Thursday, April 4, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert (1942 - 2013)

As long as I can remember watching movies I remember watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on their show At the Movies. Though I was only ten years old at the time I remember when Gene Siskel died in 1999. While things were never the same without Siskel, Roger Ebert soldiered on and the reviews continued. The internet made Ebert more accessible than ever to his fans, especially since he was a regular Twitter user. For the past few years I made it a weekly habit to check Roger Ebert's website and read his latest reviews. Despite Ebert's failing health due to his battle with cancer, we got one final review from Roger Ebert just last week: The Host. While it's too bad that his last review had to be of a movie he didn't really like (2.5 out of 4 stars), this is a reminder that Roger Ebert watched and reviewed all kinds of movies in his lifetime. Before I write about a film on this blog I usually look it up on Roger Ebert's website or the video repository of At the Movies episodes at to see what he thought about it. I am able to his to find his reviews for the most of the movies I watch!

Roger Ebert was not just a great film critic but a wonderful writer and a very funny man. Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and also the first to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Roger Ebert entered the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest for years. Although he didn't win until 2011 his submissions were always great. His voice appearance with Gene Siskel on the animated TV show The Critic (see above picture) is absolutely hilarious. Ebert's reviews of bad movies were often very funny and sometimes I looked forward to reading them more than his reviews of good movies! Here are a few of my favorite quotes Roger Ebert reviews:

"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica."
"Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo makes a living cleaning fish tanks and occasionally prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie."
"Young men: If you attend this crap with friends who admire it, tactfully inform them they are idiots. Young women: If your date likes this movie, tell him you've been thinking it over, and you think you should consider spending some time apart." - Battle: Los Angeles
"If you recall the lore from the earlier films, you'll know that marriage to Edward means Bella must become a vampire herself, which any groupie who has slept with Gene Simmons will understand." - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

The best moments on At the Movies were usually when Siskel and Ebert disagreed with each other. The episode with the Full Metal Jacket vs. Benji the Hunted argument is a classic since it is not only funny but also brings up some good points about film criticism such as expectations of the viewer and the fairness of comparing different types of films to each other. It was very amusing when one of them had an unpopular opinion, such as Gene gushing over Carnosaur or Roger praising Cop and a Half.

Although I love Roger Ebert there have been many times when I disagreed with him. Ebert gave 2 stars to A Clockwork Orange and undervalued The Thing and Blade Runner. On the flip side Roger gave Anaconda 3 and a half stars and liked the first Transformers movie. In my review of My Bloody Valentine I discussed how both Siskel and Ebert viewed the glut of early 1980s slasher movies as the result of an anti-female sentiment from the creators and fans of these films. I think that simple answer for why we saw so many of these movies was that Halloween and Friday the 13th were very popular and it was cheap to make movies in a similar vein that would turn a quick profit.

Even when I have a differing opinion from Roger Ebert, I still feel that like its having a debate with a friend. Part of this is because he and Siskel used the medium of television to come into our homes. Instead of just telling us about a scene the two could actually show it to us to prove their points. Later on Roger Ebert would use the internet to welcome film goers into the discussion by being active on Twitter and having open comments for people to voice their opinions on his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times. Even Ebert's reviews include the rating of his readers right next to his own. While websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have a similar feature, it isn't quite the same as you are comparing your score not to another person, but an aggregate of critics. With Roger Ebert it felt like I was having a conversation with a friend about films, despite never having met the man. This personal connection to everyday people was very important and part of the reason he is so beloved by many film fans.

Watching films from now on will be a bit different for me. I'll still have the old reviews and videos but whenever a new movie comes out I will wonder "What Would Roger Ebert have thought of this film?"
Before I got overwhelmed with other commitments I made it a point to seek out films on Roger Ebert's Great Movies List and write about them on this blog. Although no more movies will be added to this list, I will make an effort to see as many of them as I can when I get the chance.
Roger Ebert was always entertaining and his enthusiasm for film was contagious. Thumbs up and four stars to a fantastic film critic, writer, and movie lover.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Animation Week - Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The fourth and final animated film of this week is not based on a comic or any pre-existing material. Atlantis: The Lost Empire doesn't feel like your typical Disney film as it's not based on a children's story, has no musical numbers, and is rated PG. While this is certainly is not a bad thing, I think the change in tone was why Atlantis got a cool reception from critics and audiences during its original release. Atlantis is about linguist Milo Thatch, who tries to finish what his grandfather started and find the lost civilization of Atlantis. An eccentric millionaire who was a friend of Milo's grandfather funds the expedition and puts together an intrepid crew for the voyage.

