Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rotten Tomatoes: What's In A Number?

Since its incarnation, more and more people have started to turn to the aggregate film rating site Rotten Tomatoes to get a critical consensus on the newest theatrical films. What exactly about RT makes it the number one destination for many of the current generation's movie-goers?

The site is simple. A percentage is created out of how many fresh (positive) and how many rotten (negative) reviews are given to a film from the qualified film critics (there are standards a writer must pass before having their reviews featured on the site). The film is then given a full and healthy red tomato or a splattered rotten one based on where its percentage of fresh vs. rotten reviews falls. A film receives a fresh rating if it stands at 60% or higher. Anything else and it's considered rotten.

I'm sure that what I'm telling you is common knowledge by now. Rotten Tomatoes is another step in the digital progression of journalism. I highly doubt many people still open up that newspaper on Thursday or Friday morning to read the newest film reviews. They are there, but they can be had a lot sooner online.

Fact of the matter is, this relatively simple formula employed by RT can be a great tool to use as a consumer if understood correctly. The film releases of the last few weeks has stimulated my thought process of what exactly the numbers Rotten Tomatoes dishes out. And are they worth anything at all at face value?

Taking the percentage given by RT to a film straight up is a bad idea. A 90% might trigger 9/10 in the mind of a quick reader, when that really means the film might be scoring more average ratings of 7/10 or something similar. Likewise, a film might also have a 90% rating but be yielding scores in the higher 8/10 range. This means that any smart user of the website should move their eyes below the large font percent rating and to the film's average score. This extra insight is still only a number with no context to place around it.

What I'm about to tell you may shock you. To fully understand why a film is getting great reviews, or why it's disappointing the mass, you're going to have to read a bit. You will certainly learn more, even if this means just skimming the quick comments the site attaches to the names and faces of critics. RT makes each review easily readable with the click of a button for a good reason.

Last week's Terminator: Salvation reviews raise a prime example as to why the percents Rotten Tomatoes dishes out shouldn't be taken at face value. I don't want to call the older film critics out of touch with society. Some are (*coughArmondWhitecough*), but labeling them all as unknowing would be ignorant and stupid. A common complaint about the fourth film in the series was that it lacked emotion. One female writer even complained about feminist malarkey. This lead to the film receiving a cornucopia of rotten reviews.

I won't argue with their complaints. Salvation was undoubtedly more action oriented than emotional. Does this make it a bad film? Maybe in their eyes. Everyone has their own opinion. But what about in the eyes of a crowd of 20-somethings that want to see Christian Bale fight robots? By not reading the specific complaints from critics, one might simply shrug off a film without fully understanding the complaints.

Another thought that crossed my mind came about when reading Brian Orndorf's review of Salvation on DVDTalk. On DVDTalk he left his review with a "Rent It" rating, which is one higher than the lowest rating, "Skip It". On Rotten Tomatoes that review transferred over as being a rotten review. Is "rent it" really negative? If Orndorf is telling his readers that the film is worth renting, but not rushing to theaters to see, dos that make the film rotten? These reviews aren't written with Rotten Tomatoes in mind. What a 2.5/5 means to one person, it might not mean to another.

In addition, Orndorf was quite the contradictor with his reviews for that week. He called Salvation "a lumbering, joyless detour into unappetizing Hollywood recycling". In his review of Dance Flick, he took a different approach by saying "I mean, come on: it's a scant 75 minutes long, contains a well-deserved swipe at the goofiness that is the Twilight saga, and features a beatboxing vagina. If that doesn't marginally entertain you, nothing will."

Dance Flick did indeed receive a fresh review from Orndorf. What I can't understand is why Orndorf didn't apply that same open-minded "let me be enjoyed" mentality to Terminator: Salvation? Was it because of the high prestige film critics hold the first two Terminators to? I don't really know, but it is puzzling. If Orndorf can muster up the strength to say he was entertained by beatboxing vaginas I'm sure he could do the same for a film about a robot war. Not to pick on the guy, I love reading his work. He's a terrific writer and knows his stuff. I just find this to be a perfect example as to why face value ratings can't be taken as anything but a simple number. And numbers lie.

Not to mention that some of the writer's that get featured on the website are not the most stable or aware people around. I already got in a jab at Armond White and I can't resist to do so again. I'm convinced that White is using his powers to become one of film criticism's biggest trolls. He dislikes great and enjoyable films such as The Wrestler, The Dark Knight, Star Trek and Gomorrah while giving positive reviews to drivel such as The Transporter 3 and Dance Flick. He was even the first to give a negative review to the new Pixar film Up. Nothing shocking there.

White writes his reviews with no one in mind other than himself. They're enigmatic, high-brow pieces of criticism that often makes no sense in the minds of other people than himself. Nobody writes or talks or thinks the way he does, and he isn't worth listening to. I personally think that film criticism should be about writing to the masses, not a platform to stroke your own ego and film knowledge off. If the reader can't understand why you like or dislike a film, what the hell is the point? If you think through your eyes only, you won't make the reader feel welcome.

To not stray off anymore, let me connect this to the larger picture. Film critics don't have the same opinions as you do. It'll never be that way. Art wouldn't be art without critics, that's for sure, but to talk their words as the final answer would be doing an insane injustice to everything art stands for. Just stay away from the likes of White and his antithesis Victoria Alexander, whose rambling reviews are more at the level of a 5th grader than a graduate student.

A few of my favorite films of the past year have been given rotten overall reviews on RT. Both Taken and Observe and Report scored under the 60% mark, meaning the films were classified rotten by the site. It's pretty obvious as to why both of these films fell under the desired 60% line. Both films were aimed more towards the younger population. Taken turned Liam Neeson into one of the most ferocious revenge heroes of the last five to ten years, while Observe and Report was a film full of the dark, cynical and sick humor director and writer Jody Hill gave us in Eastbound & Down. Hell, even Crank: High Voltage finished at 61%, barely good enough to be considered an overall fresh film. It just goes to show you that these critics might not have your needs and wants in mind.

