Into The Wild – The Ultimate Adventure

Into the Wild

Starring Emile Hirsch, Hal Holbrook, and Vince Vaughn
Directed by Sean Penn
Rated R for language and some nudity
Available March 4, 2008 on Standard DVD and HD-DVD

Based on the real life and death of Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild follows a young man that leaves behind the comforts of home and travels around the country on foot in the search to find true happiness and satisfaction.  When he ends up stranded in an abandoned bus in Alaska, he faces the most difficult of challenges: staying alive.  For some strange reason, this film found itself missing from Beaumont theaters this last fall, in spite of achieving some relatively decent box office numbers (22 million), so hopefully it will find a good audience on DVD.  Sean Penn and crew put a lot of love into this mesmerizing story and the performances by Hirsch, Holbrook, and others are very strong.  In theaters the film seemed a little long (148 minutes), but on the small screen it feels just right.  I wish there was a commentary or two, but all we get on the two-disc set are the film and a couple of production documentaries. 

Semi-Pro – Welcome to the Amateurs

Semi-Pro     D+

Starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, and Andre Benjamin
Rated R for language and sexual content
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: The NBA has decided to accept four minor-league franchises and to dissolve those not chosen.  In order to become one of the chosen few, Flint Tropics owner and player Jackie Moon (Ferrell) devises stunts to fill the stands with fans and win enough games to go fully-pro. 

The Good: The premise here isn’t bad.  The cast is immensely talented.  There is room enough for some big comedy.  There are some good laughs to be had, but unfornately, you probably saw them in the trailer. 

The Bad: While the potential is here, what they did with it is give us a lousy, unfunny pseudo-comedy.  Most of the jokes seem more like random, improvised humor than what usually comes from a well-crafted script.  Ferrell is his typical over-the-top self, but his humor backfires here and leaves the audience wondering about the inside jokes that lead up to this movie. 
It baffles me why they made this an R-rated film.  It seems that the humor here is aimed more at undescerning teenagers that just won’t know better.  It’s like they threw in a few more bad words than you can get away with in a PG-13 just to get an R.  I don’t mind a good R-Rated comedy, but most of them go all the way with it and this one doesn’t have a clue where it’s going. 

The Summary: Step on up and see Ferrell shoot an air ball!

American Gangster – Bringing It To The Streets

American Gangster

Starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe
Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator)
Rated R for violence, pervasive drug content and language, nudity and sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+
Release Date: February 19, 2008 on DVD and HD-DVD

I firmly believe that had this great American crime drama been released in theaters in December, we would have seen this film nominated for tons of Oscars this year.  Just because the buzz burned out too early, though, don’t skip this powerful drama based on the true story of Frank Lucas, the infamous gangster that was responsible for destroying Harlem with his steady supply of pure heroine.   Imagine  Scarface meets The French Connection and you have American Gangster, a nail-biting thriller that belongs more in the 70’s than in today.  The DVD contains an Unrated Extended Cut while the HD-DVD version contains both the original in HD and the new cut on the flip-side in standard format.  The alternate beginning is a little over-hyped due to the fact that they just moved the post-credits sequence to the front, and the deleted scenes aren’t all that memorable, but there is a very informative commentary by director Ridley Scott and writer Steven Zaillian. 

Darkon – Nerds in Paradise


Unrated but contains strong language
Directed by Luke Meyer
Release Date: February 26, 2008

This winner of the 2006 Audience Favorite Documentary at Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival follows the lives of a strange group of folks that like to take their role-playing to an extreme.  Every weekend this group of wannabe warrior poets set out to conquer and destroy their enemies in a live-action dungeons and dragons-ish universe.  At first the pic is just funny and peculiar, but rapidly turns into an immensely interesting and entertaining adventure reminiscent of this year’s King of Kong.  So, in honor of this year’s South by Southwest Festival, which is about to start up (, I’d like to highly recommend this terrific little doc.

