30 December 2011

War Horse

The full review of this beautifully directed borefest is up at insidestl.

27 December 2011

23 December 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Read the review of the remake at insidestl.com

Here are the opening credits, with a killer cover of Immigrant Song.

25 November 2011

The Battle of the Snow Whites

Last week, two new trailers have caught my attention. They are for two new, vastly different, adaptations of the classic tale of Snow White. This reminds me of 1998 when we saw a handful of double-takes on the same type of film.

Back in 1998, Paramount released their asteroid destruction movie Deep Impact on May 8. Then, Touchstone unleashed Michael Bay’s Armageddon on July 1. Let’s break it down:

-Deep impact opened strong, finished with just north of $140 million domestic (good for 8th overall for the year) and $349 million worldwide on a budget of $75 million. It currently stands with an IMDB rating of 6.0.

-Armageddon opened stronger (likely due to a better release date), finished with a domestic take just over $201.5 million (2nd highest for the year) and a worldwide take of over $553 million on a $140 million dollar budget. Its IMDB rating is 6.2.

So, to give it to Armageddon is a lock, especially when you factor in its 4 Academy Award nominations (all technical nominations and Best Original Song) and a Criterion Collection DVD release.

Later in the year, Dreamworks went toe-to-toe with Pixar in the animated ant films, pitting Antz against the animation juggernaut’s A Bug’s Life. Here’s how it shook out:

-Antz had a decent opening on October 2, finished with a domestic take of $90 million (21st for the year) and worldwide gross of close to $172 million. It has an IMDB rating of 6.8.

-A Bug’s Life opened wide on November 27 strong and finished with $162 million domestic (4th for the year), and added an additional $200 million internationally. It also picked up an Oscar nod for Original Song. It stands with an IMDB rating of 7.2.

I think it is clear that Pixar’s ants were stronger than Dreamworks’. I, however, like Antz better. But then, who am I?

While this battle was raging on the animated insect front, Miramax and Gramercy both released Elizabethan films. Gramercy went in the historical drama direction with Elizabeth, opening November 6. Miramax went the romantic comedy route with Shakespeare in Love, opening in limited release on December 11, and then opened wide in January. Here’s how the Shakespeare battle panned out:

-Elizabeth finished just above its $30 million budget domestically (65th for 1998), and barely broke $50 million worldwide. It won one of its seven Oscar nominations and holds a 7.6 IMDB rating.

-Shakespeare in Love quadrupled its $25 million budget domestically (18th for the year), and almost doubled that worldwide, with a final tally just shy $190 million. Then, it went on to win seven of its thirteen nominations, picking up Best Actress and Best Picture. On the down side, it sits at only 7.3 on IMBD.

Shakespeare in Love wins this 16th century battle handily. Its win for Best Picture, however, still causes controversy every year at Oscar time. I love Shakespeare in Love, but Saving Private Ryan is by far a better film.

That brings us to the fourth war, pun intended, between Dreamworks’ World War II epic, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Fox’s World War II “epic,” Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. This war was not fought simultaneously as the first three were. Saving Private Ryan opened in July, while The Thin Red Line opened on Christmas. Let’s see how these two 170 minute films compare:

-Spielberg’s war drama opened strong and had the legs to carry to the top grossing spot of the year with $216 million, easily exceeding its $70 million budget. For good measure, it added in another $265 internationally. It picked up five of its eleven nominations at the Oscars, including the second Best Director statue for Spielberg. It has an amazing 8.5 IMDB rating, and is ranked 42nd in the Top 250 films on the site.

-Terrence Malick’s war drama focused on the effects of war on the human psyche. Its huge cast could not save its domestic gross from falling short of its $52 million budget. Its $36 million take was good for 59th on the year. It did add an additional $60 million internationally to help the film break even. The Thin Red Line batted zero for seven on awards night. Its IMDB rating stands at 7.6.

Winner: Saving Private Ryan. Its upset loss to Shakespeare in Love will live in infamy. Even though The Thin Red Line was not a box office sensation, it is worth noting that it is Malick’s highest grossing film by almost $40 million.

There you have it. These four similar film battles gave us four of the five Best Picture nominations, three of the top five grossing films, and made Hollywood look like they were just stealing ideas from each other all year long.

In 2012, Relativity Media will release its "Snow White" film, Mirror, Mirror on March 16. It boasts a large cast including Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), Sean Bean (Game of Thrones), Lily Collins (The Blind Side), Nathan Lane (The Bird Cage), Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and actual midgets and dwarfs. It seems to be more of a fantasy picture in the same vein as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It is directed by Tarsem Singh (Immortals). The trailer does not make this film look very appetizing.

On the other side of the coin, Universal will release their own take on the classic fairy tale in the form of Snow White and the Huntsman on June 1. It, too, boasts a large cast. It includes Charlize Theron (Monster), Chirs Hemsworth (Thor), Kristin Sterwart (Twilight), Ian McShane (Deadwood) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) among others. This version will be set against a medieval backdrop as opposed to the fantasy world. It is directed by Rupert Sanders, who will be making his directorial debut. While its trailer is better than Mirror, Mirror, I cannot say that I am completely sold on it either. A quick fact: Both Evil Queens are being played by Academy Awards winning Best Actresses.

If the parings of 1998 can be telling, the early bird does not usually get the worm. Only Saving Private Ryan opened first and won its battle. With a weaker release date, Mirror, Mirror may have a hard time trumping its successor. I do not see either of these Snow White adaptations picking up any Best Picture nominations come early 2013. I would be surprised if they picked up more than two combined. It would also be shocking to see either of them in the top five grossing films of 2012.

22 November 2011


When it comes to hockey movies, there is really only Slap Shot, Miracle, and The Mighty Ducks trilogy. Sure, there is also Youngblood, The Tooth Fairy and two direct-to-video Slap Shot sequels. Who wants to remember those? Who wants to remember the two Mighty Ducks sequels either? Hockey is not baseball, football, or basketball; it’s a fast paced sport without a ball. The rules are as hard to explain to a layman as soccer’s. Yet, hockey has one thing the other sports don’t: FIGHTING.

Goon celebrates the unsung enforcer: the guy on the team whose job is to protect his teammates. To fight for this team. To bleed for his team. The St. Louis Blues had Tony Twist back in the mid-to-late nineties in that role. I was disappointed that I didn’t see Twist at the St. Louis International Film Festival screening of Goon.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott, American Pie) is a simple minded bouncer at a local pub. His brother (David Paetkau, AVP: Requiem) and father (Eugene Levy, American Pie) are both respected surgeons, making Doug the black sheep of the family. Doug and his best friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel, Knocked Up) go watch the local amateur hockey team do what they do best: suck. While an opposing player is in the penalty box, Ryan makes rude gestures and yells vulgar things at him. The player climbs over the penalty box walls and makes his way to the scrawny and still taunting Ryan. Doug steps in and beats the living Hell out of the player. The coach notices and calls into Ryan’s hockey talk show the next day and he offers Doug a spot on the team.

