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Alien Nation: Dark Horizon

It’s 1999. An alien race known as the Tenctonese lost a transport ship full of slaves five years ago. They crash-landed onto the third planet of a solar system, and haven’t been heard from. Until now. A beacon has been transmitting a hailing frequency, and the Overseers (the higher class of Tenctonese) send a reconnaissance officer named Ahpossno to investigate and reclaim the slaves.

The planet they’re landing on? Earth. However, the Tenctonese have internalized American culture, and enjoy being members of a free society. Anything’s better than being slaves.

That’s the premise of the TV movie Alien Nation: Dark Horizon, an extension of the FOX-TV series Alien Nation. It was created because fans demanded a continuation of the show, since it was cancelled after just one season. Five years later, after a change of leadership at FOX, they released this, the first of five TV movies made to sate the fans of the original series.

I wasn’t one of those. Being an infant when the original series was broadcast, I kinda missed the boat. Therefore, I’m going into this one with a clean slate. My expectations are pretty low, just like they will be with any other TV movie.

I didn’t expect brilliant acting, and I didn’t get it. I didn’t expect a deep, convoluted storyline, and I didn’t get one. There’s not a whole lot of character development, but I really didn’t expect that either, being the extension of a TV show.

What I got was a reasonably good, reasonably acted, buddy movie. No one really stood out, but I immediately recognized Scott Patterson as Ahpossno in an early role, long before Gilmore Girls.

The story was pretty predictable, mostly because they show the story from both Ahpossno’s point of view as well as the view of the two detectives, George Francisco (a Tenctonese, known on Earth as Newcomers) and Matthew Sikes (a human). The movie (and I presume the TV show) mainly has the themes of racism and bigotry, and they show it relatively well, if a little heavy-handedly.

There’s nothing really outstanding to this film for me, but keep in mind that I’m really not part of its intended audience. Fans of the TV show will find a lot to love in this movie, and probably in the entire collection. If you’re not familiar with the show, you probably won’t enjoy the movie. They just don’t make you like the characters enough, and the story’s kinda lackluster for a full feature. However, for what is essentially a 2 hour long season opener, Alien Nation: Dark Horizon will do just fine.

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Theatrical & DVD Review: The Mist

Another review that I didn’t get posted because of the future of the show being in flux, having now listed to the latest episode, I want to sort of time this right and put it up before the show with a couple of additional notes coming from having just watched it again on DVD as well…

In a small northeastern town, a devastating storm has just hit, causing some property damage as well as knocking out some power. Local artist David Drayton has taken his son into town to stock up on a few things at the local grocery store, when suddenly, this encompassing mist starts to come through the town, with one of the townspeople running into the store, screaming that something in the mist is killing people. After the gathered people in the grocery store see this for themselves, they hunker down in the store, trying to figure what exactly is out there and what’s really happening.

And so the latest movie from director Frank Darabont begins, and my stretch of seeing great movies continues. The Mist is Darabont’s third adaptation of a Stephen King story (the other two are The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) and with The Mist, Darabont travels to more horrific material than what he’s tackled before. I’ve never read the King story, but from what I’ve been able to gather, it’s almost like King is wanting to dabble in some H.P. Lovecraft type of territory. From what one of my friends has told me, Darabont has changed the ending into something way more decisive and in my opinion, much more horrifying as well.

I really like stories that involve a group of people in a confined space, and The Mist certainly delivers that in spades, with about 90% of the film taking place inside this grocery store. It allows for some real intensity in storytelling and obviously puts a much greater emphasis on the performances of the actors involved. Darabont’s style here is quite a bit different from what he’s done before as his other movies have a little more clear theatrics involved. Darabont employs a rawer style here, using more handheld photography, but not going overboard by any means, and in my opinion anyway, it actually makes this fantastic situation seem more real.

Darabont has a great cast here, headed up by actor Thomas Jane as Drayton. Jane’s the rock of the film and his final moments in the film are about the best I’ve ever seen him in a movie, really delivering a gut-wrenching performance over the ultimate horror that occurs. Others in the cast include Andre Braugher, William Sadler, Laurie Holden, Frances Sternhagen and Jeffrey DeMunn. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden is also part of the cast, as a bible-thumper who believes this entire situation to be the judgement day at hand, and in my opinion anyway, she’s the weakest link of the film, starting off already as a bit of a hateful person and just keeping that same note throughout the film. In her part, either in the direction of the character or else by casting someone else, had that character been made a little more even-keeled starting out and grown into the hateful person they became, that would’ve actually added more to the horror of the situation.

