Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fred Claus

Fred Claus
Blu ray and DVD. 

Vince Vaughn stars as Santa's older brother Fred, who is tired of having to live up to his example. Paul Giamoti plays Santa and because he is a saint no one in his immediate family (or their spouse) dies. So the story starts hundreds of years ago when Santa was born and after a showing how the rift between the two started, picks up in modern times.

Fred is a wheeling, dealing, friendly con man who has no one left to borrow money from to open a betting parlor. So he turns to his brother, who uses tough love and makes him work for the money at the North Pole. 

His arrival coincides with Kevin Spacey who is sent to see if Santa's whole setup is worth the trouble anymore. And in the typical Spacey way turns out to be diabolical and wants to shut down the North Pole. 

One of the funniest scenes I have seen in a movie was when Fred goes to the "living in my brothers shadow" support group. Frank Stalone talks about losing his identity when the Rocky movies came out. Then Roger Clinton talks about being brothers with Bill. Fred mouths off and upsets Stephan Baldwin who calms down by stomping the floor and reminding himself "he's not Alec."

Kathy Bates and Rachel Weisz play Fred's mom and girlfriend but they could have been played by anyone.

All in all this is your basic unethical guy learns a powerful lesson and saves Christmas movie. But it is fresh, updated and a little in your face funny. 

Every December, while going through Christmas boxes I inevitably find the list I made comparing my father to Santa Claus. 
1. Both are old. 
2. They both eat all the milk and cookies, leaving none for anyone else.
3. They both have big, food catching beards.
4. Both have bowls full of jelly. 
5. Both work about a day a year.

7 out of 10

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skulls.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. 
Blu Ray and DVD. 

Indiana Jones is one of the most iconic figures in movie history. The first three movies are some of the best... uh, maybe not so much on the Temple of Doom. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark took Harrison Ford from being that guy in Star Wars to a legitimate actor. 

When word came down of a fourth Indiana Jones, I got really excited. It had been almost 20 years since the Last Crusade and I was ready. 

First reports stated Harrison Ford and Sean Connery were back. Plus, Tom Selleck was cast as his older brother. George Lucas was writing and producing and Steven Spielberg was  directing. Perfect, right? Wrong. 

Sean Connery dropped out, stating,

"I thought long and hard about it and if anything could have pulled me out of retirement it would have been an Indiana Jones film. I love working with Steven and George, and it goes without saying that it is an honor to have Harrison as my son. But in the end, retirement is just too damned much fun."
―Sean Connery in 2007

Then Tom Selleck dropped out over script disputes. So the script was heavily rewritten and the brother was removed and replaced with the character of Harold Oxley played by John Hurt. With no Connery, Jim Broadbent was introduced as the Dean of the College. 

The movie itself starts out rather typically of the series with a military unit driving down a dusty desert highway being harassed by some local 1950's stereotyped teens in a hot rod. The military unit turns onto a base remonisiant of area 51 and are revealed to be Russian spies who kill everyone and take over the base. Tossing Indiana Jones from a car with his sidekick Mac, this is where the movie starts to go wrong. 

The only bad guys more overplayed than the Nazis are the Russians. This movie is chalked full of them led by Cate Blanchett with a very bad accent and even badder wig.

During a nuclear explosion at the beginning of the movie, our has-been hero hides in a lead refrigerator only to get launched free of danger. At this point my thought was maybe the rest of the movie will redeem this scene. It didn't. 

The debriefing scene was used to fill in the gap between the movies. He was a spy in WWII... neat. But too much time has passed and to many things have changed like his secretly tratorous sidekick. 

Shia LaBeouf plays Mutt, no surprise, Indiana Jones' son and a greaser bike rider. For some reason his character quickly turns from a street smart brawler to a sword fighting scholar that the movie really could have done without.

John Hurt over acts in his role, making him hard to watch. As for Karen Allen returning as Marion... let's just say time wasn't on her side. 

