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2012 – Movie Review

Posted by LiveFor on March 27, 2010

Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover

Score: 6/10

Reviewed by pjowens75

What is it about Roland Emmerich? Why is he so much fun to hate? Maybe it’s because there has to be an Irwin Allen in every movie generation. Irwin Allen is best known for his disaster movies, TOWERING INFERNO and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. And that’s what Roland Emmerich has become: this generation’s King of disaster flicks. I mean is there anyone out there who does the end of the world better than him? At least we know what to expect from one of his movies: great special effects, little logical story, and convenient forgettable characters. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we keep going back for the thrills, plain and simple. We want to sit back with our bag of popcorn and give our brains a rest for a couple of hours. And in 2012, we get what we paid for.

2012 is the ultimate disaster flick, based on several ancient civilizations predicting the end of the world, as we know it, on December 21, 2012. It seems that on that date, all the planets will line up, causing untold catastrophe. Well, at least according to the Mayans, anyway. Gotta hand it to those Mayans, they could see the writing on the wall. I mean, let’s face it, they got the hell outta Dodge a couple of thousand years ago. So what if they bugged out a little early? Better safe than sorry, I always say. And who better to show us exactly what catastrophes we’ll face than the King himself…the ultimate popcorn movie maker.

One of the things about Emmerich is that he always manages to get a couple of respectable actors in each of his films; actors of enough caliber that it leaves you scratching your head going “What the hell are they doing in here?” In this case it’s John Cusack as our hero, and Danny Glover as the President of the United States. But as you can guess, they are only there to add some dialog between each new earthquake, eruption, or tsunami. What story there is has Cusack trying to save his recently estranged wife and kids by stowing away on some gigantic secret ships the governments of the world have been building for just such an occasion. And that’s really all you need to know about the plot. Period. If you want a decent script, you’ve picked the wrong movie, dude.

Because 2012 is all about destruction, with one “can you top this” disaster after another. From cars trying to outrun the giant crack-in-the-earth appearing beneath the rear wheels in Los Angeles, to St. Peter’s Basilica collapsing and rolling over the thousands of faithful in Rome, to a giant tidal wave crashing over the Himalayas, be grateful you can watch all this on film because you sure wouldn’t want to be there in person. If you should make the mistake of actually stopping to think about some logic-defying event you’ve just seen, like how it only takes a couple of hours to drive the 1000 miles from LA to Yellowstone Park, don’t worry, something will come along shortly to numb that thought right out of your head.

Amidst all this hellfire and brimstone, there always seems to be one scene that makes you stop and go “wow”. In 1998’s GODZILLA, it was the scene of the submerged lizard chasing the poor fisherman up the dock. In 2012, it involves Glover, wearily looking up after the collapse of the Washington Monument. From over his shoulder, we see a faint object gradually materializing through the thick dust and smoke, eventually becoming recognizable as the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy being carried high up on a massive tsunami. Like I say, no one films destruction like Emmerich.

The problem is, where does he go from here? With each successive film, his disasters have gotten bigger and bigger. Now that he’s pretty much destroyed the Earth, what does he do next, take on the destruction of the entire solar system? I mean, what is there left to destroy? My hope is that he does something completely unexpected, perhaps a small, intimate character study. Because I’ve got to believe that he wants to be more than a “Johnny One Note”. Or maybe I’m wrong and he is perfectly happy making the movies that he does. Maybe he’s content to be the most expensive “popcorn maker” on earth.

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Near Dark, 1987 – Movie Review

Posted by LiveFor on March 22, 2010

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein

Score: 6/10

Reviewed by pjowens75


I’m a sucker for vampire films. But I’m also a vampire purist and hold to the vampires of Bram Stoker and Nosferatu. I hold Anne Rice responsible for destroying the vampire genre by making them romantic figures. If she’d just left it alone after “Interview With The Vampire” (which I read and enjoyed), everything would have been fine. But somehow the notion caught on and now we have women of all ages (and some men too, I suppose) swooning over what should be an ugly, wicked, decaying, and thoroughly foul creature. But no matter what they’ve been made into today, one fact should always remain: they MUST kill to survive.

