Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Trailer - Nymphomaniac Vol. II

Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Willem Dafoe
Release: April 4th, 2014

Two movies, parts 1 & 2,  released a month apart.  Here's the second volume with a look & feel fairly similar to the first.  I haven't seen Part One yet, so it's hard to judge this one.  But if you've heard about it you know it's very explicit, very adult.  I'll wait to watch them both together.

Movie Review - Mud

Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon
Year: 2012

Dallas Buyers Club took America by storm right before Oscar time last year, creating a ton of buzz, catching the attention of millions, and ultimately winning multiple awards.  It was nominated for Best Picture, Jared Leto won for Best Supporting Actor, and Matthew McConaughey won for Best Actor.  It was seen as the high point of McConaughey's career, starring in such a moving drama that must have taken every bit of his soul to pull off.  The movie was great, he did a spectacular job, but I'm here to say that Mud is the better film.  Not only was it surprisingly spectacular, but McConaughey fit his role much better in this film than in DBC, producing what I would call the best character of his career, hands down.

The movie may be titled after the man pictured above, the catalyst for the film, but the lead character is a boy named Ellis.  He's a river boy, working with his father for enough cash to scrape by, living in a houseboat on the water that is his home.  Ellis & his best friend Neckbone cruise the river on a daily basis, and one day head out to an island where an old boat has been washed up into a tree.  The two mean to claim the wreck as their own, but someone is already living there.  His name is Mud, he's a local returning home, and he's in a mess of trouble.  Some dangerous men are after him, hence his hiding out on an island, but all he wants is to rescue the love of his life, Juniper, fix up the forgotten boat, and escape into the Gulf.  With the boys' help, he just might make it, but they soon learn that Mud has some dark secrets, that this fairy tale isn't as simple as it seems, and that love can't always conquer all.

There's a lot to touch on with this film, a lot of little things that make it so great.  The biggest is McConaughey and the best performance I've ever seen him deliver, including Dallas Buyers Club.  The latter might have taken more effort, but this character was perfect for him and so always felt real & easy.  The boy, Ellis, was almost as good, playing the naive, romantic, street-tough country kid perfectly.  And the side characters were excellent as well: his friend Neckbone, his parents, Michael Shannon in a small role.  Only Reese Witherspoon failed to be great, but luckily her part was little.  Speaking of Michael Shannon, he worked in a film also directed by Jeff Nichols called Take Shelter, a dark & disturbing drama that deserves your time.  Anyway, Mud is a strong film with good acting, but also interesting music, a cool feel, some heart-pounding moments, true feeling, just a touch of Hollywood drama, and depth when it matters most.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie Trailer - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner
Release: August 8th, 2014

I will watch this movie just to get in touch with my childhood; I loved the first three films of the 90s and I played all the video games for the regular NES.  But it won't be good, it can't possibly be good, especially with Megan Fox in it.  I just hope it's watchable.

DVD Review - The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson
Year: 2013

I'm a big American Idol fan, have been for eleven seasons.  Reality shows are the only television I watch, even though I appreciate that they're horrible.  I use them as an escape, as a way to relax, to be completely entertained without having to put forth any effort.  Some people do that with some movies, but I've never been able to.  Instead I use American Idol.  Now, I saw Jennifer Hudson perform and I also saw Jordin Sparks, both of whom appear in this film.  They're not the reason I chose to watch this movie, but I can't lie, I saw their names and was intrigued.  I was curious as to how they would do in such a heavy film, a story about struggling inner-city youth.  Hudson won awards for her performance in Dreamgirls, although I happened to think that both she & that movie sucked.  Anyway, Mister & Pete did turn out to be a heavy drama, one with a lot to say about growing up in the ghetto.  Too bad it also featured some of the worst acting I've seen outside of movies that are intentionally awful.

The Movie

Mister is a boy with a rough life.  His grades are horrible, kids at school make fun of him, he's about the tiniest tween you'll ever see, and his mother is a drug addict & a prostitute.  The little money she makes working the street corner goes toward her heroine habit and there's never enough money for food.  Mister shops with his mom's welfare card, but when even that runs out of cash the family is left with nothing to eat and no hope for the future.  Mister wants to be an actor, to move to Beverly Hills, to get away from his horrible mother, to start a new life, and an upcoming audition might just be his ticket.  But first he has to get to the audition, which is two months away, and that's about to get a little more difficult.

