Movie Trailer: Yes Man

Say yes to one-joke movies.

To be fair, Liar Liar was a one-joke movie and was quite good. Its been ten years since he's made a movie worth seeing. Perhaps this one will break his losing streak - or maybe just reading the scripts before accepting the parts, honestly Fun with Dick and Jane, why would he ever sign his name to that?

Check out the trailer below. Jim Carrey plays a guy who always says no then decides to say "yes" to everything for a year. Geez, I wonder if his life will improve. Is it me or is it a tad creepy seeing a fifty-odd year-old guy acting like a twentysomething bachelor?

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Screenwriters: Nicholas Stoller (Fun with Dick and Jane), Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel
Director: Peyton Reed (Down with Love)
Actors: Jim Carrey (Dumb & Dumber), Zooey Deschanel (The Happening), Terence Stamp (Superman II), and Danny Masterson

Movie Watching Tip: Who is the Villain?

A way to tell the agenda of a film is to consider what kind of person the villain is. A way for filmmakers to slip in an agenda is to identify the villain of the story with a particular group. By identifying the bad guy with a particular political group (normally Republican), job (normally corporate executives) or social group (normally Christian) the filmmaker can paint all of the people of that group with the villainous acts of the bad guy.

While it is obvious that all groups are capable of evil, it is common for the villain of a film to be a representative for a group. In this way, he represents a way of thinking.

Zodiac (2007)

Should I see it?

Short Review:
After the first three hours, I was willing to claim I was the Zodiac killer they were looking for just to get this thing over with.

Aries (March 21 - April 20)

Your life is as miserable and boring as ever. Watching a deadpan movie with a running time of over two and a half hours about a murderous loser and the failed attempts to catch him is the last thing you need. Try to liven up your day by peeling that lazy butt of yours off of the couch and go outside. Its summer, why are you wasting your time inside watching movies anyway?

Taurus (April 21 - May 21)

Your sister will call today. Don’t pick up. Seriously, don’t do it. That witch will drive you nuts. Honestly, what has she ever done for you? If you weren’t blood, you probably would have abandoned her ten years ago. She’s just like another in a long line of “serial killer” movies. She plays on the worst and darkest parts of your personality, wastes your time and gives you little in return.

Gemini (May 22 - June 21)

The knowledge that you can’t make Mint Julips with Jägermeister comes about ten hours too late for you. You also discover it was a bad idea to do this experiment right before your company’s summer picnic. It is best to avoid a movie involving seeing Robert Downey Jr. overacting. His weak attempts at nabbing that best supporting actor nod may remind you of your own pathetic missteps in front of your boss. As it turns out, while your boss’ wife does indeed have a mustache, she’s not nearly as amused by it as you are. Suffice to say, you won’t get fired soon, but you can rest assured you’re never – never – going to get that promotion. Just resign yourself to your fate. The sooner you come to understand you have yourself to blame the better off you’ll be.

Cancer (June 22 - July 22)

You’re cancer, people tend to want to avoid you. Much like they will want to avoid David Fincher’s boring film. He is one of the best directors out there, but this thing is a droning, mismanaged disaster. He has too many characters over too long of a time period not doing enough. By the time the belated final resolution rolls in, the original spark of the film has already packed its bags and went home in a huff. Editing, David, its called editing. Copious amounts would have done this film wonders.

Leo (July 23 -August 21)

Remember that thing you did with those guys with the thing that time way back over at that place? Yeah, that’s coming back to rear its ugly head. There’s nothing about a movie here, I thought I’d just warn you.

Virgo (August 22 - September 23)

Much of the day will be like finding yourself in a murder mystery where the killer is revealed way too early, and the storyline doesn't have enough depth to support an extended act where said killer evades indictment. Like the movie, you’ll wander around for hours despondent and desperately wanting something – anything interesting to happen. The surprise left out of your brief slice of life will sap any reason for experiencing it. You will have to make your own fun today.

Libra (September 24 - October 23)

You’re sensitive today. Yes, those uncontrollable crying fits are back. Face it, he’s not coming back. Your years of concentrating on your appearance and social status have caused your intellect to atrophy. Your mind is an unbearable hole where random thoughts go to die. Of course he left, you may be pretty and have shiny hair but you can’t talk about anything more complicated than reruns of Sex in the City. Pretty girls may have more fun but smart girls end up happier. With the intellectual vacuum you exist in, you may naturally fall back on wanting to forget your troubles by looking at some hunky guy. If you’re into that Jake Gyllenhaal goof, try one of his other movies. While he does a fine job in this, he looks like he’s been awake for thirty years. You know you’re in trouble when you’re standing next to Robert Downey Jr. and you’re the one who looks under the weather. When I say try one of his other movies, you’re going to want to avoid Brokeback Mountain as well…unless you’re into rutting cowboys. Then again if you are, then maybe your boyfriend left for entirely different reasons than we've explored here.

