High Noon (8/30/12)

High NoonMovie One Hundred Ninety Nine

When a dangerous criminal is released from prison, the town marshal that sent him there must face him one last time in High Noon.

Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the marshal of Hadleyville, marries Amy (Grace Kelly) and plans to give up his badge and live a peaceful life as a shopkeeper. As the newlywed couple is preparing to leave, word spreads that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), a criminal that Kane put behind bards, is arriving on the very train the couple would be leaving on. The Kanes rush off on horseback to get out of town but Will decides to turn around and stop running. As he tries to roundup townsfolk to help him, he is met with no assistance and the clock is still ticking for Miller’s arrival.

High Noon was quite a surprise for me since I had never seen it before and was not even very familiar with the film. The timing of the film actually elapses in almost real time and we are constantly reminded the clock is always ticking away for the inevitable showdown between Kane and Miller’s gang at noon. Apparently the film is allegorical for the House Un-American Activities Committee that was trying to fish out communists during the Korean War with no one standing up to help the film’s producers. Unfortunately, we found that connection out after watching High Noon but it made the story a little more poignant.

I’m also a bit ashamed to say that I’m not sure if I’ve seen a Gary Cooper film before. The part of Kane in High Noon could have very well have gone to John Wayne but I’m glad that Cooper was the star, he was quite fitting for the role. He was tough, but his reluctance to fight (and likely die) was believable. It was really a great performance. Another great performance is the gorgeous Grace Kelly. Lloyd Bridges also has a part as a deputy, but it’s hard for me to think of him as anyone but Izzy Mandelbaum from Seinfeld.

I always appreciate seeing films like High Noon, especially if they are new to me. While I don’t often get in the mood to watch a Western, there is a short list of Westerns that I could watch just about anytime. I think High Noon has secured a place on that list.

I give it 4 High Noon theme songs out of 5.

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi (8/25/12)

Jiro Dreams of SushiMovie One Hundred Ninety Seven

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about the life and career of Jiro Ono, sushi chef extraordinaire.

Jiro Ono is a man that has become possibly the greatest sushi chef living today. At over 80 years old and with no sign of retiring, he owns and runs the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, along with his oldest son, Yoshikazu. His other son, Takashi, runs a more relaxed, literal mirror image of the restaurant. Meals start at over $300 when converted, and the waiting list is over a month long. The film takes us through what drives Jiro’s constant self-improvement and also explores the inner-workings of the restaurant and what makes it so special.

Sushi is easily one of my favorite foods so I have been patiently waiting for a chance to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi in hopes of whetting my appetite. Thankfully, this little film is on Netflix Instant Watch and I was able to scarf down this delectable documentary. I had a hard time swallowing the fact that this man could be so good that he could charge so much for the privilege to eat his food, although after watching it I’m still choking on it. OK, I think that’s all the eating puns for this review (maybe).

Jiro’s personal struggle is very touching and the insight the film gives to him and his family is really what makes the film worth watching. Yes, the sushi they make is truly perfect, but without taste-o-vision, who cares? Jiro Dreams of Sushi did make me wish I could have the pleasure of dining in the restaurant, though. I also gained a great appreciation for *good* sushi. One of the points made by one of their fish suppliers is that since sushi is everywhere these days, the good fish population is dwindling. It’s not a point the film dwells on, but it really got me thinking.

While I enjoyed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I was left hungry for more (sorry). I’m not sure what the film could have covered that would have sated me, and I enjoyed everything I watched, but I still thought it needed something to give it a little push. I would still recommend it to sushi fans and non-sushi fans alike, though. The film is really about Jiro in his quest to perfect sushi rather than the sushi itself.

I give it 4 perfect tuna sushis out of 5.

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ParaNorman (8/22/12)

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ParaNorman is the story of a boy who can speak with the dead and has to save the town from zombies.