Here's what it come down to: the feel of the originals was not there. The jokey, cocky way he does things didn't seem to make it into this movie. Scenes such as Indiana facing down a line of villains only to shoot all of them with 1 bullet are really missing in this movie. 

The original three movies were based on religious beliefs such as the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail and the Thugee cult. Beliefs with written records and thousands of years of culture. This time around the movie is based on theoretical, new age beliefs about current pseudo theory that aliens came to Earth and taught the ancients technology. A theory based on little to no facts. 

This movie was just too out there. The story didn't fit into the Indiana Jones mythos. Too many stupid plot twist and bad ideas. I really wanted to like this movie. I kept trying to rationalize my way through this. I kept thinking, maybe the next scene will get better, which turned into 'it can't end like this'. 

Avoid this movie. Even hard core fans will have a problem with this film. There is a theory about this movie series, Raiders was good, Temple was bad. Last Crusade was good, Crystal Skull was bad. Therefore, based on the alternating quality, the assumption is that the 5th one (which they are working on now) will be good. 

Tom Selleck was originally cast as Indiana Jones. It was after he did the pilot for Magnum P.I. but before the series got picked up. He couldn't do it while the series started shooting and felt obligated to decline.  So when Tom Selleck moved to Hawaii the writers guild went on strike and no filming was done for 6 months. In that time, production of Raiders of the Lost Ark filmed in Hawaii and only took 6 months. 

2 out of 10

Look Me In The Eyes.

Look Me in the Eye. 
John Elder Robinson 

This book is about a child who grows into adulthood without knowing he had a form of autism known as Aspergers syndrome. It is autobiographical and is written in the style of his younger brother Augusten Burroughs. 

From a very young age John Elder knew that he was different. His reactions and interactions were different then those around him and often times adults would ridicule him. For example, he writes of a time when someone was killed in a terrible car crash and his reaction was to smile and laugh. The adults were mortified and thought that he was crazy. When in fact John Elder goes on to explain his thought process. He was happy because his parents weren't involved and no one he knew was dead and then thought about them all having fun togather. 

The way he peels back the layers of Aspergers to explain the different thought processes to the reader, as well as the struggles to talk to people like what calls normal people, really made you feel for him. 

He was raised at a time when there was no diagnoses for what he had. People thought he was psychotic, stupid or just retarded. He left school and  as soon as he realized he could and found himself working on Pink Floyds' equipment before touring with KISS to design special guitars and amps. 

He delves into relationships and marriage with his disorder. He found it much easier to call people by nicknames then actual names. He referred to his Dad as Stupid and his Mom as Slave for most of his life.

If you've read any Augusten Burroughs books then you'll want to read this book to see their parents from a different, yet similar point of view. You also get to see their parents younger, happier and even in love. 

This is a good read, especially for those that have always felt like they were a little different. 

I was always told "look me in the eye" when I was younger. I always laughed at how weird it was when you had to stare into people's eyes... which inevitably make the situation worse. 

8 out of 10

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Super Mario Bros. Classic review.

Super Mario Bros.
NES, Wii. Classics Review.

This was the first real video game I ever played outside an arcade. We had an atari but those games didn't play very well besides Pacman and Donkey King. I was a little late coming to the scene, 1988, considering the game came out in 1986.

For 20 years, Super Mario Bros. was the best selling game of all time. Almost 45 million copies have been sold. It has been released in every format Nintendo that has been made since the original NES.

Super Mario Bros. is a sequel to the 1983 game Mario Bros. which itself is a sequel to 1981's Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. Mario has appeared in almost 100 games that altogether have sold 220 million units.

The game itself is a side scrolling adventure through the mushroom kingdom. Players take on the role of Mario or with 2 players, Luigi. Depending on which block you hit you can get certain power ups, fire balls, invulnerability or super size. Coins were also placed in blocks and after collecting 100 you got a free life.

It came free with Duck Hunt for most of the original NES systems. So almost everyone got a copy of it.

