Once – A Musical For Folks Who Hate Musicals


Starring Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova
Rated R for language
Appropriate for ages 15+
Release Date: December 18, 2007

This little independent film from Ireland took the world by storm this year.  Many of you probably made the trip to Houston to catch it, but just in case you didn’t, the DVD is finally here.  The story revolves around a street singer in Dublin that falls in love with a young immigrant woman.  The two take a musical journey as they write songs and record an album.  The relationship is sweet, but the music makes this film very special.  Glenn Hansard, the lead singer of The Frames, puts on one of the best performances of the year in this little indie that could.  Warning: I have not spoke with anyone that has seen this film and didn’t buy the soundtrack afterwards.  The tunes here provide what could be the best album of 2007. 

I Am Legend – Some Alone Time

I Am Legend     B-

Starring Will Smith
Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Appropriate for ages 15+

The Story: A virus developed through cancer research kills off over 90% of the world’s population.  Those who are immune fall into two groups: normal humans and night stalking zombies.  Will Smith is a Doctor researching this disease at ground zero: Manhattan.  He is the only normal person left on the island and must hide himself every night so that he is not killed by the creatures that he is trying to save through his research.  Alone with only his dog, a German Shepherd named Sam, he looks for food and survivors by dawn, and fears for his life at dusk. 

The Good: The first half of the film is absolutely horrifying.  Almost too much so.  The isolation, combined with impending doom makes this a difficult film to stomach at first.  While Smith is charismatic and the relationship with his dog sustains most of the picture, you still find yourself scared silly.  In this regard, the film is very successful.  Also, the special effects with the destruction and isolation of New York are very impressive. 

The Bad: I don’t wish to be the one to give anything away, but the film goes downhill fast after the climactic scene.  Smith’s character slips into a depression and the film follows right behind him.  It’s no longer a fun monster movie, but rather a serious bummer.  While it may be true to the original novel, that still doesn’t make the film fun to watch. 

I don’t want to sit back and compare Will Smith films, but the Zombies in this pic were too similar to the robots in I, Robot, especially in their body movements.  I wish they would have gone with more organic looking creatures, maybe not Romeroesque, but at least something that resembles the humans the creatures used to be. 

Also of note, the trailer has a great scene where Smith is standing between the monsters as they snarl at him.  That scene is nowhere to be found in the film and I found that to be a very distracting omission. 

While there have been many movies with this same basic premise, I enjoyed Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later much more.  It’s just as bleak, but overall it is a much more effective horror flick.

The Summary: While scary at first, the film dies shortly after it gets going.

Beta vs VHS – And the Winner Is…

The New Frontier

Unless you are living in the Stone Age, you have probably seen a huge amount of discussion concerning Hi Definition televisions and what they have to offer.  There is no longer the question of “should I buy a Hi-Def set”, but rather “should i buy plasma or LCD?” 

The more pressing question, though, is “Should I buy a Blu-ray player or HD-DVD?”  If you’ve been shopping electronics the last six months you’ve no doubt seen both formats lying around and history repeating itself.  When home entertainment was first conceived, we had to choose between the VHS format and the Beta format.  While most considered Beta to be far superior, VHS ultimately won the battle and is only now pretty much phased out.  So which one of these new discs do you want to replace your DVD collection?  That depends.  I’d have to say both and neither.  Now don’t worry, DVDs will still be in for some time, so don’t throw away your old discs quite yet.  If you have a nice Hi-Def television, both formats look and sound fantastic.  There is a clear difference between 1080 resolution and the traditional 480 that DVD offers.  Blu-ray has the advantage of offering titles from Sony, Disney, and Fox.  HD DVD offers Paramount and Universal.  Both offer Warner Brothers.  There isn’t really a difference in quality, but Blu-ray might have an advantage in the future with a higher potential storage capacity.  HD DVD players, which you can find for just over $200 now, run about half of the price of Blu-ray, but both are coming down drastically to compete.  For a pretty penny, you can even buy a player that does both formats.  My advice, if you must have one or the other, or both, get them with a game system.  The Xbox 360 offers a HD DVD add-on for less than $200 that comes with the movie King Kong.  The Playstation 3 comes equipped with Blu-ray and includes Spiderman 3 and costs a mere $400.  Unlike the Wii gaming system by Nintendo, both of these units are easy to obtain at your local retailer.  Something else to remember: Hi Def discs can cost almost twice as much as regular DVDs.  Let me suggest going to amazon.com for your purchases as they are much less expensive.  Also, netflix offers both formats for rental.  As I stated before, don’t go replacing your collections yet, as I am pretty sure that neither format will have a huge shelf life.  Just like music has gone the way of the internet, I see movies doing the same thing.  You can already rent Hi Def movies through pay-per-view, but I think in the very near future, services like itunes and amazon will give you the ability to wirelessly stream 1080 content from your computer to your TV without the need of a disc collection.  With space being such a luxury, I think that this could be the wave of the future and the shelves of movies collecting lining your living rooms will be a thing of the past. 

