Beauty and the Best

Movie Review

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters Review

Really? Has no one here done a movie review in over a month? I'm mostly just the video game guy but let me take a look and see what movies I have that All Good Fans might like to hear about. Wait, video games, movies - I've got it! The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. So crowd around everyone while I tell you about one of, if not the most, entertaining documentary I have ever seen.

Don't just take my word for it, this film has a 96% fresh rating on 
Rotten Tomatoes but of course you come here exactly because you want my word for it it, so here it is, followed by some more. King of Kong tells the story of Steve Wiebe, a father & husband who is laid off from his job so decides to pass the time by buying a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet and attempting to break the world high score.

The film follows Wiebe after he does nearly the impossible by actually succeeding. His almost 
Asperger level dedication to the game is amazing to see. He practiced day & night, made charts to determine ways with which to rack up more points and was so unilateral towards his goal that his high score submission tape has him continuing to play while his toddler throws a tantrum for him to stop because he needed help going to the bathroom. That scene is actually a little excruciating to watch, truth be told, but it's just the beginning. 

Little did Wiebe know that doing so would bring him into a strange world of aging gamers still holding on to their glory days from the golden age of video arcades, where they achieved quasi celebrity-like status for reaching world high scores in similar games such as
Pac-Man, Frogger, Centipede, and others. And these scores are regulated by an equally strange group from the Twin Galaxies Arcade headed by the eccentric, if also lovable old enthusiast Walter Day.

Not all the members of this cabal are as lovable as Wiebe is though (the previous world record holder for Donkey Kong is a man by the name of Billy Mitchell whose claims to fame are his high scores and personally branded hot sauce). Now Billy Mitchell sells himself like he sells his hot sauce so he wasn't about to let his position slip without a fight, thus setting up the conflict of the film.

Mitchell produces questionable evidence proving that he outdid Wiebe's score and through the rest of the film, Wiebe tries to reclaim his prize while feeling stonewalled by a culture and political system that is all new to him. It's a real underdog story and while real life rarely has true villains or heroes, the film clearly sets its position on whom it thinks are which. It may not make for the most unbiased documentary film-making but it sure is fun to see unfold.

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And as documentaries go, this one also has some pretty good production values with editing tricks, animated segments, musical cues and more. It's an extra level of polish that really helps this stand above a lot of other films of the genre and adds to it's often surreal feeling. Make no mistake, however, that this is a real life story filled with more colorful characters and intrigue than a lot of fiction could ever muster. So much so that a scripted film adaptation is apparently in the works.

I would definitely recommend the original King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters though, not just to fans of video games but to anyone who likes good stories or learning about different subcultures. It was originally released in 2007 so there's also lots more to learn about these people, the game and all of the sagas surrounding in the years that followed but you can start by finding this either on disc or digitally from your provider of choice.

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"Zero Dark Thirty" is Gripping - Movie Review

Anyone who saw The Hurt Locker knows that Kathryn Bigelow is a no-nonsense director, and Zero Dark Thirty proves this to be true yet again. ZD30 tells the story of how the CIA tracked down and eventually killed Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The movie’s focus is on a female CIA analyst named “Maya,” who relentlessly pursued Bin Laden, even when the trail had gone cold.

This is not a fast paced movie. In fact, at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, it has a plodding and deliberate pace which, intentionally or not, serves to underscore the single-minded purposefulness of its heroine. If we’re fidgeting seeing the story unfold over three hours, imagine how tough it was to stay the course over a decade. This is especially true after you consider that politics, the death of team members, and hopelessness nearly brought the entire operation crumbling down. We see just how close Bin Laden, code named “Geronimo,” was to slipping away forever.

It turns out that finding Bin Laden came down to tracking down one of his top level couriers, Abu Ahmed, who was hidden away in Pakistan and believed to be dead due to misinformation. Of course, after all the research and intense, closed-door meetings, the movie comes down to the 30 minutes that recounts the night the SEAL team infiltrated Bin Laden’s compound. Interestingly, that part of the film is especially restrained and feels near documentary like. There are very few theatrics to the SEAL team’s mission, which was executed with cold, ruthless precision (note how each person killed was “engaged” multiple times, just to be sure). Having watched the fascinating 60-Minutes interview with SEAL team leader Mark Bissonette, I was especially interested to see this play out in the film. Honestly, I think his retelling might have been more gripping.