Through the use of my favorite film device, a montage, Doug learns to skate and to fight while on skates. He is then unleashed on the ice to do what he does best: fight. And that he does. He becomes known for that. The coach’s brother coaches a minor league hockey team and Doug is offered a spot on that team. Doug accepts and is sent to play for the Halifax Highlanders. Coach Ronnie Hortense (Kim Coates, Sons of Anarchy) tells Doug that he is to protect the team protégé, Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Laflamme took a hit from the infamous enforcer Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, Wolverine) three years ago, and has not been the same since. So, Doug and his new team of misfits learn to play as a team, trust each other, and make a run at the playoffs.

In the meantime, Ross Rhea has been suspended and sent back down to finish his contract and career in the minor league. This pits the two most fearsome enforcers against each other. Along the way, Doug meets Eva (Alison Pill, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). She is a very complicated, messed up woman and Doug can’t help but to fall in love with her. The movie then poses two questions: Will Doug beat Rhea in the inevitable showdown fight? Will Doug get the girl?

Jay Baruchel, who is a huge hockey fan, wrote the script with Evan Goldberg (Superbad). It is based on the exploits of Doug Smith which inspired a book titled Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith. I tried to find the book, but it is out of print. The script is solid, but according to the director Michael Dowse, in a Q & A following the screening at SLIFF, a lot of the lines became ad-libbed. Dowse is also a huge hockey fan and he wanted to make a movie about hockey for hockey fans. I believe he achieved this goal. He put the camera in the middle of the action. Heed that warning if you get sick from camera movement. I did have the pleasure of viewing this film at the St. Louis International Film Festival on Saturday, November 12. Magnet Releasing has Goon slated for a Video-On-Demand release in late February and a theatrical release in late March. This is one I’m looking forward to catching a second time – you shouldn’t miss it either.

RATING: 8/10

14 November 2011

SLIFF: Coriolanus

When it comes to Shakespeare, there is no equal. His plays have been adapted countless times since he wrote them. I am a huge fan of Shakespeare’s plays. During the summer, there is a program called “Shakespeare Festival” in Forest Park, where an acting troop puts on a stage production of a play. The Wife and I have attended the last two years, despite the heat and humidity. Earlier this year, Gnomeo & Juliet hit theaters, and I made sure to see that. I have dabbled in screenwriting, and have started work on an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. About three weeks into my work, I heard that Ralph Fiennes just finished directing and starring in a movie adaptation of a Shakespeare play. As it turns out, Voldemort made his directorial debut adapting the same play I was working on, Coriolanus.

Coriolanus tells the story of Caius Martius (Fiennes). He is a general in the Roman army, and a very good one at that. The people of Rome are mad at the Roman government for hording and rationing out the corn supply to the commoners and they blame Martius. In the meantime, the Volscian army, lead by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), prepares to attack Rome. When Martius learns of this attack, he leads his troops against the Volcians. They meet in the city of Corioles., where, Martius and Aufidius face each other again. Neither is killed, but the Romans win the battle.

Back in Rome, Martius’s mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) learn of his return and heroics. For this, Martius receives the surname Coriolanus. The people or Rome turn against Coriolanus, and he is banished. Coriolanus finds shelter with the Volscian army and Aufidius, where he leads them to victories over the Roman Army. This makes Coriolanus popular among the Volsces, and Aufidius begins to get jealous. As the Volscians make their way to Rome, many are sent to try and plead with Coriolanus to not attack Rome.

Coriolanus is a tragedy, but I will not tell you who lives and who dies. For that, you will have to see the movie, or read the play. This is the first cinematic adaptation of Coriolanus. The writer John Logan (Gladiator) chose to keep the Elizabethan English from the original play and to stick with the dialog from the original play. In place of omitted scenes and lines of dialog, Logan cleverly used news reports with headlines that told the missing parts. I thought this move was genius device. Scenes that are not in the play, but added in the movie had no dialog. This added a lot to the characters but did not violate the original text.

As for the directing, Fiennes really has some growing to do. He handled some scenes perfectly, while others fell flat. The score by Ilan Eskeri (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) was decent, and helped set the mood when the direction faltered. The acting is where Coriolanus shines. Ralph Fiennes was great as Caius Martius Coriolanus, and had no problems with the Elizabethan English. Jessica Chastain shines again this year. She was also great in The Help earlier this year. Vanessa Redgrave puts in a powerful performance as Volumnia. I would not be surprised to see her pick up a Supporting Actress nomination. Brian Cox, who I would never have guessed, really owns his role, and does a phenomenal job. Then, there is Gerard Butler, who seems to be was chewing his lines. Nothing sounded natural from him. It just seemed that he was fighting to spit out most of his lines. It could be that he was just out performed, but he was the weakest link in this film.

I have not given up hope for my adaptation of Coriolanus, but Logan and Fiennes have set the bar high. I saw this at the St. Louis International Film Festival, but it will not be released until January 20. If you are a fan of Shakespeare or great acting, this is a must see. I cannot wait to have the opportunity to see it again. Hopefully, the second time I see it, I will not have an annoying old lady talking through the whole movie next to me. Who does that?

RATING 8.5/10

11 November 2011

01 November 2011

28 October 2011

23 October 2011

Batman: Year One (Blu Ray)

Batman: Year One is a fan favorite series of comics written by Frank Miller. The comics were originally printed by DC Comics issues of Batman #404-407 from February through May. I have read this four issue storyline a few times, like ten. The issues have since been complied and printed in a graphic novel binding.

Year One is a great story that centers of the first appearance of Batman in Gotham City and his interaction and relationship with Lieutenant James Gordon. The miniseries works well in comic form. Yet, DC Universe Animation screwed it up. How bad? Completely. The main reason for this problem stems from making it frame for frame from the comics. While this may seem like a good idea, it makes the story excruciatingly boring. There is very little action, and tons of dialogue. This is not fun to watch. It felt more like I was watching an audio book rendition.

It opens on Gordon (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) arriving in Gotham ahead of his pregnant wife, Barbara. He knows that the Gotham City Police Department is corrupt. He is a clean cop that has no problem taking down dirty cops. This does not fly with fellow office Flass and the current Commissioner Loeb (Jon Polito, The Big Lebowski).

In the mean time, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben McKenzie, Southland) makes his return to Gotham after a long absence. He decides that he is going to start cleaning up the streets of Gotham to help avenge the murder of his parents. After some trial and error, Bruce decides to go with a bat costume.

While out on patrol one night, Bruce runs into a pimp. After a brief altercation with him, a woman working for him jumps down to confront Bruce in disguise. This woman is Selena Kyle (Eliza Dushku, Buffy/Angel). She later leaves the pimp to take down some crime lord Falcone and runs across Batman trying to do the same thing.

