Month: June 2014

Movie Trailer – No Good Deed

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Sam Miller
Starring: Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Bibb
Release: September 12th, 2014

I like horror movies much more than thrillers, if just because they both feel pretty unbelievable but at least horror doesn’t take itself too seriously.  This one looks like a bit of both, with Idris Elba thrown in.  I like him, he’s a very good actor, and I guess I’d give him a shot to convince me that he’s a psycho killer.

DVD Review – In Secret

Category : DVD Review

Director: Charlie Stratton
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange, Tom Felton
Year: 2013

This was a case of the actors in the film intriguing me enough to watch something that I most likely would not have otherwise.  Elizabeth Olsen, sister of the famous Olsen Twins, has burst onto the scene since 2011 with roles in Silent House, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Kill Your Darlings, Very Good Girls, Oldboy, and Godzilla.  Oscar Isaac won me over with Inside Llewyn Davis, if not so much with Drive.  Jessica Lange is a veteran of course; I’ll always remember her in King Kong.  And Tom Felton is really only known for one thing, that being Draco Malfoy, the nemesis of Harry Potter in that incredibly successful series.  Putting these four actors together in a film was enough to catch my attention, even if I had reservations about them all playing middle class French of the 1860s.  And that’s where the trouble did turn up, as they all were fine individually as their own characters, but as a whole the movie felt forced and stiff, a bad backdrop for good actors.

The Movie

This is the story of Therese, a young girl forced into a life she never imagined.  Without a mother, and with her father abandoning her with the hollow promise to return, Therese is left to live with an aunt & cousin.  They treat her well, but with the constant knowledge that she is a burden, a boarder, someone who must be appreciative and dutiful.  That duty extends to marrying her cousin Camille when they both come of age, a sickly young man who Therese has always been a nursemaid to, a caretaker who shares no love.  But marry him she does, and when he takes a job in Paris, Therese and his mother set up a small shop that will become their daily lives.  Routine and responsibility, that is her new life, and yet she longs for something more; for love, for passion, for romance, for sex, for fulfillment, for anything beyond the dreary walls of the shop, outside the cold touch of a husband she has never wanted.
Enter Laurent, Camille’s handsome friend who comes weekly to play dominoes, the only partially exciting event of the entire week.  Therese immediately falls for him, his brooding good looks, and his artistic manner.  The two begin an affair that will endanger the structure of their lives, yet becomes the only thing they each have to live for.  They love one another, but they are trapped, Camille ignorantly standing in the way of their happiness.  But what if he should disappear, fall ill, have an accident; after all, people die every day in strange ways, why not Camille?  And so the wildly unpredictable couple contemplates murder, battling with the choice between a hidden love affair and a public relationship, wondering if they could go through with such an act and whether or not they would ever be found out.  Therese & Laurent, Camille & Madame; four players on a great and dramatic stage, with all their lives in the balance.

Again, the acting wasn’t the problem.  That’s what I look for in a film beyond anything else, quality acting, and if I get that I’m willing to forgive a good deal.  Every character here was well-developed and thought out, with a strong actor behind it.  Tom Felton was solid as Camille, playing the dim & grim husband to perfection.  Jessica Lange was equally formidable as his mother, the cold hearted head of the household who loved only her son.  Oscar Isaac as Laurent was the handsome home wrecker you’d imagine, a dark & moody man who swept the ladies off their collective feet.  And Elizabeth Olsen did a fine job as the main character, the young woman trying to fulfill her needs, trying to find love in a dreary world.  She might actually have been the weakest of the crew, attempting a pseudo-British accent for some reason, often failing to live up to the moment.  As a hungry housewife she was great, but when it came to more dramatic work she fell a little short.
The same could be said for the film as a whole.  When it focused on sexuality and the virtual imprisonment of women during this era the movie was spot on.  You could feel the tension, the desire to break free, the loneliness of a loveless marriage.  But when deeper themes were presented the story took a turn for the weak.  All the anger & drama of the second half of the film felt a little pushed, a little college theatre, and left me thinking that I’d rather just go back and watch the first half over again.  Either the director didn’t have the chops to pull off the darker side of the story or the actors didn’t, because someone failed to continue what started so well and see it to the end.  The plot is based on an 1867 classic and always feels very true to that time, but I almost wish they’d gone off the script a bit and taken the finale of the film in a different direction.  What started as a slightly erotic thriller became just another dull drama, and I think that could have been avoided.  After all, the talent was there to pull it off and the beginning of the story was great, it just didn’t finish well.


Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (16×9 Widescreen), the video is really excellent.  The film was shot using an Arri Alexa Plus camera and exhibits a very crisp image.  The picture quality is very high, with clean & balanced shots.  The film does tend to be a bit dark, making indoor night scenes hard to decipher, but that’s the only visual flaw of the film.
Audio – The only audio option on the disc is English 5.1 Dolby Digital.  There is also the choice between English or Spanish subtitles.  The sound quality of the film was quite good, with a nice balance between dialogue and music.  The background themes created a dramatic atmosphere and added to the mood of the film.
Extras – Commentary can be played along with the move, with director Charlie Stratton and producers Mickey Liddell & Pete Shilaimon.  There are three very short deletes scenes.  And there are also three trailers: Thanks For Sharing, Gloria, and Flowers in the Attic.

Final Thoughts

Rent It In Secret is a film that is better in parts than as a whole.  The actors that make up the cast are all solid, each playing their part well.  And the beginning of the story is very fascinating, a look at life at this particular time.  But by the end the plot drags, the mood darkens, and the script loses its way.  It’s a fine movie that doesn’t impress, a film that will only disappoint if you’re looking for greatness.  The video quality is excellent, the sound strong, and there are a few extras on the DVD.  But taken in its entirety, the film lacks punch and becomes a mediocre drama.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ – Replay

Movie Trailer – Dumb and Dumber To

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: The Farrelly Brothers
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner
Release: November 14th, 2014

You either are or are not a fan of the original.  No one who didn’t like the first one will like this one, while only about half those that loved the original will enjoy this.  Isn’t that a recipe for disaster?  I just don’t think these guys are that funny, and I think this movie looks like a ripoff of an idea that died a long time ago.

Movie Review – Chef

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara
Year: 2014

I first heard about this film on Top Chef.  In case you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a cooking competition at the end of which one chef takes home a grand prize after many difficult challenges.  Often they invite guest judges onto to show, including L.A. food truck guru Roy Choi.  On one particular episode, Roy brought actor/director Jon Favreau with him onto the set in order to promote the latter’s new movie Chef.  Favreau and Choi worked together on this project in order to bring real world cooking to the big screen and to tell a fictional story in the most realistic way possible.  Sounded like a cool idea at the time, and I was excited to see a Favreau-directed film based on a topic that I was quite interested in.  Perhaps it was the pairing of the two talents, but the movie succeeded in both making my mouth water and pleasing my critical eye, delivering a story that felt real in a way that many true stories can only dream about.
Carl Casper has plateaued.  Once a promising young chef, he’s now been working at the same restaurant for years, producing the same food every day and losing a bit of his creative spirit in the process.  He’s divorced, has a son that he doesn’t have time for, and isn’t really enjoying his current life.  So when the owner of the restaurant refuses to let Carl cook new food and when a local critic gives the boring menu a bad review, Chef Casper flips out.  He goes on a tirade that goes viral on the Internet, loses his job, and finds himself with no vision for the first time in his life.  But with the help of his son, his ex-wife, and his sous chef, he’s about to get back on track.  After flying to Miami, Carl buys a food truck, committing himself to only cooking food from the heart, real local favorites, and having fun while doing it.  So across the country goes the food truck, with the Chef’s dreams inside it.

