31 March 2011

Movie Series: Matrix (plus Bound)

The Matrix series - starting with
The Matrix (1999) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/, then
The Animatrix (2003) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0328832/, followed by
Reloaded (2003) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0234215/ then
Revolutions (2003) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0242653/

I'm not going to give a play-by-play review of each film.  Chances are everyone has seen them by now.  And if you haven't, just watch The Matrix. It's a good film. It was groundbreaking in its time. Many films, television, even commercials refer back to The Matrix in style and effects.  Thus it's a sort of a milestone of a film in how it affected the film and entertainment culture that came after.

The Matrix is as good as ever and definitely works well as a stand-alone.  I'm still not tired of this movie.  I could easily could watch just The Matrix, stop, and be satisfied. That's probably the best way to watch the series - just watch the first one.
But, for the sake of completeness, I watched the rest anyhow.

Watching these films as they hit the theaters amounted to being blown away by The Matrix, followed by mounting anticipation for Reloaded, fueled by the Animatrix, only to be crushed with disappointment, followed by mounting apprehension for Revolutions and feeling forced to see it just to finish the series off. However, one thing I do have to admit is that watching the movies back-to-back almost improves the sequels due to being constantly immersed in the movie's universe for a short period of time.  Almost.

The Animatrix was a direct-to-video collection of animated stories set in the Matrix universe, intended to whip people's interest in the series to a nice froth until Reloaded was released. It has a couple of interesting stories, I especially like The Second Renaissance parts 1 & 2 because it gives the history that sets up the war between humans and machines and how the Matrix came about as a result.  2 more segments tie directly into the sequel films that follow, and the rest are just ancillary stories set in the same world as the Matrix. Watching this isn't required to follow what happens in the later two flicks, but it is interesting enough if you're of the mind to see everything.

Reloaded and Revolutions - neither could stand alone as films. They depend heavily on their predicessors and assume the viewers already know what led up to those moments.  They add extra junk that does nothing for the story. They try to make the whole 'savior of the world' motif almost supernatural in a thinly veiled messiah parallel - moreso than the original Matrix touches on. I think my brain figured out how to screen out the excess junk that does nothing but fill time and is so disappointing and just pay attention to the core bits that seem to drive the Matrix story.
I do have a Matrix within a Matrix theory that explains the 'savior' parallel, how Neo could be so effective against the machines outside the Matrix, how Smith could exist outside the Matrix, and does nothing to excuse the extra junk, but it's probably too lengthy to go into here.

Despite the disappointment of the two sequels, they do embed some interesting advancements to the core story, they do give us interesting supporting characters (good and bad), and some entertaining chase and badass fight sequences. 

I'm still impressed by the actor playing Bane, the dude that was taken over by Agent Smith from within the Matrix and returned to the external world, because he does such a good job mirroring Hugo Weaving's performance as Smith.

------ Asides:
Bound (1996) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115736/

The Matrix would not have been made if Bound hadn't been made first.  Warner Brothers had reservations about letting the Wachowski brothers siblings direct a film, so they backed the Wachowskis to write and direct Bound. A test of their skills to see if they could direct and deliver a blockbuster in The Matrix.

In Bound, a female ex-con gets a gangster's girlfriend to fall in love with her, steal the mob's money the gangster is holding and attempt to pin the blame on the gangster. If only the plan worked as smoothly as it sounds. A dark thriller/drama type film with a little violence and sexytime.
It's a pretty good story, directed well and acted well. You get to see a predecessor of the 'bullet time' technique used in The Matrix, sort of an effect test run.  You get to see a very good strong performance by Joe Pantoliano.  And if you've ever had fantasies of a Gina Gershon with Jennifer Tilly love scene - you're set.

It's an interesting film, it's entertaining, and it's a good thing too because it made The Matrix possible.  Definitely worth watching because it is a good movie in its own right and it never received the marketing it deserved.

Movies: Predators

Predators (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1424381/

A group of badasses from all over the world get airdropped into a jungle.  All have a common recollection of being somewhere, seeing a light, then waking up free-falling. They band together against the common unseen enemy - whoever dropped them there. Some have weapons, some don't. As they move somewhere or other they stumble upon a camp, a camp full of dead stuff and trophies of kills. And they also begin to understand they just might not be on Earth any longer...

Yes! A sequel to Predator worthy of the title.
Predator 2? Mediocre but acceptable. Both Alien vs Predator films? Mediocre to worse.

This one? Produced by Robert Rodriguez and based on a script he'd written back in 1994. From what I understand this film largely ignored the AVP films and the comics - it's a sequel targeted to follow Predator and Predator 2.

Mature production. Location shots - scouted well and used well. Sets? Done well. Camera work? No complaints. Music? Didn't notice it, but it was there - which is a good sign that it helped the movie and didn't hurt it.  Performed well by a very good cast of A and B listers.  Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Walton Goggins, even Topher Grace. Although it is still hard to see Topher in anything and not think of That 70s Show.
I liked the new cast mix. They didn't mirror the original Predator cast mix, and they didn't try to mirror the Arnold casting.  Had they done that it would've been less a sequel and more a pale reflection.

Decent action, good story line, good script. Nice insertion of a callback to the original Predator film.  Good character exposition as the story unfolds. Leaves us hanging on for another sequel at the end.

It was quite fortunate for all the characters that, despite their being collected from around the world, they all spoke English. There was a little bit of quick and easy jumping to the right conclusions about situations, and the whole readily accepting they are on a planet that isn't Earth being hunted by creatures with much better technology.  But you can't really move a film forward when the bulk of your characters sit in one place crapping themselves at the realization they were really abducted by aliens, dropped on an alien world, and are now being hunted for sport.  I also had a chuckle at Adrien Brody's use of the "Christian Bale Batman Voice".
I was hoping they wouldn't go for the "covered in mud to confuse infrared" bit, especially after Mythbusters already busted that as an effective means to fool infrared, but at least when this movie went there they added overwhelming fire to blind that sort of detection.  Perhaps Mythbusters will tackle whether or not "mud + lotsafire" will fool infrared.   Plus not quite as much Predators hunting people action as one would hope for.

On the positive side, each of the folks grabbed from Earth are predators in their own right, so in a sense the film title doesn't refer only to the intergalactic big-game-hunting species we met back in 1987.  An international mix of military, mercenaries, yakuza, cartel enforcers and criminals. So at least the Predators are still sticking to the hunting of folks who are a little more deserving and/or capable of being good sporting prey.  Apparently there's no sport in hunting random soccer moms, mallrats, crack addicts and hairdressers.

An entertaining action sci-fi that's worthy of  Popcorn Movie Night. If you like the original Predator movie you'll probably enjoy this one as well, no matter what you thought of the other sequels.

30 March 2011

Movies: Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1075747/

Jonah Hex chose to refuse confederate general Quentin Turnbull's order to kill innocents, even to the point of killing QT's son Jeb.   After the Civil War QT tracks Hex down, accuses him of being a traitor to the confederacy, burns Hex's family alive in front of Hex, and brands a QT into Hex's face so he'll never forget who did it.  Crow Indians find Hex days later, on the verge of death, and nurse him back to health. As Hex was on death's door he picked up the ability to talk to the dead.  Hex hears QT died in a hotel fire, which prevents Hex from exacting his revenge on QT, so Hex became a bounty hunter.  Then the President of the US finds out that QT is alive and has stolen the parts of a massive 'continent killer' weapon designed by Eli Whitney, so he has the Army track Hex down to take out QT. Once Hex hears QT is alive, he takes on the task of stopping QT.

Stars Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex. John Malkovich as Quentin Turnbull. Actually there's a few recognizable folks cast in this film.  Oh yeah, Megan Fox shows up for no reason a few times too and hid her thumbs well.

Oh crap, the snark is already creeping in. Can't help it.  I really wanted to give this film a chance despite the negative reviews.

The good thing about this film: it is 81 minutes long.
I have to admit there are some good scenes.   Some parts of the story are kind of interesting, like the talking to the dead thing. I understand that wasn't part of the comic book Jonah Hex character, but it seemed like an intriguing idea, even though it was a little "Pushing Daisies"*  - like. Hex's makeup job was good.

Other parts - not so much. Like the Indian folks  Native Americans just showing up out of nowhere time to time to nurse Hex back to health, yet really having no other reason to be in the story. Or the twin mounted gatling-guns on JH's horse. Um, yeah.  I know there are movies this would be appropriate in, but this film didn't stay in that kind of a movie space. It meandered in and out of where it wanted to be.  It's like someone said "steampunk" in a sentence and production said "oh yeah I heard about that word, let's mount some gatling guns on the horse. That's steampunky -right?"
If the horse flew too I would have been fully dropped into a "Gentlemen Broncos" place.

I have trouble putting into words why this film didn't really work for me. The music was distracting. The story seemed disjointed, even though it concentrated on telling the one tale. Perhaps it was in the cuts?  I don't know if the director or DP watched any classic westerns - there didn't seem to be any classics influences on how the shots were set up or filmed. It looked like the shots were framed more like cartoon panels, but way less effectively than Sin City or Watchmen.
In a sequence that has practically nothing to do with the film's plot Tom Wopat shows up as Luke Duke a colonel that once worked for QT. The Tom Wopat scene made no sense at all, 'cause Hex could have gone straight to where he ended up anyhow, especially because he'd already established what the dead do and do not see.
From the Michael Bay playbook we have building-leveling explosions for no reason. Shooting a box of dynamite lights the fuse on one bundle instead of making it blow up immediately(!?). Plus the whole Eli Whitney takes the logical step from creating the cotton gin to making weapons of mass destruction. Because we know that was Oppenheimer's journey - from designing support bras to becoming the father of atomic weapons.

