Thursday, January 29, 2009

Movie Reviews and Oscar Commentary

OSCAR-BAITER or, why you should avoid the Oscars and see these movies instead.

As the movie awards season begins, many people are inundated with the pressure to see the films that are all the rave, all the hype, and all the buzz. Most average moviegoers never make it to more than one or two of these films, usually because they come to the realization that they don’t really want to.

Hollywood is so in love with its “Oscar-bait” films that it jumps off the cliff of pretentiousness and leaves most people feeling alienated. As if the general movie going public isn’t sophisticated enough to decipher a Kate Winslet accent or an historically interpretive story. Apparently, anyone in a red state is too dumb to understand or appreciate anything other than something with Larry the Cable Guy.

Oh, Hollywood, you can suck it.

I shit talk the Oscars, the Golden Globes
, and any other pop culture self-gratifying awards show that pretends to be more important than it really is. It’s not that I’m against an organization awarding its members for outstanding work…it’s that EVERY year so many great people are overlooked.

This year is no exception. Just about
anyone who has seen “The Dark Knight” would attest that it is a well made, thought provoking, and innovative comic book/crime film hybrid, which pulls together the fantasy and reality of comic book characters, making them relevant and believable, while still upholding their fictional allure.

Or, they’d at least say that the movie was pretty fuckin’ badass.

However, despite Heath Ledger’s recognition, which is justly deserved whether he had died or not, director Christopher Nolan, the man MOST responsible for the film’s success, was completely ignored, as was the nominat
ion for best picture. Apparently, hobbits can win best picture, but men in bat suits are shit out of luck. These two particular omissions are by and far the most upsetting to fans of the film and for fans of GOOD films to boot.

Instead, we are led to believe, by nomination votes, that a film like “The Reader,” or even “Benjamin Button,” are far superior films. Look, I saw “Benjamin Button.” It was a great film. Great performances, direction, cinematography, score, etc., but I couldn’t quelch the constant nag in my brain that they simply repackaged “Forest Gump” (Buttons screenplay is written by Eric Roth, who also adapted Forest Gump).

Are we awarding points for originality or for WHO copied WHAT the best?

With that being said, I am personally choosing to ignore the Oscars. Their voting process is flawed and it shows me that they need a serious revamp in the system before it can become relevant to me again. The process is outlined here.

The initial selection process of nominees is as jacked as the ratings board. Hopefully the Obama Change slogan that Hollywood so giddily embraced will trickle into their own political processes and generate a revamped and accurate feel for what films are worthy of awards and nominations.

However, one point we can’t ignore is that “the people” don’t choose the nominees. Fellow actors, directors, producers, etc. are academy members…NOT Joe Public (or six pack). So, by that token, you should be able to see behind the farce…it’s an awards show for Hollywood, decided by Hollywood, and voted on by Hollywood and shoved in your face to prove that these films matter and you should watch them, thereby filling their Hollywood pockets.

It’s all well and good that an organization wants to recognize its own BY its own, but don’t try to pretend that we should give a shit because you do. In my opinion, The Dark Knight is the epitome of “Best Picture.” It was one of the best reviewed, well received, and made more money than any other film. Wouldn’t that make more sense for a “best picture” rather than what Whoopi Goldberg checks off on her nomination card?

Here are the nominations for this year. Peruse and dis at your own discretion.

This brings me to two films I have seen during “the awards season” that I feel have not received the accolades they deserve. Although one of them has a well-deserved nomination for Best Actor, they have otherwise been ignored. Now, in the long run, the truth is that I REALLY don’t give a shit if the Oscars recognize them or not.

However, the average moviegoer (meaning someone who doesn’t read the daily trades, work in the industry, or study film) usually relie
s on these nominations when choosing what they will spend their hard-earned money on. My goal in writing reviews has always been to share my opinion, which I feel is well developed enough in regards to film that I can give you some perspective and appreciation for what you will invest your time and money on.

Nothing pains me more than seeing people buy tickets to a movie that I KNOW sucks, either by seeing it already or distancing myself from it like a gang on a street corner. I’m here for you, Joe Moviegoer. I will not lead you astray. Although my opinion will not always mesh with the general public, I am informed enough to keep you in the clear.

Having said my piece on the Oscars, I’m not going to retread it throughout these reviews. There are more important things to discuss with the
m rather than their lack of recognition by their peers.

So, let’s begin, shall we?

Gran Torino is
directed by Clint Eastwood, who seems to have evolved from punching monkeys and glinting cowboys/cops into a finely tuned filmmaker. He’s been directing for decades, but not until the last few years has he really come into the realm of great significance.

After “Mi
llion Dollar Baby,” where Eastwood took your emotions on a rollercoaster ride and didn’t strap you down, he delved deeper into his treasure trove of emotional resonance and gave us an adaptation of “Flags of our Fathers,” and “Letters From Iwo Jima,” (which I still haven’t watched and shame myself for), both of which received a mixed bag of reception, but are undeniably well-made. Personally, I think a lot of people skipped out on those films and shit talk them without the real insight (i.e. having really seen them).

Eastwood then churned out “Changeling,” which no one saw (yet another mark of an Academy Award nominated film). Some would argue that “Million Dollar Baby” is Eastwood’s crowning achievement as a serious filmmaker. I, however, beg to differ.

Gran Torino, Eastwood’s latest offering is a perfect blend of many of Eastwood’s past films, culminating the hard-edged characters he’s played throughou
t the years into what we might imagine they might be if they retired in a mixed race neighborhood in Michigan.

It’s a simple premise: After the death of his wife, a retired Korean war vet faces the changing times with much disdain and hardship as he is deeply set in his ways in an ever-changing world. After the teenage son of a Hmong family (southeastern Asians) attempts to steal Eastwood’s mint Gran Torino, Eastwood attempts to steer the boy away from a life
of gangs and crime, while putting his own demon’s to bed.

Eastwood plays it cool, grumpy, and stoic, all while giving the depth and torment of a man who has always
lived his life by a certain standard yet finds that even in his dwindling years can still find it within himself to change.

Eastwood’s character is an unforgiving racist, but not in a deeply violent or hateful way. We all want to pretend that we are so perfect and politically correct, but the truth is that most people stereotype all races, genders, etc., whether they admit it or not. I call bullshit on all of you who say you don’t. Eastwood’s character merely voices those thoughts and stereotypes.

And, honestly, it generates more laughter than anything else, which I felt was healthy for an audience to sit through and laugh together about it. We all know it’s wrong and not acceptable to any degree, yet it exists in almost all of us, so it’s more of a tension release in
which we can all laugh at our own ignorance.

The racism in the film is heavy handed and tackled to a great degree. Eastwood never lets up his slurs, even to the bitter end, but his mind is forever changed and altered as he begins to accept his neighbors as family, learning and developing a repor mor
e deeply felt than that of his relationship with his own sons and grandchildren.

If anything, the racism pulls the film together. You want
to cheer Eastwood on, push him to interact, to socialize with those he slurs under his breath. And through each interaction he loosens up more and more, peeling back the layers of a man who put up a façade of hate for so long that he can’t even remember why it was there to begin with.

I don’t know if Eastwood has any sons that he’s trying to send a message to, but the relationship he has with his film counterparts is depressing to watch. His grown sons in the film are arrogant, spoiled, distant, nonchalant, and unappreciative of the man they call their father. They attempt to convince him to go to a home, almost as if it would just be easier to have him locked away somewhere rather than have to check on him as he lives on his own.

I have no doubt many people have felt this way when confronting the prospect of caring for their parent’s in their dwindling years. And it’s sad, really. Eastwood's character lets everyone know that just because he’s old doesn’t mean he's incompetent or unable to sustain himself. However, his sons seem to know so little about the man that they don’t see any other way.

What drives Gran Torino is the relationship between Eastwood and the Hmong boy, Thao, who attempts to steal the title car. It’s painfully obvious that throughout the film the boy becomes more of a son to Eastwood than his own blood. And, as heartbreaking as that is
, it’s just as heartwarming. Again, you want to cheer the relationship on, Rocky style.

And although the racism and gang violence is on the heavier side of things, Eastwood balances everything out with a healthy blend of humor, esp
ecially in the fish-out-of-water department. Watching a racist old vet start to blend with another culture, one he portends to hate, is more funny than painful and is a testament to Eastwood as an actor who can still reel us in even if he isn’t uttering famous one-liners.

Gran Torino is a meditative film, driven by a constant sense of dread. As things build to good things that lead to better things that lead to everything almost too perfect, you feel that something must go wrong, deeply wrong, and you find yourself clinging to the hope that somehow, someway you can see a happy resolution before the credits roll.

“Sense of dread” films
are the best. I chew my nails, I tap my foot nervously, and my mind is working like a supercomputer as I try to figure out how things will pan out, or, more importantly, how I WANT them to pan out and if the film will follow suit. Gran Torino is chalk full of good things evolving into better things while the impending “showdown” awaits and you just know that it’s going to go one way or another but you just can’t put your finger on it.

This is what makes movies great. This is what makes movies WORK.

Another highlight of this film is that of what a man leaves behind. Man, and the struggle to leave a worthy legacy in his wake, is something that infects all of us, one way or another, some deeper than others. Some ponder it daily, striving minute-by-minute to make a difference that will impact future generations. Some simply deal with the mess they’ve made, never having any hope for making great strides of progress.

It is man’s struggle, especially, as he gets into the twilight years and things haven’t quite worked out how he expected. He never finished that novel. Never went fishing with his sons. Never got over that girl. Never finished that degree. There is a laundry list with unchecked marks that we will take to our graves.

Gran Torino explores the dwindling legacy of a man in his twilight years; what he has, what he’s lost, what he’s leaving behind, and the amends he’s making as the end grows near. It’s a dual contemplation, one both for Eastwood the character and Eastwood the director.

For my money, Gran Torino is a meditative and thought-provoking film which explores the lives we lead vs. the lives we thought we would and how there is still hope to fix your legacy even as you reach the end of it.

Which takes me to my next film, The Wrestler. Director Darren Aronofsky goes off the stylistic reservation, creating what feels like a shot for shot documentary than a feature film.

Like Gran Torino, w
e have a simple premise, but a deeply (I can’t find my thesaurus and “deep” is where I’m at, so DEAL) involving tale with multiple thematic elements (man, that sounds like film school student blotter…fuck it). An aging wrestler, played to perfection by Mickey Rourke, deals with debilitating health and the pangs of loneliness and regret as he finds himself delving into his later years.