In a small New England town called Blithe Hollow, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a seemingly normal boy that has the power to see and speak with the dead. While with his chubby friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the boys are approached by Norman’s estranged uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) who tells Norman that he must protect the town against the witch. Unfortunately, Prenderghast dies before leaving Norman instructions, and has to visit him as a ghost to deliver the message that Norman will need to read a book at the witches burial site before sundown. Norman gets to where he thinks the witch was buried, only to find out he is wrong and now the dead are rising and the curse of the witch is unleashed. It’s up to Norman, his sister, Neil, and Neil’s brother to break the curse.

I have seen reviews for ParaNorman on both sides of the spectrum, some folks love it and some seem to be completely nonplussed by it. While the film certainly has its faults, I was quite charmed by it, largely due to the art style of the stop-motion animation. As a huge fan of the film Coraline, I wanted to see ParaNorman just knowing that it would be made by the Chris Butler, the writer/director. Luckily, ParaNorman looks amazing. There are many times that it lokos like the entire film is CGI, and CGI is used heavily in some scenes, but most of it is actually stop-motion animation and I love that.

The plot of ParaNorman is almost like an introduction to zombie movies for kids. The humor, well most of it, is clearly aimed at a young crowd. I found several of the jokes really lame, but I also found myself laughing out loud. Not quite a horror movie, it doesn’t offer scares but it is a bit intense by the end, though not as all out creepy as parts of Coraline are. It makes for ParaNorman to be slightly uneven but on a whole it’s a fun film that would be good for almost everyone. One last thing to note is that I saw this in 3D (it was only showing in 3D, actually). Normally, I would opt for 2D versions of films but I found the 3D to be good in ParaNorman; not too intrusive and not obnoxious.

If someone asked me if I would recommend ParaNorman, I would heartily say “yes!” and also suggest seeing Coraline. ParaNorman is a film that spoke to me (pun intended). I didn’t love all of it, but what I loved enough of it that made it a pretty good little film.

I give it 4 deconstructed Normans out of 5.

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Teddy Bear (8/22/12)

Teddy BearMovie One Hundred Ninety Four

In Teddy Bear, a lonely Norwegian bodybuilder travels to Thailand in hopes of finding true love.

Dennis (Kim Kold) is a 38 year old bodybuilder living at home with his mother (Elsebeth Steentoft) near Copenhagen, Denmark. He has never had a girlfriend. On a date with a fellow gym member, he seems confused, disoriented, and disinterested. He orders a shrimp cocktail, doesn’t eat it because he’s allergic to shrimp and when asked why he ordered it, replies with “I didn’t think there would be shrimp in it.” One evening, his uncle returns home from Thailand with a beautiful bride. Dennis considers this to be true love, and decides to travel to Thailand himself to find his perfect mate. He also has to hide this from his mother, who disapproves of her son being with anyone but her.

I was not expecting much from Teddy Bear but I was genuinely taken in with the characters, especially Dennis, and the premise. Dennis is a huge guy but he is quite shy and meek. He doesn’t seem interested in much outside of bodybuilding, not even sex. Although his trip to Thailand is seen as sex tourism (something I honestly had no idea even existed and I can’t wait to see what weird Google hits I get from that typing that in this review) and he goes to a brothel, of sorts, he honestly seems to think he will find a woman that will love him. It is genuinely endearing and Kim Kold does a remarkable job for being a non-actor and real bodybuilder.

Teddy Bear is very much a “Sundance-y” film. It is minimalistic, low-key, few characters, and little dialogue but with genuine heart. I was actually reminded very much of Terri while watching Teddy Bear, but I thought Teddy Bear was far more interesting and entertaining. Since Teddy Bear was formed from a short film (linked below), there are times that it feels stretched for the sake of being a full-length, but I was never truly bothered by it.

While it may be hard to track down, Teddy Bear is worth watching if you get the chance. It’s charming and memorable and it may be one of the surprise indie films of the year.

I give it 4 YouTube videos of the short film, Dennis out of 5.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (8/19/12)

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In a post-apocalyptic world, a community bands together with the help of a lone man to protect their precious gasoline cache from a group of wasteland marauders in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.

