Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" review by Ben Kenber


What better way to spend the Fourth of July then watching a documentary on one of the craziest and most original American writers of the 20th century: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. I felt like I could never figure Hunter out. Whenever I saw other films of his, he seemed like some crazed lunatic who was living in a world of his creation and madness. After watching “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” I feel like I finally get what he is all about. Hunter was as patriotic as an American can get, and while he always seemed to be losing his mind, you cannot deny that he was a true visionary in a lot of ways. One thing is for sure, this fucker was never boring!

This documentary was directed by Alex Gibney who has previously directed the Oscar winning documentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side.” Alex managed to get a lot of people on camera to talk about Hunter from friends and family to those he derided in his articles. The fact that Pat Buchanan participated in this is a big surprise considering that Hunter described him as a “half-crazed Davy Crockett running around the parapets of Nixon’s Alamo.” The writings of Dr. Thompson are featured throughout and narrated by Johnny Depp who played the eccentric author in Terry Gilliam’s film version of “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Hunter S. Thompson is credited with creating Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. This made his writings all the more unique, as there was really no one else on earth like him. Hunter would take on assignments given to him like covering a motorcycle event, and then he would veer off into something else like the death of the American dream. Through his writing, he got at the ugly heart of the matter, and exposed it for all its misleading falsehoods.

“He was a reporter with a wild imagination.”
-author Tom Wolfe

“He was not afraid to express himself in sometimes shocking ways.”
-former President Jimmy Carter

We see Hunter take on his first big assignment while he follows along with the Hell’s Angels in California which he looked up to as the last outlaws in the world. This relationship however turned sour as Hunter witnesses the gang of motorcycle riders gang bang a woman at their party. The group later suspected Hunter of simply trying to profit off of what he wrote, and they beat him up severely. This whole experience ended up shaping as a writer as he looked beyond the fa├žade that is sold to the public on a regular basis.

One of the most interesting parts of this documentary is how it shows his love of America and of his sadness over the death of one of his most favorite politicians, Robert Kennedy. It is made clear how Hunter so wanted to believe in the hope of a better future. His sadness only deepens when he is witness to the gas and the beatings at the Democratic convention that same year Bobby died. Hunter ends up berating the democrats for not doing their part to put an end to it.

I got a huge kick out of the section of the film where he runs for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado. This part of the documentary really showed how visionary Dr. Thompson really was as he had all these plans for revitalizing the town of Aspen. He called for the decriminalization of drugs for personal use, but wanted to keep a ban on trafficking as he was no fan of people profiting off of selling it. Furthermore, he wanted to tear up the streets and replace them with grassy pedestrian malls, he proposed placing a ban on tall buildings being built as they obscured his view of the mountains, and he wanted to rename Aspen “Fat City” as to deter investors who wanted to commercialize the city endlessly. Of course, Hunter lost the election which was no real surprise to him, but his run for the office was never forgotten.

The documentary also does a great job of looking at the various relationships that Hunter had throughout his lifetime. We get a look at his marriages and learned what it was like living with him. To know Hunter was to tolerate him. Perhaps the most interesting relationship documented in “Gonzo” is that of Hunter and artist Ralph Steadman, who created some of the most insane drawings that accompanied Dr. Thompson’s feverish writings in Rolling Stone magazine. It is interesting to see that Ralph was actually a conventional artist whose work was no different from anyone else’s. Then Hunter turned Ralph on to drugs which he had never done before, and his work evolved into what he is best known for. There is a great moment where we see Ralph at work, and he has this utterly insane look on his face like he is gleefully possessed. Who knows what would have happened to Ralph had he never met Hunter.

Perhaps the most important (and overlong) section of “Gonzo” is when Hunter supports George McGovern’s run for President of the United States. McGovern was the democratic nominee who was running against incumbent President Richard Nixon (and we all know what happened to him). The war on Vietnam was raging on, and hundreds of young American lives were being snuffed out day after day. McGovern ran and sought to put an end to the Vietnam war which the whole country had now gone against. Hunter had a vicious hatred of Nixon, and he saw the possibility of Nixon going on to a second term as President as a possible death blow to this country.

As important as this section of the documentary, I felt it was a bit overlong and could have been cut down some. It gets redundant and that we clearly get the message of Thompson’s disillusionment with politics and with politicians in general. I found myself getting sleepy and restless. Fortunately, “Gonzo” does pick up in the last half as we see how Hunter became trapped by his fame, and how his work suffered as a result. But the McGovern section is still important, especially when McGovern is interviewed in the documentary and says this:

“I desperately wanted to put an end to that senseless war [in Vietnam]. I’m sick and tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”

Sound familiar? No wonder Hunter got so depressed when George W. Bush got elected, and of when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11th, 2001. Hunter did write about that in Rolling Stone and I remember reading a lot of his work on that. Hunter wrote on that as if he knew exactly what this would all lead, another war overseas with America striking back in revenge mode. The question was which country was going to feel our wrath. This was all another depressing example of how history repeats itself (doesn’t anybody fucking learn?).

For the most part, “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” does a great job of making you understand him better, and to understand where he was coming from in his work. We need people like Hunter in our world, people who challenge authority and to get us riled up about the way the country is heading. His suicide, other than being very selfish and hardly noble, robbed us of a powerful voice that we need in times like these where we have a President who’s make the same mistakes all over again. Hunter was a crazy man at times, and he was probably also proof that if you take enough drugs, they will completely mess up your head. But you had to love the son of a bitch because he was never boring, and he was always fearless. We may not want to indulge in illegal drugs, but I imagine that many of us would love to be as forceful, intelligent and fearless as Hunter was.

This documentary makes me want to read (or re-read) Hunter’s work which is a vision in beautifully cathartic writing. There will never be another man like him.

Also, if you have a chance, rent the Criterion Collection edition of Terry Gilliam’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” The commentary track with Hunter on that disc has to be heard to be believed!

***1/2 out of ****

Friday, July 4, 2008

"WALL*E" review by Ben Kenber


You know what I’m sick of? I’m sick of parents not being able to control their damn children while they watch a movie, any movie. This problem reached a hellish peak for me when I saw “Cars” a couple of years ago at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, and there were hundreds of kids in the audience with parents who didn’t even try to shut them up. It put me off ever again going there on the opening weekend of a film. Today, I went and saw the newest Pixar film, “WALL*E” at the AMC Theater in Century City. Just my luck, this man sitting right behind me brought his two young daughters who were probably 3 or 4 years old. They kept talking, asking their dad question after question like:

“Is that WALL*E?”

“Is WALL*E okay?”

“That’s WALL*E!”

“Why don’t these adults leave us the fuck alone?!”

…Okay, I made that last sentence up. When you’re that age, you have no awareness of how annoying you can be. Kids are endlessly inquisitive, and these two had to me inquisitive right over my head. They kept walking up and down the stairs like they owned the place, and many of us had to keep shushing them throughout the first half of the movie. Now I can see why a lot of my friends who love movies have all but given up on going to the movies at all. Why put up with all the noise when you can watch the movie in the comfort of your home?

I don’t know. Maybe this is some sort of karmic revenge on me. I can’t say that I acted any differently when I was young. I remember being an annoying pain in the ass when I saw “Mary Poppins.” Then there was when I was a teenager, and I got into the habit of rolling aluminum cans down the middle of the theater during such cinematic classics like “Death Warrant” with Jean Claude Van Damme. The past always comes back to haunt you, so I guess there is no escape for me.

