Vacation Movie Watching

Lest everyone think I did nothing but work on vacation, I thought I’d throw out the movies that I watched during the break, that we haven’t had time to get to over the past few months:

  • Rob Zombies Halloween – Unrated Director’s Cut with commentary – Saw Halloween in the theaters, but we have the DVD and watched the commentary. Enjoyed it a lot
  • The Number 23 with Jim Carrey. Hated it. Ridiculous and totally predictable.
  • I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry – Stupid. Hated it. I’m not a big Adam Sandler fan, especially with cornball movies like this
  • Chain Reaction with Keanu Reeves. Didn’t like it at all.
  • Hostel – Part II – a little more predictable than the first, but kind of liked it.
  • Amadeus – I’ve seen this a bajillion times and love it. Jonna had never seen it so I watched it again with her. Still love it after all these years …
  • Crimson Tide with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. I’ve been told multiple times that I had to see this, so we put it on the netflix queue. Awesome. Loved it.
  • I Am Legend – Will Smiths latest movie, which we went to see on Saturday. I really liked it. I didn’t like the ending too much, and the zombies were a little ‘too CGI’, but otherwise I thought it was a great movie.
  • Village of the Damned – starring Christopher Reeve and Kirsty Alley. We found this at Menards for $1.98 and bought it because we had nothing to watch that night. We thought it would be pretty cheesy, but we actually enjoyed it. It was a good movie for the price
  • The Lord Of The RingsThe Two Towers and The Return of the King – We’ve had Two Towers for some time, tried to watch it and thought there was something wrong with the DVD. Later we found that the center channel on our surround sound was out, so we just couldn’t hear anything. We decided to watch it this week. Loved it, and went out Sunday to buy the other two. Watched Return of the King yesterday and loved it. The Fellowship of the Ring is on the schedule for New Years Eve, as we stay home anyway. One thing I will say is that these movies are LOOOOONG but definitely worth it. As I was watching it, I was thinking that it would be great if someday someone could make a movie like this on the The Silver Sun and its trilogy, which were some of my favorite books I had read as a kid (still haven’t gotten our kids to read them though). I think these books would make great movies as well

We’ve done a lot of catch up in the last couple of weeks. We saw one new movie and the rest were things that were on our list that we just “haven’t gotten around to”. While there were quite a few disappointments, the ones that we liked made up for the time we spent on the ones we didn’t. At least we can say that we’ve seen all of them now.

Movies: Rocky Balboa

Yesterday the family went to the movies. Normally the way this works is that Jonna and I will go see one movie, and the three kids will go to another. Its rare these days that we all want to see the same movie.

Yesterday was different. The family wanted to see Night at the Museum, the new Ben Stiller film. I had decided that I was going to break down and see Rocky Balboa, the newest and final installment in the Rocky series.

Now, when I first heard that there was going to be a new Rocky movie, I had decided pretty firmly that I was not going to go see it – I would wait for video. But as I continued to see the trailers leading up to its Christmas release, the urge to see another Rocky movie (which overall is probably my favorite series of movies of all time next to the Godfather) gradually took over – to the point where I decided to go see Rocky by myself while the rest of the family went to see Museum.

I approached the movie with quite a bit of trepidation. Rocky 5 was a huge disappointment – not the best way to end a series of movies like Rocky. But as I sat down in the theater and the movie started, I began feeling that same feeling of excitement that has accompanied every Rocky movie I’ve seen since my first viewing of the first Rocky movie back in the late 70’s.

I thought the movie was excellent. While the tag line for the movie is “It’s not over until its over”, a great little quote from Rocky during a conversation with his son sums up the movie quite well:

But it ain’t about how hard you hit… it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward… how much you can take, and keep moving forward. If you know what you’re worth, go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit.

This quote basically sums up what you get out of every Rocky movie. That inspiring life lesson about going one more round – getting up one more time in the face of adversity. Rocky Balboa wound up being just as inspiring as the rest of the movies – and finally puts a fitting end to the tale of Rocky Balboa – something that Rocky V failed miserably at doing. While you walked out of Rocky V feeling down and depressed, Rocky Balboa has you walking out feeling that the world has been set right in Philadelphia.

Now, on the flip side, there were still some cheesy scenes, but those happen in each of the movies. But overall, it was a great experience. I think the only real disappointment for me is that the rest of the family doesn’t share the same soft spot in their hearts for the characters in this series as I do, so I walked out feeling great with no one to share the experience with.

I do think though, that this is definitely the way the series should have ended. It was great to see the series end on a high note. I give Rocky Balboa 4 out of 5 stars.

Movies: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Kelsi, Jonna and I went to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning today. Kelsi had never seen the original, so this was a brand new experience for her. Her choices were to either see this with Jonna and I, or to attend a fine viewing of Employee of the Month (the Dane Cook movie) with the boys. She picked this one, and paid dearly.

Despite the pretty bad ratings the movie is getting on Rotten Tomatoes, I actually enjoyed it. I’m sure Kelsi would have too, if she could have kept her head out from under my jacket, which I generously loaned to her during one of the first “hard to watch” scenes in the movie.

