Category Archives: Film

Red Riding Hood and Battle: Los Angeles

You might wonder, "Russell, why are you reviewing Red Riding Hood and Battle: Los Angles in the same post?" And I would respond, "Mind your own business! This is my review!"

Okay, not really.  What I would say is that in one sense these are two diametrically opposite films, but in another, they're really quite similar.

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Russell’s 2010 Movie Wrap Up

What am I waiting for?!

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The sky is far from the limit.

There are so many things to dislike about this film, I have to address them in the order that they appear on screen.  (This review will have many spoilers.  If you want the spoiler free version, here it is: "Don't see it.  The best stuff is in the trailer.")

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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Oh, Gordon, how we’ve missed you!

(This review is kind of out of date, but I wanted to get it up before I did my year end wrap up…)

In 1987, Gordon Gekko taught us that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”  Nobody remembers the whole quote.  All they remember is “Greed is good.”  And this sequel is kind of like that memory.  It’s not as complex and engaging and filled with family drama and angst as the original.  It’s a simpler tale, told well all the same.

Gekko has done his time in prison, and is now hawking his new book which (prophetically, since this takes place in 2008) anticipates the sub-prime bust that dropped us smack dab into the Great Recession.  (Do you hate that term as much as I do?)

Gekko’s daughter Winnie (played by the remarkable Carey Mulligan) has tried to put her father’s troubles behind her, mostly by starting up a left-wing activist website with the terrible name “The Frozen Truth”.  But she certainly hasn’t backed away from Wall Street enough to, you know, leave New York.  Or not date Jake (Shia LaBeouf) who is (you guessed it) a Wall Street analyst.  And just so we are reminded of the whole Enron debacle, the screenwriters made Jake an expert in energy.

The film juggles quite a few plot balls.  Jake is on a quest to avenge the professional destruction of his mentor (Frank Langella) by a sort of mini-Gekko (Josh Brolin).  He’s trying to wean his mother (Susan Sarandon) off of her real estate tweaking.  He’s trying to marry Winnie.  He’s trying to finance the next phase of human development in laser-assisted fusion.  But all of these are secondary to his primary fascination: Gordon Gekko.

Ostensibly to help heal the rift between Gekko and his fiancé, Jake befriends Gordon.  But it’s clear from the outset that he worships the guy.  The central mystery of the film isn’t whether Jake will get the girl or destroy the bad guy or save the world.  The central mystery is whether Gekko has really been rehabilitated, whether he’ll help Jake or screw him over.

This is a pretty clever construction.  It gives all the heavy lifting to Shia, and leaves Michael Douglas to come in a few minutes at a time and be awesome.  And awesome he is.  By the climax of the film, I was really not sure which way he’d jump.  Some things he said and did were just like the Gordon of old, and others were a picture of an old man trying desperately to reconnect with anything from his pre-incarceration life.

Oliver Stone has done many superior films, not to mention some real turdballs (I’m looking at you, Natural Born Killers), but this one is, I think, certainly above average.


I can't say that the first half of "The Deathly Hallows" is a perfect movie, and it's certainly not the best of the series.  (That would go to whichever of Azkaban, Goblet, or Order I've seen most recently.)  But it's miles better than "Half-Blood Prince".

The most unfortunate thing about this film is the palpable feeling of disorientation since there's not a single scene in Hogwarts.  Harry (and, by proxy, Hermione and Ron) are outlaws, missing their final year at the wizarding school because they're on a seemingly impossible mission to find and destroy the artifacts that contain the shards of Voldemort's soul.  And in this two-and-a-half hour installment, they only manage to find one, while they also manage to lose a number of friends in the process.

The least unfortunate thing about "Deathly Hallows Part 1" is that it's almost all about our three heroes.  Ron and Hermione got short shrift in the last film, I thought, and having all three of them stuck out in the wilderness, getting on each other's nerves (and generating some big laughs in the process) is enjoyable, at least for someone who really likes these characters.

But, make no mistake, this is definitely a "Part 1".  The ending is a real low point for Harry, and a real high for You Know Who, but that only cements my desire to see "Part 2" next year.

