Sunday, May 27, 2007


As the foundation of the Mayan civilization begins to crumble, one man's previously idyllic existence is forever changed when he is chosen as a sacrifice needed to appease the gods in director Mel Gibson's mythic, end-times adventure. The Mayan kingdom is at the absolute height of opulence and power, but leaders are convinced that unless more temples are constructed and more human sacrifices made, the crops, and ultimately the people, will suffer. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is a peaceful hunter from a remote forest tribe whose life is about to be changed forever. When Jaguar Paw's village is raided and he is prepared as a sacrifice that the Mayan deities have demanded, the brave young hunter is forced to navigate a horrific new world of fear and oppression. Fearlessly determined to escape his captors and save his family from a harrowing demise, Jaguar Paw prepares to risk it all in one final, desperate attempt to preserve his dying way of life. However, few who have seen the sacrificial alter of the Mayans have managed to live to see another day. Now, in order to rescue his pregnant wife and young son, Jaguar Paw will have to elude the most powerful warriors of the Mayan kingdom while using his vast knowledge of the forest to turn the tables on those who would rather see him dead than set free. Inspired by such ancient Mayan texts as the Popul Vuh, Apocalypto marks a comprehensive collaboration between director Gibson, Cambridge-educated screenwriter Farhad Safinia, and world-renowned archeologist and Mayan culture expert Dr. Richard D. Hansen -- whose services as a special consultant on the film lent the production an unprecedented degree of historical accuracy.

Apocalypto was released on DVD and Blu-Ray high definition discs this past Tuesday. I usually reserve my musings of DVD's to films that have been out for a while and may have been overlooked for sometime and may be enjoyable to those "in the know," however, I felt that it was appropriate to mention this new release since I'm sure many people failed to see it during it's theatrical run.

Normally, when I write about movies that I have enjoyed, I am making an indirect recommendation based on my experience and perspective and go to great lengths to qualify my point that what I'm writing is my opinion only and leave it up to the reader to make the decision of seeing the film. I never go so far as to directly recommend the viewing of a movie, until this one. Regardless of what you think of Mel Gibson and as long as you don't have a problem seeing contextualized violence, watch this movie. I promise you will be hard pressed to find a better action movie with such a concise, but far reaching, plot and will have no trouble dealing with that fact that the dialog is an ancient Mayan dialect - so subtitles are required. This movie is so well filmed that the story and most of what transpires is extremely evident without having to actually read the subtitles.

The characters are believable, the settings are spectacular and the cinematography is amazing. This is a two hour movie that feels like ninety minutes or less. The only thing that I ask is to remember that it's only a movie - not a historical documentary or a commentary on Mayan culture.

Pirates of theCaribbean: At World's End

The third chapter in the swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is hopelessly trapped in Davy Jones' Locker after a harrowing encounter with the dreaded Kracken, and now Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightly) must align themselves with the nefarious Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) if they hold out any hope of saving their old friend from a fate worse than death. The East India TradingDirector Gore Verbinski and the crew set sail once again for this, Company and it's fearsome leader Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollnader) have taken control of the ghostly Flying Dutchman and it's Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), and now the baleful Admiral Norrington (Jack Davenport) has taken the helm in a relentless bid to destroy every pirate ship in his path and bring the Age of Piracy to a violent close. Meanwhile, Will, Elizabeth, and Captain Barbossa navigate treacherous waters and face bitter betrayal as they set sail to gather the only army that can stand up to Beckett - The Nine Lords of the Brethren Court. But Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the Lords, and as long as he's stuck in Davy Jones' locker Beckett and his nefarious armada are sure to emerge victorious. There's still hope, however, if the heroic team that includes Tia Dalma (Naome Harris), Pintel (Lee Arenberg, and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) can reach exotic Singapore and convince vulpine Chinese pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) to provide them with charts and a ship. But even the powerful Brethren Court may need a bit of help from volatile sea goddess Calypso in order to weather the coming storm. With the entire future of the pirate way at stake, everyone will be forced to choose sides while drifting precariously to the edge of the Earth for one final, spectacular battle.

