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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blackfish (2013) - review

A several ton creature leaps out of the water, flies high in the air then crashes into the water creating a wave big enough to splash and soak several rows of audience members.  Few, if any, theme park experiences can produce such awe as the killer whale show at Sea World.  Little to the audiences knowledge, even though the show tells you about the playful, happy lives of their whales, all is not well at the marine park. 

In recent years, the parks have been in the spotlight after the much publicized attack during one of the family oriented shows.  Long time trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was dragged under the water by a whale named, Tilikum, held under water until she drowned.  The rest of the staff was helpless, unable to do anything but wait for the whale to release the trainer's body, which did not happen for quite some time and only after it had dismembered and caused great distress to the body.  Sea World dimissed it a tragic case of trainer error, a rare incident.  The doc reveals the incident is not isolated and makes a case for it not being trainer error at all.

The whale, Tilikum, has a sketchy past - from bites, aggressive behavior to three deaths.  The film educates the viewer about the intelligence and emotional complexity of the creatures and uses that as the basis for the argument that these "incidents" are often not accidents, but rather the actions of a highly intelligent creature that has been held in captivity for way too long.

Why keep it as part of the act if it is putting trainers in danger?  The simple answer is what you would expect, money.  Tilikum, as displayed in somewhat unsettling detail, is used to breed other killer whales - a multimillion dollar business.  When there is no logical answer, the real answer is usually money.

The doc may be a bit one-sided (most docs are.)  Seeing that Sea World was unwilling to be interviewed for the film there is not much of a counter argument.  Since its premiere at Sundance, the doc has lead to terrible press for the amusement parks and the cancellation of several musical acts that had scheduled performance there.  Since then they have purchased several full page ads in national publications refuting some of the claims of the film.

It is hard to watch this film and not be affected.  I have viustied the park numerous times over the years.  Can I take my family to see a show that provided me with so much joy during my youth?  That's something I will need to answer for myself.  Like an effective documentary should do it has me thinking, questioning and discussing.

8.5 out of 10

Find it streaming on Netflix

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: Joyeux Noel (2005) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #3

Plot: On a Christmas Eve during World War I opposing German and French troops put the war on hold to celebrate Christmas.

Review:  As a war movie it is not as brutal as it could be, less blood and violence than you may expect which works perfectly since I am watching it as part of a Christmas movie fest.  The film focuses on a pair of lovers that were pulled into the war, literally right off the stage at their theater.  The film is a bit slow as it builds to the moment the warring armies decide to take a timeout.  I am not sure how historically accurate the film is, but the simple idea Christmas can unite people allows me to enjoy it no matter how true it is, fable or fact.  7.5 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:  Not your typical Christmas tale, there are guns, bombs and fatalities.  Still, the spirit of Christmas shines through when the make shift Christmas celebration with enemies occurs.  The message behind the film is pure Christmas.  B-

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  When the soldier starts singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) and the troops go silent, the chills kick in hard.  B

Memorable Lines:

We were talking about a cease fire, for Christmas Eve. What do you think? The outcome of this war wont be decided tonight. I don't think anyone would criticize us for laying down our riffles on Christmas Eve.

Did You Know?:
This film is dedicated to the soldiers who fraternized on Christmas 1914 in several places on the front. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Elf (2003) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #2

Plot:  After accidentally being picked up by Santa during his rounds, a human named Buddy is raised an elf in the North Pole.  Upon learning that he is not an actual elf he travels to Manhattan to find his real father, who just happens to be on the Naughty List.

Review:  Director, Jon Favreau's goal was to have Elf be one of those yearly holiday TV movies and I think most people will attest that he succeeded.  What makes the film works on many levels is it made by someone that understood the make up of the holiday classics that came before it.  By combining some of the classic elements with some new Elf comes across like an extension of the holiday films/specials we grew up on, making it very accessible.

This can be seen throughout the film, the elf costumes are exact replicas of those worn in "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," the sets and claymation also borrow from the style of the classic holiday TV specials.  Even though it was a new story, upon first viewing the film already felt familiar.

As a comedy the film succeeds at delivering laughs to a broad audience - the combination of sight gags/physical humor and clever plays on fish-out-of-water humor work well with young and old.  Whether Buddy is eating an overflowing, disgusting plate of pasta covered in candy and syrup or shouting out congratulations to the diner that makes the "World's Best Cup of Coffee" viewers will be having a great time watching what he will do next. 

Most importantly, it is a family film that can be enjoyed by young and old - no questionable content, no fast forwarding needed.  Nothing is worse than a holiday film that loses focus on who its audience is.  Too many "Christmas" films are focused on delivering a preachy message than entertaining the audience.  Others themes are so far removed from the spirit of the season, you wonder why it was a Christmas movie in the first place.  Favreau finds a great balance - delivering a good message while making sure that when all is said and done you finish with the warm holiday feel.   9 out of 10

Christmas Spirit Grade:  A
From the opening credits Favreau captures what a holiday film is all about and keeps you wrapped up in that warm feeling throughout the entire film.  It is full of classic Christmas songs, a visual style that evokes the Rankin and Bass classics, a Christmas romance, a sing-a-long, and best of all a redemption story (my favorite.)

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  B+
Even after seeing Elf about a dozen times, I still find myself choking up and getting the chills every time the group sing-a-long of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" produces enough Christmas Cheer to send Santa's sleigh flying through the sky.  Honestly, the choked up feeling usually start when Zooey Deschanel finds the courage to start the sing-a-long and stay that way until the credits start rolling.  Makes it tough to join in the sing-a-long when you are worried about blubbering in front of your kids.

Memorable Lines:
You smell like beef and cheese, you don't smell like Santa.

The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.

What's more vulnerable than a peach?  (not that well know, but makes me laugh every time)

Did You Know?:
The elf Ming Ming, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, is played by Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie Parker in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story.

When this screenplay was written in 1993, Jim Carrey was attached to star in the lead.

Favreau wanted to rely on as many “old techniques” of filming as possible to preserve its nostalgic feel. One of the simpler tricks involved the elves’ diminutive look.  Favreau used an old movie trick called “forced perspective” to make the elves appear smaller in the presence of Ferrell, Asner and the other human-sized actors.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #1

Plot:  The musical, which takes place the year before the 1904 World's Fair, follows the Smith family sisters through a series of life lessons.   The family is preparing for their reluctant move from St. Louis to New York City - while doing so, the two oldest daughters seem focused on one thing, getting some men to propose to them.

Review:  This wonderful slice of American "life" never feels authentic, but then again, that's not why you watch musicals.  The musical numbers carry much of the load and the there is enough charm to keep your interest even when the thin plot is at its thinnest.  You would expect the biggest draw to be Judy Garland, and she does deliver a great performance, but it is her youngest sister Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) that steals the show with her awkward-yet-cute delivery.  This film can be watched an enjoyed by all, if you can handle musicals.  7 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:    C-
Although, it did debut the classic holiday song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," this is not much of a Christmas film, more of a film with a Christmas portion.  Then again, shortly after Garland sings the iconic song, Tootie goes nuts and starts smashing her snowmen with a stick.

