Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Mist - DVD Review

THE MIST (***) - Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones, Andre Braugher, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn and Frances Sternhagen.
Written & Directed by Frank Darabont.

2007 may be remembered for a few things, but one notable achievement is that it contained two decent Stephen King horror movies. 1408 was rewarding for its mind-bending twists and turns, and John Cusack's central performance. Now here comes The Mist, probably the best monster movie of the past few years.

It reminded me of Dreamcatcher in many ways, all of them positive. While Dreamcatcher's monsters were too silly to take seriously (they came out of what?), The Mist has good special effects and lets you see the beasties up close, and even though we know we're watching CGI effects, there's still something pretty cool and dangerous about a giant spiked tentacle wrapping itself around a guy's neck.

But The Mist is more than about what's out there. The movie takes place in a grocery store, where people are trapped, hoping the mist will pass, and take whatever is inside it with it. But thanks to one religious zealot (King's the king of writing the CCC - Crazy Christian Character; remember the mother from Carrie?), inside the store may be just as dangerous, as people grasp at straws and wonder if this is indeed the end of the world.

Marcia Gay Harden embraces her role and steals the movie in the acting department. Her CCC is naturally delusional and hypocritical, and scary in how she's able to persuade people so easily.
It takes itself just seriously enough to get some good jolts. It was adapted by Frank Darabont, who did King justice with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Not working on Oscar-bait has freed him up to have a little monster-movie fun.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another Hillary lie

Hillary Clinton 'misspoke'? How about 'lied'?

Obama's white grandmother

I was watching the Sunday news shows, and Juan Williams made a good point on Barack Obama's speech (which I enjoyed). He pointed out that it is an unfair comparison, equating Jeremiah Wright and his white grandmother, because Obama's grandma expressed fear of black men on the street in private. Wright is preaching "the United States of KKK America" to thousands, including Obama's children.

it's almost amusing to watch Baby-Boomer beltway types wring their hands over race issues. They grew up on Jim Crow, segregation and Rosa Parks. We grew up on Sesame Street, The Cosby Show, Magic Johnson and the O.J. trial (where we learned it isn't black vs. white; it's the rich and famous vs. the poor and obscure).

NBA Stuff

Another NBA season, another year for Jerry Sloan to not get the Coach of the Year award, even if the Jazz win the rest of their games. So if he can't have it, I think it should be between Houston's Rick Adelman and New Orleans' Byron Scott, with the edge to Adelman. He never won it for all those seasons he made Kings basketball matter, and now he's presided over the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Some might argue for Boston's Doc Rivers, but I would say he was an ineffective coach until Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett showed up (Danny Ainge for GM of the year though).

The Utah Jazz may have clinched a losing road record, but they still have the best home record in the NBA, and 8 of their final 12 games are at home. I don't see them climbing to #3, barring a couple teams imploding at the same time, but with a mere 3 games separating spots 1-7, it's going to go down to the wire as far as seeding goes.

As far as Jazz fans booing Derek Fisher, here's my take. First, I wouldn't have booed. Second, if Fish had gone to any other team in the NBA, Jazz fans would have been okay with it. But he went to the much-hated Lakers. Now his press conference made it sound like he might not even play the 2007-2008 season, but no sooner was Larry Miller's signature dry on the release form, Fish was in talks with the Lakers. Wait, wasn't his doctor in New York? It just seemed fishy. And I have a medically fragile daughter of my own.

If the Lakers win the title this year, especially if they beat the Jazz in the playoffs on their way to that ring, all fond memories in SLC of Fisher entering the Golden State game in the second half and hitting that 3-pointer are erased. Instead it'll be Derek "The Traitor" Fisher. Again, if he'd gone to any other team in the NBA, no Jazz fan would have had a problem. "You're joining the Knicks? May the wind always be at your back."

Dallas, however, is in big trouble. They're 9-8 since Jason Kidd joined the team, and Dirk Nowitzki is out indefinitely. I don't see them doing much better than .500 until Dirk returns, with the real possibility that he doesn't make it back before the end of the season. This is Denver's chance to hop into the playoffs, and the really ironic thing about all of this is that even though they have a worse record, Devin Harris and the New Jersey Nets may make the playoffs, and Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks may not.