This is another example of a great Summer movie. Fun, funny, lots of action and very immersive. If you're a fan of the franchise, at a running time of almost three hours, it's extremely easy to submerge yourself in the storyline and not notice the passage of time. However, I could see where the average movie patron might find this film a little long after being "pirated-out" from watching the first two over and over and being subjected to the constant marketing barrage. I was lucky in that respect since I had only just watched the second movie (Dead Man's Chest) on Friday night. I had seen the first movie (Curse of the Black Pearl) a few times and really enjoyed it, however, I never got around to watching the second. I had actually purchased the DVD when it was released and simply never got to it and then, after enough time had passed, I decided to wait and watch it before seeing the third film. As luck (or marketing) would have it, the first two movies were released in high definition, this week, so my first first viewing of the second movie was in hi def and I was simply blown away. I finished the movie about 1:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and was in the theater for the new film at 10:00 a.m which, from my perspective, seemed like a single story in a single film with an intermission in the middle. Seeing the movies in that manner may be why I enjoyed them as much as I did and it may also be that I merely enjoy long movies providing the story is somewhat decent and can keep my attention. Other people may not have the attention span that I do.

Another positive aspect is, in my opinion, is that the "look" of the movies continues to improve with each film. In certain areas where the action may have been lacking, the surroundings more than made up for it. This is definitely one of those movies that require an additional viewing simply to "see" everything including the nuances of the acting, primarily, but by no means limited to, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom. All three of the main characters actually evolve as the story progresses and it's easy to look back and remember how they started out in the first film and very satisfying to see how they end up by the end of the third.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


The spirit of the mega-hit Ghostbusters (1984) is intentionally recalled with this effects-heavy sci-fi comedy from the same director, Ivan Reitman, co-starring Dan Aykroyd and debuting on the 17th anniversary of the earlier film's release. When a meteor bearing single-celled organisms crashes to the Earth, the life forms are initially confined to a cave. Before long the creatures are evolving at an exponentially rapid rate, resulting in fearsome aliens running amok and possibly spelling mankind's doom, or at least the end of man's domination over life on Earth. Investigating the phenomenon is a community college professor, Ira Kane (David Duchovny), his geologist friend Harry Block (Orlando Jones), wannabe fireman Wayne Green (Seann William Scott), and government scientist Allison Reed (Julianne Moore).

If you're not familiar with David Duchovny's sense of comedic timing, then this is the perfect movie in which to acquaint yourself with it. Granted, some of his comedic abilities were displayed in the X-Files, but those were few and far between and only die-hard fans who watched every episode (guilty!) would have been privy to the latent talent for humor possessed by Duchovny. This movie gives Duchovny the opportunity to reveal the truth of his dry wit that we all knew was out there and wanted to believe in (sorry, I couldn't resist an X-Files reference), and even allows him to make a couple of ironic references to his past character of Fox Mulder in the face of a governmental conspiracy. Brilliant humor.

While Duchovny's performance is a pleasure, I must admit that the movie's steady humor is greatly contributed to by Orlando Jones and his interaction with Duchvony. Jones is exceptional in his singular moments, but the chemistry between Jones and Duchvony is reminiscent of some of the great comedy teams from the past. I would gladly see any movie that re-paired the two of them - without question. Additional humor is contributed by a surprisingly slapstick performance by Julianne Moore, some stellar moments by Seann William Scott, bureaucratic mastery by Dan Aykroyd and an array of contributions from supporting characters with portrayals by Ted Levine and Katharine Towne and including several actors that are a part of Professor Ira Kane's class.

