Archive for February, 2009


March Movie Releases

The movie release schedule for March.

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Movies on DVD Review: First Snow


A taut little thriller.

Starring Guy Pearce, J.K. Simmons, Piper Perabo, and William Fichtner. Directed by Mark Fergus.

When New Mexican salesman Jimmy Starks (Pearce) breaks down in the middle of nowhere -and I can’t emphasize ‘nowhere’ enough- he dawdles around a quaint pit stop while his car is being repaired. After a beer and an attempt to sell a bartender on buying a Wurlitzer, he pokes around and finds Vacaro (Simmons), a man who makes his money telling fortunes. Giving him 15 bucks, Vacaro has a reading that scares himself. Starks is given his money back and sent on his way.

The small seed of Vacaro having a “seizure” while holding his hands is planted in Starks’ head, but he continues dismissing it. It’s all just salesmanship, right? Starks returns to his life with girlfriend Deidre (Perabo) and fellow salesman Ed Jacomoi. When a losing team wins a basketball game and a “predicted” windfall of money really is coming from Dallas, Starks begins to have second thoughts. What was it that Vacaro wasn’t telling him?

Piece by piece Starks begins to unravel. He receives phone calls with no one answering on the other end. An envelope comes in the mail and contains a target that has a few bullet holes in it. Digging through the skeletons in his closet he decides to check up on his old best friend Vincent McClure (Shea Whigham). Vincent was Jimmy’s former partner in a business that was raided by the Feds. Jimmy got free while Vincent went in for three years. Could it be Vincent calling, wanting revenge? Or was it Andy Lopez (Rick Gonzalez), a fellow salesman Jimmy had to fire?

Tension builds as Jimmy makes excuses for work, spying on Vincent and confronting Andy. He makes a special trip out to see Vacaro who tells him that everything will be okay until the ‘first snow.’ Not satisfied with the answer Starks leaves, but continues down his road of madness.

Overall, a good movie. Fergus makes the atmosphere of the film dark, brooding, and tense, and it works. This is a film more about the journey than the actual destination. Is Vacaro right? Or can Starks change the future? I’ll let you find out. While it is true that this does not really add anything to the thriller genre, it’s a worthwhile escape that may make you ask yourself the question, “What would you do if you found out your tomorrows were up?” Fergus may not be Brad Anderson, but at least he’s in good company.

I suggest this one for those interested in mystery/suspense, and for those who like Guy Peacre.

My grade: B



Moves News and Views February 25, 2009 Trailer Edition

“Lymelife” – A story centering around two dysfunctional families, lyme disease, war, and divorce, set in the 70’s. Stars Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton. Cynthia Nixon, and Emma Roberts. Opens April 8, 2009






“Observe and Report” – Seth Rogen is a mall cop that has his job put to the test when a streaker appears on the scene. Also stars Anna Farris and Ray Liotta. Opens April 10, 2009





“Crank 2” – Jason Statham returns as Chev Chelios. This time around his heart has been replaced with an artificial one and as in the last, he has to keep his energy up (which includes using a car battery and jumper cables). Also stars Amy Smart, Bai Ling, Dwight Yoakum, and Corey Haim. Opens April 17, 2009





“Angels & Demons” – Tom Hanks reprises his role as Robert Langdon and this time he’s out for the Illuminati. Opens May 15, 2009





“Land of the Lost” – Will Ferrell heads up the cast of this remake of the Seventies TV show. Opens June 5, 2009





“Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen” – No word on plot yet (if there is such a thing) but you can check out the trailer. Opens June 24, 2009





“I Love You, Beth Cooper” – The high school valedictorian pronounces his love for “Beth Cooper” (Hayden Panettiere) who takes it upon herself to show him the night of his life. Opens July 10, 2009





“The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3” – Remake of the 1974 film about a NYC subway train taken hostage. The criminals want a ransom, but how are they gonna get away with it? Stars Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Opens June 12, 2009





“Year One” – The history of mankind a la Harold Ramis, Jack Black, and Michael Cera. Opens June 19, 2009