As time passes, Batman becomes hunted by the corrupt police. Gordon becomes a local celebrity due to his crime fighting. Selena Kyle becomes Catwoman. And the movie keeps getting more and more boring. In the end, it works out and all is well.

Batman: Year One has influenced the Batman franchise in many ways. As you can tell, some of the stories have been used in Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Some of it can even been seen in 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It is a very important story to the Batman mythology.

It has been destroyed in this short 64 minute film. This was the first Blu Ray that I have purchased new in a very long time. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. If you are a Batman fan like I am, you are going to watch this anyway. If you aren’t, and you want to know if you should spend your hour watching this, I cannot recommend doing so. I can, however, recommend renting the vastly superior Batman: Under the Red Hood.

21 October 2011

Blackthorn (aka Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid II)

I love westerns. They are few and far between. Lately, they have been worth the wait. Each of the last few years has had a decent entry into this dying genre. Blackthorn is the latest theatrical release, but it pales in comparison to other recent movies such as 3:10 to Yuma, Appaloosa, and True Grit.

Blackthorn tells the fictional story of what happened to Butch Cassidy after he faked his own death against the Bolivian Police in the shootout famously portrayed at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There are conspiracy theories supporting the idea that he did not die in the gunfight. This concept was explored in Young Guns II, with the possible survival of Billy the Kid.

Blackthorn picks up in Bolivia in 1927, 19 years after the shootout. Butch Cassidy, now using the name James Blackthorn (Sam Shepard), is a farmer and horse breeder. Blackthorn decides it is time for him to return to the U.S. of A. and meet Ryan, who is the child of either Cassidy or Sundance, and a woman that rode with them as an outlaw, Etta Place (Dominique McElligot).

As Blackthorn makes preparations to leave South America and return the States, he comes across a Spaniard mining engineer, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega). Eduardo mistakenly thinks that Blackthorn is chasing him, and accidentally scares off Blackthorn’s horse. Unfortunately, all of Blackthorn’s money was on the horse. Eduardo then explains that he has stolen money from a wealthy mine owner, and for Blackthorn’s help, he will split the money fifty-fifty, coming out to about $25,000 each. Since his money rode off into the sunset, Blackthorn agrees to help Eduardo retrieve his money, and cross the border into America. Hot on their heels rides a posse of bounty hunters.

Throughout the film, flashbacks tell the story of what happened to young Sundance (Padraic Delaney) and Butch (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) after heading to South America in 1907. These flashbacks are really the only aspect that this film has going for it. It is no secret to the viewers that Blackthorn is Butch Cassidy, but they withhold that information from the rest of the characters until very late in the story. This scene is one of the best scenes in the film. An old Pinkerton (Stephen Rea) that chased Cassidy and Sundance is summoned by a doctor to identify Blackthorn as Cassidy. The interaction between the two aged men is some of the only touching dialog and acting in the entire film.

The biggest downfall of Blackthorn is its feel. It feels like a TNT Original movie made back in the late nineties similar to Dollar for the Dead and Purgatory. It does not feel like a theatrical release. The acting is what you would expect from a TV movie. The directing is what you would expect from a TV movie. This is Mateo Gil’s second feature-length, non-TV movie. This is Miguel Barros’s first feature length screenplay. Sam Shepard’s acting feels over the top and forced at times. Eduardo Noriega’s acting feels like he came off the set of a Telemundo soap opera.

I was hoping for a good old fashioned western. What I got was a glorified TV movie that will be forgotten before it even opens. If I had recorded Blackthorn on my DVR off of TNT, and watched in the comfort of my own home, I think I would have enjoyed it. Sadly, I saw this in theaters. I am not saying that Blackthorn is necessarily a bad movie, it’s just not a great one by any stretch of the imagnation. It will most likely be dead on arrival. It seems I will just have to wait until next year’s Django Unchained by Tarantino for a decent western.

RATING: 4/10

Margin Call: Worst Movie I Have Sat Through This Year

I thought I knew what I was getting into with J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut, Margin Call. The trailer looked like a cross between Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street. I am a fan of both of those classic films. Margin Call is not on the same level as those. It is not even on the same ladder. Margin Call is 105 minutes of my life that will never get back.

Margin Call opens with a corporate firing squad arriving to clear house at a large fictional investment banking firm called MSB. They fire a large percentage of employees, including Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), the head of the risk management department. He leaves his work in the capable hands of his junior analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). Peter finishes the work that Eric started to find out that the company is about to go ass-up. He calls his co-worker Seth Bregman (Penn Badgely) to get their new boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) back to the office to see his findings. They call Will’s boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) who in turn calls his boss Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) who then calls his boss and President of the firm, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons).

The whole time, we are not let in on what they do, or really what the problem actually is. All we know is that it is not good, and it affects everyone, even us poor common folk. Somewhere in all this mess, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and Ramesh Shah (Aasif Mandvi) are brought in to double check the numbers, which are confirmed true. When John Tuld appears, we are finally let in on what is going on. The firm has a lot of money invested in mortgages, and the bottom fell out on the housing market, making them the proud owners of lots of dog shit worth less than dog shit.

On the most basic level, Margin Call is a movie about rich people who lose money and how it will affect their rich lifestyles. They talk about how they spend their hundreds of thousands of dollars and how much money the boss at each level of the company made in prior years, and if they will still have a job when all this mess is over. No one ever stops to wonder how it will affect the middle class. This is a film made by rich people about rich people. The biggest douche character in recent film comes in the likes of Seth. What a whiney little bitch. Throughout the movie, he whines that he made over a quarter of a million last year, and that he is only twenty-three -- What is supposed to do now? Who gives a shit?

The script, written by Chandor, is one of the worst I have ever heard. If I had known, I would have kept tally marks for how many times the phrase “Fuck me” was uttered. It has to be about fifty. FIFTY TIMES! Who wrote this? An angry angst-ridden teenager? Margin Call suffers from a lack of plot. By forty-five minutes in, I was bored. By just over an hour, I spotted the first viewer who was actually sleeping in the theater. I am sure she wasn’t the only one.

When we were finally released from this torture, a friend and I decided that we would rather watch all of Michael Bay’s films twice than watch this hunk of junk again. I cannot believe the magnitude of the lifeless acting, terrible script, and uninspiring directing. If you cannot tell, I did not like this movie in the least. Margin Call will be the first film since Skyline that I will bestow the “zero” rating on. There is just no redeeming this pompous pretentious film. Here’s hoping that Chandor never makes another film.

RATING: 0/10

Johnny English Reborn

Review is up at InsideSTL.com
And because I can: Johnny English Trailer

20 October 2011

Real Steel

Real Steel sets a new high for boxing tropes. If you take every Rocky film and roll in Over the Top, you will have some idea of what to expect from Shawn Levy’s latest film. The only difference? This movie features robots. Underdog story? Check. Down on his luck protagonist? Check. Has bad debt from gambling? Check. Bad father? Check. Old love interest? Check. Entertaining anyway? Indeed.

