Neil Peart

DVDs, Books, Games, and more

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Ghost Writer

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic: 77/100 (Generally favorable reviews)

They don't make them like this anymore. Roman Polanski's simmering, claustrophobic thriller evokes some of the best 70s films (like Polanski's own Chinatown) in a modern framework. In these days of explosions and IMAX 3-D films, it's refreshing to see a master filmmaker at work.

Here's how the film opens: A ferry boat docks. Car engines start. Cars begin to drive off the boat, but then we see there's one car that's not moving, a BMW SUV. The owner hasn't returned to his car. Cars drive around the empty BMW. Soon a tow truck arrives and tows the car off the boat.

In this first scene, Polanski conjures his story without a word of dialogue. We learn that the car was driven by a writer who was ghost writing the biography of an ex-Prime Minister of England (Pierce Brosnan).

Then a new ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is hired and shipped off to Martha's Vineyard by the publisher to work with the Prime Minister. After the Ghost arrives (the writer is never referred to by name), the Prime Minister is accused of war crimes, and everything starts to unravel. McGregor's ghost writer is trying to find out what happened to the first -- and, at the same time, is trying to find out who the Prime Minister really is.

This film is full of so many great performances by McGregor and Brosnon, but also Kim Cattrall as Amelia Bly, the Prime Minister's assistant, and Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang, the Prime Minister's wife.

But what I really came away with was respect for the way Polanski let the scenes breathe. Nothing is rushed. Watch the sequence where the Ghost takes the BMW SUV for a ride and the GPS becomes a plot device.

The only criticism have is the ending, which I won't spoil. I wish that Polanski would have thought this through with the same level of detail that he did with the rest of the film. Let's just say that it has the same effect as a character waking up at the end and saying, "Oh, it was all a dream."


posted by AndyO @ 7:51 PM   0 comments

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Green Zone - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

Metacritic: 61/100 (Generally favorable reviews)

Green Zone takes us deep inside Iraq with Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), who's searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction. When Miller starts to ask why they're not finding any WMDs -- even though the intelligence is "solid" -- he enters an unfamiliar world of scheming politicians, CIA operatives, reporters, Iraqi prisoners, and Iraqi military officers. Green Zone is a solid thriller that doesn't let up until the final scene.

Green Zone

Released: 2010

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com


posted by AndyO @ 11:58 PM   0 comments

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Avatar - Theater (3-D)

AndyO's review: * * * *

Metacritic: 84/100 (universal acclaim)

Avatar brings us into a world that we've never seen before. Many films have gotten close, but it was only after seeing Avatar in 3-D that I felt like I'd actually visited an alien world. Much of this was achieved by the subtle use of 3-D, and in the hands of director James Cameron, 3-D becomes truly immersive.

The story of Avatar centers on a paraplegic Marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who goes to Pandora as an "avatar driver." He's taking over for his twin brother who died, and because Jake shares his DNA he's able to use the same avatar body. The avatars are grown in a tank, made up of both alien and human DNA. The avatar drivers are able to animate the alien body and operate in the Pandoran atmosphere, which is poisonous to humans. And with his avatar, Jake is able to walk again.

Jake and the other humans are there because Pandora contains a rare element that humans need to power Earth; but the native Na'vi don't like the intruders and are willing to defend their planet. Because of this, soldiers are there to protect the contractors from the Na'vi and all the other dangers. Jake Sully's first mission with his avatar is to protect scientists, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who are collecting samples on Pandora. When Jake Sully gets left behind and attacked by creatures, he's saved by a Na'vi female named Neytiri. Instead of killing Jake, the Na'vi accept Jake into the tribe to teach him about their ways.


Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

In many ways, Pandora is the star of this film. Cameron and his team of designers have created a world where everything is different than what we know. For example, when Jake first walks through the jungle with Neytiri, wherever he steps glows with bioluminescence. Jellyfish-like creatures float in the air. Another creature is a combination of a hammerhead shark and a rhinoceros. There are wonders on this world, like floating mountains and plants that contain the knowledge and memories of the Na'vi. In fact, the universe of Pandora is so detailed that one scientist has written a review of the Science of Avatar, giving Cameron and his crew high marks.

The story of Avatar is in many ways a retelling of the countless genocides that have occurred throughout history. But the one I kept thinking back to was the American Government's war with the Native Americans. We'd like to think that our future leaders wouldn't annihilate an indigenous people on another planet to get to something they want -- but, sadly, I think they would.

Many people have written that Avatar's story is a blatant rip-off of several other films, including Dances with Wolves or even the animated Disney film Pocahontas. This Thompson on Hollywood blog explores the many influences of Avatar, asking the question is Avatar derivative? Sure. But, as Thompson points out, most screenplays are derivative.

A college writing teacher of mine, Charles Johnson, used to tell us if you're able to bring one or two original ideas into a story, then you're doing really well. Avatar borrows from many other films and books -- but it's the combination of the stories that adds up to something original. George Lucas accomplished the same thing with Star Wars.

Like Star Wars, Avatar's special effects are groundbreaking. This is the first time that digital technology has reached a level of realism with human motion and performance. There have been other films that have attempted this with characters, from Jar-Jar from Star Wars Episode I to Gollum from Lord of the Rings to the The Polar Express. Avatar is the first to get all the elements right and combine this with 3-D technology.


Now that Avatar has been out for about a month, it's clear that the film has become a phenomenon around the world. Not only has it become the number one movie of 2009 in the United States, it's slowly closing in on the top all-time domestic box office gross. What's even more impressive is it's second only to Titanic in worldwide box office grosses.

Many people wanted James Cameron to fail with Avatar. I'm not sure why, but much of it seems to be centered on Titanic and all the Oscars it won -- and all the money it made. Cameron's one of those rare directors who has the tenacity and perseverance to make films on the scale of Titanic and Avatar. Say what you want about him, but the guy knows how to deliver epic films that are accepted worldwide. (I heard that most Iraqis think that Titanic is the greatest film ever made -- and the American forces have used this to find common ground.)

After I saw Avatar with my 9-year-old son, he had said something to the effect of, "I'm sad that it's over." I've seen in him the same reaction I had to Star Wars when I was a 10-year-old. I suspect for many children, Avatar is going to be their Star Wars.

Further reading:

Roger Ebert: Cameron is recrowned King of the World

Avatar: A Confidential Report on the Biological and Social History of Pandora (James Cameron's Avatar) -- If you want to learn more about the world of Avatar, this is a really interesting book. I got it for my son for Christmas, and he's been taking it to school to show his friends.

60 minutes story on James Cameron (video)

James Cameron's "scriptment" for Avatar -- This is the script treatment that Cameron wrote before the screenplay for Avatar. It begins like this:

Welcome to JOSH SULLY'S world.

It is a century from now, and the population of our tired planet has tripled. Finally, drowning in its own toxic waste, starvation and poverty, the population has topped out at a nice even 20 billion.

