Starring Kang-ho Song and Ok-vin Kim
Directed by Chan-wook Park (Oldboy)
Rated R for graphic bloody violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content, nudity and language
Appropriate for ages 17+
Korean and English with English subtitles

    When a selfless priest allows his body to be subject medical experiments to fight a deadly disease, he is given a transfusion from the blood of a vampire.  While the blood saves his life, he must feed on more blood in order to keep the disease at bay. 

    Writer/Director Chan-wook Park has always created innovative ways of scaring and/or at least creeping out his audiences, and this new jump into the vampire genre fits into his portfolio well.  He takes the parts of the legend he likes, and leaves the rest.  Here the vampire can still be killed by the sun, can only drink blood, and can be turned by being exposed to the blood of another vampire.  The biggest differences are ones that have never been argued with before (that I know of): you don’t grow fangs and you aren’t exactly impervious to death. 

    This new take on the genre, and this particular story, are so well thought out and incredibly written that you just know it will be remade into a big Hollywood blockbuster just as two of his other films, Old Boy (being directed by Steven Spielberg), and Lady Vengeance (starring Charlize Theron) will get the big budget treatment soon.

    But just like his other films, this looks like a pretty decent budgeted film, sans the big stars.  The effects are gruesome and over-the-top, yet beautiful at the same time.  The overall production is top notch.

    The actors are exceptional here as well.  You might remember Kang-ho Song in the Korean monster film The Host, but he really shows off his chops here as a vampire whose morality keeps him from wanting to do things that his new body wants to partake in.  After all, the vampire legend has always been one of not only blood, but of lust, and that is one area a priest cannot sit idly by. 

    One surprising attribute of this film is the amount of playfulness and hilarity it possesses.   There are so many funny moments in this film that one might think the audience were watching a comedy if they were standing outside the theater listening in.  Maybe it’s because there’s such a deep emotional connection, that the audible laughter comes both at intended moments and at uncomfortable moments as well. 

    Overall, I found this take on the vampire flick to be an original and entertaining picture that would make for a better date night than any other movie showing right now.  A

New on DVD

New on DVD

State of Play
Rated PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams are two journalists trying to get to the bottom of a case involving the dead mistress of a congressman (played by Ben Affleck).  Diving into the world of corrupt politicians, journalistic integrity, and defense contracts makes for a compelling enough story, and with this cast of talented actors and filmmakers, it is no doubt that you’ll get a real nail biter here.  What stinks is the lousy twist-ending that doesn’t really come as a surprise, but rather just serves as a confounding annoyance.  I wish they could have played this tale more on the level.  B

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This feature-length version of the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth, produced by Disney, shows all of the best moments of the landmark television documentary, all narrated by none other than James Earl Jones.  Masterfully edited into a finely-crafted story line of life on earth and sea, this doc is one of the most spectacular films on nature you’ll ever see.  While I highly recommend getting Planet Earth also, I have to admit that this new release is superior in one regard: it actually has a documentary on how some of the amazing footage was obtained.  Watching them film the polar bears, the lions attacking the elephants, the sharks eating seals, and the cheetah chasing the gazelle, will give you new appreciation for the work that went into creating this huge endeavor.  The blu-ray also has a changing menu that will update new content monthly, constantly letting you know what is going on in the world of nature.  A

Heroes: Season 3
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Realizing that Season 2 was derailing fast, the writers decided to introduce new villains and too many plot lines to Season 3 in order to completely get the train off the tracks.  At first I just couldn’t understand why the characters were changing, and then after a while I just didn’t care.  Then after the second part of the season, titled Fugitives, it just got worse.  The show still has a following, but it’s really hard to keep watching a show that seems to be daring you to do so.  I will give the credit on a massive amount of extra content for the blu-ray.  I just wish there was someone involved with a super-ability for creating a better show.  C-

Sin Nombre
Rated R for violence, language, and some sexual content
Spanish with English subtitles
Available on DVD

