December 19, 2006

Watch It - Top 5 Christmas Movies

5) Elf

Elf is about Buddy, a normal man who believes he is one of Santa's elves due to being raised at the North Pole. Buddy is raised by Papa Elf, who is played wonderfully by Bob Newhart. Will Ferrell plays Buddy and is hilarious, he never quite fits in due to his enormous size relative to the other elves. Eventually Buddy figures out that he's a normal sized man and he heads to New York to find his real Father and more hilarity ensues. I know this isn't exactly a classic Christmas movie but I loved it. I'm a big Will Ferrell fan and you definitely need to be to love this movie, though I'd recommend it either way.

4) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

This is a great kids movie. The original story of how Rudolph saved Christmas one stormy year with all kinds of added plot lines like Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snowman. In this story we learn that everyone is worthwhile no matter how "different" they might be. I watched it again recently and was reminded of why I loved it so much as a child. This is a true classic with great animation and voices, a truly unique story.

3) It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life is not only a great Christmas Movie, for many people it is also one of the great movies of all time. Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a kind and compassionate businessman who runs into a string of bad luck and tries to take his own life. His guardian angel saves him and shows him what life would be like had he never existed. This is a great story, a feel-good story if you will. The style and age of the movie may keep some of today's movie goers from getting into it but if you've never seen it you're missing out.

2) How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Another classic kids movie. This cartoon based on the Dr. Seuss book is 30 minutes of pure enjoyment. The voices, drawings and songs are all memorable and I still enjoy watching it as an adult. This is yet another Christmas movie with a great uplifting moral to it and though Jim Carrey did his best with the live action version they made a few years ago it pales in comparison to the simple and superior cartoon.

1) A Christmas Story

This is a movie that captures childhood. Through the narration of the main character, Ralphie, we are told the story of a memorable Christmas in his childhood. A Christmas that includes a bebe gun, a horrible gift of bunny pajamas that Ralphie is forced to try on, a child's tongue freezing to a pole, a Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant and many other family moments you'll never forget. This is my favorite because it re-tells Christmas from the perspective of a child who is at the age when I remember loving Christmas the most.

December 15, 2006

Mission Impossible III - $7

In the latest Mission Impossible installment Ethan Hunt is off the frontlines and is working in the classroom, well maybe not a classroom per se, but he's training future agents and not working in the field anymore.

Mission Impossible III starts by informing us that Hunt is getting married and his cover story with his fiance is that he works for the Department of Transportation. Of course Hunt's quiet life of training agents and being out of the field lasts all of 5 minutes in this movie as he is drawn back into action by the kidnapping of one of his trainees.

The villain and kidnapper is Owen Davian, an arms dealer who has eluded authorities for years. Davian is played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, so well in fact that I wish the movie would have featured more of his character.

As usual though, this impossible mission centers almost entirely around Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise. Davian kidnaps Hunt's fiance and forces Hunt to recover the 'Rabbit's Foot' to save her. Curiously the audience is never let in on just exactly what the Rabbit's Foot is.

Unlike the first two Mission Impossible movies, this one is a little truer to the TV show it takes its name from. Hunt uses and relies on his team and on advanced gadgets and technology to get the job done. At one point he impersonates the bad guy by wearing a silicon mask, a classic Mission Impossible move that is as standard as the A Team drugging B.A.'s food to get him on an airplane.

I didn't love this movie, but I liked it. It is a far better movie than the first two in this series and it delivers exactly what you'd expect out of an action move - action.

I put Mission Impossible III on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $7.

December 8, 2006

Casino Royale - $9

James Bond is back and better than he's been for a long time. Actually in Casino Royale James Bond is just beginning. The 21st Bond film takes us back to the beginning and lets us watch James Bond become OO7 and evolve into the man we've watched 20 other times.

Daniel Craig is the new Bond and I, like many others, was skeptical when I heard he had to learn to drive standard and had never held a gun before this movie. Craig proved me and all of his critics wrong with the best Bond performance since the great Scot himself. Craig plays Bond with the usual sophisticated confidence bordering on arrogance; what he also accomplishes is the tough side of Bond that was less than convincing in some of the past actors who played the fictional legend.