The Earth is dying, covered with a gray mold of human civilization. Even the moon is spiderwebbed with city lights on its dark side. Overpopulation, over- development, nuclear terrorism, environmental warfare tactics, radiation leakage from power plants and waste dumps, toxic waste, air pollution, deforestation, pollution and overfishing of the oceans, global warming, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity through extinction... all of these have combined to make the once green and beautiful planet a terminal cess-pool.


posted by AndyO @ 12:27 PM   0 comments

Sunday, November 08, 2009

X-men Origins: Wolverine - Blu-ray

AndyO review: * * *

Metacritic: 43/100

I'm a sucker for the X-men movies. Compared to The Fantastic Four, X-men films seem like they should be Oscar winners. Recently, I watched the first three X-men films with my son Cameron, and thought they held up pretty well.

While I expected Wolverine to be sub-par, based on the reviews I saw, I actually found it pretty interesting. Especially interesting was the beginning, which showed that Wolverine already had a special gift (as did his brother) before he got the metal claws. He could heal spontaneously; he was immortal. We watch scenes of both brothers fighting in practically every war since they existed.

We also see what drove Wolverine to go from mere immortal to a certified killing machine.

Definitely worth seeing if you like comic book films or Hugh Jackman.


posted by AndyO @ 10:48 AM   0 comments

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Whip it - Theater

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic: 67/100

Whip it is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, a coming-of-age story about a girl in a small Texas town who wants to join a rollerderby team.

First, Drew Barrymore's direction is excellent. She was obviously taking notes from Spielberg and all the other directors she's worked with over the years.

Second, Ellen Page is a force of nature. Her performance in Juno was no fluke (all you have to do is watch Hard Candy, which was done before Juno, to see that). There are very few actors who can draw you into a character the way Page does.

Third, I didn't know anything about rollerderby until I saw this film. I always thought it was about women trying to kill each other while skating around in circles. Well, I guess there are rules -- and there is a way to win.

Do yourself a favor and go see this film. Today.


posted by AndyO @ 6:01 PM   0 comments

Surrogates - Theater

AndyO review: * * 1/2

Metacritic: 45/100

Surrogates could have been a great Science Fiction film. It combines many of the themes and ideas seen in countless other Sci-Fi films (notably The Matrix) to form something unique and entertaining. But a short running time and formulaic plot hold back the film.

Surrogates shows us a world where humans experience their daily lives through robot avatars. The robots go to work and play and the humans stay home in their pajamas, controlling them in the real world. Crime and disease plummet to all-time lows. Everyone looks great and can jump around like a superhero when they need to.

Thomas Greer (Bruce Willis) is a detective in this world. Instead of the weathered, shaved head version of Willis we're used to seeing, we see a smooth-faced version with a full head of hair. Greer and his partner, Jennifer Peters (Rhada Mitchell), are sent to investigate the destruction of two surrogates outside a night club. When they discover one of the surrogate operators is the son of the inventor of surrogate technology, Dr. Lionel Cantor (James Cromwell), everyone knows something is up. But then they find out Cantor's son is dead, as is the operator of the other surrogate -- something that shouldn't happen with the fail-safe switches built into the machines.

But it wasn't this plot that I was interested in. I wanted to know more about these stories, on edges of this plot:

  • Greer and his wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) don't see each other at home, except through their surrogates. When Greer wants to take a vacation without their avatars, Maggie objects. She doesn't want her husband to see that she's not the perfect version of herself that she wants to be.
  • The operator of the female, blonde surrogate that was murdered along with Cantor's son was a man. As the usual detective story crept forward, I kept thinking about that man and realized surrogate technology would enable people to be who they want to be. (This is already a reality with the Internet where you don't really know who you're talking to.)
  • Parents are encouraged to get surrogates for their children, so they're always safe at home.
  • Part of society has rejected surrogate technology and lives in reservations where surrogates are forbidden.

A great version of this film would have found the right story to explore the philosophical and moral questions in more detail. Which is why I think you'll see a Surrogates TV series.

One thing that I found extremely odd was the casting of James Cromwell. He practically plays the same character as he did in I, Robot and L.A. Confidential.


posted by AndyO @ 5:46 PM   0 comments

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - Theater

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic: 66/100

One of the most creative children's films I've seen in a long time that explores the theme of parental (and societal) approval. Well worth the price of admission, but I don't recommend seeing this in IMAX 3-D (unless you want to pay a lot).


posted by AndyO @ 11:51 AM   0 comments

The Informant! - Theater

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic: 66/100

Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon team up again in this true-life tale of Mark Whitacre -- an executive who turns on his employer, Archer Daniels Midland. While this is being marketed as a comedy, The Informant! is not as laugh-out-loud funny as those advertisements would like you to think. And while it might have been different than what I expected, I enjoyed it from start to finish.


posted by AndyO @ 11:29 AM   0 comments

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

District 9 - Theater

AndyO review - * * * *

Metacritic: 81/100 (Universal acclaim)

District 9

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

It's pretty rare that a movie comes out of nowhere and surprises audiences the way District 9 did. In this age of "event" movies that you hear about a year in advance, District 9 quietly appeared at the end of summer and blew audiences away. Three weeks after its release, it's still a trending topic on Twitter and staying in the top 5 at the box office. No small feat in this age of movies that come and go in one week.

In District 9, an alien spacecraft -- as huge and menacing as the ships in Independence Day -- arrives over the skies of Johannesburg, South Africa. After nothing happens, humans open up the ship and find insect-like aliens -- afraid and starving. The aliens are moved to a holding area in the city called District 9. 

Twenty years later, the human citizens of Johannesburg have grown tired of sharing their city with the aliens (referred to derisively as "prawns"). The prawns are being shipped out of town to another "District," far away from Johannesburg. The person responsible for managing this effort is Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who works for Multinational United (MNU). Wikus is a bumbling bureaucrat, who's landed this job thanks to marrying an MNU official's daughter.

Wikus and his armed motorcade drive into District 9 and start knocking on doors, asking prawns to sign their "eviction" notices. Things get interesting when Wikus is sprayed with an oil-like substance that starts to mutate his body into one of the prawns. Where the story goes from here is what makes District 9 so original and breathtaking. Let's just say I didn't get up to use the bathroom. 

The story behind the production of District 9 is also fascinating. First-time feature director, South African Neill Blomkamp, was working with Peter Jackson on the Halo movie when the plug was pulled. Jackson was so impressed with Blomkamp, he told him to write a script for something else and he'd find the financing.

Blomkamp wrote a script that could take advantage of some of the development he'd already done for Halo. This becomes even more clear when you watch the live-action promo trailer he made for the video game release of Halo 3.

One other thing about the film is it only cost $30 million. After seeing it, you won't believe it. I didn't.

As I watched District 9, I found myself comparing it to Star Wars--mostly, I think, because of how surprised I was with it. But later, when I read more about it, I found other comparisons. Star Wars was also made for relatively little money ($10 million in 1977). George Lucas knew how to take that money and make it look like $50 million. He hired unknown actors (except for Sir Alec Guinness), and put all the money into the sets and the special effects.

Like Lucas, Blomkamp put all the money on the screen. In an interview with Boston.com, he said he kept the costs down by doing the following:

  1. He hired one of his friends to play the lead role (Sharlto Copley). ("We had no $15 million, $20 million star to pay. So that eliminates that expense.")
  2. He knew how to accomplish the effects shots with no research and development ("Because of my background, I know what I can get away with. If we had done R&D [research and development], it would have been $50 million right there.")
  3. He shot it in one of Soweto's poorest neighborhoods, Chiawelo. He hired locals as extras. ("These were seriously impoverished people. Destitute people. The township alone had 70,000 people. But if you hire different groups each day, you get that money into the community.")