Scorpio (October 24 - November 22)

Avoid engaging in viewing a movie that is so clumsily done that it has to show murder victims being ruthlessly stabbed. Knowing that cinema is the art of not only what is seen but more importantly what is not seen, the image of a woman being stabbed on screen will only support your fears that indeed the culture is going to hell in a hand basket. Well, you’re partly right. It’s actually going to hell in a barf bag.

Sagittarius (November 23 - December 22)

Forget your troubles today and let it all out. Enjoy life, experience the small things and embrace your existence with wild abandon. The stars are showing that that aneurysm in your head you don’t know about is about to blow. Speaking of blowing, the script for Zodiac is ponderous and pointless (a double threat). James Vanderbilt’s script is to brevity what this seemingly endless novelty review is to good writing.

Capricorn (December 23 - January 20)

Apparently, that stuff you ate in the middle of the night last night wasn’t bean dip (although it was lumpy and spongy). Perhaps next time you’ll won’t rely on that small refrigerator light to guide your way at 3am. You’ll spend most of your day today exploring the personal theme park ride that is your gag reflex. A little rest will do you well, when you’re not perched over the porcelain. For help overcoming your lurching guts and getting some rest, pop in the last two thirds of this film. The lazy plot and stagnant tone will lull you into a deep sleep. Please sleep on your stomach however. We don’t want you pulling a Hendrix.

Aquarius (January 21 - February 19)

You’ll have moments of clarity today. Like right now when you realize that horoscopes are for morons. Some charlatan writes up vague descriptions that have no real meaning and then dimwits read these things and shoehorn their individual meanings into them. Try this, on your way home from work today think to yourself that you’ll see the number 22. Soon everywhere you look the number 22 will appear. Same thing with horoscopes, you’ll fit your life into the frame they provide. Stop with the divination idiocy and just face your life already.

Pisces (February 20- March 20)

Things at work will fall apart in a brilliant and embarrassing public spectacle. Your hard work will be forgotten and any positive efforts you’ve offered will be for naught. Today you’re a little like Mark Ruffalo. He provides a great performance in this film but all of his efforts amount to little in face of the remainder of the production. Yes, he is the best part of the film but this is a little like saying he’s the best violin player on the Titanic. I wouldn’t even bother going into work today. You’ll just end up in your car over your lunch break asking yourself where it all went wrong. You can do that at home and you don’t even need to get dressed.

Related Reviews:
Gyllenhaal movies
Donnie Darko (2001)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Other Critic's Reviews
Cinema Dave

Movie Trailer: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Here's the first look at the next Harry Potter film. I think these movies are wonderfully done and are deserving of the praise and success they have seen. This said, I have to admit I'm getting a little bored by them. Take a look, as far as trailers go, this is pretty stock stuff. It does a reasonable job lifting anticipation but doesn't really give a good hook. Then again, its Harry Potter, it doesn't need a hook.

Screenwriter: Steve Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys)
Director: David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Actors: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), Rupert Grint (Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone), Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Alan Rickman (Die Hard), Maggie Smith (Murder by Death) and Michael Gambon(The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover)

The Devil Came by Horseback (2007)

Should I see it?

The title comes from the name of the Arab death sqauds in Darfur, "Janjaweed," which means "devil on horseback. The Janjaweed have committed genocide while the world sits on its hands. Former marine turned photo journalist Brian Steidle was there and had incredible access because of his role as military observer. Disturbed by the horrors playing out in front of him and the utter lack of action on behalf of the international community to do anything to stop the killing, Steidle tells the story of this genocide.

This is a stunning documentary that will surely devastate most viewers. It is gut wrenching to even conceive these types of atrocities happen in this world. This is not a film for the weak stomached to be sure. It is a striking film and I highly recommend it.

Related Reviews:
Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (2007)
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Other Critic's Reviews:

Channel 4

Movie Trailer: Punisher: War Zone

This just looks goofy. The bad guy, Jigsaw, reminds me of Al Pacino's Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy.

"Sometimes I'd like to get my hands on God."

Well, someone missed some key points at Sunday School.

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Screenwriters: Nick Santora, Art Marcum (Iron Man), and Mat Holloway (Iron Man)
Director: Lexi Alexander (Hooligans)
Actors: Ray Stevenson (King Arthur), and Dominic West (300)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Should I see it?

Short Review: You know how you thought the first one was going to stink but it didn't? This is the movie you thought you were going to get the first time.

The original Hellboy film was a pleasant surprise. Almost to a person, everyone I know who saw the first film said something to the effect "I thought it was going to be lame but it was pretty good." If you're holding out for another such surprise, I'm here to tell you to you can move on.

The film is pointless sequel. It doesn't expand upon the relationships and story developed in the first film and it doesn't create enough new content to stand on its own. After some spryness to open the film, the whole production lounges back into tedious fight sequences and nonsensical fantasy mumbo jumbo.