I really enjoyed this movie. I have a great admiration for the men and women who serve in the US military and this story was of interest to me. I’m also highly opposed to bullshit at this stage in my life, and this movie had a no-frills, matter-of-fact storytelling that was like a salve to my weary, reality TV embattled psyche. Having said that, the prosaic narrative eventually betrayed Bigelow’s efforts to make Maya, austerely portrayed by Jessica Chastain, seem like a bad ass. Lines like “I'm the motherfucker that found him” seem particularly corny after you’ve just shown us a brutal 10-minute segment of a suspect being broken down through water boarding torture. Chris Pratt, who plays the the commander of the SEAL team, seems to be good in just about everything he does, but his innate likability undermines his credibility as a stone cold killer. Jason Clarke as one of the lead CIA ops is highly compelling and, for me, was the real stand out in the movie.

Overall, thumbs up. I think Chastain’s performance is being overrated (although look out for her confrontation scene with Kyle Chandler - it has Oscar written all over it), but in the end ZD30 caps off an extremely good year for movies with a figurative and literal BANG.

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A Christmas Carol (1951) Review

Everyone has their own traditions around the holidays. One of the ones my family and I share is annually watching Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It's a classic piece of western literature which has been adapted and retold dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of times and we all have our definitive version. Some of you may most enjoy George C. Scott, Patrick SterwartMichael CaineScrooge McDuck or even (God forbid) Jim Carrey in the starring role. In my mind however, there is only one Ebenezer Scrooge and that is Alastair Sim from the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol.

Yes and I am talking about the original called "A Christmas Carol" and not that colorized BS version of the movie renamed "Scrooge". I find the original black and white adds a lot of atmosphere. That was how it was supposed to be seen and that's how I watch it. For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, let me first welcome you to the planet Earth. It's really a nice place in a lot of ways despite what our news broadcasts say. And A Christmas Carol is an 1843 novel about a miserly old businessman named Ebenezer Scrooge who has lost his connection with his fellow men & women and can no longer even enjoy holidays like Christmas.

After working late on Christmas Eve and retiring home for the night, he is met by the ghost his former business partner Jacob Marley. Marley tells him that his selfish and callous deeds will lead Scrooge to eternal torment in the thereafter but that there is still hope. Scrooge would then be visited upon by three more spirits of Christmas who would take him to his past, the present and future in order to show the folly of his ways. In the extremely off chance you haven't experienced the story before, I won't give away what happens next but instead talk about what makes this version so special.

As I touched upon before, this movie has great atmosphere. The old film grain and contrast really works to this film's advantage because frankly 19th century England was a pretty depressing place and it genuinely makes certain scenes frightening.
Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley is terrifying as he wails about how mankind was his business. And that brings me to the performances. The supporting cast ranges from competent to excellent. Tiny Tim seems a little spry for a dying child but others like Bob Cratchet, or Old Joe or Scrooge's business associates all add their own layer of personality to this film.

But it all hinges on the performance of Alastair Sim. He does a wonderful performance that gives the slightest hint that even though he really doesn't like Christmas that he says such over the top things (like how people who celebrate Christmas should be boiled in their own pudding) more-so because it amuses him to annoy them as they have him. He excellently portrays resentment, fear, contrition and glee and you do believe it's all coming form the same character, the same person.

That's why of all the versions to see, this is the one. But most of all, A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption. Afterwards "it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us".  And that's something that all people could learn from every day of the year, not just Christmas. I would most of all recommend reading the original novel but If you haven't seen this 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, do so. It's currently available on DVD or if you leave your television on long enough over the next week or so, it will definitely be on at some point. In any event, have happy holidays from all of us - at All Good Things.

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Review


December 4th marks the release of the third Christopher Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises for home release. It was a film met with mixed reactions from viewers though I don't think anyone would say that this was the best Batman movie ever. So then which one is? Many would reply its prequel The Dark Knight or Tim Burton's 1989 Batman as their answer and while both are very well made & enjoyable films I would have a different answer. Instead, I would say the often overlooked Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is in fact, the best Batman movie ever.

Released in 1993, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is part of the Batman: The Animated Series canon, which was already known for its mature storytelling, unique art design that painted on black paper instead of white paper to give the art deco Gotham City's night the long shadows it was known for, as well as its excellent voice work from actors like Kevin Conroy as Batman or Star Wars' Mark Hamill as The Joker. These two actor's performances proved to be so iconic that they both continued to provide their interpretations up until most recently 2011's hit game Batman: Arkham City and thankfully both are cast in this film.

