Thursday, November 27, 2014

Kirk Vs. Picard - Best Captain?


Kirk or Picard? One of the age-old internet debates. Star Trek or Star Wars? Goku or Superman? Classic Pepsi or Crystal Pepsi?

Okay, maybe not that last one but my point still stands.

When it comes to large fandoms with several different iterations, there are going to be hardcore fans who have many differing points of view and opinions. One such franchise is Star Trek, as we observe how the human race grows and evolves in outer space.

What sets Star Trek apart from many other science-fiction shows and movies is that, rather than gigantic space battles or a vast range of alien worlds, the focus remains on our history, morals and values. It is in the most recognizable line of the show: "...To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life forms and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before."


Humans have reached the stars and beyond. How does that affect us and where do we go from here? That is what Star Trek and its spin-off shows are out to discover. Some chose to be more about the human condition and the difficult choices one must make in a crisis, like "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," while others dance around the hard choices and avoid conflict altogether, such as "Star Trek: Voyager."

And others cannot make up their minds on what they want to be. I'm looking at you "Enterprise."

But the best that Star Trek has to offer remains the first two series, "Star Trek: The Original Series" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The voyages of the starship Enterprise continue to captivate audiences to this day, and this is due in large part to the leaders of these vessels: Captain James T. Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Naturally, this has led to a question that will continue as long as Star Trek is relevant: Which of these two is the better captain?

For the sake of argument, let's expand the question and say which captain would lead the better ship? Who would you rather serve under? Also for the argument, we'll ignore the one time these two met in "Star Trek: Generations," because if we went solely by that, there would be no need for an argument - Kirk would be superior in every way. Besides, that movie sucks anyway.


Let's start by looking at the defining characteristics of both captains. Kirk is bold, cocky but can back it up, is not afraid to think outside the box and only plays by his own rules. In "The Doomsday Machine," Kirk was willing to ram the spaceship he was in down the throat of a gigantic planet killer and only rely on the transporter to get him out, even though everyone else said that is a huge gamble that would not pay off.

Kirk is willing to teach cadets about the no-win scenario, a situation that every captain must face, where no matter how hard you try, there is no way to live. Because how we deal with death, is just as important as how we deal with life. Yet, Kirk himself does not believe in the no-win scenario. He never really faced death, merely cheated it instead (at least until "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan").


James T. Kirk is quite similar to Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Always with an optimistic and innocent look on the world, seeing the universe as one big playground. Even once Kirk was promoted to Admiral, who longed to back in the captain's chair. He took the promotion because he felt that exploring the universe was a job for the young. But over time, while he still believes that statement, he learns that means the young at heart. And Kirk feels young.

This is a man who would enter a fist fight with an intelligent buff lizard and end up making a wood cannon to come out victorious. This a man who would face a super computer bent on eradicating all life on earth, with nothing more than a few words, and it is the computer that blinks. This is Captain James T. Kirk.

Picard is a very different man. He is calm, calculating, observant, well-educated and out-spoken. He has a moral code that guides him, even if that code goes against his orders and the Prime Directive, the guiding principle of Starfleet that says we are not to interfere with the natural evolution of alien worlds. While Kirk also disregarded the Prime Directive, Kirk did it because it suited him. Picard does that because he feels it is the right thing to do. If millions of lives are on the line and an entire species could be wiped out, but the Prime Directive got in the way, you'd bet that Picard would not be afraid to violate his orders.


Picard values every life form, no matter who or what they might be. To him, everyone has just as much right to live the life they want to as much anyone else. It is also why he is always hesitant to use weapons on an enemy. Picard would always try to find a peaceful and logical solution to a confrontation, and only use weapons as a last resort. He would take is own life to protect his crew, but in a universe where crystalline entities exist, Picard would rather not destroy a creäture like that.

Part of his philosophy on life comes from his past, which we learn about in "Tapestry." As a cadet, Picard got in a bar fight with a group of tough aliens, with one of them stabbing him in the heart. For the rest of his life, he would have an artificial heart and learned the important lesson of seizing the moment. Because that moment will never come again. It led him to take control of a hostage situation, to take control of a starship when her captain was killed and lead the rest of the crew to safety and eventually to becoming captain of the Enterprise.

As Picard grew older, he wished that he did not get in that fight and then he wouldn't have an artificial heart. But when his omnipotent "friend" Q lets him see what his life would be like if that didn't happen, he finds that his life is terrible - working a dead-end job, with no passion, drive or imagination. That is not Jean-Luc Picard.

If Kirk is Peter Pan, then Picard is a knight of King Arthur. Dutiful, but still willing to disobey his orders for the greater good and always guided by his moral compass. Rather than fighting his way out, he would prefer to negotiate, yet never forgot about his sword. Above all else, Picard believes in honoring your fellow-man, even if that man happens to be tiny and green.