Rourke is a marvel to watch. He IS the show. As Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Rourke gives us a ringside seat into what we p
robably would never imagine as the life of a professional wrestler. The Ram is long past his prime, having reached his peak in the pro wrestling world decades past, he is now doing low-key shows to make extra cash while working stock at a grocery store.

He has an estranged daughter (played by the always lovely Evan Rachel Wood), and is enamored with a local stripper (playe
d by the always…eh…well, Marisa Tomei…with pierced nipples). He lives in a trailer park and sometimes goes to the local American Legion to hawk his wrestling goods and sign autographs.

He’s an old dog still swimming in the pool of young talent, guys that are hungry to get where The Ram was twenty years ago. And yet, he’s still got it. The showmanship, the professionalism, the drive, it’s all there, even as his bo
dy is literally falling apart.

Again, we face the themes so present in Gran Torino, involving man and his legacy. The Ram has nothing to be ashamed of professionally. He has a bevy of fans who routinely come to him for autographs and handshakes, and the promoters still treat him with respect and admiration.

However, his personal life is in shambles. I never heard any mention of a wife or girlfriend, and his daughter is completely cold and distant, wanting nothing to do with him. Tomei’s stripper shares a similar dilemma with The Ram, as she is getting on in years (the kiss of death for strippers is much younger) and although she is still smokin’ hot, she finds that her career, her own legacy leaves much to be desired.

She is a mother and a woman who wants to have and be more, but is limited…this is all she knows. And, like The Ram, when all you know is jeopardized it can seem that there’s nothing left living for…or maybe that you’ve been looking in all the wrong places.

After suffering a near fatal heart attack after a match, The Ram decides to forego a big rematch with his old rival and focus on the things that he has neglected his entire life…namely his family and a career outside wres
tling. However, his career is merely taking a position at the deli counter in the grocery store and the only family he has is his estranged lesbian daughter.

The Ram also reaches out to Tomei’s stripper, as so many “customers” tend to do, and is met with the expected stop sign. However, with her recent epiphany, she relents and agrees to hang out with The Ram socially. It’s tough for her to do, but she’s at a crossroads…at what point does she reciprocate? At what point does she move on and take a chance on someone?

Similarly, The Ram, now done with wrestling and working full time to win back what he has lost, convinces his daughter to speak with him and confesses to her in the most heartbreaking moment of the film and the shining moment for Rourke. He knows he fucked up. He knows that there’s no reason for her to forgive him or feel sorry for him, but the fact remains that he still loves her and wants to make amends.

She agrees to have dinner with him and you just know that somehow, someway it’s never going to happen. What happens after he misses the dinner is definitely a foregone conclusion though. With the most sincere honesty that leaves a lingering sting in the air, she tells him she never wants to see him again…and you can feel she means it.

And even through all his screw-ups, you want The Ram to win. Like Rocky did so well more than thirty years ago, you want the underdog to have his day. No matter his wrong doings, which are fairly average compared to worst-case scenarios, you want The Ram to get the golden ticket.

While trying to continue the tiptoeing romance with Tomei, The Ram finds that she is still clamoring to hold onto her life, even while trying to be a part of his. Like The Ram trying to still be a wrestler and juggle his family and love life, it’s too much to take at once. Tomei rejects The Ram once again and he has sunk to the lowest point since his heart attack.

So, what does a man do when he has lost everything? His career, his passion, his family, his love? He turns to that which has been the constant in his life, the one thing he could always count on. For The Ram, it’s wrestling and in a great big “fuck it” moment, The Ram calls up the promoters and agrees to the rematch with his old rival.

This is what sets The Wrestler apart from your typical underdog story. It’s not wrapped up with a neat little bow on top. It’s not cut and dry. Because, ultimately, that’s where the movie connects on a human level…that’s life. I’m not saying you can’t have a happy ending, but it never works out how you plan it and you very rarely get everything you want.

The Ram’s epiphany is th
at his legacy, his passion, doesn’t rest with his estranged daughter or with the infatuation with a stripper. His heart belongs in the ring, no matter how cheesy or inappropriate that may seem to someone else. He has already screwed up every relationship and side job in his life. But, the one thing he got right, the one thing he truly put himself into, is all he has left.

“I’m still jumpin’ from the top rope,” he says at one point. And that is where he is at his crowning, shining moment. A man’s life is made up of many moments (not trying to alienate the ladies either, I’m just speaking from my own perspective…catch me on my review for “Confessions of a Shopaholic” for the flipside), many choices, and ultimately our legacy is created from that.

In one regard, Gran T
orino is about how it’s never too late to change our lives for the better, while The Wrestler is about how sometimes change isn’t the answer to our lives. In the end, both films left me with this;

What we leav
e behind is also what we take with us.

Fortunately, both of these fil
ms will leave their own legacy that can affect viewers and hopefully challenge some thought about these themes for as long as the future holds. When the Eastwood’s, the Rourke’s, the Aronofsky’s, etc., all leave this earth, their testament to not only film, but to the human condition, will continue to live on with great films like these.

So, next time you’re at the theater and you’re looking for something with substance, devoid of the Oscar-bait stigma, consider settling in with one of these films. Without pretense or agenda they will likely leave you with a resonating experience rather than a confusing itch as to why such a film would be honored by its community.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Generally Annoyed

I’ve gotten quite a few inquiries asking if I intend to do a movie year-end wrap up. The answer is no. Many well-informed individuals whose opinions I typically respect have summed up the majority of my feelings on the movies of 2008 and I don’t feel the need to repeat them. We all loved The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Benjamin Button. The only difference is the wild cards, which all of my respected friends have; some loved High School Musical and the second Narnia. Some loved Punisher War Zone. I don’t have a cure for them, but am concerned.

I, on the other hand, have my own vices, two of which seem to be eternally loathed; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Speed Racer
. I enjoyed the hell out of both those films (not that either is perfect), whereas I have yet to find a single individual to share those sentiments. I always fall back to Domino for that one. I love that movie still. Tony Scott is one of the best directors of the last thirty years and Keira Knightley yelling “Put your fucking weapon down!” in her cockney accent makes my pee pee maker tingle.

Like I said, we all have our vices.

However, I want to talk about a few things that have been grinding on my nerves lately and hopefully you can relate. If you can’t, then you are probably part of the problem and perhaps this little blog will set you straight.

As many know, I am expecting my first child this year (we preordered) and throughout the process of preparing to bring someone into this world that will later hate and despise you, we have combed the stores, Internet, and parental advice in deciding what to populate our baby’s life with. Certainly there are a bevy of worthless items, made more for the parent’s amusement than for an actual purpose that serves your child.

And one of those most annoying and ridiculous things to surface is the “Baby on Board” sign. As if Garfield on suction cups wasn’t annoying enough (which seems to have fortunately gone to the fad cemetery), the general populace has been subjected to these obnoxious yellow and black signs that seem to have a purpose at first glance…until you give it some thought.

These signs (which come in numerous sizes at Babies R Us) seem to be telling you, the childless, pompous, asshole driver that you better watch your speed and proximity to the baby-lugging mini-van sporting the timeless message…or else!

Or else what, motherfucker? I can see it now; a cop pulls me over after one of these annoying vehicles with the sticker in the window cuts me off:

“Is there a problem, officer?”
“Yes, sir. You nearly hit that mini-van in front of you.”
“Uh, yeah, that crazy bitch cut ME off and nearly ran me
off the road…perhaps you should have pulled her over?”
“Maybe you weren’t paying a
ttention, sir…She had a Baby On Board sign. Did you happen to catch that, smart guy?”
“Oh dear…I-I’m so sorry, officer. I had no idea. I didn’t see it. I was busy texting and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while changing song
s on my iPod. I must have missed the sign. If I had known…”
“I’ll let you go with a warning, sir…and one of those drums

I mean, seriously…am I supposed to somehow change the way I drive because some dumbass puts that sign in their window? Like I’m some speed demon, whipping in and out of traffic as if I’m trying to get to the Obama inauguration until I suddenly see that sign? Then I what? Slow down? Stay in the lines? Drop back fifteen meters? Is there some kind of protective bubble that I am to abide by because of that stupid sign?

There is no traffic law or rule that acknowledges or grants special road privileges because of that sign. And if your baby is in a car seat, which IS a law, then he/she is all fucking good. They are a passenger like everyone else and no sign is going to change that.

Let me clear up the little bullshit story that supposedly started that stupid sign; The old tale goes like this; Supposedly, a woman and her kids were in a traffic accident and when the police arrived on scene they somehow missed the baby in the car (because what? They didn’t happen to notice the fucking baby car seat? Come oooonnnnnnnn) and the baby died as a result. If they just would have had that baby on board sign, that baby might be alive today and they would be all grown up and driving a death trap mini-van with their own Baby on Board sign. And the world would be perfect.

If you are a new or old parent and you are still rocking that sign then it’s time to really think about the validity of such a mark of ignorance. Do you really think that sign is making a difference other than pointing out that you are making some asshole rich by buying his moronic suction cup sign? It’s junk!

In a fragile economy like this, which was made that way by our own ignorance as BAD consumers, we should all be more fiscally responsible and build those tools to continue throughout our children's lives and ours. Buying shit like these signs is a picture perfect example of a piss poor American consumer; someone who doesn’t really THINK about what they are buying and instead buying it because it FEELS like something they should have.

The only exception would be if you are buying one of these signs as a joke to piss off someone who hates these things. Which is how I got one for Christmas.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about bumper stickers with personal messages. If you ever want to really SHOW OFF your personality and beliefs and feel that the best place to do so is the ass end of your car then you have proven a few things; 1) You are a moron 2) You are a moron, and last, but not least 3) You are a moron.

I don’t fucking care if you love Obama or Bush. I don’t care if you’re Green. I don’t care if you love Jesus or Buddha. I don’t care if you don’t want to drill, mine, or fish. I don’t give a fuck if you think I should watch out for motorcycles. I don’t care if you are Christian or a Darwinite. All I really care about when looking at the ass end of your car is that you obey the rules of the road and don’t drive like a dickhead. That would be a PHENOMENAL start.

Your pretentious car message splattered onto a piece of weatherproof paper on the back of your shitmobile is not going to change my mind or inform me of anything other than the fact that you are a moron. In fact, if you really want someone to stay away from your vehicle for your baby’s safety then it might be in your best interest to put a bunch of hippie messages; Peace, change, green, gay, whatever stickers all over your car. Better yet, get a ribbon that says Support Everything.

I will stay far the fuck away from you. Rubbing into your vehicle would cause a rainbow of smudges on my truck that I just don’t need. Bottom line here: Nobody cares and your resale value just went down the toilet. If you want everyone to hear your opinion then start a blog (natch).

