by D.W. Lundberg

Thursday, December 23, 2010


A short one this week, as we're currently gearing up for a busy Christmas weekend here at the Lundberg household. Anyway, what better way to update this blog than with a Christmas quiz? We all have our traditions this time of year - food we eat, people we see, movies we watch to help ring in the season. Can you match the titles of these holiday-themed favorites to their poster pieces below? No cheating now. That wouldn't be very festive...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Knight And Day stars Cameron Diaz as a single, solitary Boston gal who falls for a charming stranger on a return flight from Wichita, Kansas. They meet when she bumps into him at the airport – twice, literally. On the plane, they strike up some sparkling conversation. Later, she emerges from the lavatory to find he's killed every passenger on board, including the pilots (actually, he explains, he shot the first pilot who in his death throes turned and shot the other one). He crashes the plane in a cornfield, and the two of them emerge unharmed from the wreckage. Still, she's curiously unfazed – if anything, the fact that this man may in fact be a serial killer only makes him more mysterious... and more attractive. (He did not, after all, try to kill her.) Also, it helps that he's played by Tom Cruise.

You remember Tom Cruise. He used to be kind of a big deal. It was that big, toothy grin of his, the cocky assuredness that made him a star. Audiences ate it up – men, women, it didn't matter. Top Gun. Days Of Thunder. A Few Good Men. The Firm. Mission: Impossible. Jerry Maguire. All $100-million-plus grossers in U.S. box office revenue alone. By 2009, his films totaled over $6.5 billion worldwide. Clearly, the guy could do no wrong. In 1997, Empire magazine even voted him one of the five top movie stars of all time.

Friday, December 10, 2010





Break-ups. Kisses and make-ups. Loves lost and love found. Such are the dilemmas of the Romantic film, which asks us swoon at the insatiable appetites of the human heart. Romance took many forms this decade, from the tragic (Atonement, In The Mood For Love), to the quirky (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Bridget Jones' Diary), to the truly original (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind). More than any other genre, though, Romantic films feel as if they're built entirely out of age-old clichés, with plots so routine (boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy comes to his senses and gets girl back) their endings are never in doubt. But then that's the appeal, isn't it? Because it's not so much the destination that makes all the difference, but the bumps and bruises we earn along the way.

The Top Five:

5. Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)

Richard Curtis, best known for scripting Notting Hill and Four Weddings And A Funeral, makes his directorial debut with this frothy, multi-character concoction, set in London during the five weeks prior to Christmas. Some of Curtis' first-time flourishes do grate on the nerves, with so many stars – including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and Keira Knightley, among others – headlining so many separate plot threads that not everything's bound to stick. The devil, of course, is in the details – how, for instance, the character situations tend to mirror each other (the English horndog who fantasizes about American girls, the American who's settled in England for personal reasons but has no time for relationships... that sort of thing), or its unwavering belief that love does indeed conquer all. And if the climax lays on the sentiment a little thick, well, that's love for you, actually.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


So there's a new Disney cartoon out in theaters. It's called Tangled, about a rogue-ish thief named Flynn Rider who climbs a tall tower in the middle of a pastoral field and finds a barefooted girl with wicked-long hair extensions living inside. Hilarious adventures ensue, in which Flynn and his horse encounter ruffians in a forest, all the while accompanied by said girl who giggles a lot and swings from trees and other assorted things by said hair.

Did I mention the story's actually a modern spin on Rapunzel, that age-old Grimm's Fairy Tale your parents read to you as a child, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair" and all that? You probably gathered as much from the previews you've seen on television, only... why aren't they advertising it that way? Before the movie was released last weekend, I don't think they even mentioned Rapunzel by name in the trailers. If you haven't ventured out to see it yet, you might even be surprised to learn it's also a full-scale Disney musical, complete with show-stopping numbers by Alan Menken (of Little Mermaid / Beauty And The Beast fame) and all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


First off, we've already established that adapting children's books into movies can be a tricky business. There's a lot of padding involved in turning a 30-page tome into a 90-minute feature, and I'd hesitate to call any attempt at this (so far) an unqualified success.