All the elements that made the TV series so great are kept in place for this movie and it uses every moment of its running time to tell an excellent tale about Batman's origins as the Batman, a mysterious new vigilante called The Phantasm who is killing criminals for which Batman is being blamed and even some parts revealing of the enigmatic Joker's history before he became The Joker.

Also I should mention the incredible score composed by Shirley Walker who not only did a great job emulating the style set by Danny Elfman for the 1989 film but in many ways surpasses even him in setting the tone for Batman. Both epic and melancholy, her music will echo in the back of your head for hours or days after hearing it.  I find it leagues more appropriate than Hans Zimmer's frenetic drums used in the most recent films.

So why may have you not heard of this film if it's so great? Unfortunately it was released around the same time as Tim Burton's sequel 
Batman Returns so many people maligned this as the child friendly version of Batman. I assure you that is not true in the slightest. This is in every way the superior Batman movie and there are several ways for you to now watch it for yourself. It has been released to DVD both on its own and as part of a combo pack with the straight to video Batman & Mr. Freeze SubZero, along with your usual digital distribution services. For all you Batman lovers and especially those disappointed by The Dark Knight Rises, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is definitely something to see.

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"The Hobbit" (1977) Review

blogEntryTopperI have a real treat for you today All Good Fans, I'm home from my local Value Village where I found a copy of The Hobbit on DVD just sitting in a bin! It must be some rough cut which accidentally made its way out of the studio. That's even better than when someone found a rough draft of the Star Wars script in my local library. Its cover doesn't even have the actors, just some of what I assume to be concept art. I'm so excited that I had to start writing this before even watching it. So keep reading and be amongst first to know everything you have wanted to about Peter Jackson's the Hobbit.


This is not Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. Upon watching for ninety seconds I can tell you this is definitely not Peter Jackon's The Hobbit. How embarrassing. I guess I'll just have to review it anyway. Instead keep reading to be amongst the who knows how many to know everything you never knew you wanted to know about Rankin Bass' The Hobbit.

The Hobbit, for those of you who don't know, is the 1937 story about Bilbo Baggins; a reserved fixture of his Hobbit community who one day receives a visit from a wizard and twelve Dwarfs that wish to hire him as their expert treasure hunter (e.g. burglar) on a grand adventure across the land to take back what's their from a powerful dragon. Of course, Mr. Baggins has no need for dragon treasure, knows nothing of burgling nor has ever been on an adventure but he reluctantly joins them anyway and begins his unexpected journey through Middle-Earth. On his journey, Bilbo learns just how great the world is through its fantastic creatures & settings, changing himself from a quiet homebody to an adventurer of legend.

This version of The Hobbit was released as an animated television special in 1977 from the same production company that would later make The Last Unicorn and Thundercats as well as animated by oh, Topcraft! Topcraft was an animation team who's members later formed a new company you may have heard of called Studio Ghibli. I've got to admit, the animation in this is pretty sharp, especially for 1970s television and I generally really like the art direction/character designs they used even if they took some, shall we say, creative liberties in those designs. For example, Gollum looks like a frog with ears and Smaug has a cat for a face. Now it's been a long time since I've read the novel but to be fair, I don't recall it ever specifically saying he DOESN'T have a cat for a face.

But likewise, the plot and dialogue stay surprisingly faithful to the source material with the exception of few omitted sections (such as the part with Beorn) and some plot points streamlined due to time constraints. It really makes me wonder how Peter Jackson intends to stretch this story out into three movies when this one did it in, let me check my DVD, 77 minutes! Even the music uses the actual lyrics from the poems and songs in the novel, which is a nice touch and now that we've brought it up - the music. Oh the music.

The Hobbit [Õîááèò] (1977) SATRip ñêðèíøîò4
The music is, honestly, it's pretty cheesy. So much so that South Park even made references to how goofy it is with their infamous Lemmywinks episode. Try the links to compare and you'll quickly hear what I mean. Otherwise the sound is generally quite good. The cast includes Hans Conried as Thorin Oakenshield, um Otto Preminger as Thranduil and uh John Huston as Gandalf? What?! Alright, it's an excellent if not random collection making the cast and they do a great job portraying the characters, maybe even better than their live-action counterparts. So overall, I like this. I really like this.