I do hope you don't take this as a slam on Rotten Tomatoes. It is one of my favorite film database websites and for a good reason. When used correctly, the power it has as a tool for finding out what the top film critics think about a film is unmatched. It conveniently collects reviews and formulates a rating that is sometimes all too simple. Nothing is as black and white as Rotten Tomatoes makes it appear to be. By giving a little more time and using a few tools of research, some of the always important grey will start to seep into the pool of the current week's film reviews.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: May 26th, 2009

A little late, but still great. Here's another Tuesday of DVD and Blu-ray releases. I was actually in a few physical brick and mortar DVD stores today, so I've seen a few of these titles on the shelves already. To the starting line!

M. Butterfly [DVD]

Rarely would I ever make my first entry of my weekly write-up of the newest DVDs a film I've never seen unless it was something I had been really waiting to see. This week is perhaps one of the greatest examples of this. M. Butterfly is not a few film, just one that hasn't been previously available on DVD here. This 1993 film starring Jeremy Irons is one of two feature films from David Cronenberg that I don't currently own. The other being Shivers, a film that's out of print and hopefully next to be reissued. I don't know if this film is great, good, average or bad, and I don't care. As a collector and a fan of Cronenberg this must be seen and added to my collection as soon as possible. Amazon had listed that the title was pushed back to June, but it has since returned the date to today's. Netflix also shows it as being available to rent.

Falling Down [DVD][Blu-ray]

Another film I still haven't seen but have had at the top of my list for quite some time is Falling Down. This seems like a good day for films from 1993 to get reproduced on DVD (and Blu-ray)! This one stars Michael Douglas and is directed by Joel Schumacher. The film deals with an unemployed defense worker who begins to lash out violenty at society when he begins to notice flaws that frustrates. Sounds like a cerebral and thrilling plot to me. I need to get this one viewed soon.

Children of Men [Blu-ray]

I can only imagine that this bleak portrayal of the future, brilliant photographed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n, must look great on Blu-ray. It was one of the best films of its year and its great to see it finally getting a release on the new format.

Powder Blue [DVD][Blu-ray]

This is the film Jessica Biel gets naked in. So watch it. Or just use Google to find the clips and skip the rest.

You know what? I'm sort of tired. This is all you get, for now. Today was pretty weak outside of a few titles.

What else comes out this week: True Romance [Blu-ray], Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves [Blu-ray], Seabiscuit [Blu-ray], Field of Dreams [Blu-ray], Zabriskie Point, Land of the Lost: Complete Series, Cinderella Man [Blu-ray], Beyond Rangoon.

What to stay away from: Hmmm, how about this? New in Town. The plot reads as being: "A Miami businesswoman adjusts to her new life in a tiny Minnesota town." And Harry Connick Jr. is in it. And the tagline is "She's an executive on the move. But her career is taking her a little farther than she expected." And if you need more reasons you're stupid.

Well, that's it. This week is lame. I can only give you what I get to play with. Which wasn't much this time around. Let's hope that next week is a bit more exciting (and that I have the mental stamina to write up to its level).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator: Salvation More Furious Than Tender

Expectations can be a dangerous thing. I can understand the slight fear of a perspective viewer for a film like Terminator: Salvation, the fourth film in the series that started 25 years ago.

After all, the studios picked a man known only by three letters, McG, to helm the director’s chair. His anemic catalog of previous efforts includes a selection of music videos and the two Charlie’s Angels reboots. And to make one cringe even more, given back the screenplay pens were both John Brancato and Michael Ferris, the two of whom have worked side by side quite often, writing the frivolous and cheesy third film in the Terminator series and the quite embarrassing Catwoman reboot. This is enough to scare the pants off even the biggest of Terminator fans.

But relax, I say, for can these three men really screw up a film about a robot versus human war set in a post-apocalyptic and dark world? Even more so, one that stars Christian Bale?

Terminator: Salvation, which takes place in 2018, chronicles the struggles led by John Connor (Bale) and the rest of the nuclear holocaust survivors to keep the machines of Skynet from finishing what they have started.

Salvation is loud, furious and gritty. These are the best things the film has going for it. I’m not ready to call McG a visionary director, but his destroyed world shows promise. The visual style he applies to the film is enough to hold your attention and transplant you into it, despite some of the mangled sets looking as fake as they actually are. The world is constructed with lots of dark grays, blacks and a palate of colors that screams apocalypse.

As far as action goes, there’s lots of it, and most of it is spectacular. There are a few moments that especially keep your eyes glued to the screen, such as a deceptively long Children of Men inspired take of a helicopter crash that puts the viewer in the seat of a passenger. One other particularly pleasing sequence of enormous scale begins when a large robot that seems more Transformers than Terminator attacks a group of resistance fighters, which begins a long, throttling chase sequence.

The entire film is practically made up of either large scale action sequences or hand-to-hand combat, but it never got tiring. The only thing that can possibly dampen your enjoyment of the entertaining and thrilling action that has McG giving Michael Bay a run for the crown in an explosion contest is if you’re looking for too much substance surrounding it all.

Salvation isn’t exactly the most well written action film out there. The dialogue is simple, very standard conversation. Of course, this isn’t Quentin Tarantino writes The Terminator, it’s Brancato and Ferris doing the writing, so you shouldn’t expect more than simple at best. There isn’t too much stock to put into the characters because of this, but that’s something I found unnecessary in relation to my enjoyment factor.

As you watch Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, who plays the more robot than human character Marcus Wright, have an intense and heated conversation about what Wright really is, you realize that most of these actors are better than the film’s script is. Worthington steals scenes and shows signs of being a promising actor. Unfortunately, none of these characters are too developed, but I still found myself caring about the outcome.

