Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Looking for Comedy in the Muslim WorldAlbert Brooks Directed by Albert Brooks
Starring Albert Brooks
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD is a thinking man’s comedy. If you’re of the 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN or DATE MOVIE crowd, please avoid this film and spare us your "It just" review.

If you’re an Albert Brooks fan, you most certainly will enjoy his deadpan delivery and hyper-worried state that we came to enjoy during DEFENDING YOUR LIFE (I suspect this is why he was also cast as the father’s voice in FINDING NEMO). But enough about Brooks. Let’s see what this movie’s about.

Looking For Comedy opens with Brooks arriving for a casting call at Penny Marshall’s office (It’s noteworthy to mention that Albert Brooks plays Albert Brooks and Penny Marshall plays Penny Marshall). Everyone seems to only recognize Brooks as "that guy who played that fish in Finding Nemo." His career is grudgingly winding down.

But upon returning home a letter from the government appears in the mail. He is summoned to Washington by a panel of Senators to do a research project for them ("Our first choice, quite frankly, wasn’t available" they tell him when Brooks asks ‘Why me?’) And his job? Travel to India and Pakistan and find out what makes Muslims laugh. Oh. "And you have to write a 500-page report on it."

"500 pages? I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that long," Brooks protests. But he accepts the assignment and travels with two government men as his entourage and support crew. Once in India they bumble through getting an office and a secretary named Maya (the stunningly pretty
Sheetal Sheth). Now the hard work begins. Either people won’t talk to him or give him off the wall answers or give no answer at all. So Brooks decides to put on a comedy show at a local gymnasium only to have that fall flat, too.

To add insult to injury, war bells are ringing between Pakistan and India, bells that Brooks doesn’t help with by sneaking across the border into Pakistan one night in order to meet up with some future comedian hopefuls.

The thing that makes this film so funny is that it doesn’t try that hard. It just is. Brooks’ normal paranoia fits perfectly with the script and makes us laugh time and again at his overzealous fears. Also is the fact that it shows the complete ineptness of government in trying to understand another culture by sending someone to another country who has no knowledge of such a job. And they send him to India! Although there are a lot of Muslims there, it is mainly a Hindu country. An Arab nation may have been a better choice but obviously the government
higher-ups failed to do their own research before sending in an even-less-informed Brooks. Now THAT is subtle humor. If you "don’t get that", you should avoid seeing this flick. But if you enjoy that kind of subtlety, give Looking For Comedy a try. It’s a modern day and cerebral blast!

Click here for the Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World movie trailer!

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Jonathan C. Green Ultrachrist! Directed by Kerry Douglas Dye
Starring John C. Green
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s ...ULTRACHRIST!

Flipping religion on its head, Ultrachrist seeks to enlighten the follies of following scripture to the letter by returning Christ to Earth 2,000 years after his death. Oh! And he’s come back to usher in peace for all mankind. The trouble is that he’s completely out of touch with modern society. As soon as Christ returns (ala The Terminator style), he realizes many things have changed: clothes, personal philosophy, neon signs, and, oy!, religion.

Christ (Jonathan C. Green) gets a crash course in what the world wants by first bellying up to a bar with a drunken man and discovering what’s become of humanity. Discouraged but not deterred, he soon runs into Molly (Celia A. Montgomery), a young seamstress who falls for Jesus and decides to help him regain his ministry on Earth. She makes him a superhero spandex costume and poof!, the Ultrachrist is born. Running around New York in his new outfit, Christ diverts sin wherever it appears, but no one is heeding his words...

Perhaps sin needs redefining.

God (
Don Creech, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK) doesn’t like what his son is doing on Earth so sends down Ira, the Patron Saint of Erotic Massage, to get rid of Jesus’ ridiculous costume and to set his son back on the path of righteousness. But Ira’s attempts are hindered by his own Earthly desires and by The Devil (aka, The Parks Commissioner).

Satin (Samuel Bruce Campbell, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH), not happy that Jesus has finally returned, resurrects some of the meanest and most evil people the world has ever known (from Hitler to ...uh ...Jim Morrison?)

But Beelzebub is the least of the Ultrachrist’s problems. He must overcome the "sin of sex," something he’s been unable to do since witnessing his mother "get-down" with another man (if Jesus gets "excited", his hands bleed).

With Ira’s, Molly’s, and his father’s help, Jesus changes the sin rule book and thus helps banish all of the foes thrown at him by Lucifer.

This low-budget flick isn’t for everyone. Those who find religious satire revolting or insulting most certainly should NOT watch it. If you don’t like B-movie production standards, avoid it. But if you like to chuckle at the ridiculousness of religious fanaticism, this is something you most surely should check out.

The production standards are okay but nothing to praise. The acting is equally tepid. The script, however, is quite good. Ira belongs on the set of Seinfeld, and Jesus would be right at home in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood (i.e., his accent). But these things also added to the humor of the movie. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously and doesn’t attempt it ...which I found absolutely great!

If you've seen and enjoyed FILM GEEK
, SPACEMAN, or other minimal budget films, this one is right up your alley.

Click here for the Ultrachrist movie trailer!

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Elijah Wood The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood
Reviewed by Chad Wilson

HUGE THUMBS UP (5 out of 5 Rating)!


There are few stories that truly reach people on fundamental levels and empower the story with such a deep vision and breadth that it sweeps the viewer off their feet. Lord of the Rings is such a book and while no film can ever completely capture everything the book offers, it can make it worthwhile. Director Peter Jackson’s rendition of The Fellowship of the Ring is both a worthy big screen movie and a grandiose film version of fantasy literature’s most famous tale.

