12-31-09:  The Happening Review (DVD)

by Brian LeTendre

I knew that M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening” was going to be bad going into watching it.  I’d read some reviews and heard the chatter, and frankly, that’s one reason I was looking forward to it.  I love bad movies.  Most of my favorite movies of all time are considered to be “bad” movies.

What I don’t like however, are boring movies.  And “The Happening” is really boring.

Billed as Shyamalan’s first rated ‘R’ movie, “The Happening” revolved around the idea that after all these years of destroying the planet, the plant life has had enough.  The plants now see mankind as a threat, and they start releasing a toxin that makes people kill themselves.  As most of the East Coast starts being affected, school teachers Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and Julian (John Leguizamo) gather their families and try to head West.  As the epidemic spreads, panic ensues and lots of people die.  And then the rest of movie involves Elliot, his wife, and a little girl running from…

the wind.

Yes, the wind.  A stiff breeze.  That’s the big scary in this movie.  To really amp up the boredom, Elliot and his wife reconcile their marriage through a series of boring conversations and self-realizations, all against the backdrop of the scary wind that brings the funny smell that makes you kill yourself.

The acting is terrible, the only bright spot being a cameo from Brian O’Halloran of “Clerks” as a Jeep driver who never even speaks a word.  Everyone else is awful. 

Seriously, what made me most angry about this movie was that it was supposed to be really shocking.    For a movie that was supposed to be a ‘hard R’ there is almost no gore whatsoever.  When I watched the special features and the behind the scenes documentary, the only thing shocking I found was just how much Shyamalan and company thought they were pushing the envelope with this movie.

Like I said, I love crappy movies, but “The Happening” is never exciting enough to be called crappy.  It’s a lousy execution of a decent premise, and I can’t recommend it to anyone.

1 out of 5 Deadly Gales

12-22-09:  Dr. Who--The Waters Of Mars Review

by Brian LeTendre

I grew up a Tom Baker guy, but I can say without reservation that David Tennant is the greatest Dr. Who of all time.   And as Tennant’s run as the Doctor winds down, it’s clear that both he and writer Russell T. Davies are planning to go out with a bang.  "The Waters of Mars" features on of Tennant’s best performances, and shows us a side of the doctor we’ve not seen before.

"The Waters of Mars" has the Doctor showing up on the red planet on November 21, 2059--the day that a major “fixed point” in history is slated to occur.  Those “fixed points” are things that the Doctor can’t mess with, as they are events that need to occur.  In this case, it’s a water-based parasite that infects and kills everyone on the Mars colony.  One of the people who are supposed to die is Captain Adelaide Brooke, a woman whose death inspires her future granddaughter to make a giant leap forward in space travel.  As the episode progresses, the Doctor is struggling more and more with the idea that he has to leave these people to die.   In a defining moment for David Tennant’s Doctor, he decides to intervene and change the course of history.

Tennant’s performance was brilliant in this episode.  When he finally decides to intervene, he’s going against everything he has previously believed in.  And once he does, he is almost insane with power.   It’s basically like he’s turned to the Dark Side of the Force.  Not until Captain Brooke confronts him and then makes a time-altering decision of her own does the Doctor realize just how far he’s gone.

The special effects bear mentioning in this one as well.  The creature design is just plain creepy, as all of the infected have cracked mouths that constantly spew water.  It reminded me a lot of John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness.” 

Episodes like this make me realize how truly lucky we are to have a show like Dr. Who.  Tennant and Davies are both at the top of their game, and I cannot wait to see the final episodes of what has been an amazing run.

5 out of 5 “Water Always Wins”

11-28-09:  Ninja Assassin Review

by Brian LeTendre

Let me start by saying that I have wanted to be a ninja since 1981.  That was the year Sho Kosugi and “Enter the Ninja” came into my 7-year old life.  It was love at first sight.  I became obsessed with ninjas.  “Revenge of the Ninja,” “Ninja III: The Domination” (the one with the girl), the TV series “The Master” with Lee Van Cleef, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow—you name it, I loved it if there were ninjas in it.  Heck, I even liked the “American Ninja” movies with Michael Dudikoff, because they allowed me to believe that one day, if I joined the armed forces and honed my hand-to-hand combat skills, maybe I could train to be a ninja as well.

Anyway, back to Sho Kosugi.  He dropped off the face of the earth in the early 90’s, and I’ve been waiting almost 20 years for his next movie, the long-rumored “Return of the Ninja.”  Imagine my surprise then, when I found out about “Ninja Assassin.”  From the trailer, it looked amazing.  I immediately thought to myself all that movie needs is Sho Kosugi, and it would be the greatest ninja movie of all time.  And then I found out that not only was Sho Kosugi in the movie, but he costars as the main villain.  That’s pretty much all I needed to hear to make sure my butt was in the theater opening weekend to catch this one.

So how was “Ninja Assassin?”  In my mind, it’s the best ninja movie ever made.  It’s not perfect, but it is awesome to behold.

“Ninja Assassin” tells the story of Raizo (Korean pop star Rain), a ninja who has defied his clan and has been marked for death by its leader Lord Ozunu, played by Mr. Sho Kosugi.  Raizo is discovered by the clan when he comes to the aid of a Europol agent who has been researching the existence of ninjas and has gotten too close to the truth for her own good.  Raizo uses the confrontation with his old clan to try and kill Lord Ozunu once and for all.

That’s all you really need to know about the story, as it’s pretty thin and certainly not the reason I went to see “Ninja Assassin.”  So let’s talk about the ninja stuff.  In this movie, there is about an hour’s worth of the most glorious, blood-soaked, limb-severing ballet of death dealing that has ever been put to film.  It’s brutal.  And bloody.  And totally freaking awesome.  The ninjas are portrayed as almost supernatural predators, that blend into the shadows and move like ghosts.  They are scary, and when they come for someone, there’s not much that can be done to stop them.  Remember the days when you’d see ninja throw a single shuriken and take an enemy out?  In “Ninja Assassin,” guys get hit with 15-20 shurikens at a time, and their bodies are completely shredded by them.  And when they’re not getting shredded by shurikens, they’re being cut in half by katanas. 

Also, did I mention this movie has Sho Kosugi?  Because it does, and he is fantastic.  Sho as Lord Ozunu is an unforgiving man that expects total loyalty to the clan.  The climactic battle that he and Raizo have is worthy of Sho, and he is just as imposing today as he was more than 20 years ago.  It’s great to see him again, and I hope this kick starts “Return of the Ninja,” as Sho is definitely still capable of portraying a badass ninja.

As great as the action in “Ninja Assassin” is, the movie does have its flaws.  The biggest one is that the director spends too much time focusing on Raizo’s backstory, which makes the movie drag quite a bit in the middle.  There’s also a lot of CGI blood that looks great at some points, and really fake in others.

In the end though, those problems don’t matter, because the movie does such an amazing job with the action and the portrayal of ninjas in general that it overcomes any of the problems you may have with it.  Go see it, and be amazed at the power of the ninja.