Summer Movies 2010 on Gilligan’s Island

I was reminded recently that I haven't done a single movie review on CWSS all summer!  The horror!

Rather than shoehorn in a bunch of reviews of films which are mostly gone from theatres, I thought I'd provide a season review (along with links to a handful of reviews I wrote on my brother's website, 6throwcenter).

But, just for fun, I'm categorizing them based on which character in "Gilligan's Island" would have liked them!

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Clash of the Titans (2010)

I still have an issue with 3D film.  It seems more like a gimmick than a storytelling device.  Also, this film was retroactively made 3D, largely because of the pressure of Avatar.  So I wasn't too disappointed when I found that the theater I went to was showing the 2D version.  Though, based on my fondness for the film, I might go ahead and seek out a 3D cinema to see it again.

I was never a huge fan of the original 80's version of COTT.  It was cheesy even then, despite the appearance of Lawrence Olivier.  I knew even as a kid that Bebo (the mechanical owl) was kind of doofy.  But you have to like Medusa and, of course, the Kraken.

In the new version, many things are altered.  This time around, Perseus is not on a quest for love.  He and Andromeda share about twelve lines in the whole film.  No, Perseus has a chip on his shoulder about the Gods, and he's on a quest to increase man's fortunes in the world, and bring these dieties down a peg.  That's a strange tack for a big Hollywood film to take, but I think it works.  Since these Greek gods are shown as flawed and certainly not omnipotent, it's not like this is a tract against current religious belief (though I'm sure many people will misinterpret it as such).

There's a lot of great acting in this one.  Liam Neeson nails Zeus.  Ralph Fiennes does a not-too-Voldemorty take on Hades.  Pete Postlethwaite is his always-awesome self.  (If you doubt me, take another look at The Usual Suspects, or even The Lost World.)  I really enjoyed Alexa Davalos' performance of Andromeda.  They didn't make her some ridiculous amazon (see Keira Knightley in King Arthur for what I mean).  Neither was she a squealing damsel in distress.  She was a strong woman who was willing (though certainly not eager) to sacrifice herself for her people.

But the film lives or dies with Perseus, and Sam Worthington does the job well.  He plays that whole tortured hero thing very well.  (Really, is Perseus really that different from Marcus in Terminator Salvation, or Jake from Avatar?)  I liked that fact that he never wavered in his hatred for the Gods, even when he's forced to accept help from them.

And, of course, the effects.  They were really quite awesome.  Loved the scorpions.  Loved the Pegasus.  Loved the Kraken.  Medusa was the least impressive, as if they hadn't put the final layer of texturing on the CG model, but it wasn't enough to bounce me out of the film.

I did have a couple of quibbles.  One was the use (again) of Hades as the bad guy in the film.  This does not match with my understanding of Greek mythology.  Hades wasn't the bad guy.  They were all bad guys.  Hades was just the one living underground.  But that's a minor quibble, since the film has to have a bad guy.  The other was the heavy-handed sequel set up at the end.  I have no problem with there being a sequel.  That'd be cool.  But don't dare me to hate your movie by being so blunt!

Even so, big thumbs up!

2009 Movie Wrap Up

It occurs to me that I never did my year end list of the movies I saw in 2009 with a relative breakdown of their merits.  So, here we go:

Star Trek
InvictusThe best Eastwood film I've ever seen.  Damon and Freeman are both perfect.  A surprisingly emotional film for being about racial disharmony, politics and rugby.
District 9