I'd recommend it and if you would like to see this version to compare it with the Peter Jackson version, officially coming to theaters on December 14, 2012, then it is available on DVD along with various digital streaming services. Surprisingly, despite the upcoming live-action adaptation however. I unfortunately could find no plans to release this on Bluray, which is a shame because if nothing else this is a fun little adventure that should not be forgotten even if future versions turn out to be even better.

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Mini Review - Barry Levinson's "The Bay"

The first thing I thought when I saw this on iTunes is: “What’s the director of ‘Rain Man” and ‘Disclosure’ doing messing around with a found footage flick?” Then I realized it probably wouldn’t be too bad expressly because of Barry Levinson’s involvement, and I was right. The Bay is an ecological disaster thriller focusing on a strange biological organism that has infested the eponymous body of water in the title. As a result, all manner of grotesqueries ensue - I guarantee you’ll squirm. One really smart thing Levinson did here was rely on a critter for the bad guy that actually exists in real life - the super creepy looking, ancient isopoda. These things feed on just about anything that drops to ocean floor, but they also occasionally crawl to the surface making for a nice fright fest. (It reminded me a little of Ridley Scott using "Nottingham lace,” which is the lining of a cow's stomach, for the interior of the original egg in Alien.) However, in reality, isopods they don’t own up to their menacing appearance. Since most people have probably never heard for them, it which allows them to make for an effective baddie and they also look super realistic because, obviously, they are.

The movie has a brisk pace and starts off with an infected person having a meltdown at a town fair. All of this is reported to us by the super cute and curvy Kether Donohue, who plays a reporter telling the story from some unknown location after it all went down. She’s one of the survivors. Of course we learn that greed is at the heart of all this, as a corporation tied in with local politicians has been dumping tons of chicken dung right next to the bay for longer than anyone can remember. The chickens were farm raised on steroids and their manure, consumed by the isopods, causes organisms to become faster growing, aggressive, human flesh eaters.

The movie got a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, which for once is about right. It’s not a top tier horror movie, but it’s definitely not bad either. Check it out.

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"Dance in the Vampire Bund"

I had heard a lot of whispers of anticipation concerning Dance in the Vampire Bund, from FUNimation, before it had come out on Blu-ray and DVD. Most of the talk was because it was a lolicon video and that it was being released from such a mainstream anime company. I decided to see what all the hubbub was about and watch it. Here is what I thought.

First of all, Dance in the Vampire Bund is a short anime series about Mina Tepes, the queen of vampires. The story is about the circumstances that arise when she establishes a safe haven for night gaunt. Mina must deal with assassination attempts, human scrutiny, romance and vampire politics while providing sanctuary for her fellow creatures of the night.

The animation was well done...for the most part. The only real issue I had with quality was at a time when the animation really should have shown through; Mina's transformation scenes. I am not going to give away what is so special about it, but I will say the quality looked a little rushed and could have had a little better detail.

So at this point, you must be thinking: "Okay, 'sounds interesting, but why are people talking about this series, and what makes this so controversial?" Mina Tepes, while being hundreds of years old and having a healthy lust for romance, appears as an 11 year old girl. This causes some pretty strange twists to elements of the story that would not normally be issues and twists others that would be considered complicated on their own.

The fact that Mina looks like an 11 year old sticks out at first, and makes for some amusing situations at later points. However, I found her physical age taking a backseat to the story and plot about a quarter or third into the series, except for when was meant to ad edge. A Google Image search will show you tons of art from the anime and manga, and the VERY suggestive things Mina likes to wear. Thankfully, the series is not nearly as spicy and I was able to enjoy it without feeling too awkward or strange.

Like many series, there were some mini-stories. At least one of them might be considered "filler," but they melded well with the series and did not detract from focus of the storyline, whatsoever.

The series resolves in a way that there is a sense of completion, but not of finality, leaving sequels quite possible for the future. As a short series, I would give Dance in the Vampire Bund an 8 out of 10. It is a must have for any lolicon, and like many FUNimation anime, it is available on Netflix, so this should make many of you happy.

