Friday, November 21, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - 2 1/2 stars

Bruno is an eight year old boy living in Berlin during World War II. His father is a high ranking Nazi officer who is given a new job as commandant of a concentration camp. When the family moves to a house near the camp, Bruno starts a friendship with a boy who is a prisoner in the camp.

When Bruno first sees the camp thru his window, he thinks its a farm. He asks why the workers are all wearing pajamas. When he is exploring and gets to the camp, he meets eight year old Shmuel. Shmuel seems to be as in the dark as Bruno. He doesn't really know where he is or why he is there.

Bruno sneaks out to the camp every so often to see Shmuel, bring him food, and play checkers. He also notices the way his father and the other soldiers treat Pavel, a Jew who is the family's butler / gardener / slave. The movie could have been more interesting if Bruno had asked more questions, but he remains in relative ignorance for the entire movie. He sees the soldiers beat Pavel but he never asks his father about it.

The movie has one hell of a downer of an ending. Its a holocaust movie so you should go in expecting some horrors, but you won't see where this movie is going. I gave it 2 1/2 stars because it wasn't as good as it should have been. Its a great idea to do a holocaust movie thru a child's eyes, but it didn't work for me (except the end).

Twilight - 2 stars

I went in to see Twilight with no expectations. I haven't read the books, so I know very little about the movie. I knew it was about a girl who goes to high school with a boy who turns out to be a vampire. And they fall in love. That's about all I knew.

The premise is very interesting. Edward (Robert Pattinson) is part of a family of vampires (the Cullens), and like Louis in Interview With the Vampire, he doesn't like killing people. Remember when Louie only killed rats? Well, Edward kills deer and drinks their blood. He wants to drink human blood, but he is a 'good' vampire, so he resists. His family does the same. They are the vegitarians of the vampire world.

For some reason the vampire teens go to high scool. They've been doing this for many years. We don't find out how long the others have been vampires, but Edward has been immortal since 1918. That's a lot of school. He says the younger they start, the longer they can stay in one place. I guess that means they go to high school for a few years, graduate, then go to a new town and start all over.

Now, why would they go to high school? They keep to themselves so its not like they really enjoy hanging out with high school kids. I guess it would make them smart. Consider if you could do high school over and over and over ... you would eventually know everything (on a high school level, anyway). Personally, I would go to college over and over. Have you read a college class schedule lately? There are hundreds of subjects you could take. You would never get bored. Plus, you could just audit the class so you wouldn't have to stress about homework.

Anyway, Bella (Kristen Stewart) just moved to the town of Fork, Washington. Its overcast all the time, which makes it convenient for vampires since, you know, its the actual sunlight that kills them, not the UV radiation that gets thru the clouds. Oh but wait, sunlight doesn't kill them. It doesn't even hurt them. It just makes them all shiny like they rubbed Lindsay Funke's diamond cream all over their bodies.

Bella meets Edward and falls in love with him. He wants to kill her and drink her blood, but he resists. Edward takes her home to meet his family. They also want to kill her and drink her blood but they also resist. The first hour and a half of the movie is about Bella and Edward and him trying not to kill her.

An hour and a half in, we finally get some plot. There are 'bad' vampires who have no problem killing humans and drinking their blood. They meet the Cullens and Bella, and one of the vampires (James) decides he wants to kill Bella. The family protects her and the bad vampires leave, but the Cullens know James will be back. Even though there are plenty of other humans, James specifically wants Bella. I think Edward offended James in some way, and James wants to kill Bella just to hurt Edward, thought I'm not sure about that.

In any event, the movie finally gets exciting when the Cullens think of ways to protect Bella, and James starts chasing after her. We are told what a good tracker James is, and I started thinking about Sarah Conner trying to run and hide from the Terminator. The movie could get really good. Unfortunately, it only lasts about 10 minutes and its over. I really wish they could have shortened the first 2 acts and lengthened the 3rd act. The pursuit stuff could have been much better.

I will say that Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart had great chemistry together, and they both gave great performances. I also liked Billy Burke as Bella's father. He provided the only moments of humor in the movie.