While I would have liked to see this film’s script given to someone else, and not the two guys who tried to mess up the series with Terminator 3, the one pass I can give the two is that the Terminator story has already been told. Fans of the series already know about John Connor and Kyle Reese, meaning they’re already emotionally invested in the characters.

My excusing of the two writers continues to the plot. While basic and standard fare, this film is simply a robot war at heart. What more can you ask for? Okay, there’s only a shallow and surface theme and meaning for this film about technology and how terrifying and self-aware it could become as we progress it more and more, but at least the film did stay true to the saga and make great use of the Terminator mythos, which should please fans.

Salvation is not James Cameron’s Terminator and that is essential to remember when sitting down to take in McG’s more action-based film. Go in expecting to find something as good as Terminator 2 and severe disappointment will set in fast. In fact, comparing Cameron’s film and McG’s film isn’t even fair. It would be more appropriate to liken this to a modern action film like Transformers. And if that’s the case, give me McG’s Terminator over Bay’s Transformers any day of the week.

It certainly hits me that my enjoyment level of the film allows for some of the imperfections of the film to be hidden under a mat of explosions, vaporized vehicles, spiffy robots and Christian Bale. I don’t care if this is Hollywood attempting to cash in on a successful franchise and succeeding. I don’t care if the film lacks a certain emotion that Cameron’s classic films had. I don’t even care if the plot is absurd and riddled with holes. Terminator: Salvation is a summer blockbuster chronicling a furious battle between robots and humans set in a post-apocalyptic world, and I got what I paid for.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: May 19th, 2009

Today was the day the great Sam Raimi/Bruce Campbell film Army of Darkness was supposed to be released on Blu-ray. For whatever reason, that release hasn't come, so I can't give you a lecture in double dipping, something that all three films in the Evil Dead trilogy have been apart of. It's fine and all as there is plenty of other worthy titles to talk about. Check it out.

24: Season Seven [DVD][Blu-ray]

The newest season of 24 is available on DVD and Blu-ray today. One day after it officially ended. The decision by Fox to release the show, one of my personal favorites, a day after the season ends is puzzling on many levels. I don't see many people outside of the hardcore 24 completists going out to purchase this just yet. Would you really sit down and watch through the entire season again already? Probably not. Another point of confusion comes from the danger of the season finale leaking to the internet, which it so expectedly did late Sunday night. I can't end this submission without talking about the actual content here. I'm easily pleased by the badass life Jack Bauer lives and I'm sure most of you are too. This season wasn't the greatest, but it was most enjoyable. We were treated to some fine acting and thrilling moments. Sure, the show only has a few plot devices, but it still works to this day. If you want to get into the show, I can only suggest you start from the beginning with season one.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle [Criterion DVD - #475]

I'm sure you've caught on to the fact that I absolutely love the Criterion Collection. I think what they do in terms of releasing films that haven't seen the light of day on the home video format is exactly what the format was meant to do. It lets people dive into the archives and dig up films from the past that might have gone by under the radar. Here's another example. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a 1973 crime drama that stars one of my favorite actors, Robert Mitchum. This Peter Yates directed film seems to cool to pass over. Check out the trailer below -- it's real old school style with that gritty voiceover from the trailer announcer. I watched it once and I'm sold!

Man Hunt [DVD]

Fritz Lang is one of my favorite directors of all time. To find out why, check out the profile I wrote on him for The Recorder last semester. Lang has directed a variety of genres, including early science fiction, crime thrillers and film noir. Man Hunt is a film about a British hunter who has Hitler in his sights before being captured and beaten before escaping back to London. Knowing Lang's unique and more than capable directing abilities I'm sure this is a thriller, and probably a better alternative to the other kill Hitler film released today, Valkyrie.

The Last Horror Film [Uncut Special Edition]

The Last Horror Film appears to be yet another great archival release from Lloyd Kaufman and Troma, a company I love and respect dearly. Bill Gibron at gave this release the "DVD Talk Collector Series" label, the website's highest honor, which was more than enough to catch my eye. The film is highly approriate right now, as it deals with a taxi driver who stalks an actress attending the Cannes Film Festival. The film stars unsung actor Joe Spinell, who was in films such as The Godfather and Maniac.

Pigs, Pimps & Prostitutes: 3 Films By Shohei Imamura [Criterion DVD]

Sorry, I'm going to stay arthouse and Criterion with you for just another minute or two. How could I ignore a boxset titled Pigs, Pimps & Prostitutes. If that isn't enough to interest you in Imamura's work, then I don't know what is. Title #471 in the Criterion Collection is a set of three films by Japanese director Imamura. These films, all made in the 1960s, appear to be significant to the new wave of filmmaking that occured in Imamura's homeland at the time. Murder, gangsters and human relationships seem to make up the three titles available here. Worth a look? Most definitely.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Skynet Edition)
[Blu-ray] [6-Disc Blu-ray Collector's Set w/Endoskull]

Ah, the old studio favorite. Wait until just before the next big film in a series to release a new edition of a previous classic. It's exactly what has been done here with two new choices for all your T2 action on Blu-ray. Let's get one obvious thing out of the way here: Terminator 2 is a tremendous film. It's one of the greatest action/science fiction films of all time. For the fans that want to get all that goodness on Blu-ray, you have two options. One is the single disc release of the extended cut. The other is a 6-disc collector's set complete with that nifty looking Endoskull pictured sidebar. If you want to spend $100+ on one film, by all means, go for it. I won't judge you one bit. I'm serious here. Apparently the 6-disc set includes the following former and current releases: Terminator 2: Judgment Day-Skynet Edition (Blu-ray), Terminator 2: Judgment Day-Extreme DVD (DVD), Terminator 2: Judgment Day-Ultimate Edition (DVD). Why someone would need all of those versions, I don't know. Here's a link to what exactly is included in the set.

Okay. Phew. I'm fatigued. There is so much to cover this week. Since I don't know if anyone actually reads this damn thing I'm going to cut it short and hit up the rest of the relevant titles with my scapegoat for laziness quick picks.