All of this is interesting to those who study filmmaking, but it doesn't really matter. District 9 is a great movie regardless of how much it cost, or how it was made. It will surely join the canon of Sci-Fi films and make Blomkamp a star of a director. Whether he stays in this position depends on his next film. I, for one, can't wait to see it.


posted by AndyO @ 11:28 PM   0 comments

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ponyo - Theater

AndyO review: * * * *

Metacritic: 86/100 (Universal acclaim)

Having two kids, I sometimes get to see movies that adults wouldn't normally go to or rent. As we've explored our video store, we've found some non-Disney animated gems, including Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away. Both films, I found out later, were directed by Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan's greatest animators.

Today, I took Cameron and his friend MacLean to see the new Miyazaki film, Ponyo. At first, the animation style (anime) of this film matches many second-rate films and children's shows. But in the hands of Miyazaki, Ponyo is like a waking dream. I saw the tagline for this film is "Welcome to a world where anything is possible." That pretty much describes it.

It's ironic that Disney distributed Ponyo. If you remove Miyazaki's thumbprint on this film, you have themes that were also present in The Little Mermaid or Pinocchio. You get the feeling that Disney's legendary animation and storytelling is echoing back to the United States by way of Japan.

If you've never seen any of Miyazaki's films, I recommend you go to the video store tonight and rent Howl's Moving Castle (nominated for the Best Animated Film Oscar in 2006) and Spirited Away (won for the Best Animated Film Oscar in 2003). (Give yourself a moment to adjust to the choppy anime animation style. It's not as slick as computer-animated films like Toy Story or Shrek.)


posted by AndyO @ 3:49 PM   0 comments

Inglourious Basterds - Theater

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic: 69/100 (Generally favorable reviews)

I've always admired the gusto that Quentin Tarantino brings to his films. The latest, Inglourious Basterds, is a mashup of 70s cinema, Westerns, and WWII movies -- told only the way Tarantino could tell it. Don't go into Basterds expecting historical accuracy.

As the trailers have shown, Brad Pitt is in charge of the "Inglourious Basterds" as Aldo Raine. In this case, the Basterds are Jewish American psychopaths who want to torture and scalp Nazis as revenge, sport, or both. But the Basterds make up only one part of the story.

The next part concerns Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a "Jew Hunter" (he was named by his fans and enemies) who seems to have an almost telepathic ability to stalk his prey. We see him in the first scene, speaking to a French dairy farmer in French. His words at first are friendly and disarming, but after they continue to talk (and switch to English) they become like knives. (Watch the subtitles closely during this scene, as they offer a bit of comic relief during an otherwise tense situation.)

The last threads of the story concern two women. The first, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), owns a cinema in France. She also happened to escape from Landa in the first scene, with the French farmer. She, like the Basterds, is also looking for revenge.

The other woman, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is a famous German actress who's also a spy. She's going to help the Basterds get into a movie premiere, which will be attended by most of the German High Command (including Hitler himself).

Inglourious Basterds, like most of Tarantino's work, is the kind of film that takes time to understand and appreciate. It wasn't until a few days later that I was thinking about the style of the film. Scenes often border on comedy, which, like Landa's words to the farmer, are meant to disarm the audience. One moment you're watching a kind of cartoonish introduction of one of the Basterds (Stiglitz!), the next someone is getting executed or scalped.

Tarantino, like so many great filmmakers, creates a world that is unique and interesting. Roger Ebert summed it up best in his review when he wrote that the characters in this film "are seen with that Tarantino knack of taking a character and making it a Character, definitive, larger than life, approaching satire in its intensity but not -- quite -- going that far. Let's say they feel bigger than most of the people we meet in movies."


posted by AndyO @ 2:54 PM   0 comments

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Marley & Me - Blu-ray

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

There are few films that capture parenting in all its raw glory. If you haven't had kids yet and want to know what it's like, watch "Marley and Me." If you have one or two kids and are thinking of having another, watch "Marley and Me." Oh, and you'll also find out why having a dog can be such a great adventure.

Marley, the dog, reminded me of my childhood dog, Sunny, a beautiful Irish Setter with a taste for wanderlust. (She got her name from Sun Valley, Idaho, where she was born.) I don't think there was a day that went by that she didn't run away. One time we lost her for months.

Even though she wasn't trained, she could hunt and retrieve. She got car sick. She loved swimming in ponds. She liked chasing golf balls on the golf course in our neighborhood, which sent one golfer in plaid pants into a homicidal rage("I'm going to get my shotgun!").

She slept in my bedroom at the foot of the bed.

Sunny was the kind of dog you see a once, maybe twice, in a lifetime. And so is Marley.

Marley & Me

Released: 2008

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Marley & Me

Owen Wilson, Eric Dane, Alan Arkin, Haley Bennett, Clarke Peters, Lucy Merriam,


posted by AndyO @ 1:04 AM   0 comments

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

JCVD - Netflix streaming

AndyO review - * * * 1/2

I can honestly say that JCVD is one of the more unique films I've seen in a while. It's a film about Jean-Claude Van Damme, the actor, but it's not a documentary. The film is experimental in many ways and shows that Van Damme can really act when given the chance -- even if he's playing himself.


Released: 2008

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com


Jean-Claude Van Damme, Zinedine Soualem, Jean-Fran�ois Wolff, Liliane Becker, Fran�ois Beukelaers, Saskia Flanders,


posted by AndyO @ 11:20 PM   0 comments

Aliens in the Attic - Theater

AndyO review: * * 1/2

A good-hearted film about a group of kids who go to battle with aliens in their vacation home attic. Excellent effects.

Aliens in the Attic

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Aliens in the Attic

Carter Jenkins, Ashley Tisdale, Henri Young, Doris Roberts, Kevin Nealon, Andy Richter,


posted by AndyO @ 11:11 PM   0 comments

G-Force - Theater

AndyO review - * * *

Cameron and I saw this in Digital 3-D, and I have to say G-Force had some of the best 3-D effects I've ever seen in a film. I think I now understand how great a 3-D experience can be.


Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com


Bill Nighy, Zach Galifianakis, Tyler Patrick Jones, Gabriel Casseus, Niecy Nash, Loudon Wainwright III,


posted by AndyO @ 11:08 PM   0 comments

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Theater

AndyO review: * 1/2

Metacritic: 36/100

Director Michael BayAfter seeing the first Transformers movie, I was hopeful that Michael Bay had finally learned how to make a really good action film. After seeing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, it appears Bay has slipped into his ways of old.

Let's put it this way: If you want to see 2-1/2 hours of wall-to-wall explosions, CGI robots destroying each other -- as well as most of what's left of ancient Egypt) -- and some really sexist shots of Megan Fox, then this is the summer film for you.

So, I thought the first rule of storytelling was that you need to have peaks and valleys in the story? If you only write action scenes, it's like listening to AC/DC turned up to 11 for 2 hours.