I think fans of the book will love this, but it did nothing for me. I was mildly entertained, but if it weren't for all they hype, I would have forgotten about this movie by now.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quantum of Solace review

Quantum of Solace - 3 stars

Last night I saw Quantum of Solace, and I am still trying to make up my mind about it. Its easy to say it isn't as good as Casino Royale. But is it fair to compare it to the best James Bond movie in the entire history of James Bond movies? Casino Royale is a Bond movie for grown-ups. The older movies were simple: cool gadgets, hot women, over-the-top villains, and clues that wouldn't be out of place in Scooby Doo. Remember Moonraker? Bond is searching a deserted warehouse, and luckily the bad guys dropped a patch that said 'Drax Space Administration' or something like that. Wow, that was sure easy, wasn't it?

What did I like about Quantum of Solace? First of all, its a direct sequel to Casino Royale. It picks up less than an hour after Casino Royale ended. I don't know why they've never done that before. Each movie is contained in its own universe. Once in a while they would reference his dead wife, but that was about it. Whatever girl he ended up with, she was nowhere to be found in the next movie. Same with supporting characters. Joe Don Baker's Jack Wade character showing up in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies was a rare exception. Even if Felix Leiter was in two movies in a row, he was played by two different actors (John Terry in The Living Daylights and David Hedison in License to Kill).

And don't get me started on the problems with the Blofeld storyline. First Bond meets him in You Only Live Twice (played by Donald Pleasence), then meets him again in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (this time played by Telly Savalas). But Blofeld doesn't recognize Bond, and vice versa. Is this supposed to be a prequel to YOLT? In Diamonds Are Forever Blofeld is played by Charles Gray, and at least this time the characters seem to have a history. Not sure if their history is from YOLT or OHMSS.

If you remember, Casino Royale ended with Bond's girlfriend Vesper Lynd killing herself. Thanks to a text from Vesper, Bond was able to track down the man (or one of the men) responsible for blackmailing Vesper - Mr. White. Quantum of Solace begins with Bond driving Mr. White somewhere where they can talk. Bond wants revenge, and he wants to know who Mr. White works for. Before he can be interrogated, he escapes and we are off on another chase / fight sequence.

There are some cool action scenes in this movie, but they are all edited by Michael Bay. Ok, not that bad - but still, I really wish they would give us an action sequence where the shots lasted longer than 1/16 of a second. Give me a wide shot and let the action play out. There is no reason for the stunt team to get a fight sequence down if they are just going to edit the hell out of it. I was really paying attention and I still couldn't tell what was going on. You get no sense of geography with that kind of editing.

I also felt like Daniel Craig didn't get as much to do in this movie. It seemed like in this movie he had half as many lines as he had in Casino Royale. CR made people say "Daniel Craig is the best actor to portray James Bond." This movie won't make anyone say that. George Lazenby could have played this part.

Back to what I did like about this movie. Judi Dench has more screen time than she did in the last movie, which is always good. Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis) is fantastic. The scene at the opera where we discover more about Quantum is very cool. And I am starting to like Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter) more and more. I hope he gets more to do in the next movie. Mathieu Amalric is also very good as the villain. He isn't trying to take over the Earth, just control the water supply for Bolivia. He is very good in this movie. He has very creepy eyes.

I am still looking forward to the next movie. They have laid the groundwork for more Bond adventures, and I like the idea of Quantum as the new version of SPECTRE. We haven't heard from SPECTRE since the 60's, and instead of a new villain every movie, I like having one big group of evildoers to fight. But in the next movie, Bond needs to lighten up.

Oh, and I hope they don't bring Q back. Desmond Llewelyn was Q, and with him gone, there can be no other. As much as I love John Cleese, he is not Q. They should retire that character. If they want to bring Moneypenny back, I'm ok with that.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Opening in SLC theaters today

Role Models - 3 stars

The first 10 - 15 minutes of setup was kind of boring. There aren't many laughs until Jane Lynch shows up and the kids are introduced. Then it gets good. One thing that I liked about the movie is that of the two lead characters, Seann William Scott is the more responsible of the two. Paul Rudd isn't exactly a moron, but SWS is the one who is usually trying to talk some sense into Rudd.

