Review: Bubba Ho-Tep

Bruce Campbell gives the performance of his career in this slightly spooky, sometimes touching, and downright hysterical Bubba Ho-tep. A comedy- horror film that raises the bar for low-budget horror movies and independent films everywhere!   [Read more...]

Review: "Chronicles of Riddick"

Didja have high hopes for this movie? You did if you were a fan of Vin's earlier portrayal in Pitch Black. Unfortunately, this installment comes up short-- way short.   [Read more...]

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I gotta tell you, most of the time reviewing a book or movie is a piece of cake. I read the last page of a book, or stare at the end credits of a movie, and then I think to myself, "Self, what do you think? 2 out of 5? 2.5 out of five? Nah, 2 out of 5," and that's what ends up on the website.

But in deciding whether or not to recommend Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I could go on for hours about what worked and what didn't, and what I think should have been done differently. I'm serious, you should see the first draft of this review.   [Read more...]

Master & Commander: The Far Side of The World

You want a REAL epic adventure? Forget the wooden horse and Achilles' heel. You want sailing ships, guns forward, and swashbucklers fighting for king and country. Now of DVD, Russell Crowe serves as the Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World. Adventure awaits!

RATING: 5 out of 5

You heard me fire off a full broadside on this summer's epic, My Big Fat Greek Invasion...er, sorry, Troy...and in my review I make mention of how hard Troy tries to be the epic that everyone expects. Some fans of the this cinematic exercise of pretentiousness have critisized me for this comment, asking me to cite an example of an epic film that doesn't try to be AN EPIC. Sure, there are "trademarks" to an epic film: big names, big soundtracks, and big battles. Now available on DVD is a movie that didn't set out to be an epic. It just happened as its heroes set sail for Brazil. This unexpected epic is Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World is a far cry from the 2003 summer swashbuckler adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl. It is, however, closer to A&E's adventurous mini-series, Horatio Hornblower. Master and Commander follows Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey. He's the captain of the HMS Surprise (c. 1806), and considered the best guy to set out on a voyage. Why? When it comes to combat on the oceans of the Atlantic, "Lucky Jack" is unmatched. So, with Napoleon Bonepart playing a game of "chicken" with England, Jack receives his next orders from the crown: hunt down the French privateer ship Archeon. Capture her, if possible. Sink her, if necessary.

Easier said than done. Turns out this Frenchie thinks, sails, and fights just like Jack!

Master and Commander sports what could be one of the best historical looks at "life on the high seas" since Das Boot (ironically, directed by Troy's Wolfgang Petersen). The depiction of the British Navy being "not just a job, but an adventure" is realistic, from the cruel to the creepy to the extremely cool. You see all sides of life on theSurprise, and you get to know these guys. You see them facing life and death together, fighting for home and hearth thousands of miles away, and even letting loose with a few rounds of rum, grog, and wine. This isn't simply an epic adventure on the Atlantic, but it is definitely a GUY movie with battles galore, stuff blowing up, and guys just being guys...

...but the ladies will dig Master and Commander because Russel Crowe's breeches are spray-painted on him. And he's doing the high boots look. Yeah, don't kid yourselves -- Maximus can also swash a buckle if called to General Quarters!

But my wife, as we were watching Master and Commander, asked me "Why didn't I give a s--t for the characters in Troy like I do for these guys?" My answer: Peter Weir. Weir, the same director who gave us films like Dead Poets Society and The Mosquito Coast, really knows how to direct actors, write a script, and shoot a film. His films bring class actors who create a chemistry together and you strike up relationships with them as individuals and as a family. His movies are not just cool but they are cool looking. Weir embraces the landscape (and the seascape, in this case) to create a breathtaking look at the world around our heroes, making the environment an essential part of the cast. But Weir never forgets one of the essentials in putting together a great movie: a great story with great characters. The story is, at its core, a game of the hunter and the hunted, and Captain Aubrey prefers to be the former and not the latter. While telling this story, Weir brings us closer to these characters in scenes such as two friends playing music to pass the time, cutting loose a shipmate struggling through a storm to return to safety, and bidding commrades goodbye after the battle is won. Wolfgang Petersen's Troy tries to emulate this, but the relationships and dialogue feel forced. In Master and Commander (and his other films), Weir never loses sight on what makes a story compelling: its storytellers...who just happen to find themselves in the middle of a larger-than-life adventure.