The world of Harry Potter, meanwhile, is a completely different matter. J.K. Rowling's Witches and Wizardry series is so chock full of incident, so ripe with characters and fantastical creatures and iconic moments, that it's a struggle deciding what to leave out. This has been a great source of frustration for fans loyal to the books, especially after the first two entries in the series, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, which were short enough (at 300-340 pages) that director Chris Columbus and his team could follow Rowling's narrative without deviating from it too much. As the books expanded, though, subplots had to be dropped, character beats fell to the wayside, and it’s been fun listening to Potter-philes express their growing exasperation over what didn't make the cut.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Wake up call: The MacGuffin in Jaws is the shark, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.

This might be the reason why so many people who experience Steven Spielberg's terror-under-the- water masterpiece today feel so gypped by it: the shark looks so "fake" - obviously a mechanical monster and not the real thing - that it's hard to focus on anything else. By doing that, though, you take your focus off of what the movie's really about.

Thursday, November 4, 2010





Slasher pics. Zombie flicks. Dismemberment, monsters and murder. The Horror film has evolved since the days of early cinema, when genre pics kept their horrors mostly off-screen. Now, though, filmmakers leave very little to the imagination, as if the simple act of scaring us just isn't enough. 2000-2009 saw the return of the "splatter film" in significant numbers, with prolonged sequences of torture, mutilation, and gore. While titles like Hostel and Saw dominated multiplexes, other trends included remakes of American classics (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween), remakes of Asian Horror flicks (The Ring, The Grudge), and "found footage" films (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity). There was, in short, no shortage of frights this decade.

The Top Five:

5. Shaun Of The Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

Just when you thought zombie movies couldn't get any funnier. Part end-of-the-world scenario, part Romantic Comedy (billed, in fact, as the world's first "zom rom com"), Edgar Wright's side-splitting Horror-Comedy is a mishmash of so many genres it's hard to guess what'll come at you next. Wright co- scripted with star Simon Pegg, based off an idea from their British slacker sitcom Spaced, about an aimless appliance salesman who's settled into such a routine – hanging out with his ne'er-do-well flatmate at the local pub, and generally disappointing his girlfriend – that it literally takes scores of the undead to shake him from his stupor. This mix of shrieks and laughter has been done before, of course (George A. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead springs immediately to mind, as does Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series) – but never quite at this pitch. One minute the dry British wit floors you with its typical indifference, the next someone's getting ripped to pieces during zombie attacks. For anyone with the stomach for it, Shaun's a real hoot.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Ah, Hollywood. When will you ever learn? We've talked about remakes before, but when it comes to Horror movies, it's the producers, writers and directors who come off as more than a little brain- dead. The purpose of these remakes, rehashings and re-imaginings always seems the same: take a title that terrified audiences back in the day and... add more gore! And nudity! Because that kind of stuff always improves things! Ugh. It's all a matter of taste, I guess. And a stronger gag reflex than I apparently have.

Here are five Horror titles that received some of the more memorable "upgrades" in recent memory. Enter at your own risk...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The problem with a movie like Halloween – along with, say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jaws, even Poltergeist – is that the law of diminishing returns tends to corrupt the filmmakers' original intentions. Too often sequels are rushed into production as an excuse to cash in on a title's good name; horror sequels, in particular, generally offer the same scares, the same chills, nothing more – only gorier, at a higher pitch than before.

Released in 1978, and made on a budget of $325,000, John Carpenter's Halloween is the granddaddy of all slasher pics – more than Chain Saw (1973) or Psycho (1960), movies not yet in the Butchered-Horny-Teenagers mold. Written by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, the story couldn't be simpler: maniac escapes from asylum, stalks victims. Yet the movie's atmospheric scares galvanized audiences hungry for just such a thing. Its reputation built slowly, word of mouth eventually helping to bring its final worldwide box office tally to around $55 million (or $172 million, adjusted for inflation). While hardly what you'd call a blockbuster success by today's standards, this was fairly staggering stuff for a late-70s, low-budget shocker – enough to spawn countless rip-offs and seven (count 'em) sequels, a reboot, and a sequel to the reboot.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I should have gotten on top of this last week, but since it's October, how about an entire month of blog entries devoted to Halloween and scary movies? It'll help us get into the spirit of things, so that those of us with kids can get excited for the end of the month, when our little tykes go trick or treating on the 31st and we end up eating half of the candy they collect and get fat. (Or, if you do your own trick-or-treating, eat all of your own candy and get fat.)