But still, this is a very good movie, and really I can live with Harden’s performance here. What was worse was the actual audience that we saw this with, which was one of the worst audiences that I’d seen a movie with in a long time- immature to the extreme, they’re the sort of audience that just makes a seasoned filmgoer like myself believe more and more that mass audiences really can’t handle a lot of unconventional stuff, or even mature stuff thrown at them. While I really enjoyed the film, this is one instance where I almost wish I could’ve waited to discover this one at home more than anything else. The Mist certainly does get a high recommendation, but just beware the audience that you see it with…

And now a little follow up (the above was written when the movie first came out), I just bought the 2-disk package on this last week and watched The Mist again last weekend. One of the highlights, actually the main reason to buy the 2-disk package of the film, is a “Director’s Cut” from Frank Darabont here which basically presents the film as he wanted to present it- in black and white. Darabont has a little introduction as to why he wanted to make the movie this way and I have to say, the final result is far superior to how it was originally shown. A black and white presentation, especially with a film like this, just adds to it’s creepiness and actually keeps your focus more on the entire piece. I plan to watch this again in color at some point in the future, but as far as I’m concerned, the black and white print is the way to see The Mist.

Also above, I mentioned my problems with Marcia Gay Harden in the film and after watching this again, I’m actually very cool with her performance now, and part of this… again… is probably due to the black and white presentation. Obviously I cannot recommend this enough.

On top of this, I’d highly encourage watching the featurettes on the disk as well, especially the Making of The Mist featurette- they talk to everyone about all aspects of the film. The most fun here though is with Frank Darabont himself who’s literally a kid in the candy store with this movie. And for those that might have a problem with the new ending (which I didn’t have a problem with the ending), no less than Stephen King himself says it’s a great ending and if he’d thought of it, he would’ve wrote it.

The Mist 2-Disk Special Edition is one great package, if you liked the movie in theatres, don’t hesitate for a moment to buy this package.

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DVD Review: Justice League: The New Frontier

OK, I’m actually holding out to buy this on HD-DVD when it hits on March 18th, but I couldn’t wait to see it any longer, so I bought the rental of this through the Xbox Video Store last night. It’s available in Standard and High Definitions, and for these rentals, it’s pricier than normal. Hoosiers is also new to the Xbox Live marketplace, and it’s standard def version costs 240 points, whereas JL: TNF costs 320 (and the High-Def is 480 points compared to Hoosier’s 360). I DLed the Standard def version and watched it late last night.

Justice League: The New Frontier is the second direct-to-dvd animated feature from Warner Brothers and DC Comics, following up last year’s spectacular Superman: Doomsday. This is an adaptation of Darwyn Cooke’s six-part series which basically took a look at the DC Comics characters from the start of the Silver Age and set them against a more realistic backdrop then what they were in when originally published- covering a 7 year period from 1953 to 1960. Cooke’s original series is one of my all-time favorite DC Comics stories, and for the most part, the animated film does a great job of capturing the spirit of the piece. The biggest drawback to the animated feature is basically it’s running time. This easily could’ve been a 90-minute or even a 2-hour film and had felt more full, but right now, Warners is pushing to keep these features in the 70+ minute range, probably for budgetary considerations more than anything else. Within those constraints though, they do a pretty good job of covering the high points of Cooke’s series, and almost all of the other points are at least mentioned in some form or another.

It’s very nicely animated and of course, Cooke’s style lends itself to this animation very well. It at least looks like a mix of 2D traditional animation with 3D cel-shaded animation for vehicles, and for the most part it’s a great look. Some of my favorite bits in the film involve the Flash taking on Captain Cold in Las Vegas, Batman saving a young child from a cult and just about any scene with Superman in it.

The voice cast is absolutely stellar here, and kudos go out to Andrea Romano for her consistently high standards for these Warners productions. This features the following in the voice cast:

David Boreanaz – Hal Jordan/Green Lantern
Neil Patrick Harris – The Flash
Kyle MacLachlan – Superman
Jeremy Sisto – Batman
Lucy Lawless – Wonder Woman
Miguel Ferrer – J’Onn J’Onzz, The Martian Manhunter
John Heard – Ace Morgan
Kyra Sedgewick – Lois Lane
Brooke Shields – Carol Ferris

They all do a great job, but I was really surprised by two in particular: Brooke Shields did a terrific job as Carol Ferris, strong, confident and sexy all at once in her performance, she really committed to this and Jeremy Sisto as Batman, which is about as different a vocal take on Batman as any, yet for this time period, it just seems really right.