Cast-wise: Brolin played his part well. Malcovich can just phone in bad guys anymore - he's good at 'em so it doesn't even look like he had to try. I'm not saying Malcovich didn't put in effort, he's just done this guy a few times in other films so it's almost like a costume for him.  Unfortunately a lot of great actors got relegated to background supporting roles that wasted such a wealth of talent. It was cool to (briefly) see Broyles and Lincoln Lee from Fringe in there. Megan Fox looked sweaty.

The movie does have its decent moments, some flashes of smarts. It has some entertainment value, on a level. And it's a mess.   I guess it sort of reminds me of 1999's Wild Wild West in a way - that is - in the way that I'd probably rate both a generous 4 on a scale of  1 to 10. 3 being Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus quality. Yeah - this is just slightly past that - bigger budget with bigger stars and better CGI and heroic editing to get halfway coherent movie out of it. 

I realize nobody sets out to make a bad movie.  This one looked like a B movie script and production shot with a budget big enough to score some bigger-named cast members and decent CGI then edited expertly into the best they could get out of the existing footage.  81 minute movie? That's practically unheard of for a theatrical release these days, and rather telling if that's the usable footage.

Entertaining in some moments, but not very fulfilling as a whole.  Had potential, failed to deliver.

* "Pushing Daisies" was a fun quirky TV comedy series back in 2007. Unfortunately it only lasted two very short seasons. Season 1 was cut extra short by the writer's strike. I was sad to see it go. It was cute, funny, quirky, had a great cast, good tongue-in-cheekiness, silly, punny, and got canceled way before its time.  I was sad.

27 March 2011

Movies: The Experiment

The Experiment http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0997152/

An ad in the paper promises $1000 a day for a fourteen day psychological experiment.  After screening and psychological tests, twenty-six men are chosen out of all the applicants and bussed to a remote location. They are split into two groups - prisoners and guards. I don't recall the actual numbers but I think it was somewhere around six guards to twenty prisoners. The guards are given five rules to follow, the prisoners aren't briefed on their jobs except to be prisoners.  Everyone is told if they leave the experiment early or break the no-violence rules nobody gets paid. Over the course of the experiment things spiral out of control as the volunteers fall into their roles, or refuse to be defined by them.

The film has its major stars Adrien Brody and Forrest Whitaker, with some other recognizables including Maggie Grace (Shannon - Lost) and the dude-that-looks-like-a-mini-Michael-Douglas Fisher Stevens (Minkowski - Lost). 

The film is messed up enough and violent enough to be an entertaining and thrilling peek into the spiraling degeneration of human behavior in the uncontrolled-controlled conditions set up for the experiment.  The wife really enjoyed the film, I liked it.

Thing is, I had mixed feelings about a couple things.  For instance, the performances.  Overall the performances were fine. However I really believed Forrest Whitaker's character transformation - he really sold it.  Adrien Brody, not so much. I'm not sure why, because I've seen Brody deliver fine performances in the past, but for some reason this one didn't work for me.  Either that or Whitaker just flat-out eclipsed Brody on screen. 
I realize Maggie Grace's character was supposed to be Brody's go-to "happy place," but she was a time-expensive way to deliver a key-moment plot mover. I don't know if her character or its storyline were really necessary to the film. I like the actress, I just thought her story bits consumed time better used to tell us about the other key guard and prisoner characters.
Which I realize is a tough balance, because if the film had given us detailed backgrounds on the other key guard and prisoner roles like they did with Whitaker and Brody it probably would've cluttered the film and slowed it down.  But lacking backgrounds as detailed as Whitaker's and Brody's also made those other character motivations a little murkier.  It was immensely helpful to get the little clips of their pre-experiment interviews that we did get, I just kindof wish they'd given a little bit more of those interspersed with the start of the experiment footage and less Maggie Grace.

Another thing, which I hesitate to hint at because I don't want to reveal the whole movie, is I don't understand why it took so long for the experiment to abort. One would think one key event would've caused it to abort at that moment instead of allowing it to fall apart even further.  We never get to see what is happening with the  experiment controllers or why they let it go on as they did. However, for the film to work, not seeing the controllers is necessary to maintain the sense of isolationism the volunteers are living under.

Also, at the end when the prisoners and guards were all on the bus coming back from the site, I expected that the guards would've naturally sat themselves together and separate from the prisoners instead of everyone just kinda sitting wherever.

I wanted to watch the film because I remember hearing about, then reading about the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment years ago.  I guessed (correctly) that the film was loosely based on that experiment and I wanted to see how it was portrayed in film.  After seeing the film, I think I would rather watch a documentary on the actual Stanford Prison Experiment. Just to see what really happened. To me, the reality would be much scarier to see unfold. Something about the how this fictionalized taken-to-an-extreme film unfolds  rings hollow compared with the knowledge that someone really did do this experiment.  And to the film's credit - they did loosely stick to the actual experiment's timetable of events, just took them to a more extreme conclusion.

But it isn't necessarily the movie's fault for failing to meet my expectations, because they are expectations I held from prior exposure to the actual story. I suspect the movie would be more enjoyable for folks who haven't previously heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment, as was the case for the wife.

It is probably worth a watch. It is good enough and entertaining enough if you enjoy psychological thrillers. And it just happens to be streaming on Netflix as of this post.

25 March 2011

Movies: An American Crime vs The Girl Next Door

An American Crime (2007) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0802948/
The Girl Next Door (2007) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0830558/

Both films are based on the case of Sylvia Likens, a young girl tortured to death in 1965, the "most terrible crime committed in Indiana." In a nutshell, the parents of Sylvia and Jenny leave the girls in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski for $20 a week. Three months later it is discovered Sylvia was tortured to death by Gertrude, some of her offspring, and some neighborhood kids.  It is a terrible story.

An American Crime (AAC) is based largely on court transcripts of the actual case. The film moves like a documentary of the events.  Stars Katherine Keener as Gertrude and Ellen Page as Sylvia.

The Girl Next Door (TGND) is based on a novel of the same name, which is a fictionalized account based on the same case.  The names and places in TGND are changed, and the conditions under which the girls are left with the family are different. There are changes to some of the characters and details of the aftermath. 

Thing is, at the core both stories are pretty much the same, because they are based on the same case.

Both movies have great casts, are acted well, and constructed well. There is some feeling of distraction while watching AAC because the primary cast is so recognizable, whereas TGND uses lesser known actors for their cast, so that distraction doesn't happen. TGND looks grittier than AAC.  AAC looks like polished poverty compared to TGND's portrayal of the conditions.

Both films are rough to watch, because the events depicted are so brutal.  TGND is actually harder to watch because they show more of the terrible things done. AAC leaves a little more to the imagination.

I considered both films equally good as films go. Both have their strengths in performance, and they're both built on solid stories and scripting. And honestly, my hat is off to the casts for both films, because these had to be very hard films to perform in, be they the torturers or the tortured.  My overall preference is for TGND, mostly because I didn't know the cast and it didn't pull as many punches.

It is a heartbreaking story.  If you enjoy based on true events types of  films, this is a good pair to choose from.  Still, if anything read the wikipedia article on the case before you choose to watch either of the films so that you have an idea what you're in for ahead of time.
If you don't have much of a stomach for movies involving the torturing of someone, An American Crime is probably the easier of the two to watch. And it is more in line with the facts of the case. TGND will leave you covering your eyes and ears through some of the scenes.

There really isn't a need to see both films unless you really want to -- AAC will deliver the story in a form a little easier to watch, and closer to the actual facts of the case.  I watched both specifically because I wanted to compare the two, but I really had no clue what I was in for.  And I watched TGND first, then AAC, so AAC seemed rather tame in comparison, even though it really isn't tame as far as films go.

Now, I watched both these films about three years ago, so this review is completely from memory without rewatching them to refresh my impressions. But they are good enough movies that they did leave very memorable impressions.  I'm still debating whether or not to rewatch one or the other.

I think what reminded me of them was I watched a trailer for "Super" the other day, which has Ellen Page in it, plus I just watched Barry Munday, which has Patrick Wilson who was in "Hard Candy" with Ellen Page, and I got to thinking of other Ellen Page films, and both Hard Candy and An American Crime are memorable films. Heck now I'm considering rewatching Hard Candy.

Movies: Barry Munday

Barry Munday http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0482461/

When we first meet Barry we are shown he tries to be a ladies' man, ends up sleeping with any gal who actually succumbs to his clumsy overtures, lives with his mom, is the laziest dude at his workplace, pretty much a grown-up child mess. Barry had sat down in a theater next to a teenage girl, her father arrives with a trumpet and de-testiculation occurs. Barry wakes up in the hospital with no memory of what landed him there and finds out the doctors had to remove his testicles. Soon after that he finds out he's in the middle of a paternity suit, filed by a woman who claims she had a one-night stand with Barry, though Barry has no memory of the woman at all. He decides he wants to meet the mother and ultimately stick it out as a father figure.

Pretty much the story is Barry's development as a person after losing the boys.  The story moves and ends predictably, has a few amusing scenes along the way.

It's a comedy with heart and warmth. Not a 'comedy night with the guys' sort of comedy - more a 'see with the special someone' date comedy, approaching chick-flickyness but not quite.  Stars Patrick Wilson (Night Owl II in Watchmen) as Barry and Judy Greer as Ginger - the mom-to-be.  Has a decent supporting cast of A and B listers, including Malcolm McDowell, Cybill Shepherd, Bill Dee Williams, Colin Hanks, Kyle Gass, Chloe Sevigny ... yeah - no shit - quite a supporting cast. 

