Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unstoppable (Tony Scott, 2010) PG-13

With films like Top Gun, Man on Fire, and Domino, director Tony Scott is no stranger to action. As far as action goes, Unstoppable has plenty, and Tony Scott knows how to show it off. A film like this is a challenge because you are limited to the train tracks, it’s not like a bus with a bomb, so how exciting is a runaway train?

Denzel Washington (The Book of Eli) plays Frank, a veteran train employee who is weeks from retiring. Joining him is Will, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek), a rookie on the job. Animosity exists between the older veterans and the newer employees entering the workforce, as the older employees feel their jobs are being stolen by inexperienced workers. Frank and Will decide to go above and beyond their jobs and help stop an unmanned train before it causes massive damage and loss of life.

This film uses witty dialogue and intense action to move the viewers from point A to point B. The only thing missing is a decent story. Based loosely on true events, Unstoppable takes several liberties with facts, plot, and physics while failing to deliver any character growth. Unstoppable tries to give the viewers something, but the family subplots are uninteresting and completely unbelievable. As far as formulaic movies go, this one fits the mold. There are good effects and tense action, but despite that and the good acting, Unstoppable falls short of being a good film, and instead is regulated to being a mediocre film. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, I just have no urge to see it again.

Ultimately, Unstoppable is an action film for the sole purpose of being an action film. The witty dialogue will not be enough to make this film anything more than an hour and a half distraction.

Rating: 5/10

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

The 3 Worst Actors

#3: Ben Affleck

There's a reason a whole three and a half minutes of the movie Team America were devoted to a song about how bad Affleck's performance was in Pearl Harbor (Michael Bay, 2001).  That reason is because he was that bad in Pearl HarborPearl Harbor is bad enough that we don't even have to talk about Daredevil (Mark Steven Johnson, 2003), but for professional reasons, I must.  When he plays a supporting role, he is tolerable.  His only redeeming factors are his roles in Kevin Smith films.

#2: John Cena

For these next two, it was tough, but when it came down to it, I simply had to decide who I liked least, and John Cena is less visible than my #1 choice.  I saw John Cena guest star in the TV series Psych.  It was not good.  He is a wrestler.  But for some reason, somebody thought to give him a whole movie, The Marine (John Bonito, 2006).  I don't know if I'd wish the Marine on my worst enemy.  If you take everything you don't like about Arnold Schwarzenegger's performances, and multiply them, you'll get a John Cena performance.  John Cena's only redeeming factor is he is very muscular, so I hope he doesn't read this...

#1: Dwayne Johnson

Anyone who calls themselves "The Rock" shouldn't be taken seriously, especially when they have a film where they play the tooth fairy.  Everytime I turn around I see this guy in another film.  Is anyone seeing a trend?  Two wrestlers making my 3 Worst Actors list?  Anyway, Dwayne Johnson starred in Doom (Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2005), which was much better as a video game.  Dwayne Johnson probably doesn't know anything about acting.  The best acting I've seen him do is as a CGI Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns (Stephen Sommers, 2001), which by no means was a good movie.  Dwayne Johnson's only redeeming factor is his role in Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008) where the director knew how best to utilize him.

Honorable Mentions:

James Franco - Think Flyboys (Tony Bill, 2006)

Jennifer Garner - Think anything she's ever been in, most atrocious though Elektra (Rob Bowman, 2005)

Shia LaBeouf - I'm even having doubts about Harrison Ford after Indianna Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skulls (Steven Spielberg, 2008).  And don't forget Eagle Eye (D.J. Caruso, 2008).

Adam Brody- Actually anyone involved with The O.C.  I did not see In The Land of Women (Jon Kasden, 2007) mainly because the trailers with Brody looked terrible.  Well, that and whatever Meg Ryan did to her face.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Due Date (Todd Phillips, 2010) R

Todd Phillips, the man responsible for The Hangover, Starsky And Hutch, and Old School tries his hand at a buddy road-trip comedy. While funny, Due Date is not terribly original, falls short of his previous works and leaves the viewer with serious doubts about the quality of The Hangover Part II.

Due Date stars Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man 2) as Peter Highman and Zach Galifianakis (Visioneers) as Ethan Tremblay. As far as the acting goes, Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis build a terrific rapport with each other, which brings Due Date out of the dull category and into the average category. Peter Highman is a high-strung, workaholic who is soon to be a father. Ethan Tremblay is an easy-going, eccentric aspiring-actor who wants to get to Hollywood to break into the industry. When their paths cross, Peter’s plans go right down the drain. After being placed on the No-Fly List, Peter’s only chance of getting home in time for the birth is a cross-country road trip with Ethan.