Anyway, regardless of that nuisance I have to put up with, it didn’t take away from the fact that “WALL*E” is another brilliant achievement from the people at Pixar. Right now, they have the most impressive track record of any movie studio. Of course, this may have to do with the fact that their focus is mainly on quality as opposed to trying to find the next franchise to spawn, or the next classic horror film to pillage in a needless remake. Other studios should be looking up to Pixar in how they make movies because this way, we would have more of a reason to go to the movies instead of avoiding them.

“WALL*E” was directed by Andrew Stanton who has previously directed one of the very best Pixar movies, “Finding Nemo.” It takes place in the very distant future when Earth is no longer inhabitable due to the uncontrollable pollution, and everyone lives in spaceships up in the sky. In the midst of all this pollution and garbage is WALL*E whose name is really an acronym which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth-Class. There are many like him, but this particular load lifter has actually developed a quirky personality. While he compacts waste into squares, he also collects things like Zippo lighters, Rubik’s Cubes, and parts from other similar models which he can use as replacement parts on his body if anything falls apart. He lives a very lonely life with no one to converse with except a cockroach who he lets wander around his home aboard a broken down construction vehicle, and he is always watching scenes from the musical “Hello Dolly.”

Then one day, he is visited by a large spaceship which a makes a very loud landing on the barren planet. Released from it is a probe named EVE, and after some dangerous close encounters, WALL*E earns her trust and her friendship. This friendship however gets tested when EVE’s mothership comes back, and WALL*E hangs on for dear life as the ship heads into space and towards a ship where many humans live. What happens when WALL*E and EVE get onboard this ship will end up changing the course of everyone’s lives and change the way they live.

Despite those endlessly annoying thumb suckers restlessly annoying everyone near to them, I was lucky enough to see this movie in digital. Just when I thought Pixar couldn’t top itself, it does yet again. The animation in this movie is predictably brilliant, but now it’s getting to where I can’t tell what’s animated and what’s real. That Rubik’s cube WALL*E and EVE play with looks ever so real. The attention to detail in these movies is so frightening in its precision, and Pixar is always improving upon itself.

But the one thing that really makes the Pixar movies so damn good is the stories they come up with, and the characters they create are ever so memorable. WALL*E’s design does remind one of Number 5 from the “Short Circuit,” and he is every bit as quirky as that character from the 80’s. Pixar also takes a lot of risks with their films, and they take a big one by making the movie devoid of dialogue for the first half hour. I imagine this would freak out other studios for no particularly good reason, but not Pixar. The fact that there is no dialogue shows how good director Andrew Stanton is in showing things without saying them.

“What are words for when no one listens anymore?”

“Do you hear me? Do you care?”

-Missing Persons

The movie is undeniably cute without having to be incredibly manipulative, and that’s quite an accomplishment considering how movies for kids can get unbearably cute and manipulative. There were a bunch of trailers for family movies before the movie started, and all of them looked incredibly annoying to me. Especially annoying was that trailer for those three flies who hitch a ride with astronauts to the moon. I don’t care if it’s in 3D, those kind of movies get on nerves in no time. But with Pixar, they are to me today what the Muppets were to me in 1980’s. They appeal to both kids and adults, and that is a truly great experience if you can ever find it.

When the movie moves to the spaceship hovering just outside of the Milky Way galaxy, the movie gets even more amazing on a visual level. The moment where WALL*E is hanging for dear life outside of the spaceship, and he is touching the rings of Saturn is a beautiful moment in a movie that is full of them. The spaceship that he and EVE end up on is called the Axiom, and all its passengers are obese people who sit and move all day long in chairs because being in space for so long has robbed them of most of their bone density. Here’s a movie that doesn’t hide from the horrors of being a coach potato.

In the end, WALL*E and EVE are machines, but you end up caring for them completely. They do make the perfect couple even if one of them is more advanced than the other. The heart of the movie is how these two come together, and of the changes they inadvertently make in everyone’s life.

WALL*E is voiced by Ben Burtt, and he is responsible for some of the most well known sounds in movie history: the lightsabers from “Star Wars” as well as the aliens and droids from those movies, and he created the sound of that rumbling gigantic boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Ben can now add this character to his great volume of work with pride. The character itself manages to convey so much through the use of sound with gestures. Whenever WALL*E tilts his mechanical eyes, he can easily go from emotion to emotion, and his voice adds to that.

EVE is the perfect match for WALL*E, an example of how the old and the more advanced can make the saying of opposites attract seem all the more valid. Beautiful in its sleekness, with two blue eyes to make her emotions all the more real, EVE is also a brilliantly thought out character (and a little too trigger happy for her own good). The moments when these two machines connect are beautiful, and gets you right in the heart in a way that is not at all manipulative (thank god for that).

When the movie goes into the spaceship, it is a wonderful jab at how we humans have allowed ourselves to let technology overwhelm us and have it do all the work. Laziness and complacency is so easy to achieve when you have someone or something else doing all the work for you. As a result, everyone on the ship is always in a chair that continually moves around. Exercise is not a priority, and in fact, you never see any exercising at all. In all fairness, being space for so long has resulted in their bones almost disappearing, and this is something NASA has to think about before they think about sending astronauts to Mars. When the people of the ship rise against the technology that is holding them back, it’s a fantastic moment in the film.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this film other than it’s another home run for the folks at Pixar. I look forward to whatever they end up doing next year and the year after that. “WALL*E” is easily one of the best movies to come out in 2008, and it is now the movie to beat this summer. I also hope to look forward to seeing a movie without two kids hovering over me and talking throughout the movie as though the theater was their own personal playground. Hey! You parents! You can’t treat your kids like the cell phones you refuse to silence and endlessly converse on at the most inconvenient of times!
Anyway, enough of that rant…

**** out of ****

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Encounters at the End of the World" review by Ben Kenber


As a movie buff, I have to admit that it is shameful on my part that I have not seen more of Werner Herzog’s films. The only other film of his I have seen to this date is “Grizzly Man,” a brilliant documentary about Timothy Treadwell and his obsession with the grizzly bears that later turned fatal. And like all brilliant documentaries made today, it did not get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Hopefully, the Academy will not ignore his latest documentary, “Encounters at the End of the World,” which is an endlessly fascinating documentary on his travels to Antarctica. It is at times an incredibly look at the icy landscape, at other times a bleak look at the inevitable end of the human race, and also a rather humorous and interesting look at the people who risk their lives by living there to study the cutting edge world of science.

Herzog narrates the documentary and it allows us to go inside his head on how he views the icy wilderness he went to, and of how views the people and the wildlife there. He makes it clear from the onset that when he was asked by Discovery Films to do this, he agreed to it on the condition that he would not be forced to do a “fuzzy” movie with penguins in it (a little jab at “March of the Penguins”). The first 10 or so minutes deals with the McMurdo Research Station on Antarctica which is full of buildings and tractors constantly moving all over the place. Werner finds himself wanting to get away from McMurdo right away as if we are corrupting the Antarctic island with our own self interest, and he remarks of the horrors there like “yoga classes.”

Eventually, he ventures out of the encampment and into the far off research facilities removed from the town. We see him and others there being put thru safety drills and emergency preparations to deal with the worst of circumstances. The group leader speaks of how the wind can get so bad that you can’t see your hand in front of your face or even hear yourself talk. This lends a chilling effect to an already chilling environment, and while it is exciting to be there, you feel the danger of it all throughout the documentary.

The best part of this documentary, and the reason I wanted to see it based on the trailer, is the underwater footage where you follow divers underneath the glaciers of Antarctica. The visuals on display here are both beautiful and extraordinary to see here, and there is a unique beauty to the underwater landscape that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. This is all reminiscent of James Cameron’s documentary “Aliens from the Deep” in which he went with scientists in submersibles down to the bottom of the ocean to see what lives down. While that was a fascinating documentary, this one is not encumbered with 3D effects and of looks at where the future will take us. It deals with the world right now, and doesn’t hide from how all this will disappear in the far off future.