Along his quest to save the princess, Mario fought turtle shelled Koopa Troopas, mushroom Goombas, snapping pipe pants and a giant lizard named Bowzer. There were other badies, but only my brother took the time to memorize them.

This game introduced gamers to the warp pipe. Basically, hidden in the game are several pipes that skip you ahead in the game to a whole other level. This made it do I could beat the game repeatedly before my brother even got a chance to play Luigi. This was a whole new way of cheating, a legal way to beat the game.

All in all this game is fun and brings back a flood of memories. My only complaint is that recent Mario games have additional power and abilities that I instinctively have tried to do, such as the wall bounce, on the original game.

I used to get in trouble for two reasons with this game.

1. As mentioned earlier, I would be told to play with my little brother and so we took turns playing Super Mario Bros. But I was so good at it and I knew all the warps so well that I could play through game over and over again before giving him a chance to play.

2. My brother and me referred to Mario dying on the game as dying. For example, "oh no, I just died." My Mom got very upset that we joked about life and death at such a young age.

9 out of 10

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Super High Me!

Super High Me.

Don't worry I never heard of it either. Super High Me is a documentary about comedian and pot smoker Doug Benson. The idea: he stops smoking pot for 30 days during which he gets tested for IQ, psychic ability, SAT scores, sperm count and keeps working as a comic. Then for 30 days he repeats everything only he smokes pot all day, everyday.

It is important to note that he lives in California and has a medical marijuana card.

This documentary did bring up some double negatives in the laws. In California it is legal to buy marijuana with a medical card from a licensed dispensary. However, it is against federal law, so the FBI or DEA can close down a legal business, take their stock and arrest the employees. Which happened several times in the documentary.

Interestingly, his test scores on everything but lung  capacity and his math memory test were higher when he was higher.

Not much more to say here except you could tell by his personality when he was high or not. He acted like your drunk buddy. He was funny both high and not, so I didn't see why he thought he needed it so much.

I always wonder where the idea of drugs come from. Trial and error? Do people just think "I wonder what would happen if I do this".

5 out of 10

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats.

The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Blu Ray and DVD.

It has a silly name but it is well worth watching. Jeff Bridges plays a stoner army colonel who leads an army of hippy soldiers. George Clooney plays a psychically trained soldier, who was once the number one psychic in the military. As the story progresses, he tries to convince reporter Ewan McGregor that he is a real life Jedi warrior.

The casting of McGregor as a doubting reporter was a giant nod to the audience as he is famous for playing a Jedi warrior.

This was based off of a true story about the military creating an army of hippy, psychic warriors that would change the world with peace and not lethal weapons. The previews made it seem like a comedy and while there are funny parts, it is more in the situations and the acting than in the jokes.

The story of the psychic army was told in flashback as Ewan and George travel through Iraq during the initial American occupation.

The fact that this is a actual true story that took place just a short time ago makes you really think. Some of the things, such as Barney music being played 24 hours a day to torture prisioners, I remembered hearing about in the news.

Kevin Spacey played the role he seems best at; a guy with his own agenda who doesn't care for authority.

On a side note my Safeway club card is registered under the name of Ewan McGregor.

7 out of 10

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
DVD and Blu ray.

There can never be another actor who plays Wolverine as well as Hugh Jackman. For decades people will identify him as this character. In fact, he helped redefine the whole comic to movie experience and legitimized actors playing (what some might consider) a role for children.

Hugh Jackman looks younger now and is in better shape than he was ten years ago for the original X-Men movie. His face has aged a little, but you can hardly tell he’s as old as he is.

As a reader of the comics, I already knew a lot about Wolverine's origins {read the “Wolverine: Origins,” graphic novel}. But like the X-men movie series it was its own creation. Basically the X-men movies made their own version of the mythos and that's where this movie ties in.

It is loosely based on the Wolverine Origin comic series, but altered to fit the movie series. Which is okay in the big picture, because the comics get more detailed and go into much greater depth than can be translated into a two-hour movie. Plus, it was a prequel to the trilogy already in place. The only really obvious thing changed from comic to movie was the fact that Victor and Logan are now brothers. In the comic Logan had a older brother (not Victor) that also has claws but was assumed dead. He comes back to find Logan years later.