Overall, this movie is fairly predictable. There are some subplots that add interest to the film, and some liberties taken with reality that make it a comedy without consequences for the characters. Most of the humor comes from Peter and Ethan going for each others’ throats, but there are a few moments of gross-out humor that probably could have been left on the cutting room floor. The writing, directing and editing are all formulaic, which detracts from Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis’ performances.

Due Date is no Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but it is an enjoyable film that manages to be funny while still being mostly unoriginal. At the end, one part of me wanted a scene like the last scene in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but that closure never happened. Another part of me wished the ending would have been darker, as a majority of the movie implied, with whether or not Peter’s wife had an affair. For a feel-good movie unburdened by reality, check out Due Date.

Rating: 6/10

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Robin Hood (Ridley Scott, 2010) UR

I tend to enjoy Ridley Scott’s work, so his addition to the several films that tell the story of Robin Hood, was met with some anticipation. In Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, the director does not let us down. No stranger to filming epic battle sequences, Ridley Scott’s film is visually appealing.

Robin Hood and his comrades stand up to an abusive government to create a better quality of life for the common people. Robin Longstride comes across Robert Loxley, who on death’s door asks Robin to deliver his sword to his father. In order to accomplish this task, Robin decides to assume the identity of the fallen knight, and once home Robert’s father sees no reason to stop the charade. A corrupt sheriff and king add to the villagers’ frustration.

Russell Crowe (Body of Lies) once again teams up with director Ridley Scott, only this time as Robin Longstride. For a darker and grittier retelling of the story of Robin Hood, Russell Crowe does a good job playing the lone-wolf Robin Longstride. Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button) plays Marion Loxley, Robin’s love interest Cate Blanchett balances out Russell Crowe’s performance expertly. The chemistry between the two makes me wish they were in a better written movie. William Hurt (Endgame) also joins the cast as William Marshal.

While the directing and the acting are superb, the story does not deliver. The first half of the film brilliantly set up the political atmosphere of the time with the Crusades and the local authorities taking advantage of the villagers with all the men gone. Robin Hood examines Robin Hood before he became Robin Hood, more so than any other film. However, shortly after the halfway point, the storyline shifts from Robin Hood and his story to the story of a French invasion of Britain. Instead of Robin taking back what was stolen by the government, he is now leading an army against France; the second half of Robin Hood looks and feels just like Braveheart (Mel Gibson, 1995). In the first half of the film, Robin and company are talking about wanting to be able to keep the fruits of their individual labor, while at the end of the film, they switch to a socialist propaganda message, where everybody shares the collective wealth.  The writers obviously did not have a clear objective when sitting down to write this film; they couldn’t decide if it was going to be a character-based story about Robin Hood or an epic war story.

Rating: 3/10

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Killers (Robert Luketic, 2010) PG-13

With the exception of 21 (2008), Robert Luketic’s career is built upon romantic comedies.  While the title may lead you to believe otherwise, Killers is first and foremost a romantic comedy, and on a secondary level, an action film. Robert Luketic may have several rom-coms under his belt, but that does not guarantee a good movie.

An insecure robot, er, woman meets a hunk while on vacation and they get married. Three years into the marriage a hit contract is placed upon the husband’s head, which leads the wife to discover that the man she married can kill with more than his good looks.

Ashton Kutcher (Spread) plays Spencer Aimes, the deadly-yet-charming contract killer who falls for Jen Kornfeldt, played by Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up). Joining the duo, Tom Selleck (Jesse Stone) and Catherine O’Hara (Where The Wild Things Are) as Mr. and Mrs. Kornfeldt, respectively. I liked Ashton Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect, but can’t say that he has what it takes to pull off a witty assassin. Kutcher’s performance outshines Katherine Heigl’s by far. Katherine Heigl’s portrayal of Jen Kornfeldt feels like it would be something acting students would watch in a class called, “How not to act on camera.” Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara are alright as the parents and in-laws; nothing to write home about on the acting front.

It’s easy to blame the actors, but the real blame rests with the writers. The concept of Killers is not that original, which could be overlooked if it played off of strong characters, strong dialogue, and interesting obstacles. Killers is a movie you might watch to appease your wife or girlfriend, but it is not something you will want to buy or watch ever again. If you like the concept, check out Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Doug Liman, 2005).

Rating: 4/10

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Friday, October 1, 2010

Halloween Films Part 1: The Classics

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Matching John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance sounds like a winning combo in any book, but Halloween is one of those movies that has not aged well.  Sure it's a classic, but it does not deliver the thrills and frights as well as it did when it first came out in 1978.  The first time I watched it I knew exactly who was going to die and when.  Of course it is only predictable because it pioneered the genre.  Only watch this one if you are a die hard fan of John Carpenter, otherwise check out The Thing or even scarier, Nightmare On Elm Street.