Now, as to why Patrick Wilson didn't learn his lesson in Hard Candy and stay away from teenage girls I couldn't say -- but had he not sat next to that teenage girl in the movie theater then we would have no launching point for the film.  It took the traumatic event to put Barry in a place to react to the paternity suit in a way totally different from how his character had been established. Which is what does make the movie work, in its way.
I doubt it'll be overly memorable for me, except that the dude lost his nads to a trumpet, which will probably be enough to go "oh yeah, I did see that film"  at some random distant point in the future, slowly fading until years from now I just say "eh? what's that? never heard of it."

It's okay, technically filmed well and acted well. The cast works well together.  Considering Barry's empty bean bag the changes to his personality are understandable, and Wilson and Greer work well together in their situation. Plotwise - there's some things that show up and disappear abruptly, like Barry's psycho ex-ish girlfriend, but they're forgivable. As a whole the movie isn't great, but it isn't terrible; it's amusing enough but not necessarily laugh out loud.   I didn't dislike it. And it does have character growth, and it ends up in a warm happy place.

As I mentioned before - more of a comedy for couples.  One of those 'laid back don't feel like laughing soda out my nose tonight' types of films.  So that one night the two of you grab some popcorn, curl up on the couch, fire up Netflix streaming and say, "what should we watch? I dunno. Just anything." Start clicking along and you'll see this one. Go ahead, might as well. At this point you're not invested in watching anything else in particular, you know?

24 March 2011

Movie Series: The Dollars Trilogy

A Fistful of Dollars http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058461/
A Few Dollars More http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059578/
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060196/

  aka The Dollars Trilogy

This classic spaghetti western trio, written and directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, are still good films to watch today.  They weren't intended as a trilogy, but they can easily be watched as one.

Each film centers around a bounty hunter, The Man With No Name, played by Eastwood.
In A Fistful of Dollars he positions himself between two warring families, playing one against the other and profiting from them demolishing each other.
In A Few Dollars More, he teams up with another bounty hunter (Lee Van Cleef) to return a whole gang of bank robbers for their bounties, but this story has a B story motivation for Van Cleef's character that reveals itself by the end of the film.
In The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Eastwood and two others race to find a fortune of gold buried by fleeing Confederates in an old cemetery.  Yes, Lee Van Cleef appears this one too, but he plays a different character, which might be confusing if you aren't expecting that's the case. 

The series is notable because their style is so different from the Hollywood westerns preceding them. Each subsequent film is better than the one preceding it, which is an accomplishment few serial movies achieve, and this is the case probably because all three have strong stories and Sergio Leone's filmmaking techniques continued to improve. And a final notability - to this day there are many pop culture and modern film refrences back to these films, mostly nods to the Good the Bad and the Ugly. 

Sure there's lots of english overdubbing of the minor characters that doesn't match up to the mouth of the actors, but that doesn't really detract from the films. They were filmed in Spain, voiced in Italian, so that's to be expected and easily ignored. The strength of the films are in the story plots, the locations, the camera work, the music and the primary actors.  One can see the stylistic influence these movies had on many American-made films after.

Westerns have resonated with the American film audiences since the beginning of film making, hitting the height of popularity in the 50's. Many times have people announced that audiences no longer want to watch westerns, only to be proven wrong by another awesome western hitting the screen.  Recent examples that come to mind would be Tombstone, the True Grit remake, and, of course, the highly successful series Deadwood. And a special mention of Firefly and Serenity - probably the best Space Western. 

Yes, Westerns aren't dead yet.  And that's why it's important to see the best of what came before.  They've had such an impact on modern movie making, styles, and stories.  Seeing good movies from the past that are so influential on modern films really helps distinguish between the good, the bad, and the mediocre films. And plenty of films and TV shows reference this series, even if it's an offhand comment made in a comedy. And The Dollars Trilogy is a good an example of one facet of why the genre works so well.


Tangential note: A Fistful of Dollars is an unofficial remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo.  I've never seen Yojimbo, but Netflix keeps suggesting it to me. Maybe I should watch it. 
To date I've only watched one Kurisawa film, The Seven Samurai, which is an awesome film. Sure it's subtitled, but I got so caught up in the story I forgot I was reading the subtitles.  The classic western The Magnificent Seven is a remake of The Seven Samurai, and is a good movie in its own right, but it is clearly only as good as it is because it stands on the shoulders of Kurosawa's film.  IMO The Seven Samurai is the better of the two.

21 March 2011

Movies: Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1151359/

Bill Kincaid, an Ivy League professor of philosophy, has completely severed his ties with his family in the the small Oklahoma town where he grew up.  Just as his career is about to move to the next level he receives a call that his twin brother Brady, a small-time pot grower and ne'er do well, was murdered. Bill rushes back home, only to find that Brady is very much alive and has tricked Bill to return the only way Brady knew would work.  Brady's girlfriend is pregnant and Brady plans on retiring from the business, but he has a few loose ends to tie up with the regional drug kingpin, and Brady needs Bill so that he can be in two places at once.

Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, probably remembered most as Delmar in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", although he's been in plenty other good flicks.  Stars Edward Norton as both Bill and Brady, Susan Sarandon as their Mom, Tim Blake Nelson, Keri Russell, and Richard Dreyfuss.  Plus a good supporting cast.

Good cinematography, edited together well, the whole cast does a great job in their roles.  As a whole the film had a decent story, even had some growth for some of the characters. 

However this movie seemed like a well built airplane that just lazily taxis around on the runway for an hour and fifteen minutes before it takes off and actually flies. Once that plane is in the air, all that lazy taxiing about suddenly becomes relevant and everything makes sense in the end.  I felt that ultimately the end was enough to make the wait worth it. I have to admit that quite a few times I was wondering if it was going anywhere and was almost ready to give up on it. I'm glad the film finally got going when it did, it really saved the movie as a whole for me.

It's a dark comedy / crime drama - but a lot of times the comedy is subtle and is almost overshadowed by the weight of the drama.  It could almost have been a Coen brothers film, but wasn't quite as snappy or driven from scene to scene the way Coen brothers films tend to be.  Still, it seems as if working with the Coens rubbed off a little on Tim Blake Nelson.

Overall I liked the movie, even though I spent the first hour and change wondering where the heck it was going. I was glad to see that pretty much everything we are shown in that first hour has bearing on where the movie ends - nothing shown us is wasted. It's sort of a shame, though, that a movie that is well put together as a whole still seems lacking on some level. It's good enough, but probably easily forgettable.

The movie has a tiny bit pertaining to noodling. I only mention that because I noticed that noodling references seem to have become more prominent lately. I dunno why - either they've always been there and I'm just noticing, or it really is getting mentioned more.

By the way, if you've not seen "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" I recommend you do.  It is worth seeing at least once.

20 March 2011

Movies: Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1399683/

A drama/mystery/thriller about a young 17yr old girl (Ree) in the Ozarks who takes care of her two younger siblings and her mother - they have practically nothing but the house and land it sits on. The mother is catatonic, her father is a meth cooker that had been arrested, got out on bail and disappeared. The cops are looking for him, his court date is soon, and the bail bondsman informs her that her father signed over the house and property as collateral against the bond. If he doesn't show up, the family loses everything and has to move.  The story follows Ree as she tries to track down what happened to her father.

Beautifully shot and acted. Great core and supporting cast. The story, locations and people populating the story are believable. Actress Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Ree, does an outstanding job holding this film together. If she had failed in her role the film would've fallen apart.
 The pace might seem plodding to some. I felt it moved along at the pace it needed to take, it didn't linger in places longer than necessary to advance the story.

In some ways it reminded me of No Country for Old Men - not in story or circumstance or anything like that - just as a dark gritty drama with intense moments. Just sit back and watch everything happen sort of film.  All substance and no flash.  Solid from start to finish.  Highly recommended for those who enjoy a good strong drama.

18 March 2011

Movies: Let Me In vs. Let The Right One In

Let Me In (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1228987/
I saw this after I'd seen the original 2008 Swedish film "Let the Right One In".  This is based both on that film and the book "Let the Right One In".
A couple of name changes from the original, Owen instead of Oskar, Abby instead of Eli. The kids are the same ages.  It is almost a beat for beat remake of the original, though some beats were rearranged slightly, and the tempo was increased to a more "American" moviegoer pace.  This film hits every major point the original did. It did tell the audience about Abby and her protector's relationship and revealed her nature a little bit earlier than the original. Also has a little more following of Abby's protector than the original.  However overall it did center more on Owen and Abby more than the original, despite watching the protector a little more.

A very good remake that honors the original. Worth seeing, especially if you aren't in the mood for a subtitled Swedish film. Watch this one and you've pretty much seen the same movie. I really liked the film, and it is refreshingly different for a vampire movie than the standard fare - more traditional and much less sparkly.

Bonus: Chloe Moretz stars as Abby. You might remember her as Hit Girl in the film Kick Ass.
Great supporting cast too, including the kid that played Jack Shepard's son in the Lost final season.

Let the Right One In (2008) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1139797/
2008 Swedish film about Oskar - a bullied 12yr old boy who falls for his new next-door neighbor Eli, a 12yr old girl who happens to be a vampire.  Note that "Eli" is pronounced like "Elly" - which is way more feminine.

