Archive for May, 2012

Random Movie of the Week: Heavyweights

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When people look back at the family/comedy movies they enjoyed as a kid, they usually think, “Wow, I actually thought this was funny.”  This is especially true for television shows but sadly it applies to movies too.  Being a child of the 90’s, I used to love movies like Good Burger, a spin-off of the Nickelodeon show All That, and all the vintage Disney animation films.  But most of them obviously lose their luster once you hit a certain age.  One of the few movies to deny this tradition, in my opinion, is Heavyweights.  Maybe it is because I was in the same boat as its characters being a chubby adolescent or maybe because it was one of the early films to feature both Jerry and Ben Stiller.  Either way I love this movie just as much now as I did when it came out nearly twenty years ago.

For those that have not seen or heard of Heavyweights, the synopsis is as follows:  Gerry (Aaron Schwartz) upon arriving home from school for the start of summer find out his parents signed him up for a summer long weight-loss camp or, as many others may call it, a fat camp.  With all the reluctance in the world, Gerry is force to go to the camp and comes to find that this camp is anything but a weight loss but a sweets-filled, all play, fun camp full of kids just like him.  Unfortunately the camp’s owners (Jerry Stiller being one of them) sells the camp to an egotistic, exercise freak, Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller), that plans to turn the camp into a weight-loss infomercial product.  Gerry and his friend now have to do whatever it takes to get the camp restored to its old ways.  Here is the trailer:

Even though this is a Disney movie, this movie really is fun for everyone.  It does not have right production value but what family movie does?  The comedy in this movie is very light-hearted and is very relatable for anyone.  Plus it is one of the few Judd Apatow written films that is not vulgar and still funny!  The film does follow that formula typical of any Disney movie in terms of the order of events everything being okay to facing adversity in the face and then going back to okay.  It is kids acting for the most part so you cannot be tough on anyone but these kids were hysterical together.  That on top of all the cameos be actors who are in all sorts of well known comedies these days, you cannot go wrong watching this.

My verdict:  a 10/10 sincee I related so much to this movie because of how I too was picked on as a kid for being overweight.  That on top of just good family fun I do not know anyone that does not like or love this movie.

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Chernobyl Diaries Review: Fun But Nothing Special

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When I was walking out of the theater everyone was saying, “I thought this was supposed to be a found footage movie.”  That said, Bradley Parker’s Chernobyl Diaries is not a found footage film but it has that same feel to it.  It has the shaky camera work and eye-level angles that make you feel like you are seeing what the characters are.  There was no establishing shots or anything of that nature.  So if you are not a found footage fan based on the way it looks, you probably will not like this horror movie.  But if you are like me and do like found footage moviesl you will like it at least a little bit.

The story is as follows:  A group of American friends go on a trip to Europe and stop to visit one’s brother who signs them up for a tour with a few other foreigners guided by an ex-special ops officer to the ruins of the radiation zone of Chernobyl only to find it is not abandoned after all.  If I had to make a comparison, it is The Hills Have Eyes meets any found footage movie like Paranormal Activity or Cloverfield.  I am not going to go much further into the plot because I do not want to risk spoiling anything.  So instead here is the trailer to spoil things for you:

Chernobyl Diaries was the directorial debut of Bradley Parker who until this point did visual effects and it shows.  The visuals in this movie are great!  The eerie setting and lighting is a effective when companied with those tension building pauses typical of Oren Peli’s work that set up jumpy scenes.  For those that do not know, Peli is the director and creator of Paranormal Activity.  That said I was expecting a little more originality to the story.  It was very predictable and was nothing we had not seen in other horror movies.  The characters are nothing unique and add up to the stereotypical ones of every horror movie (group leader, wing-man, love interest, that whiny/annoying person you cannot wait to see die, etc).  So needless to say I could care less what happened to them.

Even though the characters lacked the acting really was not too bad.  No one was really over the top with emotion which is unusual for a horror movie where people are getting picked off one by one.  Jesse McCartney and Jonathan Sadowski worked well as brothers and played off each other real well, Olivia Dudley was the clingy girlfriend that I did not like but did not hate, Devin Kelley was great in here role by growing as the movie goes, Nathan Phillips was practical as Michael, and Dimitri Diatchenko was great as the Ukrainian ex-special ops officer, Uri.  Ingrid Bolso Berdal was very forgettable and replaceable as Zoe, a character that did nothing.

Overall, I give it a 6/10.  It something fun to go to with friends.  It is by no means adds anything new.  I kind of expected a little more from Oren Peli after Paranormal Activity and The River.

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Random Movie of the Week: Terri

(I do not own this photo)

Very few movies reflect the truth of high school experiences.  A lot of people see movies like American Pie, Superbad, Project X, or The Girl Next Door even and think, “Is that what high school is like in other places in the country?”  Well this high school comedy/drama paints a pretty true picture much like the way The Breakfast Club did.  I am not saying that Terri is similar, just that the story and characters feel real by saying and doing things typical of any high school student.

