Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Reviewed by Junior

Directed by Sam Mendes

Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw and Albert Finney.

Daniel Craig's third outing and the 23rd installment in the Bond franchise was a long time coming, following Quantum of Solace in 2008, but well worth the wait.  Definitely fulfilling the promise of Casino Royale and one of the best films in the 50 year history of the franchise, Skyfall satisfies in every way: story, acting, character development, music, cinematography, and nerdy fanboy references.

Typically, the film starts with an exciting action sequence combining a motorcycle chase across rooftops to a fight atop a moving train.  This scene sets up the rest of the film, giving a simple, understandable goal facing 007 and MI6: the recovery of a list of every undercover NATO agent currently embedded with terrorist organizations around the world.  The loss of the list has created considerable political pressure for M, as well as jeopardy for agents in the field.

As director, Sam Mendes brings a maturity and patience to the proceedings that was lacking in Quantum.  The action scenes are exciting, but filmed without the rat-a-tat editing so common in action films today.  He allows the audience to see and appreciate what is happening, in a more classic style of filming.  He also manages to allow his actors time to have brief but substantial character scenes amidst all the action, giving them a chance to shine, and they do.

Judi Dench as M is central to the story, and she is a joy to watch, as always.  Also, the audience is given the opportunity to appreciate the complicated relationship and how it has evolved between she and Bond. We are also introduced to elements of Bond's childhood history.  A new female agent named Eve is both a Bond girl and a sexy, appealing new(ish) character.  Finally, Javier Bardem stands out in an original character turn as Silva, the villain of the piece, mincing and charming, brilliant and threatening, wounded and crazy.

The cinematography is beautiful.  The musical score is wonderful, Bondian and glorious, particularly the theme by Adele.  The whole movie hearkens back, in many ways, to the best parts of the franchise, which is intentional, given the fact that this movie is released during the 50th anniversary of Bond.  Given that, there are more than a few wink-wink-nudge-nudge elements that are thrown in for fans, all of which are fun and appreciated and not too distracting, unless you really try to wrap your head around how old Bond is supposed to be here, if you consider the decades-old history to which they allude here, and whether this is really M, the original M, given that proto-Bond was only two movies ago.....well, if you go there it might give you a headache.  Best not to think about that too much.

I thought the franchise was effectively rebooted after Casino Royale and its direct sequel, Quantum of Solace, gave Bond his "double-Oh" status, invented his martini, and taught him to say "Bond, James Bond."  But at the end of Skyfall I see that we are truly there now, all the elements back in place, and ready to start a long series of James Bond missions.  If Skyfall is any indication of the quality we can expect, I am ready for 23 more...

LOOK: 10

Monday, October 22, 2012

Paranormal Activity IV

Paranormal Activity 4 is the latest (and hopefully final) installment in the franchise that yet again, splices together home movies to show further evidence of a long standing family haunting. I've seen all three of it's predecessors and for most point, enjoyed them. None of these flicks have been ground breaking by any means but have at least offered up some cheap scares and realistic dialogue to paint a relatable picture in which this could happen to YOU! Even though this was not a planned franchise, writers have been able to create an ongoing story line that gives a little more information than the last but still keeps you a bit curious. No. 4 not only fails to provide ANY scares (cheap or otherwise) but also to make any logical use of the established story.

Unlike the previous 3 films, this installment focuses on footage taken exclusively by a 15 year old girl and her lovable loser boyfriend. Despite having multiple cameras throughout the house capturing the moves of an entire family, the teens are definitely the focus point and the only characters that push the story along. While it's clear that this was a ploy to appeal the a younger demographic, the tension created by the young girl is lacking and most of the dialogue is wasted on complaining that her parents won't listen to her. This was a risky move that did not pay off in two BIG ways. First, by changing demographics, filmmakers have removed the only consistently positive quality in the prior films, relatability. You simply must relate to your main character in a plot driven solely by their reactions to a situation. Second, this film is rated R, thus eliminating the targeted demographic right out of the gate.