Kathryn Bigelow gets that right in her first film as a solo director, NEAR DARK. Using an imaginative script, some interesting camera angles, and recognizable actors, she put together one of my favorite modern vampire movies. It went nowhere at the box office, unfortunately, because it was up against LOST BOYS, an equally enjoyable movie that was more successful because it was aimed at a younger, hipper audience and had better marketing.

NEAR DARK starts out like a twisted classic love story: boy meets girl, girl bites boy, girl takes boy home to meet the family. In this case, the family that Mae (Jenny Wright) takes Caleb (Adrian Pashdar) home to meet is a family of vampires. And these are a far cry from the romantic figures we see today. These are cold blooded killers who rejoice in the mayhem they incite, especially Bill Paxton’s Severen (“Howdy. I’m going to separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don’t mind.”). Bigelow shows us the dark, ugly side of vampirism, where the main focus is to survive. And for that to happen, the family must kill.

So before they will accept Caleb into the fold, he must make his first kill. Of course Caleb is reluctant, and wants nothing more than to return to his father and little sister who, unbeknownst to him, are hot on his trail. And this is where the movie shines, showing us the contrasting, but equally strong ties among the two completely different families. The relationship between Caleb and his sister is strong and totally different than the relationship between Mae and “brother” Homer, a 50 year old man trapped in a 10 year old’s body. And the devotion of both father figures, both Caleb’s own real father, and the vampire family’s father figure (brilliantly underplayed by Lance Henriksen, looking remarkably like Keith Richard), shows an unspoken affection and possessiveness for their respective clans.

NEAR DARK is a fun, bloody thrill ride from beginning to end, and is well worth watching for everyone. However, there is one thing that prevents me from giving this a higher score, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen it, go get it and watch it now. If you like your vampires cold, blood thirsty, and wild, you’ll love this movie.


Why, oh why, oh why, did Kathryn Bigelow choose to shoot herself in the foot with the outcome in this movie? After all the tension, after all the reflection on the downside to being immortal and having to kill for survival, we find that all it takes to cure vampirism is a simple transfusion. WTF?!?! Then why all the angst? Why not just have Jesse and the family walk into the nearest doctor’s office and say “Look, I don’t want to be a vampire anymore, so could I get a blood transfusion please?” One of the things that makes being a vampire so terrible and, yes, sympathetic, is that THERE IS NO CURE. In that one seemingly simple script decision, to cure Caleb and Mae with just blood transfusions, Bigelow takes away all the dramatic tension she spent the first 90 minutes building so masterfully. And, indeed, takes away the crux of the entire movie.

So in the end, despite being taken for an exhilarating, fun-filled ride down the long dark road to vampirism, we find that, in truth, we really have been “taken for a ride”.

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Kill Bill, The Whole Dang Thing – Movie Review

Posted by LiveFor on March 2, 2010

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, David Carradine, Vivica A Fox, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Sonny Chiba

Vol. 1: 8/10

Vol. 2: 6/10

This review by Pat Owens. My Wife and I watched Kill Bill Vol.1 the night before we got married!

Okay, so there’s this Bride played by Uma Thurman who is trying to start a new life for herself after leaving an organization of professional killers. Only problem is, the head of the organization, Bill (David Carradine) doesn’t want her to leave and has the Bride and her entire wedding party killed at what has come to be called “The Massacre at Two Pines Chapel”. Unfortunately, they botch the job and, after 4 years in a coma, the Bride wants revenge. And she’s good at it…quite good at it.

The entire story of Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL is done in two separate movies, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and the two films couldn’t be any more different. Tarantino himself says this was quite intentional; he wanted the first film to have all the questions, and the second to have all the answers.

