Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blu-ray Review: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas

In 2005, T.V. audiences were introduced to the peculiar proprietors of a bar in Philadelphia. Twins Dee and Dennis Reynolds (played by Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson) worked at the bar with their legal father Frank (played by Danny DeVito), Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day) and Mac (Rob McElhenney).  There was something strange about these people and their run-down Irish pub.  They never seemed to have any customers.  But viewers soon came to understand the reason behind this lack of clientele – all five of the bar’s owners were disruptive, unscrupulous, misfits.

            Every episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia features outrageous situations that develop as a result of this gang’s inconsiderate actions.  One day they’ll attempt to be the next big thing on YouTube.  The next day they’ll be “getting racist.”  On any given episode, one can find this lot of cretins doing something that’s just plain wrong.

This holiday season, you can watch the gang from Sunny spread the yuletide cheer in A Very Sunny Christmas, an exclusive, 43-minute episode placing the group in yet another outlandish sequence of events.  Frank would always buy the presents Dee and Dennis wanted for Christmas.  The only problem was that he would buy them for himself.  As a result, the two seek revenge on Frank.  They are going to show him the error of his ways, and their going to do it a la A Christmas Carol.

Charlie and Mac, on the other hand, always got presents and they always got plenty of them.  They couldn’t have been happier with their childhood Christmases.  But once they finally learn of the true sources of these “gifts,” the two set out to right the people they’ve wronged in holidays past.  Along the way, the audience bears witness to some messed up Xmas family traditions – traditions that provide notable insight into just how these five grew to be the bunch of anti-social screw-ups we’ve come to know and love.

Blu-ray is perfect for viewing this exclusive and its wonderfully blasphemous rendition of the children’s classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).  With the AC-3 format you’ll feel like you’re actually at the North Pole with Sam the Snowman and his dentist-wannabe comrade Hermey.  By scene’s end, however, you’re going to be thanking Santa that you aren’t (I swear I may never look at stop motion animation the same way again.).  The 1080p HD visuals leave the viewer aghast as the gang commits act after unscrupulous act.  Not one shred of good will toward men is to be salvaged on this holy night.  However, it is the exclusive’s crisp-clear audio that’s most beneficial, as it easily catches the characters’ edgy, fast-paced dialogue.

Special features include deleted scenes between young Mac and young Charlie, a tripping Sunny sing-a-long, and a behind-the-scenes feature where the cast and crew talk about the filming of this most irreverent Christmas special.  This widescreen edition features DTS Surround Sound and an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.  Audio is in English and is presented in Dolby Digital, with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

Fred Savage has come a long way since his days playing Kevin Arnold on The Wonder Years (1988-1993).  Sure, as producer/director of the outrageous hit series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, he may have acquired an approach to comedy that’s just a tad less wholesome.  He might have taken a step or two away from traditional family values.  Oh, who am I kidding?  The show is bawdy, vulgar, and perhaps bordering on psychotic.  It’s an absolute delight.

You can catch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Thursday nights at 10:00 ET on FX.  But if you’re looking to see a sociopathic twist on the year’s most celebrated holiday, then gather ’round the television for A Very Sunny Christmas.

Why Is Bad Sci-Fi So Good?

I don’t know just why.  Maybe it was decreed by the Gods when they created the heavens and the earth.  Maybe the reason has been lost with the ages, or lies somewhere between this world and the next.  Maybe Dean Cain knows the answer  (He is, after all, in just about every one of these films.).

Whatever the case may be, I have grown certain of this:  Bad Sci-Fi flicks rock!  I don’t care if it’s zombies, ghost ships, giant spiders, shape-shifting aberrations, or abominable snowmen.  I don’t care if its zombies on ghost ships fighting giant spiders while an abominable snowman steers the ship.  Bring ’em all on at once.  The more the merrier.

I mean, I’ve got my favorites just like anybody else.  But in the end, if it’s on the Sci-Fi Network, and if it’s a movie, I’m probably going to watch it.  Every single aspect of these movies calls to me, beckoning me to invest two hours in the lowest quality television one can conceive.