I give this a 3/10 with points only awarded for overall production quality and giving me something to do on a Monday evening... Below is normally where I would embed the movies trailer but felt this to be more appropriate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Sinister is the story of True Crime novelist (Ethan Hawke) who travels from town to town (with his family) following the trail of unsolved crimes to write about. The first half of this film is quite good, using horror which is deep and dark without being in your face or over-the-top. Filmmakers did a great job of mixing horror with mystery and suspense, never really coming right out and announcing that this is a supernatural thriller. 

Our protagonist moves his family into a house where a brutal murder took place years prior. While rummaging through the attic, looking for clues to help his book, footageof previous mass murders is discovered by Hawke and reviewed throughout the film. Despite investigating a single incident, each of these “home movies” depicts a different murder in which a different family is killed using unique methods in separate locations across the country. The only things all these films have in common is, they are all silent, you never see the camera operator, and an entire family is murdered sans one child never to be seen again. The vintage look of super-eight footage, great acting from Hawke, and gruesome nature of the footage left a lasting impression in my mind without making my skin crawl. The story up until the second half is mysterious and intriguing without being outright confusing, allowing for either a human or supernatural antagonist and really, either would have been alright at that point! 

The second half is another story. Almost immediately after some of the pieces fall together, the story takes boring turn and slaps you across the face with answers to questions that haven't been asked. This ruined any chance of an actual surprise or suspenseful ending. Despite this disappointing turn for the worse, the good aspects of this flick never go away for good. The original creep out factor remains along with a good performance by Hawke but instead of letting the audience use any part of their imagination, more and more blatant, annoying evidence is shoved down your throat. Unfortunately the downturn in storyline comes down a simple “less is more”. This movie was a disappointment to me not because I had high hopes, but quite the opposite. Going into this film I expected more B-rate horror (which is fine!) and instead was given a glimpse of hope only to be let down once again in the second act.

Using discovered footage in a real time story line is a bit of new twist on an old idea but worked well in this case. It allowed screenwriters to take the spookiest aspects of the POV horror genre and combines it with good 'ol fashioned WRITING to churn out a decent affect. 

 I recommend this film only because of how many things were done right for the genre but don't expect to be impressed with it as a whole. All in all I would rate this 6.5/10 with a few extra points for the musical score.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Campaign

The Campaign


Jay Roach


Chris Henchy (screenplay)Shawn Harwell(screenplay)

The Campaign follows the story of  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington  with a comedic twist in which our protagonist is an average god-fearing American family man, just a little stranger.

I went into this film expecting to be bombarded with a weak story, dependent on an over the top performance from both  Galifianakis and  Ferrell but was pleasantly surprised. Neither hold a candle to  James Stewart but, Galifianakis did display a refreshing change of pace.

If you're looking for a theater experience with a decent amount of laughs, check it out. With anything else in mind, you may be disappointed.

Keep in mind, I was not at all impressed buy the trailer (Ferrell seems to do most of the work) but was entertained by this flick.

Extra points for Lithgow and Aykroyd!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Halloween Movies

Reviews by Junior

The leaves are turning, the air is crisp, and there are plastic spiders, synthetic spiderwebs and carved pumpkins decorating the houses up and down my street. All of which means that it must be my favorite time of year, Halloween, a time to dress up in outlandish costumes, get some candy, and celebrate all things ghastly and ghoulish. To get in the mood, I've been watching some horror movies lately, and thought I'd offer some short reviews of them, in no particular order...

Jennifer's Body
Starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried

This high-school horror movie from 2009 features local favorite Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox (as the title character) in a campy story about two girls who part ways after a fateful night seeing an aspiring indie rock band at a club. Jennifer is the pretty, popular one, like Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, and Amanda plays "Needy" Lesnicky, her pain-Jane BFF. After Jennifer goes off in the band's van she returns, changed, and with a desire for eviscerating her male high school classmates. The story's played mostly for laughs, the gore is light and the sex even lighter, considering Jennifer's actually been turned into a succubus. Still, Amanda Seyfried is good in it. Mildly entertaining.

