Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Blade Runner: The Final Cut" Blu-ray Review

Do I really need to review this? Duh.

Score: 10/10. Buy it.

Two thoughts about the vision of November 2019 as viewed from 1982:

1. It's not gonna happen. We're eight years away and I don't think mass-produced Daryl Hannah sexbots and Off-World colonies are going to happen by then. Did they really think that 37 years from then all this would happen? Really?

B. It's amusing to see old movies presenting a vision of the future with interstellar travel, but all the computer monitors and TVs are big old CRTs. It's doubly ironic when watching on a giant flatscreen.

"The American" Blu-ray Review

George Clooney is an assassin on the run after being ambushed by Swedes on a frozen lake (that looks like it's across the lake from where Hanna and her dad's place; heh) in The American, the latest effort from noted (and IMO totally overrated) photographer Anton Corbijn.

After the attack kills his lady friend - though you'll be shocked by the circumstances of her death - he is directed by his boss to head to an isolated mountain village in northern Italy to await his next mission: To construct a custom rifle for a woman who is planning a hit of her own. While marking time, he seeks companionship at a brothel and (of course) falls in love with his favorite whore, Violante Placido, who looks like this:

I know that the guy falling for some babe whom he met the way she meets all the other guys she's boinking - by paying her - is a hoary (heh) trope, but to believe that Clooney, even with his charisma dial turned all the way to the left, needs to pay for women makes disbelief suspension difficult. Yes, he's a loner under instructions to "not make friends" and all glowering and taciturn, but it's not like he's Patton Oswalt. (Never mind the whole conceit that prostitution is a good way for women to meet nice guys who'll take them shopping, as Bongwater once observed on their The Power of Pussy album.)

With very little action, The American is a languidly-paced film to the point of bordering on boring. What keeps you awake is the lovely cinematography and compositions that are well-represented by the Blu-ray as well as copious amounts of skin from Placido. (She'll be in the Ghost Rider sequel, but I don't think she'll be as naked there.) As far as plot, it's pretty much slight enough to fit on a business card and lacking in surprises overall. Corbijn keeps the mood going, but there's simply not enough to latch on to here as the story chooses skeletal inferences over engaging characters and exposition.

As I noted above, the Blu-ray looks great, but as far as extras go, it's only got some deleted scenes (most are just extended versions) and a brief making-of featurette; I didn't listen to Corbijn's commentary track.

Score: 5/10. Rent the Blu-ray if you're inclined; otherwise catch it on cable.

Oh, those wacky Canuckians.

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" IMAX Review

Tom Cruise is back in action with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, a summer popcorn flick being released for some reason at Christmas. This also marks live-action directorial debut of Brad Bird, whose animated work includes The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

Opening with a brief confusing prologue with Josh Holloway (in what's barely a cameo) and then a rousing prison escape sequence to spring Cruise from a captivity (whose reason is doled out throughout the plot), the IMF trio of Cruise, a returning Simon Pegg, and new face Paula Patton (she was the teacher in Precious) are on the move to Moscow to sneak into the Kremlin to find out who is behind the McGuffin of stolen Russian launch codes. But the bad guys are already there and the USA is framed for blowing the place up, leaving the IMF totally disavowed and on the run. To save the world and clear their names, the three and Jeremy Renner trek to Dubai and Mumbai - it's the *bai World Tour! - to stop the bad guys (and girl) from whatever they're up to.

And that's the problem with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the same issue weak James Bond movies have: lame villains. I think the head baddie is trying to end the world for some vague pseudo-scientific reason and the sidekicks are hired guns, but why are they helping a guy bent on triggering global thermonuclear war when they'll have to live on the ruined Earth? One scene implies that one bad guy is disguised as another bad guy, but it makes no sense. Other than a oblique video clip, we never get much sense of who the bad guy is and what he wants to do. I know it's a trope to have the mustache-twirling bad guy monologue about his schemes, but M:IGP could have benefited from a bit of expository detail. (No, that's not something you stick up your butt.)

Bird's action set pieces are quite good, especially Cruise's climb up the tallest building in the world and subsequent chase in a dust storm and the final fight in an automated car-parking tower. There isn't much shaky-cam, but they could've backed the camera up to capture the geography a little. The performances are adequate, but Pegg steals every scene he's in.

I'd heard good things about the IMAX presentation and was considering dropping the $13.75 to see it at the Henry Ford IMAX Theater, but I'm sure glad I didn't.* I sat dead center about four rows from the front and the normal frame most of the movie is in was so large that when it popped to the full 1.44:1 IMAX ratio, it was well above and below the the eyeline; it didn't feel like it was drawing me in more. Perhaps if I'd sat in the back - I was in the back of the line, so those seats were taken when I got into the room - the effect would've been more acute, but seeing it in a nice big normal movie theater will suffice.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a quite acceptable action flick that puts more emphasis on the spectacle than the story and thus renders it superfluous. If you're missing the warmth of summer and want some cheap thrills, accept the mission to see it, but don't pay $14 for the ride.