I'm not saying this is a great movie, nor do I think everyone will find it particularly funny - I'm only saying that I truly enjoyed it and found it very entertaining (my opinion, only) and, in the right frame of mind, someone else might, as well.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Shrek the Third

Shrek and Fiona's (Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz, respectively) fairy-tale wedding has gone off without a hitch, yet just as the beaming newlyweds prepare to enjoy their blissful "happily ever after," the sudden death of King Harold (John Cleese) finds everyone's favorite ornery ogre being reluctantly fitted for the royal crown. Troubled to learn that not only will he be compelled to rule Far Far Away, but that he and Fiona are also expecting a little ogre, Shrek determines to track down his new bride's rebellious cousin Artie (Justin Timberlake) -- the one true heir to the throne -- in order to focus on fatherhood without the added distraction of having to preside over the kingdom. As Shrek sets out with faithful companions Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to locate the medieval high-school slacker and bring him back to become the reigning sovereign of Far Far Away, handsome snake Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) slithers back to the castle in the company of the dreaded Captain Hook (Ian McShane) to stage a diabolically timed coup and assume control of the throne. Now, as Shrek, Donkey, and Puss in Boots do their best to wrangle up the feisty Artie, Fiona must enlist the aid of fighting princesses Snow White (Amy Poehler), Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri), Repunzel (Maya Rudolph), and Cinderella (Amy Sedaris) to barricade the castle and fend off Prince Charming's invading army of fairy-tale villains until her beloved husband can return with the cavalry to save the day. (all movie guide)

I tried really really hard. Honestly, I did. I thought the first Shrek was wonderful and in Shrek 2, with the additions of Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Saunders (among others), I felt that the first had actually been eclipsed. Now, we reach the third film and everything that I liked so much in the first two movies seems to have been restricted to practically cameo appearances. The supporting characters are all there, (The three blind mice, The three little pigs, the wolf, Pinocchio, The Gingerbread man....) but they have very minor parts and some appear almost as an afterthought. However, the few scenes they are in are marvelous and incredibly well written. Almost gone, as well, is the wonderful banter between Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Boots - there is, of course, some banter - just not what I've come to expect. And don't even get me started on having an incredible talent like Eric Idle and barely, barely using him.

I've thought about this all day and I still will not go so far as to say that I did not like this movie - it has it's moments - some truly funny moments - and I'm sure many people will throughly enjoy this movie - but I will say that, for my part, I was disappointed. Hopefully, the fourth outing will bring the characters back to the very basics that were so inspiring (and amusing) in the original story. But, that's just my opinion.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Man in the Iron Mask

Oscar-nominated Randall Wallace (Braveheart) made his directorial debut with this adaptation of the 1848 classic by Alexandre Dumas (1802-70), featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a dual role. Years have passed since the Three Musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich), and Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) fought together with their friend D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne). The arrogant, tyrannical King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) desires the beautiful Christine (Judith Godreche), so he orders her suitor Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard), the son of Athos, off to face death at the front. He also sends Aramis to kill the leader of a Jesuit rebellion. Louis is unaware that his loyal protector and informant, D'Artagnan, is the secret lover of his mother, Queen Anne (Anne Parillaud). Louis' younger twin brother, Philippe (also DiCaprio) is the man in the iron mask, imprisoned for the past six years. Arthos and Porthos plan to free Philippe, abduct Louis and replace him by putting Philippe on the throne. French location scenes include the Chateau de Fontainbleau.

Yet another Dumas classic filmed with a fine ensemble of actors. I tend to be a rather loud advocate of Dumas' because he was pretty much the inventor of the written "action movie". He had an excellent gift for weaving intrigue, romance, friendship and heroism into a relatively fast paced and untangled (for the time period) story. Getting used to the prose is the only thing slow about Dumas' books which is why I'm so constantly amazed at the difficulty displayed in producing a good script from his work. Many, many adaptations have been performed on Dumas' novels and, yet, only a hand full have even come close to capturing the spirit of his work. It seems most of the problems lie the "updating" of the stories for the modern movie patron - by trying to speed things up and simplify the intrigue so the average person can easily comprehend what's going on, most of what makes the story great gets lost in the shuffle and the movie comes across as just another average "period piece".