Atlantis mixes traditional animation with CGI. The animation still looks quite good after more than ten years. I liked the steam punk style as its not something you see everyday and works as a contrast to the more magical world of Atlantis. Michael J. Fox does a good job as usual headlining the cast as our protagonist, Milo. The expedition crew is full of interesting, diverse, and fun characters. My favorite was Vinny (played by comedian Don Novello, best known for his Father Guido Sarducci character), the Italian demolition expert who loves to blow stuff up. The rest of the voice cast includes everyone from James Garner to Leonard Nimoy to Jim Varney!
The story of Atlantis is simple and predictable as its not that far off from Fern Gully, Pocahontas, or even Avatar. But overall the movie is still enjoyable thanks to its art and characters. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is worth a watch though probably not something I'll feel the need to revisit.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Animation Week - Persepolis (2007)

No Batman this time, but Persepolis is another movie based on a comic book. It might seem like a weird follow up but this is oddly appropriate for me since Batman: Year One and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi were two of the first comics or graphic novels I ever read and both made me appreciate the form. I didn't read these until I was near the end of high school and already thought of comics as either kids stuff or only featuring super heroes. Both surprised me and opened me up to a lot of stuff I would not have read otherwise. Getting back to the film, Persepolis is a coming of age story based on the real life experiences of author and artist Marjane Satrapi growing up in Iran in the 1970s and early 80s. As Marjane or "Marji" gets older she clashes with the ideals of the Islamic Fundamentalists in power. This eventually leads her to leave her country to study in Vienna before returning to her home years later. The movie is a French language film and I watched it with subtitles. I kinda want to see the dubbed version sometime though because the English language cast includes Sean Penn and Iggy Pop!

The comic Persepolis is made up of two separate books, while the movie covers the story of both. I've actually only read the first book, which ends with Marjane leaving Iran for college. Persepolis is a pretty accurate adaptation despite being condensed since it has to cover the material of two books. I can understand why this choice was made but still think it would've made more sense to make one movie for each book. The animation looks pretty much just like the comic. Even though some parts of the story were cut it did feel like I was paging through the comic again. I still need to read Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return but so I can't say how close on an adaptation that part of the movie is. But if it is like the first half then it is pretty close but just leaves out some less important parts of time. Persepolis was nominated for Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2007 but lost to Ratatouille. I recommend both the book and the movie. If you've read the book you'll appreciate the film as a good adaptation and if you've seen the movie but want a longer version of the story then check out the comics.

Next up: Animation week concludes with a film that is not based on a comic or an adaptation.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Animation Week - Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Batman: Under the Red Hood
Batman appears yet again in animation week! Unlike The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and 2, Batman: Under the Red Hood is based on the comics but is not a direct adaptation. Instead, the film features a new story that is influenced by the comics such as the "A Death in the Family" story arc (which I have read) and the "Under the Hood" storyline. The basic plot is that a new vigilante called the Red Hood arrives in Gotham City five years after the death of the last Robin, Jason Todd. Unlike Batman, the Red Hood has no qualms with using guns or killing and starts taking down the criminals of Gotham.

I enjoyed Under the Red Hood a bit more than The Dark Knight Returns movies simply because I didn't really know what would happen. The identity of the Red Hood was pretty obvious but the character and his interactions with the Joker, Black Mask, and Batman were compelling and led to an interesting conclusion. The mixing up of characters and events into a new story worked great as it allows both new and old fans to jump right in while still having some surprises along the way. The voice work was solid all around with Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing), and veteran voice actor John DiMaggio as the Joker as stand-outs. Like The Dark Knight Returns, Under the Red Hood is another very good movie from the DC Animated Universe. I look forward to whatever they have in store next.