I think the major difference between Kirk and Picard is how they see the universe and what they want to do to it. To Kirk, the universe is an obstacle meant to be overcome. He wants to understand everything and stop anyone who gets in his way. Picard, however, sees the universe as an undiscovered country meant to be explored. He doesn't necessarily want to understand everything, but rather see that it has to offer.


It is understandable to see why there is so much debate among fans with these captains. Both are confident figures with differing personalities and virtues that let them stand the test of time. If anything, Kirk and Picard's actions are more relevant today than they were back then.

So, who is the better captain? Who would I rather serve under?

Sisko. Because you don't mess with the Sisko or his goatee.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Hopper Strikes Back!


"Interstellar" (2014)

In a recent article for The Wall Street Journal, the success of Christopher Nolan is brought up and why he is one of the most influential directors in Hollywood now. Because of how well his "Dark Knight" trilogy turned out, as well as stand alone works like "Inception," Nolan gets the free reign to make his movies the way that he wants to. Rarely will the film studio get involved on the creative process, allowing Nolan do whatever he wants and get away with it.

Unless your name is Steven Spielberg or James Cameron, this is unheard of in Hollywood.
Though a film director has final say on set, the studio often has the final say. Studios will often influence casting choices, what kind of effects will be used and can even change the script if they want to. But with Christopher Nolan, the studios trust him and his visions. He has proven to not only make box office hits but also make critically stunning pieces of cinema. This is why studios give him full creative control over his own movies.

But perhaps this is not a good thing.

The biggest instance of a director getting creative control over his work is Orson Welles making "Citizen Kane." It worked out wonderfully, but just for that one film. Welles would attempt that in later projects, like "Lady In Shanghai" and the power went to his head and we ended up getting a sloppy mess of a movie.

When you give a filmmaker too much power over his work, there is that chance they will become blinded by their own vision and see nothing but their craft, and not something audiences would enjoy.
If "The Dark Knight Rises" was the beginning of that phase for Christopher Nolan, then "Interstellar" is the downward slope. While the film is a visual spectacle, and to learn that little to no computer effects were used is music to my heart, the film does not have much else going for it. Most of the time it comes across as an ego trip for Nolan, filled with his clichés and redundancies.

In the far off future, the earth is slowly dying. Most of the land cannot be used to grow food and we are running out of supplies. It is estimated that the current generation of children will be the last to inhabit the planet.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer growing the last of the food, content on raising his kids to survive and adapt. But things change when NASA commissions him to be the pilot of their space ship, ordering him to fly into a worm hole that has opened up near Jupiter and travel to far off planets in search of a new place to call home and save humanity.


If "Interstellar" is anything, it is wonderful to look at. The effects of planets circling celestial bodies, worm holes and black holes look like chemicals mixing underneath a microscope on a grand scale. The worlds they visit are unique and feel alien enough that they are strange yet close to home that they are inviting.

However, upon watching many of Nolan's later films, and even "Man Of Steel" that he helped out with, many strange points start to pop up. In particular, the characters' tendencies to over
analyze everything. In a Nolan film, a normal conversation about going to the grocery store can become a philosophical discussion on what we were created to do.

"Interstellar" is no exception. From McConaughey spouting about adapting, to the parting conversation with his daughter mentioning the last words his wife said to him before she died. Even Michael Caine's constant quoting of "Do not go into that good night," gets tiring after the third time we hear it.

As many others have pointed out before me, this film is unnecessarily long. "Interstellar" is nearly three hours long, and they don't even get into space until over an hour in. Many of the same points are repeated over again, most likely in trying to keep the audience informed of the convoluted plot, and some scenes go no where, especially early scenes with McConaughey mugging it up to the camera.

After a while, I just got fed up with the silly plot and trying to keep up with it for three hours and just wanted to watch the stunning visuals. That is sad considering Nolan has been so good and keeping his stories tight yet imaginative.

Let me be clear - I love Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker. He has given us some breath-taking films over the last few years, including "Memento," "Inception" and "The Dark Knight." But recently, his films have become so full of themselves that it is hard to enjoy them. Rather than taking the time to let the story develop, Nolan decides to get philosophical and artsy. It makes his films feel unnatural and egotistical, and not a sweeping epic with imaginative set ups.

I would describe "Interstellar" as a modern "2001: A Space Odyssey" with a much more convoluted plot. While there are moments where the film takes the time to let the visuals soak in and enjoy the atmosphere, "Interstellar" gets bogged down in its own creativity. Several scenes are unnecessary while others make me roll my eyes in irritation.

Also, I still fail to understand the appeal of Matthew McConaughey. He did not sell me on this role either.