Look, I’m not an angry person. Okay, I do swear this much usually, but not when it’s not professional. However, this is my happy place. And I’m happy to share my anger. Let’s hold hands and continue, shall we?

Movie Theater Etiquette

We’ve all been to the movies. Most of us enjoy the experience. However, if you were to ask, probably those same people would say that their chief complaint with going to the movies is dealing with other, less courteous patrons.

Amen to that, I say.

Obviously, I go to the movies a lot. Duh. I am not an average moviegoer and I certainly don’t expect that everyone should follow suit. It’s a personal choice based on personal interest. I don’t frequent sporting events at all. I’m just not into it. I respect it, but don’t participate. So, don’t try
to make friends with me by talking football. I’ll just nod my head in that familiar “Yep, whatever you say, dude,” kinda way and wait for you to change the subject.

So, with so much experience frequenting the cinema, I can assure you that I have seen it all. I have seen the most despicable acts by people against other people while coming together to enjoy a movie. I’ve seen people arrested, kicked out, fights, screaming kids, the whole gamut. It’s obnoxious. It needs to stop.

There’s a simple formula to how you should behave in public. It’s the easiest thing in the world for the majority of the population. If you are in a big, congested area with lots of different folks, all you need to do is ACT LIKE YOU WOULD AT CHURCH. Now, we could go round and round about how people SHOULD act and how they ACTUALLY act, whether it be at church or the movies, but the bottom line is that we KNOW how we should act at Church and thereby shouldn’t have an
y trouble applying it here.

Notice how everyone gets dressed up nice, watches their language, and is generally nice, pleasant, polite, and respectful at church? Then, what happens when they go home? They change their clothes, pop a beer, put on the game, scratch their balls and curse everything from baby on board signs to the economy. If we could somehow bridge that gap and carry over our church manners into a movie theater setting then all would be well in the world.

However, since there’s no Jesus statue or robe-wearing preacher in the theater we feel that we can just be assholes in public since there’s no accountability. To me, regardless of what your religion is, you should apply the basic principles of humanity and society, which is simple kindness and respect for everyone around you.

So, before I jump into my rant, keep that in mind. Church manners.

Oh, where to begin. Let’s break it down.

Movie talkers: Check it out, if you want to bullshit during a movie then STAY THE FUCK HOME. If you are too dumb to understand what’s going on in the movie then you need to shut your trap and attempt to warm up that noodle in your head by reading, improving your vocabulary, or maybe going back to get that GED. Reserve your questions for after the lights come up.

Seat Kickers: Come on. Seriously. I wish I could go to the home of one of the many seat-kickers I’ve endured throughout the years and, while they are lying comfortably on the couch and watching The Hills, I’d just stand there and kick the back of the sofa throughout the entire show. I’d never say a word. I’d just stand there. And kick. And maybe giggle devilishly with my eyes open real wide.

The Movie Challenged: Perhaps because I am so well informed about movies that I find this so ridiculous. A couple shows up at the movies and have no idea what’s playing. They just decide to come out to the big city and see one of them picture shows. So, an
d it’s sad that the theater actually provides this, they are given a piece of paper with a listing of all movies playing and a synopsis of each.

So, these movie-challenged dingbats stand there, holding up the line as they decide what looks good and if it coincides with the time they want to see it.

I get it. Not everyone goes to the movie sites and reads up or gives a shit what’s coming. Same as I don’t give two shits who goes to the super bowl or playoffs or whatever. Fair enough. However, if I was going to buy tickets to a game I would know the time and the place beforehand so that I could prepare accordingly.

There’s this thing called the Internet that lists show times and synopsis as well. Five minutes of your time will save you that embarrassing venture at the theater, holding up the line only to decide to see some shit like August Rush.

The In Frequenters: This is more funny than annoying, depending on the individual. While seeing Australia this year on Thanksgiving, I noticed a lot of families dragging Grandma and Grandpa out of the house and to the theater for some good ol’ family movie time. However, this is the first movie said grandparents have been to all year…and it shows.

It’s like someone brought a short bus of window-lickers to the theater for the holiday. People tripping on the stairs, spilling popcorn and sodas, staring at the ceiling in awe, and still being wowed by the dumb ass Sprite commercial with the kids jumping into a pool that looks like a basketball court. I shake my head in disbelief and realize that I would probably look just as dumb going to the ballet. “Do they bring hot dogs to your seat here?”

And lastly…

Cell phone and Text abusers: Do I really need to reiterate that you aren’t at home? What’s interesting is that the movie theaters now have full on pre-show ads about turning your cell phone off. Of course no one gives a shit, but the fact is that theaters now have to pay for advertisements to remind people not to be discourteous assholes while the movie is playing.

Personally, I think a better ad would be to hire someone like David Spade to simply stand in a movie theater lobby and say:

“Hello movie patrons. Happy to have you at the movies. Unfortunately, there are likely some discourteous assholes in this theater that are going to text or even answer phone calls while the movie is playing because they don’t have any church manners or basic human respect for fellow patrons.

So, Cinemark has paid me $500,000 to stand here and remind you that you’re all in this together and you should respect one another by NOT using your cell phone during the movie. So, thanks for not doing the right thing. I like money and I didn’t even have to do a terrible VH1 show to get it.

Thanks for making me rich America! So, actually, I hope there are a couple douche bags that will break the rules so I can come back and do another one of these next month. Keep it up, you manner less a-holes and enjoy the show!”

The cell phone has really screwed things up. I mean that. We all view it as a necessity. It makes communication so much easier, so much more convenient. However, that’s not true. It has made us assholes. It has lessened our patience and made us spoiled technobrats.

Remember the TV show Miami Vice? Go back and watch an episode. Guess what’s missing? Cell phones. But guess what? Sonny and Crocket still cracked the fucking case and did so with Phil Collins playing in the background! Take that, cell phones!

If you were fortunate enough to have been around when cell phones weren’t even in existence then you might remember something that is missing today: Peace and quiet! How awesome was it to be out all day and not have a thousand people calling you to ask you minute questions and send you stupid texts? You came home, hit play on your answering machine, picked up your land line and returned calls, if you wanted to.

You had a little something I like to call freedom. Today, everyone from the rich to the poor and the black to the white have a fucking cell phone and are suckling on the telecommunication titty until it’s dry. Many times I will leave my cell phone at home only to come home and find messages wondering where the hell I am and how DARE I not pick up or reply. The simple answer is that I am not tied to my cell phone like a nameless cog in the matrix.

My point should be obvious. If you can’t put your stupid ATT shitphone down for a two-hour movie then you should STOP BREATHING AND NEVER START AGAIN. If you can’t sit through a movie without fucking with your phone then you need to either a) get some Ritalin, b) cease to exist, or c) NEVER come to the movies.

My favorite is how people open up their cell phones to text during a movie, thinking that the light from their phone won’t be seen from everyone above them. It’s not a simple little light in a pitch-black theater. It’s a fucking surefire and it’s blinding me and it’s obnoxious.

There are literally ZERO excuses for texting or talking in a theater. Go ahead and think of one and I will debunk it. Your mom is in the hospital and you want to know her condition? Go to the hospital then! Your babysitter is burning down the house? Get home then! You certainly don’t need to send back and forth texts. “Is the fire spreading or can it wait until the end of the movie?” Come on.

I would love to yank the phone out of a movie texter’s hand just to see what they are writing. I guarantee it will be some shit like this:

MovieTextDouche: This movie is gay
MovieTextEnabler: What movie r u seeing?
MovieTextDouche: Bloody Valentine 3D…I have 3D glasses on. Lol
MovieTextEnabler: Why didn’t u invite me? U suck!
MovieTextDouche: What r u doing?
MovieTextEnabler: Watching Keeping up w/Kardashians. I want her butt. Lol.
MovieTextDouche: Me too. RFLMAO. What did you eat for lunch today?
MovieTextEnabler: A piece of lettuce. Delish!
MovieTextDouche: I had BK. Whopper w/cheese. And a coke. And fries.
MovieTextEnabler: I love BK. I like their fries. A LOT! Lol.
MovieTextDouche: This movie is gay. I’m bored.
MovieTextEnabler: Why don’t u leave and come over here?
MovieTextDouche: I’m havin' too much fun annoying this dick behind me with my texting. LOL. He can SUCK it!

And so on an so forth…

Now, you could say, “Well, why don’t you say something?” However, that’s not the problem. The problem is that I HAVE to. Why should I have to say something? I have to disrupt the theater and probably cause an altercation (because manner less fucks are usually ill tempered as well) because someone is a dickhead? Because they have no church manners? I’m not the theater cops and I’m not Hank Moody. I’m just a simple patron who expects the same courtesy he affords others.

Church Manners. Pass it on. A message from The Way of The Shirey of Latter Day Church Manner users.

That wraps up my annoyances for now. I have plenty of others, which involve baby shit, baby names, parental visits, and Alaskan drivers, but I’ll save those for later. For loyal followers of this blog, I am about to revamp the whole thing and start an actual website. Blogger is fairly limited for what I’m trying to do and very time consuming. I am going to reformat to accommodate more posts, which will help keep me regular (like a column, not a bodily function).

Hopefully, the all new, all better Way of the Shirey will be up and running by summer, but I don’t have a set date. So, be patient! I do have a kid that will be keeping me up at night very soon and I doubt he’ll be like the e-trade baby right of the bat, full of investment and Dreamweaver knowledge. We’ll get him there, though.

Thanks for not texting while reading my blog!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Reviewed by: Paul Shirey

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Actors: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Mélanie Thierry, Mark Strong, and Gerard Depardieu (Yes, that one).

Movie: 1.5 stars
DVD: 1 star
Overall: 1.5 stars

Vin Diesel plays Vin Diesel as a mercenary hired to escort a hot chick and Michelle Yeoh from Russia to New York for reasons I’m still trying to figure out. Read on.

You’ve seen this movie a hundred times already and it was way better before. Babylon A.D. is a hodgepodge of every sci-fi action flick made in the last twenty years. Take Children of Men, The Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Minority Report, and the Riddick movies, toss them in the ol’ cinematic blender and out comes Babylon A.D….the latest bastard stepchild of the sci-fi genre.

This is one of those movies that feels like they really wanted it to succeed, threw tons of money at it, and everything just fell apart. Vin Diesel is just fine as the mercenary Theroop (like Turok…whatever) if you want to settle for more of the same. Surprisingly enough, Michelle Yeoh is actually quite convincing as a nun/martial arts master (oh, you heard me right). She even cries. So, you know that’s good. Aurora, the chick he’s taking to New York, is hot enough, but there’s no boobage or anything beyond her acting like the typical “chosen one” spazz, so who cares?