First off, I really like Jon Favreau.  He’s an actor who rarely feels Hollywood, who you always root for because in many ways he’s just a normal guy.  He’s not a heartthrob by any means, nor is he hilarious, but there’s something about the guy that’s approachable and likeable.  A lot of people would say the same about the movies he directs (Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens), though I’m not a fan of either of those.  I prefer him as an actor, even in the stupid movies he often finds himself a part of.  But Chef is different, as he writes, stars, and directs, taking full control of the film and putting a lot of himself into the story.  Perhaps that’s why it felt so believable and so honest, because it had a lot of soul poured into it.  It sounds corny, but I kept having to remind myself that Favreau wasn’t a chef, that this was just acting, that it wasn’t real life.  But that kind of attention to detail and that hands on approach really helped make the film successful in many different ways.
Perhaps the best part about the film was the food.  So many scenes showed the chef lovingly crafting meals, not only for customers but often for the people he cared about in his life.  It was his way of showing them that he loved them, by taking time to create a meal that they would love.  A lot of time was spent showing fresh ingredients, recipes in process, food cooking slowly and beautifully.  Even the sound made me hungry; the sizzling of butter, the crunch of a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.  The film was a homage to food and the crafting of great dishes, to the talent & effort that excellent chefs exhibit every day all across the country.  But you don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy the film, there was more to hook you.  A good father/son story, some nice acting by the side characters, a cool soundtrack, locations across the nation; it was a film that celebrated the best of what our country has to offer, from its diversity to its cuisine.  Chef, in many ways, was a feel-good movie.  Soul food, heartwarming drama, people happily following their dreams; it wasn’t all fun & games but the overall arc of the story was a positive one and left me feeling good.  I guess that’s what great food should do, and great movies too for that matter.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Movie Trailer – The November Man

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Roger Donaldson
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko
Release: August, 27, 2014

I don’t really like action movies, especially if they’re not sci-fi or fantasy.  But remember when Pierce Brosnan was cool?  Could this be a return to those days?  It might not be likely, but I guess it’s possible.  And it just might also be possible that this film will be more than a couple wannabe bad asses jumping around & shooting randomly.

DVD Review – Camp Blood First Slaughter

Category : DVD Review

Director: Mark Polonia
Starring: Houston Baker, Elizabeth V. Costanzo, Cindy Wheeler
Year: 2014

I used to think that the term ‘campy’ derived from horror movies set at camp.  Made sense to me, as so many b-movie slasher films used summer camps as their killing grounds.  And they were all so ridiculously over-the-top, so humorously dumb, so campy. Well of course the term and the style of humor go further back than that, but the word still brings to my mind the over-dramatic and often silly style that I so often enjoy in horror movies.  Judging by the title, I assumed Camp Blood First Slaughter would be campy beyond belief, delivering all the inane plot points that can be both so bad & so good at the same time.  That was what I wanted, but it wasn’t what I got.  Instead what we have here is one of the worst “movies” ever made, a joke of a film, and something that’s neither campy nor enjoyable in the least.

The Movie

We’re going back to school with a group of students who will mostly, and unsurprisingly, end up dead by the end of the film.  It all starts in class where the group is studying urban legends.  One specific legend touches their very town, that of the Camp Blood killer.  Supposedly a clown has been haunting the nearby woods for years, killing unsuspecting young people, and making the area a dead zone.  Their professor challenges the students to prove or disprove the legend, to bring back factual evidence in exchange for a good grade and bonus points.  So off into the woods they go, a group of wannabe documentarians who just want to camp out, have a good time, video tape the woods, and come back with their assignment complete.  But coming back alive with be the real challenge.
Turns out there is something, or someone, guarding the area, a place known as Camp Blood.  A local man tries to warn the kids off, but of course they don’t listen.  However, when one of their party goes missing, they start to wonder just what’s going on.  And so they split up in order to track down the truth, going their separate ways to unravel a mystery.  Which just results in them getting picked off one by one, brutally murdered by a force that seems too terrible to exist.  So as the group starts to dwindle, the remaining members must band together to survive, solve the crime, and get back to town before the killer gets them all.  But the identity of the murderer will be the biggest twist of all, proving that urban legends have a power that just can’t be denied.