Megan Fox's amazing introduction in Transformers 2Steven Spielberg was the exec producer on Transformers, as well as on this film. Surely a director with such great story sense and pacing must have had a conference with Bay during the script development? I imagine it going something like this: "Mike, I love the script, but I have one small question: Why is every scene filled with action? There are no small human moments, like in the first film, where we got to know the characters."

To which Bay answered:

"Steve, who cares? Transformers was pretty much wall-to-wall action. And people ate it up! You can't argue with $319,246,193 in the U.S. and $708,272,592 worldwide! And now that HD-DVD is dead, thanks in no small part to my negative campaigning, and most consumers have no choice for their HD format, we can charge them a sh**load and make even more in the home video market!"

Michael Bay behind the camera

It appears that Bay was right (about the money, anyway), because in three days, Transformers 2 has made $125,946,000. So, it looks like we'll be getting another Transformers in two to three years. I'm just not sure I'll be sitting through another one of Bay's films.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Isabel Lucas, Matthew Marsden,


posted by AndyO @ 6:44 PM   0 comments

Terminator Salvation: Theater

AndyO review: * * *

Metacritic: 52/100 (mixed or average)

This was the Terminator film I always wanted to see: John Conner fighting the machines in the future. But like many films with a rich back story (namely Star Wars), it's not always easy to make a film about the back story -- or, as in this case, the future story.

Christian Bale, does what he can with the John Conner character, but in the end there's just not much for him to work with. The real story here is with Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), who's a Terminator but doesn't know it. Something tells me if this film had concentrated mostly on Marcus's story, this would have been a much richer, more interesting movie.

One area where the film shines is the production design. All the destroyed cities, all the Terminator factories, and the Terminators themselves are all really interesting to look at. The special effects are also top-notch.

On a final note, it's interesting how the absence of Arnold Swartzenegger is something you really feel in this film. You realize how, especially in the second film, he brought unexpected humor and presence to the Terminator role.


posted by AndyO @ 3:16 PM   0 comments

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Miracle at St. Ana - Blu-ray

AndyO review: * * 1/2

Metacritic: 37/100 (Generally negative reviews)

The story of black soldiers in World War II is definitely one that needs to be told. While there are some great cinematic moments in this movie, I felt lost in the story at times. If Spike Lee could have focused the story, perhaps leaving out the present-day "bookends," I think it would have been a much better film.

Miracle at St. Anna

Released: 2008

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Miracle at St. Anna

Derek Luke, Laz Alonso, Pierfrancesco Favino, Matteo Sciabordi, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kerry Washington,


posted by AndyO @ 11:37 PM   0 comments

Valkyrie - Blu-ray

AndyO review: * * 1/2

Metacritic: 56/100 (mixed reviews)

This was a film I was excited to see. I'm a World War II buff and didn't know too much about Operation Valkyrie, which was a plan to assassinate Hitler and use the Reserve Army in Germany for a coup.

All the pieces are here to make for a really interesting film, reminiscent of those great 70s films like "Day of the Jackal." As much as I've been one to defend Tom Cruise as an actor, I think his presence in this film detracts from the story. Once he put on that eye patch, I kept thinking about this being Tom Cruise pretending to be a German Colonel. I just didn't buy it.

But it's not all Cruise's fault. Something in the editing or direction of this film just doesn't work. It's almost as if they cut out a bunch of scenes that might have made the film longer -- but would have glued it together better.

Maybe there will be a Director's Cut someday.



Released: 2008

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com


Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Carice van Houten, Terence Stamp, Kevin McNally, Jamie Parker,


posted by AndyO @ 11:36 PM   0 comments

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Star Trek (2009) - Theater

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic: 80/100

Full disclosure: It's no secret to people who know me that I'm a big fan of Star Trek. I grew up watching the Original Series, with Shatner and Nimoy. But I'm also a fan of the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.

I've also enjoyed the Star Trek movies. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was probably the best, with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VII: First Contact my second and third favorites. But I've actually liked all of them. Even Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Now there's a new Star Trek movie that joins the best ones. This film returns to the original characters.

First impressions

After seeing the new Star Trek film, I'm happy to report the filmmakers have succeeded in relaunching Trek. All our old friends are here: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov. The actors all do a fine job channeling the original actors, while not impersonating them. I thought Chris Pine did a particularly good job with some of the subtleties of Kirk, and Karl Urban hit all the right notes with McCoy. 

The look and feel of Star Trek has also been updated. The Enterprise looks a little different, inside and out. The pacing and cinematography are more modern. And because of advances in special effects, this is the most realistic Star Trek universe ever seen on film (I'm sure much of the $160 million was spent on effects). In particular, the shots of the shuttlecraft flying over San Francisco were spectacular.

The story

Abrams and crew have found a unique way to approach the original Star Trek universe: What if a rogue Romulan (Nero, played expertly by Eric Bana) from the future waged a war on the Federation and altered the Star Trek universe as we know it? In other words, Nero's attacks create an alternate timeline.

For example, in the prologue of the film, the U.S.S. Kelvin is attacked by Nero. This is the ship where Kirk's father is serving. Kirk's father dies while saving 800 people, including his son James T. Kirk, who is born during the battle. In the original timeline, Kirk knew his father.

Spock's story

Like many of the original Star Trek films, this is Spock's story. We see how his half-human, half-Vulcan nature creates a ticking bomb that can go off at any moment. We watch Vulcan boys bully him. We watch the Vulcan council accept him into the Vulcan Science Academy, while calling his human mother a "limitation."

And while Spock may be at the center of this story, it's the relationship between Spock and Kirk that is the engine that drives the story forward. As the saying goes, opposites attract; but in many ways, Kirk and Spock (especially in this new universe) are very similar. Both are struggling with their identities.

The essence of Star Trek

So how do you catch the Star Trek essence -- and also satisfy all those die-hard fans out there? In the case of director J.J. Abrams and his collaborators, they give the fans enough familiar images, dialogue, and references that the changes they have made don't seem too severe. Some of my favorite pure Trek moments from this film:

  • Kirk and his enduring fascination with green women
  • Scotty giving her "all she's got" in the engine room
  • McCoy saying his famous, "I'm a doctor, not a <fill in the blank>" line
  • Seeing the Kobyashi Maru simulator again
  • Spock saying, "fascinating" and "logical"
  • The famous "live long and prosper" line and Vulcan hand gesture
  • Captain Christopher Pike (especially in the last scene and the reference to The Menagerie)
  • Using the original music and opening lines of the TV show
  • Chekov's Russian accent: Wictor, Wictor, and the problems it causes him
  • Sulu's fencing and legendary starship piloting skills
  • Uhura's ability to "open hailing frequencies" and more
  • Seeing Leonard Nimoy wearing the Vulcan ears again (maybe for the last time)

Flaws (nitpicks, problems, and what-have-you)

While the film is exciting and everything a summer movie should be, it also includes some pretty big plot holes and problems -- very surprising given J.J. Abrams' fascination with puzzles and crazy plots.

1. The biggest problem for me was when Spock kicked Kirk off the Enterprise. He didn't confine him to quarters, didn't throw him in the brig. He kicked him clean off the ship! This seems a little odd for anyone to do, let alone Spock.