Tomorrow: Yet another movie based on a comic, though it does not feature Batman or any super heroes.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Animation Week - Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (2013)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
Back in October I saw and reviewed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, so now its time to discuss Part 2. This is also the first movie I have seen released in 2013. It is direct-to-video but that still counts!
Most of what I wrote for Part 1 applies here so I'll keep this post short. The Joker plays a major role this time and I liked how he was handled. Voice actor Michael Emerson did a good job of fitting his character of the story instead of simply trying to be like Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, or Heath Ledger. I appreciated that he tried to do something knew while fitting with the depiction of the character in the comic and it worked out great.

Like Part 1, the second part gets rid of any monologues in order to make it more cinematic. While I appreciate this technique, it did change Superman's character. I think there could have been a way to explain Superman's motivations better while still not using monologues. Someone who has not read the original story could read Superman's story arc pretty differently from somebody has read Frank Miller's comic. But overall both parts were a very good adaptation of the comic to the screen. I need to read the comic again, but honestly after watching these I kind of feel like I already have! I'll be looking forward to any future DC animated movies done by this production team.

Next up: More Batman!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Schedule Update: Animation Week!

My finals are over so in my week off it's time to do some catching up before I get busy again with classes and work. I noticed that about a third of the movies I still need to do write-ups for are animated so that is the theme for this week! To give a hint as to what is coming up without spoiling the surprises, I will be covering two theatrical releases and two direct-to-video animated films. All four have been released since 2001. I've never done a theme week before so this should be fun. Who knows, I may plan on doing something like this again!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

I've been busy with work and classes so expect future posts to be brief. I'll still try to get a couple posts up each month but I won't get back on track until the summer.

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
I've never played the board game Dungeons & Dragons and this movie doesn't want to make me try it any time soon. Of course to be fair I'm sure this movie is nothing like the game.
Dungeons & Dragons features one dungeon scene and little screen time for the dragons so it doesn't really live up the its title. I came into the movie expecting a generic sub-par PG-13 fantasy movie and it was still disappointing.
Thora Birch is dressed up as a cross between the child-like Empress from The Neverending Story and Queen Amidala from Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Despite being an empress, Birch's character doesn't have a lot to do and isn't in the movie much despite being one of the bigger names in the cast. Oscar winner Jeremy Irons plays the main villain, Profion, but like Birch has less screen time than expected. The scenes with Irons as funny because he hams it up, a welcome respite how unentertaining the rest of the movie is. Profion has an evil henchman named Damodar (played by Bruce Payne) who is just as over the top as Irons. I won't even get into the lead actors (which include Marlon Wayans) as I just found them boring, like much of the movie.
Dungeons & Dragons feels like a TV movie despite having a $45 million budget. I'm surprised this poor film got released in theaters but not surprised at all that it was a box office bomb. Director Courtney Solomon managed to survive this disaster as he later directed An American Haunting (2005) and has a film coming out this year titled Getaway starring Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez. I wouldn't be shocked if we saw a future movie with the Dungeons & Dragons title to cash-in on the board game, especially since increased popularity of fantasy films (The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter) and TV shows (Game of Thrones) in the last decade. Hey, it couldn't be much worse than this one!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Killing of Satan (1983)

The Killing of Satan (1983)
There are some bad movies that need to be seen to be believed. As one would expect from such a ridiculous title, The Killing of Satan is a perfect fit for this category. The Killing of Satan is a Filipino horror/fantasy exploitation movie about Christianity and the dangers of the devil. Despite the obvious religious themes this movie features plenty of violence, nude women, and snakes (which I hope were rubber) being slapped then tied into knots. One of the most memorable scenes involves a guy running in front of a boulder for some reason then getting crushed by it. Our main character is named Lando but he is nothing like Lando Calrissian as he uses Catholic magic to fight demons and eventually Satan himself in a silly final battle! Despite the poor filmmaking, bizarre moments (which can be seen on YouTube), and obvious heavy handedness, The Killing of Satan is certainly memorable and not as boring as I was expecting for strange z-grade cinema. Bad movie aficionados like myself will have some fun with the material and add The Killing of Satan to their list of conquered films while average movie goers simply won't believe this really exists.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Films I am looking forward to in 2013

2012 is over so it's time to look ahead to movies coming out in 2013! This list is in no particular order and I'm sure I'll add films to it as the year goes on. This is my last list post until next year. My next posts will be catching up on movies I saw the last two months.