Rating: 5/10

Nightmare On Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)

Johnny Depp's first film, Nightmare On Elm Street is almost as aged as the original Halloween is, but this one is less predictable.  Aside from Peter Jackson's DeadAlive, this film probably has one of the strangest ways to die captured on film.  Where Halloween is predictable and borderline boring, Nightmare On Elm Street leaves us with enough mystery to be a successful horror film.

Rating: 6/10

Night Of The Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)

For a really good time, be sure to watch Night Of The Living Dead.  George A. Romero pioneered the zombie film and a franchise with his 1968 film.  As strange as it may be to say, this film is more exciting than the original Halloween.  I don't mean to pick on John Carpenter, because I love his other films, but somehow he fell short with HalloweenNight Of The Living Dead features some classic dialogue, of course the sort of dialogue only people who have seen the movie, or those people in their late 60s would understand.  Best line of the film, "They're coming to get you Barbara..."

Rating: 8/10

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

Of all the horror films, and actually all the other films, I have ever seen, this is definitely one of the best shot films around.  It simply looks gorgeous.  My dad told me this film was super disgusting and made Saw look like a happy musical.  Despite being rated R, this film has no gore, no profanity and no nudity.  However, the filmmakers were so adept at conveying the grisly horror that happens off-screen that it still got the R rating.  If you watch one movie this Halloween, make it the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It really is that good.

Rating: 9/10

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

With Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, we get some name actors Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles and Janet Leigh.  The horror of Psycho does not necessarily happen on-screen, but as with most Hitchcock it happens in your mind.  What sets Psycho apart from the other movies reviewed in this blog is the characters.  The characters in this film are developed to the max.  Just about everything about this film is perfect.  This movie spawned a remake and three sequels.  Anthony Perkins' performance is fantastic.  This is how horror movies should be made.

Rating: 10/10

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (Steve Pink, 2010) R

Steve Pink’s second feature film as a director, Hot Tub Time Machine, is about a group of four guys who travel back to time in, yes you guessed it, a hot tub.  Between Accepted (2006) and Hot Tub Time Machine I would say Steve Pink has been fortunate to work with some fairly talented actors, but talent isn’t everything as Hot Tub Time Machine proves.

Four guys who pretty much suck at life decide to take a weekend trip to their favorite resort from their youth.  When they arrive, they realize that they are not the only ones who have gotten older and duller, as the town is in disrepair and now a senior citizen hotspot and a shelter for cats.  After a lot of alcohol and illegal substances, the four stumble into the hot tub, where they short circuit the controls and travel back to 1986.  Presented with the opportunity to relive their fondest memories they are challenged to get back to present-day while changing as little as possible.

John Cusack (2012) plays Adam, the main character, an insurance agent who just got dumped.  I haven’t seen many of Cusack’s films, but I never pegged him as a comedic actor, and this film proves me right.  John Cusack is talented, don’t get me wrong, but he just isn’t a comedic lead.  Craig Robinson (The Office) plays Nick, a failed musician and emasculated man.  Rob Corddry (Operation: Endgame) plays Lou, a suicidal loser with a drinking problem (and not the funny kind of drinking problem like in Airplane!).  Clark Duke (Kick-Ass) plays Jacob, the stereotypical modern teenager/young-adult who is more comfortable with a computer than with people.  With average performances, even Chevy Chase’s appearance did nothing to improve the film, which left the viewer with a sense that the actors were underutilized.

As far as raunchy comedies go, Hot Tub Time Machine wastes no time being raunchy but it takes too long to find the comedy, if it even manages to find it at all.  Within the first twelve minutes of the film there are two gross-out jokes and no other jokes.  I almost turned it off after the second one involving a catheter, but I let it play.  The writers of Hot Tub Time Machine love movies because there are several obscure references to other films throughout this one.  The best moment of the film is when Craig Robinson looks directly at the camera and says, “It must be some sort of hot tub time machine.”  Not only where the characters flat, but the events in the film weren’t interesting and Hot Tub Time Machine never presented us with a sense of urgency for the characters to return to the present.*  If you enjoy seeing bodily fluids in movies, by all means check out Hot Tub Time Machine.  If you demand a little more sophistication from your comedies, skip this one and watch Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007) or The Hangover (Todd Phillips, 2009) as they achieve the right balance between crass and comedy.

Rating: 4/10

*Possible spoiler*
*With the exception of the character of Jacob, I don’t see why any of the other characters had to return to the present.  In fact, there is more motivation for them to stay behind, like Lou did, and relive their youth.  That way they’d not only be able to become closer as friends, but they would be able to remember important events, instead of being surprised when they arrived back in the future.

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Citadels - Galt Aureus

In 2006, a California-based indie rock band showed up on the scene with their debut album Heralds To The Sun. After three years of waiting, Galt Aureus is back with Citadels.