--Jason O. N. Roberts aka HERETICPRIME of Otaku no Baka

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180° South: Conquerors of the Useless

If you set out to find the real life inspiration for "The Most Interesting Man in the World" you would have to look no further than the life of Yvon Chouinard. Yvon is among the first group of men to ever ascend the North American Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite with no fixed ropes in
1964. His climbing achievements in the Yosemite Valley in the sixties set the tone and basis for what we now know as Modern Rock Climbing. In order to accomplish this feat, Yvon taught himself blacksmithing and used this skill to forge his own climbing tools. Some of the original pitons & anchors that he forged during these days still remain on El Capitan and are in use today. This new business allowed him to supply climbers with safe equipment, as well as fund his future adventuring trips. The company, named Chouinard Equipment, would eventually become the Black Diamond Equipment Company but would also spin off to become another force in the adventure gear business, Patagonia Clothing.

The inspiration of the name and logo for the Patagonia clothing company came during a 6 month trip to Chile that Yvon embarked on in 1968 with a group of friends, among them a young climbing enthusiast and entrepreneur named Douglas Tompkins. Doug was very much like Yvon in the sense that he sought adventure and in order to do so he started an adventure gear business called The North Face in the early sixties that would fund these ventures. The North Face company created tents that were among the first to remove the need of a center pole to support the tent, a design that is now copied in almost all tent designs available today.

It was on this trip in 1968 that Yvon and Doug set out in an old Ford van along the early Pan American highway to Chile in order to explore and climb the untouched wilderness of the Patagonia region. They decided to video tape their climb of Mount Fitzroy and this footage was used to create one of the most popular climbing films ever made, Mountain of Storms. It was this very film that almost forty years later would inspire a kindred spirit named Jeff Johnson to film 180° South, which is a modern day recreation of this trip.

180° South follows Jeff Johnson from his humble beginnings in Danville, CA to present day where he attempts to recreate the trip that Yvon & Doug took in the sixties. The world has changed significantly since then, with the convenience of paved roads and airplanes making a trip to Patagonia accessible to all. However, taking the easy route is the antithesis of what Jeff intends to do in this film. He opts to take the road less traveled and hitch a ride on a sailboat disembarking for Chile from Mexico. This decision almost immediately gives Jeff what he's been searching for as the crew runs into trouble in the rough seas of the Pacific, which forces them to take safe harbor on the Island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.

The crew eventually makes it to Chile where they meet up with Yvon and Doug, who are aware of Jeff's attempt to recreate their adventure and make themselves available to help the crew in any way they can. In fact, Yvon, now at the age of 73, decides to join the crew on their ascent of Corcovado, a stratovolcano located in Patagonia and his bush knowledge of the region comes in handy as they start their climb into the wilderness.

The remainder of the film follows the crew on the ascent of Corcovado but also diverges to focus on the conservation efforts being championed in Chile by Doug Tompkins. Doug started The Conservation Land Trust in the early nineties, an organization that is focused on protecting the wildlands of Chile and Argentina. We learn of the struggles of the indigenous people of Patagonia and their struggle against government and the industries that are destroying their homeland in the name of progress. We hear the stories of over-fished seas, water pollution and their fight against the government to preserve what has been their livelihood for generations.

Overall, the film delivers heavily for those seeking a classic adventure film in the vein of Mountain of Storms. Beautifully shot and set to a fantastic soundtrack, you'd be hard pressed to not walk away from this film with a sense of awe and admiration for those that travel off the beaten path. The underlying message of conservation comes through loud and clear; it is our responsibility as humans to preserve the roads less traveled by for those that will seek adventure after we are long gone.

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"Smiley" Movie Review - Turn That Frown Upside Down


Smiley represents a paradigm shift from the old school, exclusive way of making films, to the new media template forged by websites like YouTube and This movie is the result of Michael Gallagher parlaying his success with “Totally Sketch” into a film deal. That means this movie was not concocted behind closed doors by some studio snobs who all go skiing together. Instead, it was made by the people for the people. And it shows.

Cameos by the who’s who of the internet world abound, including Bree Essrig and Nikki Limo - familiar faces from Totally Sketch. Also, the characters who round off this cast of internet misfits feels more authentic than if you had forty-something executives guessing at it. For example, the actors in the first party scenes come in all shapes, sizes and colors and something about it just rings more true - not like the plastic-y, overly glammed actors you might see in something like Scream 4.