This directing and cinematography award winner from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival follows the lives of two Latino young people as they make their way to America.  Willy (Edgar Flores) is a Mexican gang member on the run after a turn of events puts his life in danger.  Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is a Honduran teenager whose only dream is that she can make it to be with her family in New Jersey.  As Willy and Sayra come closer to their goal, they also come closer to the danger it presents itself with.  From start to finish, this is just a mesmerizing film.  For most of us in America, we can never imagine what the rest of the world would do to be where we are, and this film brings that all in and puts it into place.  It represents the immigrant struggle in a way that I’ve never seen put on film before, and it does the one thing that you most want a film to do: it touches your heart.  A

Life After People
Available on Blu-ray

So what happens to the Earth after we are gone?  This History Channel special takes a look at the various stages of life on Earth, days, years, decades, and centuries after mankind has left the planet.  Unless humans just disappear suddenly and completely, I’d have to disagree with the first part of the show, but the theories about what the world would look like are truly fascinating.  B

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Eli Roth
Directed by Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill)
Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+

    Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist history fantasia follows a group of Jewish soldiers that are sent into German-occupied France during World War II with one mission: kill as many Nazis as possible.  Led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Pitt), they set off through France leaving a blood-soaked trail of Nazi corpses in their wake. 

    Many words can be used to describe Tarantino’s work.  Creative.  Original.  Funny.  Ultra-violent.  Warped.  Engaging.  Inglourious Basterds is each one of these and more. 

    It is by far his most innovative piece to date, and that is saying a lot.  Without giving anything away, he takes many of the most famous Nazi figures and gives them alternative directions in true fantasy fashion.  It’s a “what if” of the highest order, that gives the audience not only a sense of revenge fulfillment, but a satisfaction that you rarely get from a movie nowadays. 

    As for performances, Pitt is really on his game here as Raine with yet another wonderful weird character to bolster his resume.  He has proven time and time again that he can add unique flavor to a character better than anyone in Hollywood.  He may not be the best dramatic actor in town, but with his performances in films like Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club, Snatch, and Burn After Reading, I’d put him up as the best comedic/quirky actor of our generation.

    Another standout performance is that of Christoph Waltz, who plays Col. Hans Landa, better known as “The Jew Hunter.”  I’m sure that the part is one of the best written villains in recent memory, but it was also masterfully acted by this relatively unknown thespian.  Having won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival will most likely give him a strong edge going into this year’s Oscar race. 

    So was there anything wrong with the film?  I think there are always a few of Tarantino’s idiosyncrasies that bug me, although I must admit that many of them grow on me over time.  First off, his music choices are just a little too much for me at first.  Also, he likes to take his time in some of the scenes.  For example, when the “Jewish Bear,” played by Eli Roth, makes his first appearance with his bat, it feels like minutes of listening to the bat hitting a tunnel before he appears.  The tension grows, but the tension would have been there with half the time cut out also.  Such a long wait just adds either comedy or annoyance.  Again, these types of things become enduring on film revisits. 

    I feel I must warn that there is an extreme amount of gory violence here, so if you are squeamish you might want to check out a nicer film.  As for me, this is the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year, and if you don’t mind a little Nazi killin’, you might just come out thinking the same.  A

New on DVD

New on DVD

Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This semi-autobiographical tale from writer/director Greg Mottola (Superbad) tells the story of a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) who is forced to work in a 1980’s amusement park for the summer when his parents can’t afford to send him to Europe with his best friend.  While there, he falls for one of the other employees (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart), who in turn is love with a married man (Ryan Reynolds).  The film works as both a touching coming-of-age comedy and as a nostalgic look back at a time that many people might like to forget about.  If you are looking for Superbad-funny, you won’t get it, but it has its moments, and turns out to be a quite likable ride.  B+

Rudo y Cursi
Rated R pervasive language, sexual content, and brief drug use
In Spanish with English subtitles
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna reteam in this comedy about two brothers that leave their family in rural Mexico and join opposing professional soccer clubs.  To say the film is silly and over-the-top is an understatement.  I think had the movie been taken a little more serious it could have worked as a family drama, sports film, and still kept a comedic flair, but as is, the movie just kind of falls flat.  While the two actors gave it their all and obviously had terrific chemistry, the story didn’t serve them well.  C