Max (Mel Gibson) lives in a post-apocalyptic world where gasoline is the most valuable commodity. He drives around the wastelands of Australia with his dog in a modified black car. After dealing with a group of marauders led by a thug named Wez (Vernon Wells), Max stumbles upon an autogyro, booby-trapped by its owner (Bruce Spence). In exchange for his life, the gyro captain tells Max of an oil refinery nearby protected by a group of people. After investigating, they discover the settlers have been terrorized by the marauders and their leader, The Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max is taken in by the settles and helps them find a tanker large enough to get their precious oil away from the hands of The Humungus.

Marketed in the U.S. as simply “The Road Warrior“, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a rare sequel that is a continuation of the first film but requires no knowledge of the plot. In The Road Warrior, Max is alone. His family is gone. His outfit tells a story of what happened to him in the first film, but other than a few flashes of those events in the intro scene, he is mysterious. Honestly, it works well as a stand-alone movie, you would never know it was a sequel.

One may be quick to dismiss The Road Warrior as just an 80s action movie, and it is, but it’s also actually extremely well crafted. There is very little dialog, Max himself only has a few lines, but there is no question as to what is happening in the film. We are quickly introduced to all the characters, their dilemma, and eventually the plan to save them from the gang. The entire finale of The Road Warrior, some 30 minutes, is entirely chase scene. I was practically breaking out in a sweat just from sitting and watching, something very few movies can accomplish. When the film finally ends it’s almost a relief because you’re able to breathe again.

Most epic movie chase scene aside, The Road Warrior as a whole package is still a decent film. Some of the acting and costume design may cause a bit of eye-rolling, but the special effects and story really drive it home  (no pun intended). It’s a bit weird to see Mel Gibson before he was such a huge star and speaking with his native accent, but as Max, he plays it perfectly. It’s also worth noting that blu-ray presentation is outstanding. The picture looks incredibly crisp and colorful, and the sound simply booms. I was worried that a film like this would have been rushed to blu-ray, but it seems that great care was taken with it.

It had been many years since I had seen The Road Warrior and I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t think it was as amazing as I remembered. Luckily, not only was it as exciting as I hoped, my “more refined palate” recognized The Road Warrior’s  strengths above and beyond how awesome it was.

I give it 5 Pursuit Specials out of 5.

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The Great Outdoors (8/17/12)

The Great Outdoors

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In The Great Outdoors, a man’s perfect family vacation is ruined by his obnoxious brother-in-law.

Chet Ripley (John Candy) decides to take his family up to a rustic Wisconsin getaway and have a nice, peaceful vacation. Then Chet’s yuppie brother-in-law Roman (Dan Aykroyd) shows up with his strange family and decides to take over Chet’s vacation. Roman soon tells Chet that he has no money and has been faking the lifestyle and is looking for cash. Meanwhile, Chet’s son has a summer romance, and a giant bear is on the loose, looking for revenge, and Roman’s twin daughters go missing in an abandoned mine.

The Great Outdoors was part two of my John Candy-a-thon (part one was Uncle Buck) and while The Great Outdoors was also written by John Hughes, he chose not to direct it. While not as endearing or charming as Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors still has some memorable moments. This time around, Candy plays a subdued family man, almost a Clark Griswold (from Vacation) type. Aykroyd plays a pushy, antagonistic guy that you almost feel sorry for but mostly not. I like Dan Aykroyd, but this role always kind of gets on my nerves.

If there’s one thing that holds back The Great Outdoors is the superfluous teen romance. Not only does it break up the flow, but it changes the tone of the movie into typical 80s teenager fare. It’s almost like they didn’t feel like they had enough movie there without it and threw it in just to make the film longer than 70 or 80 minutes. It doesn’t kill the movie, but I found myself zoning out a bit during those scenes.

The most memorable thing about The Great Outdoors for me was the giant bear. When Chet is telling the story about shooting the bear but only taking the fur off its scalp, your imagination paints a picture (even more so as a kid). When the bear actually shows up bald, it gets me every time. There are a few other parts that stick out, most of them involving Candy, but on a whole it’s a fairly anemic film.