The Fellowship of the Ring is merely the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (to be followed by The Two Towers in 2002 and Return of the King in 2003). Set in the mythical world of Middle Earth, the story is a true fantasy tale. Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit has finally decided to retire. In his absence he leaves his fortune and a magical ring to Frodo Baggins. No later does family friend Gandalf the Wizard arrive to tell Frodo of the magic ring’s true nature: the most powerful evil weapon ever created. The ring belongs to a terrible creature named Sauron, the Dark Lord. Defeated thousands of years ago, the ring’s discovery has awakened his spirit…and his desire for conquest. Frodo is reluctantly forced to undertake a journey to destroy the one ring, but only by casting it into the fires from which it was forged. With a fellowship of men, elves and dwarves to aid him, Frodo must contend with darkness from without and within in a desperate quest that will hold the fate of the entire world in the actions of one small person.

So much more is part of the richly detailed Lord of the Rings that a simple synopsis doesn’t do the book, or the film, justice. From the very start, relayed in a language that the late J.R.R. Tolkien actually created, it is clear this story contains detail and depth beyond most others. Peter Jackson made many clever decisions for the first film. Not least of which was substituting a simplified yet engrossing narrative for the aggravatingly slow first quarter of Tolkien’s original work. While some modifications will no doubt breed controversy, all adjustments ultimately work for the film rather than detract.

On its own merits, The Fellowship of the Ring is a fine film. Parallels made to Star Wars are well deserved, with this sweeping fantasy fable actually reaching heights the former lacks. The movie is richly detailed, filled with interesting characters, fine performances, excellent settings, and remarkable special effects. The emotion within the film is no less impressive, a tribute to both director and actors. Truly remarkable is that all this masterful movie-making maintains focus and composure despite the incredible three hour length. You’ll be glued to your seat the entire time as the next turn around a hill or run through the forest brings another peril or mystery.

Without a doubt one of the Fellowship’s greatest strengths is suspension of disbelief. Traditionally, fantasy stories (and especially fantasy films) have failed to present an air of believability. This film makes the fantastic seem everyday. So in tune are the characters, costumes, sets, and special effects that one must remind themselves this is a fictional world.

Casting for the film is flawless. Ian Mckellen improves upon his considerable talent displayed in last year’s X-Men, perfectly executing Gandalf in all his many moods. Elijah Wood fits right into the mold of Frodo the hobbit. Sean Bean simply IS Boromir, a powerful performance which includes a clever, easily missed scene handling a broken sword which pays homage to Bean’s work as Richard Sharpe in the 1993 Sharpe television series. Other performances continue the trend of fine work including Viggo Mortensen’s sufficently scruffy Aragorn to Christopher Lee’s brooding, twisted Saruman. Even Liv Tyler surprises with a moving portrayl of the immortal elf Arwen.

Among the shadows of Fellowship also lie some evils. Peter Jackson seems entranced by that which is dark. A nearly Matrix-esque oil covers the film at times. While certainly trendy and only an advantage for realism, it is heavy-handed in use. In particular, Frodo’s injury by the Ring Wraiths and Galadriel’s test. Both are presented with much darkness, more than is present in the books. If aware of such trends, the transgression can be understood and dismissed. Others might find it far too typical of most modern works to easily succumb to darkness as an excuse for lack of originality.

In spite of any minor quibbles, the film appeals to both hardcore fantasy fans and those just looking for fine entertainment. None of Tolkien’s efforts are lost in the film adaptation. Every battle is a desperate struggle and ever tear is a heart-wrenching loss. On film, more is added to the mix. Sight-stealing panoramic scenes and wonderful helicopter shots fill the entire experience with wonder and glory. Aside from some altered scenes in any book-to-film transition, and some excessive indulgence for trends, Fellowship of the Rings is film making at its finest. With amazing special effects that meld into the film rather than divide it and strong performances combined with woven music, this is the film to see. I’ve seen it with non-genre fans, movie skeptics, family members, and good friends. Everyone has walked away satisfied.

A truly deserving adaptation of Tolkien’s literary masterpiece. My highest recommendation given to both book and film.

Click here for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie trailer!


Planet of the ApesMark Wahlberg Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Mark Wahlberg
Reviewed by Chad Wilson


The remake of any classic story is always sure to breed controversy among its fans and Planet of the Apes is no exception. It's also the custom of many a reveiwer to take advantage of a remake's shortfalls by emphasizing the strengths of the original. I'm going to break with tradition and critque Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes based on it's own merits (or lack thereof).

As it's title would suggest, the story that fills Planet of the Apes is nothing ground breaking. Near future space pilot Leo Davidson (
Mark Wahlberg) heads out into the final frontier only to be whisked away by an electromagnetic storm. The storm subsides only to send Leo crashing into a planet filled guessed it, apes! The natives are naturally less than friendly and Leo has his hands full for the rest of the film.

The strong points in Apes reveal themselves fairly quickly. Director Tim Burton spares no expense for his film's incredible makeup and sets. Every ape is portrayed as a convincing primate and all the sets are designed with the tree swingers in mind. The performances from each of the apes are also bold, from General Thade's roaring villain (by the powerful
Tim Roth) to the femimine activist Ari (a very convincing Helena Bonham Carter), to the brooding bodyguard Krull (the always underrated Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). For certain the apes leave an impression on the veiwer, but taken as a whole this film fails to offer anything else.

Apes fails with it's protagonists, especially Wahlberg who practically drums out his lines like he's being asked to recite an oath. None of the human characters in film have anything to offer, spending the entire movie following around Wahlberg with marble faces. The story also seems far too rushed, never granting enough time for the characters to develop any relationship beyond the basic cliches. The ending is less shocking than obviously intended and serves no interesting purpose besides letting everyone and their dog know that a sequel is in the air.

Overall this film turns out very, very average. Although the cliches are not quite as rampant as one might expect, Tim Burton's remake of the 1968 classic offers nothing new. The high production values are obviously meant to replace the mediocre story. However, while it's far from a great film, Planet of the Apes does manage to offer more than your average summer flick. But you won't be going ape over it anytime soon.