My most anticipated movie of 2013 was Charlie Kauffman's satirical musical-comedy about Hollywood, Frank or Francis. Although the project got put on hold I'm still looking forward to the film whenever it comes out. Now let's look at some movies that will indeed be released in 2013.

The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam is one of my favorite directors and I'm very happy that he will be directing another film since he was considering retirement earlier.
The Zero Theorem will be Gilliam's most recent film since The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and the cast includes Christopher Waltz, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, and David Thewlis.

Pacific Rim
The next film by Guillermo del Toro (director of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth among others),
Pacific Rim is about humans in huge robot suits fighting off giant alien monsters.

I loved Neill Blomkamp's feature film debut District 9 and am looking forward to his second movie Elysium, which stars Matt Damon.

Voyage of Time

2011's The Tree of Life featured some fantastic scenes depicting the the history of the universe. Voyage of Time is an IMAX documentary expanding upon those scenes.

Upstream Color
Director Shane Carruth's first film was the low budget (only $7,000!) time travel movie Primer in 2004. It has taken almost ten years but I'm looking forward seeing
Upstream Color, Carruth's second film.

The next film from director Alfonso Cuaron is
Gravity, a sci-fi movie about astronauts trying to return to Earth. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are set to star. I still need to see Cuaron's Children of Men.

Iron Man 3
I have really enjoyed the Marvel Studios movies so far and am looking forward to see what is next with their first post-Avengers flick.

Thor: The Dark World

While I liked Thor I feel that it is the weakest of the Marvel Studios films so far. I have high hopes for Thor: The Dark World since I think it can improve upon the original and focus on the fantasy setting.

Man of Steel

After the successful reinvention of the Batman franchise it makes sense that Superman is getting a reboot as well. Zack Synder (300, Watchmen) will direct while the screenplay is written by David Goyer (The Dark Knight).

I'm a big baseball fan so I'm looking forward to this biopic about Jackie Robinson. It seems to be in good hands as the screen writer and director is Brian Helgeland who wrote L.A. Confidential (Oscar winner for best screenplay based on previous material) and Mystic River. Harrison Ford will play Branch Rickey, though before he was cast I was wondering if they would go with John Goodman. The real Branch Rickey looked like a combination of the two!

Ender's Game
Ender's Game is the film adaptation of the science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. Like 42, it also features Harrison Ford. I still need to read the book sometime, hopefully before I watch the movie.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Despite the clunky title I'm looking forward to this sequel to the rebooted Star Trek. I liked the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek but wasn't a fan of the Romulan villain, Nero (played by Eric Bana). Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing a human villain, though it is still not clear if he is playing a new or pre-existing character.

I'm not a huge Tom Cruise fan but this Sci-fi flick had a mysterious trailer that caught my attention. And to top it off Morgan Freeman is in it!

Maps to the Stars
Director David Cronenberg is teaming up with actor Robert Pattinson again for
Maps to the Stars, a drama about actors, agents, and managers who work in Hollywood.

Spike Jonze's next film, Her, is a comedy about a lonely writer played by Joaquin Phoenix.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I still need to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey but I really liked Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Although Oz the Great and Powerful looks along the lines of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, I'm a big enough Sam Raimi fan to still want to watch it. Plus I can't wait to see Bruce Campbell's cameo!

Evil Dead

Speaking of Sam Raimi, he and Bruce Campbell are producing a remake of his 1981 film, The Evil Dead. Although I love Army of Darkness I actually still need to get around to watching the first two. The Evil Dead remake doesn't feature the Ash character which I think is a good move. There were rumors that Bruce Campbell will have a cameo but that remains to be seen.

Based on the Dark Horse comic book which I never read, 
R.I.P.D. (Rest in Police Department) is about a recently murdered police officer who joins the supernatural undead police department while trying to find out who killed him. I've never read the comics but the story sounds interesting.

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters

The trailer for this movie looks like it will be a silly, fun action movie. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the title characters in this re-imaging of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

2014 movies:

Mad Max: Fury Road
From what I understand director George Miller's fourth Mad Max film will be pushed back from a late 2013 release to sometime in 2014. I've been waiting a while for
Fury Road so I can wait a little longer. Tom Hardy will be playing Max this time.

Like the previous film I had been looking forward to
Interstellar for a while as a future movie by director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg recently handed off the director's chair to Christopher Nolan, whose brother Jonathan Nolan wrote the script.