Real Steel opens with Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former pro boxer, waking up to a phone call from his bookie about a debt he owes. He then proceeds to take his robot boxer Ambush out to a fair to fight a bull. As it turns out, the fair is run by Ricky (Kevin Durand, Lost), a former boxing champ that once defended his title against Charlie. Charlie and Ricky up the stakes by making a winner-take-all bet that of course Charlie loses when the bull tears Ambush to shreds.

Now, even farther down on his luck, Charlie finds out that his ex-flame has passed away, and that their son Max (Dakota Goyo) needs a place to live. Charlie makes a deal with his former lover’s sister, Debra (Hope Davis), and her husband, Marvin (James Rebhorn), to give them custody for $100,000. Like all good movie deals, there is a catch; Charlie will get $50,000 now while he watches Max while Marvin and Debra go on vacation for the summer. The other half will be paid in August when Max moves in with Marvin and Debra.

With his new found money, Charlie buys a second robot boxer, Noisy Boy and returns to his old training gym run by his previous trainer’s daughter Bailey (Evangeline Lily, Lost, The Hurt Locker) with his son in tow. It turns out that Max is a fan of robot boxing, so Charlie takes him to an underground boxing fight. The fights are run by Finn (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker), an old friend of Charlie. Despite young Max’s advice, Charlie takes the main fight against local favorite Midas. As you can guess, this fight does not go well for Charlie.

That night, Charlie and Max break into a junkyard to find parts to rebuild a robot. Max comes across Atom, an old training robot built to take abuse without giving out a lot of abuse in return. Now we have an underdog. The rest of the film plays out as cliché as possible. The film culminates in an epic-wannabe boxing match pitting the proverbial David against Goliath.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the lame the premise. As I mentioned, there is nothing new in Real Steel, but it is clear that writer John Gatins is a fan of sports films. He has written a few second-tier sports films like Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Dreamer. The script is not as tight as it could have been since a lot of the prophetic thoughts are nothing more than obvious drivel. The score by Danny Elfman keeps the movie moving nicely. The soundtrack is made up of old songs, Eminem’s “Till I Collapse”, and new Bad Meets Evil’s “Fastlane.”

Despite offering nothing new and hitting every cliché on the way, I still found Real Steel worth the watch. I got to this movie late, but it has already topped the US Box Office two weeks in a row. It will not accomplish the three-pete because Paranormal Activity 3 will be opening this weekend.

RATING: 7/10

14 October 2011

The Thing That Shouldn't Have Been Made

The review is up at InsideSTL.com

John Carpenter's The Thing

John Carpenter’s films are always a blast. I say always, and I know that people are going to disagree. That is what is so great about film. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if it is wrong. Carpenter is also a multi-talented man of film. He writes, directs, composes, and sometimes even acts. His roles are usually small like when Hitchcock puts himself in his own films. His creative mind has given us such classic characters as Michael Myers and Snake Plissken. He directed Halloween and its first sequel as well as Escape from New York and its sequel. Carpenter also scored both. Halloween has that haunting theme that if you hear it, you know it.

In 1982, John Carpenter reteamed with Kurt Russell to make The Thing. It is based on a 1951 film The Thing From Another World. The Thing is a staple in horror films. The killer is not a psycho, a slasher, or even human. The plot is very reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien. A group of people are isolated from the outside world and have to deal with a killing machine. The stakes are a bit higher in The Thing, but I do not want to take anything away from Alien.

The Thing opens with a mysterious spacecraft entering Earth’s atmosphere. It then cuts to a husky running through the Antarctic tundra. Hot on its tail is a Norwegian helicopter with a rifleman shooting at the dog. The dog makes his way to an American camp, where it finds refuge and the Norwegians find death. The lovable characters of misfits in the American camp include MacReady (Kurt Russell), Childs (David Keith), Blaine (Wilford Brimley), XXXXX. It quickly becomes obvious that the dog is possessed, and now some of the people in the camp could be, too.

The Thing focuses heavily on the paranoia. Everyone in the camp suspects everyone else of being the “thing.” A brief expedition to the remains of the Norwegian camp does not provide the answers they were hoping and looking for. Tension mounts as people are killed by each other and the alien. Tests are made. Tests are given. In the end, a final plan and last ditch effort is conceived.

John Carpenter does a wonderful job making you feel trapped with them. The shots that are outdoors are short, and full of wind and snow. A few shots even have the entire frame in focus, giving them an eerie feel. The score does a good job in heightening the feeling. The visual effects were top notch, for 1982. The hold up well enough. The scene of the head falling off and climbing under the desk is priceless and my favorite scene in the whole film. The movie is completely 1980’s. There are no doubts about it. The computers are reminiscent of my family’s old Commodore 64. The computerized chess match is a nice touch.

The “prelude” comes out this weekend. It fills gap of what happened at the Norwegian camp after they discover the alien entombed in ice. I do not understand why they are making the film, let alone letting it be helmed by a nobody. The trend lately to remake movies with cult followings need to come to an end before they really piss off the wrong crowd. What is the line that they shouldn't cross? I am not a huge fan of The Thing, but I would advise renting this one again before spending the price of admission to watch a shitty “prelude.”

13 October 2011


Alfred Hitchcock is a genius filmmaker. That fact is irrefutable. The only thing he never achieved was taking home the coveted golden Oscar on awards night. He had five nominations in his lifetime, but not a single win. This seems like an absolute travesty. Hitchcock was a film pioneer, and his 1948 film Rope was no exception.

Rope opens with a high outdoor shot of a New York street for the duration of the opening credits. According to some, Hitchcock himself is the man that walks through the scene. The camera then pans over to a window, where the serenity of the outdoors is broken with a jarring scream by David Kentley (Dick Hogan) as he is strangled to death by his two boyhood friends Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) with a rope. They then conceal the body in a chest.

After they hide the body, Brandon and Phillip discuss what it means to murder someone. They talk about how killing is an art - how many people talk about it, but only a few actually do it. From the get go, it is obvious that Brandon is more confident and pleased with what they have accomplished. Phillip, on the other hand, feels guilty and nervous. Brandon’s confidence and brazenness leads him to move the focal point of the dinner party that he throwing from the dinner table to the chest.

While they are moving the tablecloth, candelabras, silverware, and napkins, Brandon’s housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson), returns to the apartment. She promptly complains about the change of venue for the dinner party. As preparations come to an end, the first dinner guest arrives. Kenneth (Douglas Dick), a boyhood friend of David, Brandon and Phillip, asks why they are celebrating with champagne. Brandon simply explains that it is a going away party.