Hellboy and his cohorts stand up for humanity when the mythical world beings to rebel. Apparently, humans and all of the extras from Lord of the Rings used to be at war and this and that happened and eventually the mythical creatures were all sent underground. Well, now they're cranky and coming to take over. The mythical folks are led by the aggressive Prince Nuada who looks like the demon spawn of Edgar Winter and acts just like a over reaching character actor stuck in a poorly written role that is still beyond the grasp of his talents. Prince Over Actor, confronts Hellboy and friends in well designed sets and perform some practiced fight choreography.

Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, the aesthetics of the film are top notch. The man is a great designer. Visually, there's nothing to find fault in, visually its a treat. His script is the failure of the production. Del Toro's script is predictable, forced and not befitting his design or his cast. Ron Perlman in particular seems almost bored by the expectations of his dialog. In the original film he was given an interesting character to fulfill and he clearly mined the role for everything it was worth. In this film, Perlman is given little to work with and therefore doesn't produce much beyond some grunted one liners and a sense he should be doing more. On top of this one conflict doesn't smoothly lead to the next and its not clear how they all work as one cohesive path to the final fight. This gives the film a stuttering, disjointed feel that never settles down long enough to allow for any real development to take place. Del Toro would have had the same flow if he had a title board pop up between scenes that read "...and then this happens!"

I wanted to enjoy this film. Del Toro is one of the strongest filmmakers working right now, I have high regard for his vision and his craftiness. Unfortunately, he misses his mark here and wastes a strong cast. Rewatch the first film and skip this one.

Related Reviews:
Other superheroes
Iron Man (2008)
The Dark Knight (2008)

Other Critic's Reviews:
The Critical Critics

Movie Trailer: Blood Diamond

An unsettling look at the diamond trade in Africa. The film exposes the hideous underbelly of the international diamond trade without stooping to becoming an anti-corporate whine fest. Smartly written and strongly directed, I firmly recommend this film.

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Screenwriter: Charles Leavitt (K-PAX)
Director: Edward Zwick (Glory)
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), Djimon Hounsou (Constantine)
, Jennifer Connelly (Pollock), and Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy)

Movie Watching Tip: What is the Hero's Real Goal

The core of every film is the hero's attempt to obtain some goal. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly needs to get his parents to fall in love (and find some plutonium), as an example. This goal will have an immediate physical or psychological reward if attained, Marty gets to exist, in this case. Achieving the goal has a secondary purpose of teaching the hero a moral lesson. He can only get his goal if he changes some aspect of his personality or behavior. Marty learns to be on time. At the beginning of the film he's scolded for being tardy by Principal Strickland who tells him "No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley!" The point here going forward is Marty literally making history for all of Hill Valley.

Because Marty learns to be on time, the moral of the story, Marty and his family prosper and the bad guy, Biff is ruined. In addition, because of their use of time, Doc is resurrected at the end of the film because of a note Marty passes to him in the past warning him of the terrorists.

You can discover the virtues being expressed by a film by how the hero obtains their primary goal. What lesson does he learn to help him win?

Bella (2006)

Should I see it?

The producers of this film are a tenacious lot. Their behind the scenes work marketing this film has been very strong but also polite (which is uncommon, trust me). They were so nice that when they called me at home last year to alert me of their film, it didn't even feel like a marketing call. They deserve a good amount of credit for tackling the marketing issue of this film so effectively.

I was pleasantly surprised by this film. To be completely honest, I thought I was in for yet another low-budget, low talent, Christian film with too much agenda and not enough good writing. This film thankfully manages to avoid the heavy handed sermonizing it could have displayed and relies on its characters to deliver the message - just like a movie should.

Eduardo Verástegui and Tammy Blanchard (Stealing Harvard) star in this story about a former soccer player Jose (Verástegui) who comes to the aid of Nina (Blanchard) who is newly unemployed and pregnant. The script by writer director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and Patrick Million and Leo Severino does a very good job of developing the relationship between these two characters and giving them a reason to fall in love. Where the film shines however is in its secondary characters and environment. The people who populate the film are quite real. In many films the supporting characters tend to be shallow plot props written to give the lead a hand in moving the story forward. Here, the supporting characters appear to have depth and value on their own. The development of the world Nina and Jose exist in is also well developed and interesting. In many instances theres a slight documentary feel to the scenes. Given the low budget of this film it is likely the sets were real locations that weren't dressed up too much for the shoot. This works in favor of the film, grounding it in reality and giving many scenes a warm personal touch.

The acting is quite strong. Verástegui and Blanchard are charismatic and have some chemistry working together. Verástegui in particular stands out as a strong lead. Despite his accent he has the toughest job in the film given his character's backstory. He also has to act through this bristly beard that smothers most of his face. While he may look like Cat Stevens, he does well to work past it. The beard and long hair are actually a good idea. I am a firm believer that an actor can be too good looking. Catherine Zeta-Jones is a good example. I'm sorry, she's simply too good looking to play most parts. Someone who looks like her seems out of place as a stewardess or banker - she's a model. People who look like models stand out too much in ordinary circumstances and distract from the movie. Verástegui has this problem, he's clearly a model and looks like one. Covering his mug with hair disguises this and normalizes his character. It is also very effective when placed in context of his character.