Sunshine Cleaning
Rated R for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are two desperate sisters that create a crime scene cleanup business to make some cash.  Going where very few are willing to go, they take on some disgusting yet fulfilling work that also manages to pull up some buried memories.  The studio tried to sell this is a dramedy, or black comedy, but there is very little funny to be found here, aside from a creepy cleanup or two.  So even though Alan Arkin is in it, don’t expect get big laughs.  The drama does work though and the performances are solid.  I’m not too sure on the decisions of the characters, or the director for that matter, but the movie is enjoyable, and moreover – it is interesting.  Check out the special feature “A Fresh Look at a Dirty Business” which takes a look at what it’s really like to be in the crime scene cleanup biz.  B-

Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are two ex-spies that team up to try to clean house on two opposing American companies run by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti.  Something about this film just never feels right.  Writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) fails to excite the audience at any point, but rather just confuses to submission.  OK.  So everyone’s dirty.   We get the point.  I don’t see any justification for dragging it on for over two excruciating hours.  The banter between Owens and Roberts just sits there and bores.  If you really want to see the two of them go at it, check out the Mike Nichols flick Closer, which will make you actually believe that the two of them are scorned lovers.  This chemistry pales in comparison.  The only thing I really enjoyed in this film is the amazing opening credit sequence featuring a highly stylized fight between Giamatti and Wilkinson.  D+

Rated PG-13 for intense fight sequences, some sexuality and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When New York City street hustler Terrence Howard sees the fighting skills of Channing Tatum, he takes him on as an agent and enters him into dangerous, underground, high-stakes fights.  The premise might not be the best, but the film isn’t all that bad as it delivers some pretty good fight sequences and a decent life-on-the-streets vibe.  Tatum and Howard both play off each other well, although much of the film seems too convenient and contrived.  A more organic feel would have helped the film tremendously.  C

New on DVD

New on DVD

The Last House on the Left
Rated R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Warning: This review contains limited spoilers.
This remake of the not-so-great 70’s John Carpenter film follows an escaped convict and his gang as they kidnap two girls when they don’t know what else to do with them.  Upon believing that both girls are dead, the gang ends up at one of the girl’s houses where the parents must systematically find a way to take them all out.  This is a violent, disturbing, and sickening film that didn’t have to be what it was.  The acting here is first rate with terrific performances by Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter and Garret Dillahunt, but the acting and believability are not the problem here.  First off, the rape scene could have merely been implied rather than graphically shown.  This would have still added the emotional punch in the gut intended without the need to vomit during the film.  Secondly, the tail end of the movie was out of place and a little silly.  Sorry, but I’d prefer a good climactic death scene to torture any day of the week.  If the filmmakers weren’t so determined to make the audience uncomfortable, they might have had a bigger one to watch the movie to begin with.  C+

Hannah Montana: The Movie
Rated G
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When celebrity life becomes too much for Miley Stewart (aka Hannah Montana), her father decides it’s time to take her back to the Tennessee farm to get a dose of reality.  For me, this was worse torture than The Last House on the Left.  To be fair, I am obviously not the target audience.  It’s not that there’s not talent here.  I can fully appreciate all of the hype.  I’m sure girls and maybe even families will love this movie and watch and enjoy it numerous times.  I just hope that I’m not around when it happens.  C

District 9

District 9

Starring Sharlto Copley
Directed by Neil Blomkamp
Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language
Appropriate for ages 15+

    Twenty years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa, a giant space ship parked itself above the city.  After several months of not knowing why it was there, humans decided to cut their way in to see what was inside.  What they found were a million malnourished alien drones without any form of central leadership.  Without a home to go to, the government took it upon themselves to set up a refugee camp for the aliens directly below the ship.  But over the last twenty years, their numbers have vastly increased, and so have the tensions with the human population.  When Wikus Van De Merwe (Copley) is charged with peacefully evicting the massive population of dangerous aliens, he comes across a secret that will have a deep effect on both the human and alien races. 

    Original film making is so hard to find and this is truly one of the most original films in years.  The movie looks like an incredibly expensive studio film, but in reality, it is a $30 million pseudo-independent pic, produced by none other than Peter Jackson.  Regardless, the effects are truly eye-popping, with a world that actually looks like humans and insect-like aliens co-exist together.  So just for the aesthetics alone, this is a stunning picture.