Next to arrive is the beautiful Janet Walker (Joan Chandler). She is the ex-girlfriend of both Brandon and Kenneth, though the latter still wants to be with her. She is also the current girlfriend of David. Following her arrival, David’s father Mr. Kentley (Cedric Hardwicke) comes with his sister, Mrs. Atwater (Constance Collier), instead of Mrs. Kentley, who was unable able to attend due to illness. Mr. Kentley has come to see some first edition books that Brandon owns. With four of the five guests present, the discussion turns to the whereabouts of David. He is never late. No one has heard from him. He told some that he would meet them there.

Finally, the last party attendee, Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart), arrives. Rupert was the head master at the school that all four of the boyhood friends attended. He relays stories from their boyhood days. Apparently, while they were in his school, they discussed death and murder. They believed that the superior people of the world could and should kill the inferior people. This discussion leads to some comedic relief by talking about how long lines would be eliminated if society created “Cut Her Throat Week” and “Strangulation Day.” In the end, the discussion came back to David and the peculiarity of his absence. As the party continues, Rupert starts to suspect Brandon and Phillip are hiding something leading to the apex.

Rope is based on a play by Patrick Hamilton titled “Rope’s End.” It was adapted by Hume Cronyn and the screenplay was written by Arthur Laurents. I could very easily see this being performed on a stage. Sadly, that is also why the movie did not work that well. The suspense was not as palpable as one would expect from a Hitchcock film. Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest and Notorious are all very suspenseful. I did not find myself on the edge of my seat while watching Rope. With the long takes, I would have expected to feel uncomfortable, but I actually felt more like I was watching a stage play instead of a motion picture.

Back in 1948, the most film that a camera could hold was ten minutes. So, Hitchcock shot Rope in ten minute continuous shots. In total, there are only ten cuts in the film, and a lot of them are hidden. I watched intently to see if I could catch all of the cuts, and I only missed one. A lot of them were hidden by crossing behind a character or object blacking out the screen. A few were pan shots. After consulting Wikipedia, I realized the only one I missed was a still shot of the hallway with no movement in the scene.

By filming it this way, the story is told linearly and in real time. The real time aspect is rarely done, and I quite enjoyed it here. It did have a High Noon feel to it. Filming in ten minute segments also put a lot of pressure on the mise-en-scene and keeping everything in focus. I was amazed at the smoothness and flawlessness achieved in the zooming. The actors also impressed me, specifically Dall and Granger. They had the most lines, and had to deliver them all flawlessly for minutes at a time. Most actors today do not have to memorize more than a few seconds of dialog and movement. While Rope is not on par with his other classics, Hitchcock’s first color film and first collaboration with Jimmy Stewart still finds a way to impress.

30 September 2011

23 September 2011

02 September 2011

28 August 2011

Fright Night (1985)

I just finished watching the original 1985 cult classic that is Fright Night. I can see the appeal of it. It is quite an enjoyable and entertaining film. It was written and directed by Tom Holland, who was making his directorial debut. Looking into his filmography, Holland liked the horror genre. He was responsible for Psycho II, Child’s Play, and two Stephen King adaptations, the Langoliers and Thinner.

The plot is very “boy who cried wolf.” Only this time, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) cries “vampire” with similar results. Jerry (Chris Sarandon) moves in next door to Charley. Charley quickly deduces that the missing people are meeting their doom in his neighbor’s house. Charley goes to the police, but they do not believe him. His own girlfriend Amy (Amanda Peterson) and his best friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) do not believe him.

Left with no choice, Charley goes to late night movie host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help in how to slay a vampire. Only Vincent himself does not believe in vampires. When it becomes obvious that Charley is not lying, it is too late for some of the cast. With nothing to lose, Peter and Charley go for it all and try to kill Jerry.

Each of the actors put in a solid performance. William Ragsdale makes for a great scared teenager. It was nice to Roddy McDowall not in an ape costume. Chris Sarandon plays a great charismatic vampire. Chris is also the only one to make a cameo in the remake, and what a hilarious cameo it was. Granted, Roddy McDowall passed away back in 1998, but what was Ragsdale doing?

I had the feeling of being late to the party. Fright Night would have been a great addition to my collection back when I first saw the Evil Dead movies back in high school. Fright Night has all the appeal of a cult classic. I think that after I see it a few more times, I will have that feeling. Ronnies is showing it at midnight one weekend in October. I might have to attend. If they were smart, they would do a double-feature. All the visuals are top-notch for 1985 and very reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. If you weren’t sure what decade Fright Night was made in, Brad Fiedel’s synthesizer score would be a dead giveaway.

The only problem with the original Fright Night is, I, unfortunately, have already seen the remake. I appreciate the original, but the remake takes a broad stroke approach to the plot and really takes it to the next level. Each part of the plot is taken to the max. The original was limited more by its era than by its ambitions. I truly believe that if Tom Holland was to make Fright Night now, it would be very close to the remake.

Yet, in twenty-five years, the remake could only hope to have the following of the original. Too often, the term cult classic is used too early and lightly. The original is well deserving of this tag, but the remake will most likely be forgotten after its dismal box office performance. Maybe I will see you at the midnight show in October.

26 August 2011

05 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Review is up at insidestl.com!

The Change-Up

Have you ever wondered what an R-rated version of Freaky Friday might be like? Me neither. Yet, that didn’t stop Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers behind The Hangover, from penning a script or David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) from directing that scenario. Nor did it deter Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman from signing on. The result: the fifth R-rated comedy of the summer, The Change-Up.

Body-switching is not a new concept. The Change-Up is just the first time they have gone “R” with it. The story centers on Dave Lockwood (Bateman), a successful lawyer, a happily married (Leslie Mann) father of three and his slacker, pot smoking, porn star wannabe friend Mitch Planko (Reynolds). Each thinks that the other has the easy life. While taking a drunken urination in a public fountain, they wish they had each other’s lives. So, they awake to see that they do.

Everything from here is by the book formulaic. There is nothing new here. The Change-Up offers nothing new or surprising in the way of plot. Both the leads realize how much they miss their own lives, find out stuff about the real them while “disguised” as the other, and come to their senses. What is offered is crude humor at every turn and gratuitous fake nudity on a large scale along with baby poop, a pregnant lady looking to score, more poop jokes, cheesy crude one-liners, and lots and lots of sexual innuendoes.

The supporting cast consists of Academy Award winner Alan Arkin, who had to be looking for a pay day, Olivia Wilde, who was looking to remind us all how attractive she is not chasing stupid aliens, and Gregory Itzin, who just wants you to remember he was President Logan only a few years ago. Each has their moment. Each helps push the lead actor to where they are going, whether they like it or not. Also, Craig Bierko makes a quick cameo as a “lorno,” a “light porno,” director.

Sadly, I will admit that I laughed. Not as much as the manchild next to me, but I did laugh. Reynolds and Bateman played to their strengths in comedic timing and awkward faces. The balance of story and joke telling was heavily skewed to the joke telling. That is why they chose such an easy story to tell. I did not hate this movie as much as I thought I was going to. It did have a few scenes that really worked. Two are my favorites are involve a dance recital and a tattoo parlor.

