Movie Review – Elf

A New Christmas Classic!The Plot – While making the rounds Christmas Eve, Santa unwittingly picks up an extra passenger on a stop at an orphanage. Arriving back at the North Pole Santa discovers Buddy in his sack of goodies. Santa decides to keep Buddy and his most trusted elf Papa raises the little one as his own. The years pass and Buddy eventually figures out he’s not an elf like everyone else. Shattered by this discovery he goes on a quest to find his real father in New York. It won’t be all ice skating & sugar plums though as Buddy’s father is on Santa’s naughty list.

The ReviewElf is one of those movies people either love or hate. Fortunately for me, I was thoroughly entertained. The humor in this film falls squarely on the physical, buffoonery of Will Ferrell and he does a good job of creating a character that is likable as an adult acting like a naive child.

The first thing I noticed about this film was how it captured the nostalgia of all the Christmas claymation TV specials I watched growing up. The opening sequence made me wish I was home with the family chillin’ in front of the fireplace with some eggnog. Cue the narration by Bob Newhart (excellent casting choices in this film), and after a little background story on Will’s character we flash forward and dive head first into the plot. Not that there is much of a plot, but then I don’t think that is the point of this film.

The film wins by playing to its target audience – families – and by delivering a solid comedic performance. I laughed through the entire film. I don’t think any of the jokes were original, but not since Chevy Chase have I seen someone deliver prat falls and physical humor that just worked. I also enjoyed the bits of humor that the writers slipped in like the story about the Asparagus with stinky pee. The timing seemed perfect given the recent consumer focus.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this movie becomes a holiday classic like The Christmas Story.

Grade: A (holiday fun for all ages)

Movie Review – Shogun Assassin

You want gore, you got goreThe Plot – A loyal samurai, Itto Ogami serves as the Shogun’s official decapitator and leader of his royal armies. The burden of such a position and the stress it causes is washed away every evening when Ogami returns home to his wife & son. As the years pass the Shogun is rumored to have gone mad and his once peaceful reign becomes a paranoid & bloodthirsty campaign. Ever watchful of his enemies, the Shogun’s eyes turn to Ogami. Although a loyal samurai, Ogami is the one man that doesn’t fear the Shogun and this angers him. To teach the samurai humility the Shogun sends ninja to kill Ogami’s wife & son. Their mission is only partly successful and as his wife dies in his arms Ogami swears vengeance on the Shogun and all who align themselves with him. From this moment forward he is no longer Itto Ogami… He is now the “Lone Wolf” – Assassin with son.

The Review – After seeing Kill Bill last weekend, I was reminded of this movie which I first saw with my father back in the early 80’s. Shogun Assassin is actually an Americanized version of the Lone Wolf movies series. This 80’s film splices together the first two Japanese films to create one kung-fu slasher epic. I have not seen the original series, but this version stands up fairly well on its own. I sat down to rewatch the film and while it doesn’t have Kill Bill’s cinematographic flash, there were definitely some great moments.

One of the things that makes this movie work is the narration as told by Ogami’s son Daigoro. Having a gruesome tale repeated by a child creates even more impact when you witness the events onscreen. Throughout the film Ogami hardly ever speaks and his brooding silence is offset by Daigoro’s animated curiosity. I marveled at the similarities in sword play between “The Bride” in Kill Bill and the “Lone Wolf”. I’d be willing to bet Tarantino saw Shogun Assassin at some point as the sword flick Uma uses to whisk the blood of her sword resembled Ogami’s technique. The fight scenes were as graphic (if not a little 80’s cheese) as they were in Kill Bill. You’ll see the same number of limbs severed, tomato red blood spurting and probably a few close-ups Tarantino didn’t get to use in his movie.

I can’t forget to mention the baby cart. Not just a traveling piece, the cart has spring loaded blades and detachable swords which Ogami uses in the movie. In fact, Daigoro is purposely put in harms way armed only with this baby cart. You’ll also see plenty of badass female ninja. In one scene entitled “The Interview” the leader of the Shogun’s ninja clan makes the mistake of questioning the ability of his female counterparts. I won’t give anything away, but it becomes quickly apparent the ladies have no problem cutting down the competition.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a quality copy of this film. While I own a it on DVD there are a lot of defects which lead me to believe the master reels were lost a long time ago. Still it’s worth noting the cinematography which stands out given the decade of the film. Like any good film there are little nuances that slip past you the first time you watch it. In one such scene Daigoro is captured and suspended above a well. There’s hardly any dialogue just a moment where Daigoro kicks off his shoe and lets it drop. Seconds after the shoes splashes, Ogami bursts into action killing all the ninja. It hadn’t occurred to me until I watched the film again that Ogami uses the shoe falling to time the distance of the well. The scene is a powerful one, but very subtle in its delivery.

Well, needless to say I’m a fan of the film, but where does that leave the average viewer? Like Kill Bill, I think this film is appreciated by a certain audience. If you’re a kung-fu buff or want to get an idea of where some of Kill Bill’s inspiration may have come from or you simply want to be amazed by a samurai that fights with a child strapped to his back then this movie is for you.