Which of these films are you looking forward to? Are there any other movies coming out in 2013 that I should be aware of?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2012 films I still want to see

Box office revenues trended up this year, though most likely due to the weight of several tent-pole franchise movies. I still need to see a lot of films that came out in 2012 so here is my list with some brief reasons for why I want to see these movies.

All nine Best Picture nominees
I wanted to see most of these films before the Oscar nominations were announced anyway. Now I have even more of a reason to see them.

All Best Animated film nominees
Like the best picture candidates I wanted to see most of these earlier but didn't get around to it. I don't see a clear Oscar winner in this bunch which makes me even more curious about them.

The Cabin in the Woods

I like already like Joss Whedon's work and have heard good things about this apparently meta horror movie.

I loved Casino Royale and liked Quantum of Solace despite finding it a bit disappointing. Skyfall has gotten a more positive buzz so I need to get around to watching it.

I actually liked the 1995 Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie, perhaps because I didn't have any expectations and never read the comics. Unlike its predecessor, Dredd received good reviews so I'll have to check it out on Blu-ray sometime. Both films failed at the box office so we probably won't see a sequel to Dredd.

The Raid: Redemption
Like Dredd, The Raid is an action movie that has our main character fight his way through a giant building of enemies. The Raid: Redemption generally had a positive reception, though Roger Ebert criticized the film for having little plot and being like watching video game fights.

I'm a big David Cronenberg fan so of course I want to see his latest film. I'm curious to see how Robert Pattinson does in a non-Twilight or Harry Potter role.

The Woman in Black
Speaking of Harry Potter, I am interested in seeing Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Potter role. The Woman in Black seems to be an old-fashioned ghost story, which is refreshing considering most horror movies these days.

Cloud Atlas
From the Wachowski Brothers comes an ambitious sci-fi film taking place in several different but connected time periods.

Moonrise Kingdom
I've never actually seen a Wes Anderson film but have heard good things and like a lot of the actors in the cast (Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand).

The Master
I haven't seen a Paul Thomas Anderson movie yet either. Three different actors from The Master received Oscar nominations.

Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hardy in a movie about Prohibition-era bootleggers? Count me in! I'm not a big fan of Shia LaBeouf but I'm sure he has better material to work with here than in the Transformers movies.

Robot & Frank
The trailer for this little sci-fi movie piqued my interest. It is about an older man (Frank Langella) who tries to pull of a heist with the help of his robot companion.

Seven Psychopaths
Here is another movie whose trailer grabbed me. Seven Psychopaths his a crim film with an awesome cast (Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton) that also looks hilarious. Seven Psychopaths is only the second film from director Martin McDonagh, who has already won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film and was nominated for Best Screenplay for his first feature film, In Bruges.

I'm a fan of Alfred Hitchcock and generally enjoy movies about making movies so I want to see this film about the making of Psycho.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I never read the books but enjoyed Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies.

I'm not a big fan of found footage movies but Chronicle seems to put a new spin on the genre with its story about teens who gain special abilities. Chronicle has also gotten good reviews and did well at the box office.

V/H/S is not only a found footage movie but also a horror anthology film. Although it has gotten a mixed reception (not unlike many anthology and found footage movies) I have to give the creators credit for the concept as I don't think this type of combination had been done before.

Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed may be the first movie based on a newspaper ad. The ad is now an old joke but asked for volunteers to go back in time who must bring their own weapons. When I originally heard about this project I thought it would be a crazy off the wall action comedy but instead the trailer looks more low-key and subdued. Still, I'm interested to see where exactly they went with this idea.

Have you seen any of these films? Are there any 2012 movies you have seen not on this list to recommend me?

Next up:  Films I am looking forward to in 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012 movie Round-up and Oscar nominations

I only saw a few new movies in 2012 so this post is going combine what I saw with some thoughts on this year's Oscar nominations which just came out today. I still need to write more detailed reviews about a few of these films but I wanted to put my ratings and some brief thoughts for all of them in one post. You can click on the 2012 or individual tags to see longer reviews of each movie. These films are organized from my highest to lowest scores, but I'm not really ranking them against each other. I will do a follow-up post listing 2012 movies I still want to get see as well as a look at the winners of the 85th Academy Awards after the ceremony in late February.