But just what is a bad Sci-Fi movie?  Well first, off you must have a wretched screenplay – a screenplay so bad that one cringes when it’s read.  Clichés must cover and tarnish every page.

Second, you must have B-list actors.  Dean Cain and Luke Perry are often your go-to guys for this.  One wants a cast that appears to have just been picked up off the street and thrown in front of the camera.  Some A-list actors from the 80s and 90s are acceptable, but only if they need work, and only on occasion.

Third is CGI.  Now, this might be disputable, as a plethora of wonderfully awful B-movies have been made without the “advantage” of low-grade CGI.  But bad science fiction movies have come so far with this new technology and in order to get the true, modern B-movie experience it is required.

Lastly, and most importantly, you’ve got to have a train-wreck of a plot.  The aforementioned yeti-steered ghost ship battle would work just fine.  So long as it’s bad it will suffice.  Indeed, this is the litmus test for all bad Sci-Fi.  If it’s clear that no thought went into making it, then you know you’ve got a gem.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Movie Review: The Box

In the 1970s (just as NASA is getting on its feet), a married couple is confronted by a man standing at their doorstep, carrying an unassuming wooden box.  In the box is a button.  If they push the button they will receive one million dollars, and somewhere, someone that they do not know will die.

            While rather venturous in substance, The Box has this viewer’s vote for most befuddling film of 2009.  This may be attributed to both complexity of plot (40 minutes in and I felt like I was taking crazy pills) and sheer disjoint.  Moral dilemmas abound in this semi-sci-fi thriller.  The audience is confronted time and time again with unthinkable decisions, nigh impossible for a moral agent to make.  They would tear at the heart of anyone who tried.

Therein lies the key problem with this film: the moral dilemmas projected on the audience do not tear at their hearts.  In fact, they barely yank the heartstrings.  This is due almost entirely to poor presentation.  The issues are there, but the audience does not care about them.  They are too dully and too artificially injected into the story to be of any intrigue to the viewer.

2008’s The Dark Knight couldn’t have featured a premise less inclined to waxing philosophical.  At its most basic level, a clown was fighting a man dressed like a bat.  But somehow, what director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan ultimately produced was a film so complex and so laden with philosophical quandaries as to render it worthy of Oscar recognition.  I’ll admit, however, that they had loads of CGI and special effects to work with, in addition to a slightly bigger budget.

All that aside, there is one gem amidst the muddled mess that is The Box: Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon).  Langella is absolutely phenomenal as the mysterious stranger who arrives with the ghastly proposal.  Unfortunately the same high praise cannot be offered to Langella’s co-stars, all of whom come off as wooden and heavily scripted.  Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary) manages to produce a fairly sympathetic protagonist, but her southern accent in the film detracts – I’ll never understand why filmmakers employ this needless countrified brogue (I’m not averse to southern cadence, just non-southern actors using it, as so few of them can credibly pull it off.)  James Marsden (X-Men) cannot even fall upon this excuse.

I will concede two points in favor of this film.  One is Langella, who is truly Oscar-worthy good.  The other is the film’s faithfulness to its origins: a short story titled “Button, Button,” written by Richard Matheson for the classic 1960s series The Twilight Zone.  I was not even aware of the origins of The Box until after having viewed it, and yet the entire time I felt like I was watching one great big Twilight Zone episode.  Unfortunately, the concise storytelling so memorable from the 1960s sci-fi series appears wholly lost to director/screenwriter Richard Kelly.

I admit it.  I didn’t get some of this film.  In fact, I didn’t get a lot of it.  But in all good conscience (indeed, on a moral basis) I cannot advise seeing this muddled, disjointed piece of cinema.

Dinosaurs Alive! on Blu-Ray and DVD

After sixty-five million years, the ancient world isn’t looking too bad.  Ankylosaurus is still the walking epitome of a good defense.  T-Rex still struts his stuff as the godfather to our culture’s dino fascination.  Nature is lush and green and flourishing.  Just throw in Michael Douglas and we’re good to go.