The SFX are slightly above average, but mostly on par with XXX, which also sucked. The action is sparse and unfocused, the story is convoluted and cliché and we’re done. Chances are you’re gonna be at Blockbuster or filling up your Netflix Queue and run across this Vin Diesel movie that you never saw in theaters (because you blinked) and you’ll be curious to see if it sucks or not, since you liked him in the Riddick flicks and that car movie with Jordana Brewster, but I assure you, this is one Babylon better left in ruins.

Video: 1:85:1 Widescreen. Not a bad movie to show off on Blu-Ray due to the ripped off visual collage from better-made sci-fi…but you could do worse…like Johnny Mnemonic…or better, like Blade Runner.

Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital for those inclined. Unfortunately, the few moments where the filmmakers could have even attempted something sexy with the sound they didn’t even try. Don’t bother waking the neighbors for this one.

I watched the standard disc version with both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film. The only main difference is a pointless car chase at the end of the theatrical cut, which was omitted from the unrated version (which also ends with a dedication “for my daughters.” Not the best legacy, dude). Other than that, the only extra on this puppy is a bunch of FOX trailers for more movies that failed at the box office.

Diehard sci-fi and/or Vin Diesel fans may find tidbits of interest in Babylon A.D., but there’s hardly a shred of anything memorable. You’ll most likely say, “It wasn’t that bad…” Then there will be a long silence and you’ll look over to whoever you made sit through the whole thing with you and you’ll bow your head and hand over the five bucks you just lost.

Reviewed by: Paul Shirey

Director: David Gordon Green

Actors: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Amber Heard, and Rosie Perez

Movie: 4 stars
DVD: 3.5 stars
Overall: 4 stars

Seth Rogen plays a dead-end stoner who witnesses a murder and pulls his dealer, played by James Franco, into the mix and on the run from a vindictive drug boss.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they just didn’t “get” this movie or felt they had to be stoned to enjoy it. However, I sipped a Diet Coke and ate popcorn and laughed my ass off, drug free. If you’re a fan of Rogen/Apatow style comedy then this is definitely for you. It’s got the improv style comedy that’s been steamrolling through movies like this since Anchorman and it delivers the goods, even if it comes off a little awkward from time to time.

It’s hard to steal the show from Rogen, but Franco and McBride do just that. Franco plays the staring-at-the-wind drug dealer to perfection and McBride is hysterical as the double-crossing dealer, Red (who bakes a cake for his dead cat’s birthday…awesome). Whenever these three are onscreen together you can feel the comedy magic. It’s like hanging out with three of your best friends and talking shit for a few hours. Like Superbad before it, Pineapple Express, for better or worse, is continuing the new sub-genre of “bromance” flicks, which isn’t all-bad, but isn’t all-good either. I guess it depends on how in touch you are with your “bromantic” side.

Surprisingly enough, the action in the film isn’t too bad. It’s not Tony Scott or anything, but it’s a giant leap over something you’d see in a Pink Panther movie. And with more blood. The violence is borderline over-the-top and they play it off in a clumsy manner, which is the way it should be since most drug dealers/stoners aren’t former Special Forces soldiers. Although it’s a bit much to see Seth Rogen suspended from wires Matrix-style, it’s all good fun and big laughs. Ultimately, I think this will gain a bigger audience on DVD, and deservedly so. And don’t believe the hype that you have to be stoned to enjoy this.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t hurt, but…

Also, “Tryin’ to get a mothaf**kin’ scholarship!” is a line we need to spread around. Good stuff.

Video: 2.40:1 widescreen. As mentioned before this is a much better-looking comedy than most. The action scenes are pretty well staged and with enough damage and gore to give your HD a good run. This is one of the few comedies I’d recommend picking up on Blu Ray.

Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital. Like the action scenes, the sound design is above average for the genre. There are plenty of gunshots and a better-than-average car chase that give you the go ahead to crank this one up a notch. Or maybe listening to the inhalation of illegal substances at high decibels is your thing. Either way, it’s a good listen.

There are two versions here, an unrated and rated cut of the film and one with a second disc of extras. I watched the single disc, unrated version, which had plenty of extras to tide me over.

Extended/Alternate Scenes: (9:50)
I could take or leave these scenes. All the best improv is in the movie, and there’s nothing here that will make you start a petition to have these put back in, which are all just missing pieces of scenes already in the film.

Gag Reel: (4:55)
I usually dig the gag reels, but too often the gags aren’t quite as funny to the viewer at home, because they apply heavily to what’s going on on-set. This is a cluster of pseudo-funny moments, but again, nothing special.

Making Of: (21:07)
This is a nice “cliff notes” making of. Not too long or too short and gives a good feeling of how the movie was made. The most interesting aspect was learning that the inspiration for the film came from Brad Pitt’s character in True Romance, which shines a whole new light on Franco’s character.


This is the gold nugget of the extras. Seth Rogen sums up the commentary best by stating that it “feels like a radio show.” Nearly the entire cast and some crew come and go throughout the commentary, as if just dropping by to say a few words and head out. I’ve seen this before and it truly baffles me that people would want to show up for just a few minutes in a commentary or even show up late for the recording session. A few people literally phone it in.

However, it’s a fun commentary, replete with Rogen’s trademark laugh throughout and with the added bonus of numerous stories and anecdotes from all involved, including a story about LL Cool J and how Seth Rogen has seen Rosie Perez naked. If you don’t have anyone to watch the movie with then just turn on the commentary and you’ll have a whole gang with you.

Pineapple Express is highly underrated and is given a bad rap by those who feel it’s just another stoner comedy. It’s got great characters, off-the-wall action, a healthy amount of bromance, and laughs aplenty, which are consistent and steady. Get some friends together and have a good time. In the basement. When your parents aren’t home. Have air freshener handy. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008



I realize I’ve been slacking on the reviews, much to the shock and dismay of many of you. With the burning fire that was the election, getting out of active duty, finding out that my hell spawn is on its way to earth, and searching for a job, my writing time has been hindered.

However, if I intend to make a living with my creative abilities then it would seem imperative that I take it upon myself to sharpen those tools.

So, here’s a re-cap/wrap up of the many movies I’ve seen since that steaming pile of garbage “W.”


Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

I’ve been a Coen Brothers fan since I was a kid. I used to watch “Raising Arizona” regularly and even though I didn’t fully understand the quirks of their style back then I was most definitely entertained.

The Coen Bros. have defined their own style of filmmaking, which is typically noir-ish, off-beat, quirky, overly violent, and outrageously funny. That’s a lot of elements in one style, but they have remained remarkably consistent throughout the years and it’s a great comfort for moviegoers.

They absolutely have a scale to grade on; their movies range from “No Country For Old Men” (being at the top of the chart) to “The Hudsucker Proxy” (the rock bottom on the chart). I would say that “Burn After Reading” falls somewhere in the middle. It’s very much a “safe” Coen brother’s movie; there’s no real stakes that pull at your nerves, due largely to the fact that you could care less about any of the characters.

The basic story (as if that’s possible in a Coen bros. Movie) is that two gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) find a CD that contains a copy of an ex-CIA’s memoir. Thinking they have stumbled on some National Security type material, they decide to blackmail the ex-CIA operative for some quick cash and, most importantly, to pay for McDormand’s plastic surgery. However, the ex-CIA operative in question is none other than a very unstable man, played by the always entertaining John Malkovich.

George Clooney plays a womanizing Treasury Agent who is banging Malkovich’s wife, played by Tilda Swinton and…oh, why bother. Look, the shit’s complicated, but not so much that you can’t understand what’s going on. If you’ve seen a Coen Brother’s movie then this will be very familiar. There are double-crosses, cheating, confusion, mistaken identity, and some hilarious interludes. You want a plot synopsis then go to IMDB.

The strength of this film is the performances, because every actor is playing against type. Brad Pitt plays an annoying and moronic guy that is way over his head and watching him fumblefuck everything he tries to pull off is a riot, up to and including his “SPOILER” eventual demise. Clooney, who can’t seem to find footing as a leading man in Hollywood because he keeps choosing roles like this, plays a guy who is not quite what he seems; he’s the guy hiding the freak flag. You’ll never forget what he has built in his basement.

When Pitt and McDormand decide to blackmail Malkovich they take the CD containing the memoir to the Russian Embassy, blatantly participating in treason against the United States. The Russian’s however, are not stupid and don’t take the offer seriously at all. That doesn’t stop our two hapless blackmailers though and they decide to get more information by breaking into the ex-CIA operative’s house and stealing more important shit.

While there are plenty of laughs to be had, the ultimate problem with this film is that you don’t give a shit what happens to any of the characters (save Richard Jenkins, who plays the gym manager in love with McDormand) because they are all completely unredeemable. None of them have an arc that turns them from bad to good. They just go from bad to worse.

This is the bleakest of black comedies; at least in something like “Heathers,” despite their terrible deeds, you still find yourself rooting for one person or another. In “Burn After Reading” you’re merely hoping that everyone gets their due, which is a frozen stiff corpse.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the movie, but it will never go down as a classic Coen brother’s movie, due largely to the characters within. In fact, it’s the only Coen brother’s movie I’ve seen where I didn’t care what happens. In the end, the movie is like a long, drawn out joke that someone builds up and once the punch line is delivered you laugh a little and forget the whole thing.



Directed by: Clark Gregg

Based on the novel by: Chuck Palahniuk

I read this novel in Iraq and thought it was one of the best of Palahniuk’s work, second to “Fight Club.” I have read many of his novels and I’m here to tell you that they aren’t all gold. The man is an outstandingly talented writer, but that doesn’t mean that every sentence he writes is chiseled onto stone tablets. I absolutely hated “Survivor” and I’m constantly scratching my head when people clamor over why that hasn’t been made into a movie. I hope it stays that way.

“Choke” on the other hand was ripe for adaptation and, like “Fight Club,” it benefits from the creative team keeping the integrity of the book intact. Sam Rockwell plays Victor, a sex-addicted man who works at a Colonial Re-enactment theme park who earns additional money by forcing himself to choke at restaurants, leaving his fate to the other patrons, who after saving him feel a connection, which leads to them sending him gifts and money.

Additionally, Victor is dealing with his mentally ill mother who never addresses him as her son, but as someone else. Victor has no idea who his father is and tries desperately to get his mother to spill the beans. She directs him to a journal, written in Italian no less, which deduces that Victor was conceived from a cloning experiment. His original clone? None other than Jesus Christ.

