Beauty and the Best

Movie Review

"The Gift" is One Of The Best of 2015

The Gift 1
The Gift is one of the best, if not the best, movies I’ve seen in 2015. But it’s for adults. Those seeking car chases and gratuitous violence need not apply. What writer/director Joel Edgerton has really done is take what could have been a ho-hum Lifetime melodrama and turned it into a thoughtful and unexpected tale of sins from the past coming back to haunt someone. Everyone in the theater has been, will be, or currently is either a Simon or a Gordo, and that’s what really hits home midway through the movie.

The film centers on Justin Bateman’s character Simon and his wife, Robyn, played quite well by Rebecca Hall. They’ve recently relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles for Simon’s big job at a security firm. They’ve made attempts at starting a family, but it hasn’t been successful and that’s taken a toll on their relationship. It’s also revealed that Robyn might have been abusing prescription drugs to dull the pain of infertility and a dubious career. Simon, on the other hand, is an ambitious winner and he’s so good at it, he makes it look effortless.

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, the couple “run into” Gordo at some Pottery Barn type store. Something seems slightly off about Gordo from the beginning – a stare that’s a little too intense, awkward pauses when he speaks, the gait/posture a broken person. As the trailers reveal, Gordo insinuates himself back into Simon’s life (they went
to high school together). Gordo and Robyn form a bond of sorts, perhaps due to the fact that they both understand trying to live down big mistakes in life. But Simon is immediately uneasy with Gordo’s reappearance, for reasons later explained. A few uncomfortable dinners ensue but things unravel fast. Apparently, Gordo’s life hasn’t turned out nearly as well as Simon’s, for reasons that may or may not have to do with Simon.

And that’s the beauty of The Gift. You really don’t know until about two thirds of the way into the film who’s the villain or the good guy in this movie. Lifetime would’ve made sure those lines were clearly drawn early on, and that’s why it would’ve been fun, but ultimately dreck. Edgerton is more concerned with nuance, and he picked just the cast to convey that, starting with himself as the awkward and spooky Gordo. No one is overplaying anything here. Even Bateman has toned down his typical snarky-yet-likable persona into something more mature and measured. Rebecca Hall is great as the vulnerable wife who followed her evolutionary instincts to marry a winner, but might have deliberately ignored some of Simon’s less pleasant qualities. Gordo’s entry into their life assures she will no longer be able to look away.

There are only a few real scares in The Gift, and even they are kind of fake outs, but they’re also extremely effective. The writing is top notch (watch out for Bateman’s speech about the winners and losers in life) as is the directing. I give this one my highest recommendation.

Bookmark and Share


"It Follows" - A Unique But Not Especially Frightening Horror Movie

It Follows Poster
Just what the world needs: another review of “It Follows.” But I’m writing this review because, with the deluge of praise heaped on this film, I think we could use a little clear headedness.

It Follows
is a unique “horror” film. The cinematography is excellent, the direction thoughtful and the acting solid. This is what I’d call an art house horror movie. I saw it at the Arclight Cinemas and there was a Q&A with director David Robert Mitchell moderated by Edgar Wright after the screening. Mitchell is a soft-spoken, articulate, sensitive person and that comes through in his filmmaking.

Having said all this, how do we reconcile fulsome praise such as Follows being called “
the best horror film in a decade” with the fact that it’s not actually that scary. Suspenseful in parts, yes; slightly unnerving in parts, yes. Actually scary -- like make you want to keep the lights on at night -- no. To be fair, I am a grizzled old horror veteran. I fall asleep to horror movies like bedtime stories and wake up with the DVD splash screen and scary theme music playing with nary a problem.

So what do I consider scary? Not much anymore. Over time, certain movies have stuck with me – the original Japanese “Ringu,” “The Exorcist,” the first “Alien,” “Audition” was troubling, “A Tale of Two Sisters,” “Halloween” (original). Of recent times “The Conjuring” impressed me. Then there are movies that just had scary scenes, like when the old witch’s shadow appears outside the tent of heroine in “
Suspiria” or when the little girl in “Don’t Look Now” turns out to be a knife wielding midget.

These are movies that made me think about them later, and especially at night. But I walked out of “It Follows” feeling the buzz of having partaken in something cool, but not something scary. I said the same about the “Evil Dead” remake on this blog. I’m interested to hear others thoughts. What do you consider scary?

Bookmark and Share


"Selma" Review

Ava Duvernay's Selma is one of the best bio pictures produced in a while.  For most people, it's difficult to watch a film of this kind. We know the outcome for its subject and we know what type of things to expect in a film like this - lofty speeches, brutal beatings and a good dose of historic footage. Instead of retreading old ground seen every February on the History Channel, the director chose a different route.  This film focuses on events leading up to the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama (about a 54-mile trip) which eventually led to the Voting Rights Act.  What I really enjoyed about this film was that we saw MLK as a normal human being. We saw his fear and his passion co-existing side-by-side. And more importantly, we finally had a chance to get to know Coretta, which gives a better understanding of how MLK was able to achieve what he did in such a short amount of time.  Behind every strong man, as they saying goes.  Coretta was holding it down at home and supported him through thick and thin despite his less popular indiscretions. 

Selma Still
While there has been some criticism of the portrayal of Lyndon Johnson, I felt it was accurate given the time.  As president, Johnson seemed intent on supporting MLK but would not press forward without massive public opinion supporting him.  The shooting death of Jimmy Jackson (who was African American) by Alabama State Trooper, James Fowler, was not enough to motivate Johnson to act. (Interestingly, Jackson’s death echoes police sentiment toward African-American males still prevalent today, half a century later). Meanwhile, the stark contrast of the public outcry that followed the death of James Reeb, a white minister from Boston who’d also come to support MLK during the March, revealed the nation’s covert racism. Reeb’s family received a phone call from the president but there was no such call for Jackson’s family. 