4.5 out of 5 By the Time You See Them, You’re Already Deads

10-28-09: Dead Snow (DVD)

by the Matman

Two of my favorite movies take place in the snow! The Empire Strikes Back and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service all contained memorable scenes that took place in powdery white snow. Add to that Nazi’s, zombies and a couple hot girls (and their dumb boyfriends) and you have the makings of the greatest movie of all time.

Dead Snow is a film that has gotten a lot of hype and justifiably. Granted it falls into the formula of vacationing college kids go somewhere they shouldn’t, drink, party and then get massacred. Here the killing machine is not one guy but a bunch of them. Zombies in fact…lots of them. Ones that run, kill and eat. It seems the only humanity they have kept is their Einsatzgruppen ways. The Einsatzgruppen were a group of Nazi soldiers who during World War 2 would go into a village, terrorize and murder any and everyone. History shows they were the worst of the worst. In Dead Snow, a group of them terrorized a village in Norway until the townsfolk rose up against them and finished them off. Almost 60 years later, they’re back!

So as our college students settle in for Easter Break in a mountain cabin, a knock comes on the door. Here a traveler invites himself in (and they let him in), complains about the coffee and tells them of the evil that lives in the woods. After freaking them all out he bids adieu and then ends up being eaten by a Nazi zombie in his tent! Then the slaughter begins. Some gruesome ‘kills’ happen and much blood and intestines get stretched over the snow and for 90 moinutes you wonder who if any will survive.

Dead Snow is not original in any way, but is a ton of fun. I may not have liked it as much as I did if the zombies weren’t Nazi’s, but they were so I did. Anyone who ever read Weird War Tales will appreciate this film for the historical stuff. There were so many cool scenes that I thought were even ‘more scary’ because it was bright out. Director Tommy Wirkola did a great job with the uniforms, the plot and the actors. Every victim had something that made you feel bad for them as their head was lopped off or intestines chewed. In some scenes the tension was a bit nerve wracking. And would you believe, there were even some funny moments, too? The only thing I didn’t like was the voice actors in the dub. They seemed to reading the script, not living it. It was much better in its natural Norwegian, but it’s hard to follow the action when you’re trying to read the screen. I was hoping I was going to watch the greatest movie of all time, but instead I watched just a very good horror film; solid, entertaining and fun film but not the greatest story of all time.

Matman Rating: 4 out of 5 gut checks

10-4-09: Anvil - The Story Of Anvil (DVD)

by Matman

Anvil were at the forefront of the speed / thrash metal scene in the early 1980’s. Before Metallica and Megadeth, before Anthrax and Slayer…there was Anvil. This four piece Canadian band had their ‘15 minutes of fame’ and that was it. But the band continued on to this day, gigging around
Canada and releasing their music independently. Here is where we join the party.

'Anvil – The Story Of Anvil' is a real life Spinal Tap that is not meant to be funny or playing into hard rock stereotypes. In this documentary we see the struggles of a band that doesn’t want to quit. Vocalist / Guitarist ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner have every curve thrown at them all on film. From a disastrous tour of
Europe, to almost killing a club owner in Prague to record company rejection, this film is an emotional rollercoaster. You cannot help but fall in love with Lips; he’s so enthusiastic and excited about everything he does and his passion for the band. So when things happen to him like Michael Schenker and Carmine Appice blowing him off, you feel the hurt and pain. When they play in front of ten fans in a German club your heart breaks because there is no actors…this is real. There are some incredible moments with Lips and Robb where you see the bond these two have and some interviews with family members that will make you smile and shed a tear.

I was not a fan of Anvil but I remember them vividly. As a reader of Kerrang (a British music magazine), I used to see them all the time. The Brit press pushed hard for this band. I even remember getting the free flexi disc in a magazine that made me go out and get their classic album ‘Metal On Metal’ but that was it for me! I loved me the Raven and the Motorhead, but not so much Anvil.

This movie is incredible; real, emotional and passionate. You don’t need to be a fan of the band, the genre or even Canada to take something from this. Director Sasha Gervasi was a lifetime fan who set out to chronicle the current state of Anvil. What has happened is a resurgence of the band that somehow makes all the heartbreak we saw on screen a little easier to deal with. Like ‘Rocky’ the film is a lesson in perseverance. Like ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, the movie makes you laugh at the silliness of the music we all love.

Matman Rating: 5 out of 5 metal clichés

9-30-09: Superman / Batman - Public Enemies (DVD)

by Matman

When things go bad (economy, quality of life), people do some crazy things. They give into desperation and make choices completely out of character. When someone steps in and offers hope and a way out people bite. Even if this man is Lex Luthor!

Here is the premise of the latest from DC Animated; Superman / Batman: Public Enemies. Luthor’s presidency is filled with success; low crime rate, thriving economy and happy citizens. The bad side of this is heroes like Captain Atom, Black Lightning and Power Girl have become agents for the government. They work for Luthor (as he says later so they don’t work against him) and after trying to convince Superman to work for the President, he turns it up a notch. Some incredible moments between Batman and Superman in both talking and action show why these two are the best team in comics. In a ferocious battle with Metallo (worth the rental alone) and the time following, the two share some incredible moments helping one another and poking each other at the same time.

If this wasn’t enough, a Kryptonite meteor is heading towards earth. This could be bad news for everyone, especially those folks living on the earth.

The best part of this movie is when a two billion dollar bounty is put on Superman by Luthor. This brings out every cool villain in the Dc Universe. Grodd, Captain Cold, Silver Banshee, Mongul, Nightshade and almost of others make cool cameos. Even some crappy villains show up to get into the action. The fun for you will be trying to name them all. But the movie also has some great hero moments. Here we see (I believe for the first time in animation) Billy Batson utter his magic word. Plenty more geek moments I won’t spoil for you. And the last five minutes will make you miss Justice League Unlimited even more.

The story is based on Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness’ work on the Superman / Batman title. In some scenes the heroes look a little too muscular in the legs, but for the most part works very well, The voices are all the right players (Tim Daily, Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown in the roles they made their own) and just make this, dare I say, the perfect superhero animated film!

Yup, I just said it!

Matman Rating: 5 Out Of 5 No Second Terms 

9-12-09: 9 Review

by the Matman

I don’t know anything about the origins of this movie; what the writer / director envisioned when creating this, but I just know it was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. Wow that wasn’t much of a review was it? Now I must explain…

‘9’ is an animated film that has an incredible message and a lot of emotion. At the same time it’s a simple movie about trying to find your way during some bad times. The story centers around a scientist who creates a machine that can help humanity out of its problems. Unfortunately, in the hands of a totalitarian dictator, the machine snaps, creates more machines and then turns them on humanity. In the professors final moments he creates nine rag doll type things and breathes his soul in each of them. Each one has a unique trait of the professor and is given a number painted on their backs. He is finishing 9 when he dies, leaving him hanging in a work area until he awakes and … the adventure begins.