Terri follows a tall, overweight loner (Jacob Wysocki) that is missing excitement in his life once he starts taking care of his uncle who is suffering from some form of dementia.  Terri begins to wear his lack of enthusiasm for his life by dressing in nothing but pajamas which catches the attention of the high school principal (John C. Reilly).  In working with the principal Terri becomes acquainted with some schoolmates that he did not expect to interact with.  Need more information or want to put a face to the names, here is the trailer:

This drama-comedy is more towards the drama side but does have its share of dry comedy.  Being an independent film, the way the movie is shot is very raw.  What I mean is its use of silence due to lack of dialogue or background music, in my opinion, helps it by making it feel real.  When we walk through everyday life there is no background or theme music so why should these sorts of movies?  When I say there is a lack of dialogue I do not mean there is not any but the dialogue feels very authentic for the characters and situations.

The two performances to make note of in this film are from Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly.  Now I am not sure how old Wysocki actually is but he looks like he could still be in high school.  If you think back to the kids in high school that fit his physical description they act just like he does in this movie!  He is very reserved and has resentment towards authority such as the gym teacher (great scene by the way) and when he meets with the principal, John C. Reilly.  Reilly plays the role to perfection.  Principal Fitzgerald reminded me a lot of the guidance counselors of at my high school and how I thought they would be behind closed doors.  They come off as sort of tough in front of others but when they work with “disruptive” students I could see them being very buddy-buddy and try to establish a connection using a formula they use for all their other students.  It essentially shows that they do not treat other students like they are unique which I have always thought.

Overall, I give it a 7/10 because I feel the meaning of the film kind of fades towards the end of the movie.  Again it is a very dry comedy which is not everyone’s cup of tea.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Book vs. Movies

After seeing both the American and Swedish film of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I finally decided to read the book.  I know what you are all thinking, “Wow welcome to the rest of the world.”  Normally when a movie comes out that is based on a book I am everything shy of compelled to read the book.  Even some of my all time favorites such as Jaws and Jurassic Park where everyone said, “the book was better” I could have cared less about read it.  But here are two films that tell a meticulous story with the most captivating heroine I have ever seen in a film.  Though the two films have a lot in common, there are noticeable differences which fueled my interest to answer the question:  Which of the two adaptations of the book is more accurate.

Now before I proceed further I must mention this does contain spoilers and that the Swedish version I saw was the extended cut with around 30 minutes more footage than the original which may hinder my comparison.  When analyzing it I am going to break it into three categories: (1) the story, (2) Mikael Blomkvist, and (3) the most commonly debated topic Lisbeth Salander.

The Story

As usual it is impossible for the movie to contain everything that is in the novel.  The interesting thing, however, is that each film chose to include details that may have been left out in the other.  They both play down what exactly it was that went wrong with Blomkvist’s investigation into the Wennerstrom  Corporation because , let’s be honest, it is a dry topic full of legal mumbo-jumbo that is very detailed in Stieg Larsson’s novel.  I am not sure how much of the legal lingo even makes sense or is accurate along with all the technological discussion but Larsson sounded convincing.

Anyway, what the American version included I thought was important was the cat, the letters/numbers of Harriet’s diary, and the ending.  The cat may not seem important but it kind of was.  The cat was Blomkvist’s only companion for a lot of his early research.  Then when its decapitated carcass shows up it both shows someone was on to what Blomkvist was researching and hints at the source of who could have done it.  In this version, Blomkvist daughter is the one who reveals to him that the letters and numbers are out of the bible which implicate Harriet was on to something.  This was not left out of the Swedish film but rather he discovered their meanings in a different way.  As for the ending, Salander disguises as the complete opposite of how she normally looks to rob Wennerstrom and prove Blomkvist’s innocence which is covered more in the Swedish film version of The Girl Who Played With Fire.

The Swedish extended version includes a lot!  It includes the fact that Blomkvist has to serve jail time for an invalid source (if that is what you want to call it) in his article investigating Wennerstrom, which is an important piece of the story.  However the film did place it at the end of Blomkvist’s contract with Henrik Vanger rather than in the middle but they manage to still make it work without interruption.  Next is the inclusion of Salander’s mother.  The American version shows Salander and her relationship with long-time guardian, Palmgren, but does not touch on her mother who is institutionalized and confuses Salander with her sister.  Then there is the climax where Salander rescues Blomkvist and sees the injured Martin Vanger crash into an oncoming truck; not the chase shown in the David Fincher version.  Final difference is where Blomkvist ultimately finds Harriet in Australia with all the sheep under Anita’s name, in Fincher’s she is found in London assuming Anita’s identity following Anita’s death in a car crash.