I also think it was important to have a relatively unknown female director handle the subject matter.  Duvernay avoided being heavy-handed with the violence and offered a well thought out balance between the female and male characters. Even Oprah Winfrey managed to just come across as an activist fighting for a cause instead of pulling us out of the story. The film made me proud of where we've come but also reminded me that we have a long way to go. Choices like not calling the film “MLK” and highlighting the contributions of so many others to this movement make it clear that this isn’t just a black issue - it ’s a human rights issue. If you haven’t seen Selma make it a point to do so immediately.  It’s an important film that demonstrates the power of free speech and the courage of those who believe wholeheartedly in a cause.

Bookmark and Share


Olivia Jensen and Gracie Burwell - "Iris" - AGT's Halloween Special

This is our entry in Legendary Picture’s and YouTube Space LA’s horror competition. I wish I could say this was easy, but as low key as it may seem, even with sets provided, this took a lot of work. So help us win this competition so we can do more exclusives like this with Olivia and Gracie. Tell your friends to re-watch it.

Bookmark and Share

blogEntryTopper*SPOILERS* “Under the Skin” is a creepy new sci fi offering from “Sexy Beast” director Jonathan Glazer. Not since “Alien” have I seen anything so bizarre on screen. You can’t look away because the movie is so strange and unpredictable, it commands you to keep watching. In short, the film is about a pair of aliens, a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, and her male counterpart. They harvest human skin and use it to pretend to look like us. Specifically, Johansson’s character lures unsuspecting men back to her unusually dark apartment, and, using nothing more than the promise of sex with her, traps them in a dark, viscous fluid that she can walk on, but they sink into. For the
first couple of trappings we only see the victims slip slowly into the liquid. But in one of the more disturbing encounters, the director gives us the perspective of the victim from inside the pernicious liquid as he watches Scarjo cavalierly walk across it, pick up her clothes, and leave. What he sees while in that gooey substance will chill you to the bone. There isn’t much gore in this movie, but the little there is is used quite effectively.

The other thing that was impressive to me about this movie, in addition to how well it is shot, is how the director does a lot with just suggestions. In one troubling scene, a couple drown at sea while their baby wails on the shore. Johansson’s character surveys the tragedy impassively, paying no mind to the crying baby on the shore.

But Johansson is not without some emotion, and when she falls on the street and is helped by strangers, she starts to reconsider her predatory ways. While on the prowl she encounters a severely deformed man who is very withdrawn. For some reason, Johansson has sympathy for this man and releases him from her trap. But this sets off a chain of events that leads to her being hunted down by the male alien. In her effort to escape, the movie slows down briefly has Johansson falls in with a human who gives her shelter and eventually tries to have sex with her (an unsuccessful endeavor). She flees his home and runs into the woods, only to encounter a human predator of a different flavor. The hunter becomes the hunted. Oddly, I actually had sympathy for this cruel alien by the end.

It’s a fascinating film and one I give a high recommend to, although I understand its art house trappings are not for everyone.

Bookmark and Share


Gareth Edward's "Godzilla": "Monsters" on Steroids



Gareth Edwards is a visionary. That’s not hyperbole due to "in the moment" excitement of having seen Godzilla on opening night. That’s just the plain truth. In film school they taught us that only actors and directors have monopoly power because when you want that Gareth Edwards look to a film, or that Brad Pitt California cool, they are the only ones who can deliver. While that’s mainly true, there are certainly actors and directors who are fungible, but Gareth Edwards is not one of them.

Godzilla’s story is nothing new. Grief stricken Bryan Cranston thinks something is not as it seems at a nuclear power reactor in Japan. For years he’s been living with that feeling. When his son comes out to visit him after years of estrangement, Cranston’s suspicions are confirmed in the first of several mind blowing scenes. Something (the MUTO) has been feeding off the radiation at the nuclear site and it is ancient and unhappy. Its radiation source is dwindling and it needs more. It also needs to mate.

When the MUTO is finally unleashed it throws off the earth’s ecological balance and Godzilla enters the picture to keep things in check. MUTOs eat radiation and Godzilla eats MUTOs (well not really, but the big guy definitely doesn’t like them).

There are several jaw dropping scenes in Godzilla, but maybe the most haunting happens when the military air drops into the city where Godzilla and the MUTO are battling it out and we get a first person view of the action through the perspective of one of the jumpers. You really have to think about where Mr. Edwards chooses to put the camera, because that’s the genius to his directing. Note the scene where the MUTO discovers a couple characters hiding out on a deserted railroad track in a misty forest at night. The dread built into that scene is palpable. We know the MUTO don’t eat people, but that still doesn’t stop this scene from being scary.

Bookmark and Share


Justice League: War - Mini Review

This is an adaptation of the 2011 Justice League: Origin storyline, wherein the world is under attack by an alien armada led by the powerful Apokoliptian, Darkseid. A group of superheroes consisting of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Shazam must set aside their differences and gather together to defend Earth. (Yes, that was lifted from Wikipedia.)

For those of you who’ve always wondered what would happen if Superman really took off the gloves in a fight with Batman, this movie holds the answer. Let’s just say it gets ugly fairly fast for Batman (and Green Lantern). In general, Superman is not his usual nice self in this movie, which is kind of a treat. To quote Green Lantern (frightened) “This guy is gonna kill us!”

As DC animated movies go, this one is pretty good. It’s not quite at the level of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Superman: Unbound, or Batman: Under the Red Hood, but it’s better than, say, All-Star Superman or Justice League: The New Frontier.

Cyborg finally gets his just dues in a movie - he is definitely one of the mvps in the fight against Darkseid, who is one the formidable villains I’ve seen in a DC flick. Oh, and Shazam gets to use that word without transforming himself, which is cool. The voice characterization, with the exception of Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman, Jason O'Mara as Batman, and Alan Tudyk as Superman, is somewhat weak in this one.

Nonetheless, if you’re a fan of these movies, Justice League: War will definitely satisfy.

Bookmark and Share


Mal Malloy Reviews Her Top Three Horror Flicks

A very nice review by Mal Malloy of her top three (3) horror films. This reminds video reminds you why there was such a fuss made about this girl in the first place. Sexy and interesting sums it up I think.