If you saw this movie on the big screen, get the DVD. It stands up on the television. If you missed Master and Commander, check it out. This movie rocks!   [Read more...]

Review: Troy

With testosterone thick in the air, we step back to the legends of Homer (*DOH!*) and the battle for Troy, a film of epically disasterous proportions.

RATING: 2 out of 5

How's your Greek history? Spotty? Well, no need to worry about it...because Troy really centers around Achilles and how tough it is for him to be good looking, bulging in all the right places, and undefeated in battle.

Yeah, tough life.   [Read more...]

Review: Van Helsing

One part - Dracula. One part - Wolfman. Many parts - Frankenstein's Monster. (Hold the Abbot and Costello.) Add a dash of Jeckyll and Hyde. Sprinkle in a hot chick with sword, sexy harpies, old castles, and interesting gadgets to give this film a steampunk aftertaste. Serve chilled. Your order of Van Helsing has arrived. Enjoy!   [Read more...]

The Rundown

Okay, so it's The Rock from WWF. Okay, so it's Stiffler from American Pie. So what?! This is an action film, not Shakespeare...and it will surprise you how good it is.

RATING: 5 out of 5 (Yeah, this was a solid action film!)

In 2003, The Rundown hit the theatres. If you missed it, it is now available for rental...and you will want to rent it. This movie was so much fun that I'm clearing a spot in my DVD collection for it.

So I guess this movie makes me a fan of The Rock.

The Rock plays a "retrieval expert" named Beck. Not your average muscle man, Beck really wants out of the bad business he's in and plans to open his own restaurant. What was supposed to be his "last assignment," his boss changes plans and sends him down to South America for one more job. The final job is his son, Travis, played by Seann Williams Scott. So Beck flies down to the gold mining town of El Dorado (nicknamed HELLdorado), run by the tight-fisted and slightly psychotic Hatcher, played by Christopher Walken. This was supposed to be a simple job. In and out of The Amazon. No fuss. Beck reunites wayward son with mob father, and Beck gets his restaurant.

Nope. Not by a longshot.

Now when it comes to action films, you have to suspend disbelief. This, however, is an action comedy. Unlike classic action films like Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Leathal Weapon, The Rundown is clearly going for the laugh as well as the high body count and collateral damage. If done right, action-comedy can be a lot of fun, but usually the combination results in films like Firewalker or Hudson Hawk. The Rundown gets this tough-to-pull-off formula just right, and has just as many side-splitting belly laughs as it does eye-popping action sequences. And what could make this movie any better? The comic timing from The Rock and Seann Williams Scott are reminiscent of great comedy teams (and no, I don't mean Stiller/Wilson), but they have to be stellar as Walken is hardly "phoning in" his performance. He almost steals the show. Almost. Complete with a cameo from Arnold Schwartzenagger, The Rundown is a movie that doesn't take itself seriously, has way too much fun in its storytelling, and provides solid entertainment. This is a movie that dares to be FUN...so kick back on the couch and get ready for a two-hour joyride. Get ready for The Rock to give you The Rundown.   [Read more...]

Paycheck

Time to get over your personal Affleck-factor, slip on your best DareWear, and check out Paycheck. Time well spent at the movies!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Okay, I'm not a fan of Ben Affleck. Yeah, I liked him in Daredevil and all, but I've not been really kooky-crazy about him as an actor or about his films except of Shakespeare in Love, a film very early in the pre-JLo phase of his life. Sad thing is, there's a lot of pressure (yeah, like you can call his like "pressure"...I'll take that pressure any day!) on ol' Ben to crank out a hit because his last few film have all tanked. Hard to believe Gigili did so because even without Ben, JLo really shows off her talents in Maid in Manhattan. Seriously though, Ben needs a hit, a big hit...

...and in Paycheck, Ben finds it.