Even though the dialog is completely subtitled for us Americans who don't speak Swedish, it's still a powerful flick.  Very much more a traditional-style vampire. They have to be invited to come in. What was great was including a demonstration of what happens if the vampire enters without invitation. And sunlight does cause bursting into flames. Nice.

The story is completely uncluttered. It concentrates mostly on Oskar's interactions with the bullies that torment him, other people in his life, and his developing relationship with Eli.  There are a few visits to see Eli's protector trying to do his job feeding her and a small side story (but part of driving the plot forward) involving a couple of Eli's victims.

Shot well technically. The pacing is a little slower than American flicks tend to have, but not so much as to drag the story. Did a good job keeping the viewer involved in the story, had some really cool scenes too.  Didn't have to show too much either, just enough that your imagination fills in the rest and it's pretty amazing.
Acting seems spot on. It is tough to tell on line delivery due to my not speaking Swedish. The gal playing Eli did a decent job of portraying a maturity from her unknown number of years (but probably a lot) stuck in a 12yr old body, as well as balancing being the predator she is against holding back while her relationship develops with Oskar, especially after her protector sacrifices himself to protect her identity - as she has to now cultivate a potential replacement.

If you really enjoyed the American remake, and have a hankerin for comparing remakes to originals, this is a great pair to see. For me it was worth the 'reading captions' effort to see this original. It is that good of a film.

Movies: Monsters

Monsters (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1470827/

Potential life in our solar system was collected by a NASA probe and returned to Earth six years ago. The probe broke up over Mexico during reentry.  Soon after, strange creatures began 'infecting' the land.  Mexico and the U.S. walled off the area, the Infected Zone, and are fighting a losing battle to contain the creatures.

A photographer named Andrew finally got his assignment to the southern Mexico / Central America region to photograph the creatures in the wild, to document their annual migration. After a hotel in Central America was attacked by one of the creatures Andrew is tasked by his boss to locate the owner of the publication's daughter Samantha, who was staying at the hotel.  He finds her at a local hospital, her arm sprained, so he calls in to tell them she's fine. He's then ordered to get her to the coast and on a ferry back to the States by the publication owner himself.  We follow their journey back to the states as they try to return before all travel is shut down due to increased activity by the creatures.

A low-budget sci-fi film shot with an outline, little script, and shaped by location and opportunities, with locals that happen to be around filling out the 'extras' cast. Despite the scriptless guerrilla film making I didn't think it was that bad of a film, whereas the wife found it a little bit plodding. This isn't a Michael Bay-ish explosion fest filled with cast members that drag us from explosion to explosion. Instead we follow two folks who just met, are trying to get back to the states, have their own problems and goals, slowly tease information out of each other during their trek.  The creatures only come out at night, thus suspense scenes come about at night, when actually seeing the creatures is a rarity.  Most times we just see parts flailing about.

What I liked was the details in the backgrounds of various locations.  Giant containment fences that stretch for miles. We see murals depicting US and Mexican forces attacking the creatures. We see signs along roads indicating how far places are from the Infected Zone, or which roads are cut off by the zone. Anywhere there is a TV there is either news stories about the most recent battles with the monsters, a little bit about the history of the invasion, or there are cartoons teaching children to put on their gas-masks whenever the creatures are near and the military planes are attacking them. It's a way of life that the locals just accept and live their lives despite the dangers.

I'm not exactly sure where the 100ft tall creatures hide during the day, but there are constant air patrols day and night. I'm also not sure why the two have to take a train to the coast then attempt to get on a ferry, as opposed to some form of commercial air travel.  I don't recall any exposition in dialog or background news report explaining why air travel isn't possible. We can see evidence that the creatures have taken down low flying military aircraft, but that doesn't explain why flights at 30,000+ft don't happen.  Maybe I missed that detail, perhaps one of the background TVs touched on the subject.

There really isn't much of a story - just the two people trying to get back to the States and what they encounter along the way. Their conversations don't have much bearing on anything, they just seem to be conversations between strangers to pass the time as they head where they are going and deliver snippets of whatever greater issues they have going on in their lives outside of the trek. Giant creatures happen.  At least the CGI isn't intrusive, seemed to meld well with the environments.  It pretty much works as a handheld-filmed 'documentary' set in the context of the creatures that spawned after the probe breakup.  Nothing seemed to crush the suspension of disbelief.

The film may seem a little slow at times, the monsters seem to be more of a backdrop than the focus. It is subdued, but I thought it was paced well for the style movie it is. I liked it as little-scripted films go and thought it was better accomplished than other films of similar construction, Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity as examples. Seems to be a 'like it or hate it' movie for viewers - seems to be split down the middle for RottenTomatoes viewer ratings.

As sci-fi films go I appreciated that the sci-fi component wasn't the whole purpose of the story, instead more like an environment for the story to unfold within. Sometimes less is more, and IMO this worked well for this film. I was entertained enough for the experience.

17 March 2011

Movies: Mega Python vs. Gatoroid

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1680138/

As promised in my review of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (MSvGO) I had to watch Mega Python vs. Gatoroid  (MPvG) - because it stars both Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.  Much like MSvGO, one can surmise how good of a movie MPvG will be solely from the title. And it is terrible. Even worse than MSvsGO.

Dr. Nikki (Debbie Gibson) - a doctor of what is never explained - has an obsession about pythons. She doesn't like seeing them caged, so she and her two unnamed disposable minions break into places, steal them, then release them into the Everglades.  Park Ranger Terry O'Hara (Tiffany) is concerned because pythons are killing alligators, upsetting the balance of nature.  The stereotype local yokels wanna hunt gators because it's gator season, but there aren't enough left (python problem) to be a-shootin 'em.  Ranger Terry authorizes a python season instead to restore balance.  Pythons wipe out all the yokels, plus Ranger Terry's fiancee. So Ranger Terry does the only logical thing - she gets ahold of some experimental steroids, injects them into dead chickens, and feeds the chickens to the local gators. She figures the gators will then get big enough to properly defend themselves from the pythons.  Problem is that the pythons feed on some of the gators before they get too big, plus they feed on the gator eggs, so not only do the gators grow to giant proportions, the pythons keep right up with them.  And by giant proportions, I mean eventually we're treated to a python swallowing a moving train, that's how giant proportions the animals get.

Now, the python vs. gator bit - that's been in the news. And probably was a source of inspiration for the film. Especially this locked-in-death incident - where the python ate the gator, but couldn't contain it, thus exploded:
National Geographic
In addition to Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, a couple of fine supporting actors from various TV shows and stuff round out the rest of the core cast, A Martinez and Kathryn Joosten, both are instantly recognizable because they've been in many things.  Incidentally, A Martinez lets out the best yell of surprise I've seen in a long time. And by best, I mean it was so terrible it was funny.  Oh - there's a 'monkey' you'll recognize too. The rest of the supporting cast, not so much.

Dialog - terrible. Tiffany's acting - woof she's bad. Gibson - worse than she was in MSvGO, but looks like a seasoned pro next to Tiffany. Martinez and Joosten were the obvious best actors in the flick. Locations - well, there's footage of real swamps intercut with shots of the actors stomping around in woods and in streams. I don't know if any of the actors were filmed in a real swamp, let alone in the Everglades.  Continuity and editing - terrible. Special effects - well they used CGI, which varied from bad to worse. I did have to laugh when exploded python parts fell around a dude standing in water, making lots of splashes, and the only ripples in the water were caused by him standing there.  Another shot that cracked me up - a low-flying helicopter over plants and water generated no rotor-wash, the plants and water didn't budge.
Yes - completely B-movie production quality. It is like a porn movie - without the porn.

The movie is terrible in every way, and worse overall than MSvGO.


The movie was so bad I laughed through most of it. I don't know if I could stand watching it again, but it was both funny and entertaining in how terrible everything was.

Some best moments: When Tiffany and Debbie G first encounter each other they yell "Bitch" at each other. Then call each other the same at various points in the film.
There is a knock-down-drag-out fight (plus wrasslin) between T and DG at a fund raiser, including T smearing pie on DG, and DG shoving T's face and boobs into a cake.  This scene was probably on a lot of people's wish list back in 1987. Not so much now.
After the fight - no shit - DG says "I think we're alone now" and T says "there doesn't seem to be anyone around".  And that's not the only reference to their musical heyday past.
Watching T grab on to the ladder of a hovering helicopter, only to have the helicopter start losing altitude, was rather amusing. Watch the film to see why.

Yes, so terrible it is funny and entertaining it its severely B-movie way.  Probably worth trying to sit through once if you can stand terrible B-movies made for the SyFy channel. Just for the amusement, just for the Tiffany vs. Debbie Gibson fight.
I enjoyed my terrible experience, but I still think, in comparison, MSvGO is a better film. Kindof.

16 March 2011

Movie Series: Star Wars

In addition to my regular movie-watching schedule, and by schedule I mean "whenever I get around to it",  I've been re-watching some serial movies back-to-back to see how well they stand up now after a few years have gone by.

Star Wars - Episodes I through VI

I'm not going to attempt any sort of 'review' of the films, pretty much everyone has seen some or all of these films.  This is just a dump of the thoughts that I had after watching all the films again.

I had to watch them in event-chronological order instead of release order.  Otherwise I probably would not bother watching eps I, II, and III ever again.  I just have this darn 'completeness' urge that is not easy to ignore.

And, sure enough, the series is how I remember it. Eps I and II stink, III smells (except for the Jedi temple aftermath and the bit when Kenobi cuts off Anakin's legs and arm), ep IV (A New Hope) is great, V (Empire Strikes Back) is awesome, and VI (Return of the Jedi) is pretty darn good until the Ewoks show up and ruin everything.