2. Kirk ends up meeting the future Spock on the ice planet where the younger Spock banished him to. The odds of them meeting like this are far fetched to say the least. Surely there could have been a better way to write this in?

3. Spock and Uhura are in a relationship. This one really goes against the Star Trek canon. Even if there is some obscure reference in a Star Trek novel somewhere, this is just not how fans think of Spock and Uhura. Kirk and Uhura I could buy -- given that Kirk is ready to pounce on just about any female life form.

4. Kirk being promoted to second in command when he just graduated from Star Fleet academy. This is one that a friend pointed out to me, and I have to agree it's pretty unbelievable.

The final analysis

The good news is the flaws in this film don't detract enough to ruin it. I for one am excited about where they take this reboot of Star Trek. With the way they've set it up, they could go anywhere.


posted by AndyO @ 5:24 PM   1 comments

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Battle for Terra - Theater

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic score: 54/100 (mixed reviews)

Battle for Terra is one of the best animated films for children I've seen in a long time. It contains the same serious themes as a film like WALL-E, as well as some brilliant animation. (I saw the regular movie version, not 3-D version.)

The film begins on an alien world, where the inhabitants can fly like astronauts in zero-gravity, and also use flying devices to get around. This is a peaceful race. The children go to school. The people listen to the elders, who know what's best.

But then a strange object covers the sun, like an unnatural eclipse. The elders tell everyone to stay in their homes. Some of the inhabitants think that the Gods have returned. All is well.

But one of the inhabitants, Mala, who doesn't listen to what she's told to think, builds a telescope and sees that the object covering the sun is mechanical, a ship. By the time she figures this out, it's too late -- as an attacking force from the ship is on its way.

I don't really want to spoil the rest, as there are some great surprises as well as interesting themes. This is definitely one you'll want to see, with or without the kids.


posted by AndyO @ 12:15 PM   0 comments

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Earth - Theater

andyo review: * * *

metacritic: 72/100 (generally favorable)

Before I took my kids to see the new Disneynature film Earth, I listened to an interview with the directors, Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The film sounded extraordinary.

Now that I've seen it, I do think the images are extraordinary. But I realize that part of what made the interview interesting was hearing about how they got all those amazing shots of the animals. It sounds like one of the real stars of the film is the new "Cineflex" camera, which is a gyrostabilized camera, mounted under a helicopter that can shoot close-ups up to a mile away. This is how they got many of the amazing images in this film.

I once read a quote about filmmaking (I think from Roger Ebert) that goes something like this: A film has to be better and more interesting than an alternate film of the actors and filmmakers sitting around talking about the film. In many ways, at least for me, I was more interested in the making of this film -- and I think this is the reason the closing credits of the filmmakers (running from Polar Bears, running into trees in a hot air balloon) has so much energy.

This doesn't mean I'm taking anything away from the images of this film, which are amazing -- but I think a more non-traditional story of what it took to make this film and the amazing images would have been yielded a more interesting final film. It also would have provided a narrative thread that seems missing from Earth. (Contrary to the trailers and posters, this film explores more than the migratory journeys of polar bears, whales, and elephants.)

I only offer this evidence for my alternate vision of this film: My 4-year-old lost interest in Earth after 30 minutes. I think this is because human beings can only identify with animals for so long before they get bored. When I walked my 4-year-old to the bathroom near the last quarter of the film, I was surprised to see so many kids sleeping in their chairs or on their parents.

The only other criticism I have is the obvious special effects shot of the birds migrating over the Himalayas. I wonder why the filmmakers felt they needed this in the film if they didn't have the real footage? Juxtaposed next to the other extraordinary images in Earth, this sequence falls flat (except for the time-lapse shot of the Himalayas during night, with the stars spinning in the sky overhead).


posted by AndyO @ 6:41 PM   0 comments

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Race to Witch Mountain - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

Metacritic: 52/100

When I was 7 years old, my Mom took me to see "Escape to Witch Mountain." I remember a few things: A grown-up sat in front of me so that I The original kids of "Witch Mountain"couldn't see, and I thought a movie about kids from outer space was amazing. (I think I also had a childhood crush on Kim Richards, who played Tia Malone.) "Witch Mountain" probably remained my favorite movie until "Star Wars" came out two years later, showing me what a real Sci-Fi movie could be.

Over 30 years later, we have "Race to Witch Mountain," which isn't really a remake -- but a "re-imagining" of the original film. In this film, the focus has been shifted from the kids to Jack Bruno (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a Las Vegas cabdriver who's been in and out of trouble. Bruno becomes the chauffer of the two kids, Sara and Seth, who turn out to be (surprise!) aliens. Like the original movie, these kids can do all sorts of cool stuff -- like move objects, talk to animals, etc.

The new "Witch Mountain" gang

I happen to glance at the review of this film in The Seattle Times before I took my boys, and the title, "Close Encounters of the Robotic Kind." After seeing the film myself, I realize the Times' reviewer, Moira MacDonald, missed the mark somewhat. Yes, there are some robotic performances -- but that's because the kids are aliens and, I guess, English isn't their first language. Sure, Johnson is no Robert Deniro, but he does fine in the role here. I'm always surprised when reviewers don't seem to understand that families are looking for interesting, fun entertainment -- just like "Witch Mountain." The theater where we watched the film was 90% full at 3:30.

The only gripe I have is I think the film was pushing beyond a PG rating, with all the guns and head-bashing going on. This was definitely more worthy of PG-13.

Cameos: The two kids from the original film, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, show up as a waitress and sheriff in this film. 

Race to Witch Mountain

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Race to Witch Mountain

Dwayne Johnson, Alexander Ludwig, Ciar�n Hinds, Chris Marquette, Garry Marshall, Ike Eisenmann,


posted by AndyO @ 7:43 PM   0 comments

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coraline - Theater

Artistic direction and animation: * * * *

Story: * *

Overall review: * * 1/2

Coraline is a beautifully-animated film that suffers from a macabre story. My 8-year old hid under his coat for the entire second half of the movie. The movie audience seemed frozen (I heard maybe one laugh throughout the entire film) and uninvolved.

But the stop-motion animation is superb and makes "Wallace and Gromit" look like child's play. I'd never seen stop-motion -- an animation technique that involves moving models or puppets frame by frame (it takes 24 frames for one second of film) -- where the camera was moving around as well. I'd be curious to see how they did that.

I'd think twice before bringing the kids to this one.


posted by AndyO @ 8:28 PM   0 comments

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Swing Vote - Blu-ray

AndyO review: * * 1/2

The idea of Swing Vote is a good one: What would happen if a presidential election came down to one person's vote? In this case, that person is Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), a kind of village idiot who's in way over his head but is too dumb to know it. Part of this character works, but in the end I found him too simpleminded and stereotypical. If he'd been less of an "ugly American," this could have been a much more interesting (and perhaps great) film.

While it's funny to watch the two presidential candidates cater to Bud's comments (the conservative candidate abruptly moves to support Gays and Lesbians in the military), it's too far-fetched to suspend disbelief. The two advisors to each candidate, Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, have the thankless role of pushing their candidate where they don't want to go -- another cliche that could have been written in a less melodramatic way. 