            In Dinosaurs Alive! The two-time Oscar winning actor provides the narration to a 40 minute adventure through the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous period – an adventure spanning from the Gobi Desert in East Asia, all the way west to Ghost Ranch amidst the buttes of New Mexico.  Writing/directing duo Bayley Silleck and David Clark succeed with an enlightening discussion of these animals that is both fun and quite enthralling (and it always helps to have a voice like Douglas to relax the audience with a tinge of familiarity).

            The film provides a sizeable amount of in-depth knowledge and paleontological insight while at the same time treating the kiddo’s to an enjoyable experience chocked full of the fundamentals, delving into the biology of these creatures without stumbling into the pitfall of overshooting younger viewers.  Discussion topics include the context in which fossils have been found (and the meaning behind it), as well as the correlation of feathered reptiles with their present-day avian counterparts.  All of these subjects are wonderfully cradled by the film’s overall framework: the research efforts made by archaeologists and paleontologists of the 1930s.

Blu Ray is perfect for viewing these kinds of natural history documentaries.  Scientific points can be easily driven home via CGI renderings, so the 1080p HD visuals offered by this format is prime.  This widescreen version, with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, comes complete with equally impressive audio features.  DTS surround sound brings the ancient world to life, each beast’s roar at once imposing and distinctive.

Of course, if you don’t have access to a Blu-Ray player, that should not deter you from picking up this fine natural history piece on the DVD format.  It may not run on the same high-powered engine and the picture might not have the same crystal clear quality, but it does contain all the special features offered on the Blu-Ray version.  Both feature widescreen (16x19) version, the making of Dinosaurs Alive! shot in HD, an educational segment where you get to meet the film’s colossal stars, and a fun quiz to test your knowledge of the beasties.  Trailers are included, with audio offered in English, French, and Spanish in Dolby Digital 5.1.

            At some point in just about everyone’s life, they have read of these legendary beasts, studied them in school, or watched, mystified, as they roamed across their television screens.  These dinocumentaries are, therefore, intriguing by their very nature, appealing to our children and the children within us.  And Dinosaurs Alive! does a wonderful job in carrying on this rich tradition.

Movie Review: Disney's A Christmas Carol

I went to see this on a cold and misty Saturday night, and it proved to fit the film’s atmosphere to a tee.  Director Robert Zemeckis presents the audience with 19th century London in all its wintry glory.  The streets are iced, the rooftops draped in snow as the nearby factories billow out their smoke.  A great many such shots can be seen in this Disney spin on A Christmas Carol.

            The Magical Kingdom takes many a liberty and displays quite a lot of poetic license with Charles Dickens’s classic, and this viewer could not have been happier about it.  After the great first impression given by the film’s wonderful CGI (and believe me, its top quality), I feared I would be forced to sit through an hour and a half of the same old tale, told word for word and motion for motion.

Don’t get me wrong.  The original story is an absolute masterpiece.  But after the fiftieth uninspired and unadventurous rendition of it, one’s interest may start to wane.  We all know the House of Mouse won’t stand for that, and so the audience is treated to flight at breakneck speed, colossal clocks, see-through floors, and one very angry pair of spectral steeds.  And that’s just skimming the surface.

Jim Carrey does a great job as the legendary curmudgeon of a protagonist and actually provides the voices for numerous characters throughout the film.  Gary Oldman gives an endearing quality to Bob Cratchet, among other characters, and Bob Hoskins is absolutely fantastic as the amicable Fezzywig.  I’ve got to admit, though, that Hoskins had me hooked ever since he knocked his role of Shmee out of the park in 1991’s Hook (another film that was based off a fantastical children’s classic and was in no way afraid to be adventurous).

            There are a few minor hiccups concerning the lack of human touch that comes with CGI characters.  But overall, I would definitely recommend a viewing of Disney’s A Christmas Carol.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead

Chavez (Tamer Hassan) plans on soon leaving the pen, and he’s not waiting for the legal system’s go ahead. He’s got the men and the means, the grit and the determination. There are just a few things standing in his way: the feds, conspiring fellow inmates, and a very ruthless pair of cannibals.