I will admit, though, I found some of the politics of episodes I - III are interesting, as it shows how the soon-to-be emperor sets himself up for that position.  The political maneuverings, how Palpatine foments a schism, leads it through his minions, and at the same time uses the existing government to crush it out. Invent crisis, provide solution, take absolute power.

I also liked how at same time he engineers wiping out all the Jedi, effectively establishing balance by reducing the number of Jedi vs. Sith to two vs. two by the time he becomes emperor, using the very forces he had engineered to support the Jedi in the clone wars. Those pairs being Yoda and Kenobi vs. Emperor and Vader.
So yes, I did enjoy a few aspects of the eps I-III storyline, I liked the wheels-within-wheels politics and manipulations. But the bulk of those movies just stank compared to the original trilogy. I don't know if it is even possible to extract the best of the core story without the junk surrounding it.

One might lament that, as awesome as the special effects for Star Wars (A New Hope) and Empire and Return of the Jedi were at the time they were released, they might sort of look dated (on an effects level) compared with eps I-III.  Actually the effects still look good. I do realize they've been tinkered with and cleaned up over the years for the multiple re-releases, but the edited-in segments with CGI-only effects in the re-releases really stand out compared with the model shots. Actually, eps IV-VI look less cluttered - there's less ships in the space shots.  The space battles in eps I-III have so much going on it becomes a blur. Admittedly puppet Yoda is kinda weak compared to CGI Yoda. However, if ANH, ESB and RotJ were made after eps I-III they probably would not have been near as good as they are.

One really glaring thing about Darth Vader. In eps IV-VI he's a straight-up bad ass. How did he go from being the annoying kid in ep I and the whiney bitch in eps II and III to bad ass?  The animated Clone Wars series can't answer that -- those take place chronologically between eps II and III. Odder still - the Anakin in the Clone Wars series is nowhere near the whiney bitch he is in ep III.  He's actually likeable.  It is a shame the Anakin in ep III wasn't anything like his Clone Wars persona.

I'm not even going to address the "C-3PO built by Darth Vader / R2-D2 doesn't get his memory wiped / Obi Wan doesn't even acknowledge knowing them" issues.

Star Wars, as a whole, is a stronger series with just episodes IV through VI. Eps I - III dilutes the greatness of the series. At least the animated Clone Wars series is a good addition. Much better than The Star Wars Holiday Special.


Edit April 2012
I just read this article about a proposed order to watch the films referred to as "The Machete Order".

The proposed order to watch the films is IV, V, II, III, VI, and don't watch I.

I watched the original release order of IV, V, VI, I, II, III. I've re-watched them in the sequential order of I, II, III, IV, V, VI. I didn't like either way. The proposed "Machete Order" might just work for me. The article makes sense. One day I may just have to try watching them in this order and see if it improves the experience.

Edit: September 2012
Watched the series in Machete Order. It's okay. I don't know how well it would do for someone who has not seen any of the films, I have trouble imagining it because I've seen the series too many times.
Not watching episode I doesn't hurt anything. There's only a couple of references to things in episode I in eps II and III and they aren't really significant. I think one of the advantages to seeing it in Machete Order, aside from almost no Jar Jar Binks, is ending on Return of the Jedi right after seeing Revenge of the Sith. The chapter parallels are a little more obvious. Unfortunately no viewing order cancels out Ewoks, and ending on ep VI still leaves that lingering Ewok smell.

13 March 2011

Movies: Splice

Splice (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1017460/

Two scientists splice together DNA from multiple animals to create cat-sized slug-like creatures that generate proteins and enzymes that can revolutionize medicine.  After the pharmaceutical company funding their research orders them to shut down and concentrate on synthesizing the beneficial components in order to start making money, they go rogue and make generate one more creature built with multiple DNA - only this time including DNA from a human. They get a little more than they bargained for.

Science fiction/drama/thriller exploring moral/ethical questions starring Adrien Brody (as Clive) and Sarah Polley (as Elsa).

Acted well, pretty good special effects, raises the standard fears of unethical scientists mucking about with combining DNA from creatures and humans. 

I've heard many a professional movie critic say how good this film is, that it is an example of what modern horror films should strive to achieve. I agree that the actors are good at playing the roles and delivering the dialog, the special effects are pretty good for the most part. The film is directed well, edited well.
But I have no clue what the critics are talking about - you can have good technical aspects of a film and still fail in other ways.
The premise isn't original. It's been done before many times. The ethical questions raised are straight out of the papers, basically giving us the worst-case chimera that is human-smart, human-ish looking, grows fast, but has dangerous aspects from the other animal DNA and kills people.  It preys directly on the fears of folks who are afraid of the words "genetically modified" - plays right into the stereotype. If this is the modern face of horror films it's a terrible example.

For me the dialog was unreal and the actions of Clive and Elsa seemed to be just a parade of two people following the worst decisions possible out of all their choices.  They really don't seem to act logically, don't seem near as smart as they'd have to be in order to be brilliant enough to build artificial wombs and grow cobbled-together-DNA creatures to full term. Now, Elsa's emotional issues stemming from her upbringing are hinted at throughout and do explain why she acts as she does in most cases. Clive has no excuse. Then, stupidly, Clive crosses a most wrong boundary for no reason at all. Elsa, of course, walks in on it. She is at first understandably angry, yet within minutes the two of them are right back where they were before, marching in lock-step as if nothing happened. Worse yet, and stereotypical, crossing that same line is forced on Elsa.

And I noticed that pretty much everything that is going to happen is telegraphed early in the film. The second half of the film almost parallels its first half. To me it got predictable quick, even the parts that weren't telegraphed by events early on in the film just seemed to be the next worst-case logical step in the progression.  No surprises.

Before I even watched the film I kept wondering if this film was going to be like 1995's Species.  There might be some similarities (DNA spliced with human DNA into a chimera, fast growing result, things get out of hand), but I was a lot more entertained by Species than by Splice. And, IMO, Species is a better movie.

Yes, in most technical aspects Splice is a good film and the actors do a fine job with what they're given, but when a tired story is trotted out and the characters act like imbeciles it just doesn't work for me.

I won't recommend not watching it, but I certainly won't recommend seeing it either.

12 March 2011

Movies: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0963966/

An apprentice of Merlin's, Balthazar, captures Morgan le Fay in what looks like the smallest of Matryoshka dolls.  He then captures other mean wizards in the outer layers of the Russian nesting dolls, the outermost is Horvath, the baddest of the baddies. Horvath also was once an apprentice of Merlin's but he went evil, and his sole goal is to release Morgana.  Balthazar spends centuries trying to locate the next person worthy of taking Merlin's place, and finally finds him in Dave, a 10 year old lad living in New York City, in the year 2000.  The kid accidentally releases Horvath, and the fight between Balthazar and Horvath results in their being trapped in a giant urn for 10 years.  Upon their release, Horvath begins searching for the Matryoshka doll and Balthazar seeks out Dave to give him a crash course in magic so they can stop Balthazar from releasing Morgana, which of course would plunge the world into darkness and doom humanity. Dave is now the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

This is a Disney flick inspired by the segment in 1940's Fantasia. By inspired I mean the title comes from the Mickey Mouse sequence. And yes, the movie does have a scene that nods to the Mickey Mouse segment, but it doesn't fuel the story in any way.

Stars Nick Cage as Balthazar, Jay Baruchel as 20yr old Dave, Alfred Molina as Horvath, a little bit of Monica Bellucci (yum) and Alice Krige. And an actress named Teresa Palmer, whom I confused with a blonde Kristen Stewart. I don't know if anyone else has made that mistake, but dang those gals look similar enough to trick me.

I was skeptical about this movie to begin with, it has ol' hit-or-miss Nick Cage. Sometimes the guy puts on a performance that fits the character, other times he just shows up. Plus I had no idea what they were going to do with a movie based solely on the title of a Mickey Mouse segment in Fantasia.  But, to the plus side of the equation, this film has Jerry Bruckheimer behind it, and he's had his fingers in many successful adventure films including Pirates of the Caribbean and The Prince of Persia, also TV's The Amazing Race.  He's a crowd pleaser with a few less explosions and a lot more story and plot than typical Michael Bay films.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a made for children film. It's comedic, it gets scary (for younglings maybe, probably, I guess, I dunno what scares kids these days), has CGI and explosions, and sillyness. No dancing singing candelabras or mice, thankfully.  But it's entertaining enough for the parents that would be showing their kids this film in the first place. It didn't suck. The cast did great, even though Jay Baruchel's performance instantly reminded me of his Steven Karp in Undeclared.  The end results of the various plot threads resolve pretty much as one anticipates, but it is a Disney film and it's for kids.  They're gonna end on positive notes for the kids.

It's a sit back and have fun sort of film, especially if you have children to entertain.  Not quite up to Pirates of the Carribbean, but better (to me) than Night at the Museum.