I also just wanted to find out how these scientists were able to dive down into waters where they would not be expected to stay alive in for more than 5 minutes. They wear special suits that are heavily insulated to protect them from the cold, and they wear gloves that threaten to make them look like aliens from another planet. Director Herzog points out that the water they are diving in is -2 degrees Celsius, and that the divers go in with no ropes attached to their bodies to give them more room to move around. Still, this is very dangerous work they are doing, and if they get lost underneath the glacier, they will become a permanent frozen resident. You feel the danger of what they are doing, but you end up getting overwhelmed by the spectacular visuals they find underneath it all.

Another fascinating moment in the movie is when some scientists on the island play recordings of the sounds the local seals make underwater. The seals themselves steal some scenes from the human actors as they lie back lazily in the sun and look too tired to get up and acknowledge anybody. The underwater sounds of the seals sound so unreal, and you cannot help but feel that they are all computer generated. But they are indeed the real thing, and you experience the sounds along with Werner and the scientists as they put their ears down to the ground and take it all in. It’s an amazing moment in the film.

The other thing I really loved about this movie was how it was just not another average science documentary with a lot of talking heads telling you all the things you need to know about the environments that they are studying. There is science talk throughout the movie which is fine, but Herzog also looks at the individual personalities that he comes in contact with throughout his journey. Along with Herzog, you also wonder what could make all these people come to one of the most isolated places on the face of the earth, and how they stay there for so long. This makes “Encounters at the End of the World” all the more interesting to watch.

Among the people that Herzog meets throughout the journey are a philosopher who has a great quote at the end of the movie of how the universe is looking at itself through our eyes, and how we give life to everything in the way we view it. We meet one of the scuba divers who has a pensive moment where he takes in the fact that this is the last dive he will be making. One of the most powerful moments is when Werner meets up with a Russian who had escaped the Soviet Union after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and he almost loses it emotionally when he tries to describe how bad it was when he left. We also see that he has an escape plan at the ready with a big pack of supplies in case he needs to flee once again.

There are a couple of other people that documentary that just talk and talk about themselves and the adventures they have been on. Herzog cuts them off in his narration and says:

“To make a long story short…”

The documentary does have a bleak view of the future of humanity, and the scientists are fully aware of this as temperatures continue to rise, and the ice will eventually melt way off into the future. This is also shown as we see a group of scientists sitting around watching “Them,” a 50’s B-movie about radioactive ants that have grown to an enormous size. It turns out to be one of many apocalyptic movies they show to each other each week. I wonder if they have ever gotten around to watching John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” That’s what I used to think of when someone mentions Antarctica.

At the center of this movie is not just Antarctica, but Herzog himself. His narration throughout could have been annoying in a grandstanding way, but it serves to illuminate what a funny and interesting person he is. Clearly, he is attracted to madness in various forms throughout the world as is shown here and previously in “Grizzly Man.” I imagine that this is a big theme in all of his movies. We discover all there is to see through his eyes, and of how he views the beauty of the ice and how it forms. It does make me want to see more of his movies.

“Encounters at the End of the World” is currently in limited release, but I doubt that it will go beyond that to a wider release. This movie will most likely find its audience on DVD, and I imagine it will be an incredible viewing experience on Blu-Ray. Just remember what one of the men out there said in the movie and remember it always:

“Global warming is real.”

**** out of ****

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"The Incredible Hulk" review by Ben Kenber


Well, it’s not incredible, but it’s still pretty good for a reboot. “The Incredible Hulk” is not really a sequel as much as it is a redoing of a potential franchise. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” from five years ago was not the Hulk movie the fans had been waiting for. This was actually a shame because Ang’s movie was not bad at all, but I remember coming out of it knowing that it was going to have a lukewarm response from fans because it was a character driven piece that was not going to meet anyone’s expectations. This one will almost certainly meet them easily even if they don’t all love the movie.

“The Incredible Hulk” thankfully sprints past the elongated where we learn about how this character came to be by doing a quick recap of Dr. Bruce Banner’s evolution into this ferociously mad and enormous beast that tears through all Bruce’s clothing with the exception of the pants and/or underwear (very convenient for a PG-13 rating). We catch up with Dr. Banner, now played by Edward Norton, in Brazil where he has successfully managed to control his anger for over 130 days. While working a menial job at a bottling plant, he continues to look for the cure that will keep him from getting super pissed. Banner is one of the few planet on the planet who is not about to go green in order to save the environment. But despite all the exercises he does in breathing to control his anger, we all know that sooner or later, Bruce will find that it’s not easy to keep from being green.

One thing you will notice right away about this Hulk movie is that is a lot more action packed than the previous one. The movie starts up quick and never lets the pace slack for that long. The director this time around is Louis Leterrier, and he has previously directed “The Transporter 2” and “Unleashed.” His clearly likes the hyperkinetic style, and it shows in this film. The direction is not necessarily outstanding, and Louis doesn’t seem to quite have a style of his own yet. But all the same, he gets the job done and he keeps the film entertaining throughout.

The cast is all different as well, with nobody but Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno (doing their mandatory cameos) returning from Ang Lee’s film. Ed Norton is a better fit for Bruce Banner than Eric Bana probably was, and a lot more animated too. From a distance, he may not physically look like someone who could become the Hulk, but that’s kind of the point. Ed also did an uncredited rewrite of the script, but the Writer’s Guild of America would probably deny that (Zak Penn gets story and screenplay credit). As always, Ed proves why he is one of the best actors of his generation, and he comes across as an ordinary joe thrust into circumstances beyond his control.

Liv Tyler takes over playing Dr. Betty Ross from Jennifer Connelly, and while Liv doesn’t have much of an acting range, she is always a nice presence to have in any film (not just to the eye mind you). She holds up well next to Norton as they both work to find a way to stop becoming the Hulk ever again. William Hurt plays her father, Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross, and he is always interesting to watch. All the same, I have to admit that I liked Sam Elliott more in this role when he played it in Ang Lee’s version. Sam comes across more as an army general than Hurt does, and he was one of the best things about the previous film.

But the best addition to this particular Hulk movie is the casting of Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, chief nemesis to the Incredible Hulk. Coming off of playing a wuss of a man in the highly disturbing remake of “Funny Games,” Roth is in bad ass mode as a soldier who wants to take the Hulk down, but soon finds himself wanting the power that he has. In the film, he ends up getting injected (by choice mind you) with some of the same stuff that Banner got injected with. It’s enough to give him the power to overcome the most serious of injuries, but he soon finds that he wants more of that power, and it leads him to become The Abomination. Roth’s character is actually one of the more complex characters in this film, and I think the most realized character in the movie. Roth’s performance here is a reminder of what a strong presence he was in the movies of Quentin Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs” especially). It helps ease the memories of the torture he went through in “Funny Games.” How refreshing it would have been to see The Abomination take out those two young cads who tortured that family. Of course, Michael Haneke would just rewind Abomination’s victory to intentionally frustrate the audience. Anyway, let’s get back on track…

If there is anything lacking in this version, it’s that it is not as strong on character development. One of the strengths of the previous Hulk movie (even if it did take away from the action) was the attention it paid to its characters and how they really drove the movie. I know that Marvel Studios didn’t want to get too caught up with that in this reboot of the Hulk, but it would have been nice to see more character work here to keep this from being just an above average action movie. In the end, this was a movie made to please the fans who felt let down by what they saw in 2003. For the most part, it succeeds in doing so.