In terms of following the novel, I give the nod to the Swedish but the American version is very tight and has the budget that allowed it a tone that suited the dark subject matter.

Mikael Blomkvist

Put simply, Blomkvist is a hard working, professional, and intelligent journalist with morals and is good with the ladies.  So who pulls this off better, Michael Nyqvist or Daniel Craig?  To me it can be looked in two ways: which is closer to the novel and which is a better performance?  I feel Nyqvist stuck closer to the book.  He was arrogant, professional, and visibly tight lipped about anything that he did not want to discuss with others while investigating.  You could argue that Craig did the same thing but he made Blomkvist come off as condescending which he was not in the book.  He may have been arrogant but not condescending.  But his performance was unmatchable especially when confronted by Martin Vanger at the climax of the story.  You could see the fear in his eyes while his face attempted to put on a false front of composure.

Nypvist on Left & Craig on Right

Lisbeth Salander

Now the most controversial topic since both actresses put so much effort in preparation for the role.  From the piercings to the tattoos to her messy, short hair to smoking to riding a motorcycle, the list goes on.  I think we are all familiar with how much Salander isolates herself from human connections of any sort.  But the key was that she is also in some ways vulnerable, she has feelings for Blomkvist but does not know how to go about trusting him or opening up to him.  As the events unfold there are just so many points where if Salander were a real person all you would want to do is give her a hug for all the shit she goes through; but she would never allow it, that’s how she is.

When reading the book I imaged she looked more along the lines of Noomi Rapace with her high cheek-bones, piercing eyes, and studded-leather attire.  And Rapace nailed the awkward, vulnerable, and subdued hostility of the character described in the book.  But Rooney Mara took this to the next level.  Her tight-knit walk and blank yet hostile stare added such intimidation that brought more depth and complexity to the character.  Again looking at which one follows the book I would go with Rapace but overall performance (even though it is very very very close) I have to go with Mara.

Rapace on Left & Mara on Right

Conclusion

To sum up everything, the extended Swedish version closer follows the events of the novel but the American version has that Hollywood budget that gave it an atmosphere and depth that is truly unique.  Personally I preferred the Swedish version but still loved Fincher’s adaptation.  My stance will not line up with everyone else’s opinion I am sure so post your thoughts in the comments below!  I am interested to hear what others think.

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Random Movie of the Week: 61*

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Sport biography movies are all starting to blend these days.  Usually they follow them from their days as a child to when they eventually become pro and are rather formulaic whether it is about football, soccer, boxing, baseball, or any other sport.  But one that stands out in my mind is Billy Crystal film about the his sports hero growing up, Roger Maris, and the rude awakening he had when he got to the “greatest baseball team of all time” the New York Yankees.  It does not show him in high school hitting balls over the fence or in his back yard playing catch with his friends.  You jump ahead to being in the big leagues for a few years now before signing with the Yankees.  Now if you know anything at all about the sport of baseball, you know that the Yankees have a reputation for “buying players,” if that is what you want to call it.

61*’s synopsis is as follows:  Family man and professional baseball player, Roger Maris (Barry Pepper), battles both on and off the field to be a successful with the demanding New York City audience as he enters a season-long home run competition with aging teammate Mickey Mantle (Tom Jane) to pass the record New York Yankee legend Babe Ruth.  Here is the trailer:

It is rare to find a movie directed by the great Billy Crystal and surprisingly it is not a comedy!  Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of humorous moments in the film but for the most part it is a very good drama.  I first saw this film with my dad who has been a die-hard Yankee fan since birth and told me often about going to Yankee Stadium to see his favorite player, Mickey Mantle.  61* focuses on off the field events on top of on the field exposed me to all sorts of things I had no prior knowledge about including Mantle’s work hard, party harder mentality and the real toll the pressure of the city had on the Maris family as a whole.  Seriously makes you think about the athletes you idolized growing up and all the potential real problems they may have.

On top of the fantastic story told in 61*, the acting was impeccable.  Barry Pepper embodied the role of Roger Maris.  Pepper is often in the supporting role so it is nice to see him take lead in a movie and do so well at it.  If you caught one of my previous random movies of the week, Stander, then you know I am a huge Tom Jane fan and here is another movie of his that is lesser known where he really shows his acting chops.  Jane’s portrayal of Mantle is uncanny from how he looks to how he talks.  This movie features great, underrated performances from its two leading men.  Then there are all the supporting actors, too many to even begin to mention!  I guarantee when you watch it you will say “Hey, he’s in…” or at least “I know him from something…”

My rating for the movie is a definite 9/10.  Billy Crystal’s passion for this season in baseball history just shines through.  Even if you do not follow sports, you will find something to love about this movie!

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Damon Lindelof Comments on if Prometheus Viral Campaign & Trailer Spoil the Film?