Of course the great find in this film is Madeline Carroll, who plays Johnson's daughter Molly. She's been forced to grow up and become wise beyond her years -- thanks to her two immature, self-centered parents. And in many ways the film is about her and the way her integrity changes the other characters.

In the end, I'm left thinking about what this film might have been like under the direction of Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing TV show and the film The American President. We'll never know.

Swing Vote

Released: 2008

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Swing Vote

Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Tucci, Judge Reinhold, Richard Petty,


posted by AndyO @ 6:09 PM   0 comments

Inkheart - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

Inkheart smartly combines a fresh twist on the metafiction theme that I've seen in films like Zelig, Stranger Than Fiction, and Adaptation, and fantasy films like Harry Potter and The Spiderwick Chronicles. It's also a good family film, although it does contain some frightening images.

This film also includes nice performances by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Wimbledon) and Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren (The Queen).


Released: 2008

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com


Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Rafi Gavron, Steve Speirs, Stephen Graham,


posted by AndyO @ 5:32 PM   0 comments

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Pink Panther 2 - Theater

AndyO review: * * 1/2

The Pink Panther 2

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

The Pink Panther 2

Steve Martin, Emily Mortimer, Alfred Molina, Aishwarya Rai, Lily Tomlin, Johnny Hallyday,


posted by AndyO @ 12:33 AM   0 comments

Paul Blart: Mall Cop - Theater

AndyO review: * *

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Shirley Knight, Peter Gerety, Adam Ferrara, Adhir Kalyan,


posted by AndyO @ 12:29 AM   0 comments

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The X-Files: "Fight the Future" and "I Want to Believe" - Blu-ray

AndyO review:

Fight the Future: * * *

I Want to Believe: * * * 1/2

The X-Files is one of my favorite TV shows. It's true that when it went off the air in 2001, it had already lost much of what had made it unique. But until around season 7 or so, it had some of the best writing on television.

"Fight the Future" was released in 1998, between seasons 5 and 6, and the story fit neatly into the conspiracy mythology of the show. I remember when I saw the movie in the theater, I thought it would have been a good ending to show. After all, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) finally uncovers the conspiracy he's been chasing for five seasons. It seemed like there was nowhere else to go with the series (which, sadly, ended up being the case). In time, Duchovny would leave the show entirely, only to come back to hook up with Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) on the last show. The X-Files had descended into soap opera territory.

So, I was a little worried when, in the new X-Files movie, "I Want to Believe," Mulder and Scully are still together as a couple, just as they were in that final episode. But somehow the passage of time has made their relationship more plausible. They've remained a couple because Mulder isn't investigating X-Files anymore. He's just a normal guy, who stays at home while Scully is out working as a surgeon in a children's hospital. But then the FBI comes knocking at his door...  

Someone has abducted an FBI agent, and a psychic priest named Father Joe (Billy Connolly), who happens to be a pedophile, is helping the authorities. One FBI agent (Amanda Peet) wants to bring Mulder back to help assess whether the psychic priest is for real. He reluctantly comes back.

Once Mulder is back working with the FBI, he's quickly pulled into the dark world of killers and their victims -- a place he's pretty comfortable. He wants to believe that Father Joe is telling the truth, that he is a small light shining in this darkness. At one point, Scully says, "I don't want the darkness back in my house," which means she doesn't think she can be with Mulder if he's going to be out in the crazy, evil world they both walked away from.

And the world that Mulder has walked back into is indeed crazy and evil. Without giving away too much, let's just say this story turns Frankenstein upside down (or inside out). And unlike many movies today, "I Want to Believe" takes its time weaving together many threads that seem disconnected.

In the end, what kept me thinking of this film days after I'd seen it were the characters. Watching Dana Scully wrestle with the decision to put a child patient through a painful, experimental procedure. Watching Mulder's gift for pursuing evil come back after lying dormant for so long. Watching Father Joe's anguish when he finds out why he's seeing visions.

This is great filmmaking. I can only hope they bring back these characters again in another X-Files movie or new TV show.


posted by AndyO @ 11:34 PM   0 comments

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) - Theater

AndyO review: * *

I took my two boys to see this film today, and after it was over the eight-year-old said, "That was a good one!"

In many ways, I think the target audience for Journey to the Center of the Earth is eight-year-olds -- or maybe kids just a little older. It reminded me of the National Treasure movies, with implausable plot points that end up being  entertaining.

Brendan Fraser plays down-and-out Professor Trevor Anderson, who discovers the earth's seismic activity is the same as when his brother disappeared. Fraser is also babysitting his 13-year-old nephew (Josh Hutcherson), his brother's son. As quickly as you can say, "jump cut," Fraser and his nephew fly to Iceland to track down a scientist who knew the brother. Instead, they meet his daughter -- an Icelandic mountain goddess, uh, I mean guide named Hannah (Anita Briem).

After Hannah leads them up a volcanic peak, they end up getting trapped in the mountain -- and eventually fall thousands of miles into the center of the earth. As you can imagine, they see many wonderful and scary things down there.

So, if all this sounds pretty stupid, it is. But there are a few things that somehow made the film work (at least on a popcorn level):

  • Brendan Fraser -- His comedic timing and on-screen presence pull us into the story. Coincidentally, I watched George of the Jungle with my kids the night before -- and I noticed how his presence there seemed to make that otherwise silly film entertaining, too.
  • The mine car sequence -- There's a set piece in Journey that's like the mine car sequence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom dialed up a few levels.
  • The coming-of-age story of the 13-year-old nephew. It was fun to see an introverted 13-year-old go through a crazy journey with his uncle.

So, no Academy Awards for this film. Just pure popcorn fun. 


posted by AndyO @ 11:38 PM   0 comments

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tropic Thunder - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

Tropic Thunder is about a bunch of pampered Hollywood stars who go on location to make a movie a lot like Apocalypse Now or Platoon. When things don't go very well, their director takes them deep into the jungle to shoot the film, guerrilla style. Problem is, the director gets blown up by a land mine -- although most of the actors refuse to believe it.

Thus begins their quest.

Ben Stiller, pulling double duty as director and actor, plays Tugg Speedman, an action/adventure star who's lost his magic at the box office. He's tried to make a serious film about a retarded man who thinks he can talk to animals, but it fails -- the film reviewed as one of the worst movies of all time.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Oscar-winning, Australian actor Kirk Lazarus who's playing  a black man (he underwent special surgery to play the part). Even between takes, he stays in character, annoying everyone with his Blaxploitation dialogue. (He tells his fellow actors that he doesn't break character until he's done with the DVD commentary.)

Jack Black plays the flatulent, gross-out comedy star Jeff Portnoy who's also trying to make a serious movie -- only he's a heroine addict who goes into withdrawals once he steps into the jungle. (There's a hilarious scene with a bat swooping in and taking his stash.)

There are a couple of other actors joining the "stars," Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). Because they haven't been turned to prima donnas yet, they're able to think a little more clearly than that stars when things get tough.

But what makes Tropic Thunder really work are the support actors, including Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, and Nick Nolte. Tom Cruise is absolutely brilliant, playing mogul Les Grossman. Let's just say you probably won't recognize him at first -- and by the end of the film you'll be thinking he steals the show.