I wish I could say that I loved this incarnation of the Hulk, but it didn’t quite reach the heights that I wanted it to. “Iron Man” remains the summer movie to beat so far for 2008. But still, it was a lot of fun and it kept me entertained from beginning to end. Like Ang’s version from five years ago, it is a flawed film that still has its interesting points, but we do get to see Hulk smash in a way that we didn’t get to see as much in the previous version. That was probably the best thing about this film, seeing Hulk smash shit up. Using two halves of a police car makes for great action. All the same, it could have been a bit better.

But c’mon! It is meant to be an audience picture, and I was still pleased enough with it to give it a good recommendation. We are more likely to see more of the Hulk in the future than we were before.

I’m just glad the Hulk isn’t a Lakers fan. Seeing the Celtics eviscerate them in the final game of the NBA Finals is enough to make anyone super mad. Lakers losing by 30 points? HULK SMASH!!!

*** out of ****

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2008) - Written By Fred [The Wolf]

DIRECTED BY
Uwe Boll

STARRING
Jason Statham - Farmer Daimon
Ray Liotta - Gallian
Leelee Sobieski - Muriella
Burt Reynolds - King Konreid
Ron Perlman - Norrick
Matthew Lillard - Duke Fallow
Kristanna Loken - Elora
Claire Forlani - Solana
John Rhys Davies - Merick


Year - 2008

Running Time - 124 min

Score - 1 Howl Outta 4


I think it's pretty common knowledge, for those knowledgeable in films and the entertainment world, that Uwe Boll is probably one of the most controversial directors we have right now. It isn't because the material he writes and directs is taboo or offensive on a moral level. It's because Boll seems to be capturing the title of "21st Century Ed Wood" with a smirk on his face. While he's not the worst filmmaker in the world, his track record when it comes to video game adaptations has been bad. Really bad. Chernobyl bad. So why is he allowed to continue to make more films? Why do we even watch them, knowing they'll probably suck ass? It's because Boll revels in his awfulness [even though he doesn't believe he's an awful filmmaker] and will box anyone who thinks he sucks. All those negative reviews are considered nothing but jealousy in his little mind. While totally egotistical, his actions are perversely charming, appealing, and highly entertaining. Too bad HOUSE OF THE DEAD, ALONE IN THE DARK, BLOODRAYNE, and BLOODRAYNE 2 can't be described in the same way.

So I was struggling when it came to watching IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE. I knew it was gonna be bad. But Jason Statham is in it and I'm a fan of the dude. Statham's films may not be the greatest or the most memorable, but he's a good actor and an even better action star that should be bigger than he currently is. So I took the chance and watched this TWO HOUR film based on a game I've never played. To my surprise, it was the best Uwe Boll film I've seen so far. To my unsurprise, it was still subpar and it did a lot of things wrong. But hey, at least the guy's improving right?

PLOT
In the Kingdom of Ehb, an evil magus named Gallian (Ray Liotta) resurrects some ugly demonic things in order to steal rulership from King Konreid (Burt Reynolds). To gain an advantage, Gallian has seduced the daughter (Leelee Sobieski) of the King's mage (John Rhys Davies). He's also has been given help from the King's nephew (Matthew Lillard), who wants his uncle to die in order to become King himself.

As Gallian begins terrorizing Ehb, a quiet farmer named, um, Farmer (Jason Statham) is forced into stopping these demons after they go after his son and wife, Solana (Claire Forlani). Unfortunately while Farmer is fighting away demons, his son is murdered and his wife gets kidnapped by the Krug demons. Wanting revenge for the destruction of his family, Farmer gathers his friends and meets strange personalities along his quest to find his wife, learning that he may be the only hope for Ehb's survival.

REVIEW
IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE
was heavily promoted earlier this year, but with Uwe Boll's name attached and a trailer that shows the best parts of the film [which aren't all that great to begin with - how sad], the film was distributed to maybe 1500 theaters and didn't even crack the Top 10 of the U.S. Box Office, failing right at the start. While the film isn't good, it does deserve an audience - only to show people that there are some idiots out there who still think giving Uwe Boll money to direct a film is a GOOD investment. While IN THE NAME OF THE KING is Boll's best film, really - does that say a whole lot?

Sixty million dollars. That's how much this film cost to make. Really? Sixty million? For THIS? Couldn't that money have gotten some better use? Like for cancer or AIDS research? Maybe to build homes for people who don't have any sort of shelter? Why not use this money to make Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt just go away? It's absolutely ridiculous for any movie studio to give this amount of cash to a man whose track record with successful films is as good as Amy Winehouse's track record with sobriety.

And where did this money go to? None of these actors are what I would call true A-list. The special effects? Like that floating sword fight? You don't mean those strobelights that were around Ray Liotta as he controlled the lead Krug soldier and watched his victims in a blurred, sort of dreamlike point of view? Dude, I can get that same kind of point of view while on ecstasy in a nightclub. And what about those Krugs, huh? Looks like the MIGHTY MORPHIN' POWER RANGERS lost a few villains on the way to the set. Oh, they were really meant for IN THE NAME OF THE KING? Wow, how foolish of me to think otherwise! Seriously, this film looks cheaply made and has a limited vision. It's obvious the money went right into Uwe Boll's bank account for his next few films. Boy, I can't wait for those masterpieces!

I'm being totally sarcastic right now because if the script was tighter and if the budget was used correctly, this could have been a pretty good film worth more than a single watch. All the elements were there: Pretty people, Decent battle sequences, and motivations for each character that could compel the audience into wanting to know and CARE what will happen to them. Instead, all I got was THE LORD OF THE RINGS, except without the epicness of it all, characters you could care about, twists that actually made sense, and special effects that actually worked well and didn't make me laugh. It just feels like such a rip off and it only makes Peter Jackson's work that much better. The story was just so clumsy and just so bland that I wondered how I kept watching this. I appreciated that things were actually happening and leading somewhere, but the ride getting there was boring as hell. The characters weren't developed at all, people would pop in and out without really adding much to the film, and the story's "twist" with Farmer came out of left field. When the reveal occurred, I was like, "Where the fuck did that come from?" I couldn't help but laugh. Even the dialogue is unintentionally funny.

Muriella - "Must you always appear suddenly from nowhere?"
Gallian - "I don't. I appear so suddenly from somewhere."

Huh?

Muriella - "I knew you'd come."
Gallian - "I told you I would."
Muriella - "I mean, I felt. I felt it before you came."

I swear I heard this line in a Jenna Jameson film once.

Norick - "So this is where we pay for our sins?"
Solana - "No. This is where we pay for our virtues. Sins are more than welcome here."

WHAT THE FUCK!? Sigh...let's move on.

Uwe Boll has improved his directorial skills because at least the film was at least watchable for the most part. Too bad it feels too long [2 hours - are you shitting me?] and seems to repeat itself when it comes to pacing its scenes. Even the editing is choppy, especially during battle sequences. Seriously, it felt like watching one of those modern incarnations of POWER RANGERS, where sword swipes doesn't damage the enemy and choregraphy where the people involved had to help each other stick to their choregraphed moves. But at least it was watchable and fun to point out flaws. Boll attempts to make the film feel epic with so many extras, when in reality, there are probably just 20 or 30 of them edited to quadruple that amount. The cinematography is okay at best, although this Kingdom of Ehb looks so depressing that not even the homeless would want to live here. And the last half of the film just felt weaker than the first half when it came to visually keeping up with the story. At least Boll was trying but it's still far from good enough.

The acting is all over the place here. Jason Statham keeps his dignity intact with his protrayal as Farmer. Hands down the best actor in the film, he keeps a straight face through it all. The man is a great actor to pull that off. He's subtle in the role, which is refreshing from all the other clowns in this film. Plus he can do battle choregraphy really well, so it worked for me. I just wish he would have picked a better movie than this one.