(Photo from Collider.com)

It is safe to say that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus has had some of the smartest marketing I have ever seen for a film.  Not only does it tease us with some of the horror and action to be seen but leaves a lot of questions in your mind about how it all comes together.  So there is still a lot of mystery behind the film and everyone is keeping a tight lip about it.  The reason for the secrecy is that the completed version of the film is much different from the original script because of the involvement Lost writer Damon Lindelof according to Adam Chitwood of Collider.com.

Prior to Lindelof tossing his two cents into the script for Prometheus, Jon Spaihts had written essentially a direct prequel to Scott’s Alien.  An interview with “Entertainment Weekly” reveals that it was actually Lindelof’s idea to have Prometheus be a “parallel prequel.”  I must say that is pretty genius because ever since Alien 3, the xenomorph and all its different forms have lost their flair.  Alien Resurrection and the AVP’s just were no good.  This also should allow for a Prometheus 2, should fans demand it.

Lindelof then goes on to comment on the viral campaign, the videos featuring Michael Fassbender as David 8 and Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland.  This is what helps place it in front of Alien if you were to plot it on a timeline.  In Alien, Weyland Industries is well established where as in Prometheus it is just starting out considering its creator is still young and alive.

The latest full length reveals a lot more about the events in Prometheus.  If you have not yet seen the trailer that debuted almost two weeks ago refer to one of my earlier blogs about it.  If you have seen it, do you think it showed too much?  Lindelof states that with a lot of trailers lately you walk out thinking you just saw the whole freaking movie, why would you want to go see it now?  As I stated earlier I think there is a good balance of what it does show and what is left to your imagination.

Now the final bit to the interview was about what does the title of the film/ship stand for and/or suggest?  As the myth goes, the Gods were uncertain over the potential intentions of the human race if give the power of fire.  So how does this apply to the film?  To put it plainly without giving too much of the Prometheus’ story, Lindelof says:

“So the essential story is:  I don’t want to give my kid this toy because eventually he will develop it into a weapon that will kill me.  So I will therefore withhold it from him.  And what is the price I must exact on somebody who betrays me?”

Does this mean the human in the film are given an opportunity of greatness and when they choose to do the wrong thing with it other worldly being will unleash a wrath upon them?  I cannot wait to see Prometheus!  For more on the story here is a featurette released not too long ago:

 

Consulted Article:

Chtiwood Adam. “Damon Lindelof Talks Turning an ALIEN Prequel into PROMETHEUS, the Viral Campaign, Revealing Too Much in Trailers and More.”  Collider.com.  Date Published:  May 11, 2012.

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Can Elijah Wood Pull Off Being Creepy in Maniac Remake?

I had no knowledge of this developing horror movie remake or of the original until about an hour ago and all I can say is that I am interested.  The original Maniac released in 1980 follows Frank Zito, a lonely middle-aged landlord living in New York City who has a secret alternate persona as a serial killer that stalks and kills women then places their scalps on the mannequins in his room.  This may sound like just some average schizophrenic killer movie to most but wait until you see the trailer for this raw gore-fest:

Okay, keep in mind this was made in 1980.  Obviously there is not much production value and the story is obviously flat and shady but that is what could make this so fun.  Plus I am sure I am not the only one not to have heard about this film so it looks like Hollywood is finally getting the message:  DO NOT REMAKE WELL KNOWN HORROR MOVIES THAT WERE GOOD.  Case and point:  Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Michael Bay produced Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Black Christmas just to name a few.  Granted some remakes were good but for the most part I am always left thinking “Why?”

Now moving on to the news of the Maniac remake staring Elijah Wood as the schizophrenic, stalker, and scalper we know so little about.  Can Elijah Wood pull it off?  The jury is still out in my opinion.  Part of me cannot imagine him as any other character but Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings.  But then I saw Green Street Hooligans and was pretty impressed that Wood was able to portray a character that was hardened by his change in environment.  The director is also an eyebrow raiser, Franck Knalfoun who only noteworthy film prior to this is P2 (if you have not seen it, it is worth a watch).  His selection for the film’s scream queen is Nora Arnezeder who played Ryan Reynolds’ love interest in Safe House.   The official synopsis from Collider.com is as follows:

“Just when the streets seemed safe, a serial killer with a fetish for scalps is back and on the hunt.  Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when a young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition.  As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a long-repressed compulsion to stalk and kill.”

So what do you all think?  Do you think Elijah Wood can make you cringe and shiver as a serial killer?  Or do you think you will just end up shaking your head and laughing at the screen?  Here are some stills from Maniac to get your blood pumping:

(All photos from Collider.com)

Consulted Source:

Chitwood, Adam.  “Elijah Wood Is Bloody in First Images from the MANIAC Remake.”  Collider.com.  Date Published:  May 10, 2012.

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