Many Christians have applauded the film as being "anti-abortion" and if you read much on this film the subject of abortion will surely come up. Its important to note that this is not overtly pro-life in a heavy-handed, "you're going to get this message whether your want it or not" way. Thankfully, the message is there, albeit indirectly. Overall, as I mentioned, this film avoids being overly preachy and relies on the relationship between Nina and Jose to get its points across. That is the primary reason I recommend this quiet but well delivered film.

Related Reviews:
Christian films
The Hiding Place (1975)
The Second Chance (2006)

Other Critic's Reviews:
World Magazine
Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Trailer: Nobel Son

A bunch of shallow, immoral jackasses treat each other horribly while an upbeat soundtrack pumps along. Not only is the trailer tedious, the whole concept seems tired. A rich jerk's son is kidnapped and said jerk refuses to pay the ransom. The rich jerk's son then joins up with the kidnapper to rip of his rich jerk dad. A plot a little too close to Ruthless People, the main difference being the kidnap victim was the wife not the son. Both this and Ruthless People also have Danny Devito in the cast list.

Thanks, but I didn't like this the other times I've seen it.

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Screenwriters: Jody Savin (Witchcraft), and Randall Miller (Bottle Shock)
Director: Randall Miller
(The Sixth Man)
Actors: Alan Rickman (Die Hard), Bryan Greenburg (The Perfect Score), Mary Steenburgen (Parenthood), Shawn Hatosy (Alpha Dog), Bill Pullman (Zero Effect), Danny Deveto (Hoffa), and Ted Danson (The Onion Field)

The Mummy Returns (2001)

Should I see it?

This half baked follow up to The Mummy is a complete waste of time. Having nothing to say after the initial hit film, this flick languishes and finally stumbles into a brainless string of boring chase scenes. There is no cause to see this useless sequel.

Related Reviews:
Brendan Fraser movies
Bedazzled (2000)
Crash (2005)

Other Critic's Reviews:
Arrow in the Head

The Mummy (1999)

Should I see it?

Big, stupid and fun, this snickering revisiting of the mummy legend is a fun flick. Brendan Fraser is perfectly cast as a hero in this less than serious action film. The special effects are good but nothing too special. Clever dialog, a fast pace and the introduction of Rachel Weiss and John Hannah give this piece life.

Related Reviews:
Rachel Weiss movies
Runaway Jury (2003)
The Fountain (2006)

Other Critic's Reviews:
The Flick Filosopher

Movie Trailer: W

I can't think of anything more boring and tedious. Giving ol' W. a shot in the shins before leaving office, Oliver Stone has broken away from fawning over criminal dictator Fidel Castro long enough to make this completely unneeded biography of George W. Bush. Presidential politics is fascinating stuff, cheap gossip is not. Is it possible Stone isn't serving up just another Bush bash? Sure. Given that his trailer focuses on the weaker parts of Bush's character, it seems very unlikely however. The impressive cast couldn't look more ridiculous. I hope they're going to have name tags on the whole time so we know who they're trying to portray.

Sure, some may see making a film ragging on a sitting President in a time of war as being at best in bad taste. and at worst near treasonous. You have to admit, no matter how much of a hit piece this is it is a thousand times better than making a movie about Bill Clinton. First off, there would be the issue of trying to get around an NC-17 Rating. In addition, what do you call it? "You Put What Where?"

Check out the teaser trailer for Stone's very important and very serious movie below.

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Screenwriters: Stanley Weiser (Wall Street)
Director: Oliver Stone (JFK)
Actors: Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men), Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno), Ioan Gruffudd (Amazing Grace), Thandie Newton (The Pursuit of Happyness), and Ellen Burstyn (The Fountain),

Movie Trailer: Reservoir Dogs

Tarantino, for all of his foulness and violent imagery, does have talent. Its too bad he uses his incredible writing skills to make vapid, post-modern wastelands. This, his first film, was one of the most astounding introductions of a filmmaker in the last twenty years. Yes, it is violent and it is wall to wall cursing, but in its defense, it is one of the best written films of the 90's.

I don't like what Tarantino stands promotes. I believe most of his films are a shameful waste of talent and energy and serve the lower elements of the audience. For better or for worse, he is an important figure in the industry and he's going to be around for a while.

This film showed his promise, and he's spent the remainder of his career turning on that promise. With the gifts this man was given to use them on making vile and often cheesy flicks that celebrate the worst cinema has to offer - its like Pavarotti stooping to singing rap tunes or Steinbeck taking up writing missives for the Penthouse Forum. Tarantino, considering what his talents could create, to see the pap he's made, it's shameful. Then again, he's a sort of a touchstone for a whole generation of artists. Given the unbelievable technology and the wide freedoms of expression, more than any other generation could have dreamed of having, what do we get? Corporate rehash of forgotten classics. In a way, his continued obsession with retro nonsense and filth do make him the voice of our times.