Ray Liotta, on the hand, was an embarrassment as the villain Gallian. One, he looked like Liberace. Two, he either underacted or overacted, unsure of which style to maintain throughout the film. I was never really sure what this guy's deal was or why he was so fashion-forward unlike the other people in the cast. When's the last time this actor has made a good film? Someone needs to fire their agent...

Everyone else was just there. Burt Reynolds needed a paycheck and looks uncomfortable playing a really unimpressive and boring King in this film. Will Sanderson and Ron Perlman attempt to be the goofy sidekicks to Statham, but they only look like fools instead. Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani, and Kristanna Loken don't do much of anything and pretty much look bored. At least all three are pretty smokin'. John Rhys-Davies, who was actually in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, is actually pretty good here as the mage. Even with the horrible dialogue he had to spew, it made it classy nonetheless. Quite the feat.

And then we have Matthew Lillard as Duke Fallow, the nephew of the King. Oh. My. God. What an annoying protrayal by an annoying actor. I haven't seen acting this bad in a movie that went straight to the theater since...wow, I can't even recall. It's so embarrassing that I honestly don't have the words to describe the level of it. I wanted him dead the moment he started talking like an ass and making really dumb contortions with his goofy face. If he doesn't win an Razzie for Worst Actor of 2008, I'll be shocked. He's that horrible. Stick to SCOOBY-DOO, assmunch!

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE LOSING BRAIN CELLS ON THIS FILM

- Farmer's son was given his first pig. It's great for every farm boy to go through his rite of passage by inserting himself into bacon before inserting bacon into him.

- The women can't get enough of Jason Statham. After all, he knows a thing or two about SNATCH.

- Farmer calls herself "Farmer" because he believes people become what they do. If that's the case, then why isn't Paris Hilton calling herself "Skank Whore"?

- Farmer used a boomerang to ward off some of the Krugs. Looks like those Legend of Zelda games did their job.

- Leelee Sobieski knows how to use a sword extremely well. I'm sure she gets a lot of dates.

- Ray Liotta is dressed like Liberace. I knew he was in GOODFELLAS, but I didn't realize he was looking for some as well!

- A wizard was brought in to see if he could magically save the King from poison. If it were me, I would have brought in Bel Biv Devoe. They seem knowledgeable on the subject.

- The King, after learning his true relationship with Farmer, wonders what tricks the Gods are playing on him. Probably the same trick his plastic surgeon played on his face. Geez!

- Norick got killed fighting for his freedom. He sure gave those Krugs HELL, BOY.

THE FINAL HOWL
IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE
is one of Uwe Boll's better films, but that's like saying drowning is better than strangulation. This is the kind of film you rent with your friends, get drunk or high to, and then just laugh away at how ridiculous it all is. It's worthy of getting made fun of. At least it somewhat entertained me, but it also took away two hours of my precious time. That can never be forgiven. I sayeth this to thee, IN THE NAME OF THE KING - off with your head and straight into the WTF? Vault with thee!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" movie review by Ben Kenber


Man! I was so frackin’ lucky to see this before I flew out of LAX on Friday. I was afraid I would have to wait a whole week to see this one, and it brought back bad memories of when I was forced to wait to see some of the movies I desperately wanted to view. Fortunately, I managed to get off of work early and haul ass to the nearest movie theater to view a movie 19 years in the making before I had to rush off to the airport.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is another in a long line of films listed as “the most eagerly awaited film in movie history!” However, what the “Star Wars” prequels and “The Matrix” sequels taught us (whatever you thought of them) is that the expectation of something tends to be far more exciting than the actual finished product. That always works against movies like these because we are just soooo excited about them, and they never meet our expectations. Ever since I saw “Star Trek V – The Final Frontier,” I have done my best to keep my expectations at bay. It is way too easy to be disappointed by a movie that you restlessly wait for. I came into the latest adventure of Indiana Jones just wanting to have a good time, and you know what? That’s exactly what I got!

The newest Indiana Jones movie is not without its flaws, as is the case with all the sequels in this franchise. The script at times is rather convoluted, and it’s a little hard to figure out what the whole deal with the crystal skull is (a second viewing may end up rectifying that). It's no “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but to expect it to be is ridiculous. The first adventure of Dr. Jones is such a classic and held so far up in the pantheon of movies that it is impossible to beat it in terms of its entertainment value and freshness. Just seeing Harrison Ford put on that fedora one more time was more than enough for me.

This movie moves Indiana Jones to the 1950’s, and the Nazis are all gone (just as well). In their place are the Russians, the villains of choice back in the 1980’s until US relations with them improved. Indy and his pal 'Mac' George McHale (Ray Winstone, the voice of “Beowulf”) have been captured by the Ruskies and taken over to Area 51 in New Mexico, the warehouse where the US government hides all the things it wants no one else to see (The Ark of the Covenant makes a cameo appearance). This leads to the first big action sequence that gets the movie off to a quick start and has those “whoa” moments that I am always looking for in action movies. Indy’s final escape from the area does seem a bit ridiculous, but these movies deal with death-defying actions, and these are stories that take a place in a reality somewhat removed from our own.

Dr. Henry Jones Jr. (his real name as we learned it from “The Last Crusade”) still teaches archaeology courses at the university he has always taught at, but soon finds himself dismissed as he is under suspicion of being a Communist. Back in the days of the Joseph McCarthy era, you were guilty until proven innocent. Time has certainly for Indy and his university friend Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent from “Hot Fuzz”), and they have both lost friends over the years like Indy’s father and Marcus Brody (played by the late Denholm Elliott, who is appropriately acknowledged here years after his death). Just as Indy heads off to go around the world, he is visited by Mutt Williams, a 50’s greaser played by Shia LeBeouf. Mutt informs Indiana that his mother has been kidnapped, and that she needs his help to get to this Crystal Skull. This artifact promises to give one power when it is returned to its rightful place, an immense power that the Russians want every bit as much. It is a little bit hard to describe what the big deal is about the Crystal Skull in words, and it is likely that I will be viewing this movie again soon to be sure.

The Russians are led by Irina Spalko, and she is played with utter relish by Cate Blanchett. She is a cold, steely woman whose interest in psychic powers and education in said subject proves to be more dangerous than anyone can realize. Like all the villains in this franchise, she lusts for ultimate power and will get it at any cost. Of course, her lust and greed will lead to her eventual undoing. You know how these Indiana Jones movies go. Irina may not be the greatest villain in this franchise, but she is still a formidable foe as embodied by Blanchett, one of many actresses out there who can play just about anybody.

The movie features great stunts that, even if they are not entirely believable, still generate a good deal of excitement. Some are ridiculously over the top, like Shia’s character swinging along vines with the monkeys. But then again, not everything in this movie is meant to be completely believable. Spielberg said he would not rely so much on CGI effects in this movie, but you do notice them when you see them, and it does take away from the action a little. In the end, the movie keeps up at a pace which never lets up so that you can catch your breath.

Many have said that Harrison Ford is just too damn old to play this part, or to be in any action movie at all. This was probably brought up more when he did “Firewall” which ended up doing poorly at the box office. Frankly, I am sick of all this talk about him being at the AARP age level. Ford certainly doesn’t look his age, and he still handles the action scenes with a gusto that you never doubt. No one will ever surpass Ford in this iconic role, and I would hate to see anyone else try. God forbid Michael Bay tries to remake any of the other movies here!

But one of the real masterstrokes that Spielberg and Lucas did hear was bring back Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, Indiana’s love from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It is so great to see her again as she matches wits with Indiana at every step of the way. Marion also turns out to be Mutt’s mother, and this leads to other revelations that I invite you to see for yourself. There is a line in the movie where Marion and Indy are in the back of a truck trying to escape, and she asks Indy why his other relationships didn’t last, and Indy says:

“Because they weren’t you Marion.”