Bookmark and Share


Thor: Dark World Review

blogEntryTopperTonight I had the pleasure of attending an advance screening for Thor:  Dark World by Marvel Studios.  I had high hopes after watching the trailers and was not disappointed! 
Where the first Thor involved the realm of the Frost Giants, the sequel delves into the realm of the Dark Elves and their leader, Malekith.  Malekith wishes to reclaim The Aether, an artifact of tremendous power from before this universe and lay waste to Asgard to make his realm supreme, above all others.  Once again all nine realms, including Earth, are endangered by one being's quest for domination and power.
Thor:  Dark World appeals with elements of action, magic, and science, as well as humor.  All of the important characters from the first Thor return, showing growth, and perhaps some damage, from not only the first movie, but from the events that unfurled in The Avengers.  As the movie begins, you see how heartlessly ruthless Malekith is by what he is willing to sacrifice to get what he wants.  Later you see how much he is willing to take.  His daring and total disregard for the pain and loss of others sets into motion events that forge an uneasy alliance between Thor and his estranged and adoptive brother, Loki
Thor:  Dark World has all of the Hollywood special effects you expect from an epic superhero movie, as well as great battle and fight scenes.  I was pleasantly surprised at some action scenes that I would not have expected from a Thor movie.  Ah, ah, ah!  No spoilers..!
I also have to take my hat off to Marvel Studios and the creative decisions they have made since its acquisition by Disney.  All of its movies since Captain America:  The First Avenger contain slight elements of the others woven in.  These shared nods and winks give an almost comic book-like appeal because they refer to each other in the same manner that comic books have for decades.  Each movie builds upon the older ones, and to truly understand and appreciate the more recent one, you must  have paid attention to the others.
As with all Marvel Studios movies, stay through the credits.  If you haven't learned this, yet, then I suggest you break out your old DVD's and Blu-rays to see what you've been missing for close to 10 years, now.  As a bonus, Thor:  Dark World has a secret credits scene after the customary secret credits scene, so don't just jet off once you've seen the first one.
All in all, I'd say that I enjoyed the sequel to Thor more than the original, and look forward to Marvel Studios's next project.

--Jason O. N. Roberts
Founder/Owner/CEO | Otaku no Baka, LLC and ALL Cool Things™
770.864.1042 |
JasonRoberts@OtakuNoBaka.NET | http://www.AllCoolThings.NET/ |

Bookmark and Share


"Blackfish" Film Review

You know how people always say, “Read the book, it’s SO much better than the movie?” Well, get ready to hear that again. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary about the plight of killer whales at theme parks, and particularly SeaWorld, is interesting in parts. However, it is not nearly as compelling as the two pieces written by Ted Zimmerman (who is the editor of “Blackfish” ) for Outside Magazine about the deaths of trainers Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands and Dawn Brancheau at Seaworld San Diego.

The movie features several interviews with ex-SeaWorld employees about the misinformation they were given about the killer whales from SeaWorld and how, in hindsight, they were foolish to think what they were doing was safe or morally sound. Some of these employees are more compelling than others.  Samantha Berg, Jeff Ventre, Carol Ray and Dave Duffus from OSHA are especially good. Some of the others come off as self righteous and overly dramatic.

What you are not going to see in this movie is some shocking, hidden footage of killer whales tearing people apart, which you might expect from the hyperbolic film reviews. If you are interested in the details of how Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau or Keto killed Martinez, read Zimmerman’s bone chilling articles. The background on what might have led these majestic creatures to act in this way - which is what I find interesting – is spelled out in great detail in Zimmerman’s articles.

There are a few ghoulish accounts in “Blackfish,” most notably the 1991 death of Keltie Byrne at a rundown, smaller park in British Columbia called Sealand. Keltie was a 20-year-old research assistant who would feed Tilikum (and two other orcas) fish to get them to jump out of the water for guests. To the credit of Cowperthwaite, she tracked down two eye witnesses to this horrific event who detail exactly what happened on that overcast day. The witnesses describe the park as dilapidated -- essentially a couple big swimming pools with captive Orcas -- nothing approaching the professionalism of SeaWorld. Perhaps adding to the moroseness of the interview is the fact that one witness is clearly still somewhat traumatized by the event and awkwardly smiles during the whole recount, even as she describes how Keltie’s eyes went wide once she realized no one could save her (although lots of people were watching). Once again, reality trumps even the most expertly done horror films.

Overall, this is a good film definitely worth a watch. When you really think about it, the real miracle is that these six ton whales (the largest members of the dolphin family) have rarely attacked a human in the wild and for the most part, do not exhibit aggression to humans even in captivity.

Bookmark and Share


Early Review: Pacific Rim Packs a Wallop!

I am not a big a fan of Guillermo del Toro.  While I do applaud him for his direction of creature and special effects, I have never really liked his stories.  I felt his effects took center stage with plot and actors trailing behind.  With this in mind I sat down to my free advance screening of Pacific Rim with moderate expectations.  I preface this review with my unflattering critique of his work because I do not want this review to sound like the hype of a fanboy that thinks everything del Toro touches is gold, but  I was amazed and stunned with Pacific Rim.

Without spoiling this movie I can tell you Pacific Rim takes place in the not too distant future.  Alien contact has been made, not from the stars, but from an Einstein-Rosen Bridge located in a crevasse in the Pacific Ocean.  Giant monsters, called Kaiju, come through the wormhole and attack coastal cities.  The countries of the world strike back with technological monstrosities of our own called Jaegers (pronounced Yaegers).  Technological and physical limitations prevent the Jaegers from being piloted by just one person.  Two must operate half of the Jaeger.  In order for this to work, the pilots must create a rapport and then sync with the Jaeger for direct bodily control.  The easier that two people can cooperate and feel comfortable with one another, the smoother the mental fusion is, and that makes for seamless control with the Jaeger; close bonds between pilots create a deadly weapon.


Well, the Jaegers work and kill the Kaiju almost too easily.  The pilots become something like rock stars and superheroes, with all the fame and swelled egos, but no one is prepared for what happens next:  the Kaiju evolve.  They get bigger, faster, smarter, stronger and more powerful, and start exhibiting new abilities that decimate Jaegers from what used to be in the dozens to a mere handful. The Kaiju are scary for the same reason Jurassic Park was so great.  Instead of just making monsters, del Toro made the Kaiju sentient, very dangerous animals.