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  C-
Tootie's tear filled eyes during "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" may pull at the heart strings - otherwise, the saccharine sweetness of the entire film puts a protective glaze on your emotions.

Memorable Lines:
Agnes Smith: And then he burns the cats at midnight in his furnace. You could smell the smoke...
'Tootie' Smith: ...and Mr. Braukoff was beating his wife with a red hot poker... and Mr. Braukoff has empty whiskey bottles in his cellar.

Did You Know?:
Judy Garland recorded "The Trolley Song" in a single take.
Margaret O'Brien was awarded a Special Oscar for Best Child Actor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

FilmSnork 12 Days of Christmas Movies

UPDATE (12/16/2013):  After numerous fantastic submissions I have decided on the following, diverse list of films for the 12 Days of Christmas Movies:

Dec 16 Meet Me In St Louis 
Dec 17 Elf
Dec 18 Joyeux Noel
Dec 19 Christmas With The Kranks
Dec 20 Christmas In Connecticut
Dec 21 Miracle on 34th Street
Dec 22 It's a Wonderful Life
Dec 23 Home Alone
Dec 24 Muppets Christmas Carol
Dec 25 Christmas Vacation
Dec 26 Scrooged
Dec 27 Gremlins

Tis the season for holiday movies.  Love them or hate them, I am going to watch them.

Here is where I can use your help.  I am looking for your recommendations for Christmas movies to watch during the 12 days around Christmas (December 16-25) - ten leading up to it and two after to help ease out of the season.

There are no limitations of the number of type of recommendations you can make - classic, animated, Christmas-themed or simply a Christmas setting.  One request, only recommend films you actually like. This is not an exercise in futility, rather an exercise in joy.  Each film selected will be uniquely reviewed.

-FilmSnork is not dead nor doth he sleep

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Now You See Me (2012) Review

This film promises an entertaining good time - a group of skilled magicians team up, using their magic to rob banks. Sounds great! About twenty minutes into the film it performs one the greatest magic tricks ever filmed - the ability to strip a film with a tremendous premise and a stellar cast of all fun and intrigue. Now THAT is magic.

I am sure when they pitched this film they described it as Oceans 11 with magic - a nice balance of personalities, intrigue and entertainment. The film does not deliver on that, the poorly used cast (including Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo) are undermined by a convoluted plot and a large CGI budget.

After a trick or two are "performed" you realize this is not a film about magic, it is a preposterous story full of CGI illusions - no magic to be found. Even if the plot is disappointing you would expect the magic aspect would help retain some interest in what is happening on screen. Sadly, there is NO magic - the film is stripped of that early on when you realize instead of illusions that feel real they are preposterous CGI displays.

By definition magic are: mysterious tricks performed as entertainment. Magic works because you allow yourself to suspend disbelief to be entertained by the mystery. Half the fun is trying to figure out how they did it. This film makes the fatal mistake of stripping away that mystery by using massive amounts of CGI. You KNOW how they performed the tricks, by using computers and that's not intriguing in the least. After each "trick" is performed, including the less than stupefying climax, you are left scratching your head - unfortunately not wondering how they created the illusion, rather how they messed this film up so badly.

4.5 out of 10

Saturday, October 26, 2013

10 of the Best Horror Movies To Watch At Your Halloween Party... and 5 to Avoid

Take into account, this is not a list of the best horror films of all time.  Although some of these are definitely at the top of that list, this list is to provide you with optimal background visuals during your Halloween party.  When the sound is down and people are more focused on mingling and drinking a different set of films is required than when actually watching the film.   This list will help you fill your screen without upsetting or boring your friends.   When the party is done, grab the one that caught the audience's attention and watch it with the lights off - every film on the list is worth watching. Since the numbers of dreadful horror movies is so vast, the list of films to avoid are actually good films, just not party material.  Sound off in the comments section.  Like us on Facebook.

The Standards:
Halloween  - The quintessential Halloween movie.  It captures the feel of cool Halloween night perfectly. Everything you need, a damsel in distress, a small town setting, a mysterious killer and the best horror movie score since Psycho.  Almost 100% gore-free and still scary as they come - take note torture-porn directors.  This is the film that literally had me pee my pants as a kid, rather than walk to the bathroom by myself.  Too much information?

Scream - The first ten minutes are some of the best crafted horror moments ever put on tape making Ghostface one of the most recognized character in horror history.  A little gorier than most on this list.  If you can, put the sound up loud enough just to hear one phone calls with that classic voice.

Evil Dead 2 - While your party guest are trying to explain to each other what their costumes are supposed to be, this is a great film to slip into the DVD player.  Its creepy setting and heaping amounts of physical humor/horror - you can't go wrong.

Not So Standard:
Troll 2 - Do not expect to be scared or even see anything remotely scary.  If hosting expect questions like, "What in the hell is this movie?"  Known as the worst movie of all time (so infamous it inspired a documentary about it, "Best Worst Movie"), it lives up to the title.  Laughable costumes, over the top acting and a plot you have to see to believe - it may be the worst movie ever, but it is also a hell of a lot of fun.  Plan ahead and have some bright green Jello and dips being served as your guests watch.

Bride of Chucky - Not going to show up on many lists of best horror films, but it is certainly not without its charms.  The tongue in cheek humor including a doll on doll love scene will certainly create a few double takes.  Not to mention, watch the chip dip fly as your guests spit take at the sight of Katherine Heigel in all her pre-Grey's Anatomy glory take the screen.

Night of the Living Dead - Black and white classic.  Perfect background to any party.  Simple instructions: turn it on movie and walk away - look like a scholar that enjoys the finer things, like black and white films.  You are now a film snob and you did not even know it.  Wait until the see Bride of Chucky, you'll probably lose the title.

Poltergeist - This 80's classic is sure to get your guests reminiscing about the the good ole days, when all you needed was a clown doll and a rocking chair to scare the crap out of people.  Your guests will come to the light... of your TV screen (wink, wink, elbow nudge).

Drag Me to Hell - Even if you have never seen it before, this dark comedy/horror mash up has enough creepy visuals to add the perfect ambiance - whether it is the talking goat, the chin sucking old lady or the bloody nose from hell - your company will get a kick from it or at least throw up in their mouths a little.

Better than the Original:

Dawn of the Dead - Maybe I am missing something about the original.  Sure it has its charms, but the bad makeup and effects are distracting.  If you want to be freaked out, this is the version to watch.

Man You're F'd Up:

Audition- This film is not for the faint of heart.  With that said, if your audience can handle it (sorry grandma, leave the room) then you may want to mix it up with this Japanese horror film.  The good news is the sound can be down and the film can be followed due to subtitles.  The bad news, a big bag appears about half way through the film, that is all I can say.

Skip These Films Until After the Party
Not every horror film is created equal.  Just because it is considered a classic or won awards it does not mean it is worthy of your party.