This points the obvious of how the other heroines of these movies didn’t even come close to matching the wonderful presence of this character, and Karen continues to be such an immensely engaging presence in this and other movies she does. Her character is not like the whiny bitch Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) from “Temple of Doom,” nor is she the underwritten cold character played by Allison Doody from “The Last Crusade.” It is clear that everyone involved knew that they could do no worse than to bring Karen back. I am very glad that they did.

The big surprise I got from watching this movie was the performance of Shia LeBeouf. I expected him to be an annoying sidekick a la Short Round from “Temple Of Doom,” and essentially give us the same performance as he did in “Transformers.” That was not the case at all as he perfectly slipped into the mold of a 50’s greaser out to save his mother. He matches wits well with Harrison Ford as they journey together to other countries on a search and rescue mission. Thus, we get another one of those scenes where we see a map and a red line showing where our heroes are going, silhouetted against the planes and other transportation they use to get to their final destination. Shia is very good here, even if he does end up on the verge of some Wesley Crusher-like moments.

Ray Winstone is also very good here, as he is in just about everything he does. At first, I started to think that his character was somewhat unnecessary, and was basically there as a foil for both Indy and the plot of the movie. However, Ray’s performance helps to make some of the more implausible moments in the film actually believable as he sucks us into what his character wants, and he convinces us of this as much as he does Indiana Jones.

I have to give the filmmakers some credit as they took their iconic hero and placed him in another period of time. To have Indy fighting the Nazis would have been overkill, and we already know what happened to them. Having Dr. Jones go up against the Russians showed that at least the filmmakers were trying something a little bit different instead of just giving the audience the same old thing. There are a lot of moments where Spielberg and Lucas pay homage to the earlier Indy movies as well as to other Spielberg movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” There is a big sci-fi element to this movie in particular which was not as big as in the other movies, but these movies have always indulged in the world of fantasies be it real or imagined.

There is actually a surprising lack of snakes in this sequel, but one does make a memorable cameo appearance. The main animals to fear here are red ants who, even in their CGI form, are terrifying man and woman eaters. We even worry about them devouring the bad guys. Even if the angry red ants do look a bit fake, they still left me unnerved like all the dangerous animals in an Indiana Jones do.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is by no means a perfect movie, but then again, we had no right to expect it to be. None of the sequels in this series were perfect either, but whatever flaws they had were eventually redeemed by their entertainment factor which was far above most other action films you see. The only movie in this franchise that has any right to be called perfect is “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and nothing is ever going to top that. Ever.

I would probably rate this particular sequel just right above “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” While that one may have been a little more entertaining, it also had a first half and characters that drove me up the wall. It doesn’t have the same amount of heart and character as did the 1st or 3rd movies in this franchise, but those characters still remain true to their origins and they keep us engaged in the action. In the end, it is pointless to get too critical on the Indiana Jones movies, let alone this one. To take it apart limb from limb would take the fun out of it, and these movies are really made for the moviegoers more than anyone else. No one should ever come into any movie expecting it to be a classic, and it certainly goes with this one.

In terms of the summer movies released so far, “Iron Man” is still the movie to beat. “Indiana Jones 4” is not able to beat it out there, but “Iron Man” is a strong movie for more or less the same reasons that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was when it was first released. They both brought a freshness and energy to their genres that had felt somewhat dormant, and they were created by filmmakers who cared about the stories and the characters that they were bringing to the screen. “Iron Man” will eventually lead to a number of sequels, most of which will probably not hold a candle to the original. While we want some of the same old stuff, we also want something new that brings a new edge to what we saw before. With the latest adventure of Indiana Jones, it was business as usual, and that was more than enough for me.

And stop telling me that Harrison Ford is too old to be doing movies like this because frankly, I don’t give a shit!

*** out of ****

Monday, May 19, 2008

One Missed Call Review

Genres: Comedy....Oh Wait I Mean Horror


Running Time: 1Hr & 25 Mins


Release Date: January 4th, 2008


MPAA Rating: G anyone can watch this shit stain of a movie but really you don't want to watch it so stay away.


Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution


U.S. Box Office: 26,876,529 Million To Much



Beth Raymond is traumatized when she witnesses the gruesome deaths of two friends just days apart. Even more disturbing, she knows that both of them had received chilling cell phone messages--actual recordings of their own horrifying last moments. Impossibly, the calls were received days before they died, but each death occurred precisely when and how the messages foretold. The police think Beth is delusional--except for Detective Jack Andrews, whose own sister was killed in a freak accident that bears a strange similarity to the deaths of Beth's friends. Together, Jack and Beth work feverishly to unravel the mystery behind the ominous calls. But even as they get closer to the truth, Beth's cell phone begins to ring with an eerie tune, and the readout displays: "One Missed Call."





Alright i have One Missed Call or like it should have been called One Missed Plot Cause this movie makes barely any sense what so ever. It pisses me off when you see almost the same thing as a superior horror movie (The Ring) with the same PG-13 rating(obviously i was kidding about the G rating) done not just bad but terribly.


Some of my friends claim this movie was smart as hell and all the imagery was great but man this imagery looks like shit and these are the same guys that said Iron Man and Golden Compass looked to fake. There was a part where there was some kind of insect crawling on some girls hand and I'm sorry ill tell you guys right now that this shit should have been a direct to dvd release. At least if it was a direct to dvd release i would know why it is this bad, but really you can't get any worse then this movie.


Now here is where we get into things, ok so we have a girl (Shannyn Sossamon) who's friends start getting killed, but before they die they pretty much get a notice but its in a form of a One Missed Call. It works like this, ok say it says one missed call on Friday at 3:00 P.M. even when it only Tuesday, then thats the time and day you are going to get killed, doesn't matter where......your going to die.


Now it sounds cool but after that it starts getting really really stupid (not like it isn't already). Theres a story about some girl that was trapped in a fire a little while ago and here mother died in the fire, hold on, later on in the movie you see here toasty ass body right there. So no one thought well maybe we should get her out of there. Anyway that actually what starts this, everyone thinks its the mother when well it wasn't (BIG FUCKING SURPRISE HUH!!!!) it was actually the older sister of the little girl who died of a asthma attack.


I don't know why see came back and started killing these people who she doesn't even know, who have no relation to anyone in here family what so ever. So theres the little insect things again which have no reason in the movie and why there in a jar at the little girls house i really don't know.


Anyway the CGI was terrible in this movie( i already told you guys before) and if there is a good thing about this movie is that it comes from 2008 so i have another movie for the worst of 08 so thank you One Missed Call for sucking so much balls. One thing i didn't talk about was Ed Burns which of course he's going to be the cop who gets his ass killed at the end. But really we know that Ed Burns is a really good actor and he did good with what he had to work with.


So really One Missed Call could have been a great movie if they did the same thing but make it Rated R and have a whole lot of gore. This movie would have been great for that cause there was some bitch hit by a train, i guy got impaled by a pole, and some other great got the worst death of all of them, she got a hand in the back of the neck. See that would have been great for this movie.


So really this is a call you guys really shouldn't mind missing and if you check out a horror movie now that is in the theaters or are on dvd then go and check out The Ruins, its a pretty decent movie and best thing of all its RATED R!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!




.5 Hard Edged Detectives Out Of 5





Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Iron Man" movie review by Ben Kenber


Alright folks, the Summer 2008 movie season has now begun! Not only that, but it has started off with a highly entertaining bang with the long awaited release of “Iron Man” which stars Robert Downey Jr. as the egocentric weapons maker turned world protector Tony Stark. Here’s hoping the rest of this summer’s releases can keep up with this movie which has now set the bar high for the rest of the blockbusters. It makes me remember how much fun a movie like this can be, and it also makes me realize just how much “Daredevil” sucked. I thought it was okay when I first saw it a while ago. I now stand corrected.