Final Grade: C+


"John Wick" (2014)

I've never cared for Keanu Reeves as an actor. I understand the appeal of Reeves and his likable nature, but I get nothing out of his performances.

Reeves is the worst part of "The Matrix" to me. When I learned they originally offered the role of Neo to Will Smith, I immediately thought that would have been a better movie. Perhaps it's that hint of a surfer-dude accent behind his dialogue, to the point that I cannot take him seriously.

But he's harmless. It's not that Reeves is a bad actor, rather one that does not jump off the screen. He fills the roles that are given to him, with Reeves inserting his usual "Whoa!" or "Gnarly!" factor.

However, his most recent film, "John Wick," gives Reeves a chance to branch out and give his character a bit more depth than normal, and it surprisingly works. Not only does this film see the best Keanu Reeves performance to date, but gives some nice stylized action that leaves everyone satisfied.

John Wick (Reeves) recently lost his wife to a terminal illness and is heart-broken, unsure of what to do now. The day after the funeral, a puppy arrives at his doorstep and he promises to take care of the dog. As Wick moves forward with his life, the world seems to go against him as a spoiled teenager steals his classic vintage car and beats Wick and his puppy up. But this kid does not seem to know who has messed with, as we learn that John Wick has a dark and violent past.

Much like "Guardians Of The Galaxy" earlier this year, "John Wick" is nonstop mindless fun and excitement. Once the story gets going and John Wick's true colors show, the action comes at a frightening pace, with lots of gun play, assassins and the mob underworld. Though the story is rather forgettable and serves to get Wick from 'Point A' to 'Point B' it is forgivable because those points are thrilling.


Part of this is because each action sequence has a unique style that gives the movie its own flair. Most of time, the color pallet is black and gray, except during a fight when bright neon colors are used that pop off the screen. Many of the actors speak in Russian and subtitles are used, but the text uses different fonts, colors and placement that it is eye-catching and adds necessary impact to their dialogue.

On top of all this is a great performance by Reeves. Like with Michael Keaton in "Birdman," I cannot imagine any other actor in this role. Reeves has always been so removed from his roles and so distant that you would think his character has something to hide. But once his car gets stolen and the last shred of civility is gone, the angry hitman inside Reeves bursts out and suddenly that distance makes so much sense.

"John Wick" is able to take a one-note actor and give him a chance to show his diversity.

My only major complaint with "John Wick" was one of the villains, played by Michael Nyqvist and how emotionless he was. Most of the time he sits back and marvels as the feats that John Wick has accomplished. But when he has a chance to be angry, he hardly goes above a whisper and does not seem upset when he should be. He lacks the rage and emotion to pull off this role.

Overall though, "John Wick" reminds me of a stylized action version of Clint Eastwood's 1992 film "Unforgiven." The tale of a killer who attempts live in the regular world, only to be drawn back into his violent and obscene realm. While "Unforgiven" was more about the man and deconstructing the Western genre, "John Wick" is more about being visually impressive and being mindless fun. They have enough in common to make comparisons, but different enough that few will notice.

Final Grade: B

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie Review: "Birdman" (2014) - Fame, Fortune and Poultry


Why do actors act? It is as common a question as asking why painters paint, or why boxers box. Why does anyone do anything?

Some actors do it because they love to act and very good at it. Others do merely for a paycheck, while even more do it for the passion of the art of acting and sharing their talent with the world, thus getting others inspired. But one reason actors do it that they won't tell you in interviews or books is quite simple: Becoming famous.

It is in our nature to make a name for ourselves. To make our existence matter and know that we've made a difference in the world. That difference could be anything, from political influence to scientific discovery to making everyone laugh to giving the greatest performance the world has ever seen.

Everyone wants to be famous.

But what people don't like to talk about is how fame is fleeting. There's a reason we use the phrase "fifteen minutes of fame." Because for most people, that's all you are ever going to get. People might talk about you for a time, but then they'll move on to the next big topic. You don't see anyone talking about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or the Harlem Shake anymore, because their time is up. They're not relevant anymore.

This is the tragedy of actors, in particular big name actors. For a brief period, those actors might be the talk of the town and a household name. But unless that actor consistently comes out with hit after hit, sooner or later, their fame will fade away and they will become nothing more than a star on a sidewalk and an answer to a Jeopardy question.

No actor is immune to this. It will even happen to Robert Downey Jr. and Neil Patrick Harris in time. Fame is not eternal.

This is what makes "Birdman" so powerful and has stuck with me even though I was sick during the movie and am still sick while I write this review. The film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, is more of a tragedy on fame and shows a disturbing look at a man's slow decent into madness and insanity. Yet, with all that in mind, there is the right mix of comedy and quirkiness to keep the audience amused.