I really enjoyed this, I truly did, but I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be, and I think it’s just a matter of having my expectations so high considering the source material, but with that said, I expect I’ll be taken with it even more on subsequent viewings, just because that initial phase is over. I give Warners and DC huge credit for even attempting to adapt this as an animated feature, as it’s pretty ambitious and it’s take on the characters is hardly the contemporary take that everyone’s used to. I honestly cannot wait to watch this again when it hits on HD-DVD, and I expect to have even more fun with it then.

Now keep in mind too, I’m a huge DC Comics fan, I’m a huge comics fan in general, but DC Comics were my first exposure to comics and thus, they’ve always been my favorites out of the big two publishers. I don’t think JL: TNF is a movie that someone who knows nothing of these characters is going to enjoy that much, I think at least some sort of passing familiarity is needed, and really the more you know, the better. I think if you at least know who the Superfriends were, well then you’ll probably be able to pick up on this, but after that, this might be a struggle for a casual viewer.

Still though, this gets a big recommendation and the DVD package features a lot of great extras, including a history of the Justice League, a couple of commentary tracks (one from Darwyn Cooke), a making of featurette, and a preview of Batman: Gotham Knight the next DC direct-to-dvd project.

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DVD Review: Superman – Doomsday

Superman – Doomsday is the first in DC’s direct-to-DVD animated features utilizing some key storylines from DC Comics rich history. This one starts it, and then next year will see Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier and then Marve Wolfman’s and George Perez’s Teen Titans story The Judas Contract following that. If Superman – Doomsday is any indication at all, DC and Warners are going to make one hell of a mark in original DVD productions, because this first one is absolutely fantastic.

Superman – Doomsday tackles one of the biggest and best Superman stories ever, The Death and Return of Superman and it certainly does take some liberties with the original story. You won’t find the Justice League involved with the battle with Doomsday, and you won’t see the appearances of Steel, Superboy, the Eradicator and the Cyborg in the return part, as the movie is only about 70 minutes long. This compresses the event considerably, but it never loses the flavor of the piece, and the result is a tightly paced, extra dynamic and highly emotional (in the good way) film that at least in my estimation makes this one of the finest Superman stories ever brought to any sort of filmed medium.

That’s saying a lot, I know, but with Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano and the Warners animation team behind this, based on their past track records, it was already in good hands. Timm and his crew have re-designed all the characters, and if there’s any caveat at all it’s that a couple of lines have been added to Superman’s face that makes it a little disconcerting to see when you first see him, but by it’s end, I was used to it, and in some angles it actually works really well. The look that they’ve come up with is closer to the animated look that you’re used to seeing, but this Superman is a little leaner and more chiseled, and in sort of an animated reflection and amalgam of all of the artists who worked on the feature at the time. All of the supporting characters have undergone some re-designs as well. This literally is not at all supposed to be seen as a continuation of the original animated series, but something brand new and designed to stand on it’s own, and in my opinion, it really succeeds.

There’s little salutes and homages to all sorts of versions of Superman in the past too, from little details in the backgrounds, like seeing one of the Mechanical Monsters from the Fleischer cartoons in the fortress, and the statues of Jor-El and Lara as depicted by John Byrne’s re-vamp to a little flying sequence that virtually mimics the way Christopher Reeve did it in the first movie, this is a true treasure trove for a Superman fan.

As always, the Warners voice work is head and shoulders above anyone else’s out there. Adam Baldwin is the voice of Superman, Anne Heche is the voice of Lois Lane and James Marsters provides the voice of Lex Luthor amongst others in the film. Heche and Marsters are particularly good here, and I think Heche is the real standout in one scene in particular where Lois Lane goes to meet with Martha Kent.

This is also the first ever PG-13 rated Superman movie, and it earns that rating, being more mature than other films, and much more violent. I was pleased to see that they really let themselves cut loose here.

The disk also includes some very nice extras. The centerpiece being a very long piece that focuses on the comics at the time and interviewing all of the creators involved, even showcasing some video of he creators at work during one of the Superman summits that DC conducts regularly. For comic fans, this one is a real treat. There’s also a nice short on the voice casting of the film, and I always find those things, particularly on the Warners pieces, to be fun viewing. And Warners has even tossed in a 10-minute featurette on The New Frontier as well, and that looks like it might re-define these movies all over again.

I cannot recommend this one enough, if you’re at all curious, just go ahead and buy it, and if you’re a Superman fan, this will really be treasured in your collection, I know it is in mine anyway. Go get it!!