What else comes out this week:
True Blood: Season 1 [DVD][Blu-ray], Valkyrie [DVD][2-disc DVD][Blu-ray], Fanboys, Friday Night Lights: The Third Season, Paul Blart: Mall Cop [DVD][Blu-ray], A Bug's Life [Blu-ray], My Blood Valentine 3D [DVD][Blu-ray], Enemy at the Gates [Blu-ray], 3 Days of the Condor [Blu-ray], Batman [Blu-ray], The Machinist [Blu-ray], The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Centennial Collection), Charles Bronson Collection, Paycheck [Blu-ray], Nightmare Castle, Spy Game [Blu-ray], Billy Jack, El Dorado (Centennial Collection), Lions for Lambs [Blu-ray], Changing Lanes [Blu-ray], Circle of Iron [Blu-ray], Fast Company [Blu-ray], Bollywood Horror Collection, Vol. 3.

See, I wasn't lying, that's a lot of relevant titles to look into this week. I'm probably missing more stuff, but that's the way she goes.

What to stay away from:
To keep things closer to the mainstream, I'll tell you to stay away from Paul Blart: Mall Cop [DVD][Blu-ray]. Not because I've seen it and because I thought it was bad, but because this giant has already made so much unnecessary money this year and it doesn't need anymore. Also it probably was really bad. The only film about a mall cop that you need in 2009 is Observe and Report, one of the most brilliant comedies in a long time.

And that wraps up an absolutely amazing and jam-packed week. I would like to thank both of my hands for being able to withstand all the typing and copy+pasting along with my mind for being able to handle the huge load of information. If you read this, please do comment on what you think I should change or do differently, or what you thought of any of this week's releases.

Next week looks kind of weak, but I'll be putting together an entry just like I always do. For the love of the game, I say. Until then, so long. Walsh out (yes I did just say that).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" Yields Divided Buzz From Cannes

One of my favorite directors that I have been introduced to over the last year is Lars von Trier. The first film I watched by him was Europa and I absolutely fell in love with his stylish and visionary work. The Danish filmmaker is an absolute artist. Since then, I've viewed a few more films by von Trier and have begun to love his work that much more. That's why when I saw the trailer for his demonic new film Antichrist I felt shivers roll down my spine -- the good kind.

Unfortunately, those in the business of writing about film that were lucky enough to see the new film weren't all pleased as much as I hope to be. One of my favorite film blog sites, /Film has provided a great spoiler-free collection of the early buzz from critics at Cannes from the likes of Roger Ebert to Variety. Click here to read the fantastic work by Peter Sciretta.

I thought a lot about what I was reading. An on site reporter from Reuters claimed that "the film 'elicited derisive laughter, gasps of disbelief, a smattering of applause and loud boos.'" Divided if you ask me.

Antichrist appears to be the real deal in terms of shock value. An account from TheWrap states that "At first, it’s an elegant grief drama. Then — suddenly, shockingly — it transforms into The Shining meets Evil Dead with green politics, torture porn and a fair amount of Lynchian abstractions.” Now, I don't know about you, but that sounds just wonderful to me.

Movileline called Antichrist "the most original and though-provoking work von Trier has done since Breaking the Waves." Another positive sign. Movileline implied that this is a film that has awoken von Trier and is a sort of return to form for the director.

Here's a section I just have to take completely from the /Film blog.

Austin360 : “Director Lars Von Trier has made a movie that looks like it will be more controversial than anything he’s ever done, and that’s saying quite a bit.” … “Since you’re emotionally invested in the characters, the violence that comes later is all the more shocking. It makes scenes from Hostel, one of the so-called gore porn movies, seem tame.” … “It would be a disservice to describe the violence, which would qualify for the one of the hardest NC-17 ratings ever. Let’s just say that it involves sex and sexual organs.” … “you’ll have to see this movie to believe it.”
Absolutely wonderful! Caring about the characters is something I've always thought made films like Hostel one and done runs of pure entertainment. Putting stock in the characters always makes for a much more improved experience.

Now you might be asking where the divide comes. It's no secret that material as disturbing as Antichrist appears to be isn't going to be for everyone. For that view, we'll call upon a few other voices.

Roger Ebert, one of the voices I greatly respect in the field of film criticism, writes mostly about the feeling Antichrist gives the viewer rather than the quality of the film itself when he says: "Von Trier is not so much making a film about violence as making a film to inflict violence upon us, perhaps as a salutary experience. It’s been reported that he suffered from depression during and after the film. You can tell. This is the most despairing film I’ve ever have seen." Whoo, sounds like a heartpounder. Ebert is a voice I put good stock in, although he isn't always correct (nobody is always correct).

Variety likens those that might enjoy this film to being "pain-is-pleasure" people or couples. Now come on Variety, lets not be too ignorant here. Oh wait I spoke too soon: "Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with Antichrist. As if deliberately courting critical abuse." Mmm how nice, you used fart to qualifiy a film and considered it to be made as if von Trier wanted to yield hatred from the critics.

And finally, my favorite of the evening, Mr. Jeff Wells. Now I don't know who Jeff Wells is and you probably don't either. But after reading the opinion of Wells on the film you would think he'd have to be kind of a big deal. After all, he decided to call the film "one of the biggest debacles in Cannes Film Festival history and the complete meltdown of a major film artist". Oh wait, here's the kicker. I know very well about "Ebert's Law" (the law that says critics can be critics and that you don't have to know how to do something to be able to criticize it) but I'm not sure where Wells gets off calling von Trier's film "amateurishly awful." Wells even begins to lay down the law on stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg by calling the film a definite career embarrassment for the both of them, not only for von Trier.