'9’ is visually stunning! The animation is so alive you forget you are watching non living things. From the opening sequences to the final battle, the film is flawless. Each character (numbered 1 to 9) has its own unique look and is voiced by someone who fits the personality of the actor. Elijah Wood, Crispin Glover, John C. Reilly and Jennifer Connelly are just a few who add to the brilliance. Something else I loved about ‘9’ is the timeline. From the flashback scenes of humanities genocide, the weaponry and settings look like pre World War Two. From the artillery to the ‘REVOLT!’ poster hanging on the wall, it looked like 1930’s
England. I thought that gave it a nostalgic feel that balanced out the advanced tech. Brilliant music score including “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” fit just right.

I think the time hasn’t been better for a film like ‘9’. It’s an animated film that has a target audience 13 and above. It’s dark, scary at times and certainly not for the little ones. This was evident by the 8 or 9 year old screaming in terror until her mother took her out of the theatre. There haven’t been many films like this made for the early teen audience. It’s the story of friendship, hope and doing the right thing even when the odds are against you.

Please make ‘9’ the next movie you see. And be ready to be entertained and enlightened. If you have a teenager in your life, take them. There is nothing to be embarrassed of except the tears you may shed at the end.  

Matman Rating – 5 out of 5 'Stitchpunks'

8-22-09:  District 9 Review

by Brian LeTendre

“District 9” is an amazing first effort by director Neil Blomkamp that is a sci-fi take on apartheid.  The movie is directly inspired by the forced relocations that took place in Cape Town, South Africa under the Group Areas Act in the late 1960’s.  

The story in “District 9” involves alien refugees (called “prawns”) that were effectively stranded on earth twenty years ago when their mother ship stalled over Johannesburg, South Africa.  The aliens were segregated into an area that became known as District 9, a shantytown/slum that over the years has become a permanent home to the aliens and their families.  The movie opens with the initiation of a forced relocation effort by a government agency that goes bad when one of the government agents comes into contact with a substance that begins changing him into one of the aliens.  He then is faced with becoming a lab experiment for the South African government, or allying himself with the aliens in their attempt to escape from earth and head home.

The lead character Wikus van der Merwe is sympathetic at times, but never likable.  He never could be, as he embodies the ignorance of segregation.  He only develops a kinship with the aliens when it becomes clear that he will become one of them, and he realizes too late that they aren’t that different from him after all.  Wikus is the mirror that the director is holding up for people to examine their own beliefs through.  At best, we’re supposed to feel uncomfortable that we even relate to Wikus at all. 

The storyline is great; however the pacing is up and down, especially in act 2 when things drag a bit.  The final third of the movie moves very quickly though, and the openness of the ending will give you something to think about as you leave the theater.  The visuals are fantastic, and it’s really hard to believe that the movie was made for a paltry $30 million, as it looks better than some of this summer’s big-budget blockbusters (like “GI Joe”).  I also noticed a lot of “Halo”-inspired tech in the movie, as Jackson and Blomkamp before the project turned into “District 9.”  I kept thinking that I’d love to see what these guys could have done with that property.

I would highly recommend “District 9” whether you’re a fan of sci-fi or not, as it’s a great example of low-budget movie making and has a message that will stay with you long after you’re done watching it.

4.5 out of 5 Go Learn About Apartheids

8-22-09: Batman: Gotham Knight (DVD)

by Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe

American Superheroes have been creeping into Japanese entertainment for years. Starting with the 1978 Toei Company program Spider Man, Japanese entertainment has had a small, but persistent interest in the idea of a superhero. It hasn’t been until recent years however, that Japanese entertainment companies have begun full out partnerships with the American comic book industry in regards to superheroes. One of the first fruits of these partnerships came in 2000 with Kia Asamiya’s Batman: Child of Dreams. This acclaimed graphic novel was one of the first times American audiences got to see a classic icon through Japanese eyes. Not only was their take on the superhero aspect of the character a little different, but the very way Bruce Wayne was portrayed had a very Japanese cultural feel to it.

So it’s not surprising that D.C would look to expand this formula, with the recent release of Batman: Gotham Knight. A collection of Anime shorts, in the tradition of The Animatrix, the stories were written by Americans, several DC comics writers. The animation for each segment was given to separate anime companies. These include such studios as Studio 4°C (Transformers Animated), Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), and Madhouse Studio (Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust). 

Overall, the experiment works well. GothamCity is made to be an anime city. Brooding, dark, and strange, it gives one the feeling that in another few hundred years it will turn into the cyber-punk city world of Akira.  Bruce Timm (Batman the Animated Series) returns as a producer on the film, and his touch is evident through the entire work.

The absolute best choice that the production staff made however, is bring in Kevin Conroy to voice Batman. For the few folks reading this who may have been looking the other way, Conroy has voiced Batman in most of the DC produced animated series since Batman the Animated Series in 1992. For many of us that grew up watching the incarnations of the Dark Knight, he has become the voice of Batman. 

They also give the long-time fans a tip of the hat in the very first segment “Have I Got a Story for You.”.  This segment was based off a Frank Robbin’s short called "The Batman Nobody Knows". Many fans of BTAS will know it from the episode “Legends of the Dark Knight” also based from that same short story. The basic story covers a group of kids discussing what they think Batman really is, and comparing stories (in this version, stories of their encounters with him). The only thing that bothered me about this segment was when Batman really shows up, he looks like an out of shape and overweight version of the character that doesn’t seem to match the rest of the segments. It was an odd ending.

In “Crossfire”, the second segment, we get to see Crispus Allan paired with Anna Ramirez (the Renee Montoya stand in from The Dark Knight.) in a very interesting character piece. The fact that Ramirez speaks of Batman as a symbol of hope, and the last line that Batman says to them “Lt. Gordon is a good judge of character” has a terrible and sad irony to it, considering what we learn in The Dark Knight. As a character study it’s effective and powerful.

“Field Test” gives us Lucius Fox voiced by the talented Kevin Michael Richardson. The style of the art is very much like Batman Child of Dreams. The story is simple: Batman tests out an electromagnetic field generator, designed to act as a force field to deflect small arms fire away from him. The results are disastrous, and return us to the theme of why Bruce hates guns so much. It’s an excellent little piece as a character study into his thinking, although as a story it’s a little lean.

“In Darkness Dwells” Batman goes up against both Killer Croc and the Scarecrow. Out of all the shorts, this one feels most like it came directly from a DC comic. It’s a grand action piece, although the actual structure seems to be a little disjointed. Keeping with the idea that Christopher Nolan has said all his Batman villains will be realistic. Croc is a hulking man with a skin condition and filed teeth, not a mutant alligator.  For pure action, it’s a great short, but it lacks much story or character insight. Also, the animation style here makes Batman look very supernatural, almost having him turn into shadow and flowing along surfaces, and its uncertain if its supposed to be a stylistic choice, or if the animators really meant for him to have some kind of power. 