Riggin Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor, once famous for his role as the super hero Birdman, and intends to make a comeback in Broadway by writing, directing and starring in his new show. Though it seems like Riggin is flying by the seam of his pants, hiring his best friend (Zach Galifianakis) as his producer and attorney and his daughter (Emma Stone) as his assistant, he does end up landing big name Broadway star Michael Shine (Edward Norton) for the lead role. Now Riggin must balance the egos on the set and in his mind, or else risk his one chance to reclaim stardom to crumble before his eyes.


Michael Keaton was born to play this role. If this were any other actor, the film would fall apart. For a film that relies so heavily on an actor who was once a famous super hero in an age where super hero movies are huge, you must have someone who was in that position. It also helps because, outside of playing the lead roles in "Batman" and "Batman Returns," Keaton has not done many other big time acting jobs. A few minor parts in films like "Jackie Brown" and "Toy Story 3," but that's about it.

In a way, this film is just as much about Keaton as it is about Riggin. Art imitating life and vice versa.

Over the course of the film, Riggin loses his sanity, or what little he had to begin with. His actors think they can direct the play better than him, his daughter starts smoking pot again, his girlfriend thinking that she might be pregnant, the press is only interested if he'll make a fourth Birdman movie, and all while another voice in his head speaks to him about his sad pathetic existence.


Yet Riggin remains dedicated as ever to the play, based off of Raymond Carver's book "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." We're not entirely sure why he's going through with the play, because he gives multiple reasons, including money, another chance at fame, proving he can still act and just wanting to be relevant in a world that has past him by.

I'm reminded of Norma Desmond from "Sunset Boulevard," a once famous silent actress who hates what has become of cinema yet still wants to make a comeback for all of her fans. But the world has long forgotten her and she now lives in a dying mansion where the only fan letters she gets are from her butler.

There's a line in the film that talks about how Norma's attempt is like that of a parade queen atop her float waving to the crowd, only to find out that the crowd left thirty years ago.


It is that stain of insanity and madness that makes the Norma and Riggin tragic, but the dedication and need to be wanted in the world that gives them drive and reason to care about them.

What helps drive the point of crazy is the cinematography. Nearly every shot in "Birdman" is a long tracking shot, follow the action as it pans around the actors without cutting away to a new camera angle. This makes the camera and point of view frantic but still fluid, like this was all an insane dream by Riggin and we're just along for the ride.

If I had one complaint with "Birdman" it is that the film seems more like a bunch of little pieces and scenes and not one coherent movie. Each scene is great, but some scenes repeat many of the same points over again, while others tend to get sidetracked from the main point of the movie. For example, there's one scene where the two lead actresses share a tender moment about what it means to make it on Broadway, only to never bring it up again or go anywhere with it.

But then again, maybe that was what "Birdman" was going for. This does add more of a non-sensical feel to the film and adds to the dream aspect by making it so random and unpredictable.


Overall, "Birdman" is a strange, other-worldly look at a once famous actor trying to reclaim that fame. It has a unique visual style with how the camera moves and compliments the state of mind for our main character. The acting works exceptionally well and hits all the right notes.

In this day and age where super hero movies are the big money makers, it is nice to see a film like "Birdman" discuss how the success of those films can go to a man's head and what that fame really means to him.

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Nightcrawler" And "Gone Girl" Make Each Other Stronger Movies



Of all the movies I have seen this year, the ones which have stuck with me long after the credits finished were "Nightcrawler" and "Gone Girl." Not because they were dark and disturbing, but more so they were compelling tales of people who were removed from our reality because this reality was not one they wanted to live in.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how similar "Gone Girl" and "NIghtcrawler" were. Without telling the same story, both films managed to tap into the same sense of pessimism and dread in the world. The characters, while each of them are different enough, share many of the same values and world view. These similarities help to not only make each film worth watching, but amplify each other to make their brethren stronger.

One element these two movies have in common is their bleak view of humanity and the people around the main characters. In "Nightcrawler", Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) works as a freelance video producer as drives around Los Angeles in trying to film breaking news and then sell the footage to a local news station. Louis is constantly filming violent crimes, death and tragedy, but never feels remorse for the victims he is taping. This is merely his job and they are images on a camera to him.

While in "Gone Girl," Amy (Rosamund Pike) stages an elaborate plan to make it look like her husband (Ben Affleck) killed her, because he made her lose the life that she loved and got nothing in return. It is revealed throughout the film that Amy has treated every man in her life this way, as her old boyfriend got charged of sexual assault when he never did that to her, and her high school sweet-heart (Neil Patrick Harris) was sent to a mental institution when it was believed that he was stalking Amy. In return, she gets the opportunity to start fresh in life and find some other guy to use until she no longer has any use of him.