11 March 2011

Movies: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0362270/

A whimsical comedy drama adventure film. From Wes Anderson, the man behind Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Steve Zissou makes ocean exploration documentaries much in the same style as the The Undersea World of Jaques Cousteau.  Zissou seems slightly inept and doesn't seem to know much about marine biology and appears to make stuff up as he goes along.  His crew are a hodgepodge collection of misfits from various walks of life. Only his wife has any training in marine biology and keeps him in line. Well, the posse of interns from the University of Northern Alaska might have some as well, but Zissou uses them more as unpaid servants than students during their semester at sea with him.
His most recent film leaves the audience with a cliffhanger of sorts - a mysterious new type of shark, a Jaguar Shark, that ate Zissou's lifelong friend/brother/father-in-spirit Esteban. Zissou dropped the underwater camera during the attack, thus he had no footage to prove its existence. When Zissou premiers the movie he is painfully aware that the bulk of the audience thinks he is a joke. He swears for his next film he will hunt down that Jaguar Shark and kill it. When asked what is the scientific purpose about killing a potentially new and endangered species, he replies, "Revenge."
After the film premier Zissou meets his possible illegitimate son, Ned. Ned sought him out a month after Ned's mother died to find out if Zissou is really his father. As they spend a couple days together on Zissou's private island/base of operations Zissou encounters trouble securing funding for the next film. Ned offers his inheritance to back the film - which also gives him more time to get to know his father. Zissou's wife Elanor leaves him in protest, she feels Zissou is taking advantage of Ned and wants nothing to do with it. Elanor moves into the villa of Zissou's nemesis (and Elanor's ex-husband) Hennessey. We follow Zissou and his crew as he prepares for, then embarks, upon this quest for the Jaguar Shark.  Zissou is accompanied this trip by Ned, a pregnant magazine reporter doing a story on Zissou, and the production company bondsman assigned to make sure he stays in budget. 

The film stars Bill Murray as Steve Zissou, Owen Wilson as his son, Cate Blanchett as the magazine reporter, Anjelica Houston as Zissou's wife, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum as Hennessey, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore #2), and filled out with a relatively unknown but effective supporting cast.  A notable highlight is the character "Pele dos Santos", whose primary job seems to be sitting around somewhere in the scenes, either leading in or leading out, singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

Some folks might be put off by the look of this movie - because at times, especially underwater scenes, it looks vibrantly cartoonish. Well, not "Finding Nemo" cartoonish, just the style of animation of some of the creatures coupled with neon and pastel colors. It is a stylistic choice to show the undersea world the way Zissou sees it, whether or not it actually reflects reality. Many of the creatures pointed out by Zissou aren't real sea creatures anyhow, so that plays into the feel of the film.  There's an amazing cross-section of Zissou's research vessel "Belafonte" scene - where it almost looks like a simplified drawing of a boat but it is an actual set with the crew moving about the ship and in the rooms, complete with two dolphins that accompany the ship on its trips swimming beneath the cross-section, all narrated by Zissou as if he was doing one of his documentaries.

When I think on it, the film is more whimsical than silly in nature.  It has a surreal visual style. People play their roles without 'winking at the camera' to tell us if something is supposed to be funny or not. The whole movie is a wink at the audience, or has "quotes" around it. It is exaggerated in a way, not only the sets and locations but the characters and dialog, but everything is played straight as if it was real in their universe.  The core dramatic parts, the character growth, the relationships, those stay serious and on course through the film. I think that's why this movie works for me. The contrasts of the whimsy against the serious.

Very few things in this film are wasted, almost everything shown has some bearing, large or small, upon the story as a whole. We're shown that the crew are issued sidearms, sidearms get used. We see there are dolphins with cameras strapped to their backs, the dolphins figure into the story. The script girl walks around topless, and, well, she walks around topless.

The background musical score, provided by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, has its whimsical moments, especially the underwater accompaniment scores.  The end titles even make an acknowledgment nod to the end title sequence of 1984's "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" - with the major characters falling in pace behind Zissou as he walks down the dock to the "Belafonte".  Which is probably the second time for Jeff Goldblum to make such a walk. 

I really enjoyed this movie. So much so that I've lost count of how many times I've watched it over the years.  It is probably one of my favorite comedies from the 2000-2010 decade. The movie grows on me a little more each time I see it, and I don't seem to tire of it as long as I give it a few month's rest between viewings. Every once in a while I take a moment to watch it again. There's something soothing in its surreal silliness, how well the cast works together, the dialog, the sets and locations, how everything is just slightly off, yet on, at the same time.  It is a fun tongue-in-cheek film, but still has threads of real drama and real character growth.

I also realize it is one of those like-it-or-hate-it films, as the wife just rolls her eyes anytime I sit down to watch it again. She didn't even finish watching it the first time.  Then again, Buckaroo Banzai wasn't much her cup of tea either.  Come to think of it, the last time I tried to get her to watch Zissou through to the end she got up partway through to go do something else and I finished watching it anyhow. What I didn't tell her was I had just watched it by myself the day before while she was napping. Actually, that probably says more about me than her.

I would posit that if you are a fan of Buckaroo Banzai you just might find this film to your liking.

10 March 2011

Movies: The Company of Wolves (1984)

The Company of Wolves (1984) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087075/

Seeing ads for the upcoming Red Riding Hood film, with the tale getting a retelling mixed with a werewolf mythology, reminded me of a slightly older re-weaving of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale that also had werewolf-like mythology throughout. So yes, the 2011 Red Riding Hood is neither innovative nor unique in weaving werewolf mythology into the fairy tale. Not surprisingly it is directed by the director of Twilight. To the film's credit the screenwriter is the dude that gave us Orphan*.  But I dunno if that will help the movie at all or not.

As for whether or not The Company of Wolves is the first to merge werewolves into the Red Riding Hood tale, I'm not sure. It is the first to my recollection of the movies I've seen to date.  I'm sure there's a film historian out there who knows for sure. However, reading up on the Red Riding Hood tale's origins I see that there were werewolf overtones in some of the 16th/17th century versions already. So nobody wins the originality award.

But this entry isn't about the potential merits or deficiencies of Red Riding Hood. It's about The Company of Wolves.

In a nutshell: a young girl has a dream sequence that is pretty much the span of the whole movie. Her dream-self lives in a small village in the woods, and her sister is killed by wolves. She begins regularly visiting her grandmother, and grandmother's stories all revolve around men who become wolves.  Although most of the tales are enactments of the grandmother's stories, the dream-self eventually becomes the retold Red Riding Hood story.
The grandmother's tales are obvious metaphors warning the girl that men will now be sniffing around her as she's just come into her Red Riding Hood (metaphor for blossoming sexual maturity), to worry about their sweet words, sharp teeth, and deceptions. 

Yes almost all of the sets look like soundstage sets, but it is a dream sequence, so that's excusable. Actually I just read the trivia at IMDB about the film and it mentions the soundstage use, the use of dyed dogs as stand-ins for wolves, etc. I saw how it looked, but I let it go.  I think their effects were probably limited due to budgetary concerns. The effects look dated, almost comical at times, even though the movie was made after the effects-groundbreaking An American Werewolf in London (1981) and partially benefits from those effects.  One transformation that stood out was the guy ripping his face off and the skinless wolf-body bursting through his skin.

Some of the stories were more interesting than others, but how everything weaves into the greater story is the strength of the film. It really isn't horror fantasy, though it is billed as such. Anything that might be considered horrific or terrifying is pretty tame compared most horror films.

I don't think this same film could be made today - today's movie audience has different sensibilities and expectations than the audience of the 80s. Even with updated effects, the pacing and box-within-a-box storytelling style of the original film would probably still land outside the mainstream, and chances are that the way movies are financed these days there would be so many production notes from the various money sources that the resulting movie would look nothing like the original vision.

I think this is the third or fourth time I've watched this film since its release. A couple years ago I watched it because I remembered that I had seen it before, but couldn't recall if I liked it or not. And now, a few years later, I watched it again because I still couldn't remember if I liked it or not.

I find that I do like the film overall, it is interesting in its way, but seeing as I easily forget its impression over time it might just be one of those eventually forgettable films.Still, if one is on a nostalgic movie kick this might be an okay movie if you're in the mood for a little more laid back fare.

* OMG moment - I never reviewed Orphan!? I guess I probably watched it before I started the whole "review movies on Facebook because I have nothing else to put on my wall" business.  Bummer - I liked that movie because it was messed up. I may just have to re-watch it just to write about it.

09 March 2011

Movies: A Boy and His Dog (1975)

A Boy and His Dog (1975) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072730/

A post-apocalyptic sci-fi comedy/drama starring pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson, about the boy Vic (Johnson) and his dog Blood. Blood is the voice of reason and has some of the best lines in the film, contrasted with Vic's tendency to be ruled by his genitals.

Set after world war IV, which lasted only the 5 days it took for every nuclear nation to unleash every nuke in their arsenal upon each other, leaving the world a wasteland. Blood is intelligent, wise, can understand human speech and can communicate telepathically with Vic, for reasons not entirely known or ever really explained.  As a team, Vic gathers food for himself and Blood, Blood acts as recon for various situations, and also finds women so Vic can get laid.

The world looks very much like the one we see in The Road Warrior - barren desert wasteland.  People are scavengers, either going Solo, or roving around in groups.  Women are very scarce. Some places still operate as towns, where foodstuffs are traded for treats such as old movies and popcorn. There are irradiated creatures about called Screamers. They probably used to be human, but now they moan and glow green, and everyone is afraid of them.

We find out that some civilization stayed underground, where they continue to go through the motions of life before WW IV. Due to resource constraints they are very careful about population balance and colony harmony. Folks who step out of line go to the farm. And by 'go to the farm' they mean 'meet an untimely death' - usually written off as some sort of accident or disease.  Due to the nature of being a closed underground society the men are sterile and they need new genetic material from time to time, to keep the population going.

Which brings us back to the boy Vic and his dog. This underground civilization has chosen Vic to be the father of their next generation, and Vic willingly agrees to impregnate their women.  Blood, meanwhile, refuses to go underground.