“Working Through Pain” divides itself between flashbacks of Bruce’s past as he searches for a way to overcome pain, and Batman as he struggles to return wounded to the safety of his cave. The structure works well, and the flashback story is interesting. The Batman section has some amazing images, but seems more to intrude on the flashback story, save for one image- The very last one. It haunts the viewer with a clear sight of the crushed and frightened boy that still lives deep inside Bruce Wayne.  David McCallum does an amazing and tender Alfred as well in this segment.

The last segment “Deadshot”, deals with the assassin and his quest to finish a job. Well paced, it’s a mini-version of the theme of the Dark Knight movie. How far must you go to stop a monster, and do you become a monster when you go there? The twist of the tale is pretty obvious from the beginning, so it doesn’t hold many surprises. Still, you don’t need to fall for the twist to enjoy the piece.

Overall, this experiment is well done and enjoyable. Some shorts will be received better than others, but the feel of what makes Batman such an icon is present through all the tales. As a blending of American and Japanese styles, some segments seem to work better than others, but all are at the least interesting and new. I highly recommend it as a rental, and if you enjoyed the Animatrix it’s a film you ought to own.

4 Batarangs out of 5

8-12-09:  GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra Review

by Brian LeTendre

I’ll be honest.  I fully expected to hate every second of “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.”  From the second Stephen Sommers was hired to direct it, to the removal of the iconic individual outfits, to the casting of Marlon Wayans, I was pretty sure this would be a “Ghost Rider” caliber movie.  So when I actually enjoyed the movie, I had to take a few days and digest just why I liked it before I wrote my review.

“GI Joe: TRoC” is by no means the GI Joe movie that I wanted to see.  That movie would have starred Quick Kick, Bazooka, Barbecue and Snowjob fighting the Dreadnoks and Serpentor on CobraIsland.  That movie is never getting made.  However, “GI Joe: TRoC” is a fun movie that brought me back to the days of playing Joes with my buddies and coming up with off the wall scenarios that the Joes had to get themselves out of.  More importantly though, it’s a movie that is appropriate for kids, and the attitude behind the movie has a lot more in common with Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” than Michael Bay’s “Transformers.”

“GI Joe: TRoC” is somewhat of an origin story, detailing Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord’s (Marlon Wayans) recruitment into GI Joe as they try to stop Destro from creating international chaos with nano-bombs that destroy anything they come into contact with.  That’s the short version.  The long version features romance between Duke and the Baroness, Scarlett and Ripcord, the origins of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, and the unveiling of Cobra Commander.

Like most Stephen Sommers films, the movie is light on exposition and heavy on fast-paced action.  The action scenes are well done overall, but the special effects look dated, particularly during the “Accelerator Suit” sequence.  I also had problems with the way the action scenes were filmed, with shaky camera work and too many quick cuts making it difficult to follow at times.  The acting was bad, although Marlon Wayons was pretty decent as Ripcord, reigning in his usual antics to acceptable levels.  Joseph Gordon Levitt was surprisingly good as Cobra Commander too.  The character design was terrible, from Snake Eyes’ molded lips to the generic Joe outfits, and Cobra Commander’s mask is a travesty.

So what the heck did I like about it?  That’s a good question.  I guess I’d have to say the spirit of the movie.  I thought Sommers did a decent job of making the story seem coherent and easy to follow.  All of the humor in the movie was good natured, and I can’t think of anything (save for a couple of s-bombs) that was inappropriate about the movie in any way.  The romance angles were cheesy but harmless, most of the violence was bloodless, and everyone embraced the over the top nature of the action.  In those ways, I felt that it was actually a lot like the cartoon, which is what I grew up with and love so much.  

At the end of the day, the movie, the toys the cartoons—they’re for kids.  I have kids, and after seeing “Transformers 2,” I was pissed at Micheal Bay for making something I couldn’t share with them.  Stephen Sommers made a GI Joe movie that I can share with my kids, and despite all of its problems, I enjoyed it.

3.5 out of 5 Nano-Bombs

6-15-09:  Disney Pixar's 'Up' Review

by Brian LeTendre

When I took my soon to be 6 year old daughter to see Disney/Pixar's “Up” this weekend, I was completely unprepared for one of the most profound emotional experiences I've ever had watching a film.  

“Up” follows the story of Carl Fredricksen, a young boy who comes together with the love of his life Ellie over their mutual idolization of world traveling adventurer Charles Muntz.  Carl and Ellie dreamed of traveling to the mythical region of Paradise Falls in South America, a place they had seen through the adventures of their favorite hero.   The two grow up and get married, and share a great life together before Ellie passes away.  They never made it to Paradise Falls though, and when  78-year old Carl is on the verge of losing the house he and Ellie spent their lives in, he decides to make the trek to Paradise Falls—in his house.  Carl ties 20,000+ balloons to his home and turns it into an airship.  He sets sail, content to make this last journey alone, until he finds a stowaway in the form of Russell, a young “Wilderness Explorer” who is trying to earn his badge for assisting the elderly.  

I won't ruin any more of the plot for you, as the most important part of the movie for me was the first twenty minutes.  I can honestly say that I have never been as emotionally affected by a movie as I was in those first twenty minutes.  Seeing Carl meet Ellie, and then seeing a montage of their entire life together was one of the great sequences ever put to film, in my opinion.  I was crying like a baby, and I wasn't the only one.  I think every parent in the theater was openly weeping.  The way Pete Docter and Bob Peterson directed that sequence was brilliant, and the score by Michael Giacchino was perfect.  You can't help but feel the love that Carl had for Ellie, and the feelings of loss and guilt after her passing.

About halfway into the movie, the relationship between Carl and Russell evolves, and the second half deals with what that relationship means to the lives of both of them.  There are some pretty emotional moments here as well, and they're all dealt with in a very satisfying way.

Now don't get me wrong, this is still a movie that will really appeal to kids, mostly because of the high-flying adventures that Carl and Russell have in Paradise Falls, and the cast of colorful characters they meet along the way.  For adults however, this movie will affect them on a completely different level.

I could gush for 5,000 more words about how great this movie is, but all I really need to say is that everyone, whether you have children or not, should go and see this movie.  It's easily one of my top ten movies of all time, and will no doubt be looked at as a modern day classic.

6 out of 5 Masterpieces

5-29-09:  Drag Me To Hell Review

by Brian LeTendre

Sam Raimi fans rejoice!  “Drag Me To Hell” is without a doubt the spiritual successor to the “Evil Dead” series, and a love letter to fans of Raimi’s films.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you already know the entire premise—Alison Lohman plays Christine Brown, a loan officer who denies a poor old woman an extension because she is bucking for a promotion.  Unfortunately, the old woman happens to be a gypsy, and she curses Christine to be stalked by a demon for three days and then dragged into the fiery abyss.  As she fights to free her soul, Christine enlists the help of her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) as well as a couple of psychics.  As her final hours approach, Christine becomes more and more willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of the curse.