The Avengers
My favorite movie of the year, The Avengers was simply a blast to watch as a comic book truly coming to life on the big screen. It was fun to see the build-up of the Marvel movies have a fantastic pay-off and Joss Whedon did a great job as usual with the characters and dialogue. I'm looking forward to whatever comes next with phase two of the Marvel movies. The Avengers received an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

The Dark Knight Rises
Despite some pacing issues and a couple of plot holes, I thought that The Dark Knight Rises was the perfect conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. I'm surprised that it didn't receive any Oscar nominations since it was the last in this series. Perhaps the Academy felt justified after The Dark Knight received two Oscars. Still, I feel that the great score by Hans Zimmer deserved to be recognized, especially after the Inception score got snubbed from winning two years ago. Despite nine Oscar nominations, Zimmer has won only one time (The Lion King). I wouldn't have minded an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Michael Caine either.


Looper was basically this year's Source Code: An original sci-fi movie featuring time travel made by an up-and-coming director that came out of nowhere to be a surprise commercial and critical success. When it comes to plot the films are quite different of course. Looper borrows from other time travel movies (The Terminator, 12 Monkeys, Donnie Darko, Primer) but manages to put a new spin on things despite having some of the typical story problems that occur with time travel. I greatly appreciated that unlike the trailers for most recent movies Looper didn't give much of the film away. Rian Johnson did a superb job as the director and he had a solid cast to work with featuring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, and Emily Blunt.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
The lone documentary I saw this year, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and his clashes with the Chinese government. I thought that this might get an Oscar nomination but it didn't happen. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was a nice debut film from director Alison Klayman. However, Ai Weiwei is such an interesting figure that I think anybody could point the camera at him and get something worth watching.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
Not to be confused with Nolan's conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Returns is an animated direct-to-video adaptation of the Frank Miller comic of the same name. As a fan of the comic I felt the movie was a worthy cinematic re-telling of the story while still accessible to those who hadn't read the graphic novel.


Despite being a commercial success and receiving generally good reviews from critics, the fanboys tore Prometheus apart. Although Prometheus certainly has its flaws, I still quite liked it as a positive step in a new direction for the Alien franchise. The aspects of Prometheus that work do so quite well (production design, special effects, costumes, acting), so despite some story and writing problems I don't think it's fair to throw out the baby with the bath water. Prometheus looked stunning in IMAX 3D and Michael Fassbender did a stand-out job as the android David. I'm looking forward to the announced sequel and it will be interesting to see if the fan reception to Prometheus changes over the years. I still need to re-watch it on Blu-ray and am especially curious about the deleted scenes.

Guy Pearce steals the show in Lockout with an entertaining performance. There is also a heavy Escape from New York/L.A. vibe which I enjoyed as a John Carpenter fan since it's probably as close as we'll ever get to another Snake Plissken movie. Lockout is your typical action B-movie but Pearce (whose character's personality is different from Plissken) makes it worth watching.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Like Looper and Lockout, I still haven't gotten around to finishing my post on this movie yet so get ready to read it in the next couple of weeks. Although I liked The Amazing Spider-Man and thought it was well made, it was tough for me to distance it from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies which I found more memorable and fun.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack

Jersey Shore Shark Attack was a TV-movie that aired on the Syfy Channel before getting released on DVD and Blu-ray. While this was by far the worst movie I saw this year, it was fun despite being boring at times and having some jokes didn't work. The concept would've been better as a five minute YouTube video but I guess there must've been some money to be made with a movie that is both a Jersey Shore cash-in and a Jaws knock-off. I love Goodfellas so it was fun to see Tony Sirico and Paul Sorvino together again. I'd still rather watch Jersey Shore Shark Attack than the worst 2011 movie I saw, the bland Season of the Witch. Of course the worst movie I've seen of the new decade is still Birdemic!

The only movies I saw that received Oscar nominations this year were Prometheus and The Avengers, both for Best Visual Effects. So instead of going through every category like I did last year I'm just going to give some general thoughts on the Oscar nominations for the 85th Academy Awards.

The Oscar nominations made history this year as we have both the oldest Best Actress nominee (85 year old Emmanuelle Riva for Amour) and youngest Best Actress nominee (9 year old Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild).