Score: 7/10. Catch a matinee or dollar show at a big-screened theater.

* Because it was a free preview screening, they ran the film ahead past the previews and, most importantly, the hotly anticipated prologue from The Dark Knight Rises introducing Bane. Thanks for nothing, killjoys.

"(Tim Burton's) Alice in Wonderland" Blu-ray Review

My review for the theatrical release is here and it stands; this review covers the Blu-ray.

After our beloved PimpVision® - a 51" Sony RPTV - blew its convergence circuits two weeks ago to the day, it was time to upgrade and we ultimately went with a 60" Sharp LED set which arrived today and after some calibration looks downright snazzy. After checking out some bits and pieces of Avatar, it was time to christen it with a movie and since the lion's share of Blu-rays were at home we cracked open the Blu-ray of Alice in Wonderland. We'd seen it in 3D at the show and frankly this is the first time we properly saw it. Without having to contend with the blurry image that fast action and post-conversion brings to the tea party, details we'd totally missed before like monkeys being used as candelabras in the Red Queen's castle were noticed. It looks great. On the extras front, it's a little lightweight, but generally informative especially on the special effects front where you can marvel at how little in the way of actual sets were built. There's a whole lot of green to be seen.

If you liked the movie, definitely pick up the Blu-ray.

"Red State" Review

Kevin Smith says he's retiring after his next movie, the hockey flick Hit Somebody. Frankly, he should've quit two movies ago, thus sparing his former fans the one-two letdowns of simply awful Cop Out and now the jaw-droppingly terrible Red State. This has been Smith's passion project for over five years, something he always said was next after whatever he was making or promoting. Supposedly a horror film, the only horror is how bad it is.

A trio of horny high school boys seeking to hook up with a 38-year-old woman one met on the Internet walk into the most obvious trap ever and find themselves held captive by a family of religious weirdos with a ton of guns. (Think: Fred Phelps' godless hate mongers crossed with the Branch Davidians of Waco massacre infamy.) When a sheriff's deputy is killed at the cult's compound, the ATF arrives on the scene and things rapidly degenerate into what can only be described as government-conducted genocide. It's so unrealistic that even as satire, it stretches disbelief suspension beyond the breaking point.

Until these last two flops, my least favorite Smith film was Dogma in which I thought his ambition outstripped is directorial skills to manage his sprawling thesis, but that was his fourth movie; Red State is his tenth and other than some trademark potty talk, there is nothing which indicates this movie was made by Smith. The action direction is haphazard and mistakes shaky camera and narrow-angle shutter for kinetic technique and he is so in love with his script, he allows the sermons by Michael Parks (magnetic as the cult leader) to prattle on until I started nodding off. Less successful are the supporting performances, especially a shrill and unrecognizable Melissa Leo as one of Banks' daughters.

After the shenanigans Smith pulled at Sundance this year - retaining the distribution rights for himself to exhibit it on a road show basis to cover for the fact that no studio wanted to put it out, including longtime backers the Weinstein brothers - and the buzz about the clumsy religion-bashing, I'd been unenthusiastic about watching Red State, but nothing could've prepared be for just how bad the whole thing is.

There were several spots where I wanted to just shut it off, but gutted it out to see just how far down the elevator went. (Do I get a medal?) The characters never quite make it to being two-dimensional and thus with no one to root for and no understanding of the villains other than they be crazy inbred Jeebus rednecks,  it's just a grating endurance test. It's sad to see that Smith has crawled up his own fat ass and died, insulated from the need to make competent movies by millions of Twitter followers who will lap up whatever he gives them. Robert Rodriguez has been slipping as of late, but he hasn't slid off the cliff like Kevin Smith. Yet.

Score: 1/10. Skip it. Seriously.

"Another Earth" Review

What is an actor to do if they aren't getting good roles? They write one for themselves to star in, frequently leading to fruitful careers. Sylvester Stallone created Rocky; Matt Damon and Ben Afleck co-wrote Good Will Hunting and won an Oscar; Nia Vardalos wrote My Big Fat Greek Wedding which went on to be one of the biggest indie movies of all time. Now you can add Brit Marling to the list as the Sundance Audience Award-winning film, Another Earth, that she co-wrote with director Mike Cahill has launched her career into orbit. She's filming Robert Redford's next movie with more Oscar-winners and nominees to mention; another movie co-starring Ellen Page; and has Arbitrage, co-starring Richard Gere, already in the can. Talk about making your own breaks!