Caution, the trailer does contain expletives.

Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction)
Director: Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown)
Actors: Harvey Keitel (Be Cool), Tim Roth (Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead), Michael Madsen (Kill Bill Vol. 1), Chris Penn (True Romance), and Steve Buscemi (Monsters, Inc.)

Movie Review Link: 3:10 to Yuma

Ray Fowler of RAYFOWLER.ORG compares the characterizations in the original 1957 and the 2007 versions of 3:10 to Yuma. Click on Bale's grubby face below to see if you agree with this conclusions.

Movie Trailer: Casablanca

Arguably, the best film ever made (I place it as number two, just behind Citizen Kane). This is one movie everyone must see at least once before they die. Click below to see the trailer for this classic.

See other Warner Bros. films

Screenwriter: Julius J. Epstein (Arsenic and Old Lace), Philip G. Epstein (The Brothers Karamazov), and Howard Koch (Rhapsody in Blue)
Director: Michael Curtiz (White Christmas)
Actors: Humphrey Bogart (The Big Heat), Ingrid Bergman (Spellbound), Claude Rains (Notorious), Paul Henreid (In Our Time), and Peter Lorrie (M)

Movie Review Link: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Swampy-Rah over at THE SWAMP HARE has posted a brief review of Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Click on the red guy below to check it out.

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Should I see it?

As a general rule I am against remakes. The recent trend is to rehash every recognizable title in cinematic history into a cheap facsimile, fabricated for a culture that no longer cares. To be honest, when I first heard they were remaking this classic, I expected a disappointing and unneeded film until I saw Christian Bale and Russell Crowe fronted the production.

Fortunately, this is a well-conceived film that is definitely worth your attention. Both Bale and Crowe give substantive performances. Crowe plays Ben Wade, an infamous criminal who has been condemned to be hanged at Yuma Prison for his sins. Crowe is well at ease in this role of a seductive, smiling criminal who can be murderous one moment and glad handing the next. Bale is Dan Evans, a financially strapped rancher, who also happens to be a great shot. When no one else is up to the task, Dan volunteers to deliver Ben to his judgment.

As Dan and his compatriots deliver Ben to the 3:10 train to Yuma, they run into all matter of danger and are pursued by Ben's gang. The gang is headed by the wild-eyed Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) who is flushed with rage and has a tendency to accommodate his itchy trigger finger. Foster overacts his part but his broad performance still works. His character is meant to soften Ben's villainy. Ben may be a bad man, but he's not as bad as that sharp toothed snake of man Prince.

Throughout the film Ben offers Dan numerous chances to avoid is duty, to break his word. It is clear that Dan will not survive the trip, Ben's gang will find him and they will kill him. It is likewise clear that Ben will not bend. He is the only man of honor in the film. He stands by justice and he does not yield.

The film is expertly executed and founded in a very strong script updated by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt (Wanted). Along with the strong performances and steady direction, this film is a blueprint on how to remake a movie.

Cautions: This is a violent film. The violence isn't gratuitous but it is plentiful. Those with sensitivity to violence should reconsider seeing the movie.

Related Reviews:
Christian Bale movies
Batman Begins (2005)
The Prestige (2006)

Other Critic's Reviews:

Cinema Dave
Ill-Informed Gadfly

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The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Should I see it?

Most artists fall flat on their faces at least once. The Coen Bros. (Intolerable Cruelty, Fargo, Blood Simple) perform a serious face plant with this outing. Tim Robbins keeps to his apparent demand not to make any film better than Shawshank Redemption. He portrays a doofus who ends up running a corporate empire in this less than amusing comedy. More visually interesting than actually interesting.

Related Reviews:

Coen Brothers movies

O' Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

Other Critic's Reviews:
Independent Critics
Almost Fabulous Movie Reviews

Movie Trailer: Tropic Thunder

Here's the latest foul deposit tugged out of Ben Stiller's cat box of comedy. Thanks to a string of coincidences a group of actors filming a war movie get caught up in a situation where they must act like soldiers. If this looks good to you just remember this was penned by Stiller who is also responsible for the cinematic blight Zoolander. This production seems to match Stiller's other offerings, a solid concept completely ruined by a lack of actually humorous jokes.

Movies about making movies are very rarely worth the effort. They are usually littered with inside jokes and shop talk and give the audience little to identify with. Maybe they'll pull this off but given Stiller's track record of making truly awful comedies, it doesn't seem very likely to me.

