive John in what is certainly one of the film’s more interesting paradoxes. Yelchin is pretty good but isn’t really given anything too exciting to do except help shoot at robots. And speaking of robots they actually weren’t that scary. They could have easily made this more of a horror exercise like the first film and had suspenseful sequences of robots killing humans but we get a few half assed attempts like swimming robots trying unsuccessfully to kill John when his helicopter lands in a river.

Overall Terminator Salvation is an utter disappointment. Actually it wasn’t even really a disappointment since I had no real aspirations to begin with. Even Danny Elfman’s non-Burton score isn’t all that memorable. With new director McG at the helm its no surprise that the film is mindless action and special effects, and actually pretty boring at parts. He doesn’t really seem to understand what makes a Terminator film work and that is sad. Maybe he should have made Charlie’s Angels Salvation instead. GRADE: C-

*thank you Anthony Paolucci

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pope Fiction: “Angels & Demons” Offers Some Fun for Religion Conspiracy Theorists

I already know the question that you’re going to ask: what is better, Angels & Demons or The Da Vinci Code? It’s a tough question but I think in terms of the story itself The Da Vinici Code offers more controversy and more fascinating discussions of hidden meanings hidden in famous artworks. The Da Vinci Code was an enjoyable movie as long as you weren’t expecting the second coming of Christ (no pun intended). Most people balked at the nonsense of it all, which the novel never downplayed either, and the stop and go style of lets talk about this painting, ok lets run away from the bad guys now, ok lets pause for more exposition. “Angels & Demons,” like a new car model, is sleeker in design, and although it looks better on the surface I’m not sure it’s really all that much better than the previous model.

Angels & Demons is based on the book of the same name by Dan Brown who also wrote The Da Vinci Code. You would certainly know it just by reading the first few chapters as both stories are almost identical. Angels & Demons was written first, but the movie has the events of Da Vinici Code (in which Harvard professor and religious symbologist extraordinaire Robert Langdon discovers that Jesus had a bloodline and by bloodline I mean him and Mary did the nasty nasty and birthed a human child) having already taken place. But don’t worry you don’t really need to see the first film to really get what’s going on. Langdon is paged this time because a scientist has been murdered and branded with the sign of the Illuminati. The Illuminati were an old group of scientists who were outcast by the church for believing more in science than the church. The pope has died at the Vatican and it’s time for conclave (the choosing of a new pope) and four cardinals have been kidnapped and are going to be murdered and then the entire city is going to be wiped away from stolen anti-matter (anti-matter = science= evil=demon; religion=good=angels angels and demons, get it?) will detonate at exactly midnight!

The film follows a similar pattern to The Da Vinci Code in that Langdon (Tom Hanks, this time with shorter hair) pairs up with a foreign beauty, this time with Vittoria Vetra (Munich’s Ayelet Zurer) in hopes of finding the stolen anti-matter before it causes an explosion so big that everyone will die. And without a pope yet elected how would he save everyone!? I think one of the most fascinating aspects of this story is the whole pope thing. The Roman Catholics has always been a rather mysterious and powerful entity on this planet. The way they go about the process is pretty fascinating. All the powerful cardinals lock themselves in a room and vote on who they think the pope should be. If they can’t come up with an agreement black smoke will be seen rising from the Vatican chimney. It is not until white smoke emerges until the world will see a new elected pope.

Meanwhile Langdon and Vittoria are on a race against time. An evil member of the Illuminati has kidnapped four cardinals and will execute them every hour on the hour unless they can find the clues to get to them in time. This whole premise instantly makes for a more suspenseful than The Da Vinci Code. The whole thing takes place during one evening and therefore makes for a pretty intense experience. This film also gives us a great performance from Ewan “young Obi-Wan” McGregor as the pope’s camerlengo, which is the pope’s right hand man and the acting pope in the even of his death. You won’t really be too surprised in terms of what his character is up to, but McGregor sells it pretty well.