Fortunately, this version is able to circumvent most of the typical trappings and deliver a surprisingly good version (if not the best) of one of Dumas' greatest known works besides The Three Musketeers. A couple of the things that most impressed me about this version (along with the cast) is how seriously the film is acted and how immersed in the characters each actor became, considering some of the previous versions tended to take a lighter approach or were simply a vehicle for one or two primary actors while a bunch of unknowns populated the background. The sincerity level between this version and some of the previous attempts is similar to the difference between Batman Begins and the first Batman movie, i.e. opposite ends of the spectrum.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Multimedia horror maven Clive Barker followed the success of his feature directorial debut "Hellraiser" with this equally surreal effort, based on his novella Cabal. The story involves the plight of Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), a young man tormented by visions of monstrous, graveyard-dwelling creatures. Seeking the aid of his clinically cold therapist Dr. Decker (played by Canadian horror auteur David Cronenberg) in deciphering his nightmares, Boone becomes convinced that his frequent blackouts are linked to a recent spate of mutilation murders in the area. His frantic search for the truth leads him to the subterranean city of Midian, the dwelling place of a mythical race of undead nocturnal monsters known as the "Nightbreed." But it is only after he is cornered and shot dead by police that Boone's real journey begins -- he finds himself resurrected as one of the Breed and initiated into Midian's inner circle, where his latent supernatural powers are unleashed, leading to his realization of Dr. Decker's sinister role in the murders for which he was framed. Though Barker's unique and graphic vision is somewhat blunted by choppy editing (thanks to relentless tampering from the studio), this is nevertheless a fine sophomore project from a talented storyteller; the central conceit of presenting the monsters as the "good guys" -- at least compared to the gun-and-bible-toting lunatics who hunt them -- is handled with verve and originality.

I've been a fan of this film since it's release in 1990 and actually owned a VHS copy shortly thereafter. The movie was considered a flop after the success of "Hellraiser" but I'm convinced that was simply because the average person was expecting the 'monsters' to follow the typical horror plot lines, which they did not. In fact, this is an excellent example of flipping stereotypes and showing that, oftentimes, the real monsters are the 'normal' people. I think most people weren't comfortable with seeing slight reflections of themselves on screen or couldn't comprehend the deeper implications of the story so they played it off as being a bad movie. On the other hand, it is a very violent and visual movie so that could have played a part, as well.

One of my favorite stories concerning the movie is how Clive Barker ended up directing it. Originally, Barker was going to produce as well as be responsible for adapting the screenplay from his novella, Cabal, and David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Dead Zone, Scanners) was going to direct. Barker had never met Cronenberg and upon their first meeting, Barker was shocked at Cronenberg's appearance because he looked exactly as he had envisioned the character of Dr. Philip K. Decker when he was writing the novella. Once he had expressed his initial unease with Cronenberg and after several more discussions, they decided that Barker should direct and Cronenberg could portray his evil twin and, by the way, his performance is the best in the film. On a side note, the name Philip K. Decker is a nod to the writer, Philip K. Dick who wrote "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" which was the basis for the movie "Blade Runner," with the main character in the story and film being named, "Decker."

Another interesting fact is that the movie holds up rather well to the novella even though the studio cut almost a half an hour from the film before it's release, including what they considered the more violent scenes, many many 'monsters' and rock singer Suzi Quatro's entire role. Clive Barker recently committed to a 2-disc director's cut with an additional 25 minutes restored to the film, provided all the material can be found. All I can do is hope and wait.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Your friendly neighborhood web-slinger is back, only this time his sunny outlook has become partially overcast in the third chapter of director Sam Raimi's Spider-Man saga. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco return to reprise their roles from the previous two installments, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard making their first appearances in the series as Flint Marko (aka Sandman), Eddie Brock (aka Venom), and Gwen Stacy, respectively. Peter Parker (Maguire) has finally learned to walk the middle ground between being the superhero that his city needs, and the man that Mary Jane (Dunst) loves. All is well in New York City until one night, as Peter and M.J. set gazing at the stars, a falling comet streams across the sky and crashes into the ground close by. But this isn't any ordinary shooting star, and upon impact the mysterious space rock is split open to reveal a shape-shifting symbiote with the power to overtake anything that it comes into contact with. Later, as Harry Osborn acquires his late father's flying board, engineers a powerful new Goblin outfit, and takes to the sky to avenge dad's death, the mysterious space sludge infects both Peter's Spider Man suit and ambitious street photographer Eddie Brock (Grace). His strange new suit giving him a newfound sense of power as it gradually overpowers his personality, Peter discovers that escaped convict Flint Marko was in fact the man responsible for the death of Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). Unfortunately for Peter, Marko has recently acquired the power to morph at will and quickly completes his transformation into the dreaded Sandman. As the Sandman gives in to his darkest criminal instincts and the slithering space symbiote transforms Eddie Brock into the nightmarish fanged villain known as Venom, the citizens of New York City must once again call on Spider Man to fend off destructive forces that are far too powerful for the likes of mortal man. (all movie guide)