Meanwhile, Phoenix has gone on a quiet seven-game win streak. As soon as someone notices, they'll lose, and it'll be another round of "Shaq was a mistake" columns.

Realistic West first-round matches that I hope happen:

1-Houston vs. 8-Denver
Even though he has no Yao, it would be T-Mac's year to finally get out of the first round. George Karl's in the hot seat.

2-LA Lakers vs. 7-Golden State
Can Pinky and the Twin Wounded Towers stop Baron, Stephen, and the run-n-gun Warriors? I hope not, and it'd be fun to watch.

3-Phoenix vs. 6-San Antonio
They made the trade for Shaq specifically to beat the Spurs, so let's have that match in the first round.

4-Utah vs. 5-New Orleans
Who wouldn't want to see the best two under-30 point guards in the NBA face off in the playoffs?

And would Cuban fire Avery Johnson if the Mavericks wind up in the lottery? I hope your first-round pick is protected this summer.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising - DVD Review

THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING (*1/2) - Starring Alexander Ludwig, Ian McShane, Christopher Eccleston, Frances Conroy, Wendy Crewson and James Cosmo.
Directed by David L. Cunningham.

I'm a fan of Ian McShane and of family-friendly fantasy, so this had two plusses from me going in. However, I am fairly confident, having not read the books, to say this can't be that faithful. My sister-in-law read the books and she said she could tell from the trailer they'd made it stupid. I'm sure in the books, the rules of this universe make sense.

There has been a secret war going on for thousands of years between Light and Dark... Ah, forget it. I was going to try to explain what the plot is, but it didn't really make much sense to me. The rules were explained fairly quickly in dialogue. Needless to say, this 14-year-old boy, the seventh son of a seventh son, has the power to travel through time and collect six "signs" to stop the Dark from rising and taking over Earth. They're these patterned boxes that looks like they'll contain Wal-Mart jewelry.

The Dark is this dude on a horse played by Christopher Eccleston. He rides around saying his power is growing. We see him change his voice and command swirling dark clouds, but he doesn't come close to being scary. The boy collects his trinkets and heads into a final showdown with the Dark lord, which is very anticlimactic because we don't care about the characters, and the rules of who wins this magic battle seem arbitrary.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Richardson endorses Obama

I always thought Bill Richardson was running for the position of Hillary's VP, but now maybe he's hoping Barack Obama would like to make more history by nominating the first Hispanic Vice-President.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sleuth (2007) - DVD review

SLEUTH (**) - Starring Michael Caine and Jude Law. Directed by Kenneth Branaugh.

When the main thing you notice and remember about a movie is its set design, it's probsbly not a good thing. Caine & Law are the thesps updating the Shaffer play via new dialogue from Harold Pinter. Personally I thought the 1972 version with Caine & Laurence Olivier was better. The premise is outdated now. Too showy, little substance, and if you don't know the twist halfway through, the movie does not come close to pulling it off for me. I'd be surprised if anyone was surprised by it.

But the house they film it in is really cool, and I liked how director Kenneth Branaugh played with sleek surfaces and mirrors in choosing angles to do his filming. And that's about it.

Barack Obama and the Rev. Wright

It should be no surprise that Barack Obama's religion is coming under such scrutiny now. After all, Mike Huckabee helped throw Mitt Romney under the bus pretty early over his religion, and Team Clinton has tried everything else to derail Obama to no effect.

Obama's excuse, though, doesn't hold water. He described Rev. Jeremiah Wright as the "crazy uncle" in the family at one point. Now he's condemning Wright's comments after 9/11, how it isn't "God Bless America" it's "God Damn America" for all her sins. There've been several fiery clips from his sermons that are going all over YouTube, comparing Barack to Jesus, saying Hillary Clinton's never been called the n-word and so forth. he says he wasn't aware of them, or he was present when those comments were made. He's been going to that church for twenty years, every week. Wright married Barack and Michelle. On one hand, he chose to associate with this "crazy uncle" and made him his chief spiritual advisor for the past 20 years. On the other hand, now that it's politically damaging, he's throwing him under the bus.

Part of the hope Obama brings to America is to get us to a post-racial America, where we truly are color-blind and united. The Wright story has enough controversy behind it that it could tint that hope. Do I think it'll be damaging enough that he loses the election? No. Barring some shady Hillary deals with superdelegates, Barack should still get the Democratic nomination, and I think no matter how the fall debates go, voters will look at the young, fresh barack, and the 70-something-year-old John McCain, and Barack will win 52%-47%.