01. Overture Of Legion - 'Overture Of Legion' is a short, intro track reminiscent of Heralds To The Sun, but it foreshadows something completely new and exciting.

02. The Cavalcade - This is the first taste listeners get of Saher and Susan's voices complimenting each other on this album.  The piano magnificently contrasts with the heavy guitars. If you've seen any of their Youtube videos, you'll recognize that the style of 'The Cavalcade' is similar to their song 'Haunted Mind.'  The blend of Saher's screaming, and the silence at the end show the musical adeptness of Galt Aureus.

03. At Dawn - This track is one of my favorites.  Saher really paints the imagery of an early morning duel, and the confidence that each party required in themselves to partake, and win a duel.  With the layering of the different instrumentation beneath the guitars, as well as the harpsichord phrases, combined with lyrics like, "No need for words at all," this track is incredibly powerful.

04. Our Own Versailles - Saher's voice on this track is just amazing. The percussion is featured a bit more than in their other songs. 'Our Own Versailles' features interplay between the strings and percussion with Saher's voice soaring above.  This is an incredibly romantic and uplifting track.

05. Citadels - 'Citadels' opens with a melodic, almost melancholy piano. A waterfall-start follows; piano, voice, percussion. This song is a roller coaster of dynamics and instrumentation, very moving and depressing at the same time, especially with the lyrics, "The sky presses down."  'Citadels' features a triumphantly epic instrumental break, followed by a gorgeous ending.

06. The Armada - This track started out as one of the first videos Galt Aureus posted online.  It's interesting to hear the differences between the first version and the final version.  The guitars brilliantly underscore Saher's voice, with the piano singing through underneath.  'The Armada' contains an especially mournful, "You took everything..." section.  The ending is upbeat with great piano and guitar work.

07. Spiral Stile - This song is excellent and is almost lost among the other fantastic tracks on the album.  The opening of 'Spiral Stile' is excellent. There is a delightful faint techno feel beneath Susan's vocals.  The harmonies are amazing as always. Like all the tracks, there is a great blend of instrumentation throughout. The lyrics for 'Spiral Stile' are terrific, as is Susan's voice fading out to end the track.

08. Eight - The standout track of the album features a laid back feel, melodic intro, and great, subtle vocals. This song sounds like something hear in a private or intimate setting.  'Eight' is very personal; you can tell Saher put a lot of himself into it.  The result is a mix of happy memories, internal angst, and bitter regret at things long gone.

09. Before The Fall - The horn crescendo is an awesome start, followed by the drastic shift to Susan softly singing. Saher's voice sounds like a blanket I'd pull around myself on a cold winter day. I like the whispering, soft singing, and falsetto from Saher.  Susan shows off an impressive range and voice as well.  This is the most I've heard her sing; she has a gorgeous voice. This song is similar to the style/feel of their Youtube songs, 'Is There Anyone Left' and 'Beautiful Longing Words.'

10. Conquerors - What a contrast from the previous song.  "I will wipe you off this earth."  'Conquerors' is incredibly powerful and gritty.  The piano starts out with a theme, and the guitar picks it up and finishes.

11. Nocturne Carceris - Ambient noises give way to the piano, strong and true, elegant and wise. After the musical ecstasy I just heard, it's hard to believe the album is over, and then I accept that it is, and start over with track 1.

I don't remember ever being as excited for any album as I was for Citadels.  Not only did Galt Aureus meet all my hopes and expectations, but they far far overshot them.  Heralds to the Sun is a great album, Citadels is even better. Their sound has matured beyond belief.  I can hear the amount of thought, effort and skill that went into this album.  The fact that Saher and Susan did every aspect of creating this album, recording, performing, mastering, etc, is a real testament to human achievement.  Citadels is life-affirming.

Album rating: 10/10

For more information on Galt Aureus, check out their website:
Or follow them on Twitter: @GaltMusic

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) PG-13

Christopher Nolan’s latest film lives up to the expectations of his previous films. Inception is in the same vein as Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006). While all three of these films have action sequences, the majority of the action takes place in your mind. Christopher Nolan takes us deep into the world of dreams with Inception.
A team of thieves, who steal information locked in the darkest recesses of the mind, are offered the job of a lifetime, with a reward to match. Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island), is the mastermind of the dream world.  Cobb is trying desperately to get back home to his children, and is offered the chance with a new job, inception. Instead of stealing ideas from unsuspecting dreamers, his team will plant an idea.

Joining Leonardo DiCaprio; Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer) as Arthur, Ellen Page (Whip It) as Ariadne, and Cillian Murphey (The Dark Knight) as Robert Fischer, the mark. The acting in this film is top-notch. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as the tortured hero, and Ellen Page shows she can do something Michael Cera can’t, which is play somebody older than a high schooler. Ellen Page does a terrific job balancing out Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is his usual role, the logical and somewhat uptight, straight man. It was nice to see Cillian Murphey as something other than the villain.