The police raid Mister's apartment complex, searching the homes for any illegal activity.  They find Mister's mom drugged out, with needles scattered across the table.  And so they take her in, never knowing that there's a little boy hiding in the bedroom, avoiding a summer spent in a juvenile home.  What's more, he's not alone.  Mister is "babysitting" another local boy, a Korean kid named Pete whose mom also works the streets.  So now the dynamic duo of Mister & Pete begin their independent life; buying groceries, avoiding the cops, trying to survive the heat of summer with no money and no hope.  If only the boys can make it until the audition, the big break that Mister is sure to catch, then they'll be on their way up, leaving this hard world behind.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete; quite a title, but one that basically tells you exactly what's going to happen.  This is no fairy tale, no romantic visual of tough times bringing about great things.  It's a gritty and depressing look at life in the slums, a realistic take on what children go through when their parents can't or won't give them what they need.  The film did two things very well; representing this world & forcing audiences to feel it though sensory experiences.  The story could have been over-dramatic quite easily, but stopped just short on a number of occasions.  They kept the action & emotion real, showing us the situation and letting us understand how awful it was.  And you could almost smell the desperation, the sweat of the boys, feel the heat of the apartment; not a fun way to spend 100 minutes but a very honest portrayal.

So the story and setting were both very strong, creating a mood that was hard to take but enjoyable to watch & appreciate.  If only the acting had held up its end of the bargain.  I guess I'm not surprised that both Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson were fairly terrible.  Sparks made it feel like a Disney movie every time she came on screen, while Hudson is too much for me to handle.  But I was surprised by how bad Skylan Brooks was playing Mister.  It was ironic that in the film he wanted to be an actor, because his actual acting was no good.  However, he was often saved by Ethan Dizon who played Pete, by far the best actor in the entire film.  He stood out as the only one who was really invested in every scene, coming off much stronger than the star of the film, the supporting characters, and definitely the small-part cameos.

And you could credit Dizon with saving the film for that matter, as his acting and character created the best part of the movie; the connection between Mister & Pete.  Without that it would just have another sad ghetto movie but with some really bad acting.  But with that relationship, the movie took off into the direction of a character drama set against an intense backdrop.  The friendship that developed on camera between Mister & Pete was the highlight of the film, a ray of hope in a dangerous world, and the only thing that kept them both sane.  It made the film watchable really, and gave it a depth that was desperately needed.  There's a good story here if you care to take the time, a well-delivered plot that is decidedly impactful.  But you have to sift through the bad acting and grab onto the Pete storyline in order to survive until the end.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video of the film is excellent.  It was shot using an Arri Alexa camera with Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses.  The picture quality is very high, crisp & clean with no balancing or color issues.  The scenes are almost too vivid, lending no added grit to the visuals.  But it's an unfiltered look at the world, a raw & vivid picture that's hard to ignore.

Audio - The DVD was done in English 5.1 Dolby Digital.  There is an option between English & Spanish subtitles in the Set Up menu.  The audio quality of the film was without flaw, a clear sound that, again, let the emotion of the film speak for itself.  The music of the film never made an impact or called for my attention, but it also wasn't distracting, which I appreciate.

Extras - There are quite a few extras on this disc.  Commentary can be turned on to accompany the film, with director George Tillman Jr. and actors Skylan Brooks & Ethan Dizon.  There is a music video by Alicia Keys called "Better You, Better Me" that is over four minutes long and features footage from the movie.  There are ten deleted scenes with an option for commentary throughout and a Play All mode.  You can go behind the scenes and watch 11 minutes of rehearsal to scene comparison, in which Brooks practices a shot and then we see the actual scene from the movie.  There are two "Bootcamp" segments, research for the film, one on skateboard training and one on drug addiction.  And lastly there are four trailers: Things Never Said, Free Angela, Temptation, and Precious.

Final Thoughts

Rent ItThe Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is a hard film to watch.  At times that's because of the subject matter and often that's because of the bad acting.  But overall, thanks to Pete, I found myself enjoying the story.  He and the plot were definitely the highlights, with the other actors in the film the low.  So if you're someone who can forgive a little more than I can, then you might just find this a wonderful film.  If you're harder than me, then I'd recommend staying away.  The video & audio were both very strong and the DVD has a ton of extras.  This is a film that I won't forget quickly, I'll give it that, but for both good & bad reasons.

✰ ✰ ✰ - Content
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Video
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Audio
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Extras
✰ ✰ - Replay

Friday, March 28, 2014

Movie Trailer - Stage Fright

Director: Jerome Sable
Starring: Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf, Minnie Driver
Release: April 3rd, 2014

As a former theatre nerd, I can't decide if this is the best or worst thing ever.  Part of me loves it; a strange and extra-horrific take on Phantom mixed with the old campy slasher style.  But the rest of me thinks it's going to be awful; Meat Loaf as a drama director, a girl fighting a psycho killer, dumb thespian jokes.  I think it'll end up being either a very high 4 or a very low 2, I just can't tell which.