I watched Nita Lowery be pro-Hillary and Bill Bradley be pro-Barack on Meet the Press yesterday. I can't help but think Nita wants Hillary to win so she can get her Senate seat, the one she should have won herself in 2000 before the DNC asked her to step aside so Hillary could take it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Prostitution Question

This brings up a good point. Why is it illegal to pay for two people to have sex in front of you, but if someone else records Ron Jeremy and a chick doing it and sells it to you on DVD, it's all legal.

Elliot Ness - Untouchable / Elliot Spitzer - Touchable

This guy hasn't resigned yet? Wow.

Memo to future politicians involved in sex scandals: please stop making your wives stand there. Gov. McGreevey did it. Gov. Spitzer did it. It's humiliating.

Memo the wives of such scumbags: after your disgraced spouse admits he's a lying cheat, grab the microphone and dump him live. You could run for office yourself after the glorious PR.

Edward Norton & Marvel's Hulk dispute

First he battled with Tony Kaye over American History X, then he bitterly cashed it in for The Italian Job, and now he's clashing with Marvel over the cut of The Incredible Hulk. I hope they can work something out soon...

The King of Kong - DVD Review

THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (****) - Starring Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, Robert Mruczek and Brian Kuh. Directed by Seth Gordon.

This movie has an underdog hero in Steve Weibe, an egomaniacal villain in Billy Mitchell, injustice, competition, and a real 1980's formula to overcoming adversity. It could have been a Christopher Guest mockumentary; the people are so naturally funny in their geekiness that the world of video-gaming is now a topic Guest cannot tackle. How can you top what is real?

Billy Mitchell got the top score for Donkey Kong in 1982, and it has made him arrogant, king of his molehill. The whole classic gaming culture seems to have been built around worshipping Billy's accomplishments. Then along comes regular guy Steve Wiebe, who videotapes himself getting over a million points in Donkey Kong. Billy and his minions find an excuse to invalidate the score, and Underdog v. Establishment is on.

This was not nominated for Best Documentary of 2007, and while I haven't seen Taxi to the Dark Side, Operation Homecoming or War/Dance, there is no way Sicko is a better documentary than this. Rated PG-13 but shoulda been PG. I don't know what movie the MPAA was watching. Donkey Kong too mature a theme?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Things We Lost in the Fire - DVD Review

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE (**1/2) - Starring Halle Berry, Benecio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alison Lohman, Omar Benson Miller, John Carroll Lynch, Micah Berry and Robin Weigart. Directed by Susanne Bier.

What I didn't like: the story in general. Woman loses husband, grows closer to husband's ex-junkie friend, they help each other cope with loss. This could have been a painfully overwrought melodrama in less talented hands, and no matter well shot or acted the film was, it couldn't completely shake off what it is at its core - a glossy Lifetime grief-of-the-week flick.

Buuuut... it IS in talented hands. I kept finding admiring directorial choices, with the angles and subtleties. Plus the leads - Berry & Del Toro - are a pair of Oscar winners, and something tells me if Del Toro did not already have a golden trophy, he would have been nominated for his work here. He was that good.

I admired it more than I enjoyed it.

Day Zero - DVD Review

DAY ZERO (*1/2) - Starring Elijah Wood, Chris Klein, Jon Bernthal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Elizabeth Moss, Ally Sheedy and Sofia Vassilieva. Directed by Bryan Gunnar Cole.

This movie slipped out onto a handful of screens in January and it's already on DVD. Why? Well, it is another anti-war movie, albeit with the unique theme of a USA where the draft has been re-enstated.

It centers on three friends: Feller the writer (Wood), Dixon the cab-driver (Bernthal) and Rifkin the stockbroker (Klein), all of whom have received their letters in the mail that they have 30 days to report. Each represents a different sociopolitical category, existing for a point of view to be offered. Feller is the middle-class sensitive, can't-we-all-get-along kid. Dixon is the pro-war remember-9/11 blue-collar tough guy. Rifkin is the rich, paranoid preemptive-war-is-wrong guy.