“Funny People” – Adam Sandler is a comedian who finds out that he has cancer and takes fellow comedian Seth Rogen under his wing. Opens July 31, 2009





“Inglourious Basterds” – A woman who flees after watching her family murdered in German occupied France and a group of Jewish men targeting Nazis in acts of retribution converge in this upcoming Quentin Tarantino movie. Opens August 21, 2009





“The Descent 2” – The sequel to “The Descent” finds the one survivor making it out of the cave, but having to answer for what happened to the other members. A rescue crew is sent in to investigate. Coming soon!




Remake Radar: The Last House on the Left

last-house-on-the-left_1972Welcome to Remake Radar, where we take on Hollywood’s penchant for remaking films for better or worse (which is most of the time). This month’s movie:


“The Last House on the Left” (1972)


Stars: Sandra Cassel, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Richard Towers, and Cynthia Carr.


Director: Wes Craven


Story: It’s the end of Sixties/beginning of the Seventies and two girls go to the city to see their favorite band. After the show they’re raped and killed by newly escaped convicts. On the run, the convicts seek refuge, unknowingly, in the home of one of their victims. The parents piece together what happened and begin their revenge…


What do we know now?: Coming soon! Starring Spencer Treat Clark, Joshua Cox, Garret Dillahunt, Tony Goldwyn, Sara Paxton, and Monica Potter. Directed by Dennis Iliadis. Opens March 13, 2009.



The Original Trailer




The Remake Trailer







A Superhero, a Gay Activist, and a “Slumdog”: Recapping the 2009 Oscars

oscar1For those who didn’t watch yes, “Slumdog” majorly won the Academy Awards.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look back at what just happened, shall we?

For the first time in “I don’t know how many” years, a foreign actor hosted the Oscars. Hugh Jackman, the Australian actor known mainly for playing “Wolverine” in the “X-Men” franchise hosted for the first time. Maybe he was selected because he was listed as a “Sexiest Man of the Year.” Maybe it’s because people love “Wolverine.” Either way he did okay, as in “passable.” Instead of inserting himself into the ceremony or making quips, as so many others have done in the past, he got that business out of the way in the opening segment. His joke about “Kate Winslet, a British actress playing a German, Robert Downey, Jr, an American actor playing an Australian actor playing an African-American, and me, an Australian actor playing in Australian in a movie called, ‘Australia’” was inciteful, but that was about it. Jackman ducked-out to let the other presenters hold the stage more than he, and maybe that was the safest route to go. I’m not quite sure that he’ll be asked back or if he would even come back if asked.

There were several themes to this year’s Oscars. The first was to give the audience at home a “stripped down” feeling as to how movies are made. This worked somewhat in the beginning when Jackman was doing a musical number that critiqued the Academy on how they made their decisions while he danced around cardboard set pieces. As the show went on this theme was reiterated but given up by the last hour.

Another theme: the Academy doesn’t like action or superhero films. Nothing is more blatant than when a $1 billion money-making movie’s nominations are centered around film editing, visual effects, and sound. If that wasn’t enough action star Will Smith hosted a segment around this fact even stating that while action movies don’t get the Academy’s attention, they do get the fans.

What’s the deal with musicals? I’ve never been a big fan of them, but apparently Hugh Jackman is. Not only did he do an opening musical number (as mentioned above) but he did another that montaged so many previous movie musicals together. Helping in the song and dance were Vanessa Hudgens, Beyonce Knowles, and members of “High School Musical 3.” After everything was said and done Hugh Jackman thanked everyone on stage. The camera quickly cut to Penelope Cruz who didn’t appear amused one bit. It then cut back to Jackman who proudly proclaimed, “This was created by Baz Luhrmann.” The camera quickly cuts to Baz who’s sitting in his chair with a look on his face that said, “Now I know what it’s like to sell my soul for a paycheck.”