Casino Royale is a great action movie and a great Bond movie. As cliche as it may sound, I was literally on the edge of my seat during some of it. One scene in particular, where Bond chases a bomber through a high rise under construction, could be the best chase scene I've ever witnessed.

The movie centers around a classic Bond villian with a physical disfiguration. He is an understated villian named Le Chiffre who is not trying to take over the world but rather he is a financier of terrorists. Le Chiffre needs to make millions of dollars back to save his life and he plans to do this by winning a big-pot poker game at the Casino Royale. Bond's plan is to break Le Chiffre for good at the gambling table, and the $10 million buy-in is financed by the British Treasurey and delivered by Vesper Lynd who is the anti-Bond-girl in every way.

The only part of this movie I thought could have been better was the love story between Bond and Lynd, we see the sensitive side of Bond and we also see the context behind his womanizing ways and why this sensitive side is never to be seen again. I acknowledge that this part of Casino Royale was necessary for the plot but Craig was slightly less convincing as the romantic lead man.

Overall this is one of the best Bond movies I've ever seen and certainly the best action movie produced in years. I highly recommend seeing Casino Royale, especially if you are a Bond fan. The gag and gadget centered themes of the past few Bond movies are stripped away and the audience is left with a simplified movie that centers on the characters, low-tech real action, and a newly invigerated Bond character. I'm looking forward to #22.

I put this movie on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.

December 1, 2006

Superman Returns - $3

Superman has returned to earth and he looks younger than when he left. Why did he leave you might ask? He went to see if Krypton had in fact blown up as he had always believed since human astronomers had apparently spotted it intact. It took him 5 years to find out the astronomers were wrong and return.

While he was gone Lois Lane got engaged and had a child. He was not replaced at work for 5 years and slipped back into his lame Clark Kent job seamlessly.

This movie was true to the Superman genre, in fact so loyal to the genre it was ridiculously predictable, and that was it's downfall for me. If you've ever seen a Superman movie you've seen everything that's in this one. Superman opens with a heroic act saving hundreds, he then tries to win Lois Lane back by taking her for a romantic flight, Clark tries to get Lois Lane's attention too but those glasses magically keep her from noticing he looks a little like Superman. Everyone else seems to miss the coincidence that Clark and Superman are not only identical twins but they returned on the same day.

And don't worry, Superman faces Lex Luther who uses Kryptonite to initially defeat him only to lose to Superman in the end. I didn't see that coming.

And all this was accomplished in a 2 1/2 hour movie that left me wondering when it would end more than once.

This movie wasn't a total loss, Brandon Routh does a great job playing Superman. I almost felt like I was watching Christopher Reeves. The special effects are entertaining though I couldn't help but feel like I was watching a video game at times. Plus it just feels like a Superman movie and fans of the old ones will likely enjoy it.

Here's my problem though, I found it boring.

I put this movie on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $3.

November 13, 2006

Lost - $8

Lost is a show which on the surface seems like a simple concept. A plane crashes, the survivors end up on an island and work together to stay alive while they wait to be rescued. Of course with this show it's not that simple.

There is a lot going on on the island. A black smoke with uproots trees, other people who seem to have lived on the island for a while and have kidnapped a number of the plane crash survivors, supernatural phenomina where the survivors see visions, an underground bunker with a button that needs to be pressed every 108 minutes to avoid the end of the world, oh and the odd polar bear.

I've been renting the dvd's of this show and am halfway through the second season so I don't have explanations for many of these things yet but I am hooked. As an aside watching tv on dvd is far better than actually watching tv.

The characters are fairly well developed in Lost considering how many of them there are. Every show includes flashbacks to people's lives before the crash to help the audience get to know them. And while I don't always follow the logic of some of the actions of the crash survivors I suppose the show is counting on its audience assuming people don't always do things that make sense when they are trapped on an island.

This show is no "Castaway", though I liked that movie. It's also a show you can't possibly pick up on without starting at the beginning so go out and rent season 1.

Lost is definitely on my 'Watch It' list and I give it a value of $8.