Movie Review - The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan
Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum
Year: 2014

It's been said that film critics can't help but love Wes Anderson.  I can't argue the point since I do in fact love him, or at least the majority of his work.  But in my defense, I was a Wes Anderson fan before I ever dreamed of being an actual film critic.  I saw The Royal Tenenbaums at a very formative time; right after I graduated high school.  I was seventeen, not sure what to do with my life, and experiencing the adult world one impactful bit at a time.  I chose film as a way to define my taste and artistic attitude, having grown up watching movies and always having been a critic at heart.  And so I saw Tenenbaums and it's still my #1 favorite film of all time.  I began to soak up Anderson's other films: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and Life Aquatic soon after.  In later years I would see Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and finally The Grand Budapest Hotel.  With the exception of Darjeeling, none of Anderson's other films approached Tenenbaum status until now, Grand Budapest being the strongest of his films since I first saw the one that changed my life.

Told in flashback by a man who lived it, the story of the Grand Budapest Hotel is both wildly fantastic and incredibly heartbreaking.  Meet Zero Moustafa, a refugee from a war-torn land who has come to the famous European hotel to begin a better life.  He signs on as Lobby Boy under the respected and enigmatic Mr. Gustave H, the concierge of the hotel and the lifeblood of every event within it.  Gustave takes Zero under his wing, teaching him the secrets of a good hotelier, and becoming his fast friend.  So when one of Gustave's mistresses dies, leaving behind a great fortune, the pair become blood-brothers & co-conspirators, attempting to win their share of the wealth.  But it won't be easy.  Dmitri, the evil son of the deceased, wants the entire treasure for himself, threatening anyone who comes between him and what he sees as his rightful inheritance.  Gustave & Zero must survive & connive in order to keep their loot; evading the military, escaping prison, dressing in disguise, falling in love, and ultimately creating a bond between each other that will never break.

Wes Anderson is talented beyond belief.  The amount of energy & detail that he puts into his films is unparalleled, crafting every single moment of every single scene with a genius that I've never seen before.  How can I help but love his movies?  The music, the colors, the attention to set, the beautifully bizarre characters, and of course the stories that somehow seem so mythical and so relatable at the very same time.  Grand Budapest is just another in a long line of his movies that works on every level.  The story is magical, set in a world of fairy tales on a mountain high above the doldrums of every day life.  The group of oddballs who live in the hotel & surrounding countryside exhibit every aspect of humanity, both positive and negative.  The songs in the background, the expected use of pink, the quirky dialogue, the impeccable comedic timing; it all screams Anderson and I immediately fall in love.  If that makes me a biddable film critic who would rave over anything he put in front of me, then so be it; I'll take the odds and expect perfection.

But the greatest part of Grand Budapest isn't the standard Wes Anderson touch.  It isn't the camera work or the direction, the acting or the music.  No, the piece that makes the film wonderful is the connection between the two main characters, the love shared by Gustave & Zero, and the sadness of knowing that nothing lasts forever.  Tenenbaums worked because it had an emotional depth that is hard to put into words, you can only feel it and sigh.  Darjeeling worked for the same reason, as did Rushmore for that matter.  Anderson lays out his artistic style, brings a story into his world, but allows the characters to speak for themselves.  And that's exactly what happened in Grand Budapest.  Gustave & Zero become the reason for watching, pushing all other filler aside.  Not that the extra fluff was bad, far from it.  The comedy was intense, the action was surprisingly adult, and all the cameo actors were perfect in their roles.  Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban; everyone had a small part to play and they played it well.  I assume it's hard to be a director, but Wes Anderson makes it look so easy, pumping out films that are in a league of their own, stories I could turn around and immediately watch again.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is right up there with Anderson's best work, a must-see for his fans, an artistic masterpiece that can't be denied.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Machine

Director: Caradog W. James
Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Sam Hazeldine
Release: April 25th, 2014

I feel like this is almost a plot that can't possible be done right.  Maybe in a book, but I don't think it translates to a movie.  A much as I think it looks cool and kind of want to see it, I just can't imagine that the woman plays the robot well or that the emotions that are the point will really come across the screen the way they're supposed to.

Sports - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Around this time last year I was taking a look at the uniform changes in the NFL.  We had the Dolphins & Jaguars making pretty major changes and the Vikings making some tweaks.  This year the only team making any noise is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Their new look is causing some stir.  Some people like it, some think it's a hideous transformation.  Here are a few pics, take a look, and decide for yourself.

Gone is the pewter, back is the creamsicle orange, if only in a very small amount.  People really hate that orange.  But what they also seem to strongly dislike are the graphic numbers.  They are quite unusual and won't really fit in with every other team.  I guess that's my biggest concern; that these uniforms won't feel cohesive when matched up opposite any other team's.