I figure, since we've just started a couple of new series, we might as well have a little fun with that. Looking ahead, it'll also push me to finish the latest entry in my "Best Of The Decade" – which coincidentally covers my favorite horror movies of 2000-2009 – by Halloween night. (You might think I planned it to work out that way, but truth be told it's just my knack for procrastinating that got the better of me. Hooray for happenstance!) I'm not promising anything, but we'll see how that turns out.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


What makes a quality sequel? At the very least, it should expand upon the themes and characters we encountered in the original film. It should also provide us a refresher course on those elements that made the first chapter work so well in the first place, without merely being content to rehash them.

It's a sad fact, however, that so few sequels in cinema history have been able to do this. Sure, there's always a chance that a follow-up film might equal or (on occasion) even surpass the original, but examples of this are few and far between. Studios are just as likely to rush a sequel into production to make a quick buck, rather than, say, put in the time and effort it takes to create something special. That's why, for every Godfather Part II there's a Men In Black II. For every Empire Strikes Back there's Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, and Jaws The Revenge.

A few weeks ago we attended family dinner at the in-laws' and somebody had decided to pop The Hunt For Red October into the DVD player. Nice choice, that one. It's the kind of movie I'll always stop and watch whenever it's playing on TV - a brainy, brawny techno-thriller starring Sean Connery as a Russian submarine captain trying to defect to America, and Alec Baldwin as the CIA analyst trying to outguess his every move, before the entire Soviet Navy can hunt him down and stop him.

Monday, September 20, 2010


So I decided to pop Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious into the DVD player the other night, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. I wanted to show it to my wife, for a number of reasons: a) it's Alfred Hitchcock, b) you can never go wrong with Hitchcock, and c) it's so hard to find a quality love story these days worth re-visiting.

That's right: This elegant 1946 masterpiece from the "Master of Suspense" is a romance masquerading as an espionage thriller, about a spy (Bergman) recruited by a CIA agent (Grant) to "reaquaint" herself with an old flame in league with Nazi operatives. The trouble is, the Bergman character has fallen in love with the Grant character, and vice versa - although both are too proud to admit their feelings for each other.

Monday, September 6, 2010





Biographies. Period pieces. Inspiring true stories of triumph over adversity. There was much to admire about the Historical Dramas of 2000-2009, from the Oscar-winning star performances as larger-than-life personas (Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, Jamie Foxx in Ray) to the blood-soaked spectacle of atrocities old (Pearl Harbor, The Pianist) and new (Hotel Rwanda, World Trade Center). While filmmakers have long been notorious for altering events to suit Dramatic purposes, the Historical film should nevertheless stick as close to the facts as possible, as well as provide us a vivid recreation of times past. Done right, these films not only show us where we've been, but also what we've yet to become.

The Top Five:

5. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)

Biopics aren't typically my thing. Too much sentimentality, I suppose, or maybe it's the self-congratulatory attempt to shoehorn an entire life's story into feature length. Martin Scorsese, though, takes a more creative approach with his bustling Howard Hughes epic, narrowing his focus to the impressive 20-year span in which the billionaire industrialist burned brightest, from shooting Hell's Angels at 22, to his successful test flight of the "Spruce Goose" H-4 Hercules in 1947. Scorsese also seems to be having great fun replicating the Hollywood of yesteryear, right down to the two- and three-shade Technicolor film stock of the period (most noticeable in the grass where Hughes and Cate-Blanchett-as-Katherine-Hepburn play golf, or the fields where Hughes crashes his H-1 Racer). And while Leonardo DiCaprio initially seems too boyish to carry the entire movie on his shoulders, his performance actually gains in stature the older his character gets. It's a mirror for DiCaprio's own career trajectory, of a prodigy whose talents extend far beyond his years.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Caught a curious ad for a movie the other day. Here it is:

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, folks: It's Grease: The Sing-Along, where you're invited to attend dressed as your favorite Pink Lady or T-Bird and warble along with hopeless devotion. (It's a lot like those interactive midnight screenings they hold for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, only a lot less creepy.)