October 31, 2006

Studio 60 - $10

Ok I know this is a tv show but there is a precedent on my site for reviewing tv. Also this review is less of an actual review and more of a plea. A plea that you watch this show.

Studio 60 is the best thing on TV right now, in my opinion. The writing is clever, funny and moving. The acting is brilliant as the characters have all been developed well and it's only a few shows into it's life. This is a well made show, not hype or emotional manipulation but solid. I have looked forward to it each week since watching the premier.

The reason I'm pleading with you to watch it is that I've heard it may be cancelled. It may have been a mistake by NBC to put it up against CSI Miami, as inferior as that show is to Studio 60 in every way. But the reality is that they are apparently considering scrapping it.

So please, try it. You don't have to like it or agree with me but watch it once and decide. Skip the predictable, cookie cutter, not-worthy-of-your-time CSI Miami and watch the best thing on TV right now.

Watch It, Mondays at 10:00 PM on NBC.

October 21, 2006

Friends With Money - $8

Four middle aged women have been friends for years though there lives have become more and more different with each year they've aged. As the title implies the theme of money is used throughout. Three of the women are married and fairly wealthy and the fourth is single, alone, and a maid. Friends With Money explores the relationship of these four different women who don't quite understand each other but are held together by friendship.

This is not an escapist movie, nor is it "entertaining" in the Hollywood sense of the word. Friends With Money is a frighteningly realistic portrayal of friendship, gossip, human interaction and marriage - as the husbands of the three married characters also play an important role in this story.

There is certainly a kind of entertainment value in this movie, it is funny and moving and dramatic at times, sometimes all three at once. You'll laugh at the quirks of some characters because you'll see things in them that you see in people you know. You'll also cringe at moments when a character portrays an ugly side of themselves and you realize you're watching yourself.

Friends With Money is well written, brilliantly acted and is a truly refreshing story about the reality of relationships.

I put this movie on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.

October 12, 2006

Fearless - $7

Fearless is the true story Huo Yuanjia, or at the very least it is the telling of his legend. Yuanjia was an early 20th century Chinese martial arts master who is credited with uniting China and bringing it respectability in a time when China was short of both.

Yuanjia is kept from learning martial arts as a young boy by his Father but he trains in secret. As a young man he becomes skilled and arrogant and after defeating all challengers he is named the local champion fighter.

Yuanjia takes to drinking and partying and due to events that are partly his fault a serious tragedy strikes his family. Devastated, he leaves his home town and disappears to the Chinese countryside, living as a simple farmer. Here he learns the value of hard work, humility and the respect of human life and returns to his hometown years later. What he finds is not the town he left; the people are poor and foreigners are controlling the economy. The Chinese people are belittled here and all over their country by foreigners. Eventually Yuanjia answers a challenge to take on fighters in different styles from all over the world to disprove the reputation of the Chinese as the "weak men of the east."

I went in to this movie with low expectations and truly enjoyed it. I don't typically enjoy martial arts movies that have little more than fancy fighting in them. (see 'Ong-Bak' review below) This movie provided more than martial arts as it goes through the maturing and learning stages of Yuanjia after his family tragedy.

Jet Li plays Yuanjia and though his acting is not what has made him famous, he does an affective and convincing job in Fearless.

The fights in this movie are impressive and though I am thankful that they are not all there was to it, they are choreographed well and are a huge part of why I enjoyed this movie. The cinematography was surprisingly impressive as well as the movie maker took great pains to make this movie about more than just martial arts.

This movie will not blow you away but as I said it was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it.

I put Fearless on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $7.

October 8, 2006

X - Men: The Last Stand - $4

A "cure" for the mutant X gene has been discovered, it is developed thanks to the discovery of a mutant who causes other mutants to lose their power or "mutation" when they are near him. At first it is said that this cure will be administered only to mutants who volunteer to take it but it is quickly discovered that the government has developed weapons that fire darts filled with the cure, this sparks a backlash from mutants who become suspicious that the government wants to exterminate them.

Magneto, leader of all the angry mutants, wants to start a war with non-mutants and Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, wants to find a compromise and work with the government. Even the mutants who follow Xavier are angered that these weapons have been made, some even that this discovery is being called a "cure" since this implies they are sick rather than just different.