I think the biggest problem with both this film and The Da Vinci Code is probably director Ron Howard. Ok, don’t get me wrong I like the guy and some of his movies are really good (see Apollo 13 or A Beautiful Mind) except that I get this overwhelming feeling that the movies would be more suited to a more action-oriented director. Am I wrong? If anything, I’d love to see Spielberg direct a Dan Brown adaptation. Hey what about Ridley Scott? I can’t help but think that Howard can get a little dull at times. Angles and Demons is much more quickly paced than its predecessor which is good and I think the script (co-written by David Koepp and Da Vinci scribe Akiva Goldsman) works a little better by being a little tighter. However by being a little more action oriented you obviously loose a litter character development which means some motivations are sort of left to your assumptions which isn’t always a good thing.

"Angels and Demons" is definitely passable entertainment. It has some good sequences and offers enough intrigue to keep you entertained for its 140 minute runtime, but I can’t help but feel that in other hands it could have been even better. If the Da Vinci Code had been as tight and sleek as this film that would be the ultimate Dan Brown flick. I’m hoping the third film (assuming Brown’s next novel is adapted, um yeah it will be) will be handed off to someone else. Where’s Brett Ratner when you need him?? (Just kidding) GRADE: B-

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mate Expectations: “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” Isn’t Quite as Horrendous as You’d Expect, OK It Sort of Is

It’s not too shocking to be apprehensive about a romantic comedy starring Matthew “No Shirt” McConaughey these days. He’s been in his fair share of clunkers lately so it was with gret trepidation I “wondered” into a showing of his latest vehicle “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” which is a wacky take on the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” The real bright spot here for me dawg is a) director Mark Waters who helmed both Mean Girls and Freaky Friday b) borderline comedic goddess Emma Stone who was great in ‘Superbad’ even better in ‘The House Bunny’ and simply fantastic here and c) Michael Douglas totally cashing in a paycheck as a womanizing ghost with the most.

The film is average at best in its opening scenes, but they are necessary to establish the story and characters. Basically, Connor Mead (McConaughey essentially playing himself) is a womanizing big shot photographer who likes to sleep around and refuses to commit to any one woman. He travels to the home of his dead Uncle Wayne (Douglas) for his brother Paul’s (Breckin Meyer) wedding to Sandra (Lacey Chabert). Sanda’s maid of honor is Jenny (Jennifer Garner) who Connor just so happens to have a past with.

While in the bathroom dead Uncle Wayne’s spirit shows up and tells him that he’s got to stop his womanizing ways. He also says Connor will be visited by three ghosts who will teach him hard hitting life lessons which usually tend to happen in movies like this. Before he knows one of Connor’s past girlfriends named Allison Vandermeersh (Stone) shows up, in full 80s garb I might add. Stone is utterly likeable that she can make any line funnier than it is. I guess Anna Faris’ charm rubbed off on her during the filming of The House Bunny. Allison takes Connor to his childhood where he first meets Jenny and takes her picture with a Polaroid camera. We learn that his parents died in a car crash and it was Uncle Wayne who took him and his brother in. Not that he had much of a choice, but Wayne is probably the worst role model on the planet.

All the scenes taking place in Connor’s past work the best because I somehow found it interesting to see why Connor became the way he is. Wayne brings him to a bar as a kid, he orders him a drink and shows him how to pick up women. Not girls, women. Even Allison observes that it’s all sort of messed up. A second spirit, in the form of Connor’s Indian personal assistant Nadja (Emily Foxler) shows Connor the present in which his brother future sister in law and all their friends complain about what a jerk Connor is. And the last spirit shows Connor his horrible future in which no one but his brother attends his funeral.

So basically Connor realizes his grotesque lifestyle as being, well grotesque and vows to change his ways and make Jenny his mate for life rather than just a notch on his already crowded belt. Garner and McConaughey have some chemistry but actually not too much is required because they aren’t actually the sole focus of the film. When a secret is revealed about Paul and a bridesmaid, Connor must make things right with the bride and groom.

Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore follow rather standard plot guidelines including the jerk character who isn’t a jerk by the film’s conclusion, the separation of a couple and them reuniting and even the crazy bride who can’t seem to hold it together even when her wedding cake goes crashing to the floor. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t actually laugh out loud throughout the film. The scenes with Douglas are funny and Stone is charming as well. Mark Waters has pretty good comic timing but I still wish he’d return to his darker roots. But maybe the strength of Mean Girls lied more with its script than its direction. In any case, this is certainly an improvement over the dreck that was “Just Like Heaven.”

In the end, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” has enough funny moments that let you forget that you’re actually watching a formulaic romantic comedy that is loosely based on a Charles Dickens novel. If anything the release date just feels wrong. Shouldn’t this have been released in November or December? You can do a lot worse than the wrong release date after all right? GRADE: B-

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Deep Space Pine: “Star Trek” Reboot Boldly Goes Where I’ve Never Wanted to Go Before

“I’m gonna be teaching that honors program class and it’s gonna be a challenge. I’m going to have students who know that Chekov is a brilliant Russian playwright, not the guy who was the navigator on the Enterprise.” – Dorothy Zbornack

“I didn’t know the guy from
Star Trek wrote plays.” – Rose Nylund

Those two lines pretty much sum up my knowledge of the Star Trek universe. Seeing as though I’ve just quoted the classic 80s sitcom “The Golden Girls,” you can probably imagine that I’m not the world’s biggest “Star Trek” fan. In fact, I might be the world’s biggest non-fan. Having said that, the new Star Trek retooling, which is actually a prequel, which envisions the early days of the Starship Enterprise and its captain James T. Kirk is actually pretty enjoyable. From what I can tell, this new vision is nothing like the style or atmosphere of the original series from the 60s, which is why I think it’ so enjoyable. Fans will get the in-jokes and non-fans finally have a Trek they can call their own.

Director J.J. Abrams who helped create the terrifically cryptic and confusing TV series “Lost” makes his second feature length film (after the wonderful Mission: Impossible III). He has a unique visual style that is glossy and appealing to the eyes. He employed this in MI3 as well. And boy he and his cinematographer (Daniel Mindel) certainly love lens flairs! The special effects are awesome. The music is great. As is the acting by everyone involved. So what is this Star Trek movie all about anyways?

The film opens in space, the final frontier. As a nonfan, I really am unsure about what is actually going on and who everyone is, but I’m going to try my best. Bascially there’s a spaceship being attacked by the “bad guys” who are Romulans who are headed by Captain Neo (Eric Bana). They take the captain hostage leaving George Kirk in charge. Meanwhile his wife is about to give birth and he has to sacrifice himself so that everyone on the ship can escape. James T. Kirk is born and we flash forward and see Kirk as a child and later as a young man played by Chris Pine. I think this is really where the film gets its juice. Pine is a relatively unknown actor having appeared in some random movies you’ve probably never seen (myself included). He has an appealing quality from the start. Kirk is a suave womanizer (he apparently has a thing for green ladies) who is smart but gets into trouble (he actually reminds me of a toned down version of Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass). He gets into a bar brawl but is enlisted by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to enlist in Starfleet. There he goes through his training and where he meets best bud Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) and begins his rivalry with half human half Vulcan Spock (Heroes’ Zachary Quinto). All the standard Trek characters are accounted for including Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and love interest Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Wow, that’s a lot of characters and I’d like to thank Wikipedia for helping me out a bit.

So basically Neo is still kicking and Kirk realizes that he’s up to the same shenanigans as the day he was born and his father was killed. Of course Spock sends Kirk off to some scary snowy planet where he’s attacked by the Cloverfield monster’s cousin and he eventually runs into Scotty (Simon Pegg) who then becomes the Enterprise’s official “beamer.” Oh and Leonard Nimoy shows up as Spock from the future. So if you’re a big fan you’ll probably want to wear a diaper or something.