Wes Craven presents Dracula 2000
Starring Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer and Justine Waddell

This decade-old entry into the Dracula sub-genre begins from an interesting premise: Dracula is truly immortal, and cannot be killed. Van Helsing (Plummer) has captured him and devoted himself to eventually finding a way to do so, but has been unsuccessful for a coupla hundred years. To extend his own life to watch over Dracula, Van Helsing has been taking regular injections of Dracula's blood.

Predictably, some thieves break into Van Helsing's private holdings and inadvertently free Dracula (played, unrecognizably, by a younger, thinner, non-bearded Gerard Butler), who makes a beeline for Van Helsing's daughter (in New Orleans, natch), with whom he feels a connection because she carries his blood. Along the way he makes vampires out of Jeri Ryan, Omar Epps and others, and Van Helsing and his assistant pursue. Vampire slaying ensues---kinda makes you wonder how neophytes who didn't know vampires existed 5 minutes before can be so good at staking hearts and lopping off heads, but whatever...

Unfortunately, this fun premise, and a great twist at the end, are wasted on a schlocky production, unsure whether it's funny or serious, and definitely not scary. Suitable for a round of MST3K, or as a curiosity if you're a big Gerard Butler fan.

Halloween II (2009)
Written and directed by Rob Zombie
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif and Malcolm McDowell

Michael Myers comes back a year after his first rampage to finish the job. In Rob Zombie's second entry into the Halloween mythos, he rethinks a lot of the story and gives Michael Myers a supernatural motive of sorts for all the mayhem. Having had success with the initial remake, the studio gave him a lot more freedom with this one, and he uses it, after an initial tip of the hat to the hospital carnage of the original Halloween 2, to jump a year forward, follow up on the characters (Malcolm McDowell's "growth" being particularly witty) and change the characters to his liking.

More importantly, and in contrast to such well-conceived but poorly executed dreck as Dracula 2000 above, Zombie shows that he knows how to create tension in a horror film, giving surprises at the right time, using music and pacing and slow motion. Zombie mixes up the killings, showing enough but not too much, conveying the brutality and pain of Myers' attacks. Zombie seems, more often than not, more interested in the aftermath than the actual attack. Very skillfully handled. I hope Zombie continues to make many more horror movies, and this one is set up for a very different Halloween III.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drag Me to Hell

Reviewed by Billy Bob Biggs.

Directed by Sam Raimi.

Written by Sam & Ivan Raimi.

Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao and David Paymer.

After a long, dry spell where he made big-budget superhero flicks, Sam Raimi returns to his horror roots with Drag Me to Hell, the story of a nice, ambitious bank employee who rejects the wrong person's loan and is set on the express train to hell, or maybe the bus to Beelzebub, since it's gonna take three days to get there.

The movie starts off with Christine (Alison Lohman) attempting to impress her bank boss and get a promotion by refusing to give a kindly old lady an extension on her mortgage. Unfortunately, the kindly old lady goes all batshit and hides in the back seat of Christine's car, always the best way to approach your loan officer. The conversation doesn't go so well and they end up pulling each other's hair out and poking one another in the eye until the old lady craftily hides under Christine's car until she can pop out and rip a button off her coat, cursing it and Christine and putting her (and her coat) on a 3-day path to Hell!

That's right, Gypsy curse fans, for those of you who have been waiting since 1996's Thinner for another entry into this fine sub genre, your wait is over! Amazing they are so few and far between considering the relevance to our lives today. I can't go two blocks without seeing nasty, one-eyed crazy gypsy ladies putting curses on some poor hot dog vendor or cab driver...

So anyway, Christine may be a morally ambivalent yuppie, but she can sense when she's got a hex on her soul so she immediately goes to have her fortune read by Dileep Rao, who, despite operating a little retail amulet and magic powder shop, has enough magic in him to recognize that he doesn't want this cursed girl within 10 feet of him, and he sends her packing.

Soon Christine is back home with her kitty, Justin Long having gone home to play with his coin collection, and the demon makes its first appearance. See, it takes the demon three days to work up enough power to drag Christine to hell so initially he just shows up to say "howdy," cast scary shadows on the wall and slap her around a little.