The plot falls apart at this point for me, we have X-Men fighting alongside non-mutants to stop Magneto from destroying the cure; the cure which they hate and don't think should exist. In an amazing twist of hypocrisy the X-Men even use the cure at one point in the battle on one of the bad mutants. I didn't know who to cheer for, or if I thought anyone was right. It's hard to get into a movie which centers around a battle wherein I could care less about the outcome.

This movie felt like no-one wrote it, instead the actors were just told the 3 things their character usually says and then they just said variations of them over and over. How many times will the X-Men come upon a situation where they need to hide and someone has to suggest to Storm that she make is foggy. Just once I'd like to see her think of it herself.

Despite a cast that I thought did a great job with the first two movies, there is no making up for the bad writing in this third installment. The jokes are lame, the drama is hokey and the plot is convoluted. New characters are introduced and given no development. One new character has wings and is the son of the man who developed the cure yet he is basically given 3 lines in the whole movie.

If you love special effects there are plenty in this movie and some of them are quite impressive. Visually X-Men is stunning and there is some entertainment value in that. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart as Magneto and Xavier respectively, do an admirable job of acting with the simple and limited script they were given.

If you enjoyed the first 2 X-Men movies you may want to see this 3rd one but let me assure that it pales in comparison.

I put this movie on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $4.

September 29, 2006

Everything's Gone Green - $7

Ryan is 29 years old and in a dead end job. He is dumped, kicked out of his apartment and fired all in the same day. Faced with the lack of accomplishment and direction in his life Ryan begins to stoop to the level of some of his acquaintances and family; he begins making money in an unethical if not illegal scam. As he begins to make a little more money Ryan wrestles with questions about the world we live in and what it takes to be content.

This movie is Canadian author Douglas Coupland's first screenplay and it succeeds as a comedy. I am a huge fan of Coupland's novels where humour, drama, deep thought and outrageous situations are commonplace. The pieces were all there in Everything's Gone Green but somehow the drama and deep thought did not translate onto the big screen as well as they do in his novels. The humour was great and since this was a comedy that should likely be how it is judged but I expected a little more depth from a Coupland story. I think that the lack of depth may not have been the fault of the writing however, but mainly due to some fairly average performances by some of the supporting cast.

The main character Ryan is played well by Canadian actor Paulo Costanzo and the other major characters were performed convincingly enough to make this movie work. The biggest disappointment to me was a friend of Ryan's in the movie whose character runs a sucessful network of grow-ops. He appeared to have been written with some depth but was delivered fairly one-dimensionally.

Everthing's Gone Green is set in Vancouver and is a simple movie which is one of its charms. This movie is a step in the right direction for cinema in Canada and especially Vancouver where many movies are shot but very few are set.

I recommend this movie as an enjoyable and simple comedy that will make you laugh and especially to anyone who enjoys Coupland and has ever spent any time in Vancouver. Watch for it's release in theatres in early 2007.

I put this movie on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $7.

September 24, 2006

Watch It - Best And Worst On TV

I haven't seen a new movie in a while so at the suggestion of a reader I will do a review of a few TV shows since all the premiers are going on right now.

Smith - Watch It

Smith is a professional thief. He steals high priced items at the request of a mysterious older woman who goes by the name Charlie. One assumes that she then sells them to some sort of network of people who like to spend lots of money on stolen goods. Smith is played effectively by Ray Liotta as he leads his team of fellow thieves while working a lame cover job selling paper cups. Smith's wife and two kids seem unaware of his criminal alter ego. This is a well made show that feels a bit like a combination of Ocean's Eleven and every gangster movie Liotta has ever made.

CSI Miami - Don't Watch It

For those unfamiliar with the CSI family of shows they follow specialized crime scene investigators who go through the clues of a crime scene in a detailed way that is both impressive and hard to believe. I've been a CSI fan since the beginning original show, which takes place in Las Vegas, and in recent years I've come to enjoy the first spin off, the CSI Miami series. No longer however. Miami has become more and more far fetched with each season and after watching the premier of the 2006-07 season last week I don't plan to watch it any longer. The characters are becoming unrealisticaly emotional and snipey and the plot holes are gaping.