First, Ben is in good company. John Woo directs Paycheck and really hits a nice balance between a terrific SF-action film and a John Woo film. You have all those great Woo-Woo touches (but dammit, John, what is with the dove imagery?!), but he also manages to get some very personal, human performances to this movie, making Paycheck a little better than the average action film. Then you got Uma who is still looking buff from her Kill Bill project. She is the most unlikely actress to make action films...at least, I thought she was. Uma kicks ass, and does it very convincingly. With a very strong supporting cast (including Paul Giovanni, a terrific character actor that brings fun to any project he's involved in!), Ben and Paycheck can't go wrong.

On a final note, don't be surprised if you notice some strange similarities between this film and Minority Report. Both of these film are based off the works of Philip K. Dick. And if you rush out to get a copy of the original Paycheck, expect very little similarities between Woo's directing and Dick's writing. I read the original Minority Report (not much better than the film) and BOY HOWDY did they take liberties! However, Paycheck, unlike Minority Report, succeeds not only as Philip K. Dick on the big screen but working as a movie...a really GOOD movie! The chase sequences do not feel contrived. There is genuine tension built in the film. And instead of noticing that "Speilburgian" look, I genuinely cared about the characters and storyline of Paycheck, reinforcing my faith in Philip K. Dick films.

This was worth the ticket and a good time, to boot! Way to go, Ben! You done good!   [Read more...]

The Last Samurai

Don't expect a Dances with Kimonos or Bamboo Braveheart. Expect an adventure worth the ticket price. This isn't a good Tom Cruise movie. This is a really good movie -- period! Do not miss The Last Samurai.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Okay, when I saw the trailer for The Last Samurai, I got the impression that Tom Cruise went back and remade Kevin Costner's epic Dances with Wolves, substituting Native Americans with the Feudal Warriors of Japan. And he did. I also wondered, after seeing clips of the battle sequences, that Cruise was substituting the Braveheart broadswords with katanas. And he did. I also guessed from some of the clips that Cruise would fall in love with one of the Samurai women in the same manner that William Wallace did with the English queen in Braveheart. And he did. And then as Costner did in Dances with Wolves, I surmised that Cruise's character would be faced with a society considered "savage" but discovers the peace and harmony within these people -- and himself -- and takes arms against those he once served. And he did.

You would think that if Cruise was going so out of his way to mimic Dances with Wolves and Braveheart, he would have a tough time pulling this off...

He didn't. I loved it from frame one to the ending credits!

I'm addressing the similarities between Dances with Wolves and Braveheart, but The Last Samurai stands on its own as a deep and gripping film, and hands down Tom Cruise's finest performance. I enjoyed watching his transformation that was far from perfect and not as "easy" as Costner's in Wolves. There was also a haunting parallel drawn between the "Westernization" of Japan and the suppression of the Native Americans...something that Cruse's character picks up on, but decides to act against the injustices this time.

As far as the actors go, the reason Cruise gives his best performance to date is so that he can keep up with everyone else! There is no weak link in this cast. Everyone is top knotch, especially Ken Wantanabe who plays opposite of Cruise and -- in some scenes -- makes Cruise look like he's running in place! A good portion of the film is spoken in Japanese, and yet you understand everything conveyed even before reading the subtitles. As producers, the unstoppable team of Cruise and Wagner should be proud of this air-tight ensemble put together for this film.

And with the Japanese backdrop, you got extremely cool swordfights, extremely cool wardrobe, and extremely cool landscapes. The visuals are nothing short of breathtaking, and you begin to take this journey with Cruise into this far-away culture that lives by duty and honor. You also have some battle sequences that raise the bar, but not in an over-the-top manner, one of many reasons I give The Last Samurai an A+ for doing their homework. These weren't Hollywood Samurai but the real deal, right down to the ninja tactics, the archery style, and the little touches that made this film a historical epic.

Tom Cruise has come a long way from the days of dancing in his underwear to Bob Seger (although he does have a funny scene where he's trying out his robes for the first time!), and The Last Samurai is a crowning achievement for his evolution as an actor and producer. Well done, Tom, and thank you for this amazing cinematic journey!   [Read more...]