Click here for The Planet of the Apes movie trailer!


Kill Bill, Volume OneUma Thurma Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Uma Thurman
Reviewed by Chad Wilson

UNFORTUNATE THUMBS DOWN (2.5 out of 5 Rating)!


After almost four years on hiatus, Quetin Tarantino returns with his fourth film as director in Kill Bill Volume One. Split into two pictures for Tarantino's wish to keep the entire film uncut despite Miramax's urging, this first film of two is undeniably "Tarantino" which is sure to please die hard fans of the independant director. In truth, Kill Bill is a jumble of classic action/martial arts film influences packaged as contemporary filmmaking.

Kill Bill follows the tradition of the martial arts action film, albeit a film which once again features Tarantino's merging of late era film styles and modern techniques. Uma Thurman plays the role of The Bride (her name remains unknown...occasionally masked with audio censor bleeps), a former assassion who, while pregnant, is nearly murdered on her wedding day. Four years after the unhappiest day of her life, The Bride wakes from her coma and begins a blood-splattered journey of revenge upon those who nearly killed her, most of whom are former associates. David Carradine stars as the ominous and as yet unseen assassin leader Bill, Lucy Lui plays assassin and Tokyo mafia queen O-Ren Ishii, and Vivica A. Fox plays killer-turned-housewife Vernita Green.

Once one watches the film, there is little left to guess when asking “What is Kill Bill?” The film is an homage to the martial arts action film genre...and it shows. While some audiences may be lost, it's hard not to recognize the obvious lineage of Kill Bill from kung fu films of the 1970's to fast paced anime (japanese animation). Indeed, Tarantino is so obvious with the inspiration for Kill Bill, a sequence by japanese anime company Production I.G. (Ghost in The Shell, Blood The Last Vampire) is dropped into the middle of the film, jarringly injecting the childhood history of O-Ren's character in an animated gore-fest.

To say Kill Bill is violent and graphic is to understate the presentation, but the film's violence is so outrageous and over-the-top, it's comical. In one of the movie's dud scenes, the last of a few dozen vanquished foes falls from the second floor only to land in a pool filled with blood (get it...blood-bath...uh yeah). Limbs are severed regularly, at which point entire septic tanks of blood spew from the dismembered victims like a fire hose. The influence for these blood fountains is clearly derived from stylized action animes and asian kung fu/crime films, but these displays are ridiculously silly rather than an entertaining homage. The plot, such as it is, grabs for as much style as it can get, but the film never makes any pretense. If you've seen the trailer, you'll understand Kill Bill is action/revenge flick and it takes no prisoners.

Kill Bill is enjoyable because of its vibrant and sympathetic heroine played wonderfully stoic and emphatically emotional by Thurman. The deadly deeds done by Thurman's Bride are brilliantly played against the terrible tragedies she has suffered. The action present in Kill Bill is a fan's dream, culminating the great anticipation of the preceeding scenes into kinetically powerful duels. While the many fights of the film are again derivative of the genre (think Hong Kong wire work), they indeed feel beautifully flawless and wildly chaotic at the same time.

The problem with Kill Bill is its own nature as an adulation to the martial arts/action genre. Kill Bill is so flashy, with homages so flaunting (that yellow jumpsuit is a dead give away to
Bruce Lee in Game of Death), the film is made paltry by the fan boy-esque style. Most of the cast is given so little to work with that the film must indulge in grandstanding to craft the characterizations. Even Tarantino's normally interesting retro influences and vintage musical scores are overplayed here, escalating the films already tacky palette. Kill Bill may be a film that knows what it is and what it's meant to be, but that doesn't excuse its faults. Expect a violent, pedantic, post-modern homage to kung fu films and you'll enjoy Kill Bill. Expect any more, you can expect to feel cheated.

An average action movie made notable by the direction of retro violence king Quentin Tarantino. Knock yourself out.

Click here for the Kill Bill Volume One movie trailer!


Ewan McGregor Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones Directed by George Lucas
Starring Ewan McGregor
Reviewed by Chad Wilson

THUMBS UP (4 out of 5 Rating)!

If one hasn’t heard about the new Star Wars film, it’s certain all the cliches have been encountered. The movie Episode One should have been. Classic Star Wars returns. Lucas gets it right. While more than a few cliches might be well deserved, there’s no denying Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones escapes grim expectations...with style!

It’s now 10 years after the events in The Phantom Menace. Young Anakin Skywalker (played by Canadian actor Hayden Christensen) has grown into a powerful, young Jedi under the watchful eye of mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). The two continue their adventures in a new era of galactic unrest as thousands of star systems begin to secede from the once great Old Republic. Determined to stop the seperatists, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) sends now-Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) to aid the troubled Republic under the protection of the two Jedi Knights. What follows is a story of intrigue and epic scope as the Old Republic continues on a path towards certain collapse.

If good advice could be given about how to review Star Wars AOTC, it is this: be prepared to learn the difference between an honest review and critics with a chip on their alien protruberences. Without a doubt, Clones is an excellent Star Wars adventure. All the elements that made the original films enjoyable come to life in Episode II, complete with some tummy-pleasing humor, well composed special effects, and some true surprises. Those disappointed by the first prequel need not worry about Clones. A much more engaging, entertaining piece of space opera awaits the hungry film fan.

Acting in Clones gets a good boost over the last prequel. While lacking award material, the performances are noticably refined. McGregor truly shines as Ben Kenobi, thanks to much greater character depth and many memorable lines. Most surprising is Hayden Christensen’s performance as the Vader-to-be Anakin Skywalker. So perfect is Christensen’s combination of spoiled youth, hot temper, and pathetic confusion, it’s hard to say whether the actor is really that good or just happened to land the right role at the right time. Regardless, Christensen’s role is done so well it’s a guilty pleasure to watch young Anakin decend into darkness.