The Office - Watch It

Michael Scott is an incompetant, socially awkward manager of a regional office of a national paper supply company. Steve Correll plays Michael and is one of many great comedic actors in this histerical show. If you've never seen it you must. In fact you should go to the video store and rent the first 2 seasons. This is the American version of the British show by the same name and is one of the funniest shows in TV history in my humble opinion.

Prison Break - Don't Watch It

As you may have guessed from the title this show is about a bunch of guys who break out of prison. I watched the first season and enjoyed it. The show let you watch the plan to escape come together as it is masterminded by the brother of a prisoner on death row. The escape scheme was detailed and interesting and though the show was full of forced tension it was worth watching. I've watched the first couple episodes of the second season and I think I will keep watching to see how it ends but I do not recommend it to anyone else. The new season is less interesting. The prisoners are out and 'on the lam' and the show seems to be trying too hard to create moments of tension where way too many things go wrong. The plot has become needlessy complicated and the acting unconvincing. Save yourself the time do something else on Monday nights.

September 17, 2006

Watch It - Top 5 All Time

It is a daunting task, attempting to choose the top 5 movies of all time. Nothing could be more subjective than this type of thing and each movie watching experience itself can be affected immensely by factors like the mood I'm in, or the company I watched it with. It would be much easier to compile a top 5 of each genre or to just say these are 5 of my favorite movies ever but I will be bold and unapologetic in my attempt to list the 5 best movies I've ever seen. Bear in mind I've attempted to hit on more than one genre and that these are merely the 5 best movie experiences I've had, I'm not trying to say these are the greatest movies ever made. That is a different list altogether and one that would be impossible to create.

So without further ado here they are:

5) Swingers
Trent thinks he knows everything about life and everything that he wants out of it, Mike is never sure of himself in any way. The two are friends and aspiring actors in LA who spend the bulk of their time trying to find the best party and debating the rules about picking up women. Mike tries to imitate the successful strategies of Trent but slowly discovers himself and realizes along the way he really doesn't want to mimic his shallow friend. This movie made me laugh as much as any movie ever has and it also affected me in a way that is hard to explain. There are moments in this movie where I was so embarrassed for the socially awkward Mike that it's hard to watch. It is these moments that make his eventual self discovery that much more meaningful.

4) Almost Famous
William Miller is a 15 year old aspiring music critic who happens into a job writing for Rolling Stone in the 70's. He is sent on tour with a popular rock band, all the time fooling the magazine and the band into thinking he is much older than he really is. There are some classic coming-of-age elements in this movie which is intertwined with great acting and great music. It is rumoured that this is based on the true story of a summer in writer/director Cameron Crowe's teenage life.

3) The Big Chill
A group of old college friends are brought back together in their adult life, after years apart, by the suicide of a member of their group. After the funeral they all spend the weekend in an old country house and catch up on old times, they wrestle with the big meaning-of-life questions brought on by their attempt to deal with the death of their friend. Nearly every human emotion is experienced and portrayed in this movie. The Big Chill offers what I consider some of the best writing, acting and dialogue in any movie I've ever seen.

2) Unbreakable
David Dunn discovers supernatural powers in himself that he is unaware of when he is the lone survivor of a horrific train crash. In turn he also discovers the purpose for his life, the absence of which had nearly torn his life apart. He is aided in finding his purpose by Elijah Price, a man with a medical disorder wherein his bones are brittle and break easily. Price is obsessed with comic books and a theory that if the human race contains those who are handicapped, there must exist the polar opposite - people with better than normal abilities, essentially real superheros. This movie is slow and thoughtful and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Dunn discover his abilities and wrestle with what he should do with them. I am an unabashed M. Night Shyamalan fan and to me this movie is the best example of his unique style and thought provoking writing.