Well, the summer movie extravaganza has fine start with the release of Spider-Man 3. I had a thoroughly good time seeing Spidey, this morning, in what was without a doubt the fullest theater I've ever been in at 10:00am on a Saturday morning. I can usually get a pretty good idea of how a movie is going to do based on how many people I share the theater with early on a Saturday morning and Spider-Man 3 is going to be big. I was in the first showing, the next one started 20 minutes later, and the theater was practically full. The only other crowd I've seen that came close to that was when I saw The Da Vinci Code and the theater was about half full. The main difference being that for The Da Vinci Code, everyone was adults while for Spider-Man 3, maybe half were children which is to be expected. I actually prefer the early morning shows because when I'm watching a movie I'm not very fond of playing children, people who talk in theaters (there's a special place in Hell for them) cell phones, or the sound of people tearing paper or eating crunchy food. I'm just silly like that. I've learned that, for the most part, the people who are up early to see a movie on an opening weekend are very similar to me in the respect that we are there for the same reason: To see the movie and demonstrate respect for the other (2 or 3) viewers. Basically, we're nerds and nerds look out for each other. Simple.

As for the movie, Spider-Man 3 is exactly what summer movies are supposed to be: Fun. There's plenty of action, great characters and several new story lines as well as returning plots from the previous films with one or two actually being resolved. The movie runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes but could have easily been much longer and if I had a complaint concerning the movie, the story and the time allowed would be it. Granted, there were a few "down time" moments which felt a little long to me, but the overall story, dealing with so many characters, was spread entirely too thin and would have benefited greatly from an additional 30 minutes of fleshing out. But, then again, I could have sat through another hour of either of The Lord of the Rings movies and never given it a second thought. Either way, I still enjoyed the movie and I think it's an adequate successor to the first two, however, I will admit, I think I liked the first two better but an extended edition DVD might change my mind. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Many Partings

Whew! I finally finished the tome I have been reading for the past several weeks (months?) and now I'm really sorry it's over. Again.

This was the second time I've read the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower, by Tad Williams. I had first read the books back in 1993 and had been lucky enough to have just finished the second book as the third, and final, was published. Since that time, I had forgotten what an undertaking it was/is. The first two novels are roughly 750 pages with the third being 1066, in hardbound. In fact, the third book was so massive, when it was published in paperback it was released in two volumes because it couldn't have been bound as a single book in paper which, unfortunately, meant that the people who waited for the paperback edition had to spend almost as much money, buying two books, as the people who sprang for the hardbound edition.

The story is a wonderfully expansive and detailed fantasy populated with many of the elements that have become staples in the fantasy genre, however, that is not to say that this story doesn't contain it's own inventiveness as well as some creative plot twists and involving characters.

I'm writing this as a marking of an event more so than a recommendation, even though I do recommend the series to anyone who likes fantasy. It doesn't demand a lot from the reader (except time) and it is a worthy place to wander off to and while it is much more "grownup" than many fantasy novels, it fails to invoke (at least, in me) that wrapped in a comfy blanket next to a fire on a cold day feeling that comes with reading The Lord of the Rings. But that's just me. Tad Williams is a fine writer and I fully intend to explore more of his work in the future as well as probably reading this series again several years from now. Hopefully.