Pacific Rim has great characters with great stories and great actors.  Each pilot has his or her own reasons for fighting, as well as demons he or she must battle in order to operate the Jaegers and share minds to effectively co-pilot the Jaeger.  The slightest hiccup could cause a glitch that would spell disaster.  Even the Jaegers themselves seem to have their own personalities.  This, combined with the special effects, make them very imposing and impressive figures in their own right.

The battles between the Jaegers and Kaiju are not slow and dramatic like the big rubber monster movies from Toho Films, or overly flashy and stylishly choreographed, like so many Japanese anime or live action films.  They also aren't as physically limiting as live action Western films.  It is a new genre unto itself.  The Jaegers are not humanly fast.   When they move, you do not forget that they are machines being piloted by two humans, but del Toro was able to more than compensate for their slow reflexes with the utility that only machines can have by having weapons and nigh invulnerable durability.


I also love the fact that this isn't just a movie about hot shot pilots or Rock'em'Sock'em Robots.  The science and research teams play just as big a role in this movie, which is another part of del Toro's brilliance.  Just when you think it might get a little too violent or physical, the science entices you with innovative means of countering the Kaiju insurgency.  Del Toro even manages to squeeze in humour that does not feel forced and does not betray wit for the groundlings.  This movie does what most movies have not done for a long time:  It is the total package that anyone can enjoy, and remains white knuckledly suspenseful until the end!

I haven't felt this way watching a movie since I saw Star Wars. The movie is rated PG-13, but I don't remember a single actor cursing, and there wasn't a single bit of racy or suggestively sexual content in the entire movie.  While it will come out in theatres everywhere, I cannot stress how much I suggest that you see it the way I did:  on an IMAX screen with 3D.  Pay the extra $10.  You will thank me for it.  Also, speaking as a person that usually waits for videos to watch at home on my 42 inch 3D TV, I say RUN to the theatres and see it just like I did.  You will not be sorry.  Go all out.  Even spend the $20 on snacks or food.  You will not be disappointed!

Jason O. N. Roberts
Founder/Owner/CEO | Otaku no Baka, LLC
770.864.1042 | JasonRoberts@OtakuNoBaka.NET | http://www.AllCoolThings.NET/ |

Bookmark and Share


Europa Report - Signs of Intelligent Life?

Imagine landing your spacecraft on the icy surface of Europa, the fourth largest of Jupiter’s 67 moons, 390,400,000 miles from earth. You’re now completely cut off from human contact other than your fellow crew members, most of whom are dead. To make matters worse, your ship has malfunctioned, the ice surrounding it is fracturing, and you are slipping into the depths of the frigidly cold waters beneath Europa’s surface. But there’s a catch: there is a massive organism down there too that no one has ever seen or even thought could exist . If you really let your imagination go there, it’s a pretty scary proposition, and that’s the proposition the filmmakers of “Europa Report” are asserting with a matter-of-fact, intelligent and often thought provoking clarity. This is a film backed by science; it was written with the cooperation and input of some of the brightest minds in astronomy. This is not an action packed, explosion laden roller coaster movie. Instead what you get is a ponderous, somewhat talky and moderately paced found-footage sci-fi horror flick.
“Europa Report” tells the story of five astronauts who actually make it to Europa. Problems landing the exploratory pod lead the crew to veer off mission to collect data, and as they venture out onto Europa’s odd terrain, a bioluminescent organism beneath the ice stalks their movements. The ice cracks beneath one of the astronauts and as she slips into Eurpoa’s icy waters, the reflection of her attacker appears in her retina.

Time to go! But when the remaining members try to get blast back to the main pod, Europa’s gravitational pull proves deadly and they go crashing back into the surface. At this point the ship is so badly damaged escape seems unlikely. Of the three remaining members, one of whom is a woman, the two men have to go outside to repair the ship. I’ll let the movie take it from there. If you have a chance to rent this one, and you like intelligent sci fi, you’ll enjoy Europa Report. As an added bonus, Bear McCreary’s soundtrack is excellent.

Bookmark and Share


Pitt’s “World War Z” Reinvigorates the Zombie Genre

"World War Z" (WWZ) is one of those movies that is so well produced and directed, you may not notice how much it gets right, including a refreshingly vanity free performance by Brad Pitt. This film makes the "Resident Evil" franchise look like a flipbook by comparison.

WWZ jumps right into a zombie outbreak in Pitt's hometown of Philadelphia that is rapidly spreading across the globe. Not a moment is wasted with nonsense backstories no one cares about - before we know it, zombies are moving at lighting speed in ways we've never seen, overrunning the streets of Philly. Pitt's Gerry Lane is an ex-United Nations investigator whose family is only saved because the government needs him to help solve the pandemic.

Other reviews have noted that the "who, what, where and why" of the zombies isn't very well fleshed out in WWZ, and that's true. But zombie lore is so much a part of the current zeitgeist, we don't need superfluous history. We know the drill.

Here's what I liked about "World War Z":

  • Brad Pitt gives an ego free, convincing performance as a normal guy caught in an exceptionally bad situation. There are no gratuitous vanity shots of Pitt shirtless. Everything that's there serves the story.

  • The movie is brisk – there's not a dull moment.

  • There is no excess of emotion, no unwarranted tears, funerals, or other contrived gravitas. WWZ is emotionally pragmatic.

  • The zombie special effects are outstanding. There is a particular emphasis on the biting element, but the zombies are not inexplicably able to surgically tear human's open like a soggy bag. One victim is chomped on and only the halo of inflamed tooth impressions remain, just like a real human bite.

  • The solution to a defense mechanism against the zombies is gruesomely believable. Much like chemotherapy, it kills you before it cures you.

WWZ isn't especially scary and the ending feels a bit tacked on and anti-climactic, but I haven't seen a zombie movie this interesting since Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of Dead." It's the thinking man's zombie flick, and that's worth the price of admission.

Bookmark and Share


After Earth Does Not Suck...