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DVD Review: Yo-Yo Girl Cop

Magnolia Entertainment has done a fine job lately of bring over some very cool Asian cinema to both theatres and DVD lately. With releases like The Host and Tears of the Black Tiger we get some highly entertaining looks at other cultures, all wrapped up in very good films. The Host was a terrific look at Korea and Tears of the Black Tiger gave a great look at Thailand, and now Magnolia is back with a look at Japanese school culture, but in a very over-the-top way with Yo-Yo Girl Cop.

It’s the present day in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, and a young school girl is running about frantically with a bomb strapped to her chest, trying to get clear of the crowd of people- and then the bomb goes off! We learn that she was a special police operative who’s mission was to look into a website called Enola Gay, that’s counting down to something mysterious. The site is a resource for students without hope, and that leads the police to want to place a special operative within the school to find out more. There’s only 72 hours left to the countdown, and desperate measure force the “recruitment” of a new operative, a young girl named K, who’s been deported from New York is given the option of either serving the force or not having any hope of seeing her mother again. She takes on the name of Asamiya Saki and begins her job of uncovering the secret behind the Enola Gay site, with her only weapon being a deadly steel yo-yo…

Now I’m not that familiar with this, but apparently Yo-Yo Girl Cop has some heavy duty history and this is the first the character has been seen in 20 years. The DVD package touts this as from the creator of Battle Royale which is also heavily vested in Japanese school culture. To an American audience, watching this and taking it literally will no doubt have you thinking that Japanese schools are Columbines just waiting to happen, but yet to me this is all played very, very broad, very tongue-in-cheek, almost like this wild adolescent anime come to life. I really had no problems following it at all, but at the same time, again for a Western audience, you’ll no doubt see moments in this film where it just looks like logic has flown out the window.

The action is pretty decent in the film and it even takes it upon itself to make fun of itself in a few places (basically moments when Asamiya Saki is getting ready to go into action with her yo-yo), but once it gets to it’s end, it goes fairly balls out, and again, I thought very entertaining to watch.

Aya Matsuura is the young actress who plays Asamiya Saki, and again, near as I can tell, she’s a Japanese singing star who’s making her acting debut with this film. Well, she certainly does commit to the part and definitely brings an earnestness to it.

It’s a good-looking disc, in anamorphic widescreen with a 1:1.85 ratio and it features 5.1 and 2.0 surround sound in both Japanese and an English dub. I watched this with the English dub, and overall it’s pretty good, though the original Japanese will give you the natural voices of all of the characters. Usually movies like this I think are worth watching both ways.

This includes a Making Of featurette, that’s right in line with what Magnolia did for Tears of the Black Tiger. What this is is a subtitled TV special made in Japan about the film, and it features some nice behind the scenes footage, as well as some background on the various actors and actresses in the film. And of course, it’s very cool to see a Japanese television show like this, just to get a tast of the culture.

While I really enjoyed this, I can’t necessarily give it a good recommendation for a wide audience, but then I don’t think that’s who it’s for either. This one’s for fans of Japanese films, anime and manga and for those that like to see a little something different. It brings to mind for me other Japanese films like Takashi Miike’s Fudoh (though Fudoh is a way more extreme piece of work and definitely more for an audience that knows Miike’s films) and Suicide Club, a film with a similar premise at it’s core, but much, much more serious in it’s execution. While this doesn’t carry the same impact as either of those two, still I thought it was fun to watch.

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DVD Review: Dynamite Warrior

The year is 1855 and the location is Thailand. Thailand has just entered into a treaty that brings them into the forefront of world trade. But farmers can’t keep up the production with their normal resources, so they need more buffalo brought into pull their plows. Buffalo traders are happy to oblige, but they’re being pursued by mysterious warrior who combines his martial arts skill with a use of rockets and explosives- and he’s out for revenge, looking for a trader who killed his mother and father. All the while, progress is making it’s way through, and one slick character known as both Lord Sirokorn and Lord Waeng (I’m gonna refer to him as Lord Waeng) is trying to sell tractors at an exorbitant price. Well, no one is buying, so Lord Waeng enlists a group of outlaws to start to steel all of the buffalo and force the farmers to buy from Lord Waeng. And eventually, all forces involved come together for a huge showdown…

And that’s the basic premise of Dynamite Warrior a highly, highly entertaining Thai film (my second Thai film this year, my first being the equally entertaining Tears of the Black Tiger) that pushes itself as “from the makers of Ong-Bak” and that may be true, but thematically, this owes way more to Stephen Chow and his movies Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle than anything else. While this might have it’s historical significance (and it certainly looks like it’s been taken very seriously as far as the visual look and the lifestyle portrayals), believe me, the movie itself plays as more a giant cartoon than anything else, and really I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think trying to treat this seriously would’ve resulted in a stuffier film, nowhere near as fun as this is.