This movie serves not only as a prequel to the X-men movie series but as a start of a new series of movies. Wolverine 2 is coming out in 2012, X-men Origins: The First Class in 2011 and Deadpool also in 2012.

We see Wolverine, or as he is called for most of the movie James, Jimmy or Logan, through the years in the early 1800's. We get to see the emergence of his powers when he was a child. We also see him with his brother Victor fighting every war in the past 150 years up until Vietnam. At this point both Logan and similarly powered Victor get arrested for treason and heal after being executed. They are the recruited into a special ops team full of other mutants. Logan has an ethical issue with their missions and leaves. Years later members of the team are being killed one by one which force Logan to become Wolverine.

A lot happened in this movie and more was explained, like why Logan has no memory past a certain point. There are even a few nods to history like the top secret base being under 3 mile island. This is a better movie then X-men 3: the Last Stand, well worth watching and owning.

It did leave me with one question: What was the deal with Deadpool? Did they just ignore the history of that character and change it for some unknown reason? There was seemingly no reason to drastically change his history. This is the only major thing I saw wrong with the story of this movie and the only hard core reason to not have given this movie a 10.

In the early 90's it was rumored that Wolverine would be played by Harvey Kietel. Scott Bakula was slated to play Cyclops. Lucy Lawless was in talks to be recruited. Rumors about Christian Slater abounded. Luckily that version never came to be. The story centered around Jubilee and Gambit joining the X-men and fighting Sentinals. The plot was based on a similar story to the X-men: Adventures animated tv show.

One Christmas I dressed in a Wolverine costume and put on a Santa hat and called myself Santa Claws. No one laughed. Maybe with the revived popularity this movie has produced. I'd try again this year, but the suit seems to have shrunk. I might need to lose some weight before trying on the spandex again though. Just a little weight.

71/2 out of 10

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Arrested Development: the movie.

Arrested Development: the movie. 
Bluth Watch. 

Will Arnett and David Cross both announced they read what there is of a script and loved it. Apparently it is 75% done. 

Release date 2012. 


Blu Ray and DVD 

Originality is something that is often missing in sequels. After so many failures on the big screen (Predator 2, Aliens vs Predator and Aliens vs Predator 2) it's nice to see movie that doesn't try to rewrite the series or revamp it but stays true to the actual feel of the original. 

I would say, more then anything, that this movie has recharged the series and could easily lead to more movies being made. 

There are several references to the first Predator movie that reminds us how good science fiction horror movies can be. I personally like the use of some of the music from the original. 

Predators starts out when a handful of soldiers and warriors (and Topher Grace) from modern Earth, awaken on another planet which is used as a hunting reserve for the Predators. 

Through the course of the movie we learn that the multinational ethnic group of humans are predators in their own right as one by one they get picked off. There is an awesome sword fight between a predator and a yakuza gang member. Another fight between a regular predator and the newer, superior, 2nd kind of predator was neat too. 

I've really got to compliment whoever did the mask effects for the predators. It was very real and if computer effects was used I couldn't tell. 

That being said... the casting wasn't so great. I never could really believe Adrien Brody as a hero. Laurence Fishburne plays a crazy multi-personality survivor from a hunt years earlier and did a fairly decent job. Danny Trejo aka Machette plays Danny Trejo. Topher Grace played the same character from That 70's show except for him being a psychopath. 

One thing I was hoping for was a little more explanation about the Predators. How does a society that worships hunting and killing build and maintain spaceships? Someone has to build stuff. How did that society evolve? How do they communicate with each other? How does a species that can only see in shades of infrared travel through space? An Alien prequel is in the works that if supposed to fill in some gaps and connect the two series even more. 

As I write this Predators 2 has been announced. Sure to be more Predators than Chris Hansen can catch. 