Psycho - A genuine classic, but other than a scene or two it will not play well with all the noise of a party.  If you cannot hear the score you may as well not watch the film.

Silence of the Lambs - Academy Award winning films need to be seen and heard.  Once again without the sound you miss a lot hear.  The "fava beans and a nice Cianti" scene will be downgraded from a horrifying insight into a killer's mind to the feeling you get when someone stares at you on the train.  Wait until most guests have gone and watch it with the sound up and lights off.

Sixth Sense - Seeing dead people only works when they look like dead people, otherwise they just look like Bruce Willis.  Not visually exciting enough to show guests.  If you want scary discuss the decline of M. Night Shyamalan.

Blair Witch - With the sound down it just looks like a motion sickness enducing, hiking home video.  With the sound on it just looks like a motion sickness enducing, hiking home video.  Scary film, just not a party film.

Martyrs - Be warned, this is a gory mess of a film.  Your guests may not only turn their backs to the screen, but also may take you off their Christmas card list.  If your party invite lists can handle hardcore horror, this film may be up their ally.  For the rest of us, it is preferred this does not play while eatting pepperoni slices and cheese.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gravity (2013) - Review

Silence.  Silence is not what you'd expect in a movie theater these days.  Whether it's someone that has never learned about their inside voice, a cell phone caller so important they must loudly answer a call and then announce that they are in the theater, a cute little baby crying during its first rated-R film or that pretentious bastard that finds necessary to post updates on before the movie is over - movie theaters are no longer anything but silent.  With that said, it is the silence that should get you to look past all that and put your butt back in a theater seat, because a theater seat is the absolute best place to watch this film.  I watched it in a packed house that was surprisingly dead silent, a silence only broken only by the gasps of the completely immersed audience.

Gravity is the film that will remind you why you love the movies and even more, why you love the movie theater.   In a day and age where even I watch more films in one month on my TV, my tablet and even my phone than I do in the theater all year - Gravity is a great reminder - go back.

The film is a simple, yet captivating story of a spacewalk mission that runs into some major hiccups when some debris disrupts the calmness of space.  Seconds before, all is well - a breathtakingly beautiful planet earth is a backdrop for the busy astronauts, Dr Stone (Sandra Bullock) focused on repairing a faulty computer board and Mike Kowalski (George Clooney) whose only concern is how many more minutes he needs to continue floating around on his jet pack to break the longest space walk record.  They float weightlessly in what resembles a space ballet.  Then suddenly everything changes, the almost dance-like move turn into crashing, spinning, gasping and then helpless floating into the vastness of space.

As someone that is not a big fan of water (yes, I do shower - snicker, snicker... grow up...,) this film reminded me why.  Sure, this is space and their is no water, but it shares the same feeling of helplessness of helpless isolation, one person against a seemingly endless, faceless nemesis.  Once things go wrong, there is no simple button to correct them - it is your turn to step it up or float (sink) away to nonexistence.  I found myself holding my breath for long periods of time - my simple fears were pinpointed and exploited.  The best part, there were no CGI monsters to remind me I was in a movie.  Yes, there was plenty of CGI, but done in a way that I honestly forgot it was even there.  Take not Hollywood, just because you can create creatures and effects never seen before, it DOES NOT mean you need to.  And when it comes to 3D, Gravity may

This is not a gimmick film, it is a story of courage, fear and people.  It is the last aspect that makes it work so well, people.  We can associate with them - they are not supporting actors for a massive special effects display - they are the main course of this meal.  It helps that the leads are the incredibly likable Bullock and Clooney.  I want to hate Clooney, I really do... I just can't.  He single-handedly represents the connection between old Hollywood charm and new Hollywood (if I am wrong, please, let me know.)  Both are at their best right here.  Bullock, maybe a career best. 

The director, Alfonso Cuaron created what is perhaps his best film.  He makes something that is completely unnatural to almost everyone on earth almost feel natural.  His use of 3D is unobtrusive, almost forgettable (in a good way) cinematography is often a stumbling block for directors.  Even when I found myself flinching as debris flew over my shoulder, it still never felt anything more than authentic.

Not only does the film flow, there are times you will forget that it is not one big, long shot.  It is, dare I say, a piece of art.  Sure there are films that handle many elements better, this film just happens to master what it has taken on.  Isn't that what is all about.  Not every film will be the Citizen Kane or China Town, but if you do what you do, well... you win.

There is a reason for big movie screens, this is one of them.  It is a near perfect mix of cinema, technology and acting.  I plead with you, by the power vested in me by the internet see this in the theater.  I get it, you have a big TV - NOT big enough.  But FilmSnork, I have the Bose surround sound.  I DO NOT CARE.  See this in the theater.  This is why you go to the movies.  Now, go!

9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

TRAILER: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

For those of you that made it through the over-criticized (and maybe, a little tiny bit overlong) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey here is the moment you have been waiting for the trailer for The Hobbit 2. (crickets) Come on, the first one was actually quite good. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) - Review

Billy Wilder directs this witty, engaging courtroom drama overflowing with great characters entangled in a trial that not only hold your interest, but have you longing for films of yesterday. 

Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of seducing and murdering the rich old widow in order to inherit her fortune.  Vole, of course, claims he is innocent and was simply befriending a lonely woman.  No one seems to be buying it except for the superb Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a criminal lawyer with a taste for brandy and cigars who ignores the advice of his doctors to take the case.  He is the only chance Mr. Vole will be set free. 

Full of twists, turns, revelations and questions you will stay interested interested throughout even if it plays a bit melodramatic.  Along with an engaging story and a supporting cast full of familiar faces, the lead performances are certainly a draw here; Laughton's performance is delightfully inflated and offbeat, Tyrone Power's is relatable as the wrong man and Marlene Dietrich as Vole's cold and mysterious wife can't help but demand your attention.  Sit back and experience why some films are called classics. 

8 out of 10

Friday, August 23, 2013

Superman Vs Daredevil... er... Batman Gets Its Batman

It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.
I am annoyed.  Bane size annoyed.  The news broke late last night that they have cast the man behind the cowl... Batman.  Since Warner Brothers screwed up Superman... again, they knew they needed to make a big move to save the franchise if they were ever to get the long rumored Justice League off the ground.  They made that power move when they decided to to start developing the Superman Vs Batman film, announced for 2015.  Awesome, right?  You would think so.  I was one of those that heard the news and being the part geek that I am, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up as I watched the Comic Con announcement of the film that would combine the two greatest superheroes ever created.  For weeks we waited for a name to be attached to the film.  This was not as easy of a task as you would expect since the very popular Christian Bale reportedly turned down a $60 Million paycheck to reprise the role.  With a $60 million offer out there, you knew Warner Brothers was serious about casting the right man for the part.