I’ve read other reviews online that have talked about the acting here as being very bad, and then y’know I just think they’re missing the point of the film- I think it is supposed to be as broad as it is, Dan Chupong who plays the Dynamite Warrior in question is typically stoic and he plays the hero well, but it’s the rest of the cast that makes this fun, at least from a character standpoint, in particular with the actor who play Lord Waeng. But Chupong excels with the stunt work, and really that’s what everyone is here to see, and you’ll see some nice stuff and some pretty original stuff too, especially when combined with the rocket attacks.

Dynamite Warrior is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format and available in 5.1 sound in both Thai and English dubs. This also includes a couple of extras around the making of the film and the stunts, and they’re subtitled featurettes, figuring that they’ve been created for their native land and then translated for domestic release.

Like I said, I just thought this was a lot of fun to watch, and it certainly gets points with me with it’s milieu as well, this isn’t a period I know a lot about and while I wouldn’t say this is at all a totally historical piece, it is showing me something on screen that I’m not used to seeing. Have fun with this one.

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A Trio On DVD This Week…

(I didn’t see any movies at all in theatres this weekend, and while I do have a DVD review or two coming up in the near future, there are three movies coming out on DVD this week that are all highly worth seeing: The Host, Zodiac and Renaissance. the following reviews have appeared elsewhere before my work was picked up by The Fanboy Smackdown, but they still apply to all three of these movies… by the way, these three movies are all out this week in what is a true geek-gasm of a week on DVD- you also have a special 2-disk set of John Woo’s epic action film Hard-Boiled (very much worth seeing) and an 80s kids classic The Monster Squad (which I think is very entertaining).)

Theatrical Review: The Host
(from Arpil of 2007)

The Hills Have Eyes 2 is one end of the extremes of movie viewing this weekend, then the Korean-made The Host is at the other extreme and is truly, to paraphrase a St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic, a monster movie that transcends the genre… and as far as I’m concerned, right up there with 300 as one of the best things that I’ve seen this year thus far… Do not miss this if you get the chance…

The Host details the story of a mutated sea creature that begins to terrify Korean citizens and supposedly in it’s aftermath, it leaves behind a virus that kills anyone who’s had contact. We follow the Park family through this saga, the father Gang-Du, his daughter Hyun-Seo, his sister Nam-Joo, his brother Nam-Il and Gang Du’s father, Hie-Bong, who runs a food stand. Gang-Du himself is sort’ve without direction, but his daughter is a true light in his life. And when the monster takes Hyun-Seo from him and his family- it obviously re-purposes this father… and the rest of his family.

What follows is an absolutely engrossing sequence of events which just left me in awe of just how much fun a good, old-fashioned monster film can be when it’s handled just right… The Host does just that, delivering one of the coolest movie monsters in recent years and giving you a group of characters that you actually give a damn about. Where I think it stumbles (but only so slightly), is in some of the accounts given about the virus, which is basically a bit where the movie tries to get a little political. Oh, it doesn’t bang you over the head with it, but then it doesn’t really have a lot of direction either- with some direction, and being well-done, it could give you a bit of something to think about, and yet the way it’s done here, it’s more in the way than anything else…

But do not let that get in the way of seeing this– Director Bong Jung-Hoo has crafted something extremely special here that’s all at once dramatic, funny, terrifying and exhilarating to watch. I think that Richard Roeper called the visual effects “cheesy” (which is something he likes to throw around every now and then) and frankly, here, he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about- from the first moments that the monster appears, it’s just as convincing as can be with not only great, grand effects moments but some real subtle ones as well. This is a thrill ride done right, and it features an ending that is both heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time…

You might have to work to seek this one out, but if you want to see a quality monster/science fiction movie, then make the effort (I got to see it at St. Louis’ premiere art house, The Tivoli, in it’s main room… next week it will be out of that room to make way for David Lynch’s Inland Empire, another one of the movies that I’m most anticipating this year) because honestly I have no idea how long this will be around in most theatres. This will be fun to watch on DVD later, but really don’t deprive yourself of seeing this on the big screen if you get the chance… highly, highly recommended…[

Theatrical Review: Zodiac (from March of 2007)

In the late 60s and the early 70’s the Californians between the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas were terrorized by the exploits of a serial killer known as the Zodiac. It’s a case that to this day remains technically unsolved, although there are many facts that point to one specific subject presented in Robert Graysmith’s book Zodiac.