If you have to see this movie, then go. If you think you want to see this potty-mouthed version of a Disney movie, rent it. If you would rather watch Vice Versa, I don’t blame you. What is Judge Reinhold up these days? Waiting on Beverly Hills Cop IV? The Change-Up is the fifth R-rated comedy to come out this summer, and I think that its box office numbers will reflect the market overload.

Rating: 4/10

30 July 2011

22 July 2011

Captain America: The 4th, but not final Comic Book Film

Read my thoughts at InsideSTL

The trailer for the Matt Salinger/Ronny Cox = Hilarious!

16 July 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The first movie, Transformers, was a fantastic film. It was entertaining and full of heart. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was one of the blandest movies I have ever seen. All the heart was gone. The story and plot were nonexistent. The gaps left by these were filled with robot fight sequences. It was as if a child sat down and played with action figures and Michael Bay filmed it and then remade it on screen with a shit-ton of CGI. The movie concluded with an open non-ending setting up the inevitable conclusion film. I cannot stress how much I hate this tactic. This only means that your second film cannot stand alone, and really doesn’t need to be. I hated Revenge of the Fallen with every ounce of my being, and therefore dreaded the third.

Thank whatever Heavenly being that you believe in that this is the last movie in the Transformers franchise by Michael Bay. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the most bloated movie in recent memory. You could cut out most of the first half of the 157 minute film and not miss anything other than John Malkovich’s pointless character and the reason why Patrick Dempsey is even a factor. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces Megan Fox after she made an unfortunate comment involving Bay and Hitler. This is a step back in both looks and acting ability, not that Fox added much in the latter category.

To save time, the plot is simple, the Decepticons are still bad, and try to turn Earth into a new Cybertron. The Autobots are still good, and try to stop the Decepticons. That’s it. That is the whole plot. Not only is it simple, it is damn near so easy a caveman could have written it in stick-robot drawings on a cave wall. Ehren Kruger has “written” the last two CGI laden films. This time around he attempts to show us how creative he can be by trying to interlace the actual history of the space race and moonlanding of the sixties with, well, Transformers. I applaud his idea but not his final product.

All the series regulars are back: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, and Peter Cullen. This time around, Ken Jeong (Community, The Hangover), Alan Tudyk (Death at a Funeral, Firefly) and Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (Fargo, Almost Famous) join the party in various throw away roles.

With Michael Bay behind the camera, explosions and CGI fill the screen. The final hour is nothing more than one long action sequence. Steve Jablonski turns in yet another generic score that sounds no different than the first two films. Linkin Park lends their “talents” to another song for the soundtrack. The whole movie truly felt stale and long.

My friends and I sat watched this video right before leaving for the theater. This helped the enjoyment factor of the film immensely. Dark of the Moon hits almost every point made in this video. Despite all its problems, Dark of the Moon is still a better film than its predecessor, but still leagues behind the first. I paid the extra $$ to see this in 3D, and it was worth it. I think that it has a lot to do with the amount of CGI in the movie. I have yet to see a life action movie that utilizes the third dimension well, and that looks good. Other than Avatar, of course.

Rating: 4/10

15 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Finale

All good things must come to an end. Read about it at InsideSTL

08 July 2011

Horrible Bosses

Find out what happens when three idiots plan to kill their bosses at InsideSTL

20 May 2011

09 May 2011

Water for Elephants: Better than the book?

The book Water for Elephants suffered from being trite, having too many “supporting” characters, and switching from the present and seventy years ago. I did enjoy the insight into the old circus days that the book offered. To say was hesitant to see this adaptation, might be a bit of an understatement. I am also not a fan of Robert Pattinson. I don’t think he is a good actor, in the least. If the role is a statue comes to life, and the lines are to be read with little to no emotion, almost robotic, then he is your guy. Then there is Reese. Poor Reese. She hasn’t had a lot of success since winning her Oscar back in 2005. She did have a moderate hit with Four Christmases, and Monsters vs. Aliens, but that was just voice work. Finally, rounding out the three main actors, you have Christoph Waltz. He is coming off his Oscar win in 2009, and in his third American film. The poor guy is just typecast as a villain. I did enjoy his last film, more than I should have. So, this movie, with its odd casting, and subpar source material, was not high on my list to see.

The film streamlined the story. It kept what I liked about the book, and cut the crap out. This made an enjoyable film. Not a great film. But an enjoyable film. Water for Elephants brought to life the circus life of the 1930’s. It opens in the present with an elderly Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) talking with a circus owner (Paul Schnieder, Parks and recreation). Jacob tells the owner his story. We see the story in the past. It starts with a young Jacob (Pattinson), a veterinarian student who recently loses his parents, his house, and his nerve to finish his degree. He finds himself train hopping. The train just happens to be owned by August (Waltz) and his traveling circus. He ends up getting on with the circus because of his veterinarian background.

Jacob’s first day on the circus payroll, he sees Marlena (Witherspoon), and he is instantly infatuated with her. This makes August jealous, angry, and rash. August’s true intention is to become the biggest and best circus. He will stop at nothing to achieve this. He purchases Rosie, an elephant, from a defunct circus. He charges Jacob with developing an act for Rosie and Marlena. The rest of the film follows these three characters and their interaction with each other. It shows August getting angry at a love that, he is convinced, exists between Marlena and Jacob. Jacob figures out the secret to Rosie, and develops an act, but does fall in love with Marlena. Marlena decides that she needs to get away from the tyranny that is August, and run away with Jacob.

Set in the depression era, the bad economy also begins to pay a toll on the circus along with the conflict and tension between its star performer, owner and vet. This all reaches a head, and chaos ensues. In the end, we are left where we started, with an old Jacob talking to the owner. We are left with what should have been an emotional moment, but it fell flat. I blame a lot of the problems with this film on the inability to act by Pattinson. He is wooden. Reese did not really return to her better performances. On the other hand, Chistoph Waltz is an amazing psycho. He was absolutely amazing in Inglourious Basterds. He played an excellent villain in The Green Hornet. And, again, in Water for Elephants, he stole every scene he was in. Is this worth watching? Sure. As a rental.

27 April 2011

Fast and Furious: A Retrospective Look

With Fast Five opening this Friday, I decided to re-watch the first four films The first film is the only one that I saw I theaters. The others were all rented or borrowed from friends. As I went through them, some were still fun, others were not. One was downright terrible. So, without further ado, let's begin our journey through the Fast and Furious Franchise.

The Fast and the Furious came out in the summer of 2001. I remember this fondly for many reasons. This was Vin Diesel's big break. He had a minor hit with the underrated Pitch Black the year before, but this put him on the map as an action hero. Paul Walker was coming off of two mid-level hits with his high school sports drama Varsity Blues and college fraternity thriller The Skulls. Like Diesel, Walker was thrust into the spotlight following the success of The Fast and the Furious.