Ian McDiarmid continues to scheme and plot as the evil Darth Sidious/Chancellor Palpatine while Natalie Portman plays well the role of troubled Senator. The love story between Anakin and Padme never really takes off onscreen, but the awkwardness works for the pair rather than against. Other jewels in the cast appears from actor Temuera Morrison as the cunning bounty hunter Jango Fett and Christopher Lee of Lord of the Rings fame as the fallen Jedi Count Dooku. Unlike the miniscule role given to fan favorite Boba Fett in the original trilogy, Jango Fett appears in the film often and with style. Some of the most memorable scenes surround the armor-clad mercenary. Meanwhile, Lee’s grim Jedi Dooku fills the role of the dark, villian with a renaissance style. Like a seasoned sword-fighter, he proves a match for Ben and Anakin and holds up well when compared to more flashier Star Wars villians like Darth Maul.

Probably most amazing of Clones appeal is the director’s concentration on detail. In addition to the fantastic effects and vivid sci-fi set work, Lucas plays off the audience’s foreknowledge of what is to come in the saga. The results are incredibly entertaining and a welcome sight compared to the often weak, uninspired humor in The Phantom Menace. Effects scenes are also clearer and better composed, trading dull volume for interesting detail. The impressive costumes truly enhance the setting, helping throw the audience deeper into the Star Wars universe From robot war machines to flashy starships, the effects are always on top in this sleek adventure. A hit with fans is sure to be jedi master Yoda, who shows what a true master of the force can accomplish in the film’s finale.

Where Clones loses grip on its lightsaber is no surprise. George Lucas has never directed a Star Wars feature with the best performances available. However, he obviously learned from previous mistakes and served up a fun film in the process. Again, the special effects can at times appear overwhelming, yet can only add to veiwer delight upon repeat veiwings. The story remains intersting and focused, yet doesn’t always keep the audience on a high. In particular, the first third of the film can feel slow. Lastly, not all the humor works for the film, but luckily it avoids hurting the picture when failing to provoke a hearty laugh.

Star War Episodes II: Attack of the Clones may suffer from a few weaknesses, but it’s fortunately confined to it’s title and little of anything else. While the film is unlikely to dethrone
The Empire Strikes Back as the generally accepted king of the Star Wars films, it gives a galant effort worthy of the saga’s best. Afficinados of the series will be thrilled with Clones and movie fans looking for a fun, sci-fi adventure with some backbone are sure to enjoy this latest Lucas creation.

Good Star Wars is always a great treat to see on the big screen.

Click here for the Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones movie trailer!


Sanaa Lathan Alien vs. Predator (AvP) Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring Sanaa Lathan
Reviewed by Chad Wilson

THUMBS DOWN! (1 out of 5 rating)


Alien vs. Predator director Paul W.S. Anderson may lead many to believe the idea of combining these two movie monsters into a film was his idea some 10 years ago. Given the criticism many a fan had of Anderson’s attachment to this film, it was expected that despite what he lead the masses to beleive in pre-release interviews, Anderson had a better concept than anyone. Unfortunately, this film neither pleases fans hoping for some fun sci-fi entertainment nor does it do justice to the much better comic books which spawned the idea much earlier than a decade ago.

The film Alien vs. Predator (or AVP as the film’s marketting posse love to spray on posters and teaser trailers) combines two alien speices from two of the more successful modern monster movie franchises into a single film (from Ridley Scott’s Alien” in 1979 and John McTiernan’s Predator” in 1987). The two species meet on Earth in the Antartic, with contact being initiated by a group of human explorers who have discovered a pyramid beneath the ice. The pyramid is actually a hunting ground of sorts, used by the Predators to hunt the Aliens as their species’ right-of-passage. The humans, being caught in the middle of this fight between the two, are unprepared and struggle to survive the clash of these interstellar creatures.

The fruition of the concept to showcase these two alien monsters can no doubt be credited to the financial success of the 2003 horror bout “Freddy vs. Jason”. The idea for AVP however first saw public release via a company called Dark Horse, who published an Aliens vs. Predator comic book series in 1989. The success of the series spawned more comics and eventually a market for merchandise including models, statues, computer/console/arcade games, and novels. What is felt by any fan of the franchise watching AVP can only be both disappoinment and relief that the film has very little to do with the science fiction legacy off-screen. Instead, director Paul W.S. Anderson chose to tell his own tale of how these two species meet and the results are anything but exciting. The errors in the plot are so glaring that one cannot help but be distracted, especially since the dull action can’t occupy the audience. The pacing is jumbled by a mere token of character development in the opening only to be carelessly thrown away without notice in the latter half. The Predators and Aliens have lost any presence of terror in the film because the story depicts most Predators as easily dispatched amateurs while the Aliens are slimey eye-candy just as easily boned by the few, smarter Predators.

The worst tragedy by far can only be AVP’s total failure as either a fun, summer sci-fi flick or a cult favorite. Despite the film’s focus on two superstars of the monster movie genre, there is surprisingly little actual conflict between the two. What alien action there is for the audience amounts to recycled battles from better films and pro-wrestling style brawls. The special effects offer little innovation over the tried-and-true concepts that made Alien and Predator successful genre films nor is there any satisfaction to be found in the dry human characters. The entire film is just going through the motions of what we all expect from a tired hollywood film and the finale is as stale as the morose musical score.

Most fans of the off-screen franchise or aficionados of the films will be quick to reference the entertaining comics or the better movies as examples of the two alien spieces done right. While the comic book stories or computer game plots may have fared much better than the Anderson/O’Bannon script for AVP, no pre-existing story could freshen this film from poor execution. Whether one criticizes the special effects, plot, or characters, it is obvious to everyone except the most diehard fan that AVP doesn’t deliver anything worth watching.