Vol. 1 is a colorful, non-stop action film from start to finish as we follow the Bride from one duel-to-the-death to another, with practically no time for characterization or exposition in between. What back story is provided is only there to give the audience time to catch their breath before the next crazy action sequence. In fact, the only real background we get at all is for O-Ren Ishii (played by Lucy Liu) and the reasons behind her climb to the top of the ladder in the Japanese underworld. This leads to one of the most incredible fight scenes ever filmed, with the Bride single-handedly taking on Ishii’s bodyguards, the Crazy 88s.

This is Tarantino’s homage to the Japanese Yakuze films of the 60s & 70s, complete with bright pop colors, an overabundance of severed limbs, and enough movie blood to fill an Olympic-size pool. There are quirky little touches throughout, such as the break in mid-death match for a cup of coffee and to greet Vivica Fox’s character’s daughter when her school bus drops her off. And it all works quite well and would make a great stand alone action film, except it was never intended to stand alone, but only to raise a checklist of questions (who exactly IS the Bride? How did she get so expert with a samurai sword? Who is Bill?) to be answered in Vol. 2.

And Vol. 2 is an entirely different style of film. This one is a tribute to spaghetti westerns and as such everything is toned down, from the color palette to the action. In fact, this one is much more dialogue driven and contains only a fraction of the over-the-top fighting that was in Vol. 1. And that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good, because it gives the actors something to do and, more important, time in which to do it. There would have been no time between the action in Vol. 1 for us to learn about Michael Madsen’s character of Budd, Bill’s brother. Given enough time in Vol. 2, Madsen toys with our feelings and has us sympathizing for him and almost hoping he’ll be spared the Bride’s vengeful blade, before he turns around and stabs our hopes in the back (he is, after all, a professional assassin).

Bad, because, since it is a film of explanations, the pacing seems to suffer in several of the more “talky” scenes, and we find ourselves biding our time waiting for the next action scene to break things up. Alas, that action scene isn’t there to save us. In this one, the action is used to break up the exposition.

And whereas the first film is wildly non-sequential, this film is quite ordered and, except for a flashback explaining some of the Bride’s training, follows a logical progression, building to the inevitable showdown with the man responsible for all her pain. Bill himself doesn’t seem to be a man of action…he doesn’t need to be. Carradine masterfully portrays him as an intellect, rising to the top not simply because he’s the best fighter, but because he is smart enough to constantly remain one step ahead of his enemies.

So, two separate films done in two different styles, each of which depends on the other for its existence. Does it work? Again, that depends. Neither one can really stand on its own, so they really should be watched together. However, if you’re like me and prefer the first, you only need to watch Vol. 2 one time, to get all the answers to questions raised in the previous film. Then you can get your action fix to your heart’s content without having to do much thinking at all. And isn’t that sometimes all we want from a film?

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Forbidden Planet, 1956 – Movie Review

Posted by LiveFor on February 13, 2010

Director: Fred M Wilcox
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Robby the Robot

Score: 9/10

Reviewed by pjowens75

When it comes to FORBIDDEN PLANET, most science fiction enthusiasts bow their heads in reverence. It is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of early science fiction movies. Even John Clute, in his Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says it “remains one of the few masterpieces of sf cinema.” Most fans are aware that it is, loosely speaking, an updated version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and that it introduced Robby, the Robot, who actually went on to star in his own film, The Invisible Boy, and became the model for sci-fi robots for years to come. But what does all of that mean, in English, and is it even worth watching today?

FORBIDDEN PLANET begins with a starship crew’s arrival on planet Altaira to rescue the inhabitants of a colony that has been out of communication for years. After initially being warned to leave the planet alone, the crew (led by Leslie Nielsen, with Warren Stevens and Jack Kelly as ship’s doctor and first mate, respectively) lands to discover Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Alta (Anne Francis), as the sole surviving colonists. However, it seems that the two don’t want to be rescued at all. In fact, with the assistance of their faithful servant/robot, Robby, they have fashioned themselves quite the little paradise, and have no desire to be “rescued” from anything. But after a little investigating, Commander Adams (Nielsen) discovers that the rest of the original colonists were all killed by an invisible monster who is now attacking the crew of the starship. To make things worse, the monster seems to be a physical manifestation of Dr. Morbius’s “id” and is a result of his tapping into an unlimited power source left behind by an extinct, but incredibly advanced civilization, the knowledge of which he feels is not ready to be revealed to the rest of humanity.