Christine becomes convinced that she has been cursed and goes back to Dileep, who begins taking her credit card payments and advises her to make amends with the old gypsy lady, which doesn't work. Christine runs around for two days prior to her deadline trying various things to get rid of the curse, making animal sacrifice, trying to transfer the curse to someone else, all the while having visions of the old gypsy lady attacking her in a shed, gruesome eyeballs popping up in her soup, and the demon showing up for her nightly flogging.

I won't give more away, but it's Sam Raimi back to his gruesome, Three Stooges horror best.

12 buckets blood. Eyeballs roll. Corpses roll. Stapler fu. Volkswagen fu. Goat fu. No breasts. Billy Bob says check it out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

Written and Directed by T.L.P Swicegood

Starring Ray Dannis, Warrene Ott, James Westmoreland, Marty Friedman, Sally Frei, and other people you never heard of.

Reviewed by Billy Bob Biggs

This is a movie about a trio of motorcycle riding, masked thugs who show up in people's tiny apartments, or while they're in the steam room, or sitting in their car in broad daylight on a California seaside highway to beat them, stab them, and cut off their tasty bits and cook them up in a seedy greasy spoon that no one eats at. The two crazies at the greasy spoon have come up with a sure-fire recipe for their troubles, along with the undertaker. The crazies get fresh meat that no one will eat and the undertaker gets mutilated bodies for which he can overcharge whoever's paying for the funeral.

This was an impressive directorial debut for T.L.P. Swicegood (amazingly, apparently his real name), who had a couple of writing credits prior to this innovative gem. He had a lot of new ideas on how to make a horror flick which I'll note as they come up. Sadly, he was not allowed to make any more movies after this one so we'll never know how far he could have taken the art of blood-spattered gorefests.
  • New Idea #1: Undercut the tension in horror with a boppy jazz soundtrack.
The movie opens with our motorcycle trio breaking into a woman's crappy one-room apartment, and, after a brief chase across the room, stabbing her to death and escaping with her meaty gams (apparently they had looked up in the phone book girls with big legs who lie around their apartments writing letters with no pants on.)
  • New Idea #2: Having a photo comedically change expressions, from smiling, to alarmed, to saddened, while the victim is dismembered.
Cut to a private detective whose secretary moons over him and wants to marry him. In an apparent attempt to change her mind about his appeal he takes her to the aforementioned greasy spoon, where the owner behaves weirdly and has only one dish to offer per day. Then the p.i. takes her home and leaves her on her doorstep.

  • New Idea #3: Completely disregard the Hollywood tradition of shooting a scene that's supposed to take place at night, at night. Audiences in 1966 were mature enough to not care when the sky goes from dark night to broad daylight to twilight and back again in one scene. Innovative!
The secretary immediately changes into her pajamas and goes outside to see who is strangling her cat. Upon finding three leather-clad motorcyclists in her backyard she neglects to scream or run back into the house, but cowers against the side of it in horror as the men advance on her like snails across 30 feet of open lawn. Finally, she attempts to run away when they are within grabbing distance but too late!
  • New Idea #4: Have the murder happen off-camera and pan toward the body for a minute or two, until the audience has lost interest in watching, and just about the time they have decided to scoot out to the concession stand for another box of Raisinets, have the dead, impaled body of the victim peek into the screen for a split second and cut to a new scene. Peekaboo! Didja see it?
I don't want to spoil the rest of this cinema classic for you, but here are some of the other innovations of T.L.P. Swicegood:

  • New Idea #5: When a woman is being chased by the men on motorcycles, reversing and skidding and revving their engines while she zigs and zags on foot across the blacktop, ignore the tradition of having the sound effects match what's going on. The sound of a softly purring motorcyle engine will suffice.
  • New Idea #6: Have your villains be broadly silly and comedic before, after and during scenes of menace and mayhem. That won't undercut the terror.
  • New Idea #7: Have your hero disappear inexplicably before the end of the movie so the villain can be killed by a supporting character, by accident!
Zero breasts. 5 buckets blood. Legs roll, internal organs are played with. Cleaver to the head, chain to the face, multiple stabbings, full-body acid dunking. Three stars.

Billy Bob says check it out.