I wanted campy.  I wanted cool decapitations, stupid humor, and naked people in tents.  That’s what I signed up for, but that’s not what I got.  How hard is that to deliver?  A thousand movies have been made following that recipe, and yes it gets a little old, but it’s always enjoyable, always fun.  It would have been simple and cheap to throw a campy bloodbath together to make audiences happy, give them a simple story with gratuitous violence and nudity, and call it a day.  Instead what we have here is a student film shot using handheld cameras.  No hot people, no cool deaths, just some stupid “special effects” and a psycho with a machete.  Every classic piece was missing from this film, every ingredient that might have made it even slightly palatable.  I assume the film makers enjoyed horror, thought they were making a homage to the genre, tried their best to create something classic with a twist.  But they failed, it’s that simple.
They failed to make a movie, let alone a good one.  It was barely cinema, it was more like a group of friends who decided to do a skit.  The acting was the worst, they were probably in the woods down the street from their houses, and the killer was a completely uninspired cop out.  It was painful to watch them bumble around pretending to be scared while a heavy breather watched them from behind some trees.  If they were trying to make a good campy movie they failed in every measurable way.  Maybe to those who aren’t familiar with the genre this movie looks like all the rest; a silly attempt at fear & gore.  But having watched many an awesomely terrible slasher film, I can say that this one is just terrible.  I would be embarrassed to be a part of this project unless it was just done for fun with friends with no intent to show it to the public.  Sadly, it was put out there, I watched it, and will never get those ninety minutes back.  A complete waste of film & time; stay away.


Video – With an aspect ratio of who-the-f-cares, the video was as horrible as the film.  Handheld cameras abounded, and yet any drama that might have created (i.e. Blair Witch) was missing.  Every once in a while intentional fake garbling of the video would flash across the screen, which may have been the most exciting thing about the entire movie.  Nothing visually interesting, with the worst picture quality you can imagine.
Audio – The audio rivaled only the video in the complete crap department.  There are no audio options of the disc, no languages or closed captioning.  The sound quality of the movie was as poor as the rest of the project, with bad balance and the feeling that you’d rather not hear what anyone was saying anyway.
Extras – There are no extras on the disc.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  What else can I say; Camp Blood was incredibly awful.  The only thing I could say in its defense would be that it was more a project than a film, feeling like an experiment rather than a movie.  It was stupid, badly done, and never felt like the campy horror it was trying to be.  The video was terrible, the audio just as bad, and there were no extras on the DVD.  I wouldn’t recommend this movie to my worst enemy; it’s a failed attempt at whatever it was they were attempting, and not something anyone should watch.

– Content
– Video
– Audio
– Extras
– Replay

Movie Trailer – Frontera

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Michael Berry
Starring: Ed Harris, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria
Release: July 31st, 2014

I like Ed Harris a lot, he always brings something intangibly excellent to each one of his roles.   But Pena & Longoria are on a whole other level, one much lower that houses mediocre talent that only very rarely falls into a perfect role.  So I don’t have much faith in this one.