In this third installment to the Wrong Turn franchise, word of a possible breakout reaches the warden of a maximum facility prison. Fearing Chavez will go through with his escape plan, the warden decides to have him relocated to another penitentiary. But en route, the transport goes awry and society’s worst soon find themselves struggling to survive the madness of a backwoods mutant family.

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead features all the gory violence (and then some) that fans have come to demand from their horror films today, in addition to elements that are quite unusual to the genre. The plot is intricate and multi-faceted, Connor James Delaney provides an adequate script, and character motivations are steady and unchanging throughout.  An overall good ensemble performance is given by the cast (particularly Hassan and Gil Kolirin, who plays the white supremacist Floyd Weathers to a tee), and the flesh-eating locals are at once terrifying and eerily humorous (This last element is actually a running theme throughout the franchise and it is always handled well.).

For those unfamiliar with the Wrong Turn franchise, all three films come complete with plenty of gore, myriad mutilation, and an ever-present air of flesh-eating.  The first installment, released in 2003 and starring Eliza Dushku (Bring It On), centers on a group of young people fighting to survive the hunting games of three murderous backwoods mutants.  Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007) offered a similar plot, as the contestants of a reality television show are pitted against a family of cunning cannibals.

As almost all 92 minutes of Wrong Turn 3 take place in the woods and at night, the Blu-ray AC-3 format is ideal for viewing the third installment.  In this widescreen version, featuring an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, not one single gritty detail eludes the viewer, be it beheading or evisceration.  Every grunt and brutal hack of the ax is also splendidly captured by an audio that is presented in Dolby Digital.  DTS surround sound is included, with audio in English, French, and Spanish, as well as subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean.

Bonus features of the Blu-ray version include both deleted scenes and a sit down with director Declan O’Brien as he talks about the filming of Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead.  O’Brien discusses the stunts in the film, on-set chemistry between cast members, and the series of gruesome traps laid by the film’s cannibalistic star, “Three Fingers.”

Fans of the Wrong Turn franchise will find the third installment to be quite faithful to its origins, while at the same time not being too afraid to venture out and search new ground.  I’d certainly recommend a viewing of this gory chronicle to followers of the franchise, or any horror fan just looking for some bloody good fun.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Movie Review: The Stepfather (2009)

Family is everything and without it we are lost. At least that’s what David Harris (Dylan Walsh) would have you believe. The quintessential family man, David wants more than anything to be a good father, and he will do whatever it takes to attain the perfect family — even if it means killing them.
In this modern-day reboot of the 1980s Stepfather franchise, we come face to face with our monster almost immediately. Within 30 seconds we have him sized up, we know exactly what he looks like. In a genre so heavily concerned with the unknown, The Stepfather and thrillers like it may seem out of place. There are no wretched creatures, no masked and mysterious madman.
No, the terror to be had in these films tends toward an unsettling familiarity. Their monsters are not grotesque, malformed abominations. Instead, they walk among us, wholly undetected, the better ones even managing to charm us. This particular fiend is so near to our common experience that it has readily embedded itself in our very home. Each day we can find it putting on a suit and tie, getting into its SUV, and driving off to the most inconspicuous of desk jobs. And therein lies the horror: it’s already with us.
Dylan Walsh simply embodies his role as the psychopathic everyman. His suspicious stepson is played to a key by Penn Badgley – a very talented young actor that should be looked out for in future films. In fact, the entire supporting cast does a bang up job in reacting to Walsh’s great eccentricities. The script is quality, the pace is good, and the camera work and lighting are spectacular.
For a horror thriller, the underlying theme of this movie was handled astonishingly well. This man is a straight up monster, and yet, for all his atrocities and malevolence, he never strays from his objective. Most horror directors in Hollywood today could really learn a thing or two from Nelson McCormick's work on this film and I highly recommend a viewing of it to anyone ready for a quality addition to the genre. By its end, you might never look at your dad the same way again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DVD Review: The Proposal

Facing deportation, a scathing, hard-nosed publicist (Sandra Bullock) and her passive-aggressive assistant (Ryan Reynolds) soon find themselves thrust toward the sacred bonds of matrimony. One needs a groom to stay in the country, the other needs a bride to keep his job. Their plan is simple enough: a quick marriage followed by a quicker divorce. While visiting the to-be in-laws in Alaska, however, these faux-betrotheds soon find themselves questioning their true feelings and the sincerity of this proposal.