A good idea for a fun sci-fi film is wasted by a bland script, boring special effects, and a forgettable story.

Click here for the AvP movie trailer!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Film GeekMelik Malkasian Directed by James Westby
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Watching something like FILM GEEK makes me feel good. Sometimes I sense my social skills slipping, but watching Melik Malkasian play Scotty Pelk in this flick boosted my confidence several rungs. You see, I’m into films, too (pretty obvious since you’re reading this on a film review site, eh?) Undoubtedly, I compared some aspects of the Pelk persona with myself. Thankfully, I couldn’t make many connections (Whew!)

Pelk is a video store employee with an encyclopedic knowledge of film and film history. Trouble is that’s all he knows (he even has a zero-hit website devoted to film reviews, film history, and comparative film theory). He drives everyone around him nutso. Employees. Store patrons. Passersby on the street. No one is immune to Pelk’s social ineptness. And dark days are headed his way. He’s fired from the video store and is forced into a job at an auto-parts warehouse where he continues his film history harassment to anyone within earshot. But then he runs into Niko (Tyler Gannon, THUMBSUCKER), a funky artist who takes a strange liking to Pelk. They meet. They go out. And Pelk becomes enraptured to the point of stalking. He’s so infatuated with her that he masturbates daily into his bathroom sink while staring at her picture. Obviously this isn’t going to work. When Niko’s old boyfriend shows back up, Pelk is on the outs again and has a meltdown. He tears up his little apartment and falls back into more masturbatory behavior ...only to have his phone ring. On the other end is a newspaper editor who wants to do an article on him and his website. The FILM GEEK becomes an overnight success, his website gets massive hit numbers, and movie-goers comment on his accurate film assessments. Even Niko comes back to him ...or does she?

Director James Westby lets us make up our own minds about what happened in the end. Did the FILM GEEK actually become popular? Or was his mind spewing forth fantasies while he let loose his physical emissions into the sink? The dark humor is deftly handled (no pun intended) and the scenes involving Pelk’s discovery of his own social limitations are pulled off very well.

Comparisons to NAPOLEON DYNAMITE are appropriate here. Both movies had limited budgets. Both had quirky characters with poor interpersonal relationships. Both main characters succeed (?) due to the very thing that makes them so dysfunctional.

Although FILM GEEK had lower production standards than Napoleon Dynamite, FILM GEEK certainly ranks up there with it in terms of script, acting, and freaky character development.

Click here for the Film Geek movie trailer!


Snakes on a PlaneSamuel L. Jackson Directed by David R. Ellis
Reviewed by Chad Wison

SURPRISING THUMBS UP (3 out of 5 Rating)!


For a film titled Snakes on a Plane, it’s not likely one is to suffer any confusion over what the film will be about. In fact, this camp horror film starring Samuel L. Jackson (Freedomland) sells itself so honestly, it’s hard not to appreciate for once a film being sold as the b-movie guilty pleasure that it is. While I appreciated the pre-release buzz thanks to a cult following (or precursor?) on the internet, SoaP as it’s lovingly abbreviated, is nothing more than a simple b-movie horror that delivers exactly that; good or bad.

Silly and contrived from the start, Snakes on a Plane makes no excuses as it throws the audience into the life of young Sean Jones (Nathan Philips) whose father is murdered by a mob boss. Having witnessed the slaying he’s on the run, pursued by the mob until rescued by FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson). Flynn convinces Jones to fly to Los Angeles so he can testify against the mob boss. Just one problem; the mob is onto the plan and the passenger plane has been seeded with hundreds of snakes set to emerge in-flight. All hell is let loose with the snakes and it’s up to Agent Flynn to save himself, his witness, and the crew and passengers of Pacific Air Flight 121.

Knowing what you’re getting into as an audience counts for a lot in SoaP. The marketing has for once made it clear that this is b-movie material with silly characters, a silly story, and a silly monster(s). The film makes liberal use of CGI to create hundreds of snakes of all sizes and colors and makes every effort to use the critters as frightening instruments of destruction. The vast variety of ways in which the passengers are killed by the snakes is impressive. You have people foaming at the mouth from venom, snakes slithering all over every inch of the passengers, and snake bites upon every extremity you can imagine. For the fellas, let it be said you’ve been forewarned.

The movie is short and keeps rolling, never straying too far from the building of tension or a chilling snake attack. There are numerous scenes throughout the film that will have you jumping. The snakes are used in all sorts of tried-and-true scenes that startle the audience and we are of course treated to numerous action sequences of Sam Jackson killing snakes in a variety of ways. As long as one tries to enjoy the simple pleasures and avoids scrutinizing the plot, the ride should be fun. The film does make a few Romero-esque attempts at social commentary by briefly going into subjects like race or stereotyping, but doesn’t really give the audience much for it’s attention.

The down side of the honest marketing approach taken by SoaP is that it must live up to the camp classic that it needs to be. SoaP isn’t quite the b-movie champion it could have been. Many a fan of other modern camp classic films like Tremors or Ringu will find that SoaP doesn’t match up. It is standard b-movie fare, with the distinction of a large pre-release fandom based online and Sam Jackson spouting “mother******” in a sure to be laughed at scene in the third act. Those looking to SoaP as the next guilty pleasure in classic kitschy film fun will have to wait. Then again, maybe its moderate value is the point.

While not quite the b-movie cult classic it was supposed to be, SoaP delivers a campy, fun experience worthy of a cheap seat.

Click here for the Snakes on a Plane movie trailer!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Miami Vice
Colin Farrell
Directed by Michael Mann
Starring Colin Farrell
Reviewed by Chad Wilson

UNFORTUNATE THUMBS DOWN! (2.5 out of 5 rating)


During it’s run in the 1980’s, the Miami Vice television series distinguished itself via a stylized cast, sharp action, and some strong characterizations. With a 2006 feature film update from Michael Mann – who executive produced the series – the movie retains most of the series’ virtues in spirit if not in practice. The result, an unabashedly Mann film shot with style, cast with grace, executed with skill, but suffering from too many vices of its own to create a solid film like Mann’s previous hits Heat and Collateral.