The lush visuals of Inception fit perfectly with the elaborate plot. Not only has Christopher Nolan created an alternate world, but he has created such depth that it is easy to go for a swim. It is easy to accept the premise that other people can join in on your dream, but when they start adding dreams within dreams everything starts getting complicated. Luckily, unlike most films, you never feel that this film is trying too hard to be something it’s not. Inception is complicated, but in a way that can be followed. The editing of Inception really illustrates how important a fraction of a second is. If the last scene was cut one second earlier or one second later, it would lose its meaning. If you like a film that spells everything out for you, skip this one. If you like a film that lets you make up your own mind, you will love Inception.

Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grown Ups (Dennis Dugan, 2010) PG-13

No stranger to working with Adam Sandler (Funny People), Dennis Dugan directs this ensemble comedy about five friends who reconnect after the death of their basketball coach. Dennis Dugan’s directing is nothing special, nor does it really make itself prominent. This film is more about five comedians being comedians.

Joining Adam Sandler are Kevin James (The King of Queens), Chris Rock (Everybody Hates Chris), David Spade (The Benchwarmers), and Rob Schneider (Deuce Bigalow). Each one of these characters is joined by a supporting female character, whether it is a wife, girlfriend, or attractive daughters. Adam Sandler plays Lenny, whose wife is Roxanne, played by Selma Hayek (Bandidas). What is unfortunate is that the female characters do not really factor into the plot in a meaningful way. They affect some minor things, but really they are just there as a vehicle for the comedians, which takes away from the depth of this film.

The opening of the film is almost painfully cheesy. Thinking back on the film, the only thing I remember about the plot is that their old elementary school coach died, they all attend the funeral, after having been separated for years, and then spend the weekend at the old cabin they used to spend time at as kids. There are some minor relationship/family issues thrown in that need to be resolved, but they are incredibly minor and are treated very lightly. Grown Ups contains several good jokes, a lot more decent jokes, and a few bad jokes. The main problem with the humor is that all the characters laugh after every joke. They laugh for 10-20 seconds each time somebody tells a joke. The choice to show the characters’ laughter only distracts from the plot and messes up the pacing of the film.

All the actors turn in a decent performance, but the lack of a substantial plot, or a well-defined antagonist, makes Grown Ups a decent distraction, but prevents it from being something absolutely hilarious.
Rating: 6/10

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Does the follow up to Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) live up to the hype and expectations? It has more action, more bad guys, and runs twelve minutes longer. However, these attributes do not necessarily mean it is better than Batman Begins.
As alluded to in the previous film, the Joker is plaguing Gotham. Batman has to work with Gordon and a lawyer, Harvey Dent to put a stop to the Joker’s humorous, yet destructive antics. The scope of this film is far wider than Batman Begins. The Dark Knight focuses more on the interplay between heroes and villains, heroes and society, and villains and society than on the personal struggles of Bruce Wayne.

Christian Bale (Public Enemies) reprises his role and Batman, and does an excellent job. He is outshined by Heath Ledger (The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus) as the Joker. Ledger’s performance is truly amazing. He captures the hatred, cynicism, mania, and generally unbalanced emotions of the Joker. Unfortunately for this film, Katie Holmes (Batman Begins) did not portray Rachel Dawes. Dawes was instead played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Stranger Than Fiction). For some reason, the makeup department decided against doing anything to Maggie Gyllenhaal and as a result, she looked like a moose would if you shaved its face. Aaron Eckhart’s (Meet Bill) Harvey Dent was good, but nothing to write home about. Michael Cain (The Prestige) and Morgan Freeman (The Bucket List) were great in their roles.
The Dark Knight offers up many positives, but there are some serious flaws that drag the movie down. This film suffers from having an ensemble cast trying to make a lone hero film. For the way this script was written, there are too many major characters. There were quite a few villains in Batman Begins, but they were all part of the same organization. In The Dark Knight, there are two distinct main villains, which diminishes the Joker’s screen presence. There are also four or more good guys that are explored.
Besides the rampant use of characters and the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal not being pretty enough to be Batman’s girlfriend, The Dark Knight is an enjoyable film and continues the Batman series with vigor. I just hope that this franchise does not suffer from the X-Men Syndrome of having too many big stars for any studio to be able to fund.

Rating: 8/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 2008)

M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t made a decent film in awhile, and it looks like it will be a while longer. His latest film foray finds Mark Wahlberg (Max Payne, The Lovely Bones) and Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man, 500 Days of Summer) teaming up against a natural disaster that is systematically wiping out the country’s population.