What's a little odd about Tropic Thunder is I didn't laugh as hard as I thought I would. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. I think I'll know when I watch it again someday.

Tropic Thunder has been a box office success (it was the film that knocked Batman: Dark Knight off its perch), and I think it will go on to be a classic Hollywood war comedy. I know as I left the theater I thought to myself that I'd never seen a movie quite like Tropic Thunder -- which is no small feat.

I also was surprised to see Ben Stiller's name as the director of the film. I've seen a few of his films, but this one is definitely his best. I think he's now on his way to making the shift from A-list actor to A-list director, which is what he's always wanted to do.

I'll definitely be curious to see what he does next.


posted by AndyO @ 10:45 AM   0 comments

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Star Wars - The Clone Wars - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

I actually had a pretty good time at this movie with my three-year-old. I was surprised to see the terrible reviews after I saw it, as I thought it captured some of the fun of the original Star Wars.

It's not, however, a movie for adults -- which I guess explains most critics' disdain for the film.


posted by AndyO @ 9:25 PM   0 comments

Saturday, May 17, 2008

21 - Theater (Phoenix)

AndyO review: **

I really wanted to like this film (it's a good idea about MIT students going to Vegas with their professor to count cards and win big bucks), but there were many problems:

  • The lead actor was unable to carry the film
  • The lead actor couldn't do an accurate Boston accent
  • No chemistry between the lead actor and the female lead
  • Too many cliches, poor screenwriting
  • Melodrama (black and white scenes -- no nuance)
  • Kevin Spacey isn't enough to save a bad script


posted by AndyO @ 4:49 PM   0 comments

Monday, March 31, 2008

Vantage Point - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

Metacritic score: 40/100

This is either the kind of movie you like or not, which is why the reviews are all over the map for this. I, for one, had a great time.

There were three things worth noting about Vantage Point:

  1. This was the first digitally-projected film I've seen at Pacific Place in Seattle. I was impressed with the sharp images and thunderous sound. I understood immediately how digital projection could replace traditional celluloid projectors in the near future.
  2. The film is a modern take on Kurosowa's classic film Rashomon, which tells the same story from different points of view--hence the title vantage point. With each different pass through the same events, we learn more details about an attempted assassination of the President of the United States in Spain. As you'd expect, things are not always what they seem.
  3. There are no less than two Oscar-winning actors, William Hurt (as the President) and Forest Whitaker (Howard Lewis) in this film, as well as Dennis Quaid  and Sigourney Weaver.


posted by AndyO @ 8:33 PM   0 comments

Horton Hears a Who - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

A nice kids' movie based on the Dr. Seuss classic that explores conformity and standing up for what you believe in -- no matter what the cost.


posted by AndyO @ 8:10 PM   0 comments

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jumper - Theater

Andyo review: * * *

"Jumper" is one of the more interesting Sci-Fi films I've seen in a while. It's fun to see Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson working together in another movie. It makes you realize how bad George Lucas's direction must have been.


posted by AndyO @ 11:55 PM   0 comments

The Lake House - HD-DVD

AndyO review: * * 1/2


posted by AndyO @ 11:44 PM   0 comments

Rescue Dawn - DVD

AndyO review - * * * 1/2

This is the harrowing true story of Dieter Dengler, a pilot who is shot down over Vietnam and ends up in a prison camp. Werner Herzog brings his usual gritty, realistic direction to the film.


posted by AndyO @ 11:39 PM   0 comments

Sunday, February 17, 2008

There Will Be Blood - Theater

There Will Be Blood reviewsAndyO review: * * * 1/2

Metacritic score: There Will Be Blood (2007) 92/100

Mini-Review: "There Will Be Blood" is a dark epic about a sociopathic oil man and his quest for money and power. Daniel Day Lewis, as Daniel Plainview, gives one of the best performances of the year -- almost a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar. However, for this filmgoer, the film unravels in the last act losing almost all the momentum and purpose of the previous two hours.


posted by AndyO @ 1:51 AM   0 comments

Friday, January 18, 2008

I Am Legend - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

I saw I Am Legend over the holidays, and really enjoyed it. A friend of mine, TinyDog, did not like it. Here is our debate in e-mail:


From: Tiny Dog
Sent: Sunday, December 16, 2007 10:54 PM
To: Andy O
Subject: Re: The next Tiny dog zombie movie? I Am Legend: TERRIBLE!

On 12/16/07 10:56 PM, "Andy O" wrote:

I saw it, too. But, as usual, I respectfully disagree. I actually thought it was pretty good.

From: TinyDog
Sent: Monday, December 17, 2007 8:00 AM
To: AndyO

Dude--the zombies were awful! Bad CGI, inexplicably acrobatic, totally not scary. The screenplay was based on a vampire book and they didn't even bother to change the details to make the plot logical. Why exactly would people with a virus crave blood? That makes NO sense. And the ending? That lady who shows up with the perfect outfit and hair? The conveniently located grenades and semiautomatics lying around in every drawer and umbrella stand? The cheesy Bob Marley and Shrek stuff??!!
The worst.

From: AndyO

I had a feeling the digi-zombies were at the heart of all this. I have to admit, they were pretty bad. And digi-dogs, too (what was with their chests?). The white Zombie guys screaming like lions was also kind of weird, as was the acrobatics.

But what I liked was the idea of this lone guy trying to survive in NY. All of that kept my interest. All of the conveniently located weapons were a reflection of Smith's character. He was a top-level Army guy, and I thought they showed how organized he was all the way through the movie. He was prepared for all contingencies. If they hadn't foreshadowed that earlier, I wouldn't have bought it--but I think they did.

I didn't mind the Bob Marley and Shrek stuff. IMHO: Bob Marley music was how he was keeping his sanity. The Shrek stuff was about how he had lived alone for so long he didn't know how to interact with people. I'll admit that they should have shown him sitting around mimicking the movie by himself before he did it in front of the kid.

I don't think the movie was perfect, but I'd give it three stars out of four. The missing one star is due to the stuff you mentioned (bad zombies, etc.). But did I care about this guy? Yes. Was it a movie that kept my interest and stirred up my imagination? Yes. Was it better than "Twelve Monkeys," a movie with a similar story? Yes.

But I can understand how those details you mentioned would have destroyed the movie for you. I guess it depends on how much you can suspend your disbelief, and I'm one of those people who can just go along with it. My friend Brian is more like you. He'll shred a movie for just copying a famous Hitchcock camera shot. But somehow I've always been able to just experience a movie without analyzing it too much. That happens later when I watch it on my super 40-inch Hi-Def TV. :-)



posted by AndyO @ 7:05 PM   0 comments

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Blade Runner - HD-DVD

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

I've had a long and strange relationship with Blade Runner that goes back to its beginning, 25 years ago. That was when my Dad brought me to see Blade Runner at the theater. My expectations were high. I thought I was seeing another Star Wars, but what I saw was nothing like my favorite film. I left the theater a little confused and let down.

A few years later on a family vacation, we rented a VHS player along with Blade Runner, which was the European version. This version didn't make the film any better for me, although it was more violent (which my brother and I thought was cool).