That flag on the helmet is definitely large, taking up the entire side.  All in all I don't think they're ugly, but they look more like uniforms I might create in a video game and not like professional football jerseys.  Or actually, they look a little like the Las Vegas Outlaws of the old XFL, which was my favorite team.  He Hate Me!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Maze Runner

Director: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter
Release: September 19th, 2014

Now here's a tween movie I can get behind, but maybe only because I haven't read the book.  It looks a ton like the 2nd Hunger Games with a little Stephen King short story thrown in.  Now, I'm not saying it looks good, but I won't have the book to compare it to, there should be some cool booby trap action, and I'm honestly curious right now as to why the characters are in this maze.

Movie Review - We Are What We Are

Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Bill Sage, Michael Parks, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner
Year: 2013

I was originally intrigued by the trailer for this film because I haven't seen a ton of Gothic horror.  The horror I usually watch is campy, silly, or zombie.  I'm not used to the dark, sinister, religious, heavy drama of Gothic horror and the creepy stories that underline their plots.  So my interest was piqued by We Are What We Are because of the genre it would represent, but also because it had been done before.  It's a remake of a Mexican film; a gruesome tale of family, fervor, and murder.  I probably should have checked out the original first, because now I don't want to.  It's not that I didn't enjoy the movie; it was a strong film that might push me to others like it.  But I can't imagine watching this twisted plot again, seeing the violence and the darkness one more time, so I think I'll just stick with this version and try not to have a nightmare.

The Parkers are a reclusive family who practice the old time religion.  The patriarch of the clan demands strict obedience and constant ritual from his children, controlling his household through religion and fear.  In their solitude, the family keeps a secret, one so damned that they dare not speak of it outside their home.  But when the mother suddenly dies, events begin to spiral out of control and the truth of the Parker's ancient rite may come to light.  Sisters Rose & Iris begin to rebel against the old customs, wishing for a normal life of love & happiness, one that has been denied them all these years.  But their father won't relinquish his control that easily, fighting to hold on to a family that is quickly slipping away, meaning to keep them together no matter what, even in death.

Talk about skeletons in the closet.  The family in this story is one terrifying and screwed up bunch.  The plot is based on their practices, their inner struggles, and their relations with the outside world; a mess of emotions that drive the action of the film.  And it does have a nice driving feel, a brooding & sinister atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  It's violent, disgusting at times, sad throughout, and constantly dark.  The actors all do a great job portraying the twisted characters, especially Michael Parks as Doc Barrow and Julia Garner as Rose Parker.  All the action is clean, never stupid, and always high impact.  I was left with the urge to watch more from this genre, heavy & horrible films that rely on great depth & good acting more than fake blood & screaming coeds.  Not that I'll stop watching zombie movies, but this was a refreshing break from b-horror; a peek into the black chasms of the human soul and a well-crafted film overall.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Giver

Director: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep
Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift, Alexander Skarsgard
Release: August 15th, 2014

Were The Giver a tween action/romance novel I would say that the movie version looks no worse than The Hunger Games or Divergent or any other popular dystopic novel turned into a film.  But it's not, not even close.  The book is an amazing & complex look at human society, one that reads different every year you read it, a changing narrative that has some great & simple messages.  This movie version looks to be going off on a tangent of its own and I'm not happy about it.

Movie Review - Starship Troopers: Invasion

Director: Shinji Aramaki
Starring: Luci Christian, David Matranga, Justin Doran
Year: 2012

I guess you could call me a Starship Troopers buff.  I've seen the original film multiple times, own the DVD, and call upon it whenever I need some good bug-killing action.  And I've also seen the rest of the trilogy, if it can be called that.  Check out my reviews of all three films here: Starship Troopers, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder.  The movies get progressively worse after the first one, but they all include some of the same elements, action sequences, and story lines.  I actually really like the original, even beyond the explosions and bug guts.  But I wasn't expecting much out of the fourth in the series after seeing numbers two & three.  And I definitely wasn't expecting animation, which threw me for a loop right away, as I apparently hadn't noticed that detail after reading the description.  But regardless, I assumed this movie would be pretty horrible, only enjoyable because of the Casper Van Dien classic.  Well sometimes it's nice when you're wrong.

So here we are, the fourth installment of the Starship Troopers saga and the war against the Bug is still ongoing.  But there's a new breed of mobile infantry, a modern soldier who is better equipped, well trained, and specializes in extermination.  On a distant asteroid, a human base has been overrun by the Bug, endangering the top secret mission in process there headed by Carl Jenkins.  Alpha Team is sent in to rescue any survivors, including Jenkins, but when they arrive Carl flies the coop, commandeering a starship piloted by Carmen Ibanez.  Alpha Team rendezvous with the survivors of the base, picks up Ibanez, and is about to head home when they get an urgent message.  Johnny Rico commands them to find Jenkins, take back Ibanez' ship, and find out what the hell is going on.  The troopers are ready for action, but none of them know the depth of the plot, the secrets behind Jenkins' mission, or the danger they're about to enter.