It was nice to see Christopher Mintz-Plasse in another role. But I didn't enjoy his performance in this nearly as much as in Superbad. To be fair, its pretty difficult to top McLovin. And the other kid, Bobb'e J. Thompson, was hilarious. Some people don't like to hear kids swear, but I think there is nothing funnier. The kid has a dirty mouth and a dirtier mind. Good stuff.

Soul Men - 3 stars

I liked it more than I probably should. Its not too original - a road movie crossed with Grumpy Old Men. But Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson are so good together. Roger Ebert said a formula plot works if you're laughing at the plot and not noticing the formula. He actually said that in his review for Role Models, and I think it applies even more to this movie. If the movie weren't as funny as it is, I would be bashing it for being so predictable. But I laughed so much I hardly noticed it.

Happy-Go-Lucky - 3 stars

I'm starting to hate the star rating system. I liked all 3 of these movies, so I gave them 3 stars. But this one is different than the other two. Its funny in places, but its more of a drama. Where the other 2 movies followed a typical formula, this one is definitely without formula. There is not much of a narrative thread to it. Its simply a day in the life of a character named 'Poppy' (or a week in the life, or a month, whatever).

Poppy is eternally optimistic. When her bike is stolen, she shrugs it off. When people are mean to her, it doesn't seem to phase her. She just makes a joke out of it and tries to cheer the other person up. When she meets a crazy homeless man, she isn't too worried. She listens to his rambling and tries to have a conversation with him.

I liked this movie a lot up until the end. Its not a terrible ending, but the tone shifts from light hearted to very serious. I can't knock it too much, since it was true to the characters, and it helps Poppy to learn how easily it can be for people to misread her intentions. There are great performances, and I am hoping Sally Hawkins gets an Oscar nomination for her work here.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (not reviewed)

Sorry, I wasn't able to see it. Let me guess what my review would be - good for kids, a few jokes adults will like, but you will mostly be bored by it. At least its only an hour and a half long. How did I do?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Its ... Monty Python's Flying Circus ... again!

On November 18th, A&E Home Video will release a new collector’s edition of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Supposedly, this is THE definitive box set of the series. I knew that the complete series had been available to own on DVD before, so I decided to do a little research to see just how many “definitive” Flying Circus box sets have been released.

2000 – The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus Megaset – 14 discs

This set has all 45 episodes (in chronological order) of the Flying Circus – meaning all episodes produced for BBC TV (it does not include the German episodes ‘Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus’, produced exclusively for German TV).

Cool, the entire series. Sounds good, until …

2004 – The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus Megaset with Bonus Life of Python – 16 discs

This set has all 45 episodes (first 14 discs are the same) plus the 2 disc The Life of Python. The Life of Python includes “The Lost German Episode” of Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus – which is technically German Episode #2 (I don’t know why they included episode 2 and not 1).

Much better. The complete series, plus The Life of Python. Sounds great, until the following year:

2005 – The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset – 16 discs

This set has all 45 episodes (first 14 discs are the same) plus 2 discs of Monty Python Live. This means you also get Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), Live at Aspen (1998), Parrot Sketch Not Included: 20 Years of Python (1989), and Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus: German Episode #1 (I don’t know why they included episode 1 and not 2).

Oh hell, which one? Do I want The Life of Python or Monty Python Live? Why couldn’t they have released one set with both - release an 18 disc set? Well, its a good thing I didn't buy either because now we get:

2008 – The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Collectors Edition Megaset – 21 discs

This is basically an upgraded version of the 16-Ton Megaset. It has all 45 episodes (first 14 discs are the same) plus 2 discs of Monty Python Live (Hollywood Bowl, Aspen, Parrot Sketch Not Included, and German Episode #1). You also get a guide booklet to the series and all contents in the set. In addition, you get all SIX of the Personal Best specials, and two NEW documentaries never before released in the U.S. – Before Flying Circus and Monty Python Conquers America.