Okay, let’s all stop for a second and catch our breath. That’s all pretty ambitious for a typical 1950s sci-fi flick. Fortunately, FORBIDDEN PLANET is NOT your typical sci-fi film. Instead of focusing on the monster, as would most 50s fare, writers Irving Block (story) and Cyril Hume (screenplay) have crafted a remarkably intelligent script that focuses more on the internal conflicts of Dr. Morbius as he deals with his guilt over the deaths of the other colonists, and his concerns about the well-being of his maturing daughter. Walter Pidgeon handles all of this quite well, with his usual furrowed brow and occasional raised eyebrow as he watches his daughter’s first contacts with young males of her species. Anne Francis has perhaps the most difficult role as the blossoming young woman who, since she was born after the other colonists had died, has known no other human being other than her father. In what has since become a staple of science fiction TV series (just how many young girls did Capt. James T. Kirk teach how to “kiss” correctly?), Alta enthusiastically approaches the new experience of “men” as eagerly as the all male crew approaches the first female they’ve seen in over a year. And while I usually have a problem with Anne Francis’s porcelain makeup and good looks, they work quite well here. And although I was a fan of Leslie Nielsen long before his career revival as a comic in Airplane! And The Naked Gun, I couldn’t help but imagine him ending an exchange with Morbius with “And don’t call me Shirley.”

Director Fred McLeod Wilcox, whose best known films to this point were Lassie Come Home and The Secret Garden, does a very good job of keeping the pace moving and not getting bogged down in the intellectual dialogues at the center of the story. With the exception of the crews’ spaceship (which looks exactly as you would imagine a 1950’s “flying saucer” to look like), the sets, matte paintings (especially those used in the interior of the alien technology), and special effects all hold up amazingly well, even by today’s standards, and don’t look “dated”. Most amazing, to me, was the unique “score” by composers Bebe and Louis Berron, which is entirely made up of “electronic tonalities” and is quite effectively used to set the mood and highlight the action throughout the film.

So to me, at least, FORBIDDEN PLANET is one of those few remarkable 50s science fiction films that is just as effective if watched today as it was 50 years ago. There are a few laughable moments, both intentional (the ship’s cook (Earl Holliman) conning Robby into replenishing his supply of whiskey) and not (the commander’s constant use of the loud speaker aboard ship when the entire crew of 18 is gathered around him), but overall it holds up quite nicely and is well deserving of its rank in the hierarchy of science fiction movies. Check it out…it’s worth it.

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Nine, 2009 – Movie Review

Posted by LiveFor on February 7, 2010

Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Fergie, Kate Hudson

Score: 4 / 10

Reviewed by pjowens75

The movie NINE is based on the Broadway musical “Nine” which is based on the Fellini film “8 ½”, and if you add those together, you get 26 ½. This, of course, has absolutely no bearing on anything at all, except that I was thinking of all this nonsense during the movie itself.
It isn’t that NINE is a bad movie, it just has no spark. It’s like that old fast food commercial, “Where’s the beef?” And that’s too bad, because it’s gorgeous to look at. It’s set in Italy in the 1960’s, and director Rob Marshall and director of photography Dion Beebe have done a marvelous job of capturing the look and feel of the times. And if that were all this movie was about, it would score quite highly on the meter. Alas, there are actors involved, and that’s where things fall apart.

Daniel Day Lewis plays a renowned director about to embark on his latest project. Problem is he has no idea of what it will be. It seems he has lost his muse, which has always been the women in his life. And as he tries to recapture the spirit that has built his reputation, each one of these women makes an appearance, almost all inexplicably dressed in lingerie. And, since it’s a musical, each one sings a song…a truly forgettable song. Five minutes after the closing credits, you can’t recall a single melody. It’s as though each one phoned in their roles, from Penelope Cruz as his stereotypical current mistress, to Fergie, whose music videos have more life.