Are you still with me? Do you need to sit down? Look, this is all typical Palahniuk fare and none of it turns out how you’d expect, although “Choke” definitely has a more satisfying finale than most of his other works and the movie fortunately keeps that in mind.

Unlike “Burn After Reading” this is a dark comedy that lets you get inside the good and the bad of each character and allows you to give a shit, rather than hoping everyone just gets a bullet in the brain. Victor’s sex addiction meetings make for some hilarious scenes and Rockwell’s voice over carries the film well, giving an extra bit of depth into his thoughts and observations as we peruse this journey.

There are very familiar Palahniuk themes here; addiction, group meetings, mental illness, and of course, the all-revealing plot twist in the end. Although not as monumental as “Fight Club,” the ending twist here is no less pivotal and interesting; almost a relief, given the circumstances.

Sam Rockwell plays a very convincing Victor, adding a face to the character from the page and certainly a voice. With the exception of Angelica Huston, who plays Victor’s mentally ill mother, the cast is relative unknowns or “unpopulars,” which I think lends to some credibility since well-known actors tend to bring their own baggage to their roles once they have reached household name status.

My only real complaint with “Choke” is its style. It doesn’t really have any. Actor/Director Clark Gregg does a great job of retaining story integrity but doesn’t seem to have the technical or creative style to pull off something that could have used some inventiveness. “Fight Club” director David Fincher took his style to a whole new level with that film, utilizing different camera and film techniques, computer technology, etc. Gregg plays it safe, almost owning the fact that “Choke” was made independently.

And perhaps that’s not his fault. Sometimes you just don’t have the money. However, I think that a little creativity goes a long way and “Choke” could have really benefitted from a director with a sharp talent for taking a mostly organic setting and making it interesting and compelling in as many ways as would seem fit for the material.



Directed by: Madonna’s ex-husband

Guy Ritchie has come a long way since his “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” days.

Okay, no he hasn’t.

He’s about the same. And that is a GREAT thing. Ritchie, like the Coen brothers, has his own style. I can tell a Guy Ritchie movie after a few frames. He has a distinct ear for Cockney dialogue, a wildly creative eye, and a whip-smash editing style that will leave you reeling.

Essentially, watching a Guy Ritchie movie can be likened to visiting a pub in the dodgy end of England, getting shit-faced, singing songs with a group of rugby players, participating in a bar brawl, and ultimately waking up naked in a strange place with a very slutty, yet very sexy girl lying next to you. When you sit up, rubbing your eyes, you ask yourself, “What the fuck just happened?”

That’s a stretch, but it’s what I would liken to the Guy Ritchie experience. I love his first American film, “Snatch,” which is highly quotable and unforgettable in its style and bold humor. Ritchie crafts intricate plots, almost too much to comprehend, with double-crosses, triple-crosses, revealing secrets, and the ultimate fate of man to suffer the consequences of his actions, both good and bad.

In many ways it feels that Ritchie has already peaked; “Snatch” is a conglomeration of his best work (even if only his second film) and with “RocknRolla” you feel that you have already seen what he can do and are constantly waiting for something new. However, it never comes. What does come though is more of the same…and, as I stated before, this is a GREAT thing.

While not making any new headway in style or story, Ritchie instead crafts another fun and wild ride with similar characters and situations, but with different actors, different music, and different locations. It’s like the new novel in a series of detective novels. The mainstays and themes and styles are all there, it’s just another adventure.

The last thing we need is Guy Ritchie deviating from what he does best. The last time he did that we were subjected to “Swept Away,” which starred the ex. And it was a disaster, like all Madonna movies. We don’t ask Picasso to paint movie posters (well, yeah he is dead…but still) and we don’t ask Guns n’ Roses to sing kids bop albums, so why would we ask Guy Ritchie to make something other than what he’s good at?

For that, I can’t say a negative thing about “RocknRolla.” It is every bit as fun and entertaining as Ritchie’s previous crime films and it gives a general taste for his work, which should make you thirsty for more. If anything, the movie does just that for me.



Directed by: Ridley Scott

Man, I had such high hopes for this one. Ridley Scott. Russell Crowe. Leonardo DiCaprio. Action Thriller. Holy shit, it’s like a dream team put together, almost unreal. And yet, this movie is just a mess. DiCaprio plays a CIA operative embedded in the Middle East during our current conflict’s there, who struggles to befriend the locals, keep up relations with the governments of each country, and ultimately bring down the bad guys.

This sounds like a good arc for your protagonist, but the problem is that there’s just too much going on and not enough of it grounded in reality. Based on the novel of the same name by David Ignatius with a screenplay adaptation by William Monaghan (The Departed) this should have been crackling with dialogue and story. It’s not.

DiCaprio does his usual job of embodying a character, but not as successful as his last two outings (The Departed and Blood Diamond). It’s obvious that he is making the leap into leading man status in Hollywood, playing the tortured hero roles that usually solidify that status, but this is not one to put on the calling card. He doesn’t phone it in, and really it’s not his fault, but you can’t transcend bad material, no matter who you’re starring with or who’s directing.

Russell Crowe is straight worthless in this movie. A great actor relegated to playing the overweight suit that never gets into the action is not what I’d call a good role for someone of his skill sets. It’s a waste of his talents and I’m actually surprised that he’d even accept the role. Obviously reteaming with Ridley Scott, who helped catapult Crowe to fame with “Gladiator” is a factor, but at some point you should say “no” to material that is better suited to another actor.

“Body of Lies” jumps all over the place, literally. You get lost in the shuffle of locations; Are we in Turkey? Iraq? Washington D.C.? Yes, yes, they throw the title card up to let you know, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t leave your head spinning. This is the problem with “globe-trotting” thrillers. You have to let your audience settle in. We get used to things and we want to see them play out. Pulling the rug out from under us creates the stress of not knowing where we are or what’s going on and that is not a pleasant movie-going experience. We get enough of that in real life.

Another issue with the film is its action quotient. Director Scott, who is one of the all-time greatest directors in the history of film, bar none, knows better. It really seems like he didn’t get the movie or he just didn’t respond with the inspiration he needed to craft a truly thrilling actioner. Make no mistake, this is NOT an action movie and the thrills are more like grinding nerves.

As DiCaprio’s agent character works with the Turkish government to bring down a major terrorist leader he receives opposition and political positioning from his own government in keeping relations up. That is the essential story thread for “Body of Lies” and ultimately that premise is, well, boring. The stakes are “supposedly” built up when DiCaprio falls for a local girl who is later kidnapped. However, that entire relationship is so unnecessary and built up like a mud hut. It’s eye-rollingly annoying and we’ve seen it a hundred times.

Lastly, we are left with a completely unsatisfactory ending. The media made a big hullabaloo about the torture sequence, which is nothing but a hammer to a finger. We’ve seen it before, and shockingly enough, it’s not shocking. Painful to imagine, sure, but not shocking in a movie. You want real shocking go and research how terrorists really torture people…you won’t think that the U.S. using water boards is jack shit compared to that.

There is no heroic arc for DiCaprio and certainly not for Crowe. Crowe is pretty irredeemable because he’s played off in the new cliché which is “American Government is Evil.” Yeah, yeah, American military and government agencies are all chock full of self-serving, politically motivated, war mongerers who never want to see the end of war. That shit is tired people and completely wrong. I would really like to see someone portray these real people in the correct light. You can’t be objective in film, that much I know, but you can still get your facts right.

In the end, DiCaprio quits the CIA and decides to try to win back his “kidnapped” girl. I call preposterous. Perhaps I’m wrong and you can point me to a CIA agent that has acted in such a way, but I doubt it. Essentially, “Body of Lies” leaves us with the notation that we (Americans) have got it all wrong and that we should look at places like Iraq to be great places to live.

Been there, done that, got the fucking T-shirt, and you can keep it. Funny enough that so many groups here in the U.S. complain about Iraqi rights and helping out the innocent people and I never saw ONE of those groups out there helping anyone. I saw American soldiers helping them. It is my hope that one day someone can tell an accurate story. “Generation Kill” was a great start. And nobody watched it. The theory is that it’s too soon for people to respond to an accurate account of our current situation, but obviously not too soon for an inaccurate one.

While “Body of Lies” has the beautiful and detailed style of the masterful Ridley Scott, it has very little of anything else. This is one of those movies you watch and see every missed turn and later theorize on what would have made the movie great with your friends. “Body of Lies” is just that.



Written and Directed by: Kevin Smith

Ah, Kevin Smith. With the exception of “Jersey Girl” Smith doesn’t disappoint. Smith has zero cinematic style, but for what he lacks in technical skill he more than makes up for with his witty and raw dialogue which oftentimes feels like standing in the middle of some of your best conversations with close friends.

Pen to paper, Smith is a genius. Cinematically, he needs work, but he’s getting better. The good news is that this is probably his best looking film since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. He even uses some slow motion in this one, which shows some growth as a filmmaker and not just as a storyteller.

Now, there are some that criticize Smith as being a one-trick pony of dick and fart jokes, and although that’s a staple in his work, the fact is that Smith has a big heart and he disguises it with said dick and fart jokes. However, the heart is always revealed in the end, sometimes to a lesser fanfare (see: Mallrats).

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks star as Zack and Miri, respectively, two high school “buds” living together and barely making ends meet. Zack works in a coffee shop along with Delaney (played by “The Office’s Craig Robinson) and has no ambition for his future. You know that he will likely be stuck working menial jobs for the rest of his life. But, hey, he’s still funny so that’s okay.

After venturing to their high school reunion, Zack and Miri find that the “hottest guy in school” is now dating a gay porn star. Justin Long is great as the raspy voiced gay porn star and it was a little unsettling to see Brandon Routh, who played the title role in Superman Returns, as a gay character, but surprisingly it added an extra depth to the character, even if played only for laughs.

After drowning their sorrows at the bar, Zack comes up with the idea to make their own porn, deducing that at least their high school graduating class would want to see them in porn and that that would be enough money to justify it. Miri reluctantly agrees and so begins the hijinks.

They begin casting for the porno, bringing in fan-favorite Jason Mewes in a non-Jay role, this time as a weird yet toned down character that will basically do anything on camera. We are also treated to two well-known real porn stars, Traci Lords and Katie Morgan, playing, of course, porn actors in the movie.

The laughs are continuous as Zack and Miri struggle with casting, the movie theme, and location. When their original theme and location are literally bulldozed over, they relegate to shooting at the coffee shop where Zack works. The screwing and shooting is handled with humorous taste (with the exception of one scene…I’ll get to it) and makes for some hilarious moments. It’s nowhere near, not even close, to the raunch you may expect from the movie’s title. This is really more of Kevin Smith being Kevin Smith, this time working with bigger actors and a different theme. And like Guy Ritchie, that’s a great thing.