One of the cool things the awards ceremony did was to present the awards for Best and Supporting Actors and Actresses by having five former Best Supporting Actors and Actresses walk onto the stage, each actor or actress lauding a specified nominee. Good job.

I was conflicted on some of the montage segments, especially with the camera zooming in on one moment, then zooming out as if we were watching a TV screen, then finding another screen and zooming in on that scene, then zooming out… etc. It worked for the animation segment, and kudos to Pixar for allowing characters from other animation studios to share space with “Wall*E.” That was cool. However the Judd Apatow Comedy montage segment was not save for Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski joining in with James Franco and Seth Rogen (“Sorry, Mr. Spielberg, business is slow.”)

One other positive note: Steve Martin and Tina Fey announcing the awards for Screenwriting. They were a great duo and one of the better pairs for the awards show.

As for the winners, losers, and upsets, let’s get this out of the way: almost everyone knew “Slumdog Millionaire” would take Best Picture (and then some) and that Heath Ledger would have a posthumous Oscar for “The Dark Knight.” Aside from that, most of the other categories people felt ambivalent about. Kate Winslet won for “The Reader,” which most critics claimed wasn’t as good as her work in “Revolutionary Road.” Whether there was any additional sympathy for “The Dark Knight” is questionable, but Batman did take home Best Sound Editing among its nominations but was upset by “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which took home Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects. “Milk” won Best Original Screenplay and caused an upset for Mickey Rourke and “The Wrestler,” when Sean Penn took Best Actor instead.

And now, the winners:

Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Actor in a Leading Role: Sean Penn, “Milk”

Actress in a Leading Role: Kate Winslet, “The Reader”

Directing: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Foreign Language Film: “Departures”

Music (Song): “Jai Ho,” “Slumdog Millionaire”

Music (Score): “Slumdog Millionaire”

Film Editing: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Sound Mixing: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Sound Editing: “The Dark Knight”

Visual Effects: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Documentary Short: “Smile Pinki”

Documentary Feature: “Man on a Wire”

Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”

Actress in a Supporting Role: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Cinematography: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Makeup: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Costume Design: “The Duchess”

Art Direction: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Short Film (Live Action): Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Short Film (Animated): “La Maison En Petites Cubes”

Animated Feature Film: “Wall*E”

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): “Slumdog Millionaire”

Writing (Original Screenplay): “Milk”



My Oscar Picks for 2009

oscarSo, I haven’t had a chance to see every movie nominated for an Oscar. But I’m not alone. From what I’ve had a chance to see, here are my picks for the 2009 Oscars.

Actor in a Leading Role: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”. Frank Langella may get it for “Frost/Nixon,” but I’m rooting for the Rourke.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight.” This was tough because I would like to see Robert Downey, Jr. get it for “Tropic Thunder” as well.

Actress in a Leading Role: Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married.” This would be a great upset because Meryl Streep is nominated every-other year, isn’t she?

Actress in a Supporting Role: Penélope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Just a hunch. Maybe I’m wrong.

Animated Feature Film: “Wall*E.” “Kung Fu Panda” may have a shot and call an upset, but everyone loves Pixar. Does “Bolt” seriously have a chance?

Art Direction: “The Duchess.” It’s a period piece. Do you think any others have a chance?

Cinematography: “Slumdog Millionaire.” Filming in India vs. filming on studio backlots.

Costume Design: “The Duchess.” Again, period pieces nail this category.

Directing: “Frost/Nixon.” I’d like to see it earn an award, but “Slumdog” may have this one.

Documentary Feature: “Man on a Wire.” It’s the only one I heard about this year.

Documentary Short: Dunno.

Film Editing: “The Dark Knight.” Unfortunately aside from Heath Ledger, “TDK” is a blockbuster and they usually nail this category.

Foreign Language Film: “Waltz With Bashir.” Liked the trailer, but the movie never made it to my town. Also, it’s the only FL I’ve heard of this year.

Makeup: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Aging Brad Pitt will win an Oscar? Why not?

Music (Score): “Slumdog Millionaire.” Just a hunch.