But how about right now?  If you either own Blu-ray or HD DVD already, or are buying for someone who does, here are my top five picks for each.


1) Planet Earth – This Discovery Channel special is spectacular to look at and will probably be the DVD most used to show off your system to friends.
2) Bladerunner – (Five Disc Collector’s Edition) More than you’ll ever want to know about this cult sci-fi classic.
3) The Ultimate Matrix Collection – All three films with tons of extras.
4) Pride and Prejudice – you just brought home Matrix and Bladerunner – prove to your wife that the HD really is worth it with this beautiful movie.  You’ll love the look and sound – she’ll think your extra sensitive.  Win-win. 
5) Transformers – Robots in disguise look amazing in HD. 

1) Planet Earth – available in both formats!
2) Bladerunner (Five Disc Collector’s Edition) – also available in both formats!
3) Ratatouille – You gotta get this new Disney classic.
4) The Fifth Element – The colors are rich and the sound is out of this world!
5) Superbad – So many great special features and tons of fun to watch. 

The Golden Compass – Kingdom of Confusion

Starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards
Directed by Chris Weitz (About a Boy)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: In a parallel universe to our own, a young girl named Lyra (Richards) travels to the north to rescue her friend.  While on the run from her captor (Kidman) she befriends an ice bear and unearths a plot to kidnap and reprogram children.

The Good: It appears that Newline spared no expense for the special effects budget of this film.  The look of the film is absolutely stunning and at times a joy to view.  As a lover of polar bears, I especially enjoyed the Kingdom of the Ice Bears and the scenes in the North.  I also found the daemons a very imaginative group of characters.

The Bad: I am still not sure what this story is about.  It’s a mess that makes no sense.  There is something about Dust and the ability to visit other universes, but this is never fully revealed. 
I was quite shocked that the movie is so incomplete.  They left it wide open with zero closure or resolution.  This could be a huge mistake if the film doesn’t make enough money to warrant a sequel.  Time will tell. 
Also, forget about the Catholic church and the controversy they are stirring up.  I didn’t see anything particularly objectionable and wonder if Newline is publicizing their comments in order to bring the film into the public eye. 

The Summary: This is a classic case of eye candy that doesn’t taste too good. 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Dirty Harry

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, and Imelda Staunton
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Release Date: December 11, 2007

The book series may be complete, but there are still two more movies and a lot of Hogwarts excitement to go around.  This fifth movie in the series is a well-crafted film about Harry and his rebellion against the Ministry of Magic when they refuse to believe that Voldemort is back in action.  While most of the usual suspects like Hermione and Ron have been sentenced to supporting roles for the sake of time, the performance of new evil headmaster Umbridge is beautifully played by Imelda Staunton and she steals every scene she is in.  This two-disc set has some hits and misses.  The deleted scenes should have been vanished, but there is an editing section that teaches you about film making and then allows you to edit your own scene.  You also get a chance to follow Tonks around the studio in order to discover how Harry comes to life. 

No Country For Old Men – The Texas Airgun Massacre

No Country For Old Men     A-

Starring Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo)
Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: When a hunter (Brolin) stumbles upon a heroine deal gone bad in West Texas, he grabs the bag of money left on the scene and heads out of town.  Unfortunately for him, a sociopath that loves to kill (Bardem) is hot on his trail. 

The Good: The Coen Brothers have always told their own stories, so to see them take on this novel by Cormac McCarthy is very different for them.  If you hadn’t read the book, or at least known the source, though, you would have thought it was their tale.  As a pseudo-narrator and sometimes participant, Tommy Lee Jones provides for a laid back view of the evil that men do, but the real power here lies behind Javier Bardem – the killer with the chili-bowl haircut.  Bardem is one of the scariest villains since Hannibal Lecter and I will predict that many a trophy will be added to his mantle come awards time.  For the first 90 minutes of this film, I was certain that I was watching the best film of the year. 

The Bad: It’s not that the third act is a disappointment, but there is an artistic choice made here that took me out of the film.  I won’t reveal the ending, and I’m not sure if they were just trying to be true to the source material, but the brothers Coen make a decision that I second guess.  I’m sure that they really don’t care if I act as a backseat driver here, but I’m also sure many will wish that this fantastic film could have ended on a different note.  Imagine, if you will, that you are on an amazing vacation.  One for the ages.  Then, on the last day – you are mugged.  No matter what transpired before, the trip is tainted.  That’s the feeling No Country gave me.

The Summary: Regardless of the strangely uncharacteristic third act, No Country for Old Men remains a powerful and horrifying psychological thriller. 