That summer, I was working at the local theater. I remember staying late on Thursday for an employees-only sneak. After watching the movie, all of us employees were ready to go out and street race. That weekend at the theater was hilarious. All the local kids drove their suped-up Hondas and Toyotas to the theater. Once they left, they would peel out and race each other out of the parking lot. Why was this hilarious? The police just sat out in the parking lot in unmarked cars waiting for these gearheads to do just that. I cannot imagine how many tickets were written that weekend within a two mile radius of the theater.

Lastly, my fondness for the movie centers on the bootleg version of this film that all the students on my dorm floor had. It had no music. The entire soundtrack, songs and score, was nonexistent. This made for a hilarious viewing, as we sat around a fifteen inch tube monitor. Some of the scenes were laughable without music. The bass in the trunk was thumping visually, but there was no bass sound. The characters were shouting over nothing. They were dancing to nothing. They were bobbing their heads to music only they could hear. Classic.

The Fast and the Furious opens with a semi-truck heist that has an excitement and awe-factor that none of the sequels have been able to recreate. All the robbers are wearing black masks, so you are not sure who they are. We are not even sure what they are stealing. We then cut to Brian O'Connor (Walker) red-lining his Eclipse before hitting the infamous NOS button boosting him up to over 140 mph. But, he is not satisfied, as he goes back to his job at an aftermarket car parts store. We then find out that he is LAPD working with the FBI to investigate the recent rash of semi-truck heists.

In the effort to get inside information about the semi-truck heists, Brian enters his Eclipse as collateral into a street race against the legendary Dom Toretto (Diesel) and his Mazda RX-7. Brian loses. Cops raid the race. Everyone scatters. Dom is about to caught, but Brian saves the day. They accidentally run across Johnny Tran (Rick Yune) and his gang. They shoot the Eclipse and hit the NOS, blowing up the entire car. This means that Brian owes Dom a 10-second car. Brian laters shows up at Dom’s garage with a jalopy of what could be a sweet Toyota Supra. While getting buddy-buddy with Dom and his crew, Vince (Matt Schultze), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Jesse (Chad Lindberg), Brian finds evidence that Tran's crew is pulling off the heists. After the raid turns up nothing, Brian's loyalty is questioned because of his relationship with Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster).

A showdown is set when Dom's crew and Tran's crew show up to Race Wars. There, tricked-out cars drag race head-to-head legally. Confrontations and conflicts fill the short amount of time at Race Wars. Jesse from Dom's crew loses to Tran. Dom beats Tran's face in. Brian watches a heated conversation between Mia and Dom which reveals that Dom’s crew is actually behind the semi-truck heists. Dom's crew leaves for another heist. Brian and Mia go to try and stop them. They turn out to show up in time to save them. Brian blows his cover to everyone to save Vince of Dom's crew. Then, there is the finale drag race between the recently finished Supra and Dom's Dad's Charger. If you haven't seen this scene, why are you reading this article?

The Fast and the Furious is a well-paced action/adventure film directed by Rob Cohen (xXx, The Skulls) from a screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson based on a magazine article “Racer X”. That's right, a magazine article was the inspiration for this ludicrous franchise. Pun intended. I can say that this was the perfect way to spend 106 minutes. As for how well does it stand the test of time? I think that if you don’t have the nostalgic memories as I do, you will not be impressed with the bad acting, bad dialog, and two-minute “10 second” races.

2 Fast 2 Furious debuted two years later in the summer of 2003. It opened strong, and finished reasonably. It opens with Brian (Walker), now an ex-cop, street racing in Miami. He is the Racing Dom of Miami, and Tej (Ludacris) is garage owner Dom. Apparently, they needed both of them to split the duties of Vin Diesel, who sat this one out. Brian wins the street course race, not a drag race, after ramping his car over an opening draw bridge. Then, cops arrive, racers flee, and Brain is caught.

Next we are introduced to U.S. Customs Agents Marham (James Remar) and Dunn. With the help of Brian’s old boss from Fast 1, Agent Bilkins, they are able to get Brian to agree to help them catch a smuggler by offering to clear his record at completion. Brian manages to work in his old friend Roman “Rome” Pierce (Tyrese) as his partner, as long as they clear his record, too. We meet Rome as he is competing in a demolition derby with a house arrest bracelet on. After a childish fistfight between Rome and Brian, Rome agrees to help the cause.

From here, the movie doesn’t really focus on the cars as much as it recreates the typical Miami Vice plot. A bad guy is smuggling contraband from Cuba to Miami. A cop is deep undercover and could be compromised. I think they used the plot for the Miami Vice movie, too.

Anyway, the guys race for an audition to run for the bad guy Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). They win the audition, which shocks no one. Brian starts to make sweet on Verone’s lady, Monica (Eve Mendes), who is the possibly compromised undercover agent. Tension builds between the two heroes and Verone’s two thugs.

The finale of 2 Fast 2 Furious is a scene I remember. The police chase Rome and Brian to a huge airport hangar. The police surround the hangar, the doors open and every tricked out car and truck in the Miami area comes driving out with the help of Tej and his friends. I know they tried, but Tej, Suki, Orange Julius, and Slap Jack are not replacements for Dom and his crew.

So, the good guys end up defying the rules of physics and ramp their car onto the villain’s escape yacht. Monica is not compromised, and all is well. Brian and Rome’s records are clear. As they walk away, they talk to each other about opening a garage with the money that they skimmed from their drug dealing antagonist. Though, this is not where we find Brian in six years. I don’t know where we are going to catch up with Rome. He will make his return to this lucrative franchise on Friday.

This was only my second viewing of 2 Fast 2 Furious. It was directed by Academy Award nominated John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood, Shaft, Four Brothers). His direction was a bit better than Cohen’s from the first film. The dialog was better, but it was not as memorable. There aren’t any “I live my life, a quarter of a mile at a time” lines. Would I use up 107 minutes to watch this again? In two years when the sixth movie comes out, sure. Until then? Probably not.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift opened in 2006, three years after 2 Fast 2 Furious. It opened weaker than the first two films, and finished with a domestic take putting it a distant third. As I sat to watch this one for the second time, I remembered how I felt about the movie after my first viewing so I was not that motivated to watch this one again, but I put it in the DVD player anyway, and away I went.

Tokyo Drift opens with a ridiculous car race through a housing development that is under construction. The racers are Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) and Clay (Zachery Ty Bryan). Why are they racing? In typical Fast and Furious fashion, they are racing over a girl. Because this is the last straw for Sean’s mom, he is sent to Tokyo to live with his father, who is stationed there with the Navy.

So, on his first day of school, Sean runs into Twinkie (Bow Wow), and they become friends because Twinkie has a tricked out car. Sean also meets Neela (Nathalie Kelley). She is gorgeous, and Sean is instantly infatuated with her. That night, Twinkie takes Sean to a parking garage where they drift race. In brief, the cars are lighter and special tires that allow them to slide or drift around corners.