That is, until now.  The new Batman for the highly anticipated, the geek dream of dreams, the superhero film to top all superhero films is... drumroll please... Ben Affleck.  Sound the dying trumpet from Price Is Right.  The guy that won the Best Picture Oscar for his highly overrated piece of shit, Argo - the same guy that for some strange reason was not nominated for his performance in the highly rated POS Argo, whose beard had more personality than he did in his own film, the same guy whose poor acting and role choices in such movies as Gigli and Daredevil sent him into exile, turning him into a punchline... yep, THAT guy is your new Dark Knight.  To that I say Argof*ckyourself.

I usually try to keep emotion out of my writing, but I must admit, I am pissed.  So much so, I have come off a temporary hiatus from the site (one not taken by choice, but rather because of a lack of time as I make some career moves) to bitch about this terrible, terrible decision.  There were rumors that the role would be filled by Ryan Golsing or Josh Brolin... you know, actors.  Instead we get Hollywood's newest, undeserving golden boy... Affleck.  And before you call me a hater (you know who you are) I like the guy, I rooted for him to rise above his career drought and to be at least the mild success story he deserved.  Gone Baby Gone and The Town were fantastic films, both superior to Argo.  After watching them though, I NEVER said to myself, "boy that guy can act."  The news gets worse, while doing a little research for this rant I just learned that Affleck is also lead in the adaptation of "Gone Girl" when it comes to the big screen, a film I was looking forward to.  Great TWO major disappointments in one day.  No wonder I am writing at 2am.

There is not much more that I can say other than Hollywood REALLY screwed up.  After waiting for half a decade they delivered us a new, barely acceptable Superman.  After making some massive mistakes with the film they decided to do what any clear thinking person would do, they kept the same director that is blamed for single-handedly messing up that reboot and to the mix Ben Affleck and you have a recipe for disaster.  You couldn't handle this more poorly unless you were doing it on purpose.  Has anyone checked to see who is on the board over at Warner Brothers?  Any chance a Mr. M. Bialystock is a big shareholder at WB?

There was a rumor stating that Affleck was offered to helm the Justice League film.  If this was their way of locking him down to the direct by handing over a role he surely does not deserve... shame on you Hollywood.  Shame on all of you.  Remember, with a Justice League on the way this will most certainly not be a one and done for Mr. Affleck (unless they can kill both franchises with one Batman and Robin sized disaster) he will be Batman for years to come as they setup the Justice League film for a later release.  My kids will get to grow up with Ben as Batman... that makes me sad.

I am going to go now.  I certainly can bitch some more, but that is all it will be, bitching.   There is nothing anyone can do now.  Our fate is sealed.  That is, unless you push for change the easiest way possible.  Do not give your money to the film.  Let Warner Brothers know you are not interested in this uninspired piece of casting.  When the film comes out, I WILL see it.  But know that when I do I will buy a ticket for another film and sneak into Daredevil Vs... Batman Vs Superman.  If I wrong, which I pray that I am, I will buy a ticket for the film.  Sadly, I do not see that being necessary.

Until then, I am going to sit here and wait for someone to announce this is a joke as I reminiscence about some of the better Batman castings, starting with Clooney, Kilmer, that dresses up like Batman in Times Square...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Parkland Trailer

What looks like the first real contender for this year's award season, Parkland has an amazing cast and Zac Efron. Hoping this film is good enough to get the incredible Paul Giamatti a nice golden trophy - he deserves one.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Dreams of Sushi - review (2011)

A documentary about sushi that is about so much more than sushi.  The film focuses on Jiro Ono an 85 year-old master sushi maker, whose life is so focused around the culinary delight that he dreams of it.  Over the years his efforts have paid off - his sushi is world renowned.  To get reservations you need to book a month in advance.  His restaurant follows his philosophy (and he offers quite a bit of philosophizing) that is it important to be the best at one thing and focus on it, so much so that sushi is all he serves - no appetizers, no desserts, no blooming onions, just sushi.  Watching this artist work at his life's passion and listening to him describe the how even after decades of trying to perfect his craft he continues to strive to improve it is inspiring.  While doing so he passes down little tidbits of wisdom to the audience and his two sons (both looking to be his successor) that can be applicable for anyone, not just sushi makers.

The delightfully direct Jiro is enough to keep you entertained for the short 82 minute run time, but there is much more to the film; it offers an insight into the restaurant business, a sibling rivalry, a look at Japanese culture and other subtexts that flesh it out.  If any of the above interest you or if you are just interested in sushi check the film out, just don't do so on an empty stomach, the shot after shot of perfectly prepared sushi may be too much to handle.

7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Monsters University (2013) - Review

Mike and Sully are back and this time they are in college.  Instead of a sequel, we get to see how they came to be the monsters we saw in Monsters Inc.

Sequels are a tricky thing.  Prequels are much trickier.  Surprisingly, Monsters University delivers one of the best prequels I can remember.  It avoids the prequel pitfalls and although not as fresh as its predecessors, it does a good job creating a worthy back story for the characters you enjoyed from the first without relying on too many references to the original that could have made it stale.

Where most followups (both prequels and sequels) jack up the volume of jokes, effects, etc., the story is here is much smaller and safer.  That is a good thing, we are spared a parade of familiar characters (that have no reason to be in the film) and the lazy repetition of gags we have seen before.  Bigger doesn't always make it better.

The film really does play like a first entry and can completely stand on its own.  If you have never seen either Monsters film you can easily start with this one and not miss a beat.  There are plenty of laughs, some heart felt moments and its full of great visuals from beginning to end.  Even though the climax does not meet the same level of enthrallment and as a whole it does run a little longer than it needs, it is satisfying and should entertain all audiences
7 out of 10

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spike Lee's "Oldboy" Remake Trailer

Much too the chagrin of fans, the Spike Lee remake of the cult classic film "Oldboy" is well beyond being cancelled. So much so, here is the trailer. Check it out. Voice your opinion. Does it stay true to the original? What do you think of the casting? Will you see it?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jack Reacher (2012) - review

Coming into this film with absolutely no knowledge of the character (it turns out that Jack Reacher is a character in a series of books) or even what the film was about, I found the film to be a pleasant surprise.  A thriller with an old school vibe to it.

When a sniper takes out several people, drifter, Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, comes to town and searches for the truth behind the crime.  No, he is not a cop or a detective, he is a former military police corps officer who uses his intellect and ability to hand out some ass-whoopings to get the needed answers.

It felt familiar in many ways, nothing too new here, but that doesn't mean it is bad.  I enjoyed Cruise's performance, he is tough, smart with a good dose of wise ass.  Even knowing that he is barely over five feet tall, I believed him in the fights scenes and more importantly during scenes when he would have to intimidate just through words and body language.   Another aspect of the film that i found refreshing was the both the fights and action seemed to be rooted in reality.  Far too often we are force fed CGI extravaganzas, extended car chases or impossible fights scenes - this film steered away from that delivering believable action.

If you are looking for something completely original, look elsewhere.  If you are looking for a solid thriller that will entertain without making you try to hard, this should do.