One of the problems with Rottentomatoes is that it's become the lazy man's way of deciding whether to wait for the video release or to shell out the cash for the big screen experience. But sometimes its simple algorithm of consensus is ultimately wrong. If you’re going to After Earth to see a whole lot of whizz bang special effects you will be very disappointed. That’s not at all what this story is about. This is a coming of age story about a young man having to overcome fear. Clearly the studios wanted an Avatar-esque, big summer event film but if they actually read the script they would have easily seen that After Earth even doesn’t pretend to be that. Yes, in the trailer we see a spaceship exploding and crash-landing on a future version of Earth. Yes, it’s starring action hero Will Smith. Yes, there are some cool looking creatures but that’s it. The truth is that M. Knight Shyamalan created a heartfelt story about a stoic father’s relationship with his strong-willed but frightened son. This is a great family film because there’s no gore, nudity, profanity or cheap thrills. It actually carries a spiritual theme about living in the present, making your own choices and not being overcome by your own perceived fears. The problem is that people want to see Will Smith play his Men In Black role and in After Earth he plays an injured soldier named Cypher who only cracks a single joke in the entire film.

In truth the film is more akin to The Pursuit of Happyness…in space. The strength of the narrative is that Cypher doesn’t overshadow the story of his son, Kitai. Despite what Owen Gleiberman suggests, Cypher isn’t an Obi Wan character. He’s much more like Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard – a guide on the radio. But there are some other truths about this film that make it an important milestone. This is the first time we’ve ever seen a young black male star in a big budget sci-fi film and not get killed in the first five minutes. Not only that – he’s got a father who is a positive role model – and a mother who isn’t angry but supportive. This may not seem important to a lot of people but this is HUGE for young black kids to look up on billboards and see not one but two faces that look like them who aren’t cooning. The only other time we’ve seen this something similar is Karate Kid – also thanks to Will Smith. Kudos to Will and M. Knight for making this happen. Structurally, the story is sound but it’s not about a lot of crazy shock value so you’ve gotta get past that. Where Oblivion was truly a disappointment in its conclusion and plot reveals, After Earth strives to create something that sticks to your bones even without any huge surprises. It’s relatively slow and extremely steady with a cast that all deliver solid though not groundbreaking performances. This film’s weakness comes in its inability to push the boundaries of the genre or of the actors. I’m still waiting for a film to challenge The Matrix in terms of presenting something fresh, new and exciting. Jaden isn’t going to win any awards with this one but he’s believable. This is where the script could have used the wit from someone like Shane Black or Joss Whedon. Instead Shyamalan, Smith and Gary Whitta take his very cautious approach to dialogue, rarely having his characters’ utter words that are truly insightful or passionate although you can sense that the intent is there. In the end, After Earth offers an organic vision of the future with some of the most unique spacecraft designs to date. As with all of Shyamalan’s movies, the craftsmanship is apparent in every frame and there’s meaning under the surface that may take a while longer to resonate with general audiences.

So don’t set expectations low going into After Earth, just don’t expect what the trailer tries to sell. The film does play out like a video game with a distinct goal to reach and a timer for it to be reached but there are some nice moments that would have been much more well received in a time when films like 2001 allowed for sci-fi to be more than just 90 minutes of extended fight sequences and explosions.

Bookmark and Share


A Few Thoughts on "Man of Steel" - It's Good

I just walked out of a 7 pm showing of “Man of Steel” and I have to say I was impressed. You really can’t trust critics or Rotten Tomatoes all the time to give movies a fair evaluation. Maybe Zack Snyder is still trying to live down “Sucker Punch,” or maybe due to its previous problematic filmic adaptations, “Superman” is viewed with a skeptical eye from the start. But the fact is, this was an exceptionally well made film with some great performances, including the notably restrained Henry Cavill.

The story is based roughly on the 2006 DC Comics General Zod arc. Zod is a warrior Kryptonion whose sole purpose is to protect their race. Surprisingly, Zod and Jor-El, Superman’s father, played with incredible charisma by Russell Crowe, see eye to on the problematic aspects of Kyrpton’s oppressive government. They just don’t agree on how to fix it. Zod wants to destroy the current regime and start from scratch. For that he needs genetic code for the race, which Jor-El has cleverly hidden with his son, who he sends to earth right before Krypton is destroyed in a jaw dropping opening sequence.

Once on earth, we start with Superman as an adult and his backstory is told via flashbacks, which gets us to the action faster. Some of it is standard Superman-saves-the-day sort action, but it is very well shot and choreographed by Snyder. And the story about Superman’s relationship with his earth father (another excellent casting choice in Kevin Costner), who does not believe society is ready for him to reveal his true identity, reaches a fantastic and awe inspiring denouement. Within 30 minutes of watching this film I knew it was well worth the price of admission. The movie could have used some trimming, yes, but there are so many things that are right with this movie, this complaint is trivial by comparison. So let’s mention some of the rights.

1. Superman is actually believable as an alien-in-human-guise with other worldly strengths. It’s through a combination of Cavill’s physical build, amazing special effects and excellent direction that this feat is achieved, but I haven’t been this convinced of the physical capabilities of a super hero in a long while.

2. Casting is superb. From Cavill’s notable and well utilized reserve to Michael Shannon as Zod to Fishburne as the hot head chief of the Daily Planet, just about every role is spot on. Amy Adams looks great, as usual, and is appealing, but hers is the only role that seemed fungible.

3. Music - Hans Zimmer is a great composer and he soars on this soundtrack. You will be going to iTunes later to look up some of these tracks.

More than anything, I just felt “Man of Steel” was a very good movie going experience. Don’t listen to the critics on this one. The audience applauded at the end - that should tell you something. (The movie is already headed toward a $100 million box office opening weekend.)