Part of the problem with this scenario is that nothing else about America seems to have changed. A terrorist attack in LA killed 1400 people the year before, so the draft returned. But people's lives otherwise continue as normal. "The people" just went along with it. Another problem is that it's hard to buy three guys so different have been lifelong friends.

So what does this movie add to the debate of war in general? Nothing, really. It's 90 minutes of people debating each other, but none of the arguments hit home runs or conclude anywhere meaningful, and the only suspense is where each of the three will wind up. We know at least one will enlist and at least one will not.

Fine actresses like Ginnifer Goodwin (Walk the Line) and Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) are forced on the sidelines to stand by their men. Ally Sheedy is squandered as a terrible therapist for Feller. Of the three main actors, Bernthal (CBS's The Class) does the best, but other than a take-turns-sharing-secrets session on a boat, none of them get an opportunity to just breathe as a real person and not a screenwriter's concept.

HB140 - a nanny-state bill

Utah readers, please contact Gov. Huntsman at and ask him to veto HB140, a new car-seat law before him that will raise the age level of mandatory carseats for all children in cars to the age of EIGHT. This to me is another nanny-state law dripping with hypocrisy, when our elementary school busses don't have seatbelts, let alone car-seats.

Vantage Point - Film Review

VANTAGE POINT (**1/2) - Starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Bruce McGill, Edgar Ramirez, Said Taghmaoui and Zoe Saldana. Directed by Pete Travis.

This is an interesting suspense thriller about an attempted presidential assassination, told from eight points of view. The first POV comes from Sigourney Weaver, a news director in the bus commanding the cameras as the US president comes to a podium in Spain to give a speech. He is suddenly shot.

The movie then rewinds and tells the same story from the POV of a Secret Service agent played by Dennis Quaid. We get a little bit more info, then ten minutes later, the movie rewinds again. And again. And again.... This can all be fine and dandy, but there was a crucial plot twist, one of the few not given away in the trailer, that I figured out in the first three minutes. And so as we kept rewinding, I can't say there were many surprises, especially the noisy, ludicrous climax.

The movie is buoyed by some of its cast. Weaver makes any movie better, but I was disappointed after Quaid's angle, she disappears for the rest of the film. Forest Whitaker, who looked like he was melting under the Spanish sun, has some good moments as an innocent bystander with a camcorder. There's other acting going on that's weak, such as Zoe Saldana's inability to capture what a TV journalist is like, and Quaid's on gruff-man auto-pilot here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

"Monster" Hillary

What bugs me about this story is that she told the reporter her comment was off the record, but he published it anyway. Seems like a giant breach in journalistic ethics. No one who works for a political campaign should let themselves be interviewed by The Scotsman.

No Reservations - DVD review

NO RESERVATIONS (**1/2) - Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Bob Balaban, Patricia Clarkson, Brian F. O'Byrne, Jenny Wade and Celia Weston.
Directed by Scott Hicks.

I never saw Mostly Martha, the foreign film of which this is a remake, and I prefer seeing foreign-film remakes that way. Rarely is the glossed-over US version better, and I'd rather not be comparing the whole time. I saw Point of No Return before I saw La Femme Nikita, and if you're going to see both, that's the way to do it.

This is a fluffy, harmless romance. Not really a comedy, since nothing funny happens, but it has a light-hearted air where you think something funny might happen. I can't say Zeta-Jones and Eckhart have much chemistry, but I like seeing Eckhart play a nice guy every once in a while. The part that worked most for me was the drama in the relationship between this control-freak aunt and her suddenly orphaned niece (Breslin). The scene where the niece learned her mother was dead, I teared up, and I don't often do that, especially in a movie like this.

Awake - DVD review

AWAKE (**1/2) - Starring Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin, Christopher McDonald, Fisher Stevens, Georgina Chapman and Arliss Howard.
Directed by Joby Harold.

This movie wasn't as bad as most critics would have you believe. It depends on if you're willing to take the ride. Once the surgery starts and Hayden Christensen realizes he can still feel everything, it becomes quite a suspenseful ride. Were all the turns in the ride believable? No. Were they predictable? Some were; some weren't. Once I understood the way things were going to work in this little universe writer-director Joby Harold set up, I was able to start figuring out where they rest of the journey was going to take me, but that middle third? Very cool.