Lacking credits and even studio logos, Miami Vice jumps right into a night club under surveillance by undercover narcotics detectives James "Sonny" Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs (Jamie Foxx). In the process, an old informant of the duo calls Crockett about an FBI setup to catch some drug dealers that’s gone bad. The FBI wants to take down the crooks but their internal security has been compromised, so they recruit the two outside detectives Crockett and Tubbs. Acting undercover as drug transporters the pair infiltrate a large drug organization, Crockett becoming emotionally involved with the shady Isabella (Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha) and culminating in a big drug deal that puts Tubb’s girlfriend at risk.

Vice does a credible job of dumping the two characters into a larger crime circle normally outside their beat in Miami. The film first visually carries the audience along for a ride then drops pieces of dialogue to fill out the story. Again working with his digital cameras from previous work Collateral, Mann creates a very dark world of undercover narcotics investigation that retains focus and style without sacrificing the image. Farrel and Foxx are well cast and up to the challenge of portraying the ever-so-serious characters of the script, each bringing a grounded, realistic performance to match the nearly documentary style shooting of the film. When the movie works as a down-and-dirty, in-the-trenches story, it works well. When more cinematic drama is required, this is where both the shooting style and the script hits a few speed bumps.

Director Michael Mann’s choppy, on-the-fly editing for Vice is his method meant to simulate the main character’s undercover life as a fluid, ever-changing playing field; it’s do or die. Sounds great in theory, but in practice the film feels very disconnected from one scene to the next. Miami Vice lacks a coherent flow and during the lengthy middle scenes of the film the movie just can’t create any subtle buildup and the actors can’t create any feeling leading to a dramatic climax. The film does have an explosive finale with all the you-are-there camera work and visceral energy we’ve come to love from Mann’s films. Yet without a compelling ride, the payoff feels like too little, too late.

This new Miami Vice does have style, the characters do their cool act, and the villians are sufficiently menacing. Problem is, film audiences have seen style, cool, and menacing many times before nearly every summer. Vice doesn’t bring anything new that hasn’t been done in the past, especially by Mann himself. Those expecting anything as iconic as the clothing in the original 1980’s series will be disappointed and film fans expecting some drama to hold together the brief action will miss out as well.

A better than average summer action movie, but a less than average Michael Mann film.

Click here for the Miami Vice movie trailer!


The MachinistChristian Bale Directed by Brad Anderson
Reviewed by Chad Wilson



It has become a trend among the would-be autures of Indie film that an unconventional structure makes a good unconventional film. Director Brad Anderson takes his own shot at the off-beat story wrapped in a non-linear narrative, resulting in The Machinist: a tale that may not be the greatest of films, but possesses enough interesting characterizations and plot twists to succeed as a thriller above the norm.

Trevor Reznik (
Christian Bale) is a machinist who hasn’t slept a single night in over a year, for an as yet unknown reason. The film opens with Reznik disposing of a body wrapped in a carpet roll near a river side, then instantly turns back in time to display the events leading up to this scene. On the way, Reznik’s character suffers some strange experiences and his lack of rest ultimately starts to take its toll on his perception. He begins a journey to discover who is involved in these strange events and why.

Renowned character actor Christian Bale is definitely a presence to be felt in The Machinist, portraying the character of Reznik with subtlety and amazing physicality. According to reports, Bale shed over 63 pounds to obtain the gaunt look the role demanded. The visual impact is utterly amazing; we watch Bale’s skeletal Reznik meander his way through this twisted tale looking like a lost soul in the land of the near-dead.
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character Stevie comments at one point “If you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist.” Such dialogue is indicative of the style of this film, as the audience is left wondering at times what really exists and what is illusion. There is a fine sense of mood in Machinist and I felt the script did an admirable job not giving too much away.

Although the main plot twist of The Machinist wasn’t exactly a surprise, there is fortunately more to come. The ending in particular takes a second twist in a direction that remains in theme, yet despite the foreshadowing we don’t suspect it’s coming. This really salvages the film from becoming just another predictable movie and gives us a new insight into the character of Reznik. When everything falls into place, the result is a satisfying, if not totally original, psychological thriller with Bale giving yet another outstanding performance.

What The Machinist lacks in originality, it makes up with an above average script and a memorable performance from lead Christian Bale.

Click here for The Machinist movie trailer!

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Devil's PlaygroundVelda Bontrager Directed by Lucy Walker
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Sex, drugs, heavy metal/rap music, Nintendo. These are not things one would normally associate with the Amish, but there you go, it’s time to learn about DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND.

Most of us probably view the Amish as isolationists and backward thinkers. They don’t use electricity or modern conveniences. They travel by horse and carriage. They dedicate themselves to their church and community for life or are banished if they give up the church and head out into the "English" world. This is mostly true, except for one period in an Amish person’s life.

At age 16, all children of Amish parents are given the option of Rumspringa (Pennsylvania Dutch for "running around"). Rumspringa can last minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even years, depending on the individual. During this time they are allowed to do whatever they like, which includes drinking, sexual relations, smoking, driving (cars), and doing illicit drugs.

One such person is Faron, an 18-year-old son of an Amish minister. He’s been out of his parents’ house for almost two years and gets involved with crystal meth dealers in order to support his own drug habit. His life spirals out of control, but his parents are helpless to do anything about it because of the Rumspringa tradition. Faron has to choose his own path. But with peer pressures so high, the decision is not an easy one for kids who want to explore a world beyond the Amish communities they grew up in. You can’t help but cringe with fear as Faron drops in and out of the drug culture, nearly gets himself killed in a car accident, and eventually finds love and a decent job many miles away from his parents.