If you loved the Predator movies you'll love this one. This brings back the feel of the first movie big time. 

7 out of 10

Monday, December 6, 2010

Year One.

Year One.
Blu Ray and DVD.

I was told by my editor (wife) that this was the worst movie ever made and that I shouldn't watch it because it was so stupid. That being said, I watched it anyway.

Year One was written and directed by Harold Ramis, writer, director and actor of the Ghostbusters movies. He played Egon and is a genuinely funny guy.

This movie stars Jack Black and Michael Cera in their typecast roles of fat loud mouthed loser and shy nerdy loser. The only thing that differentiates this from a typical Black or Cera movie is that it is set in biblical times. David Cross was hilarious as Cain, from the story of Cain and Abel. But that's about it for the hilarity.

The story is about two cavemen that get banished from their village and must go out into the world at the beginning of recorded history. At first they just wander, but eventually run into others of their tribe that are now slaves. Their attempts to save them ends disastrous. During their journey they run into Cain and Abel and end up in Sodom after meeting Isaac and his son.

Both Black and Cera play roles that they are very comfortable with. Here's the real problem: on paper this movie sounds great but on film it doesn't work so well. It felt like the movie had a lot of backing, but was rushed through.

There's a lot of toilet humor and sex jokes all throughout the movie. I will be honest, I laughed a couple times.

This movie could have been great. While it is not the best comedy I have seen it is not the worst. I'd say skip this movie. Next time I might listen to my wife (hmm... probably not).

3 out of 10.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Book of Eli.

The Book of Eli. 
DVD and Blu Ray. 

This movie walks a thin line between science fiction, apocalyptic survival horror and religion. The story is set some thirty years after a war opened a hole in the atmosphere which let the sun burn everything for about a year. The hole also caused a blinding flash which took away the eyesight of many survivors.  Those that survived underground or other safe places tried to rebuild but they had no foundations to build on. Society blamed religion and burned all of the bibles, hence the Book of Eli. 

Denzel Washington hasn't seemed to age in the last decade and kicks some butt fighting gang trash. He stays true to character and on mission to his goal of heading west with the book he reads from everyday. 

Gary Oldman plays the villain, a abusive minor king of a small kingdom he pieced together from his knowledge of fresh water springs. Oldman himself seems to be weathered in this movie and practically has a roadmap of lines on his face. 

During his journey west Eli meets bikers, cannibals and Malcom McDowell with what might be the world's worst wig. He also gets stuck with a side kick played by Mila Kunis, it was a interchangeable role that anyone could have done. Mila Kunis has obviously had some acting lesson since that 70's show which was an improvement.

The ending was surprising and makes watching Eli's journey (and how Denzel Washington handles the secrets we learn about him) worth rewatching. 

Eli's quest and book are religious in nature. All he had to go off of was his faith. It was not preachy, which is nice for those that are not to religious. 

8 out of 10

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Robin Hood.

Robin Hood
DVD and Blu ray

There are more the a few Robin Hood movies and tv series. Pretty much everyone knows the story of Robin of Loxley fighting corruption, the Sherriff of Nottingham and Prince John. 

This time around we see Robin Hood now with the last name Longstride. A simple archer in the crusades, he fight in a couple engagements as King Richard's army makes it's way from the middle east back to England. Only to find that France is trying to kill the king. The whole mess makes the king's brother, Richard, into king who spends the majority of the movie demanding late tax payments.  

This Robin Hood is a whole new twist on the story with additions of actually history such as the Magna Carta Dukes and the crusades. 

Russell Crowe was okay as the title character, it just seems he played the Gladiator in a different outfit.  Maid Marion was hardly used as a character while all other versions have her as a major player. 

I would have liked to see more of the merry men. Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet are there but more as a background filler. The only view of the rest of the merry men was at the end when Robin Hood lives with the outlaws in the forest. 

From the get go this movie had script problems and was being rewritten even as filming was done. This is an okay movie to rent at a Redbox or Netflix when you have nothing else more important to watch. 

6 out of 10