Very Good
Monsters Vs. Aliens — Cute, funny, inventive.  The number of laughs they get just on the topic of scale alone would make this recommendable.
Sherlock Holmes — This deserves a full review from me, but I'm lazy.  Downey is awesome, Law is great.  The look and feel of the film is enjoyable.
The Hurt Locker — This pretty much is the example of a taut thriler.  And the hero (played by Jeremy Renner) is someone you can love and hate simultaneously.  (But mostly you love him.)
Food, Inc. — A documentary that will make you question how you eat.  And if can do that for me, you know it's good.
2012 — Loved it.  It made no sense, and it was awesome.
The Proposal
Watchmen — Wasn't quite as chock-full-of-awesome as I would have liked, but I found Billy Crudup's Dr. Manhattan and Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach to be pretty much perfection.
The Informant! – Based on a non-fiction book about the craziest anti-trust investigation in US history, Matt Damon plays the least heroic character of his career.  And (yay!) Scott Bakula is in it!
The Taking of Pelham 123
A Christmas Carol — After Polar Express and Beowulf, I was getting kind of motion-captured out.  Can't Zemeckis direct live actors anymore?  But this one is remarkably subtle for great swaths of its running time.  I could have done without the crazy chase sequences, but most of the film is remarkable and very true to the original Dickens novel.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Terminator Salvation
Ingourious Basterds
The Road Yes, it's just as bleak as the book (and the trailer) would have you believe.  Viggo Mortensen plays the best dad ever.

Surrogates — Bruce Willis as a plastic-coated robot!  Then Bruce Willis as a broken-down slob of a man!  Who wouldn't want to see that?  Does a nice job dramatizing a world filled entirely with couch potatoes.
The Men Who Stare at Goats — There's some really funny stuff, and some really dumb stuff.  The performances are good, the story is bad, so it clocks in at okay for me.
The International — The story is entirely forgettable.  (Really.  I can't remember it now.)  But that gun fight in the Guggenheim is awesome!
Fast and Furious — Never saw installments 2 or 3, but this was mildly diverting, and had some nifty car chases.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li — It's tough to categorize a film that you enjoy thoroughly because it's so terrible.  And terrible this one is.  Terrible… and awesome!  Chris Klein rules!!
Knowing — Here's what I know about this film.  Two great action sequences eclipse a ridiculous story.
The Girlfriend Experience

Okay, But Should Have Been Much Better
Angels & Demons
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
The Twilight Saga: New Moon — I really want this franchise to be good.  It just keeps not doing that.  Still, this one's an improvement over Twilight.

Kind of Bad
Whiteout — One of those "Maybe there's a supernatural component!" films that doesn't deliver.  But you get to see Kate Beckinsale in her underwear, so there's that.
Jennifer's Body — Wasn't funny enough to be a comedy, wasn't scary enough to be horror, wasn't enough skin to be sheer titillation.
Law Abiding Citizen — Over the top performances followed by over the top plot contrivances.  I hoped for better from Butler and Foxx.
My Bloody Valentine 3-D — Everything you think it'd be, based on the title.

Very, Very Bad
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Sherlock Holmes

To jump to the meat of the matter, if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and don’t insist that a movie fit every particular of stories written for an audience from the 1890s, you should see this movie. You don’t need to read any further. Stop here, get in your car and go.

In this new Sherlock Holmes film we have an updated, original story, well tied in to the original stories and historical events in numerous ways. This is no massaging of one of Sir A. C. Doyles stories, but something new written for a modern audience, not taking itself too seriously, and weaving politics, drug habits, good old anti-social behavior and a couple of love interests in, resulting in a very fun take on Holmes.

The casting is nicely done, with a great lead part for Robert Downey, Jr, Jude Law as a nicely done Dr. John Watson, and Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade. Almost across the board I found the actors/actresses nice fits for the characters.

The dark Victorian London backdrop sets the mood very well, and numerous small details of the times are very nicely worked in, such as the Central European immigrants and even the practice of copper sheathing ships that was popular at the time (yes, I’m a geek in many ways).

I hope we see a sequel or two.

Star Trek on BluRay goes great with the new HD TV

On top of all the joys of Christmas bills, this year our main TV, a 7 year old Panasonic projection screen, decided to flake. After a trip to Best Buy, and based on watching movies on the beautiful TV my father recently got, I decided it fork out for an LCD. Like I really had any choice this time around. But the price point is at least finally down far enough I did start choking looking at the price tags.

So, one Samsung LN52B630 later, courtesy of Amazon (over $200 less than Best Buy’s best price with delivery and setup included), and I’m an loving my new Star Trek. While this may not be as great a watch as the Dark Knight BluRay, which I’ve had several people tell me is the one to get, it is a beautiful movie at home. The color depth and smoothness work throughout, and even without running it through surround sound it sounds great. Two thumbs up for new TV and the movie.