Zodiac is David Fincher’s latest film and it details the efforts of the San Francisco Chronicle and various police departments in their search for finding the killer before he can terrorize again, focusing primarily on three key players, SFPD Detective David Toschi, San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery, and San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, with a lot more characters in tow. And it’s one hell of a film from Fincher…

A word of warning already, this is a very long movie coming in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, Fincher almost has this as two movies in one, with the first half of the film being very procedural and detailing efforts from all quarters in solving this. The second half though is focused around Graysmith and his point of view dealing with many of the prime characters a few years after the Zodiac was more in his prime. Like Craig Brewer does with Black Snake Moan, David Fincher does the same with Zodiac giving you a movie that visually invokes a lot of style of films from the 70s, even going so far as to using the logos for Paramount and Warners from that period in opening the film.

But it goes further than that… this film is intricately detailed, but not in a way that seems implausible or that it would be hard to follow. In fact I’d go out on a limb and say that this might be the most researched film that I’ve seen since United 93 with Fincher taking great strides to show you just how hard it was to even coordinate efforts in that time period compared to now, making this case extremely difficult to solve… there were no computers, very few fax machines, no internet, no DNA testing during this time frame, and it’s a wonder that all quarters made as much progress as they did.

Fincher’s got a great cast here, with Mark Ruffalo as Toschi, Robert Downey Jr. as Avery and Jake Gyllenhaal as Graysmith and they’re well supported by folks like Anthony Edwards, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, James LeGros and Chloe Sevigny. Special notice has to go to the always good as gold Brian Cox though for playing attorney Melvin Belli to a tee (there’s even a mention of his Star Trek appearance in the film).

Anyway, this was obviously a great weekend at the movies for me, without a doubt, Zodiac joins Breach and Black Snake Moan as one of the early best of 2007. I think that if you’re a fan of Fincher’s other films (Se7en, Fight Club and Panic Room) you really owe it to yourself to go out and see this in theatres just to watch a master filmmaker at work… highly, highly recommended…

Theatrical Review: Renaissance (from October 2006, a couple of weeks before Casino Royale opened)

It’s Paris in the year 2054. A high level scientist/executive for a leading corporation has vanished, and now it’s up to an intrepid police detective captain, Karas and the victim’s sister, Bislaine, to track her down and the mystery at the core of her disappearance.

And in brief, that’s the core story of Renaissance, an incredible new direction in computer animation from the French that is simply the most visually stunning movie I’ve seen this year. Basically the film has been shot using motion captured actors, then computer animated. But then the computer animation has been processed over in a stunning, stark black and white process that for many will invoke Frank Miller’s Sin City comic. Personally, I think the look of the film is closer to the work of artists like Steranko or Paul Gulacy- but it doesn’t matter, the end result is just beautiful and an effective way to tell a story for adults using computer animation.

The story itself owes much to past efforts like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell or even more recent films like Aeon Flux or Ultraviolet and it’s both complex and yet, as long as you’re paying attention, easy to follow. And the filming techniques are also evocative of past films, for me, most notably Hitchcock.

The animation though is the star of this show, and it’s really, really quite well done, especially with this process. Had this been animated in color with a traditional technique, it probably wouldn’t approach the efforts of a Pixar or a Squaresoft, but using the black and white process, there’s amazing life here, especially in the animation of Karas, where there’s a great deal of character subtlety.

Even though it’s been animated with motion captured actors, it’s been voiced by better known screen actors, with Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Ian Holm and Johnathan Pryce leading the cast, and they’re all quite good here, in particular Craig- who even with his voice work here makes me look forward to what he’ll do as James Bond even more.

Without a doubt, this is definitely one of the best-looking movies I’ve seen all year. and even though it’s story is fairly traditional, the technique of the film is enough to make you want to follow this thing all the way through. Director Christian Volckman and his crew have really created something quite stunning here, and once again the possibilities in computer animation breaks new ground. Highly recommended.

(Happy viewing!!! There’s some great stuff here all worth seeing…)

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DVD Review: Ghost Rider

Following in a long vein of mediocre superhero films comes a sparkling gem that sets itself apart from the rest of the soot-ridden rocks accumulating in Stan Lee’s closet.

Ghost Rider is the story of Johnny Blaze (Matt Long), a young, hotshot daredevil looking to make a name for himself. When not leaping through hoops or crashing unceremoniously, he sees a lovely young woman (Raquel Alessi) and spends time with his alcoholic, chimney-smoking dad (Brett Cullen).