Yes, the film is from 1975, shot on a small budget, and looks like it. Despite the small budget the movie is put together rather well. It is a classic post-apocalyptic film in that its look has been reused many times by films since. Based on a Harlan Ellison story, it serves as a commentary on the times via a look at the pessimistic outcome of a nuclear world war. A very real possibility many of us lived with growing up during the height of the Cold War, so this movie will surely be viewed and interpreted differently by folks born in the 80s and later.

Plenty of dry humor, a little bit of gunplay, somewhat pessimistic and borderline misogynistic.  Still a fun watch to this day, despite the age of the film. I dread the day someone tries to remake this film.  There is something positive to be said for the simplicity, the lack of clutter, which allows some of the deeper messages come through.  Chances are a modern remake would concentrate on wowing the audience's visual and aural cortexes, leaving the truly entertaining portions by the wayside.

08 March 2011

Movies: Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1263670/

A character drama with hint of romance about a washed up alcoholic old-school country/western singer wandering the valley on the other side of the mountain of greatness. He's touring on the bowling-alley circuit, barely making enough to cover the shit hotels he stays in and keep the booze flowing. Then he meets a young reporter and her son.

Some flicks I'm generally not in the mood to watch so I don't make effort to see them. That is, I don't seek them out, I don't make a point of renting them, I don't tell TiVo to grab 'em, I don't put them on my must-see list. This was one of them. I'd heard how good it is, that it was award winning. I like the cast, they're good actors, and I admire that the musical production was by T-Bone Burnett.  Despite all it had going for it I felt able to appreciate that the film exists from afar.

However, the other night I sat down to grab a quick snack and see what was on TV because I didn't feel like committing myself to watching a movie. Crazy Heart just happened to be starting to play on its premium channel rotation. There was nothing else on so I figured what the heck, I'll give it a watch while I snacked and see what the buzz was about.  And, wouldn't you know, the story sucked me right in and I ended up watching it to the end.

Wow. As an actor Bridges just has this ability to draw the viewer in to his performance. The guy has just gotten better over the years.  Despite the unavoidable "The Dude Abides" reaction that I get anytime I see him in a movie, that quickly passed as Bridges definitely wasn't The Dude in any way.  Right away he was "Bad Blake" and we are in Bad Blake's sad world.

The story is a window on an interesting developmental period of Blake's life, even though at 57 his seemed dead-ended already. Amazing emotional performances out of Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal sell the story. The post-production sound was spot-on. The music was good. Plus, Bridges and Colin Farrell's vocals were their own, which makes their performances that much more amazing and appreciable.

This is a good, very well put-together film with solid performances, good music, and a story that gets the viewer to care. Even though I still probably wouldn't put it on my must-see list, it is a good movie made for those of us adults who, in our advancing years and varying-degrees of wisdom born of experience can appreciate. It is a worthy film to watch at some point, especially if you're totally stuck for what to watch on a night you're prepared to just be laid back.

07 March 2011

TV Series: Firefly

Firefly http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0303461/

Sci-fi series that is basically a Western in outer space.  Born from the brain of Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, and the awesome Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. You can read better details and summaries about this series than I could write at the Firefly series wikipedia entry.

There are plenty of fansites out there extolling the greatness of this series, which was rudely canceled before the end of its first season.  I'm not going to point to any of them, just know that they exist, and the fans generally referred to as Browncoats. And they're as rabidly defensive of the series as any hard-core Trekkie or Star Wars (whatevertheycallthemselves) fan.

What is interesting is that Discovery's Science channel, which may or may not be carried by your cable/satellite provider, is running this series right now. They are broadcasting the episodes in the order they were intended to be shown, including the unaired episodes. Leading in to each episode is a small blurb by Dr. Michio Kaku about the science behind the science-fiction in the series. Which pretty much ties into his own Science channel series.

If you've seen the series and don't own a copy of it, and wish to see it again, now is your chance.

If you have never seen this series, and happen to be a fan of other space-faring science fiction TV shows such as any of the Star Trek series, Farscape, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galacticas, you might just want to give this series a watch.

From the start of the pilot through the end this is one of the best science-fiction series made. Sure, it didn't last long enough to give a roller-coaster of good to bad episodes like X-Files or Lost did, but if it had continued on the track it was following it was destined for greatness.  So yes, if you've never seen it, and like space based sci-fi shows, I recommend you watch this series.

Back when Firefly first aired I didn't see it. I knew it existed, but I had other stuff going on, I didn't have a DVR at my disposal, so I didn't watch it.

A couple years later the movie Serenity hit the screens. Again, I didn't plan to see it because at the time I really wasn't in the mood for a space-based science fiction film aimed at the fans of a canceled TV show.  But my wife insisted she wanted to see it, so we watched it.
Boy was I wrong.
The film was greater than I ever imagined it would be. The story, the characters, the special effects, the camera work . . . I was just floored. It was so mature compared to what I expected from a TV to movie leap. And I didn't even have to know the series to appreciate the movie, the unexposed viewer (me) learned quickly who was who and who did what. Granted, the significance of the impact of some plot events was lost on me at the time, but I was just completely impressed by the film. So much so that we watched it again the next night.
And then I went out and bought the complete TV Series "Firefly" on DVD. We sat down and watched multiple episodes of the series nightly until the set was exhausted. Then we watched Serenity again.

And all the praise I had for the movie Serenity was completely applicable to my first impression of watching Firefly. Even from the pilot episode the production was mature, the actors seemed comfortable in their roles already, character personalities were clearly defined and seemed consistently acted from start to finish.  The stories were interesting, the characters were interesting, everything seemed to be working well from the start.

I'm sorry that I had missed watching the series to begin with, that I didn't give it a chance, and that it never got to continue past the movie.  I'm glad DVDs exist and this series is available on them. It is a shame the series was canceled so quickly, it had everything going for it except an audience. But it was stuck in the Friday Night Death Slot thus it didn't have much of a chance.

If you're any sort of sci-fi fan this series and the follow-up movie Serenity are definitely worth the effort to watch at least once, and save Serenity for after watching the series, to keep things in chronological order.

Movies: The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate Kid (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1155076/

A remake based on the 1984 The Karate Kid, with some superficial differences. The remake is set in China instead of California, and involves Kung Fu, not Karate.  In fact there is no reason to call it Karate Kid, except to cash in on the well-known name of the original film and publicly acknowledge they are still on the whole "remake films because we have no original ideas" bandwagon.

Stars Jackie Chan as Mr. Han, the Mr. Miyagi counterpart. Young Jaden Smith - Will Smith's youngling - is 12 year old Dre, the Daniel counterpart.

There's no real reason to go into the story - it's almost a beat-for-beat mirror of the original film, married with the setting of a foreign land that came about in Karate Kid II. If they remake Karate Kid II, what are they gonna do? Go to the USA?

I was prepared to not be enthusiastic about the film before I sat down to watch it. I didn't see the point in remaking a film that really didn't need it.  But morbid curiosity compelled me to watch it anyhow.

As remakes go - they did good, if not better than I anticipated. Jackie Chan makes an acceptable Mr Miyagi counterpart, although I still preferred Pat Morita's definition of the role better. Jaden Smith did pretty good in his role as well. You can tell the kid worked hard, and seriously, at playing his role.

Unfortunately the Cobra Kai counterpart was weaker in this film, not near as menacing as in the original.  They are still assholes, but just didn't generate the hate the way the originals did.

There was a small bit of extra story involving Dre and the cute little 13yr old violin player Meiying. I don't know if that extra bit added up to the 20 minutes longer this film runs than the original. I doubt its inclusion adds anything to the movie, nor would removing it hurt the movie. I think it just gives Dre a friend to have available through to the end. She wasn't the squeeze-interest to Dre the way Elisabeth Shue's Ali was to Daniel.

I guess my biggest complaint would be - why kall it karate kid when there's no karate in the flick, except as a blatant bid to cash-in on the nearly universal love for the original movie?  And I refuse to accept the lame response that "oh, one of the bullies called him 'karate kid' before they beat the shit out of him." That's pretty weak to name a film after an easily thrown-away line that has no bearing on the film whatsoever. They did it for the cash, just admit it.

The second biggest complaint involves part of the story involving the blond-haired kid Dre meets when he first gets to China.  The blond kid is friendly and is apparently the only other native english speaker at the school and in living at the apartments.  The kid seems like good friend material, helping Dre out and even trying to look out for him. Then the kid just up-and-disappears from the rest of the film as quickly as he shows up. What's up with that? Heck - that kid probably figures Dre is a real dick for just dumping the only other english-speaking kid like that.

Regardless, overall it's a decent film, entertaining, watchable, filmed and edited well with fine performances. If you've never seen the original Karate Kid you could see this movie and know pretty much the whole original story. I don't know if the remake is as inspiring as the original was, it is impossible for me to determine.

If you've seen the original, this movie might invoke the memories of the first time you saw the original.  I was gonna watch the original to do a "2010 vs 1984" report - but there was no reason to do so. That's how close this remake mirrors the original.

I know, I know. Why would I complain about all the changes to A Nightmare on Elm Street, then turn around and complain about the superficial changes to A Karate Kid?  Hint: It isn't because I like to complain, even though I might.  It's because there was no reason to remake either of these films, at least not yet. It's barely been 26 years and they're still fine films just the way they are.  Seriously it's as if the folks making these production decisions all grew up when I did and are remaking the movies we all watched while we were growing up.  Some for better, some for worse, some for no discernible reason at all.