The movie starts with Tony Stark traveling along the Afghanistan desert with a military convoy which is soon attacked by terrorists. Tony flees the hummer transporting him, and almost gets killed by one of the missiles he designed. When he comes to, he is held captive in a cave, kept alive by an electromagnet attached to his torso which keeps whatever shrapnel in his body from going into his heart. The terrorists, led by Raza (Faran Tahir) force Tony to build them one of his most destructive missiles on pain of death. Of course, the terrorists will end up killing Stark when he is finished, so he instead takes the parts they give him, and he creates a suit that is bulletproof and which allows him to escape his captors in spectacular fashion.

When he gets back home in America, he has a press conference where he says that he will turn his company from a weapons making factory into something that doesn’t promote endless destruction. Having seen what his weapons of mass destruction have done to others, he has had a change of heart and works to protect those from the weapons he has created. Having saved himself with his iron suit, he works at perfecting it into something strong and seemingly indestructible. It gives him the ability to fly, and to get back at all of those who foolishly took advantage of his destructive creations.

“Iron Man” is a tricky movie to make because it is the type of movie that is meant primarily to set up this particular superhero, and then move on to the inevitable sequels which never come soon enough. This is what typically drives me crazy with these types of movies; they are all set up, and the payoff doesn’t come until the sequel comes out. It is a credit to director Jon Favreau (“Swingers”) that the characters are as interesting as the action is exciting. Unlike some of the more recent comic book adaptations, this story feels much more grounded in reality, and it is not subject to characters that seem anything but real. Unlike Peter Parker who got way too emo for those who remember him from “Spider-Man 3,” we have a hero who is not wasting time feeling sorry for himself when he sees so clearly what he needs to do.

The real masterstroke of “Iron Man” though (and we all must have seen this coming) is the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Robert is without a doubt one of the best actors working in film today, and it is impossible to picture anyone else in this role after seeing this movie. When he first appears, he clearly acts like the man Weird Al Yankovic was talking about when he sang the song “I’m Such A Groovy Guy.” Both brilliant and sexy (and all the more aware of those facts), you would almost believe that Robert is playing himself to a certain extent. But in the end, that would be an unfair criticism. Robert makes the character’s transition from selfish egomaniac to protector seem almost seamless and never less than believable. He gets at the heart of his character and plays it out from there. Inside that cool and ever so confident exterior, there lies a man who is taking his life and company in a direction which may kill it completely. No one could play the role of Tony Stark better than Downey Jr. No one.

That brings me to another thing; Tony Stark is one of coolest comic book heroes I have seen in a long time. Most of the comic book heroes we have grown up with are emotional wrecks and understandably so. Batman saw his parents murdered in front of him, Superman only got to see his parents at that Crystal Palace and lost his human father earlier than he should have, Spiderman lost his Uncle when he was murdered, and Daredevil… I’ll just leave him out of this for now. I can’t even remember what his deal was.

But Tony isn’t necessarily waylaid by a series of emotional disasters the way all those characters were, not at the start of the movie anyway. While many of us want to spit on those who look like they had everything handed to them on a silver platter (George W. Bush), Tony more than earns his confidence, and you never doubt his abilities as a creator of things extraordinary.

Also, Tony has quite the lifestyle for himself that most guys will definitely be envious of. He has one hell of a mansion up in the hills of Malibu, California that has the most incredible view you could ever hope for. His own personal jet is equipped with a pole that comes out of the floor for his very lovely stewardesses to take advantage of. I saw this movie in a theater with some friends of mine at work in a theater we thought wouldn’t be as crowded as the others (it was though), and one of them leaned over to me and said:

“This is the only way to live!”

In retrospect, this kind of character is a relief of all those other male superheroes who turn into whiny crybabies that remind me too much of myself. You notice that the female superheroes don’t fall into this category much at all, so it does make you wonder what gender is truly the stronger one. I guess all reached a peak last summer when we had the tremendous disappointment that was “Spider-Man 3” (I guess we’re all still recovering from that one). Peter Parker’s moaning and groaning about how way too complicated his life is finally got on a lot of people’s nerves. My friend Pam, who despised this movie to no end, said it best:

“PETER! GROW SOME FUCKING BALLS!!”

Aside from Robert, the rest of the “Iron Man” cast is perfectly chosen. Jeff Bridges remains after all these years one of the most underappreciated actors working in film today. His character of Obadiah Stane, one of the main heads of Stark Industries, is slimy corporate executive whose outer exterior projects a man of kindness and trust that Stark relies. That trust is utterly betrayed when Stane files an injunction against Stark to gain control of the company, and to put it back in the direction it was going before Stark started changing his ways. Unlike Stark, Obadiah has no creativity or brilliance of mind to rely on. All Obadiah has is selfish desires, and a misplaced loyalty to Stark’s father who helped build the world’s first atomic bomb. Although he may have the makings of another villain whose sole interest (other than sex) is world domination, Stane represents those who are all too easily threatened by the winds of change. Sounds like some of our country’s leaders now, doesn’t it?

Jeff, like Robert, gives this character some dimensions you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in this character. This is not just some one-dimensional bad guy like some of the others in the film, and it is a credit to the brilliance of Jeff Bridges that he makes this all the more clear. Trust me, there is so much more to Jeff Bridges than just The Dude (not to take away from “The Big Lebowski,” which was a great movie).

Also on board for “Iron Man” duty is Gwenyth Paltrow who is a wonderful presence here as Tony’s longtime assistant, Virginia 'Pepper' Potts. Although it may seem weird for Gwenyth to playing assistant to a man, and it almost does seem like a role that is beneath her, she imbues her role with beauty, smarts, intelligence, and heart which Tony more than depends on his life for. She also shares great chemistry with Robert (what actress doesn’t?), and their relationship is key, and probably will be for the inevitable sequels. Gwenyth also has one of the movie’s best lines as she meets up with a writer from Vanity Fair that Tony made out with the night before:

“So you just spend your time taking care of everything Tony asks you to do?

“I take care of all duties that Tony asks of me to do. That includes taking out the garbage.”

We also have the great Terence Howard as Tony’s military consultant and close friend, Jim Rhodes. Jim is the one who tries to keep Tony grounded in reality, but he never really succeeds. Terence is great here, even if he is a bit underused here. Plus, this is the second movie I have seen where he plays a character constantly giving press conferences (“The Brave One” was the other one). Terence, if you’re reading this, you might want to steer clear of scenes like these for your next couple of movies. Judging from the way he looks at one of Iron Man’s suits, I think we can expect Jim Rhodes to become an even bigger player the next time around.

The movie has a lot of great action scenes where you are justified in saying, “that’s cool man!” When he fights off terrorists in a war torn country, it is an entertaining sequence where Iron Man finds creative ways to dispatch of his enemies (they’re too good to reveal here). Also, there are scenes where Robert Downey Jr. is shown testing out different parts of the suit. This can usually be seen as the boring set up part for the superhero, but there are moments that make you jump out of your seat because you end up laughing out loud. Suffice to say, there is never a boring minute to found in this movie. The ending is a little disappointing in that does quite give the movie the full climax it deserves, but that may be because the makers of the movie are more interested in the characters then they are in creating totally original action scenes (if such a thing is still possible).