Much to his surprise, he discovers that his dad has been diagnosed with cancer, and its spread. Saddened, he decides to think about his life, and reassess things. It’s on this fateful eve that a worn-out thespian (Peter Fonda) decides to pay him a visit, offering him his father’s perfect health for the mere price of his earthly soul.

Deed signed, soul sold, his father makes a miraculous recovery. We soon find, however, that all good things do come at a steep price. Our aged octogenarian friend is soon revealed as no one other than Mephisto himself, and Blaze, his new bounty hunter.

Fast-forward some decades, and we find Blaze (Nicolas Cage) once again up to his old stunts, only his dares now border closer to suicidal than thrill-seeking. Luck doesn’t favor our protagonist much, however, as it appears Mephisto has a need for his little errand boy, and his pimp-hand is strong.

Overall, the movie follows a very linear plot. Boy finds dream, boy loses faith, boy sells soul to devil, and then, boy becomes a flaming-headed servant of Satan. There are a few hiccups along the way, but throughout, it seems a little bit forced.

At times, it seems as though the writers would face obstacles in plot development the same way Johnny did… driving over them with a mother****ing Hellcycle!

Still, this leaves too many questions unexplored, and even critical plot moments seem fake in retrospect. It’s too easy, all of it. From the tragic romance to the climatic battles. Nothing that would seem to even make Ant-Man break a sweat.

Despite its shortcomings, it does have some stunning visual effects, and some amazing stunts, but at times, it feels that the entire plot was merely created as a justification to put Nick Cage in a leather biker outfit, and have him drive up and down buildings.

Still, it does not fall as short as some of the more recent superhero flops (*cough* Spider-Man III *coooughh*), but it never does soar higher than the likes of Daredevil, or Elektra.

While there may be heart, this movie lacks heavily in the way of soul, seemingly as devoid of one as villain. Ooh, yes, I went there Blackheart… whatcha gonna do? I didn’t even know your name until I looked it up on Wikipedia!

Final Score – ** (Average)

Fanboy Score – ** (Average)

Final Word – If you’re just in to watching summer blockbusters, or movies that develop plot, you’ll find little here other than a CGI demonstration, but if you’re a die-hard fan, and don’t despise Nicholas Cage, you might like what little story there is, if you can let go of the fantasy that this is a serious movie.

DVD Review Text Reviews

DVD Review: Eraserhead

Continuing talking about some movies that might not necessarily get talked about…

Y’know, I honestly can’t claim to understand in detail every little move David Lynch has ever made in a movie- hell some of the movies are still most mysterious to me, but… I sure do get a lot of pleasure watching his films… say what you will about the content, one thing cannot be denied and that’s that David Lynch is a true American original…

Eraserhead is Lynch’s very first movie- it’s been available for awhile now through Lynch’s website, but I’ve never had the gumption to order it from there. Within the last year though, Lynch opened this up from being available exclusively on his site, and finally I bought the movie.

With my most recent viewing, that had now marked the third time that I’ve seen this, and for me, it was the most enthusiastic that I’ve been yet at the end of seeing this- I mean I can’t wait to sit back and watch this again, very soon (oh if Lost Highway would just make it to DVD- and with the rest of my Lynch films, I’d have the makings for a hell of a Lynch film festival).

When I first saw Eraserhead, I was in my mid-20s and married and my wife and I rented this one night- we knew it was a cult movie with horrific overtones, but that was about it. We watched it, scratched our heads, said “the hell is this?” and returned the tape back to the rental place.

The second time I saw Eraserhead, I was divorced and in my mid-30s, and much more receptive to different forms of cinema, but there was still something that was extremely off-putting to me about this, I just couldn’t get into it, and worse, I was bored by it…

My most recent viewing was my third time seeing this and I gotta say I had a friggin’ blast watching this, now in my early 40s, a lot more receptive than I’ve been before with film, and just even extra excited these days by watching David Lynch movies.

So if you’ve never seen Eraserhead, it’s sorta hard to get you prepped for what you’re gonna see… I mean this is real surrealist filmmaking, totally original to anything anyone else has done (the closest was probably E. Elias Merhige with Begotten) and yet it is an extremely personal film to Lynch…

Anyway, it goes a little something like this- Henry Spencer is a man with a lot of self doubt, he’s living in a rotted out area of some industrial center, and he’s quite the twitchy little man. Henry is involved with Mary X, and one night Henry goes to have dinner with Mary and her parents when Henry’s confronted with Mary being pregnant with his baby. And from there, well you know I can’t say, “it just gets weird” because this starts weird and it never, ever lets up… it’s been called a surrealist way Lynch had seen his life while living in Philadelphia and being a first time husband and father and all of the insecurities that go with that, as well as the little things that give you comfort during such hard times, I certainly see that… but there’s more as well, but that’s for you to discover.