Music (Song): “Down to Earth,” Wall-E. If Phil Collins can get an Oscar, why not Peter Gabriel?

Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire.” But I would really like “Frost/Nixon” to win.

Short Film (Animated): “Presto.” I saw that one.

Short Film (Live Action): Dunno.

Sound Editing: “Wall*E.” The blockbuster category.

Sound Mixing: “The Dark Knight.” Blockbuster category.

Visual Effects: “Iron Man.” Blockbuster category.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): “Frost/Nixon.” I would like this to win something.

Writing (Original Screenplay): “Wall*E.” A safe choice for this one.

Enjoy the show. Hugh Jackman is hosting this year.


Movie Review: Gran Torino



Not exactly the best endorsement for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America…


Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley, and John Carroll Lynch. Directed by Clint Eastwood.


Walt Kowalski (Eatswood) is a Korean War vet and retired Ford plant worker that, as of the beginning of the film, has lost his wife. He’s the kind of guy steeped in the Old World and Old School values. As he stands beside his wife’s casket in church he grits his teeth and stares down a granddaughter who has a nose ring and belly-button piercing. If that wasn’t enough he’s forced to be around people he doesn’t like and for the moment, they’re forced to be around him. Aside from that he smokes, chews tobacco, and drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon while sitting on his front porch staring at a suburb he’s lived in a majority of his life which has became an object of “white flight.” Most of his neighbors are now Asian/Hmong (pronounced “mung”) and the eldest woman next door wonders why he’s still around. The one true pride and joy of his life is his car, a green 1972 Gran Torino (which he proudly states that he put the wheel column in while it was still on the line).


Enter Thao (Vang), a young Hmong kid who lives next door to Kowalski. Thao has low self-esteem from growing up without a father and having his older sister Su (Her), mother, and whoever else berate him. When Thao is confronted by his gang-leader cousin, he bends under peer-pressure and tries stealing the GT. Kowalski thwarts his attempt and Thao returns home in shame. When his cousin causes a fight on the family’s front lawn it spills over into Kowalski’s. Kowalski busts out his M1 Garand and breaks up the fight, saving Thao’s life. The next day Kowalski is the neighborhood hero when he just wants to be left alone.


One afternoon he drives home in his truck and sees Su and a friend being accosted by a few black kids. He pulls up, talks with the them, pulls out a 9mm, saves her, tells the friend to get lost, and gives her a ride back to the neighborhood. A friendship is forged as they talk and she is his tour guide through the world of the Hmong (“We’re hill people not jungle people.”)


The film’s main theme is personal worth. Kowalski is a racist guy who doesn’t want anything to do with anyone. His own grown-up kids don’t like dealing with him and don’t know how to. Whenever he greets someone, he announces their background: “Hey, you Mick.” “Hey, you Polack.” With his wife dead and few friends, he lives in a sea of regret, bad memories, and worse nightmares. As for Thao, he doesn’t have any personal worth to speak of. As Kowalski “takes him under his wing,” Thao develops a sense of pride and accomplishment with himself. Both are seemingly heading for redemption.


What I liked about this movie was that it was better than I expected it to be, and not what I thought it was at all. If Eastwood wasn’t who he was, I could entirely imagine him being this guy. Think “Dirty Harry” Callahan one step away from the nursing home. He’s old, retired, pissed-off, and is watching a world going to waste. It’s this attitude that makes the story believable, the comic moments funny, and the reality tragic.


Also, I liked the fact that the setting of the story was a section of a city where “white flight” had occurred. I’ve wondered why I haven’t seen that subject brought up in other films and give kudos for the fact that it’s been one of the first that I know of to address the issue.


Last note: the ending. While I won’t say what happens, I will say that it was incredibly smart. Good job, guys.


But, how is the movie? Probably one of the best matinees I’ve caught in a long time. It’s funny, sad, poignant, but most of all, well-made. Eastwood has said that this is the last movie he’ll act in. If that’s the case, I couldn’t think of a better one.


My grade: A