So if you buy the newest 2008 Megaset, you get everything available before EXCEPT The Life of Python. Since they threw in the Personal Best specials (already available to purchase individually), why didn’t they just throw in The Life of Python???

Whew, I’m exhausted! I think I will pick up the newest Megaset, mostly for the new documentaries. With all the documentaries and specials, I don't know how much more there is to learn about the history of Monty Python. But I can't help myself. For the chance to hear any of the Pythons look back and talk about Python history, I will shell out more money. I will also pick up The Life of Python used on or ebay for about 10 bucks. Then I will have it all.

By the way, I went to to see what the region 2 releases looked like, and my head exploded.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Out on DVD today

Get Smart

This is worth a rental, but I'm not sure I'd buy it. I enjoyed the movie but I forgot it right away. I have no real urge to watch it again. You can get this in a Single Disc Edition or a Two Disc Collector's Edition. There is no commentary track, and disc 2 only has about a half hour of extras on it. If they are going to charge extra for a 2nd disc, it should have a couple of hours of extras. 30 minutes could easily fit on disc 1.


Great movie. The less you know going in, the better. But to set up the movie a tiny bit, an American couple (Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson) are traveling from Beijing to Moscow on the legendary Trans-Siberian Express. Its a very effective thriller. I don't know if I would buy it, because part of what works so well is that you have no idea where the movie is going. I'm not sure how much I would like it after repeated viewings. But definitely rent it if you haven't seen it. Also, as far as I can tell, the only extra is a 34 minute "making of".

Waterworld - 2 disk extended edition

This is a strange release. Its 2 discs - the first disc has the 136 minute theatrical cut, and the second disc has the 177 minute extended cut. Normally I would love this. Let me see the longer cut so I can decide if it helps or hurts the movie. Sometimes the longer version of the movie is better (Lord of the Rings), or is almost as good as the shorter version (Dances with Wolves). Especially if the director was forced to cut the movie by the studio. I want to see the director's original vision.

But the extended edition here is not from the original negative. Its the version that played on ABC 10 years ago. That means that profanity is dubbed over and some special effects shots are not finished. Maybe if that is the only way possible for this version to be released, then I would consider buying it (like the Donner Cut of Superman II). But I suspect that they used the ABC version because it was cheaper than remastering the movie from the original negative.

Also, there are no extras, which suggests that neither Kevin Costner nor Kevin Reynolds (director) had anything to do with this DVD. If Costner had been in charge of it, there would have been documentaries and commentaries explaining the making of the movie, and the decision to cut the movie down by 45 minutes. Don't buy this.

Star Wars trilogy

This actually isn't a double dip. These are the same DVDs that have been available since 2006. They are the Limited Editions - 2 discs per movie. Disc 1 is the Special Edition (digital effects, Greedo shoots first) and Disc 2 is the original theatrical version (no digital effects, Han shoots first). If you already own these versions, don't buy this. They are just releasing them in a nice looking box set.

Star Wars prequel trilogy

Same thing here. No new extras. These are the same DVDs that have been available for years, just a nice box to keep them all in.

A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector's Edition

My favorite Christmas movie of all time. This is the exact same Special Edition that was released 5 years ago, but now you can get it with Christmas cookie cutters, an apron, a cookbook, and a cookie tin canister. So if you already own the special edition, you aren't getting any bonus features. But since I don't own this, I will probably spring for this edition.

Newsradio - the complete series

This is one of my all-time favorite sitcoms. All 5 seasons have already been released, so if you already own the previous seasons (like I do), then there is no reason to buy this collection. There is nothing new in this set, it just takes up less shelf space. But if you haven't already got them, this set is the way to go.

I think I'm glad there are no new extras. When the 9th season of Seinfeld was released, they released the entire series in a fridge box with a book and an all new DVD containing a round table discussion with the cast and Larry David. I was glad I never bought any of the Seinfeld seasons, because I saved $240 (9 seasons at $40 each = $360, I got the complete series on sale for $120).
So the lesson is never buy a TV show one season at a time. If you like the show enough to buy 1 season, you will probably want them all. Wait until the series ends, then buy the complete collection. You're welcome.