As much as I like the original, this one is right up there.  It just has so many things going for it, it's hard to sum up.  It's a great homage to the first movie, even bringing back the core characters.  It's full of fast-paced action and cool fight scenes.  It has a complicated story that at the beginning seems a little confusing but by the end is as strong as any other great sci-fi film.  And I don't really watch animation outside of Disney movies, but this one really got it right.  They might have used the animation to cover up a lot of flaws, but more power to them.  With real people I'm sure the acting would have been awful, the effects stupid, and the budget low.  But with computers they were able to make everything look the way it did in their heads, producing a movie that was way more entertaining than either the 2nd or 3rd film in the series.  This one was a cross between Star Trek and Halo, a sci-fi adventure that never lost control of its story while always maintaining an awesome video game feel.  I'm definitely surprised by how much I liked this movie, but would quickly recommend it to sci-fi fans, video game nerds, and Starship Troopers buffs everywhere.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, March 24, 2014

Movie Trailer - Deliver Us from Evil

Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Eric Bana, Olivia Munn, Edgar Ramirez
Release: July 2nd, 2014

Why would I want to watch a movie that will be sure to give me nightmares for the rest of my life?  I'll take my horror campy and gruesome thank you very much, not realistic and terrifying.  On a side note; Olivia Munn is hot.

Movie Review - What About Bob?

Director: Frank Oz
Starring: Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss, Julie Hagarty
Year: 1991

My Top 5 favorite movies are as follows: The Royal Tenenbaums, Braveheart, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Princess Bride, and What About Bob?  Now, any Top 5 list is going to be highly influenced by when you made it, how old you were, what emotional ties you have to the items on the list.  So can I say these are the five greatest films ever made?  No, not in good conscience nor as a professional film critic.  But they are my favorites, for various biased reasons.  What About Bob? is no exception; a movie that I love through & through and will always find hilarious no matter how many times I watch it.  And it may be the movie I've watched the most times; great every time, never getting old, a classic comedy on a tier of its own.

The simplest way to put it; Bob Wiley has problems.  He's a veteran psychiatric patient who's gone through countless shrinks on a mission to fix his issues.  He's multiphobic, freezes up in public, has a hard time leaving his home, and talks to a goldfish.  But when he meets Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob thinks he may have found the man who can help him.  Trouble is, Dr. Marvin is going on vacation and this scares Bob to the core.  Solution; follow Dr. M. to New Hampshire, meet his family, join in on his fun, and basically crawl into his life.  And while The Fam think that Bob is great, Leo sees that this relationship is spiralling out of control, violating the doctor/patient agreement.  But getting rid of Bob is not an easy thing to do, as Leo will soon find out to his utter horror.

Never has a comedy been more quotable than What About Bob?  Every line is brilliantly written, perfectly timed, and crafted to be both memorable & ridiculously funny.  It's a movie you can watch a million times, reciting the dialogue right along with the actors, remembering every conversation for its humor, wit, and complete frustration.  Bill Murray & Richard Dreyfuss are the perfect pair, the odd couple that can't get along, the rigid doctor and the goofy patient who become so enmeshed in each others' lives that they can't separate, no matter how much one of them wants to.  Two actors have never played off each other better, creating a balance of well-timed jokes and heart-felt moments.  And the story is one you'll never forget.  People dress up as Bob & Leo for Halloween they're so memorable, spout the lines with ease, and laugh out loud at scenes they've seen a hundred times.  What About Bob? is at the top of my list as the greatest comedy of all time; a clever, over-the-top, touching story of two men who can't get along with or without the other, as entertaining a movie as you'll ever watch.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Movie Trailer - What Lies Beyond... The Beginning

Director: Jarrod Knowles
Starring: Zack Dean, Kary Musa, Masha Silberberg
Release: April 4th, 2014

I like campy horror, but this movie looks like a collection of every campy horror movie ever made smushed into 90 minutes.  Maybe it turns out to be a great & hilarious homage to the genre, but somehow I doubt it.

DVD Review - Reel Zombies

Director: David Francis, Mike Masters
Starring: David Francis, Mike Masters, Stephen Papadimitriou
Year: 2008

Zombies are popular subject matter for indie filmmakers.  Why not, I guess.  The horror genre as a whole is a medium that allows high entertainment for small amounts of money.  Some fake blood, some screaming hotties, a shaky camera, boom.  And zombies fit right into this formula; easy to produce, easy to enjoy.  So I've seen a ton of low budget undead in my time as a film critic, some awful some pretty cool.  But I've never seen a zombie/horror/post-apocalyptic movie quite like this one.  Reel Zombies is in a category all its own; a mockumentary/comedy that uses the standard indie horror idea and adds a twist that smacks of genius.  I definitely didn't expect that from a film like this, but hey, miracles happen every day.