“Iron Man” is a great way to kick off the summer movie season in high style, and it quickly raises the entertainment bar for the rest of the movies you can expect to see this summer. But the one guy who really makes this movie a success is Robert Downey Jr. who gives us more than the average super hero. Robert gives us one with brains, smarts, and most importantly a soul. It doesn’t matter if you have great special effects if you don’t have the story or the characters to match up with it. “Iron Man” has that, and it has the acting demigod that is Robert Downey Jr.

***1/2 out of ****

"Speed Racer" movie review by Ben Kenber


I’m not sure I watched the original “Speed Racer” cartoon or not, but I can’t help but feel like I have. Maybe it’s because that darn theme song can be so hard to get out of your head. If you are not aware of the show (and most everyone is), you probably hear the “Speed Racer” mentioned in every other sentence. It’s one of those characters that has permanently engrained itself into pop culture for all time. Now the Wachowski Brothers have brought this popular cartoon that is credited for bringing the world of anime into full focus onto the big screen in a live action version that is bursting at the seams with the most vibrant colors imaginable. In short, “Speed Racer” is a visual splendor to behold, and also kind of an endurance to sit through. At over 2 hours, this movie is way too long. I usually don’t complain about the length of a movie, but I can’t resist bitching about it here because I kept yawning in the 2nd half and checking my watch. When I check my watch during a movie, then that is NOT a good sign.

“Speed Racer” starts off innocently enough as we see Young Speed (Nicholas Elia) daydreaming about someday being a great racecar driver like his brother Rex (Scott Porter). Speed comes from a family weaned on race cars and building them. His father Pops (the always dependable John Goodman) runs Rex’s race team along with Speed’s brother Sparky (Kick Gurry), until Rex ends up walking out on the family and their cars. No real reason is giving by Rex to his dad, but he warns Young Speed to not believe all the bad things that people are going to end up saying about him. Soon enough, Rex is slammed with a bad reputation that is not really of his own doing, and he later perishes in a tragic car crash which haunts the family to the point where Pops won’t go into his garage to do any mechanic work.

Fast forward several years later, and we see Speed all grown up and as a good a racer as his brother Rex. Speed amazes everyone with his skills on the track to the delight of his fans and his ever loving family. Pops has come back into working on cars again along with Sparky, and Speed also has a great mother in Susan Sarandon who I can’t help but say is quite a sexy mom. She threatens to bring out the Benjamin Braddock in me… Anyway, back to the movie. Speed also has a loyal girlfriend in Trixie (Christina Ricci, almost as sexy as she was in “Black Snake Moan”) who flies her pink helicopter in the most alluring miniskirts ever to make their way into a PG-rated movie. And there is also Speed’s annoying younger brother (is there any other kind?) Spritle (Paulie Litt) and his chimp friend Chim Chim. Speed could not have asked for a better family.

Then into the picture comes Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam), a spiffy CEO of one the largest auto industries in the world who offers Speed a chance to sign up with him to represent his corporation. Royalton is basically a man with the mind of a used car salesman (I’ve been dealing with a lot of these lately) with an extravagant attire. This man wants to seduce Speed into a world where he can have everything he could ever possibly want, but Speed would rather stick with his family as he finds these corporations a little too scary to deal with. This ends up bringing out the devil in Royalton as he gives Speed lessons in how the world really works, and how he will never win a race from now on. The movie then becomes a journey to showing that one racecar driver can change the world for the better, and can succeed in blowing apart the corrupt corporations that threaten to destroy the world of racing.

The movie is deliberately campy, and that’s fine. I imagine the show was too. The beginning of the movie was fun as it introduced us to the world of Speed Racer and the people who inhabit this place. There is an innocence that was quite infectious as we see Speed daydreaming about the life he wants to lead. Who hasn’t had moments like that in their life? There was a good reason why I wasn’t always paying attention in Spanish class. Had the movie contained more of an innocent feel like that, then I imagine I would have liked it a lot more. There’s nothing wrong with a good throwback to the past, and it always brings back good memories that are always welcome.

But towards the last half of the movie, I was really getting restless. Just when you think the movie has reached its climax, there is a whole other part and feels dragged out. Maybe it’s because we all know how this movie ends, and the depressing part is that there is no excitement in it. The movie has heart, but not enough to fully envelop us into its gloriously colorful world. Because the movie is all CGI and practically all shot in front of a blue screen, we know everything is precise in movement and direction. This is nothing you can really improvise around. This makes the race scenes all the more disappointing because there is no real thrill in watching them. By the end, I was ready for it to be over. It didn’t matter how brilliant the visuals were. They don’t mean anything without soul.

This is the first movie the Wachowski Brothers have directed since the “The Matrix” sequels. They still have a knack for groundbreaking visual effects, and of following that one character who is “the one.” If it’s not Neo, then it’s Speed Racer himself. They do surround this film with good actors like John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, and Emile Hirsch who is coming off a plethora of praise for his work in “Into The Wild,” a movie which I still need to see. But the story and the characters are not enough here like they were in “The Matrix.” Maybe it’s because we have seen this story so many times before; the one man on a mission to stop the ones who control everything and who blind us to the truth of the world we live in. With “The Matrix,” that story was revolutionary and ground breaking. But with “Speed Racer,” there is nothing revolutionary except the visual spectrum of what’s on display, and it doesn’t change the fact that the story about a man going against the corporate world is old, old, old. There is also the sheer irony of the corporate world funding a movie where the independent people go against the corporations to win the day. That never is lost on me these days.

I didn’t hate “Speed Racer.” There is a lot to admire about it. It’s not really an actor’s movie, but then again these movies never really are (not these days anyway). I guess I’m sad that this movie, despite the amount of money put into it, didn’t excite me the way that it should. And I am sick of being forgiving to movies like these. The Wachowski Brothers may forever be imprisoned by the success of “The Matrix” movies, but they are better filmmakers and storytellers than this.

** out of ****

Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle Review

Genres: Comedy

Running Time: 1Hr And 27 Mins

Release Date: July 30th, 2004

MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong language, sexual content, drug use, crude humor

Distributors: New Line Cinema

U.S. Box Office: $18,225,165

Starring:
John Cho, Kal Penn, Steve Braun, Brooke D'Orsey, Neil Patrick Harris

Two likeable underdogs, Harold and Kumar, set out on a Friday night quest to satisfy their craving for White Castle hamburgers and end up on an epic journey of deep thoughts, deeper inhaling and a wild road trip as "un-PC" as it gets.



One word describes Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle and that word my friends is Smart. Why cause you have a 2 stoners just laying around one wants to be something in his life and the other just doesn't give a shit. Harold (John Cho) gets back from work knowing he has a ass load of work he has to get done. Now Kumar just came back from one stupid ass interview with Fred Willard (don't know his name in the movie) and his just kicking back with Harold until they fell the munchies coming in. So there deciding what to get when they see a ad on tv about White Castle's and then thinking they haven't had White Castle in the longest time they decide to go and there is where the movie just kicks off.


John Cho as Harold and Kal Penn as Kumar in New Line's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

A Special Moment In The Movie


Now i said smart cause no one in there right mind would think of this. But thank good the director (Danny Leiner) was on his wrong mind when he said lets make a stoner movie where the characters ride a cheetah to White Castle. Which is one of the funniest things i have ever seen in a movie. The movie was just the right time so i can watch and then go and see something else. It doesn't really have much of a budget and you can tell from the cheetah part really.




Kal Penn as Kumar in New Line's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

What Would Neil Patrick Harris Do?

Now the acting was really funny and stupid and you can tell the guys were just having the time of there life when they made this. There was so many things in this movie that were trippy as Fuck and funny as Hell. I highly recommend you see Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and then when you are done go watch the 2nd one in the theaters before its gone and you have to watch on the boring as DVD.




Overall I Give it 4.5 Druged Up Cheetah's Out Of 5