Since The Great Outdoors comes as part of the John Candy boxset (also alongside Going Berserk, which I don’t hugely care for). While it has some laughs, it is not one of John Candy’s best films. The Great Outdoors is enjoyable to watch but there are better John Candy / John Hughes films to watch.

I give it 3 water skiing scenes out of 5.

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Uncle Buck (8/17/12)

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A family crisis causes a need for a babysitter for a rebellious teenage daughter and her two younger siblings, so they call in Uncle Buck.

In the Chicago suburbs, Cindy (Elaine Bromka) and Bob Russell (Garrett M. Brown) live with their teenage daughter Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), son Miles (Macaulay Culkin), and daughter Maizy (Gaby Hoffman). When Cindy’s father has a heart attack, the parents reluctantly decide to travel to see him and leave the kids in the care of Bob’s good-hearted, but slovenly brother, Buck (John Candy). When Uncle Buck arrives, the young kids immediately take to him due to his fun nature, but Tia constantly puts up a battle that only a teenage girl could.

Uncle Buck was part one of my two part John Candy marathon alongside The Great Outdoors. As one of the numerous John Hughes films starring John Candy, Uncle Buck is one of my favorites, after Planes, Trains & Automobiles. When John Candy is playing a funny, good-natured guy that just can’t catch a break, I immediately empathize. Buck Russell is a good guy that can’t seem to get his own life in order but you can’t help but love. Toss in some cute kids to lighten the mood and it’s a recipe for success.

I grew up watching John Hughes movies and it’s funny that so many of them are similar but still seem totally original and always enjoyable. Uncle Buck is one of those movies that defines Hughes’ non high school films and will likely stand the test of time. It’s easy to compare Candy’s roles here and Planes, Trains & Automobiles, they are quite similar but have different motivations and instead of Steve Martin to riff off of, Candy has young Culkin and Hoffman and himself. The role of Buck really lets Candy shine on his own and that is what helps make Uncle Buck special.

While it may not be the laugh out loud comedy that you keep coming back to, Uncle Buck is one of those movies that just makes you feel good. The movie has a big heart and a solid sense of humor and it plays to those strengths. As part of the legacy of both John Hughes and John Candy, Uncle Buck is surely a winner.

I give it 4 “I’m a kid, that’s my job”s out of 5.

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Indie Game: The Movie (8/16/12)

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Three independent video game developers share their stories before, after, and during development of the titles in Indie Game: The Movie.

Indie Game: The Movie follows Jonathan Blow, creator of hugely successful Braid, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, creators of Super Meat Boy, and Phil Fish, creator of Fez. Blow reflects on Braid, the only game to have already been released at the time of the documentary and as far as indie game successes go, it is the current water mark. McMillen and Refenes (aka Team Meat) and Phil Fish are both currently in development of their respectful projects. The documentary covers the long, sleepless nights, the worrying, the financial struggle, the passion of games, and the eventual successes these independent developers face in an industry where the growing trend is “bigger is better”.

Video games have been a major component of my life literally for as long as I can remember. I got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas in 1987 when I was five, and haven’t looked back. Even before my NES I was playing my sister’s Atari and our Commodore 64. I bring this up because it would be easy to assume that Indie Game: The Movie is only for hardcore gaming nerds, like myself. This is not the case, but it certainly helps.

All three games that are covered in Indie Game: The Movie are available for purchase, you may have even already own them. The stories do not require playing the games, but you will glean an extra appreciation for them. Super Meat Boy, a game that flew off the rails in terms of financial success was literally created by two guys in around two years. If that isn’t an underdog story, video games or not, I don’t know what is. The gaming industry has evolved (some may say “devolved”) into a state where every major game has to be the equivalent of a Michael Bay action-epic. Lots of money, lots of people involved, lots of eye-candy. These independent developers hearken back to a time when video games had a simple objective and were merely fun.