Now I am not about to say that the opinion of Wells is wrong. He is certainly entitled to that opinion. Hell I haven't even seen the film. The only issue I have with it all is that when I think about myself, as an amateur film critic for a campus newspaper, I would never have the guts to describes someone's work, no matter how bad it is, as "amateurishly awful" or a "major meltdown of a major artist". I don't envision myself ever being important enough to describe art as being that. I'm not saying Wells needs to play nice, but there are far more credibility building ways for Wells to go about this. I might be the only one of this opinion and that's fine with me.

All bitching aside, I do respect the complaints of Wells. He seems to have a smart head on his shoulders, I just don't understand if this is something he should have thought about for a moment or two before publishing. I often believe films are best thought about once you had some time to reflect on what you have just seen, putting it into relation with other films similar to it. Maybe Wells likened it too much to previous von Trier work, which led to him having a completely sour taste in his mouth afterwards.

What I do know is that this appears to be a strong film in the sense of what it can do to a mind. I love buzz like this, it gets me even more amped up for a film than normal. The discussion from critics all across the country and world gathering in one theater to view a film as shocking and destined for cult status as this one must be a thrilling event.

I don't know when this film will see the light of day in our neck of the woods, if ever, but I'll be first in line to see it does make a stop at a local arts cinema. If you're interested in the film, check out the trailer below.

Sherlock Holmes Like You've Never Seen Him Before

The trailer for Guy Ritchie's upcoming film Sherlock Holmes has been released to the internet. The film, which stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams, is set to be released on Christmas day 2009. Below you'll find the trailer and my reaction to it.

I was excited from the moment I heard Downey Jr. was set to play Holmes, a character who has never seen a film as large or grand as this one appears to be. From the looks of the trailer, it seems like this is going to be an enjoyable film for the masses. Lots of action and comedy for all to enjoy. Oh, and by the way, McAdams looks smoking, but that should be expected, no?

I'm only curious to see how this will do at the box office. Downey Jr's name is probably large enough to draw in an initial crowd of movie-goers. Couple that with some prime marketing and this should be one of the premiere films of the winter and holiday season.

It should be more interesting to see how Ritchie, best known for his fast-paced British cockney crime films like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, adapts his typical and signature style of filmmaking to this, whose subject matter seems like a small precursor to the films Ritchie has become so popular with.

The Girlfriend Experience A New Experience For Cinema

Steven Soderbergh has always been known for his experimental filmmaking. Whether it is the non-linear plot construction of The Limey or the ultra strange and seemingly very personal Schizopolis, Soderbergh is not afraid to toy with structure and the way stories are told.

Soderbergh’s newest film, The Girlfriend Experience, continues the director’s fresh and unique way of presenting his films. The Girlfriend Experience stars porn starlet Sasha Grey, venturing into uncharted territories as he acts in her first non-adult film and is the look inside the life of a call girl, Chelsea (Grey) and how she deals with work and life outside of it with her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos).

What makes the film so experimental is the use of Grey as the leading lady of the cast. When people see Soderbergh’s name, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he can create art. He was behind the Oscar-nominated film Traffic and rejuvenated independent American cinema with sex, lies, and videotape. The attachment of a porn star’s name to his, while odd, isn’t all that strange when you consider the body of his work over the years. Where other "serious" directors might think of using Grey in a film as a joke, Soderbergh seemed to embrace the chance to direct her, and it shows.

The Girlfriend Experience is an extremely minimalistic film. By that I mean there isn’t all that much to it. The shooting locations are rather straightforward – just a bunch of restaurants, penthouse apartments and hotel rooms. The camera is often stagnant. At times it simply sits and observes the conversations between characters, almost similar to a documentary.

The film is also minimalistic in the sense that while there is indeed plot, it doesn’t move very far. The film does offer a rather intriguing look into the life of this escort by touching on the drama she goes through with her accepting boyfriend. The most climatic moments of the film involve their discussions. The story is also told in typical Soderbergh experimental and non-linear form. It might swap from Chelsea’s conversation with a nosy journalist, who is rather symbolic of the viewer’s point of view, as he pushes for the same questions we do, to one of Chelsea’s appointments. It’s nothing confusing, but the film isn’t a straight timeline of events.

What I do love is that Soderbergh never once exploits Grey’s porn star side. The few times Grey is completely naked she is cast in shadows. And for a film that deals with a lot of sex – there isn’t any to be seen here. It might be ironic to think that a porn star playing a call girl doesn’t visibly perform the act of sex once in the film, but I found to be a gentle touch by Soderbergh. He didn’t turn this character study into a vapid, sleaze-filled exploitation film.

The one thing I haven’t touched on so far that everyone is probably wondering about is Grey’s acting abilities. From the standpoint of an open mind, she wasn’t that bad. He character is kind of a dolt to begin with, and Grey at times is very wooden. It’s hard to argue whether that it’s her bad acting, or the result of Chelsea being a very uninteresting character. Even at her most dramatic she is still rather tame. The rest of the cast performs rather authentically in what was a very neo-realistic brought together film. One of the actors, who plays a blogger, was an amateur actor who actually is a blogger in real life. You won’t find a bigger name in the cast than Sasha Grey’s.

The Girlfriend Experience might leave you with a dull taste in your mouth for its low sense of excitement, but I found the film to be intriguing on the basis of experimentation. It isn’t pretentious for a film to be enjoyed on a purely art level so long as one is aware of the thin film around it.

Not Soderbergh’s best work, but it’s still more intriguing and fulfilling than what other filmmakers can put their names to.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: May 12th, 2009

Welcome to yet another Tuesday full of excellent DVD/Blu-ray releases. I really have nothing to say in this introduction other than the fact that Tuesday May 12 is a very badass day, so let's begin.