The two leads work great together on screen, Bullock dishing out causticity left and right, Reynolds eating it up and resending it with droll subtly (a recurring element in the film which owes to both good writing and a quality performance by Reynolds, himself). Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen also offer quality, emotional performances as the future in-laws, and Betty White is endearing as wacky grandma Paxton. Some of the lesser supporting roles in this film turn out to be comedic gems and leave the viewer wanting more. Aasif Mandvi, for example, delivers that classic befuddled character we’ve come to know and love from his correspondent work on John Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Bonus features on this DVD version of The Proposal include an alternate ending and deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Anne Fletcher and writer Peter Chiarelli, as well as a funny outtakes-and-antics feature hosted by Mandvi. Viewers are also treated to a sneak peek of numerous productions, including Lost: The Complete Fifth Season, the tenth anniversary special edition of 10 Things I Hate About You, and the upcoming movies Cheri (starring Kathy Bates and Michelle Pfeiffer) and Old Dogs (starring Robin Williams and John Travolta).

This film features everything fans of romantic comedy have come to love about the genre, in addition to dog-hungry eagles, a grammy who is a little too in touch with nature, and one very busy island dancer. I recommend The Proposal to all fans of the genre or anyone just looking for some good laughs.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Movie Review: The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

In 2004, the action adventure film Flight of the Phoenix was released, starring Dennis Quaid and Giovanni Ribisi.  For all its inadequacies and its rather lowbrow approach, this movie did what it set out to do: excite, thrill, and pepper the screen with a few good-natured laughs.

            All said and done, however, this viewer was disappointed by how embarrassingly short the film fell from its 1965 predecessor, an underrated tour de force starring Jimmy Stewart and Richard Attenborough.  This is the true flight.  This is the proper Phoenix to be regarded by film history – a film that paradoxically threw romanticism into a corner and beat the living daylights out of it.

            As in the 2004 remake, the plot centers on a downed aircraft in the Sahara.  Though most of the dozen or so passengers survive the crash landing, they must face the dire elements of starvation, dehydration, and madness.  Indeed, no contact can be made beyond the dunes, rations are diminishing, and the men are growing volatile, slipping in and out of reason.  Just as hope begins to fade, a member of the party suddenly announces that he is an airplane designer, and he believes the craft can be rebuilt.

            Stewart is captivating as Frank Towns, a disenchanted pilot weighed down by his duty to lead the weary survivors.  All about him in the sand lay examples of just how fragile the minds of men really are.  Hardy Kruger spellbinds in his role as the airplane designer; there is a distance felt between this stoic German figure and the other survivors.  It’s reasons (for the most part) go unsaid, but we know them, all the same.  Lastly, there is Richard Attenborough, whose reaction at the film’s climax, alone, evoked in this viewer a wild cocktail of emotions – humor, hopelessness, disbelief, and outright horror – that is rarely elicited by a film.  Indeed, all three leading cast members offer stellar performances, but the supporting cast should not go without mention, boasting such acting talents as Peter Finch, George Kennedy, and Ernest Borgnine.

This film stands as one of the brightest shining examples we have of action adventure done right. It proves the genre can be an art form.  It can rein in all the fantastic elements that comprise it, that make it what it is.  Ultimately, we are called to regard these men as men, not the heroes of some illustrious desert voyage.  They are painfully mortal and remind us that the mind is perhaps not so strong as we may assume.  Anyone ready for a most undervalued classic simply must watch The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Movie Review: The Mist

After being trapped in their local grocery store, the citizens of Bridgton, Maine must band together to combat the nefarious aberrations dwelling within “the mist.”  Its origins unknown, its inhabitants the elements of nightmare, to enter the hazy madness that has besieged this small New England town is suicide.  However, its unfortunate survivors will soon find themselves pitted against horrors far greater than anything of dreams.  Thus is the plot of Frank Darabont’s The Mist.