A spark of hope arose with the appearance of Sophia Loren as Lewis’ mother. Unfortunately, she was confined to the background and never given an opportunity. Look, if you are going to cast one of the greatest Italian actresses of her day in a film, for gosh’ sake, give her something to do. Here it seems her only purpose is to lend a note of authenticity to the entire proceedings. Even the always consistent Dame Judi Dench seems to realize she’s getting nothing back from her fellow actors, and tries too hard to make up for that.

If there is a bright spot, it is Marion Cotillard as his long suffering wife, who is finally getting fed up with his philandering. She is believable throughout her all too brief appearances, and manages to make her musical number (a solo without the scantily clad backup dancers) both poignant and convincing, although for the life of me I can’t remember either the words or the tune. It’s very sad that, in a film filled with beautiful women in lingerie, the only one worth watching was the one who remained fully clothed. She is the only one who invests anything into her role, including Lewis whose acting style just doesn’t work well with a musical, even though he looks like he belongs in sixties Italy.

Which brings us back to the heart of the matter, which is: there is no heart to this matter. Set in a time and place that should be bursting with life, this film has none.

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Precious, 2009 – Movie Review

Posted by LiveFor on January 31, 2010

Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz

Reviewed by pjowens75.

PRECIOUS: Based on The Novel PUSH by Sapphire

Some movies are harder to watch than others. Not because they’re bad, but because they show us a world that makes us uncomfortable; a world that we know exists, but have never consciously wanted any part of. They make us uncomfortable because they are real…too real.
PRECIOUS: Based On the Novel PUSH By Sapphire is one of those movies. It shows us a world so bleak and full of despair that we find ourselves squirming in our seats. But director Lee Daniels doesn’t shove it into our faces or hit us over the head with it. Instead he shows us this world through the eyes of one young girl who is caught in the middle of it all.

Claireece P. Jones is the “Precious” of the title, and is played by Gabourey Sidibe. She is an overweight 16 year old who is pregnant with her second child. But this is not a movie about dealing with the consequences of her own bad choices, but of dealing with the situations that have been forced upon her. For both babies are the results of being raped and abused by her own father. And in one of the welfare system’s many unfairnesses, Precious is suspended from school, seemingly slamming the door on the only escape from her terrible life.

But the biggest villain in this movie, even more than the abusive father, or the system seemingly at odds with itself, is Precious’ own mother Mary, unforgettably played by Mo’Nique. She allows the sexual abuse to take place, to produce babies and increase the size of her welfare check, and is constantly abusive to Precious, intentionally tearing apart her hopes & dreams, calling her “stupid” and saying “I knew I should’ve aborted you.” Mary is a woman with no redeeming values whatsoever and may easily be one of the most hateful characters ever filmed. It is to Mo’Nique’s credit that she makes her so much more than the one dimensional caricature tempted by the script. We can see all the calculating rationalizations going on inside her as she heaps abuse after abuse on all of those around her.

Eventually, Precious finds her way to an alternative school, and in the midst of her uncaring world, finds people who do care, in friends and in a teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who gives her a journal and makes her write something in it, every day, even if she must force herself to do it.

And gradually, just as Precious slowly learns to care about herself, we begin to care about her and hope that the seething volcano of emotions we see building inside her will erupt, bringing explosive justice to all her abusers. But this isn’t an action film where the villains “get it” in the most gruesome ways imaginable. No, this is real life, and when the eruption finally does happen, we may not be completely happy with the outcome, but must be satisfied simply with the hope that Precious is taking control of her life and is on her way out of her predicament.

And perhaps that is what makes us so uncomfortable, not the content of the film itself, but the knowledge that this world really exists and is every bit as dark and unfair as the movie portrays. And perhaps we are upset that the filmmakers have spoiled our bright sunny day by making us aware of this world. But it is a world we should be aware of. And it is well written, directed, and especially acted movies like PRECIOUS that keep bringing it to our attention in a way that makes us care.

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