Smiley explores the urban legend of a stitch-faced killer who magically appears behind the unlucky victim of a video chat where the other person types “I did it for the lulz” three times. Ashley, played very nicely by Caitlin Gerard (I’ll always remember her as the girl Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker were ogling in “The Social Network” ) moves in with Proxy, spritely embodied by actress Melanie Papalia, as they start college. Proxy immediately introduces the naive Caitlin to the world of the underground interwebz - 4chan message boards, hackers, network security specialists, etc. - and takes her to a party where a number of LA-based members from an anonymous board are all socializing under their online nicknames. While there, Ashly, Proxy and a few others parses off from the crowd and put the smiley legend to the test in real time. To everyone’s surprise, especially Ashley, it works. Enter victim number one.

From there, the usual slasher flick type story unfolds. More people die while our protagonist wonders if she is imagining it all or if Smiley is real. The acting is solid in this movie, especially the leads. Andrew James Allen is especially good. I haven’t seen an asshole character this likable since Seann William Scott’s Stiffler from American Pie. The story is also intriguing and there is a meditative element brought out through classroom scenes where the teacher explores themes played out in the movie. I also liked the notion that all the evil brought about through the web has come into being through Smiley.

The biggest issue with this movie is, ironically, the lack of studio polish in terms of the look of the film. It just isn’t very pleasant visually - zero production design. But it is actually scary in parts, which gives it a leg up on most horror films produced these days. One appearance by Smiley toward the end of the film is especially unnerving. Let me just put it this way: you probably won’t be typing “I did it for the lulz” anytime soon in a chat room. Mission accomplished. :)

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Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight Graphic
This is one twisted movie. But it’s also craftily executed, proving once again that when it comes to horror, foreign offerings are not to be underestimated. Directed by Jaume Balaguero of “Rec” fame, Sleep Tight tells the story of Cesar, a sociopathic concierge who can only find happiness in the misery of others. Played to the hilt by Luis Tosar, Cesar has his sights set in particular on the indefatigably upbeat Clara, who looks like a Spanish Jennifer Aniston. Cesar is not content to simply daydream about Clara’s unhappiness. He actually lurks about in her apartment at night, drugging her into a deep sleep while he puts poisons in her face cream, plants cockroaches in her apartment, and, yes, has his way with her while she’s unconscious.
As bone chillingly creepy as that may all sound, Tosar somehow manages to make Cesar sympathetic. I guarantee you will wind up hoping Cesar does not get caught as he skulks around Clara’s apartment.

One of the highlights of the movie is Cesar’s relationship with preteen tenant, Ursula (Iris Almeida). Ursula has a taut face and pretty, cruel eyes. She’s been doing her own spying and knows what Cesar is up to. There’s a playfulness to their disdain for each other that adds some levity to what could easily become heavy-handed drama.

It’s pure entertainment watching Cesar up the ante as her becomes increasingly frustrated that none of his tactics to destroy Clara’s happiness work. She just keeps leaving the building everyday with a smile on her face. It’s also an interesting commentary on human nature, and how some people seem to able to choose happiness while others are relegated to tough knocks and misery. In one of the more
nuanced scenes, Clara starts to suspect Cesar may be involved in her run of bad luck and actress Marta Etura, who has had to play Clara fairly one note up to this point, shows some real subtlety as she conveys a sly suspicion about her doorman’s intentions.

There are several points where you think the movie might end, but it keeps delving deeper and deeper into Cesar’s obsession with Clara until it finally reaches a crescendo of violence when Clara’s boyfriend confronts Cesar. What ensues is one of the most gory deaths I’ve seen in a while. It’s long and drawn out and the blood looks hyper realistic. Personally, I felt it was over the top. But it’s a minor complaint for what is otherwise a very solid thriller, right up there with
Single White Female and Fatal Attraction.

Oh, and don’t forget to reconsider the movies title in light of its unsettling conclusion. ;)

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The Dark Knight Returns Part 1


I have to admit that even before I began watching The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, I already had high expectations.  I was a fan of the Batman animated series that first introduced the signature Bruce Timm art style so knowing that he was on board as an executive producer was a plus.  This story is based on the 1986 Frank Miller four part comic book series comprised of The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Triumphant, Hunt The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Falls.  It takes place about 10 years after the death of Robin, Jason Todd, which is thought to have played a major role in Bruce Wayne’s decision to retire as Batman.  Gotham is once again plagued with crime but it’s the reemergence of Harvey Dent (aka Two Face) that coaxes the 55-year old Wayne to come out of retirement.  But Dent, like Wayne, has changed quite a bit since their last encounter and I found the result of their reunion to be a pretty mature and believable resolution.  It’s also revealed that in Batman’s absence there’s been a lot of debate about whether he was an aid to ridding Gotham of its villains or inadvertently part of the cause of their rise.  Luckily, rather than wasting time indulging in the public or private speculation, Batman immediately goes to work.  It’s not long before he discovers that beyond Dent, another menace called The Mutants are wreaking havoc throughout the city. 