First off, I must concede that I’m a pretty big Stephen King junky.   He hooked me in with Desperation in 1996 and utterly floored me with his magnum opus, The Dark Tower series in the years thereafter.  For all of King’s breathtaking works to date, however, only a small handful of them have been adequately adapted to the screen.  Over the years, attempts to convert the so-called master of horror’s visions to film have (for the most part) culminated in a procession of sorry, uninspired miniseries and made-for-T.V. movies.

In the fall of 2007, this all but gapless onslaught of banality was mercifully severed with the release of Darabont’s The Mist (adapted from King’s 1980 novella of the same name).  The same man who helmed the critically acclaimed Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Green Mile (2000), finally brought to horror fans what they had been in such desperate need of:  a respectable, King-inspired addition to horror films.

Darabont conveys a most splendid B-movie atmosphere throughout the film, harkening back to 1960s cinema, the glory days of sci-fi horror.  The cinematography and lighting are both absolutely spellbinding and merited Oscar recognition.  The script, though a tad cheesy here and there, is for the most part solid and the acting is quality from every cast member (save perhaps the redheaded grocery clerk toward the beginning).  Thomas Jane nails his starring role as the overmatched everyman thrust into a nightmare and Marcia Gay Harden is fantastic as the bible-thumping zealot threatening the sanity of all trapped in the store.

The lights are out, the law is dead, and the world has fallen away.  We are left only to watch, dismayed as the “civility” of man is stripped off piece by piece and the horrors of the human psyche laid bare for all to see.  Suspenseful, disturbing, and provocative, The Mist is a flat out must see for horror fans of all kinds.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Movie Review: Sorority Row

Every cliché of the horror genre collides with shocking monotony in this remake of The House on Sorority Row (1983).  Faceless killer, check.  Screaming young girls, check.  Horrible acting, plot, and dialogue.  Check, check, check.  It’s true, that the history of the slasher has been nothing shy of dismal, save an exception here or there (God only knows what Carpenter’s Michael Meyers, that guy in the Edvard Munch scream mask, or that weird elder fishermen from I Know What You Did Last Summer must be thinking.).  So I wasn’t expecting too much from this particular chronicle.  Low-quality horror films are actually one of my guilty pleasures, and in that respect Sorority Row delivered.

            After a prank goes terribly wrong, resulting in the death of a fellow co-ed, the reigning sisters of Theta Pi must cover up their tracks.  A vow of silence among these senior members and all is thought to be well.  Eight months later, however, they come to find themselves being stalked by a hooded killer.

            I don’t know if the ’83 version of this tour de force was the first to conceive of the ever-staling prank/death/killer formula (I rather doubt it), but enough is enough.  Year after year, Hollywood doles out a plethora of unoriginal, uninventive slashers.  And year after year my terrible movie palate drives me to seek out these abominations in filmmaking and waste ten bucks a piece on them.

            The first ten minutes or so are surprisingly, even misleadingly adequate.  Every actor does his or her part, pace is good, and tension is well conveyed.  From there on it stumbles into all the contemporary pitfalls of its genre.  Everyone apart from the protagonist is unbelievably caustic, characters perform incredibly bold acts for the sake of a gratuitous death scene, and the only twist to be had in the entire film is the identity of the killer (which in this instance is random at best).  In the past, these may have been considered staples of the horror genre, but anymore they appear to be no more than bland and uncreative drawbacks.  Guilty pleasure or not, an hour of this cheesy humdrum and I felt like I was being beaten over the head with a bag of oranges.  In fact, once they dropped the dead co-ed down that hole, they may as well have thrown the rest of this sorry film in right after her.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Movie Review: Whiteout

Yeah, I went into this one hoping for a monster.  Hoping for some loose re-envisioning of John Carpenter’s ’84 sci-fi thriller The Thing.  That’s certainly what the trailers of Whiteout led me to believe was at hand.  Simply put, I was let down.  Purely a crime thriller, this movie features neither bio-abominations nor otherworldly ghouls.  And that in and of itself is fine.  I never greatly cared for the crime thriller genre, but I can at least respect it.  What I can’t respect is a marketing campaign built around false advertising.