06 March 2011

Movies: Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1350498/

Is the title any indication of how good this movie is? How about this cast?
Stars Deborah Gibson (yes that Deborah Gibson) and Lorenzo Lamas.

This movie is so terrible that it is an entertaining experience to watch it.

Not enough to make a determination? How about a quick summary of the start of the film:

While Debbie Gibson is studying a giant pod of whales from inside an experimental submersible, the Navy deploys a low-frequency sonar in the area which confuses the whales. The whales smack into the submersible, damaging it.  Worse yet, the whales also smack into an ice shelf, a shelf that contains two prehistoric giants once locked in combat but now locked in ice for millions of years. The power of the blow releases the monsters into the ocean, which thaws them immediately.
Upon Debbie's return she extracts a chunk of something mysterious from a whale corpse that washed up on the coast after the attack. Her boss chews her out for breaking the submersible, which ultimately leads to her being fired from her job.  She takes the chunk to her old professor so he can help her identify it. They mix some blue liquid with red liquid and look into a cheap optical microscope someone bought at a flea market, then some cool computer graphics look like a shark tooth. Only the fragment indicates the size was somewhere around 9 x 11. Inches? No, feet!.

After his release the giant octopus (GO) swims to the coast of Japan and destroys a Japanese oil platform, killing everyone but one guy who speaks english in a weird accent. That's probably why the Japanese government locked him up after he was interrogated. Meanwhile the mega shark (MS) decides to leap 30,000 feet into the air and bite a 747 in half. And boy is he a mega shark - he's bigger than the plane!
As the Japanese government won't officially recognize that GO caused the platform's destruction, a top Japanese marine scientist covertly travels to the United States to compare notes with the US's top marine scientist, who happens to be Debbie's mentor. With only the drawings of the eye of the creature that attacked the oil platform, and the fragment of tooth from the whale kill, the three of them realize that they are dealing with two prehistoric monsters, not just one.  A mega shark and a giant squid octopus.

That's when Lorenzo Lamas shows up to take them all to a secret US Navy base to tell the government how to destroy the monsters. Because that team is their last hope.

I don't want to spoil the whole movie. But that's how it starts.

It is amazing how this movie is almost spot-on terrible in the old 50s terrible sci fi flick style: terrible acting, terrible dialog, terrible story, terrible special effects, terrible reused sets, everything that can be done wrong in a movie is done in this movie.  Not quite as bad as Plan 9 from Outer Space, but approaching that territory.

Which is why it should be watched, at least once, if you have any love in your heart for bad science fiction movies.  The terrible is of a magnitude that wraps around the scale of good to bad and comes out the other side and one is compelled to see it through to the end, if only to see how it could possibly get worse.  Heck, the title alone should inspire one to watch this film.

What is amazing is that Lorenzo Lamas generates the worst over-acting in this production.  Out of all the unknown actors cast in this movie, the star that is Lorenzo Lamas trumps them all. Oh my he was awful. So either this is his worst performance ever, or his most brilliant.

Debbie Gibson does okay in the movie, she's probably the most restrained actor in the production. And she's all growed up nice from cute teen music sensation to a lookin pretty good Broadway performer (and one-time Playboy feature).
I'm really looking forward to Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. That movie stars both Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. So it's gotta be at least as bad as MSvGO.

Some beautifully awful things to watch for in this movie:

Amazing science process montages with random lab equipment and colored liquids as they do sciencey looking stuff by mixing blue with red and looking at the reaction then at each other, just like one would imagine scientists would do if you haven't observed scientists but maybe saw some cartoons or old TV shows.  The key is the mixing of the Cyalume light-stick chemicals in a beaker to watch them glow -- THAT"S THE FORMULA BECAUSE IT GLOWS! Big smiles everyone!

The difference between the command deck of a Japanese submarine, and the command deck of a US Navy battle ship, is that the Japanese submarine command deck has a blue light in the background, whereas the Navy ship has a red light in the background. Otherwise, they're both shot in the same hallway with a backdrop of control panels one might see in, say, an old abandoned power station. Just the sort of controls one might find in the place that just happens to look like the exterior shots for the secret US Navy base / secret US Navy lab.

Submarines are controlled by a joystick. Pushing forward either makes the sub dive, or it makes it speed up. It depends on who is driving the sub. Submarine pilots have sidearms and regularly pull them on their captains if stressed enough.

Radar can look under water, is interchangeable with Sonar, and is installed on military airplanes, battleships and submarines.

Pulling the rotor brake on a flying helicopter also releases the secret instrument package it is carrying.

When a giant pod of whales rams a glacier in panic it will cause nearby helicopters to crash into the same glacier.

Mega Sharks can swim faster than jets fly.

05 March 2011

Movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) vs. (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1179056/
vs. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087800/

Why.   Why, why, why.

Yes, the remake looks more modern than the original. Yes the original and its effects looks dated, almost campy, compared to today's movies.

But dang, don't mess with it if you can't make it better.

I remember watching the original when it was first released to theaters. It was a new day in horror movies, Up to that point for modern horror fare we had A Texas Chainsaw Massacre, rehashes of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and shittons of cheap B-movie slasher knockoffs of those three. Then A Nightmare on Elm Street (ANoES) hit the screens and we had something new in horror. A bad guy that gets in your dreams and kills you.  I remember my friends and I over-the-top giddy with how new ANoES was compared to all the other repetitive horror movies at that time.  And my car window made that Freddy-knives-on-pipes noise when I rolled it down, so I did, just to freak out my friends in the car.

But this remake, it didn't scare me. I don't think it would've scared the 1984 version of me. I have to admit my scare threshold is way higher now, but it takes something that this movie just doesn't have to give me the wiggins. So my judgment may be clouded.

ANoES remake has Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. He made a great Rorschach in The Watchmen. But we've never seen a live-action Rorschach before.  Whereas, invariably, one has to compare Jackie Earle Haley's Freddy to Robert Englund's Freddy. And Englund defined Freddy, he's the original. Poor Jackie didn't have a chance. He did admirably, but he's no Freddy.  Nothing negative about Haley on his performance, he just has a big sweater to fill. On a positive note I really liked the makeup+CGI job they did on Haley. It hearkened back to Englund's Freddy, but had nice nuanced touches that only CGI can give.

The 'kids' in the cast of the new version? None of them were terrified, not a one. They looked more tired and mopey than anything, and practically disassociated from the world around them. Not a lot of mourning their dead compatriots, just another day in nihilismville for them. They may have screamed some as knives went in, but none were really terrified. At least the original's cast conveyed more terror in it. Not only that, the original's young cast were all friends in some manner, whereas there seemed to be little connection between the remake's. 

The new story has Krueger as a pedophile that worked at a child care center, the kids told their parents he molesterized them, the parents chase him to some abandoned factory and set the building and Freddy on fire. So Freddy is getting his revenge. On the kids who told on him. Contrast that with the original story: Freddy is just your normal run of the mill power plant worker with the hobby of child torturer/killer that was arrested after killing about 20 kids, goes to trial, gets acquitted on a technicality, then is hunted down by the parents for a little street justice. Then years later Freddy is getting back at the parents who burned him alive by killing their kids. Slightly different motivation, no?
In the remake there's no real explanation for the glove. He just has it. Whereas in the original it makes sense that he has it because that's the way he rolled - it was a tool of his trade.
Same goes for the jumprope singsong of "One, Two Freddy's comin for you...". It makes sense that it exists in the first movie, a public trial and 20 kids dead and all. Of course kids would have some morbid nursery rhyme based in the times, a modern "Ring Around the Rosey". In the remake - nobody but a few parents knew because they took it upon themselves to chase him down and kill him before any law was involved.  Thus there's no way kids would've even come up with such a rhyme because there was no period of terror as 20 kids get snatched, tortured and killed by some madman who then goes on trial and puts a name to the monster.

Another story issue that didn't make sense. As the surviving members start comparing notes they all comment how they never met each other until high school, none had memories of a Freddy Krueger. Yet there's pictures of them all in the same class at that daycare center, before their parents tracked Krueger down and killed him.  How is it that out of 20-some little kids not a single one remembers day care molesterizing trauma? They all had traumatic amnesia? Really? Not a one remembered any other kids?  I was waiting for some cheesy "we had a therapist hypnotize you all to block your memories" but we weren't even treated to that BS.

One part of the movie, while Nancy is researching other kids who were at the preschool, she comes across videos posted by a kid who says he's afraid to sleep because of some scary guy in his nightmares. The final video has him fall asleep in front of the camera, then his limp body flings into the camera. Who the hell posted the final video if Freddy killed him then and there?  I'm sure it was his parents. "oh look - Johnny had one more video to post. Let's put it up in memory of him." Yeah, right.

Another thing that bugged me about the new flick was spending so much time on one gal at the start of the film that one might have figured her to be the central character, only she wasn't. We didn't even learn much about the heroine till much later in the film.  Whereas in the original ANoES we had a good idea from the start who the story revolves around.  Plus, the remake ANoES heroine has help 'defeating' Freddy at the end, from her friend. Even though he'd been all cut up and crap by Freddy, he somehow survives long enough to get in on the big real-world fight.  Contrast that to classic ANoES Nancy who boobytraps her house, drags Freddy out of her dream, then goes Home Alone all over his ass. All by herself because all her friends were already dead.

Another loss - no raging alcoholic mom in the remake. She's a doctor now.

If you're a Nightmare on Elm Street purist, watching this remake probably leads to disappointment.  If you've never seen either, see the original.  You're better off watching that than the remake.