Bookmark and Share


Great Gatsby- Movie Review - Tabria Majors

"The Great Gatsby" follows Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a wealthy man from the midwest, who moves to West Egg just outside New York City. He quickly becomes entangled in the love life of his radiant but shallow and self-absorbed cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), when he moves into a mansion next door to Jay Gatsby. Gatsby (DiCaprio) is a mysterious man with a flair for lavish parties who, as Nick describes, has “an unprecedented gift for hope.” Nick soon becomes entrenched in Gatsby’s single-minded hope to relive the past and win over Daisy, the woman he fell in love with five years before who is now married to the even more shallow, not to mention adulterous, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

However, this story is not one of love; rather, it tells the tragedy of the American Dream gone wrong. In “The Great Gatsby,” this thought-provoking message is mixed in with heavy partying, especially considering the story takes place during the roaring 20s. All of the characters are a dangerous combination of rich and bored. The most outstanding aspect of the film’s production, other than DiCaprio's performance, is its anachronistic use of music. One moment you're listening to George Gershwin, the next it’s contemporary rifts from Jay-Z. Interestingly enough, this actually works for the movie. It represents the spectacular social divide between the 1% and 99% we see today.

The lack of subtlety can be grating but it's obvious that director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge) intended for the material to be loud. It's over-the-top, extravagant parties, filled with glittering chandeliers and armies of servants, signifies the careless elite partying as if it were the end of the world (which it almost was; the Great Depression was right around the corner). All of this is enhanced (or worsened, depending on your stance) by the dramatic CGI effects. Admittedly, it was quite aggravating at first. But ultimately it seemed befitting to the film - representative of the Roaring Twenties and also refreshing after the 1974's dull, melancholy version.

Leonardo DeCaprio is at the top of his game here. He was practically born to play Jay Gatsby, an irresistible gentleman in the sun who hides a secret in the dark and longs for a woman who may never be his. His mix of desperation, hope, outlandishness and love comes through incredibly, making you both love and hate him--exactly what I like about the character of Jay Gatsby. I wasn't too impressed with the rest of the cast, with the exception of Joel Edgerton, who plays Tom Buchanan. Tobey Maguire was decent, nothing stellar. I was a bit disappointed with Carrey Mulligan's performance though, as she failed to convey the duality of her character effectively.

"The Great Gatsby" is a wonderful story, and I enjoyed seeing the book brought to life in a way that stayed true to the text.I was impressed with how they managed to portray the characters complexly, and the multi-dimensional story itself. If you're not into lavish, over the top filming, then this probably isn't for you. If you can withstand quick pan zooming and the ravenous party scenes, then go check it out -- at least at a matinee.

What did you think of the film old sport?

Byline: Tabria Majors

Bookmark and Share


"Crush" - How to Stalk Your Crush

blogEntryTopperThe writer of this movie said it was partly inspired by an article he saw in “Seventeen” magazine called “How to Stalk Your Crush.” Indeed, the beautifully shot Crush could be a primer for such activities. After watching a scene where Bess tracks down the target of her affections with her smartphone and GPS, I found myself thinking: “Wow, there’s actually an app that lets you track people’s locations based on their Twitter handle!?”

I had to review Crush because I enjoyed it and I just didn’t see much coverage about it on the web. Director Malik Bader (Street Thief) assembled a great group of actors and behind the scenes technicians to elevate this significantly above your typical straight-to-DVD flick. Specifically, the cinematography is fantastic, the lighting is great, and ambient/electronica soundtrack is enjoyable. The actors are all well cast too, with Crystal Reed playing against type as a weirdo, Sarah Bolger playing the sweet nice girl to the tee, and Lucas Till doing his best Matt Damon as the lead is impressive as well.

Crush tells the story of Scott, a good looking high school sports star, who is also the target of several women’s affections, even his hottie English teacher, Ms Brown. The problem is, one of these crushes is about to be taken too far, and the movie relishes in making us guess which one of these women is the real psycho. It won’t stress you out too
much though. Without much bloodshed, the movie manages to spin a pretty suspenseful yarn but it’s a fairly mellow in its execution, which is its real charm. As one of the producers said, it has a nice burn.

I confess I’ve watched far too many teenage movies in my time, from the classics (Clueless, Bring it On) to the lesser known ones like Flirting. This one is pretty good for what it is (not intended for theatrical release), so check it out on iTunes.

Bookmark and Share


“Evil Dead” – Enteraining But Not Scary - *Spoilers*

The Evil Dead is not scary. But it is a good time, and due to that alone it will likely do well financially. That’s not to say Evil Dead doesn’t have a couple scary moments. It does - it has exactly two. One is when Elizabeth Blackmore’s character is struggling with whether to cut off her arm with an electric knife and Mia pops up from the basement and simply stares at her. Doesn’t say a word – just looks at her, real long like. The other is when Mia is being buried with a plastic bag over her head, face enshrined in dirt, and starts speaking to her would-be executioner through the plastic bag. Highly effective.

The basic story of the
Evil Dead is that a group of young folks stay at a cabin in the woods and unearth a book of evil spells that releases all manner of spooks and ghouls, which slowly inhabit the souls of each character. Oh, and speaking of Cabin in the Woods, Fede Alvarez, the director of ED, was asked whether he was nervous making his movie in the wake of Joss Whedon’s ultimate meta horror flick. Basically, he said he wasn’t and that Whedon’s film was more a love letter to the genre than anything. Yeah… um, the problem there is that Whedon and Drew Goddard authored a making-of book wherein they essentially said that Cabin in the Woods sprang from their distaste for the long line of not-so-good horror movies released in the last decade (and that Cabin tried, on some level, to account for the inexplicable behavior of the inhabitants of such flicks). Unfortunately, ED might be such a movie. People go into darkened basements they shouldn’t; pull back shower curtains with demonic gamines waiting behind them, and generally act illogically.

A few notes about the filmmaking. Alvarez will definitely work again. Despite the ED’s lack of true chills, it is well shot. In fact, it feels very much like a more intense version of Drag Me to Hell (one of my favs), right down to “The Book of the Dead,” which could easily be volume two of whatever book chronicled the Lamia. The end of ED, where Mia faces off with the demon in a torrential downpour of blood, is visually epic. Unfortunately, the acting is pretty wooden (Jessica Lucas better not ever stop being hot, because when she does it’s over), and the script was just basic. There were lots of unintentional laughs with the hipster crowd I saw this with a day before the opening.