The struggle of the movie is whether or not Zack and Miri are going to sleep with one another. They agree to it and feel the obvious pangs of how it will change things. This is nothing new. The exploration of “friends” sleeping together and changing things is a common theme we’ve seen in many a romantic comedy. (Are people really so stupid to think that it won’t? It amazes me how often we forget that we are human)

And ultimately, that’s what Zack and Miri is; it’s Kevin Smith’s first romantic comedy, told under the raunchy pretense of a porn movie. It’s full of laugh-out-loud moments and one particularly unforgettable moment that will make you rethink anal sex if you are even considering it.

However, the movie’s biggest flaw is its lack of a realistic follow through. After Zack and Miri finally seal the deal on camera they also seal the deal on their feelings for one another and, as we suspected, change things in the normal way that sex always changes things amongst friends; causes jealousy and hurt. Not to say that these are the only outcomes of sex…sometimes it leads to a great relationship, more great sex, and sometimes marriage and kids, etc. However, the fact remains that where there once was no jealousy or consequence to your feelings, now there is a “Predator-like” vision surrounding that person that red flags any and all negative influences, up to and including a nice smile from an attractive cashier.

So, now armed with their true feelings but reluctant to share them with each other, jealousy drives the porno to stop production. Zack moves out of the shared apartment with Miri and gets another job, essentially vanishing from existence. He is later confronted by Delaney who finds Zack working as a mascot that gets shot with paintballs (I don’t know, I’ve never heard of it either). Delaney has been editing the porno in the basement and outs Zack’s feelings for Miri.

He brings Zack to his house to show him the work-in-progress of the porno. Zack watches the “scene” with him and Miri and realizes he needs to see her. Delaney smiles, telling Zack that they’re missing an ending to the porn.

Zack runs back to the old apartment to find Miri…just, y’know waiting around. They hug and kiss and roll credits. While this may seem like your prototypical romantic comedy ending there are too many loose ends. I mean, it basically closes the book on the whole porno thing, leaving us with the message that “porn can bring true love” or some such shit, yet it never wraps up whether or not they will finish the porn or pay the actors that all worked for free to make it.

Perhaps I’m looking too much into it, but it, like the unfinished porno, felt incomplete. However, this should not dissuade you from seeing the movie. It is full of hilarious performances, especially from the always reliable Seth Rogen, and a star-making performance by Craig Robinson. There are plenty of your typical Kevin Smith gags and streams of dialogue, so there’s no disappointment there.

If you’re at Blockbuster and you’re holding “Zack and Miri” in one hand and “Ghost Town” in the other, the choice should be obvious.



Directed by: David Wain

I really didn’t expect much from this. I like Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott is tolerable, but neither is a huge box office draw for me. However, the fact that David Wain (Reno 911, original member of “The State”) directed this and Paul Rudd rewrote the script made for a nod in the right direction. Another factor is the film’s R-Rating, which is largely for dialogue and a few boobies. It’s not hardcore at all, by my standards, but is a rollickingly good time. I like that word. Rollickingly.

Rudd and Scott are salesman that sell an energy drink called Minotaur, driving around in their Minotaur sales truck and speaking (selling) at schools that it’s better to drink Minotaur than to take drugs. Rudd is suffering from a lack of enthusiasm for the job and the recent break up from his girlfriend (played by Zack and Miri’s Elizabath Banks…who is starring in everything ever made from this point on it seems).

After a psychological breakdown while selling Minotaur at a school, Rudd and Scott find themselves under arrest and sentenced to community service. From there they’re sent to Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother like program where adults provide a positive role model influence to otherwise challenged kids.

This is a great premise that easily could have fallen into the usual traps, but Wain and Rudd keep it fresh and fun, always teetering on the edge of what we expect to see and then taking it in another direction.

Rudd is partnered with Augie (played by Superbad’s McLovin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a teenager who lives out his life as a medieval role-player. Scott is partnered with a Ronnie (played by Bobb’e J. Thompson…no, I didn’t misspell that) a foul-mouthed boy who provides a bevy of laughs with his antics.

Rudd plays out his relationship with Augie like the sentence that it is, never getting too involved, until finally he begins to see that Augie is just a normal kid going through normal growing pains, just using role-playing as his outlet. The role-playing stuff is hilarious and frighteningly enough, real. There are many real –life role players who dress in costume and play out fantasy worlds in large groups. It’s an escape from reality and I’m sure it has its place…just not in my world. However, I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t see the allure of it.

Rudd, who recognizes the ridiculousness of role-playing at first, sees how important it is to Augie and decides to become his champion for it. Augie’s parents are vehemently against the role-playing and feel that there is something wrong with him. Here is where the film begins to balance out a lot of heart with the flow of laughs and it’s a welcome adage to the formula.

Scott and Ronnie bond over, what else? Boobies. Scott begins to break down Ronnie’s outer shell of crassness to see a normal boy who just wants the love of a father figure in his life and has been let down too many times. While that may seem cliché, it fits perfectly and doesn’t force too much drama in the face of an obvious comedy, but still gives the audience a healthy balance.

Usually films like this are played out just for laughs, never giving much depth into the characters beyond their antics. For “Role Models” though, we are given what all good stories need, and that’s something to care about. Movies are a reflection of our lives in many ways, from the fantastic creations from our minds to the grounded reality of our everyday lives and it’s important to give an audience something to relate to. It’s strange that a movie like “Role Models” would inspire that, but it’s a good example of what you should do when building a story out of a high concept idea that could easily turn into a one-joke pony; give it some heart.

The ending consists of Rudd and Scott, along with Ronnie, helping Augie in the final “battle” with the role players, where all the costumed weirdos gather to “fight” to the “death.” I don’t want to spoil Rudd and Augie’s “theme” but it is reminiscent of a very popular rock band from the 70’s and is hysterical.

This was a surprisingly hilarious and redeemable film. I have become a big fan of Wain as of late and was always a fan of “The State” the early comedy troupe he was involved with which has shot off talent in all directions since they disbanded. Talent like Wain, and even Rudd in the creative department, shows audiences that your last name doesn’t have to be Smith or Apatow to make a great comedy.



Directed by: Marc Forster

Ah, James Bond. I have grown up with all of the James Bonds. My father had me watch the Sean Connery ones and I later became a big fan of the Roger Moore films. I saw the Dalton and Brosnan Bonds in the theater and now the Craig films. It seems that Bond is more about the actor playing him than the movies themselves. And really, that’s kind of the allure.

Bond is, for all intents and purposes, a stereotypical character. Even in his deepest moments, you still feel that that’s how he should be. Until Dalton took over with “The Living Daylights” Bond didn’t really get too deep. He struggled sure, but usually he was just a step ahead and kicking ass in his usual deadly and debonair way.

However, the character of Bond generally reflects the times, and Craig is certainly a reflection of the more turbulent and violent times. Or maybe that’s just the more turbulent and violent films. “Quantum of Solace” feels a lot like a British version of The Bourne Identity series, much like The Bourne Identity series feels like an American version of James Bond.

The competition, however, is largely in style rather than in substance. Bond hits a lot harder, shoots a lot straighter, and generally kills a lot more grittier than he ever has before. “Solace” makes sure of that.

Craig is an excellent, if not unlikely, Bond. With his blond hair, sky blue eyes, and chiseled frame, he looks more like an ultimate fighter than an MI6 agent. However, he employs great resources to the role, using everything from martial arts moves to facial tics to build a character steeped in mythology. He is a timely Bond.

Now, I thought that “Casino Royale,” Craig’s first film as Bond, and the franchise’s own “reboot,” was an outstanding Bond film from start to finish. Absolutely one of the best in the series. It was as close to a Bond origin story as we’ve gotten thus far and made for a thrilling ride. Even the card playing scenes were intense. Now, that’s saying something.

For “Quantum” however, I felt it was a mixed bag. We got some of the good stuff, but not enough. The choice to continue the series by picking up literally minutes after “Casino Royale” was a bad choice. By continuing that thread it seems to stretch a plot way too far and too thin, to the point where you see no end to the villainy. By creating villain on top of villain you lessen the quality of the previous one, which in turn weakens the overall story.

Le Chiffe, the chief villain in Royale is relegated to a mere patsy after watching “Quantum” and the all-new main villain is actually a lot wimpier. At no point did I ever feel that this guy was a challenge to Bond. There was no contest. Bond would womp this guys ass and be back in time for tea and biscuits.

Unlike “Body of Lies” this spy thriller is welcome to globe-trotting and it’s not hard to follow the beats. However, Bond films do tend to get wrapped up in some ridiculous plot lines and this one is all about real estate and oil. And water. And I’m asleep.

Another weakness is our Bond girl, played by Olga Kurylenko. Yeah, yeah, she’s hot, whatever. She is still a weak ass actress. I guess that’s to be expected. It’s Bond, get used to it…he uses women with bad accents and even worse acting and that’s that. I guess. But, it’s not the case in every Bond film. Some have definitely been stronger than others. I guess the main problem with Kurylenko is that she’s forgettable. She’s no Xena Onattop, that’s for sure.

Now, all this may sound like I didn’t really like “Quantum.” Not true. It’s highly enjoyable with some fun and frenetic action sequences. It’s got the Bond brand and the Bond flavor. Daniel Craig is a strong and formidable Bond, definitely the roughest of the bunch and he brings it. You couldn’t ask for more from the leading star.

Story wise though, we need a punch. I’m not saying we need to go back to Bond in space, nor do we need the tongue-in-cheek flair, but something other than the corporate villain, which is so freakin’ tired. Not every villain wears a suit, laughs at his own jokes, and is invested in oil fields and real estate.

Overall, “Quantum” is a solid entry in the series, but is severely hindered by its pseudo-revenge story which is just stretched way too thin. Craig, however, saves the day with his bravado performance as Britain’s stellar agent. I’m hoping for a charm on the next one.



Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

Man, I talked a lot of shit about this movie for a long time. I snickered at the MySpace tweens who gushed over the book and wet themselves at the very thought of this coming to theaters. However, like the Harry Potter phenomenon, there is one good thing that comes out of the fan’s passion for these books: The fact that they’re READING instead of watching the CW or the Hills or taking part in any other medium that only requires a complete and total vegetative state. For that reason alone I cannot completely shit talk the Twilight series.

Now, the movie on the other hand…

First off I had no intention of seeing this movie until I caught on to the “fangirl” reaction to it. Like Sex and the City earlier this year, women, this time in the guise of tweens, were rallying behind a property that was made for and by a woman. Girl power, bitches! Get your tween on!