Fast forward to college. My roommate and friend, Brian, a filmmaker, would wax poetic about Blade Runner for hours. He'd show me the artistry in each frame, and, while I appreciated director Ridley Scott's work, the story was never quite exciting or satisfying enough for me.

Then, sometime in the mid-1990's, I heard about the "Director's Cut" of Blade Runner. I dragged my wife to the Cinerama theater in downtown Seattle, and we watched a version of the film that was closer to Ridley Scott's original vision. Without the voice overs from Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), the film took on a more existential, poetic quality. Just that one alteration changed the story from noirish gumshoe detective tale to a futuristic meditation on life and death.

A few months ago, Brian, the same roommate from college, sent me a link to Blade Runner - The Final Cut. I remember thinking, what else could they do to this film? What was the Director's Cut supposed to be? A few years back, Ridley Scott finally came out and said Deckard was a Replicant himself, sending a shockwave through the Sci-Fi community. Would the Final Cut include more about this?

A few days ago on New Years Eve, I watched the HD DVD Final Cut version of Blade Runner. On my Sony 40" Bravia LCD TV in high-definition, the film leaped off the screen. The soundtrack--effects and music--were flawless. I sat in awe of practically every frame, seeing it the way my friend Brian had probably always seen it.

Expecting to see all kinds of different scenes and changes, I was surprised to see that this version was actually pretty close to the Director's Cut. I would learn later that the reason Ridley Scott did this version of the film was that the Director's Cut was rushed, and he wasn't as involved (although he did approve it). This time, Ridley supervised the process of cleaning up the film, re-editing, adding scenes, etc. In the George Lucas universe of re-editing films, we've come to expect completely revised special effects and scenes. I actually had to go to this Wikipedia article to understand all the differences, and many of them are subtle.

What's great about this HD DVD package is that you get 5 versions of the film (there are actually 7 versions of this film), including:

  • The final cut
  • The director's cut
  • The international release
  • The original release
  • The workprint

There's also an in-depth, feature-length documentary about the making of Blade Runner called Dangerous Days (the original title of the film).

One might ask, is this really the final cut of Blade Runner? It's hard to tell in this world of recuts, mashups, alternate versions, and the like. But this definitive cut of Ridley Scott's groundbreaking film is the best I've seen yet. 


posted by AndyO @ 4:50 PM   0 comments

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Game Plan - Theater

AndyO review: * * 1/2

A cute family film about an egotistical football star who discovers he has a daughter. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shows that he can carry a family comedy with his charisma, physical comedy, singing, ballet, and more. Kyra Sedgwick has the thankless role of being his overbearing agent.


posted by AndyO @ 12:14 AM   0 comments

Friday, September 14, 2007

Little Children - DVD

AndyO review: * * * *

Mini-review: A haunting portrait of suburbia that will stay with you long after you're done watching it.


posted by AndyO @ 12:47 AM   0 comments

Monday, August 27, 2007

Doomsday Gun - DVD

AndyO review: * * *

The true story of Gerald Bull, who wanted to build the biggest gun in history -- capable of delivering a projectile 1000 miles away. After the U.S. put him in jail for violating arms export laws, he decided he'd build his "supergun" for the highest bidder. This bidder turned out to be Iraq.

Frank Langella has an uncanny ability to play characters who are on (or just over) the edge of moral bankruptcy. Kevin Spacey plays a cynical CIA agent trying to stay sane in an otherwise insane world.

Wikipedia article about Gerald Bull


posted by AndyO @ 8:44 PM   0 comments

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Underdog - Theater

AndyO review: * 1/2

Metacritic score: 37 (out of 100)

The reason this movie gets one-and-a-half stars instead of one is that my son loved it. So his opinion, you could say, influenced the addition of one-half star.

I love kids' movies. I think the Pixar films are some of the best movies ever. The Shrek films are also very good. But if the writers get lazy, then they're going to lose points. There's a fine line between homage and stealing, and this movie blatantly steals. It's almost as if the filmmakers thought "Hey, a bunch of little kids are seeing this movie -- they won't know." Here are some scenes that they stole and perhaps what the filmmakers were thinking:

Lady and the Tramp:

  • The famous eating scene with the spaghetti and meatballs ("Oh, Disney is distributing this movie, we can steal from all those films!")

Superman in general:

  • Flying man, flying dog. ("Who will guess where we got this one!?")
  • A superhero outfit complete with cape and "U" instead of an "S." ("It's a totally different letter!")
  • A way of taking away the dog's power -- like Kryptonite ("It's a pill, not an element. That's not the same at all!")
  • The dog has a secret identity ("It's not like we named him Clark Dog... his name's Shoeshine!).
  • The dog's love interest is in love with his superhero alter-ego. ("It's not like we named her Lois Dog.)

Superman: The Movie

  • When Superman takes Lois flying over Metropolis: "Can you read my mind?" ("Hey, we didn't use the song--and we didn't have the dog start singing those words... there's no similarity here!")
  • When Superman goes underground to repair the San Andreas Fault. ("No, our dog takes a stick of high explosives deep into the earth... he's not trying to repair anything!")
  • When Superman stops the cat burglar. ("Oh, this will be even better because a dog is saying it!")
  • When Superman rescues a cat. ("Can you imagine the laughs? A dog rescuing a cat!")

Superman Returns:

  • The scene where Superman flies into space and then enters the earth's atmosphere. ("Hey, this is a pretty new reference. Plus, this happened in 'Apollo 13.' Plus it's pretty cool watching the dog burning through the atmosphere. Get it! He's a Hot Dog!")

OK, so I think you see what I'm talking about. If there's anything I dislike more in a movie, it's lazy screenwriting. I don't care if it's for a kids' movie or not. It's as if the screenwriters had a bunch of 3x5 cards with all the Superman references, and they pulled out what they wanted.

Of course, the screenwriters might have had a really great script that the director ruined with all these cliches; but we'll never know.

So, what did I like about the film? Jim Belushi and the dog talking effects.


posted by AndyO @ 5:58 PM   0 comments

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ocean's 13 - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

A worthy follow-up to "Ocean's 11" and "Oceans 12," "Ocean's 13" wisely returns Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his gang to Las Vegas, where all this fun started. Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin are a nice addition with their amazing chemistry (which they showed long ago in "Sea of Love"). Gone is Julia Roberts. 

And, personally, I liked the Oprah jokes.


posted by AndyO @ 5:08 PM   0 comments

Transformers - Theater

AndyO review: * * * 1/2

A brilliant, summer popcorn movie that both kids and their parents will enjoy. This is also something of a milestone, as Michael Bay, the director who is known for making slick, dumb action films, has finally made his masterpiece.


posted by AndyO @ 4:57 PM   0 comments

Letters from Iwo Jima - DVD

AndyO review: * * * *

After seeing "Flags of Our Fathers," I wondered how good Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" could be. The former was a melodramatic, poorly-acted film that was actually difficult to sit through. But "Letters" is a poetic, beautifully acted film that examines the end of the war through Japanese eyes. We empathize with these soldiers who are in a no-win situation, and they change from enemies to fellow human beings.

One of the best war films I've ever seen.


posted by AndyO @ 4:51 PM   0 comments