Marling stars as Rhoda, a brilliant young woman - she was accepted to MIT at age 13 - who gets drunk at a party and crashes into another car, killing a pregnant woman and young child, leaving the composer husband in a coma. She gets four years in prison and when she gets out requests a menial job as a high school janitor. She's isolated from the world, but decides to reach out to the man whose life was destroyed by her careless driving. She intends to apologize, but chickens out and pretends to be offering a home cleaning service trial. Over time, she brings order to his life as well as his house, but he doesn't know who she is - as a minor, her records were sealed.

Lurking overhead is the weakest aspect of the movie, the titular other Earth. If you watch the trailer below, you'd think that this mirror planet and the possibility of duplicates of us all is the major plot, but it's a fraction of the story that if it wasn't around, would hardly change the main story of redemption and healing. I wonder if some of the acclaim Another Earth has garnered is because of this superfluous detail, much as the Oscar-nominated nothingburger The Kids Are Alright glossed over its banal plot by making the leads boring lesbians instead of boring heterosexuals. (If you've seen it, I explore the biggest goof the other Earth premise doesn't handle below.)

I had a hard time warming up to Another Earth, but my girlfriend really loved it. I didn't think the relationship between the man - well-played by William Mapother (who will always have "Tom Cruise's half-brother" tag following him around) - and Marling really felt right and the contrived way he doesn't know this woman killed his family makes the inevitable revelation feel formulaic. The look of the film belies its low-budget origins a little too much as well. I also found the way the planets contact each other to be ludicrous. If you knew this other planet was there, you wouldn't try to contact them or send probes for YEARS?!?

While I seem hard on Another Earth, it's not because it's a bad movie but rather because I didn't connect with it; it's just too slight when it could've been more profound. It's a little movie, but that's no excuse for not having bigger ideas.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.


The theme of the movie is that the mirroring of the two Earths diverged when they became aware of each other as shown in the very last shot as the other, clearly more successful Rhoda appears. Now if that means the other Rhoda didn't ruin her life with a car crash AND still had the winning entry in the contest (what would've been her essay?) and came here, then it follows that Mapother's family is intact over there, INCLUDING DADDY! What's going to happen when he travels over to be with his not dead family and finds that they already have a father in the form of their version of him?

"The Ides of March" Review

The Ides of March had Oscar-bait written all over it: Directed and co-written by Oscar-winner George Clooney, starring fellow winners Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and nominees Ryan Gosling (who has starred in one of every three movies released in 2011) and Paul Giamatti, it should've been a slam dunk for nominations, but pretty much sank without a trace at the box office, shrugged off by the critics? What happened?

Gosling is a hot shot campaign consultant to Clooney, the Democrat (what else?) governor of Pennsylvania who is running for President and whose campaign is working on Ohio. Clooney's candidate is such a paragon of liberal tropes that he makes Obama look like a grubby Republican and if a conservative filmmaker was making this movie, it would've been an obvious satire of the Utopian blather Democrats spew. (e.g. Clooney says that we can prevent wars in the Middle East by having cars that don't use oil, so if elected he will command that all cars in a decade be alternative energy only, as if all that's holding this magical rainbow and unicorn fart-powered dream cars from happening is a lack of some emperor-wizard decreeing it be done.) For all his awesomeness, though, the nomination isn't in the bag as his undefined primary opponent whom we're told no one likes is still challenging, so he desperately needs the endorsement and delegates held by Jeffrey Wright, who isn't letting them go without extracting a plum gig for himself.

Gosling adores Clooney - he's a True Believer - but he's getting nibbles from the opposing camp and takes a meeting with Giamatti, which pisses off Hoffman and sets off a chain of events that intertwine with a scandal skeleton in Clooney's closet that eventually leads to an actual body being found. As Gosling sinks into the mud, his determination to drag everyone else down with him leads to an underwhelming conclusion.

The problem with The Ides of March isn't it's lefty politics - to hear howlers about how the poor decent meek Democrats need to learn how to fight dirty like the mean old Republicans and for left-wing looney bin MSNBC to be shown as a legit news outfit was to be expected going in - but how dull the scandal is and how it reflects on the characters. I suspect that Clooney and company wanted to make a statement about how politics corrodes the souls of good men, but they're too in love with government and power to make the indictment stick. (It's be like me trying to make a movie about how pizza and hot Asian babes are killing baby pandas and that's a bad thing.) A scorched-earth artist like Paddy Chayefsky (whose Network is my 2nd favorite film of all time and still rings true 35 years later) would've argued that evil men go into politics because they're too fat for robbing gas stations.