When masses of people start committing suicide, those unaffected must try to figure out the cause, and how to stop it. This film was written, directed, and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, and as a result, it seems a bit stale. The only ideas in this film came from M. Night, and this film desperately needed some new ideas. There are some interesting sequences, like the handgun sequence, but it is taken too far which lessens its meaning.

Mark Wahlberg plays Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher. He is clearly too much of a ‘strong-type’ to fit within the confines of this role. Zooey Deschanel plays Elliot’s wife, Alma. Both Wahlberg and Deschanel turn in good performances, but these performances do not fit with the movie, the actors and director appear to be out of sync with one another.

The plot is not at all believable, and it is obvious that M. Night is trying too hard to get his beliefs across that the movie suffers. This film has a lot of room for improvement. One area M. Night Shyamalan needs no improvement in is advertising his films. His trailers generally manage to inspire people to watch his movies; he just needs to learn how to follow through. A self-proclaimed master of twists, M. Night Shyamalan’s twist in this film is this: there is absolutely nothing happening.

Rating: 4/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

Max Payne (John Moore, 2008)

Based on the 2001 videogame of the same name, Max Payne (John Moore, 2008) stars Mark Wahlberg (The Happening, The Departed) as Max Payne, and Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, That ‘70s Show) as Mona Sax. Max is a DEA agent trying to find the murderer of his family, and Mona is an assassin wanting revenge on those who killed her sister, team up against a common enemy while avoiding the police and the mob.

Being the stereotypical action movie, there are not many comments to be made about the acting, as it was fairly straightforward. It was refreshing to see Mila Kunis in something other than a comedy. She does a mean assassin and looked stunning doing it. Mark Wahlberg’s performance seemed a little flat. Perhaps he wasn’t really into the role. Beau Bridges and Ludacris help round out the cast.

The film had some decent special effects, but none that really fit the film. John Moore appears to have created a hodgepodge of cliché action-film shots, like bullet time and overt CGI. These effects did very little to further the plot, and appeared to be executed with slightly less care than required by other films. I have not played the video game, and maybe I’d appreciate the film more if I had, but regardless, the film should be able to stand on its own, and this one barely manages.

The plot is disjointed and at times it is downright contradictory. There is one ‘twist’ and it is not as a big a twist as John Moore probably intended. All in all it is a mildly entertaining action film, and is good for a night out at the movies, or to watch on DVD with the family, but it has very little substance. Unfortunately, while this movie is decent, it isn’t decent enough to warrant the sequel proposed at the close of the film.

Rating: 5/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (Chris Carter, 2008)

Mulder and Scully’s latest quest for the truth is tailored to the devoted fans of the series. People who occasionally watched the show will probably also enjoy it, but if you’ve only seen a few episodes, you may want to pass. The X-Files: I Want To Believe is full of subtle references to the series, important and trivial, which will reward fans, but leave others feeling the movie is slow and poorly written.

The plot of the film is fairly standard for an X-Files venue. Mulder and Scully are asked to come back to the FBI to help with a case of a missing girl. The cinematography is excellent; the snowy settings mirror the characters inner turmoil. Including the current politics, Chris Carter pays homage to the two people who gave the FBI the most power: J. Edgar Hoover and George W. Bush.

David Duchovny (The X-Files, Californication) and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) are joined onscreen by Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints). Duchovny is excellent in his portrayal of Fox Mulder, a man desperate to find the truth in the darkness. Gillian Anderson equals Duchovny’s performance as Dana Scully, a woman who wants to be as far away from the darkness as possible. Amanda Peet is a little hard to believe as an FBI agent, but she tries hard and I think manages to pull it off. Billy Connolly nails his performance as a pedophile priest by managing to be creepy, yet sympathetic.

If you are a fan of the series, whether casual or die-hard, this is a movie for you. If you’ve only seen a few episodes of the X-Files, you may find it boring and slow. Regardless, Unkle’s variation on Mark Snow’s X-Files Theme is alone worth watching the movie for.

Rating: 8/10

© Nate Phillipps 2008

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fusion VS Proglide

Gillette Fusion VS Gillette Fusion Proglide

When I started shaving, I used a Gillette Mach 3.  When Shick came out with their Quattro I tried that.  Much to my dismay, the Shick Quattro had way too much blade resistance, and it made for a very uncomfortable shave, full of tugging and swearing.

My opinion was that anything with more than three blades created too much resistance for the shave to be comfortable.  However, after receiving a free Gillette Fusion in the mail, I decided to give it a try.  To my amazement, it was a perfectly smooth shave, and impossibly close.  So when I was told about the latest incarnation of the Gillette Fusion, the Gillette Fusion Proglide, I was skeptical.