Grade: A-/B+ (The movie targets a very specific audience and I’d be happier if I could find a quality DVD copy)

Movie Review – Once Upon A Time In Mexico

Johnny Depp steals another performance!The Plot – Antonio Banderas returns as El Mariachi, the nameless guitar wielding folk hero who challenged the Mexican cartels. In this follow-up to Desperado, a corrupt CIA agent named Sands (played by Johnny Depp) brings El (as he is called by the people) out of hiding in a plot to infiltrate a drug cartel and assassinate the president of Mexico. El agrees, but only so he can exact his own brand of revenge.

The Review – This one is tough. Taking note from the Rambo movies, it follows that a hero cannot be violent without first having lost everything. The overall pace of the movie is slow in comparison to Desperado. There are no surprises in the plot so watching the film is really just a matter of being patient while the scenes play out. Much of El’s history is told in flashback throughout the film, but you get the gist of things immediately.

The cinematography is well done and the action scenes are as violent as they are explosive. The downside of this movie is the effort spent on making it a whodunit with a number of plot twists. While the flashbacks add to the overall drama of El’s personal demons the subplots involving Sands, a female Federali, a retired FBI agent and the cartel’s enforcer seem too ambitious for an action picture. I found the added pieces did little to add depth to the film, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Depp’s character were somehow spun off into a separate franchise. (I found it interesting that Sands used the word “Savvy” in the same context as Captain Jack Sparrow. I wonder if that was Depp’s idea?)

Fans of the El Mariachi series shouldn’t be too disappointed and the movie is definitely worth a rental to checkout Depp’s performance.

Grade: B-/C+ (I was feeling schizophrenic when I wrote this)

Interesting tidbit about Robert Rodriguez, the man who shot, chopped & scored the films.

Movie Review – Open Range

This is about as good as it getsThe Plot – In Open Range, Kevin Costner costars with Robert Duvall as two cowboys Charlie Waite & Boss Spearman livin’ off the land along with their companions Mose & Button. Driving cattle along the open range, they try to avoid towns as bunking with Mother Nature is the only place where they feel truly free.

Trouble comes to pass when Boss sends Mose into town for necessary supplies. One incident stirs up a chain of events that ultimately tests the friendship between Charlie & Boss and forces them to deal with their past as well as the town’s future.

“I want you to know that if I never see you again, I meant every word I ever said to you and I appreciate everything you said to me.” – Charlie Waite

The Review – And I mean every word I’m about to write. Screw Ebert & Roeper this a crappy one-dimensional film. To rate it “two thumbs up” must mean the bar was set with Gigli and Uptown Girl. I don’t enjoy people who talk-talk-talk while I’m watching a film, but when nearly 80% of the audience is heckling the dialogue I can guarantee you there’s a problem.

The last western I enjoyed was Unforgiven which was as gritty as they come. Open Range could be compared to Unforgiven if you change the plot a little, throw in poor, mistimed dialogue and add a few cardboard cutouts. The movie plot isn’t a mystery if you’ve seen the trailers. The pace of the film isn’t too slow, but if you’re like me your mind will be wandering as you’ll always be two steps ahead of the actors waiting for the next event. What’s funny is the trailers give you the impression that this film has depth. Take the quote above. From the trailer you assume that Kevin Costner & Annette Bening have known each other for some time or that there was some intimate exchange between their characters. People they barely spoke to each other! Everybody laughed at hearing that line. It was like seeing Jennifer Aniston having sex with Mark Walberg in Rockstar – just some funny stuff. There are other instances where the dialogue seems completely misplaced.

The film is not without some good points. The cinematography was good, especially the long range shots with the lush green colors and mountainous background. The gun fights and other action sequences were done well. The cuts flowed better than some films I’ve seen, I just wish this was a DVD rental so I could have skipped to each 10 minute sequence.

Unless you are a huge western fan or you just want to see how this movie compares to Waterworld I wouldn’t waste the money.

I should have joined Ryan and gone to see Freddy vs. Jason.

Grade: D+

ebb & flow

I rarely see my stepbrother Brad & his wife KellySometimes the support you need comes from the most unexpected people. Michelle & I recently announced that we are postponing our wedding which was scheduled for this November. The Cliff Notes version is the crappy economy isn’t helping us out any. Most of you have caught the brunt of my mood here as I’ve drudged up a lot of angst in my attempts to maintain a calm & reasonable persona. But I digress….

My stepbrother Brad was the first person to pick up the phone and call to see how things were going. I would not have been so moved except Brad & I rarely speak unless it’s Christmas. Oh sure, there have been the occasional e-mails every nine month or so, but the Brady Bunch we’re not. However, it was really good to hear from him and I’m thankful for all the supportive things he said on the phone. Lord knows he doesn’t owe me shit from Cheyenne.

That conversation led me to reevaluate a lot of things going on lately. All my life I’ve been a people pleaser. Ron> tells me I’m generous to a fault and it would seem no matter how many times I get my toes stepped on I’m anxious to do it again. My fault for being overly optimistic about human nature. I guess I was waiting for people to rally around me while I was wallowing in self-drama when I should have been dusting myself off more. Now don’t get the wrong idea, I was hangin’ in there pretty good for a while, but there are only so many rejections a person can handle before mental stamina gives out. Instead of focusing on what I wasn’t getting, I should have been searching out what I could get.

Despite circumstances I am thankful for what I have been able to accomplish and typing this entry is testament to the fact that I’m better off than a lot of folks. I’ll try and remember that before I go to bed and tomorrow when I continue job hunting.

Aidan made this cool Flash portal for his blogging buddies | Christilina has photos for sale | Congrats to Julie who’s expecting baby #2