The Movie

First, a little background.  It's the near future and apparently there's been a zombie apocalypse.  The world's kinda been overrun, things are kinda bad, but it seems like the undead are only kinda scary.  They're really easy to avoid and life is pretty much continuing as usual with a little added military element.  Life is definitely normal for a group of Canadian filmmakers, and by normal I mean boring.  And then one of the gang, Mike Masters, has a brilliant idea.  Their first two films, Zombie Night 1 & Zombie Night 2, were horrible flops, but that was before real zombies showed up on the scene.  Calling the old group together again, he starts in motion a new type of zombie movie; one that uses real zombies.  With a few undead handlers, why couldn't reality be inserted into fiction to create something that's never been done before?

So the team reunites.  Mike the brains behind the chaos, David the megalomaniac director, Dan Rooney the star of the film, Stephannie Hawkins the leading eye candy.  And constantly filming is Fruman the documentarian, catching all the behind-the-scenes action as the movie begins to take shape.  From choosing the crew to brainstorm sessions, from makeup strategy to fight-scene blocking, every moment is caught on film.  And so the actual movie bumbles along, hitting snag after snag including uncooperative zombies, accidental bitings, and dramatic actors.  But the film seems like such a good idea, with the world presumably returning to normal, that no one wants to quit, even with disaster looming.  So they trudge on; through the rain, through the zombie attacks, and through their own incompetance.

I would say that Christopher Guest is one of my Top 5 favorite directors.  His mockumentary style is a thing of beauty, adding a new element to comedy that no one has yet to do better.  Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind; amazingly hilarious films that allow you inside the action through an incredibly original concept.  And now the same idea has been applied to a zombie movie and the results are excellent.  It just adds a great quality to the film that allows for the amateur feel, the handheld camera, the bad acting.  Call it a trick if you'd like, but the mockumentary concept hides a lot of faults.  I haven't seen this team's first two zombie flicks, but I can imagine how they go & this third try has got to be the best of the trilogy.

And aside from covering over low budget limitations, the style works perfectly as a comedy.  We get to hear what the minds behind the magic are thinking as they attempt to create this horrible film, and the results are hilarious.  Ponderous asides, revealing monologues, candid captured moments; we get to see it all and to feel the humor of the situation.  The zombies themselves are super funny, laboring around bothering people in way that's not too dangerous unless you get close.  And to stop that from happening you have patented belts attached to hockey sticks, because of course.  They may bite people every once in while, infecting them and basically killing them instantly, but what job doesn't have its hazards.

But at some point I have to put aside the gimmick and judge this as a film, and of course when I do that it doesn't hold up that well.  The "acting" was alright I guess; everyone just kinda played themselves anyway, so they weren't called upon to do too much.  The blood & gore were pretty fake, but then again it was supposed to be fake, except when it wasn't.  See, you can't get around the pretend documentary, the film within a film.  It always comes back to that and I guess that's the saving grace of the project.  You've got a zombie movie about a zombie movie with everything you usually see in zombie movies thrown in on purpose because they're trying to make zombie movie.  Looking back, how could I be expected to resist this film; a genre I love making fun of itself but ultimately delivering exactly what I wanted.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the video of the film is just good enough not to be horrible.  Of course it's not a great visual; it's supposed to be a documentary seen through a low-cost camera, and for that it works.  The picture quality is passable with no major problems other than the intentional.

Audio - The DVD is produced in Dolby Digital English 2.0 Stereo.  There are no language options, but you can turn on audio commentary with directors Mike Masters & David J. Francis and producer Stephen Papadimitriou.  The audio quality of film is fine, about what you'd expect filming outside on a windy day with your camcorder.

Extras - There are a few extras on the disc.  A reel of deleted scenes and outtakes totals 42 minutes.  It's a nice montage of short clips not used in the film, adding a little extra "behind-the-scenes" action.  Also there is an original trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedReel Zombies is a homage to horror movies, a mockery of zombies films, and an original comedy that pulls it all together.  It's an irreverent representation of indie filmmaking, showing both the creative & gritty sides of what must seem like an impossible task when just starting out.  The video quality is low but understandable, the audio bad but perfect, and the disc even has a few extras.  If you like the genre check this out; it's a refreshing take on an old storyline that's surprisingly entertaining and smart.

✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ - Content
✰ ✰ ✰ - Video
✰ ✰ ✰ - Audio
✰ ✰ ✰ - Extras
✰ ✰ ✰ - Replay

Friday, March 21, 2014

Movie Trailer - Devil's Knot

Director: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Amy Ryan
Release: May 9th, 2014

I just can't believe Reese Witherspoon as anything but a sorority girl who wants to be a lawyer.  How can I be expected to watch her in a drama about her little boy being murdered?  And is that a Southern accent that Colin Firth is attempting?  No thanks.

Movie Review - Bad Words


Director: Jason Bateman
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Kathryn Hahn
Year: 2014

Bad Words represents my first ever pre-release promo screening.  I got to go the theatre for free, check out the movie, and I guess the hope is that I'll spread the good word.  A pretty sweet deal really, made all the better by there being zero trailers or commercials before the film and it starting exactly on time.  I might not typically choose to see a vulgar comedy, not my style I guess, but such is the life of a film critic; I guess I'll let you show me your new movie and then tell people what I thought, just another taxing day at the office.  But all joking aside, it was a cool experience and one I hope to repeat.  Now, on to Bad Words, the movie about kids that is decidedly adult.  My first take on the trailer was "pretty good but done before" and I would say that turned out to be fairly accurate; a movie that was often funny, constantly wrong, sometimes juvenile, but ultimately enjoyable.

Meet Guy, a 40-year-old man who, for some inexplicable reason, has enrolled himself into the national spelling bee.  He's breaking no rules; apparently he never passed the 8th grade and so still qualifies as a candidate.  But he's also making no friends, forcing himself into the spotlight and out of the good graces of hundreds of people; parents, participants, and staff.  Why he's doing this is unknown, even to his companion Jenny who hopes to someday get the full scoop.  So this semi-genius of a man defeats child after child, rising through the ranks with no qualms and no remorse.  But when he meets Chaitanya, an innocent boy who just wants to be friends, Guy's outlook on the competition changes and the point of his victory, although deep-seeded, begins to seem frail.

There is a very certain sense of humor you must have in order to love this movie, and apparently I at least have a bit of that because Bad Words was pretty damned hilarious.  Yes it was often childish, very crass, sometimes not too bright.  But man was it funny in an extremely wrong way.  Telling children horrendous lies, giving a kid liquor, putting a lobster in a toilet, making fun of heavy people; horrible, horrible, nasty things, but somehow still funny in a why-am-I-laughing-at-this kind of way.  And every once in a while the comedy was of the genius variety; brief moments or quick lines that had me laughing out loud.  But for the most part it was raunchy & wrong, a shock to your better senses and perhaps an attempt to get you to loosen up a little, stop being such a prude.

Jason Bateman was pretty perfect for this role.  His demeanor usually says that he doesn't give a shit, an ideal attitude to bring to the character of Guy.  Of course, he directed the film too and was able to guide the story down the path he wanted it to go.  For his directorial debut I'd say it went pretty well.  Only a few times did it feel a little out of control; I could do without seeing a folding chair used as a weapon ever again.  But for the most part his acting and his direction were quite strong.  Kathryn Hahn was fairly funny; I enjoyed her a little more in We're The Millers, a movie that actually has a similar comedy & feel.  And the kid did a good job, coming off as naive and corruptible, giving the movie a touch of heart.  Bad Words in an entertaining movie, one that might bludgeon you with dirty jokes & awkward moments but in the end is solid enough that it doesn't feel cheap. 

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sports - Feisty Foxes

Spring is in the air and that means baseball!  A new season is right around the corner, time to root root root for the home team.  And with the beginning of the MLB year comes the beginning of fantasy baseball.  If you play you know how addicting it is; the daily lineups, the trades, the hot/cold players, the DL stints.  And if you've never played, hop on board & enjoy the ride, it's a great way to enjoy a great game even more.  Here is my fantasy baseball team this year, once again christened the Feisty Foxes.  I went pitcher heavy with a lineup of high average hitters.  Let me know what you think and/or how your fantasy draft went this year.  Good luck everyone!

C - Yadier Molina - Known as the best defensive catcher in the game, Yadi has also been hitting for average and power, posting a slash of 12/80/.319 last season.

1B - Billy Butler - I had Butler last year too and his power numbers weren't what I was hoping for.  He needs to step up his game & deliver some pop this season.

2B - Chase Utley - Come to think of it, I think I had Utley last year too.  Not a phenomenal season, had some injuries, but still posted 18/69/.284.  A solid baseman.

3B - Josh Donaldson - Honestly I don't know much about Donaldson other than the fact that he hit 20+ HRs and a .300+ average last year.  Welcome on board, Josh.

SS - Troy Tulowitzki - The best offensive shortstop in baseball, a player who hits the ball hard and for a high average.  I'm lucky to have him, hope he stays healthy.

LF - Allen Craig - Another player from my favorite team, Craig is an RBI machine.  He didn't hit many homers last season but I'm hoping that changes this year.