            Now on to the actual review.  The plot revolves around the first murder in the history of Antarctica, circa 1950.  A federal marshal (Kate Beckinsale) stationed at a nearby base comes to investigate the crime as the season draws to a close and the climate quickly shifts to intolerable.  Unfortunately, the experience of watching Whiteout was no different.

While not atrocious, the cast presented one of the more insipid efforts I’ve seen at the theater in a while.  Every line falls flat to the effect that even Tom Skerrit – one of the movie’s few redeeming qualities – cannot bring much to the table.  On paper, the plot sounds good, but the idea is butchered by poor direction and a god-awful screenplay (I plan to look up the director of this film and steer clear of all his future works.).  Apart from Skerrit, the only other positive feature of this story is its setting – the frozen and desolate plains of Antarctica.  Location does play a critical role to the plot.  But through low quality, CGI-rendered storm fronts even this is tainted.

Cold and flat, watching this movie was the visual equivalent to drinking the last half of an old, refrigerated coke.  Perhaps I was treated to seeing a big-screen monstrosity, after all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

After months of listening to all the hype surrounding the new sci-fi film District 9, I decided to part with seven bucks and buy a ticket.  I’ve never held much affinity for the genre; the Alien flicks and the Star Wars saga are far from my cup of tea.  But what intrigued me to give this picture a try was the enticing originality of the plot.

It focuses on an impoverished race who have been relegated to the shantytowns of Johannesburg.  After twenty years of discrimination and oppression, their population has grown to a size the slums of this South African city can no longer sustain.  And so comes the protagonist, a bureaucrat with a scientific military operation assigned to relocate the race to a government-sanctioned campsite 100 miles southward.  But the displacement does not go as planned, and from there the plot unfurls.

            It may have slipped my mind to mention that this was an alien race (minor factoid).  It’s true that regardless how original this premise may sound, the initial envisioning of it may seem rather suspect, if not downright laughable – and going in I feared that might be verified.  I quickly realized, however, that I had fallen upon the most daringly plausible and realistic science fiction story in all of my movie-going experience.

            With a budget of only $30 million, this film’s CGI and special effects are somehow still first-rate.  The script is quality and the pace is good.  Perhaps the most sterling thing about this film, however, was the acting.  To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single well-known Hollywood figure present in all of District 9, thus lending both the fantastic plot and the destitute setting a much greater credence; as in a typical documentary-style film, we do not know of the people we are watching anymore than we know of their capacities.  The only negative part of the experience is the initial adjustment the audience must make to seeing the creatures interact with humans on screen.  After ten or fifteen minutes, though, I was able to suspend disbelief and just enjoy.

Finally, worth mentioning are the final thirty minutes, which featured perhaps the most thrilling denouement I’ve ever seen at the cinema.  I highly recommend District 9 to all sci-fi lovers and, in fact, any moviegoer who is interested in viewing a truly original story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Movie Review: The Final Destination

On Friday, I went to see the new action/suspense flick The Final Destination.  I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but I’ve seen the first three films and enjoyed each of them.  None of the predecessors were particularly highbrow cinema.  The plots were goofy, the scripts were weak and, to be frank, the acting and direction were something quite atrocious.  And oddly enough, that’s just what I found so peculiarly charming about them.  They were superficial, high-octane, thrill rides that never pretended to be anything more.  And this new installment does not deviate from the formula.

As with the last three films, the plot revolves around a horrible, high-casualty accident.  A by-standing, to-be victim has a premonition of the tragedy and manages to warn a small handful of people before it’s too late.  Soon afterward, however, the survivors start succumbing to bizarre deaths in the particular order in which they would have died during the initial calamity.

This movie has all the classic elements of your run-of-the-mill suspense thriller.  There are plenty of outlandish, wall-splattering death sequences.  Some unnecessary swearing is thrown in for good measure.  And, of course, you have your token gratuitous sex scene.  Apart from a little cheesy dialogue here and there, the script is actually not too bad.  And the acting from the top four or five cast members is surprisingly good for this kind of flick.  Naturally, the biggest draw to movies like this is the special effects, and while they may be a bit choppy and fast-paced – a problem endemic to this series – they still get the job done.