Sam Raimi uses every gag in his repertoire in this film.  Anyone who’s grown up watching his movies will have a field day spotting them.  While it isn’t as gory as the original “Evil Dead,” Raimi pushes the PG-13 envelope with plenty of gross-out scenes, and the movie doesn’t feel handcuffed by the rating.  The trademark Raimi humor is all over this as well, and both Matt and I were laughing out loud during several parts, like when Christine has a knock down, drag out fight with the old gypsy woman in the parking garage.  It’s vile and hysterical.  He also does a great job with the score, and uses sound very effectively throughout the film, something you don’t see much of anymore.

Alison Lohman is absolutely great in this movie.  She channels Bruce Campbell on more than one occasion, and her transformation over the course of the movie is fun to watch.  She also gets the crap beaten out of her throughout the film, and she totally embraces it.  The supporting cast is mediocre, and Justin Long is actually a disappointment in the film, but it doesn’t matter.  Lohman carries the film.

I absolutely loved this movie, and it’s the most fun I’ve had watching a horror movie in a good long time.  I hope it does well, because I don’t want to wait another 22 years for Sam Raimi to make another horror flick.  He’s just too darn good at it.

5 out of 5 Gypsy Curses

5-18-09:  Tales of the Black Freighter Review

by Brian LeTendre

“Tales of the Black Freighter” takes the animated story that was cut from the theatrical release of “Watchmen” and packages it with a faux documentary about the first Nite Owl’s autobiography, “Under the Hood.” 

“Tales of the Black Freighter” is the pirate story that a character in the original Watchmen comic was reading.  The story was about the captain of a ship that has been raided by the pirate vessel The Black Freighter.  The lone survivor of the raid the captain tries to get back home in time to warn everyone that the pirates are coming for them.  In order to get home, he has to build a raft with the bodies of his dead crew members, and along the way he starts to lose his sanity, believing the corpses are talking to him.  By the time he gets home, he’s mad, and he proceeds to attack innocent townspeople and eventually, his own wife, believing the town to be already occupied by pirates.  The story ends with the Black Freighter showing up and the captain swimming out to join its crew, having become one of them.

The animation is excellent, and it reminded me of “Aeon Flux.”  Gerard Butler does a great job as narrator and the voice of the main character.  And while the story is somewhat of an allegory for Adrian Veidt’s story in “Watchmen,” the animated short stands well on its own.

Also on the disc is “Under the Hood,” a 60-minutes style faux documentary about the autobiography of Hollis Mason.  Both Stephen McHattie (Hollis Mason) and Carla Gugino (Sally Jupiter) reprise their roles from the movie, and the documentary does a great job at filling out the background of the Watchmen world, including the formation of the Minutemen.  It’s an interesting  elaboration on some of the Watchmen characters, and for someone that hasn’t seen the film, this would actually be a good thing to watch first.

Overall, “ Tales of the Black Freighter”  not only gives fans of Watchmen an excellent companion piece to the movie, but the animated feature also tells a story that can stand on its own.  However, with the “extended edition” of the movie coming this summer (which will at least include the animated feature), I would suggest renting this one.

3.5 Out of 5 Corpse Rafts

5-10-09: Star Trek (2009)

When I first heard of the ‘Year One’ hitting the Star Trek world I thought this could be good. It worked very well with James Bond, so the early adventures could shoot a fresh breath into a tired old franchise.  And it could be a nice welcome into a world I never felt comfortable in. As pictures of the crew began to pop up, I got more interested and when full blown trailers began to surface… I was ready to go!

So here we are…opening day of Star Trek! What I was hoping for was a good science fiction movie with some thought, emotion, cool effects and a lot of fun. That is exactly what I got!
From beginning to end, the film moves at breakneck speed. Director J.J. Abrams somehow manages to get a whole lot in and keeps your interest. Star Trek (that’s it, just Star Trek) explores the reasons how Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy got into StarfleetAcademy, all ended up together and became the heroes we know today. Chris Pine plays James Kirk; restless and headstrong but a brilliant leader. He plays on the ‘over acting’ of William Shatner to create a compelling and believable Kirk. Zachary Quinto not only portrays Mr. Spock but is Mr. Spock. He plays the role perfectly; emotionless, a bit cold and very tormented. This film shows their first encounters as they stumble their way to mutual understanding and friendship. Karl Urban adds understanding to the role of Dr. McCoy. If you ever wondered why he was the way he was (crotchety and always complaining), just watch. I didn’t recognize Eric Bena as Nero! He is compelling in his reasons for revenge and even respectful. But don’t mess with him. The rest of the cast featuring John Cho (Mr. Sulu), Simon Pegg (Mr. Scott), Anton Yelchin (Mr. Checkov) and the lovely Zoe Saldana (Uhura) all do a great job in connecting with their characters with some great nods to the past with classic catch phrases and mannerisms.

In the previews I would see on TV I kept thinking ‘boy the special effects look like Serenity’ and that is how it looked on the big screen as well. In a time when anyone can do anything and make you think something else, it’s refreshing when the special effects are NOT the movie; subtle and brilliant, especially the space battles. The films score was good, but not great. The music just filled up space and didn’t add anything. Missing was the brass heavy Star Trek theme and was replaced by something lighter and less memorable.

This film is one of the more enjoyable movies I’ve seen in years. There is no Trekkers Emersion Courses you need to attend to have this make sense and I think that is a big plus for the movie. Like Casino Royale did for Bond, Star Trek brings a classic franchise to a new audience in a way they can relate to and understand. I can see (and understand) where diehard Trek fans will curse this movie and rue the day it was released. But if I can handle, embrace and love the new Bond, you can at least give new Spock a try. What’s the worse that could happen?  

Matman rating - 5 out of 5 Vulcan Death Grips!

5-9-09:  X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review

by Brian LeTendre

I’ve really started to like Wolverine as a character over the past couple of years, and I’ve never had a problem with how Hugh Jackman portrays him in the movies.  I was a little worried about the character being spun-off into his own movie, but with other characters like Blob, Gambit and Deadpool filling out the supporting cast, I had some hope it would be ok, despite the PG-13 rating.

“XMO: Wolverine” is a reimagining of the origin story of Wolverine.  It’s the classic “boy loses dad, then kills real dad, then teams up with crazy half-brother, then leaves, then finds a girlfriend, then loses girlfriend, then gets an Adamantium skeleton, then gets screwed over, then seeks revenge, then teams up with crazy half-brother, then forgets who he is” story.

In terms of plot, the movie is a lot more linear and easier to follow than “X-Men 3”.  Seeing Logan and Creed fight through the ages was one of the highlights for me.  The cameos of Cyclops, Emma Frost and a few others were also pretty cool, even if they don’t necessarily match up with comic continuity.  There are a couple of MAJOR story blunders though, which I’ll get to below.

The action sequences in the movie are pretty well done overall, one of the highlights being when Wolverine takes down Agent Zero, as well as a chopper and a couple of vehicles after escaping from Stryker.  The fights between Logan and Creed are ok, but they never feel as visceral or intense as you would imagine they would.  The final fight was interesting in terms of the powers on display, and the destruction caused by the battle.  I thought the special effects were a mixed bag, with Wolverine’s claws looking particularly bad in places.  During the big scenes though, the effects held up well.