I mean, how many girlfriends had to endure their dork husbands/boyfriends gushing over comic book movies like “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” all summer long? All of them. And while women certainly enjoyed those two films, they are, for all intents and purposes, geared towards men.

So, here you have a property, like Sex and the City, which is geared towards female viewers. And I’m glad for it. The fact that not only is it female fans of these series’ getting into it, but the series’ are predominantly created by females. However, there is one serious drawback to this, which I will expand on. You will call me a sexist asshole and I’m fine with that.

Let’s talk about Vampires for a second here, though. What is it about vampires? The power, the immortality, the mythology, the blood? Since Dracula, a torn character who renounced God because of his wife’s fate in the afterlife after her suicide, becomes a creature of Satan yet still hungers for that which he had forsaken himself; love.

If you look at all the vampire series that have followed Dracula and expanded the mythology you will find these common themes. Not all of them are driven by love, but it is a predominant factor in these stories.

Strangely enough, the first Sookie Stackhouse novel (there are eight, I believe) by Charlene Harris was adapted by Alan Ball for HBO and called “True Blood.” Now, I watched “True Blood” every Sunday and enjoyed the hell out of it. The basic premise; a young woman, Sookie, who is able to read minds, falls in love with a vampire named Bill, but is torn by their relationship as a couple, seeing as one is dead and one is alive. The series also showcases vampires “coming out” and co-existing with humans openly (which is not a surprising theme to be used by the uber talented Ball, who is gay).

Now, let’s take a look at Twilight. A young girl whose mind cannot be read falls in love with a vampire and is torn by their relationship as a couple, seeing as one is dead and one is…you get the idea. I don’t know which came first and I’m not gonna Google it to find out, but I’ll use this analogy; Twilight is like True Blood as adapted for the CW and made for tweens.

It’s PG-13 True Blood. True Blood lite. Now, some may think it’s unfair to compare the two different series, but they can go cry to their momma about it. I’ll compare whatever I see fit. I have not read either series and only know them from the incarnations onscreen. And that’s my comparison.

So, now that that’s out of the way; Is Twilight good or not? Strangely enough, although it’s not made for me and I didn’t love it, I appreciate what it stands for and, more importantly, who it’s made for. Twilight is porn for teenage girls. Hell, it may be porn for grown women.

Porn for men is visual, obviously. We want to see the nakedness, the bodies contorted together, the nudity, the thrusting, the boobies, whatever…you get the idea. Men primarily see sex as a physical and visual thing. It’s not that men can’t be romantic or feel the emotional connection of sex, they just see it differently…in that they SEE it more so than they feel it. We are taught from a young age to appreciate beauty and grace in a woman, which you primarily see not so much feel. Whereas woman are taught to feel and look for qualities in men. They are looking for an emotional and secure FEELING. They aren’t looking to see the size of his pecker.

Now, certainly there is some role reversal as we get older, but in the young sexual awakening years this is where many teenagers’ heads (and other regions) are. And Twilight is the quintessential female sexual awakening book of this generation.

Let me explain. Bella (played by Kristen Stewart) moves in with her sheriff father (Billy Burke) in Seattle and finds that her peers are something more than human. A group of vampires, a coven if you will, is trying to lead a quiet existence while interacting with humans (but feeding on animals). A small group attends high school (forever, since they are undead and don’t age…could you imagine a fate more terrible than doing high school homework for the rest of your life? Being a vampire is truly going to hell) and one of them is Edward, the dashingly handsome vamp who is deeply attracted to Bella.

Bella is just as intrigued and what we have here is a direct correlation to a young female falling for a guy that, for the first time, makes her loins catch fire. Edward, in turn, is so torn with lust for Bella that he cannot attend school (this is explained that she makes him thirst to feed on humans, namely her). When they meet in science class Edward literally looks like he is jizzing in his pants.

As the two of them draw closer, it builds under the pretense that they are attracted to one another but that the torment is much deeper since he is a vampire and she is not. However, my theory is that the relationship between Bella and Edward is a metaphor for sexual awakening.

I’m sure someone reading this is thinking I’m being perverted. Well, you’re wrong. That’s the problem with sex in America; we are so fucking uptight about it and consider any discussion of it as perverse. And yet the subject and very act of it flood our consciousness consistently. Get the fuck over it.

If you think back to your own “awakening” you will remember the overwhelming feeling, which is something so very new and unfamiliar, but undeniably favorable. It is the birth of sexual desire for another person, and in the case of Twilight, it is the birth of a female’s sexual desire. Now, I’m not saying that every woman has her “awakening” as Stephanie Meyers (the author) writes it, but the majority of women feel this in a more emotional way, like that of Bella, than a physical one.

Emotionally, Bella is tied to Edward, she is drawn to him in a way she cannot describe, but feels it like a driving force. Her curiosity is unending. She MUST know why Edward torments over her, why he is the way he is, and she MUST have him in her life. I’m sure this sounds very familiar to parent’s of a teenage daughter.

I would dive into the subplot of an evil group of vampires committing murders locally, but it’s so insignificant to this movie (possibly deeper in the connecting stories, but not here). The depth and connection of this film is the relationship between Bella and Edward and it is beaten over your head continuously.

Robert Pattinson plays Edward with the dashing charm that you would expect for his role and Kristen Stewart is perfectly cast as the beautiful yet tormented Bella. I’m sure they will have a blast making this series.

Technically, however, the movie suffers. Although it has some nicely edited sequences, the “action” sequences, to include vampire baseball, are beyond cheesy. Director Hardwicke is not a seasoned action director and crafts the vampire movements like something out of Smallville. Likely, this is why she has not been hired to direct the sequel. This is something I will expand on in my Punisher War Zone review, at which point you can throw your sexist remarks my way.

At one point Edward takes Bella up treetops and they simply sit and talk, laughing and enjoying each other’s company and other times they are simply lying in the grass and staring at each other. I’m not making this up. And, I have to deduce, that this MUST be a fantasy romance for girls, because you will never find a heterosexual male writing about lying in the grass staring at a girl he’s in love with. In a male version of this they’d be fucking in the bushes. Plain and simple.

However, I don’t want to compare this to male fantasy. We all know where that leads. This is for the girls and I won’t steal it away. While I don’t feel it like a woman does, I completely get it. I get the struggle with finding your sexuality, of that first love, and the complications that go with it. Being a vampire in this story is merely a metaphor for the struggle to be with the one you love at a young age.

Shit, they don’t even show fangs in this movie. I thought they were vampires! Take it or leave it, that’s my theory on Twilight and even though I am not a fan, I am also not a hater. This one is for the girls, and if I ever have a daughter she will never be allowed to watch this. She is going to a convent. She will be a nun.

Well, she certainly won’t be drinking tomato juice from a wine glass and wearing all black clothing and fake plastic fangs and referring to herself as undead.



Directed by: Baz Luhrman

Holy freakin’ three hours, Batman! We saw this on Thanksgiving and I had no idea it was that long going in. Normally I am well prepared going in, but not this time, and I think that affected my overall feelings for the movie.

The premise for this film is simple enough that they could have easily chopped an hour out. A cattle ranch owner’s wife (Nicole Kidman) flies to Australia to help her husband with a business deal only to find that he’s been murdered and that there is a plot by a competing ranch to take over her land. She decides to stay and reclaim the land she owns with the help of a cattle driver (Hugh Jackman).

Add a cute little aboriginal kid who is adopted by Kidman and Jackman and you have yourself a nice little outback adventure flick. “Australia” is directed by Baz Luhrman, the director behind Moulin Rouge, and I was worried that he would use the hyper style that was so infused in that film with this one. Fortunately there are only a few moments that replicate that style. The rest is gravy.

Beautifully shot with beautiful scenery and beautiful actors, “Australia” is a beautiful looking movie that will beat you over the head with its beauty. It has many intense and goose-bump inducing sequences that will leave you with a super cheesy tingle in the back of your spine, but that’s the purpose of movies like this.

In many ways, it feels like the Australian version of “Far and Away,” another sprawling epic also starring Nicole Kidman. The music is grand and boasting, the action is big, and the story is rich with stereotypical characters such as greedy businessmen, conniving thieves, and the local native who seems to have all the answers (this time in the form of an aboriginal medicine man).

All that said, this is a highly entertaining and, did I mention, beautiful movie. However, it seems to end at the two hour mark only to introduce an unexpected third act that intertwines the real life bombing of Darwin by Japanese military with the characters own struggles. Naturally, Jackman and Kidman hook up and adopt the little aboriginal boy (who is actually quite good in this…which I’m thankful for because usually child actors can really fall off the mark). The boy is referred to as a “creamy” because he is of mixed race (Caucasian and aborigine) and the facets of racism are drilled into our skulls once again.

The whole race thing is beginning to drive me insane. Nearly every sports movie is about the first black whatever. First black man to win the Heisman, first black swim team, first black basketball team, first black college basketball team, first black pilots, first black everything. Look, we have our first black President already…when will it end? I want to know when the first black professional shoe shiner movie is coming out. I’m camping out for tickets.

I realize that history is history and I’m not suggesting we change it because someone is “annoyed” with it. Not by a long shot. The truth should be told. But, holy shit…am I sick of it. I’d like to see a story told about a black, white, Hispanic, Indian, Arabic, what-the-fuck-ever kind of person that did something as a person rather than as a color. It starts to feel that we are being subjected to the race card in all these films, etc., which while trying to break the mold of racism instead keeps it burning alive. Whatever happened to people doing something because they were great people rather than because of the color of their skin?

Okay, that’s the end of my race rant.

The kicker throughout the film is the struggle for Kidman and Jackman to keep the aborigine boy, which is basically illegal, and after all the shit they go through to save his ass, the little shit runs off at the end to go walkabout with his grandfather.

“Australia” despite the racism aspect (which I understand is fitting and accurate for the story…trackin’) is a very fun adventure film, with throwbacks to some of the epics from the 1950’s. Also, for the ladies and gay men you have a shirtless Hugh Jackman blatantly pouring water over his body. For the men, you have a stunningly gorgeous Nicole Kidman who makes an art form out of wearing tight-fitting horse riding pants.



Directed by: Lexi Alexander

Oh, where to begin? Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher is a Marvel Comics character whose family was killed when they stumbled upon a mob hit in Central Park. Fearing witnesses, the mobsters turned their guns on Castle and his family. Castle survived and vowed vengeance on all criminals to the end of his days. The end.