In typical Fast and Furious fashion, our hotshot hero challenges a character known only as DK, which does not stand for Donkey Kong, but Drift King. Why does he challenge him? DK is the boyfriend of Neela. There is just one problem; Sean doesn’t have a car. Oh, and he doesn’t know how to drift race. Han (Sung Kang) gives him the keys to his car because he wants to see what he can do. Well, Sean loses. But, unlike the previous entries in the franchise, the cops don’t come.

Now, Sean works for Han to pay for the damaged car, just like Brian worked for Dom to pay for the repairs to the Supra. Han pays DK money for something illegal I guess because DK’s uncle is in the Yakuza. It is money to operate on his turf. Tensions build between Han and DK and come to head when it is discovered that Han has been skimming money from the mafia.

Along the way, Sean is taught how to drift by Han and his crew. An interesting fact: the guy who is considered the father of drifting has a cameo as one of the fishermen during Sean’s lessons. Sean finally gets a chance to redeem himself and demonstrate his drifting skills against Morimoto, DK’s right hand man. Sean wins. Again, no cops come.

Leading up to the inevitable final race between DK and Sean, Han is killed in a massive street chase, not race. In an act of avenging a friend, and acting macho for Neela who now wants to be with Sean, Sean goes straight to the Yakuza uncle and challenges DK to a race. The loser leaves the turf.

Back at Sean’s dad’s place, Han’s crew puts his dad’s Mustang back together and turns it into a drifting car. The final race takes place at night down a steep curving mountain, a mountain that only DK has made it down. In short, Sean wins and gets the girl. In the aftermath, Sean is the new DK, and is challenged by someone who says Han was family. This unnamed driver is Dom (Vin Diesel) who appears in a quick cameo.

As I look back at Tokyo Drift, I am shocked by how much less I hated it this time. Don’t get me wrong, it was still not a good movie, but it wasn’t as atrocious as I thought it would be. The storyline had the same elements as the first two films, with the exception of no undercover cop. They had the tricked out cars, the warring gangs, the hero working off debt, the racing for the hot girl, and a rapper in an insignificant role. What didn’t work? The whole fish out of water storyline they tried with Sean in Tokyo went over like a lead balloon. It just felt forced. This is the only movie in the franchise without Paul Walker. But don’t fret; Lucas Black filled the bad acting void.

Oddly enough, Justin Lin directed this movie. This is the least successful film of the franchise but somehow Lin kept the reigns for not only the fourth, but also the upcoming fifth film. What he did well in Tokyo Drift was the racing was real. There weren’t any CGI cars. Instead, real stunt drivers drifted real cars. I find this odd because the thing I remember most about Fast & Furious, the fourth film, is that it was all CGI. Another quick note: in the chronology of the franchise, this is considered to be the last movie. The events of four and five take place before Tokyo Drift. I don’t know where six is going to fall, but I would assume it will come before Tokyo Drift as well. As a final side note, Han makes a quick cameo in the fourth film, and seems to be a major character in Fast Five. He is the only character from this movie to make it into another film. The non-Paul Walker, non-Vin Diesel experiment was an utter failure.

But they got them back for Fast & Furious, which probably had the best tag line: "New Model, Original Parts." That was the only reason I got excited about this movie. By excited, I mean excited enough to rent it. I wasn’t going to go waste my hard earned $8 to watch another atrocity in theaters. Fast & Furious opened in April of 2009, as a pre-Memorial Day release. It opened strong, held on strong, and became the top earning movie of the franchise, and the second highest grossing movie involving car racing.

The movie opens with a semi-truck heist, reminiscent of the first film. Instead of electronics in Los Angeles, this time they are stealing gasoline in Dominican Republic. Han, from Tokyo Drift, is driving one truck, and a new guy named Tego is driving the other. Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are in a lead car. After the hijacking goes south, the local law enforcement closes in on Dom and his crew. They split up. Han says that hears that they are doing interesting things in Tokyo. So, one could assume that is setting up for Tokyo Drift, but Han is returning in Fast Five which leaves me to wonder how they are going to tie in the third film. That night, Dom leaves Letty for her own protection. Despite her pleas against it, Dom slips away in the night.

Brian (Walker) is now an agent of the F.B.I. He and his division are charged with finding and bringing down a heroin dealer, Braga. Brian chases down a lead, literally. The guy gives Brain the name David Park. Now, Letty is murdered in cold blood. Word gets to Dom via Mia (Brewster), and he returns to L.A. for the funeral. He starts to look into her death, and he is lead to a guy named David Park.

David Park tells the F.B.I. that Braga’s right hand man Campos (John Ortiz) is holding a race audition for the last spot in the next drug run. Brian shows up to race, but so does Dom. Brian shows up for his job. While Dom shows up to avenge Letty’s death. Dom wins the race. Brian sets up a different driver with a bogus drug possession to get in the race anyway.

So, they make their drug run through some bad CGI tunnels under the Mexico/U.S. border. Once they reach the drop point, it is clear that the hired drivers are going to be executed by Campos’s lead driver, Fenix. Dom and Brian escape execution with the $60 million in heroin just smuggled into the country. The FBI sets up a sting to get Braga out in the open, but it goes south. This leaves Brian no choice, but to once again defy authority.

In the finale, Dom and Brian go to Mexico to bring back Campos, who is also Braga, through the CGI tunnel. The idea is to try and clear Dom’s name. Dom gets his revenge on Fenix in a very anti-climactic battle. U.S. authorities arrive on the scene, taking into custody Braga and Dom. At a court hearing, Dom is denied clemency and sentenced to 25 to life. We are left with him on a prison bus heading to jail. But the bus is surrounded by three cars driven by Brian, Mia, and Tego.

Fast & Furious was the first movie to really delve into a deep plot. I am not saying that this is by any means an Academy Award winning script, but it was a refreshing idea. I enjoyed seeing the old cast, sans Vince, back together. I did not like how they just killed Letty. She was one of my favorite characters from the first film. In the grand scheme of things, I enjoyed Justin Lin’s second attempt at this franchise. Would I watch this one again on its own? Maybe. It is a decent use of 107 minutes.

Finally, I have finished watching the entire franchise up to this point. It has been an enjoyable four days. One thing I can say for certain: These movies were not designed to be played in a marathon like this. I was surprised how Paul Walker never really improved as an actor. Unfortunately, neither did Vin Diesel nor Jordana Brewster. So, it must be the brainless car racing and action that keeps me coming back to this franchise.

I have mentioned the running times of these films for a reason. They are all around 105 minutes. Fast Five, however, is being listed at 130 minutes. That seems a bit excessive. I am excited to see it nonetheless and look forward to the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Come back Friday for the review of the latest addition, Fast Five.