Screenwriter: Ben Stiller (Zoolander), Justin Theroux, and Ethan Cohen (Idiocracy)
Director: Ben Stiller (The Cable Guy)
Actors: Ben Stiller (Mystery Men), Jack Black (School of Rock), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Brandon T. Jackson (Envy), Steve Coogan (Night at the Museum), Nick Nolte (Weeds), Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky), Tobey Macquire (Spider-Man), Matthew McConaughey (Sahara), and Mickey Rooney (Baby Face Nelson)

Forgotten Classics: Lagniappe

Julie D. of HAPPY CATHOLIC and I have been having disagreements over films for years now. Well, they're really not disagreements, its more just her being too stubborn to acknowledge the overwhelming logic of my views. Anyhoo, Julie was kind enough to invite me to record my post Movies Have Meaning in Our Lives for her podcast. She's posted the podcast on her site FORGOTTEN CLASSICS.

Thank you Julie for your compliments and the honor of being your first guest essayist. Obviously, she's better behind a mike than I am. Her voice is soothing and calm and I sound like caffeinated Kermit the Frog bellowing into a Styrofoam cup.

Movie Trailer: Max Payne

Even taking this for what it is, a dimwitted adaptation of a dimwitted video game, it still doesn't look like its going to make the grade. At the very minimum, video games turned movies should at least be visually arresting. This looks like outtakes from a dozen other thrillers. If this is something you're looking forward to, I advise you see it on opening weekend, I can't imagine this will make it more than a week or two out in the wild.

Screenwriter: Beau Thorne
Director: John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix)
Actors: Mark Wahlberg (Shooter), Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Beau Bridges (The Good German), Ludacris (Crash), Donal Logue (Ghost Rider), and Chris O'Donnell (Scent of a Woman)

The Carnival of Cinema

This week's edition of the Carnival of Cinema can been seen over at RIDING WITH RICKEY. Thanks for Rickey Henderson for taking over hosting duties.

The Carnival returns home next week. To submit your cinema-related post please follow THIS LINK.

Movie Watching Tip: Watch What You're Watching

When you're watching a movie, if you ever feel in your gut that what you're doing is wrong - stop. This is when you want to examine why you're watching. If you're viewing content with strong violence or stark sexuality, you should be mindful of what is going on in your mind. If the content is simply foul, ask yourself why you're consuming it. If you can't come up with something better than "I dunno" you should probably put the product aside.

Each of us has different tastes and different tolerance levels. Don't let society at large, or even the mini society in your own home dictate your tastes. Just because I think zombie movies are fun doesn't mean you should think you should sit through them.

Always pay attention to what you're paying attention to.

Movie Trailer: Felon

Personally, this has Sam Shepard in it, which means I'm seeing it.

Looking beyond that, the trailer doesn't give much to really draw us in. The cause for the lead (Stephen Dorff) to be sent to prison is compelling, but there's no real sense what the purpose of the story is beyond that. The point I take away from the trailer is that prison is violent and unpleasant. Okay, I get it, and...?

Beware of trailers that tell too much or too little.


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Screenwriter: Ric Roman Waugh (In the Shadows)
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Actors: Val Kilmer (Spartan), Stephen Dorff (Blade), Sam Shepard (Thunderheart), Harold Perrineau (The Edge), and Anne Archer (Clear and Present Danger)

Why The Dark Knight Doesn't Work

With all of the hype, marketing and fanboy glee going around, one would think that The Dark Knight is the greatest film of all time. As it turns out, the fanboys honored the film with that exact title over at Going against this, I've given the film a relatively bad review. Its not a horrible movie, but it is a missed opportunity and a disappointment. It is long winded and has a drifting plot that stumbles to a close.

I thought that I would crack this film open and explain why it doesn't work.

***Spoiler Warning - you've been warned***

To open, I have a simple message for all of you in Hollywood:


In order to be focused, a story should contain exactly one hero and one villain. This singular hero should have an identifiable and solitary goal which directly conflicts with the goal of our lone villain. Two forces (read two ways of thought), on a collision course - that is the root of a story.

When you have two heroes and/or two villains, or in the case of this film 1½ heroes and 1½ villains, you take what should be the only thread that runs through a story and slice it into at least two branches. This means the story has to go into two different places, meaning it is exactly like trying to drive to two places at once. Since this isn't possible, the storyteller is forced to rush back and forth from the paths to both locations and doesn't get anywhere.

This is the core problem with The Dark Knight - it wants to go too many places.