Simple origin, simple premise, much like that of Death Wish. Although a simple origin though, Castle is a deeper character, due largely to the fact that he is unflinching. I have read nearly every Punisher comic book to date. You could say I’m a bit of an expert. He has always been a compelling character to me. He is the vengeance seeker we all think we’d become if something as dire were to happen to us. Likely though, we would not become the Punisher, but it is fascinating to watch a man on a mission who never ceases to give it up. Ever.

Now, Marvel has struggled with the character a few times and lost sight of this, but the character of Frank Castle, the mission, has always shone through and fortunately the writers behind his numerous books have stayed true to this and have created a reign that is unbelievably consistent.

Having said all that, the character has inspired three movies, each attempting to embody the soul, torment, and eventual vengeance of one Frank Castle. And now, out of those three movies, ALL of them have failed miserably.

The first film starred Dolph Lundgren as Castle, a former FBI agent whose family was blown up in a mob hit. Castle exacts revenge, this time on the Yakuza, but never once dons the skull on his chest. The movie plays out like a late night Cinemax action movie, no substance and all over-the-top and uninspired action. Blah, strike one.

The second film starred Thomas Jane, who was the ONLY saving grace of the film, as he worked hard to portray Castle both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, with a script so far off the mark from the origins of Castle (here he is an FBI agent again) who finishes “one last job” as an undercover agent and retires to Florida where, this time, his entire family, mom, dad, wife, son, and partygoers are all killed by the mob. Castle escapes with his life, builds a stupid Punisher car and kills like ten people, to include an overly annoying villain played by John Travolta. The filmmakers went out of their way to get Castle OUT of his skull embossed vest, adding more indignity to the character. The action was completely uninspired without ONE sequence that required any creativity.

Which brings us to War Zone. This time out we have Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo in the HBO series “Rome”) as Castle/Punisher. Stevenson looks the part of Castle, but there isn’t scene fucking one that allows him to play the role correctly. I can’t place the blame of this film’s failure on his shoulders alone, but the truth is he didn’t bring anything to fulfill it.

Dominic West plays Jigsaw, the Joker of Punisher villains, and I can see where he was trying to go, but the Italian Gumbah approach is so fucking lame that it instantly makes a joke of his performance. They also add his cannibalistic brother, Looney Bin Jim, played by Doug Hutchinson, who is actually more interesting, but ultimately a big fat cliché and completely irredeemable.

We learn nothing about these villains, and by that I mean how they tick. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” is the new template for movie villainy, especially for comic book villains. Christopher Nolan exercised an understanding of how an audience must hunger for the motivations of all characters, especially the villain. We learn nothing about the Joker’s past, but we learn everything we need to know about his motivations through his actions and words.

With Jigsaw in PWZ, we learn jack shit. We learn that he’s an Italian mobster obsessed with his looks and he wants money. Big fucking deal. Who gives a shit? Clearly, the screenwriters (two of which worked on “Iron Man”) had no understanding of character development as it pertains to this series.

The last thing any audience needs is to be subjected to yet another carbon copy bad guy that is literally jigsawed together from every other better made film that required an Italian mob boss villain.

Next up is Soap, a character from some of the more recent runs on the Punisher book. Soap is an interesting enough character in the comics, but is completely miscast with Dash Mihook. Soap is an undercover police officer who unofficially helps the Punisher by supplying him with information on known criminals. However, Soap is fairly insignificant and completely unnecessary to Punisher lore. He’s a character in passing, not a staple to the series, which is proven in this film alone.

Then, we have Julie Benz, going for worst actress since Maria Pitillo in “Godzilla” playing the wife of an undercover cop accidentally killed by The Punisher. Her Italian accent is off, her role is unnecessary and is an obvious case to make The Punisher have a heart of gold. Adding more fuel to the fire that has burned the franchise to the ground is Benz’s daughter, who “bonds” with Castle, once again to provide us “insight” into Castle as a family man.

To further drive the stake into our hearts is a black F.B.I. agent who is hell-bent on capturing The Punisher…by himself…no task force or anything…just, y’know, in plainclothes, combing the streets, asking around. Oh, which he does by the way. I buy it. Oh yeah. Then, there’s the Hispanic ex-gang banger who helps The Punisher as well. It’s obvious that the studio was FINGER BANGING this movie with every hand on the lot because it’s filled with every stereotype from every piece of garbage straight to video movie ever made.

The fact that we have the black F.B.I. agent, the Hispanic ex-junkie, the strong female wife, and the stupid little girl shows that the studio didn’t give a shit about story integrity and instead felt that they had to expand their appeal by providing a “root-for-me” hero of every race and gender to make it “all-inclusive” for all shapes, colors, and sex organs.

Lastly, we have Microchip, who IS a staple in Punisher lore. Micro acts as a weapons supplier who believes in what Castle is doing and dedicates himself to helping out. Now, it was kind of cool to see Micro onscreen, unfortunately they bolo it right out the gate by having Castle be annoyed with his presence. In reality, Micro was always the Alfred to Castle’s Bruce Wayne. They had a dynamic for a long run in the books. Until Micro double-crossed Castle, to which he got a shotgun blast to the head.

And, as is the recurring problem with this movie, they fuck Micro’s whole story by including his aging mom and flat dialogue that means nothing.

So, there’s your all star line up and if you know nothing or care very little about The Punisher and his whole mythology then you should probably stop reading. You won’t care. Plain and simple. But, make no mistake, Punisher War Zone is a bad movie by all movie standards, not just because it completely sodomizes a comic book property.

First off, the action is so over-the-top that you can’t help but laugh at it. It’s not staged in such a way to get your adrenaline pumping. It merely makes you giggle at the absurdity of it all. It’s like when you see a behind the scenes video on the making of a movie and you see how fake the props are of human beings that get destroyed. Through concise editing you’ll never know the difference, but that’s clearly not the case here.

To make it worse, every time someone is shot they’ve inserted a “squish” sound which becomes increasingly annoying. We get it. Blood spatter. Great. Is that the only sample you have? Also, even though “Rambo” did an outstanding job of its use, the implementation of computer generated blood has reached its tipping point. Enough! It is blatant, obvious, and looks completely fake. Call Paul Verhoeven if you don’t know how to set up a squib, you morons.

Let’s talk about motivations. Character motivations are what drive a story. Why your characters do what they do is the biggest piece of a story. What drives them to kill, to love, to care, to not care, to leave, to show up…all of those aspects and millions more are what make a character interesting, believable, and relatable.

In PWZ there are no clear motivations and every attempt at showing them is met with the cold, wet smack of the idea hitting the concrete. The real travesty is that the filmmakers continuously credit their ideas as an ode to Garth Ennis, who wrote the last six years of Punisher stories, which were the absolute best of the character. I scratch my head til I’m bald to understand what fucking stories they read; just because you add an obscure character like Soap to your movie is not an ode to Ennis.

I imagine if Ennis saw this story he would shoot and bury himself just so he could turn in his grave at the atrocity they’ve made of the character he has worked so hard on. Ennis is a prolific and unparalleled writer and deserves the accolades he’s earned for his work. He doesn’t deserve to have his name dragged through the mud for a bunch of would be filmmakers who just pillaged his work in search of a gem and instead created a festering turd.

Director Lexi Alexander was adamant about capturing the look of The Punisher and it was obvious that that’s as far as she got and still didn’t succeed. Everyone fawns over artist Tim Bradstreet’s covers to The Punisher (he has never drawn a complete issue) and apparently that’s the only thing they strove to capture. Great, you captured a cover. Here’s your cookie.

Alexander is a former kickboxing champion who previously directed the film “Green Street Hooligans” which is actually pretty good and another reason why I had my hopes high for this movie. However, PWZ has sealed my feelings on something I’ve long felt to be true and herein is where I’m sure I’ll be called a sexist. I don’t care.

Women should not be directing action films. There is a simple, biological explanation for this. Action films fuel adrenaline, entail violent acts and violent situations, usually the likes of which women are not involved. Although there are absolutely women on this planet who have kicked ass in real life, there is no comparison as to who has done more in that department. NONE.

The reason is because men have more adrenaline, a much larger propensity to violence, and a general understanding of what it is and ultimately what inspires that adrenaline feeling. I’m not saying that a woman can’t enjoy or get a rush out of an action film. I’m saying that, like Twilight and it’s estrogen influence, action films are fueled by macho male adrenaline thrill seeking. It is the root of action films. We want to get, as they say, pumped up.

How many women do you know that want to get that thrill from an action movie? It’ll be a short list, I assure you. Lexi Alexander kick boxed some people in the head and so executives figured she could handle an action flick. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Another example is director Mimi Leder, who directed “Deep Impact” and “The Peacemaker.” Both were disappointing at the box office and simply could not attain the thrill that is needed to make these films successful. Now, imagine either one of these movies directed by the likes of Michael Bay (which isn’t hard, since he did the much more successful “Armageddon”) or Tony Scott? No fucking contest people.

Now, you could say that an unsuccessful action film directed by a male is the counter-argument. To that, I say simply that that is just a director who lacks vision. Look, the bottom line here is that you want to find the right person for the job. That goes for anything. Jonathan Hensleigh fucked the last Punisher movie and he’s supposed to be an action movie guy. However, you certainly don’t want to see his version of Pride and Prejudice, I assure you.

You wouldn’t ask Nora Ephron to direct the next installment of Die Hard, so why would you put a woman on something as big dick driven as The Punisher? It makes no sense, people! Nein!

If you have a vagina and you want to direct an action movie then you need to step out of line and find another career…unless your last name is Bigelow. Then, you just might be the one exception.

There is literally no pay off to watching this movie. It is like watching poop coming out of someone’s ass for an hour an forty minutes. Only in the world of “idiocracy” would this movie be a success. We aren’t quite there yet, as cynical as we may be about ourselves. The ending to this movie is a snooze. The big shootout amounts to about twenty dead guys. That may seem like a lot, but then you probably never read a Punisher comic. And if you base your opinion of that character after this movie then you most likely never will.

The absolute best thing we can do is let this franchise R.I.P. It was dead on arrival to begin with and I fault that failure with the inability of every creative team entrusted with the property for simply not grasping the material. They dropped the ball and followed it into the street.

The best thing we can do at this point is forget this movie ever happened. Ignore its existence and move on with our lives.

MOVIE GRADE: Is there a grade lower than F?

So, that’s my wrap up. I have seen a few other movies on DVD, such as the second Narnia movie (crap), but am not going over those. I’m heavily at work on my own comic book work, writing, and finding a pay-the-bills job until I’m rich and famous.

There’s always a storm brewing in my brain and I should have a post-Holiday blog out by the first of the year or sooner. Thanks for reading!