7 out of 10

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

American Reunion (2012) - review

The gang from American Pie is back (again) for a high school reunion that, to their credit, feels much like a real life reunion.  By that I mean, you reminiscence about how great the past was, then when you are actually in the room with everyone you realize you have grown up, moved on and for the most part it is best to keep the past the past.

The film deserves props for the incredible job reuniting the characters with all the same worn out jokes they have used since the first film.  Besides their overly familiar and unwelcome jokes the rest of the film is strung together crude humor and misunderstandings.  Funnier than the jokes are the pathetic ways they find to crowbar original characters into the film.

If they decide to do another sequel to this film in 30 years I am sure they will find another improbably way to write in Jim's Dad (Eugene Levy) alive or not.  If it is up to them there will be multiple sequels, by the end of the film we are threatened with not just another high school reunion, but a yearly reunion.  Looking at the flailing careers of the cast I am sure fans of the series can look forward to follow-ups for years to come, just make sure you check the direct-to-dvd listings.

If I were you I would throw the invite to this reunion in the garbage.

3.5 out of 10

If you do not want to waste two hours (yes, it is nearly two hours long) and have a couple laughs, take a closer look at the poster.  Photoshop at its worst.  I could do a better job making a movie poster with photos that were never intended to be combined.  Actually, I think I did, here (shameless self-promotion.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dark Shadows (2012) - Review

The returns on the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborations are shrinking by the outing.  This vampire tale had a great deal of previous material to work with going in, but no clear solution what to do with it.  The story is of Barnabas, a vampire imprisoned in his coffin for hundreds of years by a jealous witch, who is accidentally set free and unleashed on the 1970's.  Sounds like a the premise for some great hijinks.  Unfortunately it is unsure of what kind of film it wants to be.  Part horror, part comedy with zero luck blending the two genres.  It also lacks lacks an interesting storyline or much else to latch onto.  A few years back Tim Burton's name on a film used to mean "must see," lately that has transitioned to "must rent... to be let down in the comfort of my own home."  4.5 out of 10

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Killer Joe (2012) - review

In an attempt to get their hands on some life insurance money it is time to kill mom.  A good old fashioned family film.  As a dark comedy it fails to deliver many laughs, is quite violent and will really make it tough to eat KFC again (if you ever did.)  

McConaughey transforms, keeping this from being a bust.  The rest of the cast delivers solid performances as well.  I am going to guess more people will talk away scratching their heads and annoyed than will enjoy it.  It is not only dark, it also oddly paced and at times just plain uncomfortable. 

If you are in the mood for something dark and different, give a try, but don't tell me I didn't warn you.   6 out of 10

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Man of Steel (2013) - Review

Let me get one thing straight before you read further, I am a big Superman fan.  I am not a Superman historian.  I know some of the lore, but I certainly do not know it all.  So please, be understanding if I do not quite get every reference or connection to Superman's history.  If you want to discuss this a higher more comprehensive level, please do in the comments.  I would love to hear what you have to say. 

Once upon a time there was a special boy that was sent to earth from far away to protect, to inspire.  A boy with super powers.  A boy that would grow into an man that would be treated like a god by the people of Earth.  A super man.  Okay, enough about me let's just get to the film review.  But, before I do I think it is important to revisit the last few years of Superman on the big screen.

As revealed in my review, I am one of the few people that left Superman Returns excited about a followup film.  As weeks, months and years passed waiting for an official sequel announcement I realized it would never come.  Surprisingly, it turned out $200 million gross does not guarantee a sequel these days.  I came to terms that after a long, torturous $250 million return to the big screen there was a chance we would not see a new Superman film for years to come.  Lucky for me and the other fans of the man in the red and blue tights, the film climate changed.  Superheroes remained hot, very hot.  Even after the lukewarm reception to Supey's last film, Warner Bros. had to bring the man in blue tights back to the big screen to capitalize on the box office trends.  Knowing that this would be the second attempt too reboot the franchise since the Christopher Reeve days, the consensus was they could not afford to get it "wrong" again this time... besides the Superman name at stake, so was the potential for the long rumored Justice League (DC's answer to Marvel's The Avengers.)  This film HAD to be done right, Warner Bros could not fail us, they would not fail us.  Then they announced whom would direct the film, one of, if not the most integral part of creating a great film.  And the director is... Zack Snyder.  Awesome!  The same director that brought us classics like The Watchmen and Sucker Punch.  Oh crap!  That Zack Snyder?  Come on Warner Bros you failed us.  We're screwed.

Fast forward about four years, the trailers for Man of Steel started to be released and much to my surprise, they looked awesome.  Maybe this had something to do with the involvement of Christopher Nolan (of the Dark Night films) serving as a Executive Producer.  Is there a chance this film had a chance to not only be good, but to be great?  Do we have a new classic on our hands?

Fast forward another six months and there I am on opening weekend, approaching the theater about to see the first Supey film in seven years.  Dressed in my blue Superman emblem shirt, I was about to return to the theater to see my favorite childhood superhero, the one, the only Superman!  I knew going in that they were not just relaunching the film franchise, this film was going to take some liberties to give Superman more of an edge, a better fit for current trends in superhero films.  That did not bother me too much, as long as it was a Superman film I would be satisfied.  Many people find Superman boring and old fashioned and if he needs a tune up to make him relevant in the new age of superhero films, I would rather compromise than have him bundled up in moth balls and put in storage.  With that in mind, I sat down in my usual fourth row center seat and prepared for the return of the Man of Steel.

As I expected the film does not open with the beloved John Williams theme - fine, I am coming in with an open mind, it is time for a new edgier Man of Steel.  To be fair,when we hear Hans Zimmer's new theme it is well done, dramatic, grown up and loud.  The film starts on Krypton, it is delivered to us in a way it never has been before, it is straight out of a sci-fi novel, with flying beasts, outlandish architecture and flying vehicles - it has a style that would feel at home in the Star Wars universe, pretty impressive.  We quickly learn that all is not fine and dandy, there are problems with Krypton.  The planet is self destructing due to an unstable core and there is little that can be done to save it.  General Zod, played by the amazing Michael Shannon, is hell bent on assuring the pure Kyrptonian race finds a way to prosper.  Jor-El (Russell Crowe) has other plans in mind.  He plans to secretly launch a rocket containing his son, Kal-El, the first natural born child of Krypton, along with the genetic codex of the Krytonian race to a planet where he can grow and prosper, one where he would be like a God, earth.  After a confrontation between the two, Zod and his crew are arrested for previous crimes and sent to the Phantom Zone as punishment for a very long time.  That punishment is cut short as the planet explodes setting them all free of their captive state. 