1) Twelve Monkeys
It is 30 years in the future, a virus has wiped out 99% of human life. Those who survived live underground. Prisoners are used as "volunteers" to go to the surface and gather samples of life. They are also used in attempts to perfect time travel as modern scientists attempt to get a sample of the virus in the time before it wiped out humanity so they can invent a cure. James Cole is one of those prisoners and the movie follows him as he goes back and forth in time attempting to find the origins of the virus. Cole is played brilliantly by Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt gives a dynamic supporting role as a fellow inmate in the mental institution Cole is put in when he is sent back to 1990. I've lost count of the amount of times I've watched this movie and I discover something new each time I watch it. Twelve Monkeys makes you work to keep up with the plot as it bounces between time periods. This is truly a great movie.

September 9, 2006

Ong-Bak - $1

Ting is a kind young man who lives a simple life in a peaceful village. He is forced to venture into the big city after his village's sacred Ong-Bak statue is stolen. Many fights, chases and stunts take place in Ting's pursuit of this statue as he runs into increasingly hokey and stereotypical bad guys along the way. For some reason everywhere he goes people are evil and seem to want to fight him just because he’s nice. The only things in this movie of any entertainment value are the action, amazing stunt work, and fight scenes. This is really the only factor saving this movie from a $0 rating from me. The reality is that even the action gets repetitive and not enough care was taken to make the fights realistic; more than once I noticed a fight opponent wearing a helmet under their wig.

Ong-Bak is also full of cheesy attempts at humour by Ting's sidekick, a distant cousin he stays with in the city whose character is as poorly written as it is acted. The plot in this movie is brainlessly simple, a cookie cutter action movie plot where the good guy fights dozens of bad guys for a noble cause and meets a girl along the way. It would be a challenge to find anything redeeming about this movie other than the occasionally impressive action sequence. The directing is uncreative and dark, and the stunts while impressive, become predictable; oh look those workers carrying a ring of barbed wire just walked directly into Ting's path, whatever will he do?

It is worth noting that Ting is played by an actor named Tony Jaa and despite the many failings of this movie there is little doubt that Jaa is the next Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. He will never wow us with his acting but action movie fans out there who can overlook a bad plot, bad writing, bad directing and bad acting will surely flock to any movie starring Jaa.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this movie to anyone. My time was wasted by watching it and I came out feeling a little bit dumber than when I pressed play. I urge you, if you are at all curious about this movie, to simply download the trailer, all the action sequences worth watching can be seen there.

I put this movie on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $1.

September 3, 2006

V for Vendetta - $9

Much of the world is in chaos and it is the year 2020. A virus has killed many, America is no longer the superpower it is today, and Britain is ruled by a fascist dictator who rules by fear and promises safety but not freedom. One man is fighting the government, that man is V, and he is effectively the hero and at times the villain in this tale. He is intelligent and twisted, kind and cruel. He fights an oppressive 'big brother' power as he attempts to put that power back into the hands of the people.

The best summary of V's belief system is this quote: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." It is this belief that compels V to carry out violent and destructive acts against the government who deems him to be a terrorist. I am one who does not think V has it right; wouldn't the ideal be governments and their people existing in harmony? Fear from either party seems like the wrong idea to me.

Philosophical differences with a fictional character aside, this is a movie that I enjoyed immensely. A truly creative story with images that stuck in my mind for days after. Hugo Weaving gives a great performance as V, especially considering that he is wearing a mask the entire movie so all his acting is done without the audience being able to see either his eyes or mouth, or any facial expression for that matter. The mask is the face of Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 tried to blow up the houses of Parliament. While this had huge potential to be hokey, and was a risky costume choice, somehow Weaving made it work. V pulls a young woman named Evey into his world half by her own choice and half by force. Evey loves and at the same time hates V, trusts and is afraid of him, helps and hinders his efforts, and Natalie Portman as Evey does an excellent job of convincing the audience that these seeming contradictions are possible.

To use a cliche, this was a very Orwellian story and a great example of this genre done right. We see a glimpse into a future that is more of a warning of what could happen rather than a prophecy of what will come to pass.

Written by one of the writers of The Matrix, V is a bit of a comeback for this screenwriter considering how bad the Matrix sequels were.

V for Vendetta's cinematography is engaging and I can't recall a time in the movie where I wasn't interested, involved and entertained.

I put this on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9 out of the $10 it costs to see a movie these days.