    But the film is so much more than effects.  The script toys with social issues like apartheid and morality, and then switches into full action modes seamlessly.  What could have been a preachy sci-fi film only hits days after you’ve had time to reflect.  After all, it’s hard to dwell on racism and social injustices too long when you are being so thoroughly entertained.

    As for the acting, I find it hard to believe that this is Copley’s first feature film as he is remarkable throughout.  I can’t imagine a A-lister that could have turned in a better performance in this role. 

    Likewise, this is writer/director Neil Blomkamp’s first feature as well, and he performs like a seasoned veteran.  Hollywood could have butchered a movie like this had they gotten their hands on it, and we are truly fortunate as an audience to see his vision come to life here, untainted by outside hands.

    My strongest desire is that this movie makes a killing at the box office.  I hope that if films like District 9 and The Hangover succeed, that a strong message would be sent to the powers that be that there is an audience that wants smart, original material and will pay good money to see it.  A

New on DVD

New on DVD

The Class
Rated PG-13 for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
French with English Subtitles

This winner of the 2008 Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival and Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film follows the life of a French teach in Paris as he guides his young students in class over the period of a school year.  The style feels like a documentary, but is really just an amazingly acted, thoughtful, and powerful drama that shows not only what life is like in a French school, but also the consequences of one’s decisions, no matter how small they may seem when made.  I absolutely loved this film, and had I seen it last year when it was released in theaters, it would have been in my top 10.  It makes me wish I had made more time in my schedule for sure.  A

I Love You, Man
Rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When Paul Rudd gets engaged, he discovers that he really doesn’t have any male friends worthy of being called a best man.  So he sets out on a mission to find a best friend through a series of man dates and develops a bromance with a crazy bachelor played by Jason Segel.  Watching this film again brought back to memory how funny this movie really is.  Not only is the premise pretty darn brilliant, but they follow through with terrific writing and performances as well.  The disc contains some very funny deleted and extended scenes, but you can stay clear of the gag reel.  A-

17 Again
Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material and teen partying
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When Matthew Perry finds that he regrets the decisions he has made in life, he jumps into a vortex and comes out as Zac Efron, a younger version of himself, ready to do it all over again.  The first act just plain stinks, but the film does get going once the second kicks in and I even found myself laughing on several occasions.  Stealing the show was sidekick Thomas Lennon who you might know from Reno 911.  You don’t know where he’s coming from at first, but by the end he manages to take you by surprise and I found that he provided by far the most laughs.  The DVD is bare-boned, but the blu-ray has tons of special features including a nice segment where the castmates recount their own teen years.  B-

Flight of the Conchords: Season 2
Available on DVD

In this season two of HBO’s cult classic musical comedy, the two boys from New Zealand had a challenge: how to do it all over again.  After all, it took them years to write much of the music for the first season, and for the second, they only had less than a year.  So OK, the tunes weren’t as good, but in my mind, the comedy was better.  It definitely was more creative.  Whether it be charity for epileptic dogs or a crazy parody of West Side Story, this was another great season from Bret and Jemaine.  I just hope that with that ending, they weren’t trying to say goodbye to TV.  That would truly give me hurt feelings.  A

Alien Trespass
Rated PG for sci-fi action and brief historical smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Eric McCormack stars in this loving parody of 1950’s alien invasion films such as The Blob and It Came from Outer Space.  In the film, a craft has crashed in a small town and the local astronomer has been possessed by an alien trying to save the planet from a hideous monster.  This film is not for everyone and certainly wasn’t for me.  I think that there is an audience that will really appreciate the humor and the way the genre was preserved, but most will probably wonder what the heck they just rented or bought.  C-

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia

Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci
Directed by Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail)
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sensuality
Appropriate for ages 10+

    A young modern-day woman named Julie (Adams) is tired of her life not having meaning, so she decides to start a blog that will lead her through every recipe of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child in a year’s time.  Simultaneously, the movie explores the life of Julia Child (Streep) through her memoir My Life in France.