Taken [1-Disc Extended][2-Disc Extended][Blu-ray Extended]

What else can be said about Taken that I didn't already say in my January review of the film? Not much, that's what. What we have here is the slightly extended cut of the Luc Besson produced and Pierre Morel directed non-stop action film starring Liam Neeson. I gotta say I love the cover art for the 2-disc edition making it a must buy on that alone. All black, orange font, a man in shadows and of course the quote "I will find you. I will kill you.", one that should become cult status. This film is a thriller. One of the most enjoyable films of the year (even though I saw the extended cut first back in November). Comparing this to the theatrical version that stampeded through theaters this past winter might prove tough to the naked eye. Those that look close enough will find that they removed a few moments of extra brutality, such as a few extra shots of a gun, something that I felt gave extra emotional emphasis to the character of Neeson on is rampage through France in search to find his daughter. Grab this film, gather the friends and family around the television, and get ready to enjoy an ass kicking time.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans [DVD][Blu-ray]

A film that came out a week prior to the one mentioned above was this third film in the Underworld trilogy. There's no Kate Beckinsale to be had as this film works as a prequel to the first two in the series. Still, I found it to be a rather enjoyable experience, held together by some good action and the performances of Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy. It isn't the worst in the series, I'll give that title to the second film. But it isn't the best either. It's not perfect, some of the special effects work is sort of sloppy, but it was probably the best a fan of vampires and werewolves could expect out of the studio in January. This is mostly for serious fans of the genre or series only. It answers questions one might have and proves to be an entertaining film to watch. Fans can also grab the Underworld trilogy on Blu-ray or DVD if they want to pick up all three films at once.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly [Blu-ray]

I shouldn't have to say too much to get you to want to purchase the grandfather of all spaghetti westerns. Whether you actually prefer this film or another one of Sergio Leone's (or another director -- let's not forget more had a hand in the shaping of the genre) is besides the question. Nothing compares to this epic western starring Clint Eastwood, one of film's most original badasses. What it all comes down to here is Leone's signature and stylistic directing, Ennio Morricone's absolutely majestic score, and the performances of Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. This is one of the most important films in the history of the medium. I'll direct you to a review by the great DVDBeaver as to whether the transfer is worthy or not. All I can tell you is that the film is sure worthy of a purchase and multiple viewings.

Wise Blood [Criterion DVD]

Here's one I've been waiting to see. Criterion releases another film from the great John Huston, the man who brought you The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as #470 in its collection of films. This is the film adaptation of the legendary novel from Flannery O’Connor. This film stars Brad Dourif as a man straight out of the army attempting to open the first Church Without Christ in the small town of Taulkinham. I'm itching to get my hands on this film and DVD. Watch the trailer below to form your own reaction to the film.

Fargo [Blu-ray]

I've got to thank this release for reminding me to watch this film again! It's one of the classic films from the Coen Brothers, but then again, what films of theirs aren't classics? Okay, fine, Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers aren't exactly masterpieces, but every great artist deserves a pass or two. Fargo strikes me as one of the funniest of the neo-noirs as it is a rather dark film, set amongst characters that aren't exactly in good light, but the majority of the film takes place with all this bright, white snow around. It's just the complete opposite of most inside the genre, and that's why I love the Coens, they aren't afraid to be strange and irregular.

Alexander Korda's Private Lives [Criterion Eclipse Series]

The Eclipse Series, a side project of the Criterion Collection, began with a set of early Ingmar Bergman films. The idea of the set is to introduce people to a director or a part of a director's life. The packages are on the cheaper side (the films average out to roughly $10 per here) and no extras are included to guarantee an affordable set. I haven't actually seen any films by Alexander Korda, but the ones included here do sound rather neat. You get: The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Rise of Catherine The Great, The Private Life of Don Juan, and Rembrandt. Apparently Korda became one of the most important directors in the British film industry. His films often dealt with historical significance and mythical distinction. These particular films star the likes of Charles Laughton, the director of one of my favorite films of all time, The Night of the Hunter, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. This is certainly a set to keep an eye on.

Ultimate Westerns Collection [DVD Box Set]

Oh good gravy, look at the size of that thing. For just over $100 you get 13 great western films spanning 20 discs. Included in the collection are classics such as Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, The Big Trail, The Magnificent Seven, Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. For the complete list of films and what the set actually includes, click the link above the photo. It's actually a rather solid deal if you have the cash to plunk down on a bunch of westerns. The problem I foresee is that so many people who are already fans of westerns own most of these special editions. I already have five of these titles myself. That might keep people from buying this hefty sized set. Otherwise, as a starter set, this ain't bad.

Now, without further delay, here's the rest of the stuff from today.

What else comes out this week:

What to stay away from:
It wasn't such an easy choice this week. Nothing was so idiotic that it absolutely stood out in my mind as something that people should keep themselves safe from. So I'm just gonna pick this even though I don't know what it is. Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. Seth MacFarlane is hardly funny anymore.

Wow, this was a more than great weak. Just look at how many "relevant" titles I listed in the quick hit section. There has got to be at least one thing for everyone to enjoy this week. Next Tuesday looks busy as hell. Troma unleashes an uncut version of The Last Horror Film on its new special edition label and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a film starring the amazing Robert Mitchum, gets released by Criterion. Add in The Machinist on Blu-ray and you've got yourself a pretty sweet week.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Revamped Star Trek Reaches New Frontier

Very few television or film series in history of the two mediums are as delicate to touch as the Star Trek series is. The fanbase is enormous and serious, a mass of dedicated people that might not be the easiest to please, especially when the project created by J.J. Abrams, the man behind the television show Lost, is a pre-summer blockbuster that is very mainstream friendly. Not to mention that the new vision is a flashy prequel that serves as an eventual reboot to the legendary series.

This is why Abrams is very fortunate that he knows what he’s doing. We’ve seen big budget reboots before, perhaps even far too often. And even though those reboots include insanely popular and well-respected material such as the Batman canon, whether any of it has been as sacred as the Star Trek series is up for serious debate.

This effort from Abrams is no cheap attempt at becoming the next Michael Bay. Star Trek is pure visionary work that should keep Abrams’ head on his shoulders and safe from the rabid fanboys and girls of the series. That is the problem here though, my view as an outsider of the series (this film counts as the first Star Trek-related item I have viewed in full) might not be entirely compliant with that of a diehard fan.