Vantage Point – Yours, Mine, and the Truth

Vantage Point    B-

Starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, William Hurt, and Forest Whitaker
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: Set in modern-day Spain, the President of the United States (Hurt) is attending a summit and arranges to make a public good-will speech.  Before he utters a word, he is shot by an assassin.  This scenario is told over and over again from different vantage points and character views until the story resolves itself.  During the course of the film the audience sees the view from the Secret Serviceman (Quaid), the American tourist (Whitaker), the President himself, and the assassins and how they all intertwine.

The Good: For an action film, you could do much worse.  There is plenty of adrenaline for everyone and you barely get a chance to breathe before the story starts over again.  Yes it’s a little gimmicky, but the gimmick pays off and leaves us with an overall entertaining experience.  I think that you have to appreciate the originality here and the 24 style film making works well with the premise.

The Bad: Quaid is very good here, but some of the performances, especially Whitaker’s, are pretty cheesy.  I also thought that the big twist was more than a little predictable, but it doesn’t hurt the effectiveness too much. 

The Summary: Creativity combined with fast action makes this a nice little popcorn flick.

And The Winner Is…

Just a couple of weeks ago it looked like we might be missing a televised Oscar ceremony this year.  Fortunately, the writer’s strike is officially over and the fiasco that occurred with the Golden Globes won’t be repeated for the big show.  John Stewart is poised and ready and now has a team of writers to help him make the most of the biggest night of the year for movies.  A lot of folks think the winners for the top six will be fairly predictable, and the odds-makers agree.  As for my ballot, I am going to predict some bigtime upsets.  While most think that the Coen’s latest pic No Country For Old Men will steal the show, I think that the buzz might have faded out early and that there will be some huge surprises.  There is one thing for sure – there will be many different winners on February 24.  So who will they be?  Here are my thoughts…

Best PictureThere Will Be Blood.  While I think that AtonementJuno are far superior films, and that the odds are in No Country’s favor, I think there will be just enough votes to push Blood into the winner’s circle.

Best Director – Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  While he might be best known for his beautiful paintings, Butterfly has got Hollywood singing Schnabel’s praises and if the Coen’s have lost any steam at all, this could be the surprise of the night.  As an aside, Schnabel received his B.F.A. from the University of Houston and deserves some cheering on from the locals!

Best Actor – Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood.  While the competition is good, I think that Lewis is the winner by a mile.  It’s rare that the front-runner is this far ahead of the pack. 

Best Actress – Jule Christie, Away From Her.  As much as I want Ellen Page to win for Juno, I think that Christie’s portrait of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease will take the trophy. 

Best Supporting Actor – Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men.  Personally, I preferred the performance of Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild due to the fact that he actually acted rather than just terrified, but I have to admit that Bardem gave a truly scary performance that will be remembered for years to come. 

Best Supporting Actress – Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone.  As a character, she upset me more than any other character I saw on screen this year.  Her performance was almost too real and evoked some very hateful feelings from it’s audience.  If that doesn’t earn an Oscar, then i don’t know what will.  

As for the rest of the slate, here’s how I would vote.

Best Animated FeatureRatatouille
Art DirectionSweeney Todd
CinematographyThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Costume DesignAtonement
Documentary FeatureSicko
Film EditingThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Foreign Language FilmMongol
MakeupPirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Original ScoreAtonement
Original Song – “Falling Slowly” – Once
Sound EditingThe Bourne Ultimatum
Sound MixingThe Bourne Ultimatum
Visual EffectsTransformers
Adapted ScreenplayNo Country For Old Men
Original ScreenplayJuno

While these aren’t all my personal picks, this is how my ballot would look if I had to try to predict the future.   

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – A Hauntingly Beautiful Western

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Sam Rockwell
Rated R for strong violence and brief sexual references
Appropriate for ages 17+
Release Date: February 12, 2008
Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and HD-DVD

2007 was a great year for westerns, and Jesse James was the cream of the crop.  Based on the brilliant book by Ron Hansen, the pic follows the infamous Jesse James and his gang and how he came to his demise.  Yes, the story is all there in the title, but the journey is very much worth taking. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck turn in amazing, award-worthy performances as the titular characters.   The screenplay , like the book, comes across like poetry.  The biggest standout is the breathtaking look of the film shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins.  I must recommend a wait on purchasing this one at this time.  Due to the fact that this is a bare-bones disc with movie only, a rental will suffice.  While I wasn’t able to inspect the Blu-Ray or HD-DVD versions, my research shows that they are laid out the same way.  I’m sure a special edition will be on it’s way. 