To Amy and Louis, people are expendable commodities that can be used on a whim and discarded like used tissues. Their not companions or partners in life, but merely a means to an end. They will keep people around, but only if that will help them in the long run. Once their needs have been fulfilled, they no longer serve any purpose, which means it is time to get rid of them by any means necessary.

If they could have the choice, I'm sure they'd live in a world with nobody else, but what would be the fun in that?

To be fair though, both Amy and Louis live in a world where this way of life becomes necessary. Amy's parents have taken her life and turning it into a successful series of books, where everything that happens to Amy is made even better by "Amazing Amy." In her town, the homeless problem is becoming worse and an abandoned mall is now a place of drugs and low lives. And even her husband has given up on the marriage that she desperately tries to save.

Louis, however, cannot find a job to save his life. He put forth as much effort as possible, but every place keeps turning him down. His dream is to make it big in the world, but the world is not interested in what he has to sell. That is until he turns to filming the corruption and violence of the city.


The world in which "Gone Girl" and "Nightcrawler" are set follow a simple logic - You are alone and this world, and the world does not care. Louis and Amy have merely adapted their lifestyle to this logic so that they can succeed and get what they want. If they're going to be alone, then at least they can be happy with their loneliness. So what if a few people have to suffer because of it? That's just the way the world works.

Does that justify their actions? Absolutely not. But in their minds, Louis and Amy can live with themselves. Because they have found a way to beat the system and make a name in a world that does not care about them.

Another element that both "Nightcrawler" and "Gone Girl" share is the use of media, in particular news outlets and what television networks choose to show. In "Gone Girl," the media covers everything about Amy being missing. Every new clue that pops up, talking heads discussing the matter and giving their "professional" opinions, to judging that Nick killed Amy and possibly pushing the issue on the police. This goes even further once Amy returns home and tells Nick that she's pregnant and intends to announce that to the world. She knows that once that happens, the media would hound Nick if he left her and the world would hate him again. He wouldn't be able to live in peace if he left the psychotic killer, because of the media.

In this respect, "Gone Girl" reminded me of Billy Wilder's 1951 film "Ace In The Hole," a story about a newspaper reporter following a story about a guy trapped in a mine, but chooses not to help him out because then there would be no story. It is that complete disregard of human ethics and kindness towards others, just to make a name for yourself. To get your fifteen minutes of fame, and all it takes is ruining someone's life.


This is the basis of "Nightcrawler" even down to one of the best lines of the movie, coming from the woman in charge of the news station, "Think of our broadcast as a woman running down the street with her throat cut."

In both films, the media is over saturated and is hurting more people than it is helping. That news outlets have lost their way, opting out to gain viewers and ratings instead of keeping people informed of the significant events in the world.

When newspapers were created, the publishers intended their writings to keep the public informed on their governments and leaders, to let them know if they were becoming corrupt. Now it is merely talking heads discussing trivial issues or depressing news pieces that are only there to get more people watching. News outlets are being selfish and too far removed from their true intention - to keep people informed.


It is these elements and critiques on the world that keeps "Gone Girl" and "Nightcrawler" relevant, unique, creepy and worth watching. The fact that both films came out within weeks of each other helps to keep them in our minds and makes their messages even stronger. If you have not done so already, go out and see these films. If not for the similarities, then for their alluring yet creepy charm.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Review: "Big Hero 6" (2014)


You can always count on Disney animated films to keep you consistently entertained. As with other films like "Frozen," "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Wreck-It Ralph" Disney is a genius at taking those elements that make you feel like a child again and amplifying them, resulting in a wide grin throughout the movie.

Their newest film, "Big Hero 6" continues that trend by invoking a range of emotions. Whether that is through cuteness, awe-inspiring visuals, comedy or tragedy, Disney's animated collaboration with Marvel results in a film that you might see coming way ahead of time, but is far from disappointing.

In the futuristic city of San Fransokyo (with the visual style of San Fransisco and Tokyo), 14-year old Hiro Hamada tries to find his way in the world by using his advanced mind to build stunning machinery to use in robot fighting, though it is frowned upon by society and his brother Tadashi. 

After Tadashi introduces Hiro to the robotics department of his college and his latest project, the inflatable nurse robot Baymax, Hiro decides to use his brain for a better use and wants to apply for the robotics department. But when Hiro builds micro-bots that could change the world, it puts his life and everyone in San Fransokyo in danger.


The charm of "Big Hero 6" comes from how it feels like an amalgamation of many films and stories, but without ripping any of them off. Baymax, fro example, only wishes to help others out but has a funny way of going about it, mostly due to his big balloony gut and rudimentary programming, just like another famous Disney animated robot, WALL-E. Both robots are huggable creations that want to serve their functions yet develop a personality along the way. Baymax, however, can talk and is quite clumsy, which sets him apart from WALL-E.