Other kids have similar issues, but battle more with internal conflicts than external pleasures and material things. One is Velda, a pretty Amish girl who left her community and found depression nesting within her. Trying to discover who she was without the help of her family and her church leads her down some dark paths but she eventually succeeds in life by finding a job and going to college; quite a surprise considering the Amish don’t educate their young beyond the 8th grade level.

This documentary certainly was an eye-opener. Who would’ve thought that the Amish deal with similar problems that non-Amish parents are forced to deal with? The information gathered by the film makers is impressive but limited, as the Amish become reclusive once they join the church. But the kids have no such qualms about being filmed since they have yet to take their oath.

I am disturbed mostly by the fact that the Amish don’t educate their young beyond a certain grade level because they feel it causes too much "pride" (one of the seven deadly sins). But this also creates an interesting paradox. If you don’t educate your kids, they are destined for menial jobs. The upside (I guess) is that this makes it difficult to support themselves if they decide to try and make a go at living in the outside world. Not surprisingly, the return rate from Rumspringa back to the church is 90 percent.

Click here for the Devil's Playground movie trailer!

Friday, August 18, 2006


Natalie Portman V For Vendetta Directed by James McTeigue
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



A science fiction film with a message. Who would’ve thought it possible. I don’t mean this has never happened, it’s just that it hasn’t happened in quite some time. To put it in perspective, my favorite SF film was THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Although many people make that claim, here it is noteworthy because The Day The Earth Stood Still was a brave undertaking, commenting on the dangers of nuclear technology during a time when our government and our country felt this was a necessary evil. I’m not saying V FOR VENDETTA rates up on the same level, but it does have its moments, making us question the purpose of government and the repercussions of overstepping those purposes for its own "good" rather than the individuals it’s supposed to serve.

Coming from the Wachowski brothers who made
THE MATRIX trilogy, V has a good cast realized via the comic book of the same name but takes a while to get on track. The first third of the film was pretty slow and involved, but the latter parts made up for this.

The story is about a masked man named V (
Hugo Weaving, THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) who was a guinea pig for a pharmaceutical company. A group of men and women have hidden their involvement with this distasteful part of history as we lunge forward to the year 2020. A totalitarian government rules England, cowing its citizens by enforcing curfews, limiting religious freedoms, and eliminating homosexuality (if you’re a gay Buddhist out after nine p.m. you’re in BIG trouble!)

Weaving a bit of history into the story, we see
Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) taken to a whole new level. V plans to destroy Parliament because of its wickedness and the fear under which English citizens now live. Not to mention that Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt, CONTACT) is one of the pharmaceutical founders that altered V’s life forever; V has no recollection of his past, including his own name, and has an altered body chemistry allowing him superhuman agility thanks to the drugs that were tested on him. This is very bad news for those involved in screwing up his life. V is out for Vengeance, too.

But V is also lonely, so when Evey (
Natalie Portman, STAR WARS III) helps him make good an escape, he pulls her into his confidence, eventually forcing her to lose all her fears through a set of brutal tests. In Evey V sees the future of mankind, a sign that all may be made right with the world.

In a stunning climax, we watch V’s vision come to life, as fireworks blow, thousands turn out wearing Guy Fawkes/V masks, and Evey comes to understand how important change is in the world.

This film certainly won’t be for everyone. You have to think about what’s happening to really understand the message. It doesn’t smack you in the face with an obvious plot, and instead lets it seep into the viewer’s subconscious.

There are, as seen in other reviews, a lot of talk about what this film’s intent was supposed to be, and I think that speaks pretty highly for the level of sophistication needed to help one grasp V. Is he a freedom fighter or a terrorist? Anyone who wants to destroy a government must be crazy and/or an anarchist, right? How far is too far when a government wants to "protect" its citizens? These are questions the movie poses but doesn’t give answers to, and that is quite refreshing considering what Hollywood usually places in front of us (A + B = C). Connect your own dots and see where V leads you.

Click here for the V For Vendetta movie trailer!

Click here for Chad's alternate review of V For Vendetta.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Sam Shepard Don't Come Knocking Directed by Wim Wenders
Starring Sam Shepard
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Combining two renaissance men like Sam Shepard (THE RIGHT STUFF, 1983) and Wim Wenders (director of PARIS, TEXAS which also starred Shepard) could seem like a golden film opportunity. I’d heard quite a bit of buzz about DON’T COME KNOCKING before its release and was pretty excited to finally sit down and watch it.

The story is about Howard Spence (Shepard), a cowboy movie star who’s approaching the downside of his aging career. At 60, Howard still lives the life of a starling; he drinks, drugs and sexes himself into oblivion nightly. But (for unknown reasons) he has a bad night on the set of a lame film and decides to flee the production in hopes of finding what lay for him beyond the camera. His history is as scattered as his drug-induced years of debauchery and Howard quickly discovers that he has children in the world. Two children. He visits his mother (Eva Marie Saint, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) in Elko, Nevada and she tells him of a woman who’d called years before claiming to be the mother of his son. At first Howard doesn’t believe it, but recollections filter in and he goes in search of his kids. But he also has to evade a bounty hunter named Sutter (Tim Roth, PULP FICTION) who was hired by the film studio to get Howard back to the movie he’d abandoned.

Both of Howard’s kids’ are now adults living lives of their own. We’re first introduced to Sky (Sarah Polley, DAWN OF THE DEAD, 2004) who just cremated her mother. She’s a withdrawn and quiet woman who easily picks up on who her father is when she sees him lurking around Butte, Montana. The second adult kid is Earl (Gabriel Mann, THE BOURNE IDENTITY), a modern blues singer with a chip the size of a boulder resting on him. His mother, Doreen (Jessica Lange, ROB ROY), tries to ease the news of his father’s arrival but is too late. Twenty years of fatherlessness flares, and Howard and he nearly come to blows.