Now to the blunders I mentioned above.  My first big problem with the movie was the handling of Deadpool.  We got a nice taste of what could be in the beginning, when Wilson is the wise-cracking, forever babbling mercenary with crazy skills.  However, what they did with him in terms of making him the final villain is ridiculous and unnecessary.  The “combined powers mutant thingee” could have been handled any number of different ways, and desecrating the character of Deadpool was a bad idea.  That turn of events pulled the rug out from under the movie for me, and erased a lot of what I thought was going pretty well up to that point.  Not even the alternate “after credits” ending could reverse the damage done with Deadpool.

My second big problem is the MAGIC FORGETTING BULLETS that Stryker shoots Wolverine with.  Really?  Really?  This is actually worse than the Deadpool thing, because it represents some of the laziest storytelling I’ve ever seen in a movie.  Terrible, awful storytelling.  I mean, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about the properties of Adamantium, but I didn’t see making people forget who they are on the list.  By the magic bullet logic, wouldn’t the fact that Wolverine’s entire brain is encased in Adamantium mean that he would be constantly forgetting everything?  He would be like that guy from “Memento,” or the Ellen DeGeneres fish from “Finding Nemo.”  He’d never know who he is, where he was, or whose side he was on.

The fact that both of the biggest problems in the movie happen in the third act makes me wonder if the writers knew where they wanted the story to go once they started it.  Perhaps those rumored rewrites and reshoots had to do with the third act, and things got changed significantly, or had to be rushed.  We’ll probably never know, but I hope there’s a halfway decent reason why a movie that was rolling along fairly well stumbled so badly with the finish line in sight.

Those two major issues aside, I did enjoy a good portion of “XMO: Wolverine,” and I liked it much more than “X3” as a whole.  I wouldn’t mind seeing another entry into the series (which I hear is already being planned due to the big opening weekend).  As far as spending your hard-earned money on it though, I would wait for the rental on this one.  

2.5 out of 5 Magic Forgetting Bullets

4-20-09:  Harper's Island Review

by Brian LeTendre

At first glance, “Harper's Island” is a terrible show.  Mediocre acting and clichéd storytelling give this modern day slasher story the feel of an 80's B-horror movie.  After watching the first two hours however, I realized that Harper's Island knows exactly what it is, and the show embraces that 80's vibe so completely, it provides some good old fashioned campy fun.

Harper's Island follows the story of Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy), a young woman who returns to the island she grew up on six years after her mother was murdered by a serial killer.  She has come home to attend the wedding of her childhood friend and take part in a week of festivities leading up to the big day.  Upon arriving home, Abby has to deal with the relationships she left behind, including the one with her father, the local sheriff who was unable to stop the killer from taking his wife.  She also gets caught up in a new wave of murders that has the wedding guests dropping like flies.  

As I mentioned, both the acting and the storytelling are mediocre at best, with everyone playing to an archetype (the town douche, the drug abusing sibling, the good guy who never left home, etc.), and lots of overacting.  Harry Hamlin plays an eccentric uncle of the groom is so over the top it's almost a shame he gets killed in the first episode.  The story at first seems determined to defy all of the standard horror movie cliches, but quickly becomes predictable in the other direction, with red herrings being thrown out left and right.

But somehow, it actually works.  I don't know if its the surprising amount of gore for a TV show, or the fact that it evokes memories of such classics as “April Fool's Day,” but I found myself sucked in and actually liking the show.   I'll continue watching as long as it doesn't take itself too seriously, as the show provides a nice change of pace from some of the more “serious” dramas currently on the air.

3 out of 5 Whodunits

4-14-09:  Parks and Recreation Review

by Brian LeTendre

I'll get right to it—if the pilot is any indication, Parks and Recreation is not a very good show.  Brought to you by the people behind “The Office,” this show is an uninspired variation of that one, which itself was merely adapted from a popular Biritish show.  After sitting through the first half hour, I’m left wondering if the creative team is better off getting their ideas from across the pond.

Amy Poehler (who I really like) stars as Leslie Knoppe, a Park and Rec official in a small town.  Leslie finds her dream project when a local nurse (Rashida Jones) brings to her attention a vacant lot that poses a health and safety hazard.  Leslie decides to make it her mission to clean up the lot and develop a park on the site.

Parks and Recreation is a carbon copy of The Office in terms of its formula.  The show is presented in mockumentary format, the cast consists of socially awkward human beings that are terrible at their jobs, and the laughs are supposed to come from their awkward interactions and daily failures.  The problem is that the writing is terrible, giving Poehler and the rest of the cast very little to work with.  The laughs just simply aren't there, and everything feels forced.  A great example is when Poehler falls into the giant pit at the vacant lot.  I would imagine that on paper, the moment was supposed to be hysterical.  It just came off as completely predictable and boring.

I may watch another episode to see if the show can find a pulse, but I'd be surprised if it's not canceled before the end of its six-episode run.

1 out of 5 Poor Imitations

4-11-09: The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)

by Matman

When I sat down to watch this film, I was a bit worried. After all, the 1951 original is one of my favorite films of all time. But I always thought if done right a remake could be an incredible film. The film made over $230 million dollars (cost $80 million to make), so financially did well, but reviews were not good! I forgot all about that and wanted to watch it for what it was.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) stars Keanu Reeves and the very lovely and talented Jennifer Connelly. Reeves plays Klaatu, an alien who has come to warn humankind that their time is up. He has been sent by an alien collective to eradicate humans, but leave the earth because it a planet with the rare ability to sustain life. After a jumpy soldier shoots Klaatu, he is sent to a military hospital, nursed back to health and then escapes. Before he escapes he meets Dr. Benson who doesn’t like the fact that the US government is doing nothing to reason with the traveler. As typical humans do, they try to blow up his craft and take out GORT, the large robotic partner of Klaatu. But as they try to destroy him, it’s revealed that he is made up of nano-machines that when unleashed are like a swarm of locus. Klaatu has no problem with this mission until he begins to see love; love of a mom for her step son and the love that an alien living on earth has for his adopted planet. But before the planet is wiped out, animals will be spared.      

The plot is basic, but so was the original. Keanu Reeves is one dimensional in his acting, but in this role it should be. Jennifer Connelly is amazing as usual (yup, she can act) and is very convincing in her relationship with Jaden Smith. Add Kathy Bates, John Hamm and John Cleese  and you have a very strong cast.

The special effects were good, not great. It looked good and worked, but didn’t boggle my mind.

I may have thought different of this movie if I saw it in the theatre, but as a rental it is quite enjoyable. Fast paced, fun and still makes you think how would the world react to aliens showing up in Central Park.

Matman Rating – 3.5 out of 5 Klaatu barada nikto’s!

3-30-09:  Monsters vs. Aliens Review

by Brian Letendre

Monsters vs. Aliens (MvA) was not the movie I had expected it to be, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable family movie with a great message for kids.