Book Review – Anne of Green Gables

Category : Book Review

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Year: 1908

Mark this up as a book I most likely would never have read on my own but am glad that I was introduced to.  My wife recommended it as a family read, having loved it as a child and knowing that our daughter would as well.  I remember my sister and the girls in school reading this series, so I guess I always saw it as a “girl book”.  Well, I’m glad my eyes were opened.  It’s amazing the number of children’s classics that are absolutely wonderful.  I guess it shouldn’t be amazing, it should be expected, they’re classics for a reason.  But we sometimes forget that books written one hundred years ago can be just as poignant as one written yesterday.  If you have the time, I’d advise you to read/reread those musty books on your parents’ basement bookshelf; they’re usually worth it.  And Anne of Green Gables should be at the top of your list, as it’s both an incredible classic and a beautiful piece of writing, a novel you won’t regret or soon forget.
Anne is an orphan.  She’s a homely redhead unwanted by the world, but given a chance to have a family on account of a slight mistake.  The Cuthberts of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, Canada have just sent away for a young orphan boy to help them on their land, Green Gables.  They are sent Anne instead, an accident that they mean to correct at once.  But Anne isn’t so easily gotten rid of.  Her charming, talkative, imaginative ways capture the hearts of shy Matthew and gruff Marilla, a brother & sister who have long lived in quiet retreat and whose lives are entering their autumn stage.  They never expected life in the form of an active & bright young girl to enter their home, but their world is enriched by it.  As is all of Avonlea for that matter, as Anne has a gift for friendship, for sharing joy, and unfortunately for getting into trouble.  But she means well, loves deeply, and will ultimately affect everything around her in a positive way as she settles down in her new & wonderful home.
It’s just a beautiful book, simple put.  There’s no other way I can describe it; it’s a beautiful depiction of life.  Life at that time, in that place, in the world of those characters, life as seen through the eyes of a fantastic child, a girl who we could all do to be more like.  Anne exhibits traits that are both enviable and rare; compassion, loyalty, wonder, genuine excitement, a passion for living that is so often swept underneath our daily routine.  She and the other characters are written so well that they begin to feel like part of your own life, real people who are living alongside you.  To think that the book was written so long ago and yet remains relevant, morals & lesson & moods that haven’t really changed much in the last century.  And the way the author describes the Island makes you want to run right out and book a trip, see the magnificent scenery for yourself.  It’s a book that has that effect; it draws you in, feels like reality, and leaves you wanting more.  If you’ve never read it, do yourself the favor of giving it a chance.  And if it’ll be a reread, do it; read it to yourself, your kids, whoever, just read it and enjoy.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Movie Trailer – The Best of Me

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Michael Hoffman
Starring: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato
Release: October 17th, 2014

Goddam Nicholas Sparks.  I’m tired of these incredibly sappy, unbelievable love stories that have no depth, no reality, and can’t possibly be enjoyed by anyone but very unhappy middle-aged women.  It’s one of those genres of film that seem totally pointless, yet are still being produced because just enough people are tricked into watching them.

Movie Review – Pete’s Dragon

Category : Movie Review

Director: Don Chaffey
Starring: Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney
Year: 1977

I love old school Disney and I still have a ton of VHS tapes that I watch with my kids.  Yes they keep making great films, but nothing touches the classics of the 60s & 70s.  Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks; excellent early stuff from a company that just knows how to produce hits.  Unfortunately, Pete’s Dragon doesn’t hold up exactly the same.  If I had had to guess, I would have said that it was made in the 50s; it feels like a black & white musical that can’t quite translate to today.  But it was released in 1977, thirteen years after Mary Poppins.  When you look at it that way, excuses fly out the window and you’re left wondering why a movie made in that era by those people isn’t better.  I guess not every Disney movie can be a hit, and it’s not like Pete’s Dragon is a complete failure.  But it’s definitely one of the weaker you’ll see, for a good many reasons.
Pete is an orphan boy who’s having a hard time.  The family that bought him for $50 has always treated him terribly, and after many attempts to run away it seems as if he’s finally succeeded.  Well, it helps when you’ve got an invisible giant dragon knocking people out of the way whenever it’s necessary.  Elliot is Pete’s constant companion, there to help him however he might need it, whether that’s roasting apples with fire or taking him on a little flight.  But it’s hard to be inconspicuous when you’re a big green dragon and when Pete tries to make a new start in a new town Elliot accidentally makes a lot of trouble.  Living in a cave down by the ocean, the duo meets Nora and her father Lampie, the operators of a nearby lamp house and a pair of friends who might just offer Pete something he’s never really had; a home.
It’s a fun story, a boy & his dragon, and it’s great what they could do with an invisible Elliot on the set of the movie.  The music is good too, catchy songs mixed with heartfelt, creating a backdrop for a pretty engaging story.  But there are also some problems.  The acting wasn’t very good from either Pete or Nora, a big issue since they’re the leads.  They could sing, in fact Helen Reddy was famous for her voice, but acting talent was not in ready supply.  The film felt like a play, which I guess was pretty cool, but it also felt like it was made in the 40s.  By 1977 they should have been able to do more with this film, polish it up, create a more dynamic movie, generally do a better job.  It felt amateur throughout and Disney was by no means amateur at that time.  Pete’s Dragon is more of a sideshow than a main event, failing to blossom as the musical it could have been.  It’s still enjoyable after all these years, but nowhere near as good as so many that came before & after.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