This DVD is absolutely stunning… both the audio and visual quality is just right up there. The sound is in 2.0, but it’s some of the best 2.0 I’ve ever heard- the sound design in a Lynch movie has always been a hallmark, and here’s where it starts as Eraserhead is unsettling right from the first noise made. The look of the film is absolutely pristine and the disk is anamorphic widescreen with a 1:1.85 ratio, it’s probably never looked this good, and that just made me want to watch it even more (keep in mind, this is a black and white movie as well)… all of Lynch’s “tricks” are here, his set-ups, his pacing, this is where they all were birthed, and it’s still just as much fun as any of Lynch’s contemporary films are to sit back and let them soak in…

The DVD includes a few extras, including one called Stories, which has David Lynch telling you stories behind the production (but nothing specific as to what it’s all about- Dave will never do that) and this is actually pretty entertaining, but some will still get frustrated simply because he isn’t talking about the film, but more on the hows, whys and whos behind it…

If you’re up for some adventurous stuff, look no further than David Lynch’s first movie, Eraserhead… for those that don’t mind a little experimentation and a lot of surrealism, you might get a kick out of this…

DVD Review Text Reviews

DVD Review: Serenity

This is the kind of thing you don’t usually see in a typical space opera. Instead of taking a helm seat during the greatest struggle in the history of the galactic republic, we get to watch moments reminiscent of Han Solo making the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.

But then, that is what makes this film so great.

Serenity follows the story of Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his ragtag crew of misfits. Popularized by the cult TV series, Firefly, we get a feature length look into the lives of a band of space mercs bent on collecting the almighty dollar. And, Gorram it, it’s shiny.

Without delving too deeply into exposition explaining fourteen episodes of brilliant dialogue and beautiful character development, Serenity is a continuation of an ongoing storyline, that of River Tam (Summer Glau), a gifted young woman, and her brother, Simon Tam (Sean Maher), who rescued her from the blue-handed clutches of the insidious Alliance.

On the run from the law, the siblings manage to take up keep on a Firefly-class transport ship named Serenity. Despite corruption and thievery, they manage to make themselves useful enough to keep most of Mal’s ire at bay, and become members of the jolly bunch.

Flash-forward to the beginning of the movie, and it seems as though trouble has once again caught up to our big damn heroes. A nameless man, identified only as “The Operative”, has begun tracking the ship and its crew, forcing them into a number of difficult and dangerous situations.

The crew eventually manages to elude him long enough to figure out just what the secret is hidden inside of River. After the revelation sinks in, that the knowledge they possess could actually threaten the great and mighty Alliance, they decide to misbehave.

Rounded out with the rest of the crew, Jayne (Adam Ballwin), Zoë and Wash (Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk), Inara (Morena Baccarin), Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and the good Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), this action-packed feature-length film brings back all that was good about the show.

However, appealing to a niche group does have its drawbacks, and to some, the film might come off a hint confusing. All of the interplay between characters is painstakingly preserved, and though a delight to listen to as it flows beautifully, some might feel a bit awkward without the afore knowledge granted by the TV show.

What struck me as most entertaining about this film, however, was the way it was driven. Unlike films such as Star Wars, or anything Star Trek, Serenity is driven entirely by its characters, and they are strong. Where as most supporting roles are usually flushed out more fully in the course of additional novel tie-ins, and comic book adaptations, the characters aboard the Serenity just feel real enough already.

Joss Whedon (Writer, Director) employs a large number of interesting tricks and tacks to make this movie work. From the sweeping camera shots in the beginning that help to introduce and establish the ship and its crew, to the dramatic and shocking moments near the end, and, let’s just say, Joss plays for keeps.

All in all this movie is packed full of style and grace, enough for any Science Fiction fan, and is a cult classic. If you don’t quote the film regularly, it’s just a gorram shame.

Final Score – **** (Excellent)

Fanboy Score – **** (Excellent)

Final Word – I really wanted to find five stars for this movie somewhere, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

As a critical viewer, the movie is stunning and innovative in terms of both dialogue and character development, but it falls short of perfect due to a somewhat muddled back-story and poor translation for those not privy to the TV show.

As a fan of the series and the movie, I can’t give it a perfect because I feel some important decisions were not taken as seriously as they should have been, and I believe it was evident that Joss Whedon unleashed some of his hostility towards FOX and the cancellation of his show on this film.