Abrams’ Star Trek gives a chronicle of the early days of James T. Kirk and the rest of the crew aboard the USS Enterprise as they battle Nero, a member of the Romulan species from the future, who threatens the destruction of planets. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman created a story that seems to stay true to the ideologies of the original Gene Roddenberry-created series while morphing it all into a more modern and fast-paced action film.

As much credit is due to Orci and Kurtzman as is due to Abrams. The script at hand doesn’t forget its brain as most “blockbuster” films might tend to do. What’s left is a rather intelligent variance of the space opera and science fiction action genres. The film appropriately moves at the speed of light, but doesn’t move too fast that it bypasses the necessary light philosophical ponderous moments that help develop the characters the way Orci and Kurtzman are able to.

The development of the characters comes as a key element of the story’s progression. For example, James T. Kirk, who is wonderfully played by Chris Pine, is first presented as the young, cocky womanizer he is, which is all prior to Kirk becoming more serious about the issues at hand. While none of this development is emotionally challenging or deep, it still makes the film work that much more. Instead of it simply being a war set in space, the events are given more relevance with the exceptionally handled characters being worth a damn.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have experience with these characters prior to viewing this film. For me that means I can’t give a full admission to whether these characters stayed exactly true to the Roddenberry characters. But with Abrams being a casual fan and Orci and co-producer Damon Lindelof being self-proclaimed “Trekkies”, I would put money on the fact that they stay faithful to the series and representational of the characters fans fell in love with years ago.

Abrams and his team assembled a near-perfect group of actors and actresses to fill the tight shirts and pointed ears of the past’s cast. The cast includes the likes of Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Uhura) and John Cho (Sulu). All were more than decent in what was surprisingly a well-acted film. Eric Bana plays chief villain Nero, a downright evil and vicious character, and Bana plays it as such with the perfect sneer. Special mention awarded to personal favorite Simon Pegg, who stayed as funny as you would expect him to be in his role as Scotty, a character that adds comic relief when stress level rises amongst the rest of the crew battling Nero.

Commentary on this revamped film would not be complete without talking about the lavish visuals and sheer size of the film. Abrams’ film is a science fiction epic worthy of high honor for its large-scale explosive battles, stunning sets and bright, colorful photography. The film actually gleams to the eye so much some have mentioned Abrams overuse of lens flare simply from watching the trailer. It was something I noticed but wasn’t bothered by at the slightest. I actually found it to be more of a unique visual style than anything else.

It’s no secret that there has been a lack of real quality science fiction films set in space as of late. While the variants of the science fiction genre have been out there, not much compares to the wonder of a good space voyage beyond frontiers man does not know of. Abrams production of Star Trek is just that. The film ends as an incredibly enjoyable and well-told story of awe-inspiring action.

With the recent Star Wars films not coming in as the science fiction masterpieces many wanted them to be, fans of space operas can sit in relief. Abrams has created what will probably be just the start of something much larger. It’s completely fair to call Star Trek one of the best and most enjoyable films of the year thus far, a standard for all future prequels and a step forward for a genre that needed the boost this film gives it.

If for some reason you come across J.J. Abrams and you see him petting that ego just a little bit more than normal, you’ll know why. Star Trek is a fascinating adventure, and a classic one for all generations to behold.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

None Of The Studios Love Mandy Lane

I thought this bit of information reported on sites like Shock Till You Drop and Slash Film was worth mentioning.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, a slasher film made and first debuted to rave reviews in 2006, has been pulled from its June release date. This is pretty unfortunate news. I've had the chance to see the film and its a great one. Based on the large amount of cash films like the Friday the 13th reboot made back in early 2009, the release of another slasher genre film would make sense. This move is speculated to be economy related.

According to the article on STYD, Mandy Lane isn't the only film from Senator Distribution that has been given a "TBD" next to its name under release date. The company is supposedly closing its New York office.

If the move is indeed related to lack of funds, the only problem I have is the unfortunate fact that it had to happen to this film -- again. The film was originally held by the Dimension Films label of The Weinstein Co. but had to be sold in 2007 after Grindhouse didn't make the Weinstein's the money they had hoped it did.

Mandy Lane is really one of the brightest films to come out of the slasher genre in the past few years. It's a smart throwback to the way horror films used to be made, as the film centers around killings surrounding the lust of the "perfect" girl. It's worlds better than the formulaic Friday the 13th remake. Hell it's better than most of the horror films studios release into theaters.

The true shame comes in the fact that a film like this just deserves a better fate. While this doesn't appear to be another Lionsgate fiasco, a company that repeatedly gives the shaft to well-made, unique films that aren't sure bets in the box office (like its Saw series), it is an unfortunate turn of events. If it really is an issue that has to do with the economy, then I can understand the distribution company's decision to hold off on releasing the film. That is out of anyone's hands.

The film is already available overseas. You can even buy it on DVD on Whether this film has been given the shaft again by poor fate or bad intention, it still remains one of the better unseen horror films in America. Much like the brilliant Spanish horror film [REC] being given a DVD release in America after its remake Quarantine got its release, this is another example of the unfortunate way the American studio system led by the large corporations controls absolutely everything, whether money is available or not.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: May 5th, 2009

Making up for last weeks tardiness on the DVD picks thanks for an overload of pollen, I've decided to write up my entry tonight! Or this is my way of abstaining from watching another film tonight since my mind was just stimulated by 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is enough to make you want to take a quick break from films. Anyways, interesting weeks, let's see what we got.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
[Criterion 2-Disc||Blu-ray][Single Disc]

The intriguing release of David Fincher's latest film (an Oscar-nominated one at that) from the Criterion Collection was discussed by me back when the news broke in March. It's not all that rare for a recent film to get released by Criterion (see: The Life Aquatic) and Fincher does have a relationship with the company (Se7en was a laserdisc release for Criterion back in the day), but it still was a bit surprising. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a solid film and at the very least worth watching once. This isn't simply a Forrest Gump ripoff as many would lead you to believe. Calling it one is a scapegoat criticism. I personally didn't think Brad Pitt was worthy of a nomination for best actor at the Oscars, but the film was still astonishing. It's visually stimulating and extremely entertaining. While it isn't perfect or close to being Fincher's best film, it's still a good one. Whether you buy, rent or steal, check this one out at some point. I'll hold to the opinion that it was one of the highlights of 2008, rather than a lowlight.