The entire sequence set on Krypton is quite impressive.  It no longer feels like a quick prologue to kick the story off, it actually felt like a integral part of the character's story.  The battle for the future of the Kryptonian race makes Kal-El much more significant than the outcast turned hero he is typically portrayed as.  Once on earth Kal-El is found by a couple in Kansas that raise him like their own, the Kents (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) call him Clark.  In a series of scenes delivered in nonlinear fashion we learn about Kal-El's days growing up in Smallville as well as Clark as a young man, searching for a place to fit in - going from place to place, forced to leave once he felt he was beginning to stand out (similar in feel to the old 1980's Hulk TV show.)    His father reinforces to Clark that he is different and must keep his true identity a secret because people will not know how to deal with a being from another planet.  Once he does reveal his identity to a snoop of a reporter, the (oddly) red-headed Lois Lane (Amy Adams) it does not take long before things start to really fall apart for the Man of Steel, both the character and the film.  A short time later he is located by Zod and Co. and his identity is revealed to the people of Earth.

I will not get into further details about the plot, the good moments are better to experience on your own, the bad are too monotonous to describe over and over again.  Essentially the last of the film becomes a mind-numbing display of generic blockbuster special effects that NEARLY cause the film, like Krypton, to self-destruct.  Overall it does not, but the film that seemed on the path to greatness quickly takes a wrong turn.  Watching all the potential for a great film head into mediocrity can be tougher to handle than an all out failure.  Man of Steel does so much right up front it almost felt like Christopher Nolan saw the first half and walked out of the editing room and said to Zack Snyder, "you take it from here."  What we get is a disappointment.  A wonderful setup followed by a loud, violent mess.

The fight scenes are an all out display of what crazy amount of destruction can be put on display when you have amazing CGI artists and an huge budget.  The scale and intensity is extremely overwhelming (imagine two super beings destroying entire blocks of a city by throwing each other into skycrapers... now imagine that about a dozen times over.)  There are no moments for the audience to catch their breath.  Lacking are the moments when Superman changes his focus of pummeling Zod to do something simple such as saving a group of citizens from a flying object.  The film needed at least one scene, similar to (or a straight copy of) the "Superman Returns" airplane scenes - it is one of my all time favorite superhero scenes and is not only exciting, it also connects Superman to the people of Earth.  The action here is so frequent and consistently over the top (I think someone told then to turn it up to eleven) that you cannot relate to it... it is destruction for destruction's sake.   The amazing thing with all the fighting, devastation and carnage - I am not sure if these two beings (Zod and Superman) are even hurting each other, making the barrage of crashing, crushing and visual mayhem more unnecessary.

I wanted to yell at the screen, "We get it!  Move on!"  The point was proven, Zod and Superman are incredibly powerful and nearly incapable of being injured - about 10 minutes of that action would have been sufficient to get that across.  When Superman saves the day, you are supposed to want to get up and cheer - not sit back completely indifferent.  This indifference is especially a huge issue when it supplants character development.  These action scenes are so generic that if you were not notified going into the film that it was going to be a Superman film you may mistake it for any generic superhero/sci-fi blockbuster - worse yet a Transformers film.  The audience is hopelessly held hostage to action sequences that won't quit when all you are hoping for are some smaller quieter moments.  Although my words may have lead you to believe the biggest flaw is the numbing action sequences that take up a good portion of the film, it is not.  It is the lack of heart, the lack of emotional investment that closes the film.  The film went larger and it needed to go smaller.  What worked - the family scenes, the diner scene, the conversations, Clark questioning who he was and who he is supposed to be - they abandon it all.  The film hits the gas and never applies the brakes making it difficult to connect with the characters.  It is a Superman film with little heart and lacking of the Superman magic. 

As mentioned before the focus on action prevented a then necessary character development.  For that reason we get a bad ass, yet kind of boring Zod.  Michael Shannon acts the hell out of it, too bad it is a one note character.  Amy Adams does a great Amy Adams, her Lois Lane needs work, or at least something to do.  Luckily for her she is following up the worst Lois Lane of all-time, Kate Bosworth so a mannequin would have been an improvement.  This is a strong cast, it is the material that fails them.  Two characters walk away unscathed Superman's two fathers, Russell Crowe his Kryptonian dad and Kevin Kostner his dad on Earth.  Besides Superman, they were my favorite characters in the film, I could have used thirty minutes more of the two of them.  Not only were their stories interesting, they also added weight to the inner struggle of Superman, background story delivered not just for the sake of delivering background - it added validity to the origin story.  At the core this is a story of a super being with two fathers and the decisions he must make on how he will live his life - to keep his powers hidden and fit in with other Earth people or use his powers to be good and be the god he can be.  Interesting stuff.  Once that is abandoned the film suffers.

As for Superman himself, Henry Cavill, not only does he look the part, but he plays it well.  He adds some vulnerability to Clark that was barely explored in the previous renditions.  My question is, if the sequel does bring back some of the Clark Kent charm will he be able to nail that as well?  As for the rest of the cast, most of them are nearly invisible, they are so under-developed that you forget about them the minute they are off screen.  Even worse, when they are on screen you may question who they are or why you care that they are in peril.  One oddly extended sequence puts a character in harms way, until they said her name again I honestly had no clue who she was... I still never cared.

Even with all the issues with the films that were previously discussed, there is one that trumps them all.  If this was corrected it would definitely sway my opinion of the film as a whole.  The problem is  the lack of memorable moments.  Somehow with all the time and effort put into making the film they forgot about creating memories, they forgot about making sure it was fun.  The potential is there for bigger, funnier, more powerful or more emotional scenes - emotions that if nailed would have provided us with those "moments" that you talk about and remember for years to come, moments you can't wait to experience again.  The Avengers was full of them.  Man of Steel struggled to deliver any.  It is not for a lack of opportunities to create them - the chances were there but time after time they were botched.  It as if the minute Clark put on that suit the film lost the ability to be interesting.   An example of a flubbed "moment" is one that could possibly have been one of the film's best scenes - the first reveal of the famous blue and red suit.  MINOR SPOILER ALERT - This is how it goes down in the current film - Jor-El opens a door and explains Kal-El what the suit is all ab out.  Yaaawwwn.  Excuse me.  Where's the music, the buildup the powerful revelation of the suit that transforms Kal-El/Clark Kent into The Man of Steel?   This is the defining moment - a destiny chosen.   If ever there was a moment where the old John Williams Superman theme would have been perfect, that was it.  Instead of delivering the audience a chills-all-over-your-body moment we get a rather flat scene.  How in the world do you mess that up?   I wanted a Superman moment.  Instead I was given a scene that will be talked about for...never.  This is just one example, there are plenty more.  The film has been out for a couple weekends, notice that you don't have anyone talking about the cool scene, that movie moment that you just have to talk about.  There is a reason no one is talking about it, it is missing from the film. FAIL.