To clarify, it is possible to have subplots with secondary heroic characters, Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is a great example of this. The problem of a split narrative comes when a secondary character is promoted into the hero or villain role while the other character is still active. In this film, the hero should be Batman. He's the titular character and he is the guy wearing the black rubber suit. The villain of the film is The Joker. The film should be clear, Batman (representing civilization and order) and The Joker (representing anarchy and disruption) duke it out over Gotham. Where writer/director Christopher Nolan botches the works is the promotion of Harry Dent, Gotham's stalwart district attorney. Dent is dating Rachel, Batman's love interest. He is also rounding up all of the criminals in Gotham. In the film Batman himself sees him as the hero, his replacement. In the narrative he performs this role as well. Nolan focuses a great deal of energy propping up Dent as an heroic figure to the exclusion of Batman. As Dent's fortunes rise Batman is essentially ushered into the background. To alleviate this, Nolan needs to have Batman do something - anything, to appear useful. Otherwise Batman has completely evaporated in his own movie. Nolan fabricates completely unneeded side projects for Batman such as his trip to Hong Kong to kidnap a villainous accountant. This sequence is there simply to show Batman doing his stuff. It doesn't push the story forward, it doesn't add anything to the film's themes. The whole sequence could have occurred at the airport in Gotham and had the same effect in half the time. There is a similar scene at the opening where Batman dispatches Scarecrow and some Russian mob bosses. Again, the scene is completely unnecessary other than showing Batman can kick some butt. In other words, almost every frame showing Batman in the first act is of him doing something that doesn't really impact the plot in a meaningful way. There's the introduction of some key facts, but these could have been made in simpler fashion.

As the story progresses Nolan uses Dent and Lt. James Gordon to fill in the heroic gaps in the story. Since neither the capturing of The Joker, the arrest of the mob bosses, nor the attaining of Rachel's love really falls to Batman to resolve (they're all Dent's problems) Batman is a secondary player. The story needs a hero but Dent isn't
big enough to fill this role. Gordon is brought on to co-hero. Between the two, they battle the mob and plot against The Joker and attempt to win public support in the face of terrorism. Batman is left scurrying in the background doing little to help progress any of these plots. When time is spent with either Bruce Wayne or Batman, the scenes are focused on the theme of terrorism and the question if a hero can fight a villain without rules and not become evil in the process. This theme is interesting and works in light of The Joker but The Joker's deeds haven't been dramatic enough to warrant this special attention. Since Nolan spends all his time with Dent, Rachel and Gordon, he's forced to divorce himself from the Batman versus The Joker plot that should be the driving force behind the film.

The proof that Nolan's film is spliced is the duel resolution in the film. The Joker has to confront both heroes separately. He goes to the injured Dent in the hospital. There The Joker mocks Dent's burned face, and explains the chaotic nature of the world. This supposedly lures Dent to evil. Dent then takes revenge on people directly involved in the circumstances that ruined his life, and transforms into the cruel Harvey Two-Face. This makes Dent a tragic hero who loses the fight. The Joker then moves on to Hero #2, Batman. Since there hasn't been a set plot running through the film up to this climax, Nolan is cornered and has to set up an scenario where two boats filled with people are at risk. The theme being played at this point, anarchy versus civilization, hasn't been the direct focus of the film. There have been competing questions such as "what does it take to be a hero", "will the boy get the girl", "can a hero act villainous and remain heroic". Since Nolan has played too many themes and asked too many questions, the main thread running through his climax is suffocated. The anarchy versus civilization theme is shoehorned in and without the support of the rest of the film, this robs Nolan of a tense dramatic arc. When Batman dispatches The Joker there's nothing proven, nothing learned.

This lack of a moral means that The Joker's not really the villain - what? No, its true. The final conflict between the hero and the villain results in a moral being learned. In the case of this film, the lesson being taught comes when Batman overcomes Harvey Two-Face. When Two-Face is killed, Gordon and Batman come to the realization that society needs its heroes even if those heroes are fake. This structural work means that Harry Dent is both the replacement hero and the real villain of the film. Batman and The Joker are mere players in Harvey Dent's tale.

The film would have succeed in its goals if it followed the same path seen in Tim Burton's Batman. That film kept the distractions to a minimum and showcased the conflict between the hero and his nemesis. The Joker is the real star of the show, as the ultimate trickster character, the audience wants to enjoy his deviousness, his clever cruelty. As a trickster, The Joker is the perfect representation of chaos. Against this stands the lawful protector Batman, and as The Joker states in The Dark Knight, this makes them the unstoppable force and the immovable object. They should have kept the story honed in on this conflict. They could have gotten to the same place with far less extra narrative weight. Remember, one hero - one villain - one central question with a single moral to the story. These are they keys to good stories, stories worth telling and worth watching.

Movie Trailer: Red

Like movie trailers that give away far too much? Here you go, this one's for you.

I'm on the fence here. On one hand, you have what appears to be a serious character-focused film fronted by a great actor (Brian Cox). This is the kind of film, while small and quiet, can pack quite the wallop. On the other hand, the revenge aspects of that are on display in the trailer give me pause. The film really needs to have a well plotted final act, and a strong conclusion to pull this kind of thing off. Given that the film is written by Stephen Susco who penned the adaptation The Grudge, which should have been titled The Nihilist Roach Motel (if you've seen the movie you know what I mean), the chances that this film will have a well balanced and moral ending are slim.


Return to the Movie Trailer Page

Screenwriter: Stephen Susco (The Grudge)
Director: Trygve Allister Diesen and LuckyMcKee (The Woods)
Actors: Brian Cox (The Ring), Noel Fisher (Freddie Got Fingered), Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), Kyle Gallner, and Shiloh Fernandez

Matchstick Men (2003)

Should I see it?