Overall, I would definitely consider this the best addition to the Final Destination franchise to date.  If you’ve got 90 minutes to turn your brain off and just unwind, then I would recommend The Final Destination.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Demise of the U.S. Newspaper?

In a 2003 MSNBC news article titled Newspaper circulation on rise, just not in U.S., the writer discusses a marked increase in global newspaper readership.  However, according to this article, newspaper circulation is on the decline in the United States.  Research shows that more and more people in this country appear to be foregoing the printed word in favor of online newspapers, e-mails, and various other types of digital media.

For years people have been claiming the advent of digital media would cause the demise of newspapers.  Over the years, however, the same has been said with each new form of mass media presented to the public.  Many thought that the Internet was a deathblow for television, just as they thought television would surely end the days of radio.  It’s been found, however, that the older forms of mass media merely adapt (and in many cases converge) whenever a new form is invented.  So I doubt we’re witnessing the end of the printed word in this country.

Reply to a Classmate's Blog

My comment on Ana Valentine's Response to Online Article post, April 13, 2009 1:33 PM

Mexico: Weapons from U.S. fuel drug war

In this MSNBC article, the writer discusses the escalating drug violence in the border regions between Mexico and the United States.  An overwhelming number of these crimes involve weapons seized by drug cartels that can be traced to the U.S.  This facet of the ongoing war between Mexican police and the outlaws has resulted in reconsideration to once more banning assault weapons in the U.S.  President Obama has already made numerous provisions to curtail violence in the region, "including providing more federal agents to try to stop gun smuggling."

Though the growing violence across the border has become a major problem over the last several months, I don't think that further U.S. gun restrictions is in any way an appropriate response.  It would merely follow suit with so much legislation of the last half decade, during which congress placed more and more constraints on the American people using the excuse of "international unrest."  They would only be replacing one problem for another.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The World's 50 Most Powerful Blogs

In an article by The Observer, the world's 50 most powerful blogs are listed and discussed in detail.  On the one hand, the reader is offered the top-ranked Huffington Post, which revolutionized the political blogosphere into a mainstream news entity.  On the other hand, you have the frivolous cultural novelties - like "lego reconstructions of pop videos and cakes baked in the shape of iPods" - presented by the blog Boing Boing.  Perezhilton retains a prominent spot on the list by raking celebrities over the coals via gossip and hearsay, while Chocolate and Zucchini offers food recipes and cooking styles to thousands of its followers.

The blogosphere appears very diverse in its subject matter.  What's interesting is how incredibly wide-ranging the world's top-tier blogs actually are.  I expected the majority of them to be of a strictly world news or political nature.  And while surfing websites pertaining to the outrageous lives of Hollywood stars and the nonsensical creations of harebrained pop artists may result in no more than hours of wasted time and a pair of bloodshot eyes, it's refreshing to know that nonsense still has a place in peoples' everyday lives.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia

According to the Daily Oklahoman, tensions are rising in the standoff between the U.S. federal government and pirates off the coast of Somalia.  On Wednesday, April 8, a group of Somalian outlaws attempted to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama.  The crew of the Alabama thwarted their efforts and was successful in driving them off the ship.  However, Richard Phillips, the ship's captain, was taken hostage by the pirates in a lifeboat now drifting on the Indian Ocean out of gas.  The lifeboat is being closely monitored by the U.S. Military. Negotiations with Phillip's captors are ongoing.

I don't think people in this part of the world ever really consider the fact that modern-day pirates do exist.  The notion of seafaring outlaws appears almost wholly dependent upon our memories of the flamboyant, swashbuckling characters of so many subpar Hollywood flicks in the 1930s and 1940s.  Meanwhile, piracy continues to plague the coasts of Africa, India, China, and Japan to this day.

As unpleasant as the events that have unfolded in the last week may be, at the very least they serve to illustrate the point that maritime crime is still a major problem in much of the world.

(This issue has since been resolved and The Daily Oklahoman has pulled the article.)