CF - Shane Victorino - The Flyin' Hawaiian will be 34 this year but that won't slow him down.  He'll hit around .300, have a handful of homers, and steal 20 bases.

RF - Hunter Pence - I like this guy, an old-fashioned hitter, a lanky outfielder who can hit for power, high average, and steal a base.  An underrated asset IMO.

Bench - Miguel Montero - My backup catcher but not a player I put much faith in.  I just hope he hits a few homers on the rare occasion that he's in my lineup.

Bench - Andre Ethier - On Yahoo Ethier is eligible in LF, CF, & RF, making him a pretty valuable bench player.  I'll play him in my Utility slot fairly often.

Bench - Anthony Rendon - Available at both 2B & 3B, Rendon is an up-and-coming infielder that I hope can provide some hits on the days I need him.

SP - Clayton Kershaw - The best pitcher in baseball and a strikeout king.  His ERA was below 2.00 last season and he had 232 Ks.  Just hoping for a repeat performance.

SP - Felix Hernandez - If only the team around him was better his record would improve.  Otherwise King Felix has all the tools.  Maybe adding Cano will help.

SP - David Price - Last year was alright for Price, but he can do better.  I'm hoping for closer to 200 Ks rather than 150 and a better record than 10-8.

SP - C.C. Sabathia - To my credit, I didn't overpay for the big name.  C.C. had an awful ERA last year, but he can still log a ton of innings and rack up the Ks.

SP - Doug Fister - I have high hopes for Fister with the Nationals and I think his good numbers from last year could turn into great numbers this year.

SP - Ivan Nova - So far this Spring Nova's ERA is high but so his his K count.  I'll take that any day.  He could be a powerful member of a very good Yankees team.

SP - Dan Straily - This is mostly a shot in the dark.  He did OK last season but he's gonna have to do better than OK if he wants to stay with the Feisty Foxes.

RP - Glen Perkins - An excellent closer on a bad team, Perkins is solid for 30-40 saves this season.  He also strikes out a ton, going 11.06 K/9 last year.

RP - Jonathan Papelbon - Pretty much the same can be said for Papelbon, although his team is a little better and his numbers last season are a little worse.

RP - Huston Street - I didn't reach for Street, but when he fell into my lap I had to take him.  A talented pitcher on a bad team, I just hope he gets some opportunities.

Sports - 2014 NCAA Tournament

March Madness is here!  It's time once again to predict a bunch of basketball games, get most of them wrong, and then rub it in your friend's face when they do worse than you.  The field is wide open this year, per usual, and any team could win the championship.  Here are my picks for the Final Four, my reasons for choosing each team, and my prediction for the winner of the dance.

South - Florida Gators - Not only is Florida the #1 overall seed, but they're one of the hottest teams going into the Tourney.  Winners of the SEC Championship, the Gators haven't lost since December 2nd.  Billy Donovan has a great squad, they have pro ability, and they have the confidence to win the whole thing.  Their road to the Final Four shouldn't be that tough (OSU, Syracuse, Kansas); great programs that aren't currently scary.  Look for Florida to go very, very deep.

East - Michigan State Spartans - MSU might be the team with the best chance at a championship, given their play in the Big Ten Tournament.  They're only a #4 seed, but that ranking is based on a recent injury & losing streak.  Coach Tom Izzo seems to have his boys back together again and pointed straight at the title.  With beatable higher seeds (Virginia, Iowa State, Villanova) the Spartans have a chance to go on a long run, despite their low ranking, just as Barack Obama.

West - Arizona Wildcats - Earlier in the year Arizona was a popular champion pick.  Since then they've cooled off a little, but still earned a #1 seed.  Their loss to UCLA in the PAC-12 Tournament doesn't bode well for their Tourney run, but their region is fairly easy (Creighton, Wisconsin, Baylor).  The Wildcats might be able to win the West without breaking a sweat, but the competition will stiffen in a hurry once they reach Arlington and the Final Four.

Midwest - Louisville Cardinals - A ton of folks are calling foul after Louisville gets a #4 seed, pretty low for a team that only lost five games and won the American Tournament.  Any team that plays them should be very afraid (Wichita State, Duke, Michigan) because the Cardinals will now be competing with a chip on their shoulders.  A good team to start with, this squad may now be playing angry and that passion should drive them all the way.

And to win it all I have to go with Florida.  I know it's not a risky pick, choosing the #1 overall seed, but I feel like they have what it takes to run the table.  Michigan State is the trendy pick right now and I'd call them my #2, but they'll have to face the Gators and I think that would be too tough to handle.  I like Louisville to beat Arizona and reach the Championship; no one has more fire & desire to win than the Cardinals.  It should be a great Tournament.  Good luck everyone!