Proglide Design:
Blades - The packaging said the blades were thinner than the regular Fusion's.  I looked and it was difficult to see, comparing the Fusion blades to the Proglide's.  I could tell there was more space between the blades when looking head-on to the blades, but looking from the top down on the shaving cartridge, there was no visible difference.  Also, the trimmer blade area has been redesigned to feature some 'hair guides.'  They also made some changes to the strips on the cartridge.  The moisturizing strip is slightly larger on the Proglide, and the lead strip on the Proglide is smaller than the Fusion.
Handle - The handle is almost the same size as the Fusion's handle.  The major difference is that the Proglide handle is slightly bulkier, with a lot more texture to it.  This means that it is far easier to grip and control, especially when wet.
Color - The black and blue is more appealing to me than the orange of blue of the Fusion.  But that's simply a personal preference.
Case - The case that it comes in is the same case as the Fusion, only with a different insert which says, "Gillette Fusion Proglide."

Proglide Performance:
The first thing I noticed with the Proglide was how little resistance there was.  I thought the Fusion was a smooth shave, but the Proglide really does just glide across your face.  It doesn't catch on any hairs or tug on any hairs.  The second thing I noticed was how much control I had over the handle, and how secure it felt in my hand.  The third thing I noticed was how well the trimmer blade works.  With the Fusion, I tried the trimmer blade a few times and always ended up with an uneven cut and then the hair would get stuck in the trimmer blade.  The redesigned trimmer blade has grooves to guide the hair, which makes a nice, clean cut, and it is opened up a bit so that running water will clean all the hair out of it.  I was duly impressed with the Proglide's shave.

If you look strictly at the end result, both razors will give you a close, comfortable shave.  If you look beyond that, the Proglide offers a better handle, better blade design, and a much smoother shave.  The good thing is that if you love your Fusion handle, you can use Proglide blades on it, or if you love your Fusion blades but want the Proglide handle, the Fusion blades will fit on that too.  Ultimately, the Proglide isn't worth the extra money if you're happy with the razor you have.  However, if you have the extra dollar to spend on razorblades, the Proglide is by far the best manual razor money can buy.

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dishonest Money Review

Title: Dishonest Money (Financing The Road To Ruin)
Author: Joseph Plummer
Publisher: Joseph Plummer, 2009

The economy is based on supply and demand, right?  What if that was wrong?  What if I told you that the concept of supply and demand was barely scratching the surface of how the economy works?  Look at Greece.  Do you think simple supply and demand led them to their financial crisis?  Or do you think it was something more?

Dishonest Money is a fairly short book, but it is jammed full of information.  Joseph Plummer does an excellent job of taking a highly complex subject and presenting it in a way that anyone who isn't an economist can understand.  Some might argue he doesn't go into enough detail.  I think that if this is your first book on the economy, it probably covers just the right amount of information to get you started.

Joseph Plummer talks about how the business elite created the Federal Reserve for their own financial gain, and the implications that has had on our economy.  He discusses at length the differences between commodity money, receipt money, fractional money, fiat money and debt money.  He also explains how the people in power can manipulate the money supply to impose a de facto tax on us through the process of inflation.  By creating inflation, the Federal Reserve is decreasing our buying power.

The only part of this book that I thought could have been done better was the end section which stated what we could do to counter this corruption.  Joseph Plummer's advice was simply to prepare for the worst.  While I believe everyone should be prepared, I was expecting more of a plan of how we could do away with the Federal Reserve.  Instead, we are told to buy gold bullion, buy at least a three-month supply of food, buy a water filtration system, and buy a handgun.  All sound advice, but not how I was expecting a book on the economy to end.

However, this is an excellent starter book for those of you who want to learn more about the intricacies of the economy.  Joseph Plummer suggests a more comprehensive book about the Federal Reserve for those who want to take it further.  But for those who want a base understanding, this is the book to read.

Recommended further reading:  The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Karate Kid Trilogy

For $13 at Wal-Mart, you can buy all three Karate Kid films.  If you love anything Karate Kid, you can get the four film set (including The Next Karate Kid) at Amazon.  I opted to get the trilogy, as I've never seen the fourth one, and don't really have an interest in seeing the fourth one, as Daniel isn't in it.

The Karate Kid (1984)
By far the best of the series, The Karate Kid stars Ralph Maccio and Pat Morita as Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi, respectively.  Daniel and his mother move from New Jersey to California, where Daniel has such a difficult time fitting in, that he becomes the punching bag for a group of older, karate students.  Mr. Miyagi eventually agrees to teach Daniel karate so he can defend himself.

I loved this movie as a kid.  Watching it again as an adult, I liked it slightly less.  Daniel comes off as a whiny brat, at least in the beginning.  He tones it down as the movie progresses.  The Mr. Miyagi character is fantastic.  His unorthodox teaching technique, and his bizarre sense of humor push this film into the classic category.  The Karate Kid also explores the morality of when it is acceptable to fight, and what is acceptable to fight for.