Besides the flubbed suit reveal there were numerous elements that were not well thought out, (for the sake of not revealing any spoilers I will keep it vague.)   The most obvious was the aforementioned fighting - the scale of these fights are so big that they were destroying cities, where do you go from there - bigger was not the answer.  Perhaps going head to head against a more cerebral villain in a smaller scale, fight - where the violence had some impact on the character, leading to an engaged audience.   There is also an important moment in the film when the secret to defeating the villain is revealed to a central character.  This knowledge will help turn the tides of the battle and give Superman the edge.  I waited patiently for them to explain what the mysterious insight to overpowering Zod would be.  It had to be something big, a throw back to the old days of Superman lore - something when revealed would get us on our feet clapping and hollering.   Turns out, I was wrong - it was not really that big of a deal, a complete letdown.  Then there was the the (controversial) climax.  Once again, kind of stupid.   As for the ethics of Superman, feel free to discuss that in the comments section.

Where do you go from here?  Man of Steel looked destined to sail, instead it failed.  It provided a new take on a hero that needed a little bit of a makeover, but while providing something new they stripped him of all the classic elements for old fans alike to cling onto.   I understand, they went for the darker more realistic interpretation, answering the question, what would happen if a Superman really existed.  That does not justify stripping down the seventy plus year old hero of all the traits we know and love.  The re-imagining went too far to satisfied the interests of one director's vision.  Change made for the sake of change.  What it does right, it does exceptionally well.   What it does wrong, it does exceptionally poorly.  As a film, it is flawed.  It was like a Superman film without a real Superman.

6 out of 10

Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini Dead at the Age of 51

To honor the career of James Gandolfini who suddenly passed away yesterday I have posted the top 10 episodes of The Sopranos from Time magazine's list.  Gandolfini's performance as Tony Soprano was an integral part of the show's success and helped usher in a new era of television, arguably the best time for quality television ever.  He will be missed.  If you have a favorite episode not found on the list, please add it to the comments.

1. College


(Season One)
This gemlike season one episode captured the parallels, and the tension, between the family and Family parts of Tony's life. He goes to New England on a college tour with daughter Meadow, whose denial about what he really does for a living he encourages. ("There is no Mafia!") After he spots a former wiseguy gone into witness protection, he decides to work a little business into the family getaway by tracking down the rat and killing him, with his bare hands. "College" cemented fans' affection and repulsion for Tony, letting us see him as a caring father and an unforgivable monster at the same time. And bonus points for the B-plot in which Carmela nearly cheats on Tony—with a priest. Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
(Directed by Allen Coulter; written by Jim Manos, Jr. and David Chase)

2. Pine Barrens

It's wrong, in a way, to include this most un-Sopranos-like of Sopranos episodes; in a series that unfolds like a novel, "Pine Barrens" is a distinctly self-contained short story. Paulie Walnuts and Christopher go to make a routine collection, from a Russian named Valery, which goes awry, ending with the Russian in the trunk of Paulie's car. When they try to dispose of his body in the snowy Jersey woods, they find he's still alive—and as a former commando, far better off in the Siberian conditions than they are. The pursuit turns into a brilliant comedy of violence and bonding moment. The episode (directed by later guest Steve Buscemi) has taken on a life of its own among fans, to the possible annoyance of the show's writers, who have said repeatedly: The Russian is not coming back people—get over it! Dosvedanya, Valery.
(Directed by Steve Buscemi; teleplay by Terence Winter, story by Tim Van Patten & Terence Winter

3. The Sopranos Pilot

The series became subtler in its themes after the pilot, but the episode that started it all does a fine job establishing the show's premise, themes and cinematic look. After having a panic talk—brought on by job stress, but more so by the demands of family and his toxic mother Livia—the mob boss begins seeing a therapist on the down-low. Grousing to Dr. Melfi in his first sessions, Tony lays out the generational complaints that will inform the whole series and make the mobster's problems universal: that he can't balance his family and work lives, that he feels he's come of age after the best times of his business have past and that men have abandoned the "Gary Cooper" standard of strong silence (a model Tony's not able to live up to anyway). The show's richest days are ahead, but The Sopranos starts off with a bang.
(Written and directed by David Chase)

4. Whitecaps

(Season Four)

In The Sopranos' most searing fight, no one dies, or even draws blood. And while the series has featured bludgeoning, rape and dismembering, I'm not sure if any scene has been more uncomfortable for viewers to sit through than the showdown that leads to Tony and Carmela's separation, after one of Tony's goomars calls and taunts Carm on the phone. It is a pitch-perfect rendering of one of those long-simmering meltdowns in which a couple hurls every grenade in their marital arsenal of grievances, and Edie Falco proves her Emmy-worthiness in a performance that's brave, fearful and just the right amount unhinged.
(Directed by John Patterson; written by Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess and David Chase)

5. Employee of the Month

(Season Three)

Dr. Melfi is the closest thing The Sopranos has to a narrator: the probing, if not all-knowing, voice that walks Tony through his blood-slicked psyche. She's also a stand-in for the viewer, since she's Tony's main confidant outside the mob world. Which is why it was all the more horrible to see her brutally raped in a parking garage, and then to see her assailant let go on a technicality. Seeing her shed her professional calm and break down was anguishing; but seeing her wrestle with—and reject—the revenge fantasy of having Tony mete out justice was inspiring. When Tony asked the shaken doctor if anything was wrong and she answered—after a pause—with a resolute "No," she made us confront the parts of ourselves that so badly wanted her to say "Yes."
(Directed by John Patterson; written by Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess)

6. Join the Club

(Season Six)

There are Sopranos fans who hate David Chase's dream-sequence episodes. I'm not one of them. Although "coma-sequence" episode would probably be more appropriate here. Shot in the gut by Uncle Junior (during a senior moment), a comatose Tony lives out a parallel life in his mind. In this world, he's a heating-systems salesman, whose ID has been switched with someone named "Kevin Finnerty" on a business trip. This alterna-Tony has no New Jersey accent. He's faithful to his wife. And when he gets blown off by the hotel staff or hassled by Buddhist monks, it never occurs to him to head-butt them. The fantasy sequence (which continues into the "Mayham" episode) inverts our image of Tony, showing him, on the borderline of life and death, meek, stranded, friendless and unable to find his way home.
(Directed by David Nutter; written by David Chase)

7. Whoever Did This

(Season Four)

First of all, severed head in a bowling bag: that gets you into the top ten off the bat. But this episode stands out not so much for the shock of Ralph Cifaretto's murder (and disposal) as for what it says about Tony. Ralph's son is badly injured in a bow-and-arrow accident; meanwhile, a stable fire kills Tony's beloved racehorse Pie-Oh-My. When Tony accuses Ralph of setting the fire for insurance money, Ralph make a denial that sounds like an admission ("It's an animal!"). They fight; it gets out of control; Ralph ends up dead. But what's most chilling is what Tony says just before killing Ralph—that Pie-Oh-My never did anything to hurt anyone—which is almost exactly what Ralph said earlier about his son. Tony doesn't just kill Ralph, he sends him out of the world equating his innocent child's life with Tony's horse's, which pretty much sums up Tony's moral universe.
(Directed by Tim Van Patten; written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess)

8. Long Term Parking

(Season Five)