One of the most breathtaking moments in the film comes when Hiro equips Baymax with his new armor, granting him the ability to fly, and the two test out these new powers by taking an aerial tour of the city. Normally, I'd say this would be a rip-off from "Iron Man" when Tony flies for the first time. But then you see how Baymax and Hiro interact with the city and each other, as they go through subway tunnels, circle billboards, land on their version of the Golden Gate Bridge and end it on the many blimps circling the city.


"Big Hero 6" invokes many movies, mostly super heroes and revenge tales, but does so while still having its own unique personality. Each of the six heroes come across as likable in their own right. From the orderly and cautious Wasabi with his electric claws that can cut through anything, to the calm and straight to the point Go Go and her magnetic wheels. These characters breathe life into the film and make otherwise cliché scenes into a joy to watch.

Even the plot, which is quite predictable, becomes quite forgivable in the face of the cheerful but creative nature of this film.


I like to think of "Big Hero 6" as the animated equivalent of "The Avengers." Forgettable story, but wonderfully fleshed out characters, a unique sense of humor, more than delivers in the action department and an atmosphere that just wants to make people happy. A fun experience that will either have you laughing or stunned at how beautiful it can be. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys super hero films or Disney animated works, which should cover everyone who enjoys cinema.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mini-Reviews #2

Mini Movie Reviews

I have to admit, since I decided to do mini-reviews for films I watch on DVD, television and Netflix, it has felt freeing. Over the past few weeks alone, I've tried to watch a movie every day and have succeeded for the most part (days that I don't watch a film, I end up watching about four or five episodes of "The Twilight Zone" as I've attempted to watch the entire series).

On top of that, most of the films I've watched recently have all been very good movies. There is nothing like that feeling of watching consistently good movies and being satisfied with each one.
With that said, let's look at the eight films I've watched recently. Starting with...


"Saboteur" (1942)

This one was weird, even for Alfred Hitchcock. Many of the master of suspense themes are in place, like the secret organization planning a sneak attack on the government, the man falsely accused of a crime, and a race around America as the man is chased by the police while trying to solve the mystery. I think of "Saboteur" as a weaker "North By Northwest." Same basic plot and sense of humor, but a strange fixation on side characters that don't add much to the film. For example, while the main characters are being chased down, they hide in a circus train where they meet the 'freaks' and we get extensive details on these characters that we never see or hear from again. Certainly not a bad film, but an odd one that focuses more on one-off characters and not the overall plot.

Final Grade: C+


"Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" (1941)

Just so we're clear, this the version with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman, not the one with Fredric March.

It was hard to pay attention to this film for some reason. Perhaps it is because I've heard the story of Jekyll and Hyde so many times before that this is old-hat. Maybe it was due to the film moving so far away from the theme of the monster inside every man to focus on a love story that was founded on creepy and disturbing grounds. Or it could be that the film had pacing problems and moved too slow for its own good. In any case, nice split performances by Tracy but not much else to write home about.

Final Grade: C+


"Kwaidan" (1964)

I can't imagine how much work was put into the matte art and matte shots throughout this film. The beauty of "Kwaidan" lies in the details and artistic choices in the background and landscape of the shots. From the snowy forest being covered by a sky of eyeballs to the ghostly terrain of a fallen Japanese emperor. Every shot is impressive in some way and the film takes time to make the audience appreciate that. Though this means the pacing suffers and makes the film drag on longer than it needs to. Still, "Kwaidan" is worth watching simply to admire how great it looks.

Final Grade: B-


"Cabin In The Woods" (2012)

Without giving too much away, I would describe "Cabin In The Woods" as a movie within a movie. At first, the film seems like your typical slasher fare with the stereotypical characters from the "Friday The 13th" and "Nightmare On Elm Street" films. But as the film progresses, you learn more about this world and why the characters are acting this way. This leads to even more reveals that will make you hate the film and then feel sympathetic towards it. I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but this one is certainly worth a watch.

Final Grade: B+


"Snowpiercer" (2013)

So this one is bit out there. In the future, scientists unleash a chemical that will solve global warming, only for it to backfire and cause a new ice age and kill all life on earth, except for the lucky few to board the Snowpiercer, a train that circles the world and operates by a class system - the rich people get treated like royalty and the poor are filth and live in dirt. Lots of big name stars in this one, including Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris and Korean film star Song Kang-ho from "The Host," in fact this film is made by the same director as the 2006 Korean monster film, Bong Joon-ho. While there are some missing gaps in this film, like why so many people are onboard the train, how there are so many people still alive after 18 years and what makes the Snowpiercer able to withstand the absolute zero temperatures outside, it is a tightly edited piece where almost every line of dialogue has significance later on. It is a unique dystopian future film that shows just how screwed humanity is when you put all the remaining survivors on a train.