Fool’s Gold – 10 Reasons Not To See This Film

Fool’s Gold     D

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland and Ray Winstone
Directed by Andrew Tennant (Hitch)
Rated PG-13 for action violence, some sexual material, brief nudity and language
Appropriate for ages 15+

The Story: A newly divorced couple, McConaughey and Hudson, attempt to find a treasure that has been buried for almost 300 years.  In their way is a rap mogul that not only wants the treasure, but wants them dead as well.

The Good: The aesthetics look professional.  This is a well shot film with lots of good action sequences and a whole lot of well-toned skin from its actors and actresses. 

The Bad: 1) This is a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.  2) The script is abysmal.  3) The plot is laid out like a bad Scooby Doo episode.  4) The villains are cookie cutter goof balls.  5) The two best actors in the film (Sutherland and Winstone) turn in the two worst performances.  6) The sidekick played by Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) is a useless waste of script.  7) At two hours in length, this pic is thirty minutes longer than any bad rom-com has the right to be.  8) Donald Sutherland’s laughable accent.  9) The subplot between Sutherland and his Paris Hiltonesque daughter makes me cringe.  10) There is very little chemistry between McConaughey and Hudson, and yet they make another movie together.  

The Summary: This is a good Valentine’s Day to stay home and rent a real romantic comedy.

Across the Universe – Beatlemania

Across the Universe

Starring Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, and Joe Anderson
Directed by Julie Taymor (Frida)
Rated PG-13 for some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence and language
Release date: February 5, 2008
Available on 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray

Building a musical based on Beatles music is no easy task.  First problem, how do you connect the dots for a real story without creating some silly musical review?  Second, how do you make the fans happy?  The very eclectic and brilliant Julie Taymor figured it out.  Set in the 1960s, Across the Universe tells the love story between a young Brit named Jude and sweet all-American girl named Lucy.  It also incorporates a modern political message, while pretending to be focused on the Vietnam War.  The voyage taken here is spectacular and you’ll find yourself digging through all the little corners of the discs, including several documentaries about the film’s making, as well as loads of extended musical numbers.  The Blu-Ray disc also offers an art gallery from the movie, set to the pic’s fantastic soundtrack.

Rambo – Last Blood (Fingers Crossed)

Rambo     D+

Starring Sylvester Stallone
Written and Directed by Sylvester Stallone
Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images, and language
Appropriate for ages 18+

The Story: Many years have passed since our last violent adventure, and now Rambo (Stallone) is still living in South East Asia and making his living as a snake hunter for a local tourist trap.  A group of American missionaries hire him to escort them deep into Burma to deliver medicine and bibles to a remote village.  When he discovers that the missionaries have come up missing, he and a group of renegade mercenaries head in to rescue them.

The Good: I’ll say one thing about this flick – it’s not boring.  It’s a quick and easy plot with tons of action and gore.  The finale looked like an homage to The Wild Bunch with a shootout that has to be seen to be believed (and I don’t recommend you see it). 

As for Stallone, it is amazing that he is as big and physically fit as he is at the ripe age of 61.  But even though he got himself into shape for the pic, he still left his shirt on throughout the entire film.  Sorry girls. 

The Bad: Besides the bad acting, atrocious writing, and the pointless violence, the film isn’t half bad.  Just kidding.  What can you expect?  I don’t think that anyone could take this film seriously (except maybe Stallone).  If you love this kind of movie, then have fun.  Go see Meet the Spartans while you’re at it.  If you are looking for more than a mindless night at the movies – save your money. 

The Summary: As bloody as it is silly, Rambo 4 should give audiences their Stallone fix for at least another 20 years.