This season-five episode not only contains possibly the series' funniest line ("We're in a f___ing stagmire," by the malaproping Little Carmine Lupertazzi) but its most pitiful whacking. Christopher's fiance Adriana, pressured into informing for the Feds, is trapped between ratting on the Family and spending years in prison and makes a desperate try to escape by persuading Christopher to run away with her. Chris wavers, chooses Tony over his woman, and one long drive with Silvio and a short crawl through the leaves later, Ade is snuffed out. In her last season, Drea De Matteo takes a big-haired, gum-snapping character that always verged on parody and makes her a fully empathetic person, exploited by both sides, wanting nothing more than love and a family—OK, and the occasional expensive gift—and getting two bullets put in her for it.
(Directed by Tim Van Patten; written by Terence Winter)

9. Funhouse

(Season Two)

Season two wasn't The Sopranos' finest, but the finale searingly ended Vincent Pastore's storyline as Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, Tony's good friend, captain and rat. Tortured by suspicion of Pussy, Tony has a dream in which he sees his friend, who will soon sleep with the fishes, as literally a fish on ice. The whole season has been an acting showcase for Pastore as the conflicted, trapped Pussy (recall his anguished breakdown in Tony's bathroom in "D-Girl"), but as Tony takes Pussy out for one last boat ride, James Gandolfini also shows how he can take his character from anger to sorrow to self-pity to brutal resignation with one well-inflected squint of Tony's piggy eyes. It's Tony's toughest hit and one he, and we, will never quite get over.
(Directed by John Patterson; written by David Chase and Todd A. Kessler)

10. Where's Johnny

(Season Five)

Most top-ten lists are really a top-nine list, and an eleven-way tie for tenth. There are probably a good dozen episodes that could fill out this final slot, but there needs to be at least one place on this list for an ordinary Sopranos episode, with no big whackings or stunts, that just moves the plot another three yards downfield. (In a way, a list of best episodes is antithetical to the novel-like Sopranos—do you have a top-ten list of Dickens chapters?) This episode from early in season five advances several storylines, including the succession battle in the New York Mafia and cousin Tony B.'s doomed attempt to go straight by becoming a masseur. Meanwhile, Uncle Junior has started repeating a taunt at Tony's high-school sports abilities: "He never had the makings of a varsity athlete." As Junior is picked up by the police wandering Newark, looking for his dead brother, it's clear that the insult is just one more marble leaking from his head. But it's small comfort to Tony, who asks, hurt, "Why's it got to be something mean? Why can't you repeat something good?... Don't you love me?" Junior's words hurt Tony as badly as the slug he pumps into him a season later: in The Sopranos, the cruelest hits can come at the Sunday dinner table.
(Directed by John Patterson; written by Michael Caleo)

(Top Ten episodes chosen by TIME's television critic James Poniewozik)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) - Review

After waiting for five years that felt like forever, we were finally delivered the Spider-man reboot we all deserved - a completely original vision - a daring, new approach to the super hero lore that not only breathed new life into the web-slinger, that makes it essential viewing for comic book and film fans alike... at least that is what I would have liked to have said.  Instead, I can say this... Spider-man, Spider-man does whatever a previous Spider-man can.

This Spider-Man film returns with a new cast, a new villain, a slightly lighter tone, but not much else to differentiate it from the Tobey MaGuire films.  Replacing MaGuire behind the mask is James Garfield as Spidey, Emma Stone plays his love interest and Rhys Ifans the villain.   The plot is serviceable if not a routine superhero story.   I would expand on it if you had not seen it before - boy meets girl, boy meets scientific genius, boy bit by radioactive spider, boy's loved one dies, city attacked by evil villain, boy becomes Spider-Man, saves the day.  For the sake of all those that were excited to see this, I wish there was something to say here that would help differentiate this film from the past entries, but there was nothing in the film that stood out.  It was a carbon copy.  The biggest change was that in overall tone - it was lighter with more touches comedy mixed in, including an almost cartoonish subway scene.  While all other superhero franchises are finding their inner Christopher Nolan, Spidey seems to be looking for the inner John Hughes.

I often come across as a hater - don't get me wrong though - I don't hate this film.  It just filled me with a feeling of bewildered disappointment.  If I had not said so already, it is unnecessary and for that reason, the fact they did not make it relevant is a disappointment.  Watching it made me feel like I was hosting a party and told everyone what item to bring to contribute.  One guest arrives with brownies, as requested, (yeah!) a real crowd-pleaser.  Then a second person, even after you told them that brownies were already taken, shows up with a tray of... brownies (boo!)  Although brownies are always good, it is difficult to appreciate the second tray of brownies when not long before a superior tray arrived.   Sony, if you are going to bring that second tray of brownies to my party they better be pretty damn good brownies, something unique.  I need a reason for that reboot of my already acceptable brownies (think brownies with chocolate chips and M&Ms.)

With that said, let me move on to a few more specifics about this film instead of the studio flubs.  When I can put the memories of Spider-Man films past behind me, there were plenty of elements of the film that were quite adequate, even some terrific moments.  My favorite scene gives a peak into what it is like being a teenager with such amazing powers - it takes place in the school and has Peter taking on the school bully.  It not only allows for a little escapism for those of us that may have been teased during high school (a blog is usually a good tip off to that) it also exemplifies the famous line, "with great power comes great responsibility."  You are routing for Peter to kick some bully butt, at the same time you know this is an unfair fight and wrong to be taking place.  The few moments like that is when TAS shines.  

Some other observations:
  • I enjoyed the homage to the Superman/Lois Lane flight.
  • Sure this is a superhero film and suspension of disbelief is needed, that does not mean you can be lazy with the writing.  Too many moments based on chance, unprofitably lucky breaks.  When you start questioning a film that you are already willing to tolerate the illogical and improbable something is wrong.  In other words, this film often felt like bullsh*t.
  • The lack of any type of shock by people that witness Spidey without his mask is in a word, shocking.  It is not as if this film takes place in a universe where superhero sightings were a common occurrence, so why when he reveals who is behind the mask the response is underwhelming?  Some characters would have had a bigger reaction to winning a free cup of coffee at McDonald's than they do to a kid they know having freakish superhero powers.
  • There is scene in a subway that has a near cartoonish feel to it.  Although I kind of liked it, it stood out from the rest of the film.  If they approached the rest of the film with the same attitude it surely would have been a unique film.
  • Garfield is wonderful as Spidey.  I would have preferred that Sony would have just pretended that Spider-Man 3 never occurred and used this as a replacement to continue the original trilogy.  Garfield is good enough to fill the suit, the tone is similar enough and we would not have to sit through another origin story.  The problem probably lies in the fact that Spidey 3 had tossed so much on the screen (Venom, Green Goblin, The Sandman) that it would be tough to redirect the story to a place that made any sense.

As I said, there are plenty of moments that are fun to watch, but this IS a reboot.  And, as a reboot it has a responsibility to deliver a breath of fresh air to the franchise.  Instead they played it safe, delivered a breath of recycled air.

6 out of 10