The fight sequences between Batman and The Mutant leader are some of the best choreographed and “fair” I’ve seen in a while.  The animators seemed to be conscious of the deliberation of attacks from a seasoned combatant verses the energy conveyed by pure youth.  Peter Weller (RoboCop) turns in an incredible voice performance as The Dark Knight, completely embodying the older, no-nonsense version of his younger more patient self.  Here it’s apparent that Andrea Romano is at the top of her game having cast so many prior Warner Brothers Animation projects to date.  I have a particular fondness for her because of her passion for the work and her dedication to the people she brings to the table.  Bob Goodman’s screenplay stays pretty true to the Frank Miller series and director Jay Oliva doesn’t pull any punches with regard to the level of violence prevalent throughout Part 1. In support of this, Robert Hargreaves' sound design is as impressive as always and most notably when Batman comes charging into the Mutant camp with the Batmobile. 

The pacing throughout is pitch perfect and the character development is well balanced – especially the introduction of Carrie Kelly, who dons a knock off Robin costume and teams up becoming Batman’s new sidekick.  Even though you can kind of see what’s coming with final scene of part 1, it’s a great cliffhanger to leading into Part 2.  As a fan of the series, seeing characters like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred still loyal to Bruce conjures the same type of nostalgia as a film like The Expendables. More so than anything, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 clearly shows why Batman is so many people’s favorite serious hero whether super or otherwise.  Although aging and tormented, he’s determined to continue the fight for Gotham’s justice and unlike some, he encourages others to join the fight.  The Blue Ray includes a two part Two Face episode from the original animated series, several featurettes, a documentary on Batman creator Bob Kane, a sneak peak of Part 2 (due in early 2013) and a digital comic book. This is definitely one for the permanent collection!

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All The Boys Love Mandy Lane - AGT Mini Review

blogEntryTopperEver wonder what Jonathan Levine did before he directed the critically praised cancer dramedy “50/50” ? Well, it turns out the 2008 arthouse horror flick, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane,” was his feature directorial debut, and it’s impressive. Levine got involved with directing Mandy Lane while he was still a student at AFI, where met the writer and producer. (There’s a very interesting story about how the film was discovered by the famed producer Harvey Weinstein at the Toronto Film Festival and subsequently wound up in distribution purgatory, here.)

Pic traces the story of the somewhat mysterious title character, Mandy Lane, who is unquestionably the most beautiful girl at her high school, and also probably the most taciturn. Mandy just smiles ambiguously when guys compliment her and runs away from them on the track. But when peer pressure finally drives her to make an appearance at a pool party, things turn ugly when the school jock jumps off a rooftop to impress her. Can you say “massive head injury”? To be fair, he may have been egged on a little by Mandy’s ne'er-do-well male compadre, Emmet.

Cut to nine months later and Mandy has somehow assimilated into the in-crowd and is about to spend the weekend with them on a remote farm. Of course, muy killings ensue, but how it all unravels will no doubt surprise you. The movie is beautifully shot with liberal quantities of lens flare and golden hour lighting. Amber Heard, who plays Mandy, could not have asked for a better debut vehicle to showcase her classic, Hollywood good looks.

Here are the things that struck me about Mandy Lane. One, it’s got a nice build up. I happen to be one of those people who prefer the silly preludes before the killing sprees in horror movie, and this story unfolds nicely in that regard. Plenty of middle-aged wish fulfillment played out here with all the eye candy. Secondly, Amber Heard. Have I mentioned that this gun-toting lesbian is hot? Lastly, the direction, production, and script - this movie is just a cut above as horror flicks go. It’s not scary though – it’s more of a thriller.

So pick this one up on a Friday night if you can find it (it is quite difficult to find because it never got its intended US release). It’s a Digging-Thru-Crates gem.

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