As you know, the theme of AllGoodThings is that we don’t review stinkers. If you see it here, it’s comes pre-approved. And that’s case with Evil Dead. It’s a solid movie that is pretty entertaining. It’s just not scary.

Bookmark and Share


What Happened to Scary Horror Films?

Pasted Graphic
So the first reviews for the Evil Dead remake are in, and, by and large, they’re positive. Yet I couldn’t help wonder as I repeatedly read about the excessive gore in the new movie: is it scary? It seems horror movies these days are anything but scary - funny, meta, gory. What happened to good ole make-you-crouch-in-your-seat, keep-the-lights-on-at-night scary horror films like The Exorcist or Ringu (Japanese original of “The Ring” ) or Alien? Don’t get me wrong, I love meta and funny horror movies: Cabin in the Woods may have been my favorite film of 2012 (and that was a strong year for movies). Still, what made me fall in love with the genre was the dreadful mystery of going to movies so scary it was rumored people walked out of them. It seems like these movies only existed in the 70s and 80s. (Ti West can set up some scary atmosphere, but is not so good at paying it off.)

For the record, scary to me is not jump cuts or cheap thrills. I’m talking the type of thrills where, when you see them, they send a shiver down your spine and you know it’s going to stick with you later when the lights go out.

I understand today’s audiences are tougher to frighten. The Exorcist had the benefit of religious taboo going for it. These days it’s cool not to believe in anything; that’s a tough foundation to build scares from. To write a horror film today, I think you have to account for aud’s cynicism from the start. The Exorcism of Emily Rose did a great job with that by presenting those courtroom scenes where all the enigma of demonic possession was analyzed away by Laura Linney’s character, so by the time the demons scared her, the audience actually had a reason to be frightened as well. But again, this is a movie that had a problem paying it off (Jennifer Carpenter contorting herself into a pretzel, bathed in trippy lighting, is not really scary). What we need here is H.R. Geiger type conception combined with something revolting and truly shocking, horrifically realized. That means several months of pre production working out your horror conceit, what it will do, and the mechanics of how to pull that off believably, how it will be shot, etc. It also means a good script with characters we actually care about.

Hopefully someone will soon be up to the challenge. I look forward to a Susperia for the modern age.

Bookmark and Share


Resolution - Movie Review & Filmmaker Interview

*SPOILER ALERT* The best horror films always have a good, believable story at their core. Resolution is about two friends who’ve become estranged because one of them, Chris, played by Vinny Curran, is now a meth addict and is squatting in the California Mountains stoned out of his mind. Meanwhile, the other, Michael (Peter Cilella) has a beautiful girlfriend and has moved on to greener pastures. But he hasn’t given up on his friend and decides to trek into the hills one weekend in a last ditch effort to save him from inevitable death.

After Michael arrives and assesses the situation, he tazes Chris, handcuffs him to a pipe in an exposed wall, and dares him to make it a week without any drugs. That’s the basic set up for
Resolution, and that alone would make for an interesting movie. But there are crazy happenings up in “dem dar hills.” Things that would scare the heck out of someone who wasn’t getting high 24/7. Oh, and did I mention the house Chris is squatting in happens to be on a Native American reservation?

As a horror aficionado, I was pleasantly surprised at the slow burn pacing of Resolution. By that end of that movie, directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have ensconced the audience in such a believable, crazy setting that you get the feeling anything could happen - and you really cannot tell where Resolution is going in those last 15 minutes. That’s exciting in a time when scaring people in the movies is becoming more and more difficult against a backdrop of everyday horrors that are worse than the best Stephen King novel.

There are some funny lines in
Resolution and a consistent humor that is surprising. I also liked the way the two main characters behaved believably when the danger set in. They didn’t do those things that make you shout at the movie screen, and yet, they still meet an untimely demise. It’s much scarier that way. Bravo to all in involved with Resolution. I sense good things on the horizon for Moorhead and Benson.

Check out Resolution on In Demand


Congratulations on getting your film out there and
100% with Rotten Tomatoes. Horror films usually have a tough time with the critics, so that is kind of a big deal.

Q: It seems that these days, the means to filmmaking are more readily available than ever. With advent of the Canon 5D Mark II, just about anybody can go out and shoot a film that blows away the look of indies of the early late 90’s and early 00s. But distribution and securing a place within the Hollywood system is harder than ever. Perfect example: Edward Burns got more/better post film opportunities from Brother McMullen than he did Newlyweds (digital distribution only) How did you guys go about securing distribution for Resolution and where do you see it taking you in terms of a future in Hollywood? Are the big studios calling because of the critical success of the movie?

A: (Justin & Aaron) Distribution through Tribeca Film is a dream. The world of distribution is changing, especially in indie film, where it's all being distributed through online channels (although we were fortunate enough to have a theatrical release as well). What's cool about it is that if anyone in the USA wants to see Resolution, the only barrier between them and it is five bucks or so. Anyone with an internet connection can watch it, you don't even have to drive to the store.

As far as our future goes,
Resolution's primary benefit for us has definitely been the exposure and the doors we now get to walk through. But most important to us in our next step is being able to make our next movie with enough control that we aren't going to be forced to add in a pet raccoon or something. So, no matter who knocks, we're willing to play ball but we're not pushovers.

Q: I know you guys have probably gotten this question a dozen times, but where did the inspiration for Resolution come from?

A: Aaron: Justin developed the script and I think he just plain nailed it. But why make the movie itself? Simple. If you want to be a filmmaker, go make films. Resolution was ready to go, and it was awesome, there was no downside to doing it and all upsides.

Justin: It's fun to see if you can actually frighten people by making them actually care about realistic characters. And it was written for me, Aaron, Peter and Vinny to make. Through working on short films and commercials together we really honed in on what works. 

Q: Ok, the girl that comes to the window that one night… She is just a junky from the halfway house, right? I can sleep at night if I know that’s all she was, but if there was some supernatural element involved with that spooky woman, you guys owe me an Ambien or three.

A: Aaron: I'd just say let's go with whatever gives you nightmares. Everyone in the movie has been affected by the antagonist in one way or another, so it's not a straightforward answer.