Final Grade: B+


"The Haunting" (1963)

This film follows the logic that the best way to scare an audience is through their own imagination. It is your typical haunted house film, but with one noticeable difference: the ghosts are kept a mystery. Many instances of ghosts throughout the film are written off as everything being constructed at improper angles or the house being far too old. But as the opening narration describes, this is a house that was born bad. Most of the charm in this film comes from the professor as he diagnoses the house, refusing to call it haunted and instead call it diseased or crazy. This makes the decent into madness all the more realistic and terrifying as we see many things that could be ghosts, yet we're never sure what to believe. We hear many large creatures go bump in the night, and that is when our own fear kicks in and makes "The Haunting" all the more scary.

Final Grade: A-


"Dredd" (2012)

High octane action from the beginning and this film never lets go. From bad ass one liners to "judges" dispensing their own form of street justice to guns that are voice commanded and can fire all sorts of high explosive rounds to bad guys getting shot in slow motion. The plot is simple: Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and his rookie cop are trapped in a 200-story building with hundreds of drugged-up criminals who want to kill them for their gang leader, Ma Ma. If you've seen "The Raid: Redemption" this is very close to that, only with less martial arts and more explosions. This one is a fun mindless ride that will keep you smiling all the way through.

Final Grade: B


"Bullitt" (1968)

You know, when people talk about this movie, they only mention one scene: The car chase across the San Francisco landscape. Some might talk about the cool Steve McQueen but that isn't limited to this film. I will admit, the car chase scene is impressive and is edited so tightly that it keeps you glued to the action. But outside of that scene, there is not much to this film. It is your typical cop who plays by his own rules film with lots of legal jargon that does not mean much. The final battle in the air field through the airport is fun to watch but does not live up to the chase.

Final Grade: C

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Worst Movie Ever Made!


Film critics will often say that you cannot truly appreciate the best that cinema has to offer until you've sat through the absolute worst movies of all time. To be able to distinguish good filmmaking from bad and to watch movies that so terrible that you'd rather be doing anything else than watching this filth.

To me, movies that are "so bad, they're good" do not fall into the group of the worst films ever made, like "Plan 9 From Outer Space," "Birdemic: Shock & Terror!" and "Manos: The Hands Of Fate." You can have fun with them, be entertained by their absurdity and terrible moviemaking abilities. These films are an unintentional comedy gold mines.

Then you have movies that fall into the category of just terrible filmmaking. These are the types of movies that are not fun to watch, even for their badness. They are unpleasant, insulting, poorly made, confusing and don't care for any sort of audience. By the time these movies are done, you feel dirty and unhappy, as if you just wasted your time.

Yet, I will firmly admit there is one film out there that I consider the worst movie of all time. A film so bad that I have no idea how it got made or how anyone making the film thought what they were doing was a good idea. A film so bad that even "Mystery Science Theater 3000" could not make it enjoyable.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the worst film ever made, "Monster-A-Go-Go."


I have never watched a film that was so poorly put together, as if a five-year old was in charge. Actually, a five-year old would have made a more vibrant and light-hearted film, not something so hateful and condescending towards others.

"Monster-A-Go-Go" was directed by Bill Rebane, who somehow was able to direct multiple movies after this abomination came out, including the laughable "Giant Spider Invasion" which I feel goes in the class of "so bad, it's good." Yet that film, which was made years after the 1965 "Monster-A-Go-Go," still had the same terrible style of filmmaking: piss poor lighting so that you can barely make out anything the shot, the camera positioned so far away from the actors that even if it was lite well you still couldn't see anything, actors looking down at their feet constantly (most likely to read the script taped to the floor) and editing that is either nonexistent or nonsensical.

Both "Monster-A-Go-Go" and "Giant Spider Invasion" were featured on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" but had two entirely different results. While MST3K ripped both films to shreds, you can have fun with "Giant Spider Invasion" due to the ridiculous nature of spiders taking over a small town in Wisconsin and two bloated scientists - one of whom is bigoted towards the female scientist - trying to stop the invasion from spreading. "Monster-A-Go-Go" on the other hand has nothing likable about it from the beginning.

In fact, to let you know exactly what I mean, here's a link to the MST3K episode that riffs "Monster-A-Go-Go." As a result, you can see the worst film ever made in its entirety, while these comedians try desperately to save the movie and their sanity.