As Howard tries to understand life (his own) he constantly gets knocked around. Those who carry his bloodline want nothing to do with him, indicating to Howard that he should simply return to the film set. When the bounty hunter catches up with him, it’s little surprise that Howard puts up no resistance.

An alternate title for the film might’ve been "You Can Never Come Home" because that is its basic message. Although we’re not privy to Howard’s thoughts, we can assume that since he’s coming to the end of his acting career and his life, he’s looking for something meaningful to justify his existence. Of course, children are the ultimate justification, but when they reject you, what’s left?

The color schemes and filming are visually stunning, but certain scene-to-scene edits were herky-jerky and some embittered relationships felt forced (most notably that of Howard and his son, Earl). Jessica Lange was flawless, though. She’s such a fantastic actress. Sam Shepard did an "okay" job with an interesting script but I felt little (if any) emotional weight from his character.

A big problem with the film was that, on one definitive level, it’s a Hollywood flick about Hollywood people. The self-importance of actors and actresses has never appealed to me and this might bother quite a few viewers. But tying it in with those of a shattered family dynamic made the movie easier to swallow.

Still, this is an interesting indie film that surpasses some of the trite junk currently gracing the silver screen.

Click here for the Don't Come Knocking movie trailer!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


The LibertineJohnny Depp Directed by Laurence Dunmore
Starring Johnny Depp
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Watching this sumptuously filmed movie, one gets the sense that more time went into cinematography, lighting, and camera angles than the story itself. Watching the DVD’s extra features confirms some of those suspicions, as the film took over seven years to make (due to financial woes and other problems).

If you’ve read English literature and history, you are no doubt familiar with the drinking and debauched behavior of
Sir John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. His raunchy writings and lifestyle planted him in an early grave but posthumously spun a web of literary notoriety. Some considered him a man "ahead of his time." Others thought him a shallow defiler of women who simply had a gift with his quill (both quills ...ahem!) Whatever your historical take on the man, he certainly was "interesting." But that’s where trying to make a film out of such a life fails. "Interesting" is not enough ...even when accompanied by great camera work.

Johnny Depp (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST) plays John Wilmot and does so in his usual deft manner. He’s creepy, delivers lines like a razor, and immerses us in this unsettled man’s life. But the story is only entertaining thanks to Depp’s portrayal. The rest of the film is bland and slow, accompanied by a love story that makes no sense.

For some (as mentioned previously), the excellent lighting, dizzying camera pans of the theater, and dark sets will make this film pure eye-candy. And it is. But there needs to be more than just good filming; there needs to be a story we can grasp that is filled with angst. You most certainly won’t find that here.

Click here for The Libertine movie trailer!

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Little Miss SunshineGreg Kinnear Directed by Jonathan Dayton
Starring Greg Kinnear
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


The Screen Actors Guild have an "Outstanding Performance by a Cast" award they give out annually, and this year LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE must be among the nominees (if not the recipient).

Never before has a story been so well told and equally acted. Moving the audience to tears one moment and making us burst with laughter the next, this script was absolutely brilliant.

And the story goes...

Young Abigail Breslin (SIGNS, 2002) plays Olive, a six-year-old whom the entire cast orbits around. The first place contestant in a local New Mexico beauty pageant got eliminated and Olive, who’d came in second, is the default winner. She’s going to California for the Little Miss Sunshine finals. But due to financial limitations, the family can’t fly her, so all of them pack into a VW bus and head west. With Abigail comes her barely functioning dysfunctional family. Her father is played by the estimable Greg Kinnear (THE MATADOR, 2005). Richard (Kinnear) is the only one who can drive a stick, so he has to go. But with him comes his "are you a winner or loser" motivational comments that irk everyone around him. Also with them comes Olive’s older brother Dwayne (Paul Dano, THE KING). The 15-year-old has taken a vow of silence until he’s passed a test that allows him to fly jets for the Air Force; he writes his caustic comments on paper for all to read. Then we have Frank (Steve Carell, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) who was recently released from the hospital after slitting his wrists and is on suicide watch by the family. A renowned Proust scholar, Frank found himself fired from his teaching job after falling in love with a student; one of his male students. Next we have Olive’s grandfather played pitch perfect by Alan Arkin (THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING, 2001). He’s a smack-sniffing, perverted old man with a misplaced heart of gold. He’s also Abigail’s instructor for her dance sequence in the upcoming competition. And finally there’s Sheryl (Toni Collette, IN HER SHOES), Olive’s mother who is the glue that holds the family together.

Road trip movies are practically a dime a dozen, but many miss the mark or become ludicrous. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE has no such problems. Bouncing off — or sometimes smashing against — each family members’ personality, Olive (Breslin) is the unifying good-natured persona that makes this entire flick so very watchable. Olive is a bit overweight, wears thick eye-glasses, and has little talent. But her family loves her without restraint and when they stuff themselves into the dilapidated VW, it is her unflagging perkiness and smiling that drives them onward toward California, even when confronting a failed father, a difficult brother, a faulty clutch, or death.

The dance sequence at the end of the film is something of movie legend. If you think about who Olive’s grandfather was, the dance she chose to do was outstandingly accurate (what other kind of dance could a drug-addled, porn-watching old man teach?) Needless to say I cringed and laughed at the choreographer’s choice. It also made me ask "if" I should be laughing at this, as it was completely deranged and inappropriate!

I’m going to risk a lot here and say that I haven’t seen a film this enjoyable in about two years. And the audience that watched it with me seemed to agree; they all stood and applauded when the credits started rolling. That says a lot, I think.

Click here for the Little Miss Sunshine movie trailer!