Ok so will hardcore Trekkis love this movie? I’m not sure, I guess so since, if you’re such a big fan you’ll like anything Star Wars….er, Star Trek related. There were two people in the theater in front of me who were literally peeing their pants every 5 minutes. I think they were Trekkies but I’m not sure. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have worked enough into their fresh script for fans but definitely make it more appealing to those who don’t know too much about this stuff, even if I was confused on more than one occasion.

As a non-fan and someone whose knowledge of Star Trek is limited to what I’ve gleaned from 80s sitcoms and Mel Brooks spoofs (oh so that’s where the Vulcan Neck Pinch comes from!) I can say that this new “Star Trek” is an entertaining thrill ride with cool effects and wondrous production design. I’m not sure that I’m going to all of a sudden become a die hard fan, but it was enjoyable. Hey if they make another one, and that is only inevitable (actually it’s been announced on imdb) then you can certainly beam me up for a second round. GRADE: B+

Friday, May 01, 2009

Animal Rising: Hugh Jackman’s in Need of Anger Management in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”

I think of the X-Men movies simply as either a) “comic book movies” or b) “science fiction movies.” They are entertaining movies, but they are also a little deeper. They have interesting characters and involve fascinating social and moral issues into their storylines. It seemed like such a sad day when the X-Men films came to a close with “The Last Stand” a film I personally didn’t love at first, but have certainly come to like much more than when it was first released. So rabid comic book geeks, er, fans rejoiced when they learned a series of prequels would be made about several individual X-Men characters. First up at bad is Wolverine and director Gavin Hood (Totsi, Rendition) has given us X-Men Origins: Wolverine. After this weekend, it’s Fox 1, audiences 0.

The new Wolverine movie is just a clichéd action movie filled with explosions, wisecracks and horrible CGI. To think the budget on this film was more than any of the other previous X-Men films is ridiculous (Ok, for the record, according to, The Last Stand cost much more, but this new film still seems like a waste of money to me). Having said all that, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained by Wolverine. It comes in at less than two hours and Hugh Jackman is such an appealing actor that he can make any film more interesting (of course he didn’t help “Australia” that much).

I think the problem here is that with the recent surge of quality comic book translations (ie “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man,” the “Spider-man” flicks, yes even part 3) we’ve become spoiled with well made but entertaining movies about superheroes. I told myself going into Wolverine not to expect an Oscar movie, since this is officially the start of the summer blockbuster season and the film works on a sheer action adventure level and nothing more. We get to see how Logan came to be known as Wolverine, got horribly fake-looking metal blades implanted in his fists, and how he pretty much immortal.

The film opens with a brief prologue set in the 1800s when Logan is just a child. He and his brother grow up and fight in every major American war. Having the ability to heal instantly helps while being shot endlessly by enemy fire. His half brother Sabretooth (Live Schrieber) goes rogue and evil like siblings tend to do in movies like this and Logan must stop him. Meanwhile there’s some guy who wants to steal all these mutants so he can harvest their powers to make an ultimate mutant.

I enjoyed the corny bantar between Wolverine and his mutant team who he fights with at the beginning the film which includes too brief appearances by Dominic Monahan as Bolt and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, shows up as a high school student (played this time by Tim Pocock). Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch shows up as Gambit who turns playing cards into deadly weapons. And some guy named Scott Adkins shows up at the end as the nearly impossible to kill/invincible bad guy to kill at the end Weapon XI. I want to believe writers David Benioff and Skip Woods are comic fans, but if they are they certainly don’t show it (and they seriously give the “I’m so cold” line to a dying character; you could seriously hear everyone’s eyes rolling in the theater). They don’t give the characters anything too interesting to do and Jackman, while sometimes charming and good at kicking ass, has way too many anger management problems. I mean hearing him scream and growl a couple times seems appropriate after the 435th time I was willing to pay for his therapy.

All in all, you could certainly do a lot worse than Wolverine’s solo picture, it certainly is an explosive way to start the summer and it’ll make a fun companion piece to all your other action flicks in your DVD/Blu-ray collection when it’s released in four months, but here’s looking to the stars to see if “Star Trek” will be the action blockbuster that is equally entertaining and smart. GRADE: C+