Justin: She is a patient from a low security mental/drug rehab place down the road, but since she is in an altered state (crazy), let's just say she's not exactly staring at Mike or Chris from that window. This is something she has in common with the UFO cult, Byron, etc... She's a bit more tuned into our unseen antagonist. 

Q: What are three of your favorite horror movies and why?

A: Aaron: I'm not going to say The Exorcist because I know Justin will. But Wake In Fright might be my favorite. It's a horror movie with no supernatural element although you keep waiting for everyone to announce they're in a cult or something, and anything that can ACTUALLY be real seems more frightening to me. A spiral into drinking hell. It kinda sounds like our film festival run, to be honest.

The Descent for fooling us all that it might just be a movie about claustrophobia, then throwing it back at us in the most horrifying way possible. Also, LOVELY, DARING cinematography like The Descent's is rare.

Alien, for merging techno-scifi and horror perfectly, and for having a monster that's actually scary to look at.

Justin: Agreed, and The Exorcist, Alien, The Devil's Backbone, Cabin in the Woods, The House with the Laughing Windows, Who Can Kill a Child, The Ring is pretty good until the 3rd act... I recently saw Lovely Molly and found that pretty impressive... Ah! And Citadel and American Mary.

Q: What type of camera was Resolution shot on?

A: (Justin & Aaron) The Red Mx, a 4k digital camera, mounted on something called the Easyrig but operated in such a way that it was kind of halfway between steadicam and handheld.

Q: What’s next for you guys? Do you intend on doing more horror (hopefully so)?

We have three completed scripts we're shopping (and it's going really well), as well as a few projects in development around town. We just finished a short film that should be back on the festival circuit this year, and a music video we did just had its MTV premiere! As far as what genre we'll do next, it'll likely have some kind of horror or fantastical element one way or another (we seem to be drawn to it), but we honestly just like making movies that we think are good, no matter what the genre.

Bookmark and Share


"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.

Bookmark and Share


Adella Pasos "At Home" Review - "Flight"

Hailing from The Windy City, AllGoodThings.TV brings you the beautiful Adella Pasos reviewing Denzel Washington's Flight. This is AGT's second "At Home" video review, where the talent records their own review footage and sends it to us for editing.

So check out Adella Pasos acting silly reviewing “Flight” for AGT "At Home." While more ad hoc than the AGT Studio videos, the AGT "At Home" reviews have a certain charm that's all their own. Let us know your thoughts below and be sure to check out Flight.

Bookmark and Share


Carol Seleme Review of "Wreck-It Ralph"

Here is Carol Seleme’s latest review of “Wreck-It RalphHappy


Bookmark and Share


"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 90 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 Dwarves 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 theirs 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.

Bookmark and Share


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.

Bookmark and Share


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.

Bookmark and Share


"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. Happy

Bookmark and Share


The Artist - A Review by Model/Fine Artist Carol Seleme

Carol Seleme (photo gallery) is the first host for All Good Things - a blog I’m starting with a video game producer covering movies, video games, and comics. It probably ought to be called “cute girls reviewing stuff,” because that’s really what it is. The idea struck us when Mal Malloy did her David Boring and Halloween videos. Those videos were popular but I wanted more creative involvement with them. Of course, I hope to get Mal back in the mix on this project, as well as Olivia, who started us off with a great promo. Anyway, Carol’s first review is The Artist, which you can check out online at iTunes here and Netflix here.

On a personal note, I must say it was genuinely a lot of fun working with Carol again. People say this all the time, but in this case it’s actually true. She’s smart and funny in addition to being attractive, which makes her doubly fun. Video now available in HD 1080.

--> If you are interested in hosting for AGT, contact

Bookmark and Share


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!

Bookmark and Share


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 he 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
Ursula Suspicous
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.

Bookmark and Share


Moonrise Kingdom

blogEntryTopperThere’s a great line in Rushmore when Rosemary is counseling Max Fisher after he’s feigned injury and climbed through her bedroom window to get close to her. Comparing her dead husband, Edward Appleby, to Bill Murray’s Herman Blume, she says: “Edward has more… imagination in one fingernail than Herman Blume has in his entire body.” Well, that line could very well be applied to Wes Anderson, who is in full force and effect in Moonrise Kingdom. Moonrise is about Sam, an orphan who has been disowned by his foster parents for consistently aberrant behavior, and Suzy, a well to do, strong willed young lady who is at odds with her family. Sam is a Khaki Scout and survivalist of sorts and with his training, the two set off together into the wilderness. Their adventure forms the first act of Moonrise. It’s really something to see the culmination of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking efforts over the past 15 years in this movie. His sense of color, odd timing with dialogue, and overall unique style are all on display here. Anderson is one of those people who was truly meant to do this. It would be a waste if he did anything else.

At the conclusion of act one, Sam and Suzy are caught and separated (albeit very briefly). Sam is informed that he can’t go back home and that social services may give him over to a mental hospital where he is likely to receive electroshock treatment (the movie takes place in the 60s). While he awaits the arrival of Social Services, he stays with the island police officer, played impressively by Bruce Willis. The two develop a rapport during their brief time together, but soon Sam and Suzy escape again with the help of Sam’s boy scout troupe. The second adventure is rife with danger and drama, but it’s really the first one that will stick with you. Anderson has always been able to convey the sense that his character embody their own special universe, a sort of altered reality, and that’s what we get with Sam and Suzy’s first journey into the wilderness. It’s usually warm and cozy and filled with wonderment, but occasionally interrupted by stark violence (the death of snoopy, vivisection of the fish for supper). I’ll leave the rest for you to enjoy when you check this out at the movies or on DVD.

I will lodge one complaint. For a guy as good as Anderson at creating imaginative settings filled with unrealistic yet interesting and insightful characters, the utter lack of diversity in this movie is rueful. Are you telling me not one Asian American or black or Latino person applied to be cast as one of those boy scouts? I know this was set in the 60s on some remote island, but with the myriad of other implausibilites in this movie, Anderson could have thrown in a little diversity for goodwill’s sake. I’m just sayin’.

Bookmark and Share


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.)

Mandy Lane Flirting
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.

Bookmark and Share

Site logo