TCM Greatest Films Collection
[John Wayne Westerns][Western Adventures][War: Battlefront Asia][World War II: Battlefront Europe][Broadway Musicals][American Musicals]

Alright, bear with me here folks, there is a lot of information to consume here in very little time. Turner Classic Movies expands their line of affordable 4-pack releases of classic films this week with six new offerings. There are some good films to be had here and at a decent price point too. If you aren't concerned with buying the absolute best versions (in terms of special features) and want to introduce yourself to some of these films, these aren't bad deals. The John Wayne Westerns pack for example, houses four titles that range from good to excellent. The Searchers is perhaps the best American made film in the genre. The other western pack, which includes The Wild Bunch, is also a formidable collection. The Dirty Dozen highlights the World War II pack while Singin' in the Rain can be had in the American musicals collection. To be blunt, these are all solid collections and should you find yourself wanting to introduce yourself to any of these films or genres, this cheap method might be the way to do it.

Grease [Blu-ray]/Saturday Night Fever [Blu-ray]

I really won't inject my opinion into this write-up too much, as I find Grease to be a rather annoying film. But I can appreciate the love many have for John Travolta dancing in tight clothes. I personally don't share that same passion, but hey, to each their own. Anyways, these two music themed films hit the Blu-ray format for the first time, so I felt it was relevant enough.

Twilight [Blu-ray]

Ugh, Kristen Stewart is so gosh darn attractive.

Dog Soldiers [Blu-ray]

Amazon seems to be practically giving away this Blu-ray title at the price of $12.99. I won't lie, I have yet to see this film, but I have only heard good things. It's sitting on my DVD shelf too. For shame.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off [Blu-ray]

I'm not sure how necessary Blu-ray is for a film like this, but there are some out there that have that OCD need to have everything in the new format. The verdict is still out on whether Blu-ray will stick around for a good while, so I would hold off on converting the entire collection to the fancy smancy high definition for a little while longer. Great film though, anyone, anyone?

Okay, this week is weak. Not much depth to the titles available. There are a few other notable titles that I'll get to now with the quick listings.

What else comes out this week:
Boston Legal: Season Five, Enchanted April, Love Takes Wing, Last Chance Harvey [DVD][Blu-ray], Lipstick Jungle: Season Two, Dexter: Season Two [Blu-ray], Incendiary [DVD][Blu-ray], Wendy and Lucy, The Charles Dickens Masterworks Collection.

What to stay away from: Personally, I would stay away from Grease or Saturday Night Fever, but I'm not cruel enough to put films people love into this slot. Instead I will use this moment to slam the fuck out of exploitative reality TV. Jon and Kate Plus Ei8ght: Season Four is my culprit this week. Seriously, what genius in that family had the idea that the money received for doing a show was worth the insane lifestyle these eight children are going to grow up in? Whatever pays the bills, I guess. People today...

And speaking of people today. If these stupid saps upset with their shitty Britney Spears DVD had only read my blog post from April 21 they wouldn't be so saddened with the terrible product they received because they would have never bought it in the first place. That or they would have called me names and bought it regardless. I call them like I see them folks.

This was a rather boring week. They can't all be winners though. Next week might be one of those though! The badass revenge film Taken starring Liam Neeson hits shelves along with the original badass in Blu-ray. That's right folks, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly will be available on Blu-ray next week. One can only wonder what type of transfer the film receives on the new format. Look out for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans as well, the not as bad as you would think prequel to the Underworld series. Until then, keep watching films, keep buying DVDs, support the artists and as always, all your feedback is appreciated!

Hurt - Goodbye to the Machine (Album review)

Goodbye to the Machine
April 7, 2009

Finding quality hard or alternative rock bands in America these days is quite challenging. It’s a brooding and heavy style of music that has gone wayward with the revolution of the music television channels and corporate radio stations. More image, less quality seems to be the motto.

Because of this, decent bands have the opportunity to look brilliant in my eyes. And that’s just what the band Hurt did when I saw them play a live show while I was awaiting a headline act. Lead singer J. Loren puts an awful lot of emotion, anguish and energy into his act and it’s absolutely gripping.

With Goodbye to the Machine, hurt has now released five studio albums. And here’s the thing. By no stretch is this album bad. The problem for me is that it doesn’t quite resonate to me like their 2006 release Vol. 1 did. After seeing Hurt live and hearing Vol. 1, I was hooked and had their record spinning constantly. I trouble myself in trying to find the right word for what their latest album doesn’t have that their previous efforts had, but it’s one of those unspeakable sort of things that doesn’t allow for the music to leave your memory. The new album lacks that strong hook.

What Goodbye to the Machine doesn’t lack is effort and emotion. The energy is sincere and the talent is prevalent. Hurt has always centered their songs around the construction of their emotions, and the newest album is no different. It’s absolutely refreshing to hear some meaningful and honest words these days. The group absolutely know how to construct a song and with J. Loren’s unique addition of violin (he uses it during live shows as well) the band has something that sets them apart from the pool of lookalike bands.

Not every album from a band can be golden, and I understand this. The group is still fairly young in its development and with the talent, energy, drive and ability these men have, the band can go a long ways in establishing itself as a premiere group of the heavy/alternative rock genre.

Until then, I’ll keep giving this album a try. It’s worth a listen or two, that’s for sure. If it doesn’t work out in the end, I’ll just keep replaying their past brilliance and wait around until their next album.