The performances are all top-notch, if not Oscar-grade, though I'm still baffled as to why Gosling is so adored. He just comes off too blank for me. Clooney is a good director and the script adapted from a play is OK, but the way the story loses gravitas when it should be upping the stakes and the makers unwillingness to really put their politics under an unbiased magnifying glass just makes the compelling parts of the plot less so.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Act of Valor" Review

Act of Valor is getting a lot of push well ahead of its Presidents Day weekend release next year - February 17 24, 2012 - from conservative media and it's easy to see why. The military for the past decade has been almost universally smeared by Hollyweird as crazed Rambos, stupid redneck racist gun freaks, poor minorities and general victims of the corporations that supposedly pulled Dubya's strings to go to war for oil or whatever madness the Left spews. Other than Michael Bay, who (in the words of an AICN writer) "shoots military hardware like porn" and makes icons of our soldiers, we've been treated to a decade of screeds like In the Valley of Elah and Redacted which used our fighting men and women as props to vent their hatred for America. (It must do some grunt proud to know he's wearing 80 lbs. of gear in 120F heat in Jihadistan so that Susan Sarandon can sit comfy in Manhattan believing that he's a time bomb waiting to go off.)

What makes Act of Valor different is that instead of the usual running actors through a mini-boot camp to get them into a semblance of looking and acting like soldiers, the filmmakers have used actual Navy SEALs to portray a fictional story and the result plays out like a fusion of Tom Clancy novels and the Call of Duty video games. Frequently slick and exciting, but somewhat awkward dramatically, Act of Valor has to be graded on a slight curve.

After a terrorist bombing in the Philippines kills the U.S. Ambassador, a female CIA operative in Costa Rica is abducted by a Chechnyan drug and weapons runner's outfit and brutally tortured in the jungle. The SEALs rescue her in the film's best action sequence and uncover evidence of a much larger, scarier plot to infiltrate jihadists with new undetectable suicide vests through drug smuggling tunnels on the Mexican border. As the plot grows, the SEALs trot the globe to hunt down the bad guys and save America.

The action scenes are the best as the SEALs precisely execute their maneuvers while coping with sometimes incredible odds. While I don't doubt the mad skillz of SEALs, the bad guy body counts and sheer percentage of head shots is more videogame than anything. The Call of Duty parallels continue with some nifty first-person views where we see the view through the holo sights and they use graphics to mark the transitions from place to place. If you've played the games, you'll recognize the style.

Where the movie suffers is in asking the SEALs to act in service of some of the hoariest tropes. The lieutenant looks like Peyton Manning and acts about as well as Manning does in commercials. The Charlie Sheen spoof of Top Gun, Hot Shots, made fun of Goose's doomed fate with a character named "Dead Meat" and it's unfortunate that we are able to predict immediately who is going to die. It's not spoiling when if you've seen one movie about a soldier with a baby on the way back home, you can tell what's going to happen. They even have a bit referring to foreshadowing which is too meta for the material.

This is where Act of Valor frustrated me: On one hand, the action is visceral and thrilling - I told the girl taking comments afterward that it was more exciting than Chicago being destroyed in the last Transformers movie - and allowing for some Hollywoodization, it's interesting to see the cool efficiency of the SEALs. (Unlike another Charlie Sheen movie.) The story is Clancyesque, but there are some intriguing aspects to the relationship between the bad guys as childhood friends grow radically apart. That said, the movie rides a wobbly line between pseudo-documentary grit and slick popcorn audience-pleasing and somewhat mawkish emotion in spots. Much of the cinematography is beautiful - really lovely and worthy of a Bay film - and the direction and editing is clear, but there were places that I wished a more traditional storytelling hand was steering things.

One thing that may've slanted my perceptions was at the screening there was a short introductory clip from the directors discussing the movie and how a few bits were done. I love behind-the-scenes stuff on DVDs, but seeing it before the movie made me think throughout about how what I was seeing was made and wondering what was really realistic and what was pumped up for entertainment. There were also no end credits or music; the film just ends. The film may undergo some final tweaks in the 2-1/2 months before it releases, but it looks finished to me.

The boosters of Act of Valor are pushing the great respect our brave fighters are shown. As I said, a decade of bashing has made it long overdue for some positive portrayals of the warriors who keep film critics like me safe to watch movies, but that doesn't mean the film doesn't have some rough edges. I suspect the liberal media will bash it as jingoism and the conservative media will hail it as the Greatest. Movie. Ever. If you want to make a statement of support for movies that don't hate the troops, then by all means hit a matinee and tell Hollyweird what you're willing to shell out your hard-earned cash for, not that they care. If you're less motivated to activism, it's worth watching later.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

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