I've watched this episode in the past, and each time I've noticed that these guys not only hate watching this movie, but can't seem to find a way to make it funny. Try as they might, but they can only point out the flaws. Even Crow tries to make fun of the names in the opening credits, only to trail off and admit "this is gonna suck." Years after the episode was released, the creators of MST3K said they felt "Monster-A-Go-Go" was the worst movie they ever riffed.

But in the end, the sign of the worst movie ever made boils down to how it makes the audience feel. The worst films out there will make the audience feel insulted, like the film is nothing more than a big middle finger on the silver screen.

For me, very few films do that. Simply because it is a movie. It is not a sentient creäture with emotions, desires and awareness. But every once in a while, there is that film that goes out of its way to be hateful and disrespectful to many people. "Godzilla: Final Wars" for example is hateful towards fifty years of Godzilla's history and the fans that have enjoyed the franchise, by having a supposed celebration film be two hours long and only have twelve minutes of screen time for Godzilla.

"Monster-A-Go-Go" is another hateful film, mostly because of the ending. It's a plot twist, but a twist that makes the rest of the film completely pointless and without meaning. As if the film is saying, "Haha! We tricked you into watching this garbage and you'll never get that time back! Whose the loser now?"


The true loser is Bill Rebane and "Monster-A-Go-Go" for being the most disrespectful, wasteful, poorly constructed piece of trash I have ever seen on the silver screen. You do not even need a basic understanding of filmmaking to know this film sucks. Anyone with a half of a brain stem could tell you there is nothing enjoyable here, even ironically.

Still, I would recommend you watch "Monster-A-Go-Go" once. If only to understand why it is so bad and to see a contender for one of the worst films ever made. I would not recommend watching this without the MST3K commentary though, as that is the only thing which makes "Monster-A-Go-Go" bearable.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Movie Review: "Nightcrawler" (2014)


If it bleeds, it leads.

This is not only a substantial quote from "Nightcrawler" but is also one of the biggest ideas pushed upon young journalists these days. In a world where news is readily available at people's' finger tips, the newspaper is in the slow process of dying and you can find out any information you need with a simple Google search, you need something of substance and shock to grab the viewer's attention.

Nobody cares about the headline "Dog bites man." But if it suddenly became "Man bites dog," then you've not only got a story, but people will care about what you have to say.

In a way, this is the sad reality what we live in. We've been so desensitized to violence, scandal and vulgar activities that we crave it. We want to see the terrible things that happen to people, that's why news coverage will so often have violent crimes as their top stories.

This is the reality that "Nightcrawler" thrives in. In their world, the only way to make a living is to look out only for yourself and be willing to compromise your morals and ethics. As far as "Nightcrawler" and Jake Gyllenhaal are concerned, the idea of the "American Dream" is out there, but only to those who are willing to go out and look for it and extinguish anyone who gets in their way.

"If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket." The motto of our protagonist, Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal).

Bloom is a hard-working individual, with ambition and a drive to succeed (his own words, not mine). The problem is that no one is willing to hire him, due to a criminal background. After he witnesses an accident on the freeway and a group of cameramen swoop down on it, Bloom decides to go freelance and use his "talents" to make a name for himself by filming breaking stories and selling the footage to a lowly news station that eats up these types of tragic events.


"Nightcrawler" lives very much in the same realm as "Gone Girl" in that it is gritty, unsettling, irresistible and that people are expendable if you can achieve your goals. To someone like Bloom, the people that he films are not living creatures. They are merely pawns to advance him further in life. He tapes all sorts of gruesome accidents and attacks, yet never once does he show any sign of sympathy or remorse for selling out their pain. To him, it is all part of the job.

Much like Jordan Belfort in "The Wolf Of Wall Street," Louis Bloom lives in his own made-up world where his outstanding work ethic and no-back-down approach to bargaining puts him at the top of his class, but personally believes he is above everyone else and that anyone who would not do what he does is weak and will live in poverty for the rest of their lives.

This makes Bloom a scumbag of the highest order. But you cannot take your eyes off of him.


Part of this is because of Gyllenhaal's performance and how he exudes dominance when making a deal, yet being so weak and doughy-eyed when doing anything else. You want to slap him, but you also want to see what he'll do next.

But another reason is how logical and orderly Bloom handles everything. To him, it's about getting the money and growing as a business to make more money. Do what is needed to be done, as long as that will help the business ascend. There is a creepy truth underlying throughout this film and makes Bloom's actions somewhat justified.

By the end of the film, you will hate Louis Bloom, but you cannot fault him for what he does.


"Nightcrawler" is a character study on a man who wants nothing more than to be successful in a world that is unforgiving and uncaring. It is unnerving, gripping and hard to watch at times, but always contemplative. If you loved "Gone Girl," then you will enjoy "Nightcrawler" and then some.

Final Grade: A