Monday, July 26, 2010


For those of you paying attention, Salt opened in theaters this past weekend, starring Angelina Jolie. Here's the poster: 

Notice anything prominent in there? Right: Angelina Jolie. If the goal of any given poster is to advertise the movie at hand, then Angelina's patented "I'm-Pissed-And-If-You-Even-Think-About-Standing-In-My-Way-I'll-Be-Sure-To-Wipe-The-Floor-With-You" glare as featured above should tell you everything Salt is about. They might as well have called it Angelina, Ready To Kick Your Butt.

Monday, July 12, 2010


We finally got around to catching the remake of The Karate Kid this week, starring Jaden Smith (son of Will) and Jackie Chan. I was pleasantly surprised by it. The initial story beats are more or less the same, with alterations - some major (mainland China stands in for a substantially less exotic Los Angeles), some minor (here "Mr. Miyagi" becomes "Mr. Han," "Daniel LaRusso" becomes "Dre Parker" and so forth). Then, at some point, this updated Kid takes on a life all its own, and for a good while, the "re-imagining" seems warranted. It helps, for one thing, that the karate's improved; the choreography as featured in the 1984 movie always seemed a little too stagy for my taste, even if it got the point across. For another, Chan's given a little more room to play - I liked how the tragedy in his past closed him off from communication with the rest of the world, and how his time spent with the kid helps bring him out of his shell. The only thing lacking is the tournament climax, which is treated more like an afterthought to all the drama that precedes it (again, it reverts to the exact same beats as the original, and lacks surprise). All in all, though, I'd say it's an improvement on the original.

Which, of course, got me to thinking: What about the cinema's other high-profile remakes? Usually when filmmakers get it in their heads to put a new "spin" on some beloved property, the results are never pretty. Either they miss the point of the earlier film completely, or they flat-out fail to bring any new ideas to the table, and who wants that? I like my originals exactly the way they are, thank you very much.

Monday, July 5, 2010


A short one today. This week Warner Bros. debuted the first trailer for their upcoming Harry Potter two-fer, The Deathly Hallows. It doesn't disappoint. Here you go:

As you might have read in last week's post, I've been a fan of the Potter movie series ever since Prisoner Of Azkaban opened in June 2004. This newest trailer teases a great deal of the characters' ultimate fates (I especially like the overwhelming sense of dread that runs throughout), but that "Presented in 2 Parts" bit's galled me ever since I heard they were doing it.

Monday, June 28, 2010





Fairy tales. Fantasies. Good old-fashioned family values. The kid-centric films of the Noughties were dominated by CG animation, performance capture, and Harry Potter. G- and PG-rated entertainment grew scarce, as did traditional hand-drawn animation (revived again, to mostly glorious effect, for 2009's The Princess And The Frog). And while Disney/Pixar continued to capture the imaginations of cinema-goers worldwide (with Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up), their chief rival, DreamWorks, fancied in-jokes over genuine storytelling (Shrek, Madagascar). The ultimate Family flicks must not only do without the heavy profanity, violence and sexuality required of other genres, they must also engage adults and children alike.

The Top Five:

5. Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007)

Disney satirizes itself to such a spectacular degree you'd be hard- pressed to look at any of their animated classics the same way again. It's a canny twist on an age-old formula, complete with wink-wink nods to past studio successes and hummable song score from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz ("That's How You Know," their centerpiece ballad, is a genuine crowd-pleaser). The whole thing actually plays like an answer to DreamWorks' Shrek, with jokes that poke fun at storybook conventions only to succumb to them, proudly, at the end. And while the 12-or-so minutes of featured animation are as sublime as anything Disney's done before, the movie really comes alive during its live-action sequences, with a game cast led by Amy Adams in the very definition of a star-making performance. She's delightful enough all on her own to make you believe in the corniest of fairy tales.

Friday, June 25, 2010


So. Toy Story 3. I've been letting it sink in for the past few days now, and here's what I think: as a sequel to my favorite animated franchise, it doesn't quite soar to the same heights as its predecessors (the writing's a tad lazy on a couple of fronts), but nevertheless acts as a lovely and moving coda to the series that began Pixar's cinematic legacy.