    As you can tell from the description, this film is made up of two very different stories, told at the same time.  This makes for an interesting approach to the script for a couple of reasons.  First, it shows the modern day obsession with cooking and then the person responsible for making cooking popular on television.  Secondly, the story of Julie alone would not have been enough to tell a compelling story, especially for a feature length film.  The addition of the Julia Child storyline was much needed in order to make the film interesting enough to sit through. 

    A mutualistic relationship is not seen here though.  It probably goes without saying that while Julie needs the Julia tale, the story of Julia would have been just fine without Julie.  In fact it would have probably been better.  It’s not that the modern tale is bad – it’s just that it pales in comparison.  The performance by Adams is good enough, and while the strain in the relationship with her husband was a little forced, and some of her stresses were overly dramatic, it’s still bearable.  The memorable part of the movie, however, is the world of Julia Child in 1950s France.  The performance by Streep could very well earn her another Oscar nom and I have to admit that I ran right out to buy the book, and well, let’s just say I devoured it.  Every part of the French story was entertaining and enthralling.

    My sincere hope is that this film finds an audience as it is not a pic made for your typical movie-goer.  If you consider yourself a food lover, travel lover, or a Streep lover, this is a must see film and will most likely make you a very satisfied customer.  A-

Legislators for Sale

    While this is a movie blog, I figure that since my day job is in health care, I can occasionally throw in something fascinating when I see it. 

    I don’t mind that people do or do not want a public health care plan, as long as they know why and they desire to learn all of the facts.  I hate that so many folks, especially in the conservative movement, sheepishly do what they are told, thinking that it is for their best interest, even when it is not.  This is insane.  I knew that an argument such as “the public health care plan wants to kill all the old people” would have to arise just because stupid arguments like this work so well on the weak-minded.  I don’t know for sure that the new plans being proposed are in this country’s best interest, but I want to hear the debate – not listen to closed-minded ignorant people that should be keeping their mouths closed.  A discussion needs to take place, but it’s hard to discuss when ears and minds aren’t open. 

    I do find it very interesting that supposedly the government can’t run anything well, but yet the managed care organizations are spending millions upon millions of dollars to keep them from even having a chance to try.  What are they scared of?  If the government really can’t do a good job, then it will fail, or maybe they know something we don’t…

    The following is from Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.  Some call him a liberal.  He calls himself an American.  I could care less.  I just think he has some very valid points.  Some very scary points also.


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Funny People

Funny People

Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, and Adam Sandler
Directed by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up)
Rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality
Appropriate for ages 18+

    When famous actor/comedian George Simmons (Sandler) discovers that he has a terminal illness, he takes a young comedian under his wing (Rogen).  As his condition worsens, he faces the harsh reality that he doesn’t really have any friends or anyone to love.  But as his condition improves, he must decide if the lessons he thought he had learned were really that important. 

    Upon hearing that Judd Apatow was going to make a film about comedy, I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do with it.  Then I heard that he was bringing lymphoma into it and I had to do a double take.  How can you make that funny?  The answer is you can’t.  Even when visiting the doctor, and Sandler and Rogen are trying to joke with the European physician, there is such an air of discomfort that it is hard to laugh without a tear trying to make its way out.  The fact is, this film is very funny, but because of the gravity of both the illness and Simmons trying to deal with his wasted life, the laughs aren’t big, but rather more heartfelt and emotional. 

    Each of the performances here is really terrific, especially Sandler’s.  I didn’t think he could top Punch Drunk Love, and I’m still not certain he did, but he really knocks this one out of the park and Rogen comes in right behind him.  It was also great to see Leslie Mann get a chance to be in a less light-hearted role as well.

    As it happened with 40-Year-Old-Virgin and Knocked Up, as well as countless other hits he has produced over the last few years, the real star here is Apatow who seems to have put together an almost perfect combination of drama and comedy with a huge dose of reality.  It also helps that not only is his writing as strong as ever, but his directing and storytelling skills are maturing.    I’m sure we’ll see a lot more silliness coming from him in the future, but surprises like this are always welcome.

    The only weak links in the film are a couple of sequences involving Andy Dick, and then Eminem and Ray Romano that felt really out of place and should have been left out of the film entirely, and instead should have been positioned prominently on the DVD special features.  A-