It is normal for Oscar contenders to be released in the second half of the year in order to stay better in the memory of Academy voters. However, I noticed that the Best Picture nominees took this to the extreme this year as four of the nine were released in December (Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty), two in November (Life of Pi and Lincoln), and one in October (Argo). Only Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild came out before October and both of those didn't have wide U.S. releases anyway. In 2011 four of the ten Best Picture candidates were released in the U.S. before October (Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Help, The Tree of Life), and only two (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and War Horse) in December. Maybe it was just a fluke this year or perhaps Hollywood is releasing these movies later to grab the attention of voters. Either way, it is clear that the Best Picture candidates tend to get released in the second half of the year. The only movie I can think of off the top of my head that got released early in a year but still ended up winning Best Picture was The Silence of the Lambs, released in February of 1991.

One of the Best Picture nominees this year is the Austrian film Amour. Since Amour is also up for the Best Foreign Language film I think it is safe to say that it has already won that category even if it doesn't win Best Picture. The same sort of thing happened a few years ago when Toy Story 3 was nominated for Best Picture and Best Animated Feature.

On a similar note, most films that win Best Director also win Best Picture. This year four prominent directors (Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and Quentin Tarantino) were not nominated for Best Director despite their movies getting Best Picture consideration. Therefore it is unlikely that Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, or Django Unchained will win Best Picture. It is also interesting to note that Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper are both coming off films that won Best Picture (The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech) three and two years ago respectively. It seems that the Academy is not going to let these directors have a Best Picture repeat. Both Affleck and Tarantino have won Oscars for writing but not directing. Affleck is still seeking a Best Director nomination while Tarantino has been nominated in that category twice with Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds

Although it is unlikely that the Oscars will add any categories soon, I'd love to see films be able to get nominated for Best Scene, Best Trailer, and Best Opening/Closing credits sequence to mix things up a bit.

Next up: 2012 films I still want to see

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Night of the Lepus (1972)

Night of the Lepus (1972)
I've wanted to see Night of the Lepus out of sheer curiosity after I first heard about it thanks to The Matrix. A brief clip of Night of the Lepus is shown in that film when Neo is at the Oracle's house in the room with the kid bending spoons with his mind. I had to know why there was a movie with giant rabbits running around a town! I finally got around to seeing it and it met my low expectations. As you can see by the above poster, the marketing campaign for this film tried to hide the fact that it is about giant killer bunnies. Clearly they knew audiences at the time would find it ridiculous and the premise of huge mutated bloodthirsty rabbits hasn't gotten any better with age.

Night of the Lepus
was directed by William F. Claxton, who mainly did TV work for shows such as The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, and Little House on the Prairie. This isn't surprising as Lepus looks and feels like a TV movie, not a theatrical release. The film is based on the 1964 novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit. Apparently the book takes place in Australia, which makes more sense than the film's setting of Arizona given the problems that country has had with rabbits as an invasive species. I guess there is a bit of commentary on animal testing as that is what causes the rabbit mutations, but it gets overshadowed by simply by the fact that we have giant bunnies killing people and running amok.

is unintentionally funny since it is a monster movie about big bunnies. The camera trick of making the rabbits look huge with miniature sets reminded me of bad 1950s sci-fi monster movies such as King Dinosaur. It looked silly for those movies and it looks even more obvious here. At least those 50s movies tended to use lizards and not cute furry creatures. Of course what is even worse are the close-ups that clearly show people in rabbit suits! Although these bunnies are depicted as vicious, shots like those above are cute and just makes the horror both humorous and surreal. While the movie has some slow parts, it's still watchable thanks mostly to the ridiculousness of the situation. There are worse films out there with killer animals (thanks Syfy channel!) but that still doesn't make Lepus any good.

Somehow a bunch of recognizable actors made it into this movie. DeForest Kelley, best known as Dr. McCoy on Star Trek, plays a college president but basically acts like Bones. Sadly this was Kelley's final non-Star Trek movie to get a theatrical release, though to be fair he was always more of a TV actor anyway.  Janet Leigh made this movie just 12 years removed from Psycho. It's a shame she went movies like Touch of Evil, Psycho, and The Manchurian Candidate to this nonsense in roughly a decade. Besides Leigh there is another Oscar nominee in the cast, Stuart Whitman. Prolific actors Paul Fix and Rory Calhoun also have roles.