The original Toy Story – and I believe this just as strongly now as I did when the movie was released back in 1995, the year I graduated from high school (!) – is this generation's Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Sure, we knew (computer) animation had been around for a while, but we didn't know it could do thatIt also came as a firm announcement of the Pixar model: story first, everything else second. (Any movie can wow you with its technique, acting or special effects, but if the story's a bust there's really no point.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010


As an addendum to last week's post, I thought I'd entertain those less "in the know," as they say, with some of the more famous instances of Actors Replaced By Other Actors In Major Studio Tentpoles. (This is different from Actors Who Filled In For Other Actors Who Died, as it happened with Harry Potter or Superman, which may or may not be the subject of a post sometime in the future.)

Here are five cases I've always found particularly fascinating:

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Back To The Future Part II (1989)

I may be jumping on the bandwagon a little late here (as usual), but has anyone who's read this particular story had the same reaction as mine? (Or, when you do click that and read it, will you?) Megan Fox? Dropping out of Transformers 3? The horror! How can this be?

I guess I shouldn't be that surprised. A little perplexed, maybe, but hardly surprised. After all, this is only the latest in a long line of Sequels That Have Replaced Actors Because Of Popularity And/Or Pride Issues. It's a tried-and-true Hollywood tradition that's affected every movie series from Charlie Chan to James Bond to Batman to Don Cheadle stepping in for Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2. It's nothing new. Although to be fair, in this case it seems they aren't simply recasting the role so much as switching love interests altogether. Which is supposed to make the change a little less jarring, I guess. But whatever.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010





Happiness. Heartache. Man's eternal struggle to achieve one and distance himself from the other. The Dramatic film is Hollywood's favorite genre, with six out of ten Best Picture wins at the Academy Awards this past decade (Crash, The Departed, The Hurt Locker, Million Dollar Baby and Slumdog Millionaire; other winners included an Action epic, a Biopic, a Musical, and a Fantasy film, respectively). Dramas provide stars ample opportunity to show off their acting skills, and a chance to impress their peers. They also give filmmakers the chance to probe the great mysteries of the human heart. Like all great films, though, the Dramas that matter most are the ones that surprise you with their depth and emotional impact.

The Top Five:
5. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

Typo'd title aside (it's a deliberate riff on a Z-grade Dirty Dozen rip-off from the 70s), Quentin Tarantino's latest love letter to movies features some of his most literate work to date. It's still a mishmash of genres – this time it's World War II revenge fantasy meets Nazi spy thriller with a dose of French New Wave. I include it here based on the intensity of Tarantino's extended dialogue sequences, which build and build to the point of anxiety; an opening prologue at a farmhouse and, later, a rendezvous at an underground bar are like master classes in screenwriting, with adversaries playing verbal games of cat and mouse to discover each others' secrets. The movie itself is almost gleefully anachronistic – a David Bowie ballad plays at one point, and Tarantino even re-writes the outcome of the war so that Hitler meets his end at the hand of Jewish mercenaries. Not exactly what I'd call an accurate depiction of history. Just a director at his exhilarating, visceral best.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I'm in the process of streamlining my "Best Films" project (it's taking me way too long to get it finished; at this rate, I'll wrap it up just in time for the next decade to come rolling around). So, to distract you, here's a quiz.

We'll call this one "Movie Title Mashup," just for the sake of calling it something. The rules are simple: I give you a movie title. You take the last word of that title, and come up with your own title that begins with that word. Then combine the two to form one giant title. If that confuses you at all (because, let's be honest, sometimes I even confuse myself), let me give you a freebie:

Rosemary's Baby + Baby Mama = Rosemary's Baby Mama

Got it? Awesome. Now a rule. Now let's try a few, shall we? Please leave your answers in the comments below. Winner gets my undying respect and affection. Or at least what's left of it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Something occurred to me the other day as I sat watching The Princess And The Frog with the kids for the twentieth time. (Good movie, that one. It's always nice when kids latch onto something that doesn't make me want to jab a chopstick in both ears.) Original thought doesn't occur to me all that often, to be perfectly honest, so I thought I'd better get it out there.