MvA follows the story of Susan Murphy, a young woman who is about to marry her self-centered, weatherman boyfriend, when she gets hit by a meteor in a freak accident.  The strange properties of the meteor make her grow to over 50 ft. tall, and she inadvertently destroys everything around her before being corralled by the military, and taken prisoner.  Susan is now classified as a ‘monster,” and is taken to a secret facility to live out her days with other monsters, Dr. Cockroach (super scientist fused with cockroach), the Missing Link, BOB (an indestructible blob), and Insectosaurus, a giant grub.   When Susan has finally started to accept her fate, she is given a chance at freedom, as the government needs the monsters to repel an alien invasion.

The first 20 minutes of MvA are filled a lot of action, and then the pace slows considerably.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we get to know the characters, and the real theme of the movie starts to show through.  MvA is really about Susan learning to embrace what makes her different and finding people who will accept her for who she really is.  It’s a great message, and the movie does an excellent job of showing Susan come to that realization.  There’s a strong sense of empowerment to her character as the movie goes on, which judging from my 5 year old’s reaction, really resonated with younger audiences.

The action scenes are very well done and they serve to bookend the movie.  There’s also plenty of nods to both monster and alien movies for parents to catch.   All of the characters have genuinely funny moments, with Seth Rogen as BOB stealing most of the scenes he’s in.  The star of the show is definitely Reese Witherspoon as Susan though, and she does a great job overall.

All in all, Monsters vs. Aliens is a great family film with a strong message about embracing your individuality.  Take the kids to see this one.

4 out of 5 Insectosauri

3-17-09:  Race to Witch Mountain Review

by Brian LeTendre

I am a huge fan of "The Rock," or Dwayne Johnson, as he’s known to younger audiences now.  I’ve always been disappointed that he hasn’t turned out to be the next big action star, as much of what he’s done has been skewed to younger audiences (he’s hosting the Nick Teen Choice Awards this year as well).  As I watched “Race to Witch Mountain” with my 5 year old this past weekend though, I’m actually kind of glad that Johnson is doing kid movies now, as he’s a great action hero for the kiddies.

"Race to Witch Mountain" is sort of a reboot of the old "Escape to Witch Mountain" movie.  Adults will find some nice nods to the old movie here, but kids have no idea that it even exists, so it’s somewhat irrelevant.   The main story is that Jack Bruno (Johnson) is an ex-con making a living as a cab driver in Las Vegas.  His former employer is trying to drag Jack back into a life of crime, while he’s just trying to get on with his life.  Long story short, he ends up taking on a couple of passengers that are not of this world.  They’re actually kids from another planet that are trying to find their lost spaceship so they can go home and save their planet.  Throw in a government agency trying to capture the kids, and an intergalactic bounty hunter trying to kill them, and you’ve got the makings of a fast-paced chase movie that is both action-packed and very fun.

The Rock does a great job with what he’s given, playing the normal guy thrust into a crazy situation, sarcastically responding to the kids’ very literal way of communicating with him.  The kids do a nice job as well, and Carla Gugino has a nice role as the scientist who is trying to prove aliens actually exist.

I mentioned the movie is fast-paced, and it does move along briskly, which doesn’t allow adults to dwell on some of the more cliched plot points, or kids to get bored with too much story.  Car chases, explosions, men in scary suits, it’s all here and for the most part, works pretty well.

Overall, “Race to Witch Mountain” is a fun family movie that does a great job of walking the line between having lots of action and being too scary for kids.  My five year old loved it.

4 out of 5 Alien Kids

3-14-09: Wonder Woman Animated Movie

by Matman

I love the character of Wonder Woman… when she is done well! Like Captain America and Superman, if not presented just right, it can pretty bad. So I was very excited when it was announced that Wonder Woman was going to get her own cartoon. Not as excited as if it was Teen Titans – The Judas Contract, but that is another rant for another time. DC has really hit their stride in the animated world, more than in the feature films, so there is an excitement to watching this. 

The movie begins with an origin / look at the Amazon’s past. At the hands of Aries, the Amazons have suffered greatly. Following a bloody and very graphic battle, the Amazon’s are given the island of Themyscira to rebuild their society.

As the years have gone on, Queen Hypolita longs for a child and with clay and magic Princess Diana is born. She has fighting skills like no other, but dreams to one day unite mans world with her own. To help this, Steve Trevor crash lands on the island and gives Diana a chance to come to man’s world. When there she sees (or perceives) that women are forced to be weak and dependant on men to protect them and get pens that fall under desks.

The story moves a fast pace, but it’s not distracting. It fills in the story and origin and brings the viewer up to speed on who Wonder Woman is and the role of the Amazons! The animation is tight and stylized to fit the beauty of an Amazons, yet doesn’t make it ‘too cute or too sexy’. It just seems to happen naturally.  

Keri Russell (Felicity) and Nathan Fillion (Firefly) are perfect in their roles. The play between the characters is fun and there are quite a few ‘laugh out loud moments. The dialogue is natural and doesn’t seem to be just read off a script. Add Rosario Dawson, Virginia Madsen and Alfred Molina and you have a stellar cast that plays their parts quite nicely.

This was quite an enjoyable cartoon. But be warned, it is not all ages, The PG – 13 rating is for violence and there is plenty of it; sounds and all. The suggestive material is… well hard to explain to a 9 year old. She doesn’t need to hear a guy (animated or not) say ‘nice rack’. 

 Matman Rating – 4 out of 5 kicks to the groin! 

3-9-09:  Watchmen Review

by Brian LeTendre

Let’s just get this out of the way:  I am not a huge fan of the “Watchmen” comic.  I know that’s blasphemy to some, but I did not read it when it came out, and so it never became part of my comic fan foundation.  When I read “Watchmen” a few years ago, I enjoyed it, and I totally get why it’s such an important book, but it never had the same weight with me that it does with a lot of fans.

With that out of the way, I can say that the “Watchmen” movie is, in my opinion, the best comic movie I’ve ever seen.  The movie manages a feat that even the “Dark Knight” could not:  making a mature, credible comic movie that brings a believable universe to the screen, while also doing justice to the source material.  The movie only pulls a one punch, which is what keeps it from being perfect, but it is still an amazing achievement nonetheless.

If you’re reading this website, you know the story of “Watchmen” by now, and you’re probably much more familiar with it than I am.  For me, “Watchmen” is a brilliant character study of former superheroes who struggle to find their place in a world where man’s greatest threat is himself.  Ultimately, the human race has to be tricked into believing that there’s an outside threat capable of destroying them all, forcing them to stop destroying each other and learn to coexist.  “Watchmen” for me is not an action story, it’s not an adventure, it’s a tragedy, and it does not have a happy ending, because it makes me think about our own world today, and the fact that Ozymandias was right. 