My complaint about the movie would be that the protagonist doesn't really protag that much. In fact, if he'd just stayed asleep during the heart-transplant surgery, and the main characters were his fiancee and his mom, the plot and conclusion wouldn't have turned out that different. But he is awake, in this paralyzed state, his spirit stepping out of his body at one point, and he's powerless to get anyone to listen.

Hayden Christensen, unfortunately introduced to the world as Anakin, is okay enough in his own right. He showed with Shattered Glass he can act. Jessica Alba, with every movie she makes, is proving less and less so. If the movie'd had two powerhouse leads, their convictions might have been able to better gloss over some of the plot points. As is, Terrence Howard and Lena Olin do the heavy lifting in the acting department.

It's a smaller movie, a perfectly fine rental. And if you don't like it, well, it's only 80 minutes long.

American Idol - The girls

Did the right two go home? Kady, definitely. Asia'H? First is not an easy time to go, especially if you're going to do a second-rate Whitney routine and then say you're happy being a second-rate Whitney and content with coming in tenth.

Brooke's interpretation of "Love Is A Battlefield" was my favorite of the night. I think the judges way overpraised Amanda's "I Hate Myself For Loving You." The vocals were good but she looked like she was thinking about something else the whole time. Syesha chose the wrong song. Ramiele did okay, but had the misfortune of picking a Phil Collins song the same week David A. did. I still thinking Kristie's forgettable. Carly was second-best of the night. Powerful voice.

On the guys's side, happy to see Luke and Danny gone.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

American Idol - The guys

How did the men do?

1. David Archuleta - His "Another Day in Paradise" was heartfelt and well-sung. His only weakness was that "Imagine" was better, and it would have been near-impossible for him to top it.
2. David Cook - The guitar was a little loud, but I like what he did with Lionel Richie's "Hello."
3. Jason - He doesn't have the strongest voice, but neither do many successful recordings artists. He has the charm to sell any song.
4. Michael - The whole time he was singing Simple Minds, I was wishing he'd sing INXS.
5. Chikezie - I thought Simon was too hard on him. It's probably the best he's done since he made the top 24.
6. David Hernandez - He sang it okay, but I don't think the dude should be tackling Celine Dion tunes, even if it's originally Meat Loaf's.
7. Danny - I cringed through the whole "Tainted Love" song.
8. Luke - Worst song choice of the night, covering Wham!, and the weakest vocal of the night. So... no real point to him staying, is there?

So Danny and Luke should go, but I can see David H. sliding to the bottom two if too many fans heard about his past as a male stripper. Actually Danny's "Tainted Love" was so campy, and since is behind him, I'm guessing Chikezie joins Luke in leaving.

Semi-Super Tuesday

John McCain finally clinched the GOP nomination. Hooray. Mike Huckabee gave an incredible revisionist-history recap of his campaign. He seems to think he came in second place, but his logic is flawed either way. He didn't come in second in delegate count because Mitt Romney did. He didn't come in second as far as just staying in, because Ron Paul hasn't officially dropped out. He said he and McCain ran the most honorable campaigns, but I can't think of a candidate from either party who ran a more disingenuous one than the Huckster. I'm glad this guy is finally off the national stage.

Rush Limbaugh called on his listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton last night, and she took three out of four states. She's still behind by about 100 delegates in the count, but she has reason to keep fighting. And she will. I need to keep reminding myself the Clintons can never be counted out. Even if she's behind in delegates and popular vote going into convention, if Obama hasn't clinched the nomination, she'll find a way to get it. I used to think that wouldn't happen, but never say never in politics.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hillary is Daffy Duck

An interesting explanation why she'll lose, using the Chuck Jones template.

Syndromes and a Century - DVD Review

SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (**) - Starring Nantarat Sawaddikul and Jaruchai Lamaram. Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

I rented this because it made so many critics' top ten lists. Of the 200+ lists compiled at, this movie made 25 lists, making #25 in the rankings of 2007 releases.

This is an art film, in that the camera rarely moves, and each shot is like watching a moving painting. The longer the movie goes, the less hope we can cling to that there might be a plot. There's a little slice-of-life stuff going on in a Thai hospital, but there are also long stretches where nothing happens. In fact, it's more like a movie where nothing happens where there is the occasional conversation that might go somewhere.

It's more like a screensaver than a movie. Samuel Beckett would probably love it.