Nicholas Cage stars in this forgettable film about a neurotic con man who is cursed by his compulsive need to have his environment clean. There’s really not much else to talk about. You watch Cage act twitchy, not the best way to spend one's time. There are some good works mixed in with plenty of mediocre fumbling. This film seems to be up some good but the ending is so illogical that it spoils any of the positive aspects. There are good threads about guilt and family that run through the film, but they fizzle in the finale. This is too bad since the story should have delivered the goods. If you haven't seen it, no need to bother yourself with it now.

Related Reviews:
Nicholas Cage movies
National Treasure (2004)
World Trade Center (2006)

Other Critic's Reviews:
Roger Ebert

The Dark Knight (2008)

Should I see it?
If you're a sycophantic, comic fanboy: yes.
If you like big, loud, flashy, but hollow things: yes.
If you're into well structured, good movies: no.

Short Review: Its a movie about the fall of Harry Dent, his aspirations, his moral courage and his collapse into madness...oh yeah, Batman and The Joker fight in the background.

Disappointment. That's the word that swims through my head when I think of this film. I have disappointment over the opportunity that was missed. What should have been a tale of chaos versus order, good versus evil, winds up being a unfocused yarn that tries way too hard.

Disregard the gleeful, fanboys wetting their trunks claiming this is the best film ever. This simply is not as great as people desperately want it to be.

Amazingly, this film has little to do with the battle between The Joker (Heath Ledger) and Batman (Christian Bale) and has everything to do with Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Structurally speaking, Dent is the hero of the film and a tragic hero at that. Batman himself is a bystander in his own story. He doesn't drive or control any aspect of the narrative. His ch
oices do not bring about the climax. These things fall to Dent, who, if this thing was written properly, would have been a supporting member until the final moments. Dent's fall from political hero to the evil Two-Face should have been saved to set up the next film. As it is, he acts as Batman's stand-in for the whole movie.

The real shame comes with the handling of The Joker. First, he simply does not have enough screen time. Writer/Director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) has to spend so much time developing Dent that he has to sacrifice displaying The Joker. The result is the acclaimed performance by the late Heath Ledger is choppy and incomplete. The conflict between Batman and his eternal nemesis is well known to the audience and little development would be needed to get to the meaty parts of the story. Nolan, if he would have keep himself in check, could have given The Joker his due and allowed him to revel in his trickster glory. Instead, Ledger's rendition feels forced at times with his jerky speech patterns and stabbing tongue.

Opposite Ledger, Christian Bale's Batman seems like a faded copy of his former self. With nothing to do but watch those around him, this outing leaves the caped crusader sulking in the shadows. Reduced to little more than a gruff voiced prop.

Nolan's problem is the same one that tanked Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3. Having multiple villains, multiple stories, and multiple themes is like tying three baskets to the bottom of a hot air balloon and expecting it to fly. A story needs to have a singular point supported by related themes and represented by a lone conflict between an individual hero and villain. It would be nice if multi-arced stories worked, but they don't. This is the way of the world. Nolan exhausts all his time chasing down his narratives ans can't move his story forward.

Beyond the multifaceted plots, Nolan weighs the film down with obtuse referenc
es to the War on Terror. IEDs, the burning 9/11-esque wreckage, hostage videos, concerns over spying and on and on the references come. These references have a place in the film but the film is so crammed with other competing points that they aren't fully explored and only provide rude nudges to the audience.

Ridiculously, Nolan has been telling the press that the political overtones to the film are essentially unintentional:

"To be honest with you, in the writing of the films we try not to be too conscious of any political parallels or any thing that we might want to include from the real world because I think the terms of the storytelling demand that you be a step removed from today's political environment." - Christopher Nolan, Director Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight, Crave

It's fine if he wants to make these arguments, but please have the manhood to stand next to your own work. The problem here is that his War on Terror branch is wedged in and obscures the real reason for the film - to watch Batman and The Joker kick each other's back-ends across Gotham.

Overall, this is a flashy movie that is good enough to entertain. The same can be said of many films. Most people will probably find it worth their while. My stance is that it could have been a thousand times better and Nolan dropped the ball. This is not a great film. It is not even a great superhero movie. Sure it is big and it is flashy, but in the end it's nothing special.

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Movie Trailer: Flash of Genius

Could be good - could be like so many underdog stories, so weighed down by its goal of being poignant that it ends up being heavy handed. Its a good premise and the trailer plays heavy on the right aspects of the story to make it compelling. Greg Kinnear seems right for the role and the story is interesting - hope they don't overplay their hand.


Screenwriter: Philip Railsback
Director: Marc Abraham
Actors: Greg Kinnear (The Matador), Lauren Graham (Evan Almighty), Dermont Mulrony (Young Guns), and Alan Alda (Murder at 1600)
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