You're familiar with "The Rule Of Threes," yes? It's a general rule of thumb based on the assumption that people always remember things better in threes (click here for a more in-depth definition). In screenwriting, the most important use of this rule is the three-act structure, which goes something like this:

   Act One: Main character gets into trouble;

   Act Two: Main character tries to get out of
     trouble, but the more he tries, the deeper he

   Act Three: Main character gets out of trouble.

Friday, April 2, 2010





Lights! Camera! Reality! The Documentary is cinema in its purest form - literally any film that documents life as it happens, without actors or a written script. History's earliest films can be considered Documentaries: solitary camera shots (each less than a minute in length) of moving trains, surgical procedures, and the like. Genre films of 2000-2009 ranged from the controversial (Michael Moore's hot-button Fahrenheit 9/11) to the cute and cuddly (March Of The Penguins), and were more popular at the box office than ever before. Not only do the best Documentaries allow us to draw our own conclusions about the events and the lives on display, they also capture human drama so compelling and unique you'd swear someone made it all up.

The Top Five:

5. The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters (Seth Gordon, 2007)

The most entertaining Documentary of the decade, set in the cutthroat world of – no joke – competitive arcade gaming. At first it seems to follow the rags-to-riches story of Billy Mitchell, the arrogant, mullet-haired "Video Game Player Of The Century" who's coasted on that reputation since he set the high- score record for Donkey Kong in 1982. Then a challenger emerges: a down-on-his-luck junior high school teacher named Steve Wiebe (that's "Wee- bee"), who proves himself the first major contender for the throne in more than 20 years. The fun of the movie is in the not-so flattering picture director Seth Gordon paints of Mitchell and his "disciples" – grown men who've diluted themselves into thinking their accomplishments have actual real-world merit. But it's Wiebe's journey to overcome impossible odds that had audiences cheering.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


As a warm-up for the Documentaries entry in our "Best Of The Decade" series (due in a few days - I promise), I thought I'd treat you (or re-treat you, for those already in the know) to just a few of the earliest recorded films in history - five clips, to be exact. These are nifty little glimpses of everyday life - some only a couple seconds long - that were mind-blowing to audiences of the day. (In other words, they made lots and lots of money. Nickels of it, as a matter of fact.)

Some of you might be asking, "How come these things are so darn short?" Well, that's because the technology was just in its infant stages. After all, "motion pictures" are just that: a series of frames played in sequence, one after another at high speed, to give the illusion of actual movement. These clips are the earliest example of that. Innovative minds such as Eadweard Muybridge, William Kennedy Dickson, and Thomas Edison invented the camera equipment that helped usher in the new age of cinema as we know it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Adapting books into film can be a tricky business. Especially when that book is a much-loved children's classic. Especially when that children's classic is less than 50 (written) pages long.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat In The Hat, The Polar Express - all books we've loved since childhood, turned into Hollywood features of wildly varying quality. A big reason these adaptations fail artistically is because of the padding: Since movies these days run at least seventy to eighty minutes (any shorter and they'd qualify as a "short"), filmmakers are forced to figure out how to bloat these books to feature length. And in doing so, they usually stray from the tone of the original story - what made the book such an enduring classic to begin with.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010





Whap! Biff! Pow! Any film that's been adapted from a comic book, comic strip or graphic novel qualifies as a Comic Book movie. While genre films had been popular before (Superman in 1978, Tim Burton's Batman in 1989), it wasn't until the Noughties that they gained any real momentum, when the success of Fox's ensemble X-Men (2000) had studios clamoring for their next blockbuster franchise. Titles ranged from the well-known (Spider-Man, Hulk) to the barely-heard-of (The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Would it surprise you to learn that not all Comic Book movies are about superheroes? Subgenres also include Comedies, Period Dramas, even Science-Fiction. And they're not just for kids anymore.