The Karate Kid II (1986)
Daniel and Mr. Miyagi return to the screen for another karate adventure.  This time, Mr. Miyagi gets a letter informing him that his father is dying.  Mr. Miyagi and Daniel travel to Okinawa where an old nemesis of Mr. Miyagi's makes their stay uncomfortable.  Daniel clashes with one of Sato's stooges.

The worst part of this film is probably the beginning, where it recaps the whole first movie.  Obviously this was made before anyone thought people would be able to watch movies in their home whenever they wanted.  It's an alright film, which is only good because of the first one.  Daniel is a lot more whiny in this film, and sometimes you want to scream at him, "Didn't you learn anything at all in the first film?"

The Karate Kid Part III (1989)
John Kreese returns, with the aid of a buddy, to exact his revenge on Daniel and Mr. Miyagi.  Daniel's desire to fight puts him at odds with Mr. Miyagi, who wants Daniel to retire.  Daniel is forced to find a new teacher.

After two movies of seeing Daniel getting beat up and curling into the fetal position on the ground, you would think either A) it would get old, or B) he would retain some knowledge and skill and be able to defend himself.  But no, neither of those are the case in this film.  Despite taking karate to learn how to defend himself, and despite the teachings of a direct descendant of the person who invented karate, Daniel still does not poses the knowledge or skill to be able to defend himself against anyone.  If you thought Daniel was whiny and pathetic in the first two, you haven't seen anything yet.  This movie would be alright if Daniel only had a spine.  This film is the weakest of the trilogy.

All in all this is a good collection; you get all three Karate Kid movies, and a few special features on the first disc.  If you want the complete story of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel, this is the set for you.

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Liberal Fascism Review

Title:  Liberal Fascism
Author:  Jonah Goldberg
Publisher: Broadway Books, 2009

If you're like me and are generally conservative (in the sense you want small government), you have probably been called a fascist.  Jonah Goldberg starts out his book, Liberal Fascism, with explaining that the term fascism is one with no clear-cut meaning in modern politics.  He then goes on to explain that this is precisely the reason liberals like to use it.

Rather than being pulled into a name calling contest with liberals, Jonah examines when fascism started, who started it, and why they started it.  By looking at the historical context of fascism, he points out that fascism is almost always a left-wing phenomenon.  Why, then, do liberals delight in accusing right-wingers of being fascist?  Well, that's all part of the vast political strategy that the liberals employ to trick voters.

In this book you will find that everyone from Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK, Hillary Clinton, Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, and many more have contributed to fascism here in America, and abroad.  Written in an easy to understand style, this book is full of footnotes and references.  Jonah Goldberg did his research and doesn't pull any punches.  If you want to know why politics has gotten so bad, and how it got that way, this book is for you.  It's also a great read if you're in the midst of an argument with a liberal.

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

John Carpenter Master of Fear Collection

I recently picked up a DVD set that has four movies on two discs.  There are no special features, save some audio options, but the films are there.  It contains The Thing, Prince of Darkness, They Live, and Village of the Damned.  All four films are by John Carpenter.

In lieu of a complete movie review of all four, I'm going to do an abridged version.

The Thing (1982):  This movie is the reason I bought the DVD.  Kurt Russell does an excellent job of being a leader, and a rebel.  This film is very much my Psycho of the 80s.  For a horror film, it has everything you need.

Prince of Darkness (1987):  This is probably the weakest of the four.  Which isn't to say it isn't good.  I quite enjoyed it, it just wasn't at the same level as the other three.  Donald Pleasence is the big star in this film, although he doesn't get a whole lot of screen time.  There are some good moments in this movie, but they are spaced too far apart.  Also, this film has a longer runtime than the others, which probably doesn't help.

They Live (1988):  Going through film school, I heard a lot about this film, and all of its criticisms of society.  Despite relatively unknown actors, this film was great.  John Carpenter really plays with perception in a border-line hypocritical way that at times is frightening, and other times is hilarious.

Village of the Damned (1995):  Kids can be really creepy.  This movie probably had the best cast of the bunch: Christopher Reeve, Mark Hamill, and Kirstie Alley.  In this movie, Carpenter focuses mostly on two or three families, and their experiences with the new 'children.'  It was good to see Mark Hamill in something where he wasn't swinging a lightsaber.

Basically, this collection is a good buy.  No, there are no special features, but, looking at the DVD for The Thing, you wouldn't really be missing much.  Unfortunately with some of these older movies, there's just not a lot in the way of special features.  Ultimately, if you're the casual movie watcher, and are looking to experience John Carpenter, this is the set for you.  If you're the film junky and you simply have to have all the features, you'll probably want to buy these seperately.

© Nate Phillipps 2010