Superbad – Bloody Brilliant Coming Of Age Comedy

Superbad 2-Disc Unrated Extended Edition

Starring Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Seth Rogen
Unrated for excessive language and sexual situations
Appropriate for ages 17+
Release Date: December 4, 2007

Two friends attempt to score liquor for their high school graduation party in the the hope of possibly hooking up with their respective dream girls.  One bad incident follows another and the two end up on an absurd adventure that they will never forget.  This huge sleeper hits DVD this week with a phenomenal two-disc unrated set.  Caution to the young and easily offended: there is some really raunchy stuff on this disc, even more so than in the raunch-filled R rated theatrical release.  The second disc proves to be almost as funny as the first, containing tons of extras like a Taxi Cab Confessions spoof titled Cop Car Confessions and Everyone Hates Michael Cera – The Unfortunate True Story.  Also included is a junket meltdown that looks a little too real to be faked.  All in all, I laughed hard for almost four straight hours with this set.  If laughter really is the best medicine – this DVD could cure cancer. 

Enchanted – An Adult Fairytale That Kids Will Enjoy

Enchanted     A-

Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, and Susan Sarandon
Directed by Kevin Lima (Tarzan)
Rated PG for some scary images and mild innuendo
Appropriate for all ages

The Story: Cartoon princess Giselle (Adams) is as happy as she can be.  She has met her prince Edward (Marsden) and they are to marry.  The queen/witch (Sarandon) has other plans however, and casts the simple princess into the real life world of New York City.  When a young attorney (Dempsey) rescues her thinking that she is just a pretty young woman that has lost her marbles, it is up to the prince to head to New York and rescue her before he loses her. 

The Good: The first half of this film is just pure joy.  Every minute will make you smile and laugh and cry.  There are some very memorable moments here that can only be described as brilliant.  I am so glad that Amy Adams is finally starting to make a name for herself (you might remember her from her Oscar nominated role in Junebug).  She is so perfect for Giselle that you can almost feel that she might be a real princess trapped in a New York wonderland.  The rest of the cast performs solidly as well and the production is top notch.
One of the best aspects of this film is it’s appeal for adults.  Because of the real human (and animal) nature presented here, the tale has an adult feel that is still kid-friendly.  The innuendo will escape most young minds and make most grown-ups laugh wickedly. 

The Bad: I have a feeling that Disney had a great premise but couldn’t figure out how to get the story to end right.  Sarandon’s queen/witch/dragon wasn’t convincing and pretty nonsensical.  Because of this ending dilemma, the film drags a bit and then ends after a confusing finale.  But never fear, even with this problem, you will still walk out of the theater with a smile on your face.

The Summary: Disney knocks yet another fairytale out of the park.

Hitman – Misses By A Mile

Hitman     D+

Starring Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, and Olga Kurylenko
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: A trained-from-birth assassin finds himself in a pickle when a confirmed dead target turns up alive.  Since he is the scapegoat, he attempts to go after the people that have set him up in order to make a cleaner escape from the authorities possible. 

The Good: If you are fans of the game, you might enjoy this minor thrill ride.  There is lots of violence and nudity which might excite the target audience appropriately.  Olyphant, while not as good as usual, is still fun to watch for most of the film and gives his all to make this another Bourne Identity. 

The Bad: The acting by the rest of the cast is simply atrocious.  Of course the script doesn’t help the film’s cause.  The writing and directing are both novice and make this film very forgettable.  It might have helped to give the hero a real back story, rather than a jumbled montage opening credit sequence, but overall, this film is pretty much an unfixable mess from the start.

The Summary: This video game based pic should get assassinated at the box office.

Stephen King’s The Mist – Fear of the Fog

The Mist     A-

Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Toby Jones
Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
Rated R for violence, terror and gore, and language
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: The day after a major storm, a mist rolls into a small New England town.  Collecting post-storm supplies, many of the townsfolk find themselves trapped in a grocery store after they discover that there are deadly creatures in the mist that kill those that might venture outside. 

The Good: You want scary?  You got it here.  Both psychologically and physically frightening, The Mist delivers big chills and keeps the goosebumps a’bumpin.  While the monsters are truly terrifying, much of the frights arise from the dialogue of the great Darabont screenplay.  The ensemble acting by the entire cast is very good and the directing is just what you would expect from someone such as Darabont trying to make a horror flick. 

The Bad: Earlier this week, Stephen King commented “Frank wrote a new ending that I loved.  It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last 5 minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.”  That being said, the end of this film is super bleak.  Many will not like it.  I won’t give it away, but will merely say that it is very disturbing and sickening.  I guess it’s just what the King ordered. 

The Summary: This pic is scary enough to make you think twice before setting foot in the fog again.