The Top Five:

5. Sin City (Robert Rodriguez / Frank Miller, 2005)

A unique, one-of-a-kind experience (though admittedly not to everyone's taste), taken almost shot-for-shot from Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel series. The cast acted out scenes, on minimal sets, with backgrounds added digitally during post-production to match Miller's panels. Then the images were converted to stark blacks and whites, with colorized objects dotted throughout the film. The result is one of the most visually striking movies I've ever seen. Director Robert Rodriguez seems liberated by the process; as usual, he shot and edited the movie himself, but here, unlike the gee-whiz, Hey-guys-I'm-making-a-movie mentality of his Mariachi and Spy Kids trilogies, he's got such firm control over his environments that the effect is breathtaking. And while I don't think there's really much to it beyond its visual style, as an exercise in literal book-to-screen translation, it's to kill for.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


As a diversion from the fact that you're anxiously awaiting Part 3 of our "Best Of The Decade" list (which, again, is taking too long to finish)...

So the 82nd Annual Academy Awards are tomorrow night, Sunday, March 7th. At last. I was going to write something about it, just for the sake of writing about it, but a funny thing happened: I forgot the stupid things were even on.

Saturday, February 20, 2010





Send-ups. Satire. Slapstick. A Comedy's primary goal is to make you laugh - to provide you a cathartic, emotional release from everyday life. Characters and situations are often exaggerated for comedic effect. Popular trends of 2000-2009 included spoofs (the Scary Movies, Meet The Spartans), expletive-heavy sex comedies (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Superbad), and Will Ferrell. Of course, what actually qualifies as "comedy" depends on you, the viewer - because what's funny to one person may not be quite so funny to someone else. Whatever your personal taste, it all comes down to one rule: If it doesn't make you laugh, or the humor doesn't at least reveal a few recognizable truths about life, then it fails as Comedy.

The Top Five:

5. Ocean's Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001)

One of the decade's great entertainments – and a testament to the virtues of star power. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Carl Reiner – it's almost too much for one movie to handle. Yet director Steven Soderbergh manages to juggle multiple character threads without ever losing his audience, so that we know exactly who's doing what, and where they're doing it. What's more, he remembers that movies, at their core, are supposed to be fun. Ted Griffin's script is a treasure trove of snappy dialogue exchanges, and the actors have such an easy rapport you get the sense they really enjoy each other's company – the spark is palpable. Critics blasted Soderbergh and Co. for relying too much on style, not enough on substance. To which I say: What's the problem with that? When a movie's as effortless and enjoyable as this, that's substance enough.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010





Bullets. Chases. Unadulterated escapism. A film typically defined by fast editing, booming stereo soundtrack, and the characters' insistence on resolving their conflicts via gun battles, fist fights, sword fights, and the like. The Action/ Adventure films of 2000-2009 (for better or worse) saw the return of Indiana Jones after a 19-year hiatus, introduced us to new action heroes like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Vin Diesel, ushered in the martial arts film as mainstream cinema, and even dared to ask, "Are you not entertained?" The most satisfying Action films provide the expected thrills (and then some) without insulting the audience's intelligence.

The Top Five: 
5. Banlieue 13 (District 13) (Pierre Morel, 2004)

No other film this decade featured more exciting stunt work. This canny French import showcased the art of parkour (dictionary-defined as an "athletic activity in which the participant seeks to move quickly and fluidly through an area... by surmounting obstacles such as walls and railings and leaping across open spaces"), and it blew a lot of people's minds. Stuntmen-turned- movie-stars Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle leap across rooftops, scale walls, defy gravity – and all without the aid of wires or CGI. Yes, the acting's hokey. And the plot's a virtual rip-off of Escape From New York and 48 HRS., to just about every buddy flick ever made. But if the genre's sole purpose is to get your pulse racing, to wow you with physical action, then this movie's fluid and eye-popping action sequences are hard to beat. They truly are one of a kind.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


So it's been well over a month now since the nation's top critics unleashed their "Best Films Of The Decade" lists on the unsuspecting public. In newspapers, magazines, on the Internet - everyone got their chance to comment on the films that "spoke" to them above all others, the ones that mattered most, from 2000-2009. (Was anyone else aware this decade was unofficially called "The Noughties?" As in, "The 80s," "The 90s," and now "The Noughties?" Me neither. Apparently it's got something to do with other English-speaking countries referring to "zeros" as "noughts." Thanks, Wikipedia.)

I realize these lists might not have caught your attention as much as they did mine. For all the griping and growling I do about critics and how they just don't "get it," it's funny I'm still an avid reader of such things. Maybe it's because I just love reading about movies in any shape or form. Maybe it's just that I love having something to complain about.