From a technical aspect, Indie Game: The Movie is incredibly well-produced. The flow between the stories is great, and also has some interviews with people in the industry. Production of the documentary is much like the games being covered, it’s small but polished and most of all, it’s fun to watch. Obviously, it will be most interesting to fans of the video games being covered, or video games in general, but Indie Game: The Movie is an interesting tale from this generation’s art form.

I give it 5 Phil Fish in the bars out of 5.

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Goon (8/12/12)

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In Goon, a nightclub bouncer becomes a hockey star by fighting his way into the sport.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is the nicest bouncer around, apologizing to a man who he was being “bounced” from the bar as Doug was hitting him in the face. His hockey-loving friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel), takes him to a hockey game and when one of the players makes his way into the stands to fight Pat, Doug steps in to fight and becomes the star attraction. Doug is offered to play for a local team acting as a bouncer for the players on the ice and has to learn to skate. Doug is then promoted to a better team to guard their star player and becomes the target for veteran hockey thug, and Doug’s personal hero, Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber).

Goon is the perfect example of “don’t call it a sports movie”. Yes, the film centers around hockey, but all you really need to know about hockey is that they skate on the ice, they shoot a puck into the net to score, and occasionally they fight. Goon is really about a somewhat dimwitted guy trying to find himself and he stumbles upon something he’s good at and tries to make his parents proud. I will concede that the film follows a familiar pattern that many sports movies have laid out, but at least Goon is different.

Seann William Scott is an actor that may turn some people off of Goon before even watching it, but Scott is very subdued and actually does a good job as Doug. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jay Baruchel, who is a constant shrieking of douchebaggery every second he is on screen. I kind of just cringed and hope he would pass. Still, Scott’s humor was subdued and effective here, I laughed more than a few times but I wouldn’t quite call Goon a comedy, but it is comedic.

While Goon may not be a classic film, it sets out to tell a story and it does so effectively and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I found a lot to like, and was always a bit surprised whenever I would read positive press, but now I can fully see why and Goon deserves it. If you have been put off by Goon being a sports movie, it’s not, and if you were put off by Seann William Scott, don’t be.

I give it 4 penalty boxes out of 5.

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Slaughterhouse-Five (8/11/12)

Slaughterhouse-FiveMovie One Hundred Eighty Eight

Slaughterhouse-Five is the story of a man who serves in World War II and then is abducted by aliens and becomes “unstuck” in time, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is a soldier during World War II and survives the fire bombings in Dresden. After the war, he marries Valencia (Sharon Gans) and becomes a successful eye doctor. Sometime later, he is abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore and kept in an exhibit with a beautiful celebrity, Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine). The Tralfamadorians do not have the same concept of time that we do, and Billy learns to time travel through his entire life at any point. Due to this, the film jumps back and forth between events in Billy’s life after World War II.

Recently, I finished reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and firmly decided to see the film version. As far as book adaptations go, Slaughterhouse-Five is very fair to the source material in many ways, but the small touches are lost. Sometimes the small touches go a long way, for instance, every time someone dies in the novel, Billy remarks “so it goes”. That line isn’t spoken once in the film, despite numerous mentions in the novel. As a result, the film, if viewed as its own entity, does not have the charm or identity the novel has.

I was surprised at how well Slaughterhouse-Five translated to the screen, I was having a hard time picturing how a film where time travel is so frequent could be anything but a confusing mess, but the cuts in the film between periods are well thought out. I never had any question as to when Billy was or even where he was, but that could be attributed to my knowledge of the plot from the novel. The actors playing the characters were all as I imagined them and they all perform quite well.

Standing on its own, I would have a hard time recommending the film version of Slaughterhouse-Five. Conversely, I would easily (and wholeheartedly) recommend the novel version of Slaughterhouse-Five. Both are strange and satirical, but the film is simply missing that intangible *something* that makes the novel so special. If you’re a fan of the novel already, I think you’ll still enjoy Slaughterhouse-Five as much as I did, though.

I give it 4 Tralfamadorian exhibits out of 5.

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