The movie does an amazing job of bringing the comic characters to life.  Not since “Lord of the Rings” have I felt like a movie truly captured the essence of a character, and Rorschach may be the greatest translation of a comic character to the big screen ever.  He absolutely owns this movie.  There are moments where you see what really makes him tick, and they are heavy.  His story ends the only way it could, and Jackie Earl Haley was amazing in Rorschach’s final scene.   

I thought the rest of the casting was spot on as well, particularly Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian.  Both of them felt so right for their roles.  Morgan will get more credit, as his character was more over the top, but I thought Wilson did a great job with the contrast between Dreiberg and Nite Owl.  He also had a great performance in the third act. 

The world of Watchmen is familiar and unsettling at the same time.  It’s dark and gritty and violent, just like the one we live in.  I was completely immersed in “Watchmen’s” alternate reality, and there were times where I could imagine our world ending up the same as the one in the movie, if a few events had turned out differently. 

I think many “Watchmen” reviews are going to come down to the ending of the movie, and the choices that were made by Snyder and company that deviate from Moore’s work.  I also have problems with the ending, but not the same one as a lot of other people.  I am actually fine with getting rid of the giant squid.  Even with the change, the theme is still the same—mankind needs to unite against a greater threat.  It would be nice to see the original ending in the DVD, but I don’t feel that I’m missing anything if it’s not there.

My real problem with the ending is that it’s the one place where the movie lets up.  Right up through Rorschach’s final scene, the movie had me all the way—absolutely brilliant.  In fact, the movie could have ended with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre leaving Ozymandias in disgust, and then cut right to the journal, and it would have been perfect.  But there’s a little slice of a Hollywood ending** that is in between, and it feels out of sync with the rest of the movie.  It’s not terrible, it’s just unnecessary.  Anyone who’s stuck with the film to that point understands there won’t be a happy ending, and it just felt like Snyder tried to soften the blow by saying “See, there’s a little ray of sunshine for ya.”   

Outside of that one moment in the end, I thought “Watchmen” was just about perfect.  An incredible movie that stays with you long after you leave the theater.  I will be seeing it again. 

5 out of 5 Get Over It And Go See The Movie Alan Moore

**A friend of mine who knows Watchmen much better than me pointed out that the "Hollywood Moment" I had a problem with is actually consistent with the book.  So while I still don't think it fits with the rest of the story, it is faithful to Moore's work.

2-18-09:  Friday the 13th Review

by Brian LeTendre

Sigh.  You know, it really pains me to say this, but “Friday the 13th” is a very disappointing film.  It’s all the more disappointing because it has a great premise, a decent production level, and even one or two good actors in it.  Sadly though, the movie completely fails to deliver as either a reinvention of, or a new chapter in the “Friday the 13th” franchise.

Let’s start by focusing on the good.  In the first few minutes we basically get the ending of the original film, with Mrs. Voorhees being decapitated.  From there the story of this movie is that Jason has been livening in the remains of CampCrystal lake for the past umpteen years.  He’s like Rambo now, a survivalist that lives off the land.  As long as nobody bothers him or comes near his territory, everything’s cool.  But is they do bother him, well, you can probably figure out the rest.  I thought this was a great setup, giving the nod to Jason’s history, but setting up a new direction for the film.

Fast forward to the present--there’s a bunch a college kids that are vacationing at a house on Crystal Lake, getting ready for a weekend of partying and naughtiness.  But then things take a turn for the worse.  Enter Clay (“Supernatural’s” Jared Padalecki).  Clay is looking for his sister, who went missing six weeks ago in Jason’s neck of the woods (we actually get to see this in the beginning of the movie).   It’s through this subplot that one of the biggest mistakes of this film is made.  You see, Clay’s sister is actually still alive.  That’s right, folks.  Jason has been keeping her in his underground lair for the past six weeks.  Halfway through act three, the movie becomes about Clay rescuing his sister, and ceases to really be about Jason at all, as he’s just the crazy guy who kidnapped Clay’s sister.  

That storyline is a microcosm of my problem with the whole movie—it just never feels like a Jason movie.  The kills are completely boring and anti-climactic.  Jason basically kills everyone with his machete.  Long time fans know that a staple of the series are the inventive and brutal ways in which Jason uses everything around him to completely destroy people.  There’s none of that here.  I lost count of how many times I expected to see Jason do something over the top, and he just disappointed every time.  Here is a sample of the running  the conversation I had with my buddy:   “See that bug zapper?  He’s totally gonna kill—wait, he just stabbed the guy.  See that table saw?  He’s—oh, he just stabbed the guy.  See that—oh, just forget it!”  To be fair, there were a couple of non-machete kills, but they were totally lame as well.  Where’s the bending the dude in half?  How about the weed whacker to the face?  Head through the side of the RV?  Anything?   Come On!  And the ending?  It tries to invoke the original movie, but just comes across as completely unsurprising.

The worst thing for me was that I had high expectations for the film.  The two guys who wrote it also wrote the flawed but very fun “Freddy vs. Jason,” which was an absolute bloodbath.  The director had done the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake in 2003, which I thought was halfway decent (although I was never a huge “TCM” fan to begin with).  Between the creative team and the core concept, I really thought they got it.

If they had named the movie “The Outdoorsman Murders” or “Don’t Go to the Lakehouse” and just had some random guy killing people, this would have been an ok movie.  But as a “Friday the 13th” movie, it falls completely flat.   Unfortuantely, the movie made $42 million in the first weekend, so we’ll be seeing a sequel.  Let’s bring in a new director for the next one and get Kane Hodder back in the mask.

1 out of 5 Boooooorings

1-17-09:  My Bloody Valentine 3-D Review

by Brian LeTendre

My Bloody Valentine 3-D (MBV3D) is a fun, campy update of the 1981 slasher that does absolutely nothing new, but benefits from the 3-D theater experience.

Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) plays Tom Hanniger, one of the few survivors of the Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which the original Valentine Killer slaughtered a bunch of people in a small mining town.  He returns to town 10 years later, and the killings have started again.  As people start dropping like flies, everyone is trying to figure out if Harry Warden has come back from the dead, or if there’s a new killer in town.

MBV3D is one of the more clichéd horror movies I’ve ever seen.  Just about every slasher movie from the 1980’s is referenced in MBV3D, as well as some from the 90’s, Scream being the most notable.  The writing, directing, acting, dialogue and pacing are all sub-par.  The only character that really shines is Tom Atkins’ Sheriff Burke, but that’s mostly because of Tom Atkins, not anything he was given to work with.

So why did I find myself actually liking this movie?  Because the whole is much better than the individual parts.  The 3-D is very well done, but only feels gimmicky once or twice during the movie.  The kills are bloody, and I learned there are a lot of different ways to kill someone with a pickaxe.  The tone is very tongue in cheek, and the movie knows exactly what it is.  All of these things combine with the experience of seeing it in the theater to provide a fun couple of hours with your friends.

I would highly recommend that you see MBV3D in 3-D at the theater, because on DVD I doubt it will be able to stand on its own.  As good popcorn flick though, MBV3D is a blast.

3 out of 5 Puncture Wounds