This time around, you see the origin of the Hewitt family, along with the first group of kids they wound up killing. R. Lee Ermey reprises his role as “Sherriff Hoyt” and is, once again, excellent. That “Full Metal Jacket” feel to his character fits perfectly into this story. Kudos to the casting folks for getting him to play this part.

I enjoyed this movie much more than the Exorcist prequel that came out a while back. There was obviously some thought that went into this one and it winds up complementing 2003 remake very well. The thing I enjoyed the most is that the filmmakers successfully answered the biggest questions I had about the original movie ‘lo those many years ago:

  • Is Sheriff Hoyt really a sheriff?
  • How did he lose his front teeth?
  • What was Leatherface’s career before becoming the most feared serial killer in movie history?
  • How did Uncle Monty lose his legs?
  • What do these guys DO with the bodies of their victims (aside from wear their faces)?

All of these questions and more are answered in what amounts to 84 minutes of absolute gore. If you get queasy at graphic violence, you might want to sit this one out. I found this one to be actually less gory than the 2003 remake of the original, but it’s still pretty hard core and there were a few areas of the movie which made me uncomfortable. When it comes down to it, as I get older I find it harder and harder to watch slasher films. None the less, it did what it set out to do and I thought it was a good way to spend an hour and a half or so on my day off.

Movies: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition)When the boys suggested that we rent the new DVD release of V for Vendetta, I have to say I was not really excited. The movie just didn’t look like something that I would enjoy from the previews. But, being the ultimately cool parents that we are, we gave in and decided to have a nice family night viewing of the movie. On the way home, reading the back cover, I described it to Jonna jokingly as “Phantom of the Opera meets Braveheart meets Batman”.

I have to say, my impressions of the movie from the previews was dead wrong. I enjoyed it immensely. Jonna is sticking with my original description, and when asked if she liked it gives a very flat “eh”.

The story is set in 2015, where the US is in ruins and England is under a Hitler like totalitarian rule of the Grand Chancellor. The “government rules the people” rather than the “people ruling the government”. The regime in power is using people for experimentation in the development of biological weapons and their antidotes.

Then along comes V (played by Hugo Weaving), a vigilante in a “Guy Fawkes” mask who begins to make efforts to organize the over throwing of the government using terrorist like tactics. While V is out to save the people from the government, he also has a need to “get even” with the group of people responsible for torture that he went through while experimented on by the government. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that articulates both the altruistic goal of freeing the people along with a personal vendetta to “get even” with the people who have wronged the hero – another aspect of the movie that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Another thing that I really liked was that though you get some flashback information at a really high level of who V was, you never really get the full story – and unlike all of the Batman movies – no one, including the audience, ever gets to see who is behind V’s mask.

The final thing that struck me about the character was his complete lack of emotion through what he was doing. It wasn’t your typical “I’m angry and want to get even” type of character. The character had something he felt he needed to do, and although it was some pretty intense revenge, he approached it in completely calm way. I don’t know why this struck me the way it did, but I found it as kind of a cool character trait.

I’m not going to go into a drawn out description of the story. You have to see the movie. I will tell you that after watching and returning it to the video store, we went out and bought it. I’m looking forward to watching it again with Kelsi to get her impressions of it.

Definitely a movie to check out if you like “us against the oppressive government” kind of movies.

Ron’s rating: Two thumbs and a big toe up.

Movies: Superman Returns

We took what seems like a very long 2 1/2 hours of our day yesterday to go see the new movie, Superman Returns. I’m pretty wishy washy about this one. I don’t hate it, but its not the best either.

One of the things I’m trying to keep in mind is a quote that I heard John Carpenter talk about in the DVD extras of The Fog a few months ago. He was essentially talking about how the studios are doing a lot of remakes now to bring stories to the newer generation, as your average kid will not watch a movie that is 10-15 years old now. Updating the story line to look more current, with some current and younger stars, allows a whole new generation to be able to view the story. I totally get it, and this line of thinking got me through The Omen remake without wanting to kill myself by the end of it. Overall, for this purpose, The Omen was OK.

I think it was only a matter of time before a Superman movie came out, with the success of movies like X-Men, Batman, and Spiderman. All of these movies set the bar a little higher for comic book based movies and I’ve liked all of them, especially Batman Begins (Two-Disc Deluxe Edition), which I think is hands down the best comic book super hero based movie made so far (with Spidey and X-Men running close seconds).

I think Superman Returns is a good movie for kids who haven’t seen the original Superman – The Movie. The special effects are great, the photography looks great, and c’mon – Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor — its like butter.

But overall, for me, I enjoyed the original better. The acting was better, the story was more coherent, and the special effects were good enough. During the first half hour of Superman Returns, I had a hard time even figuring out what was going on. The flashbacks were disjointed, with no real context that I could find to place me where I needed to be mentally to understand what had been happening over the last five years.

I thought Brandon Routh did an excellent job in the role of Superman, but I think for me thats more because he totally reminded me of Christopher Reeve. I couldn’t stand this Lois Lane at all, but I can’t put my finger on why. Kevin Spacey was excellent, as usual.

If I were you, I would wait for this one to come out on DVD. Its a cool movie to watch, but if I had it to do over again, I don’t think I would pay todays movie prices to watch it. If you want a great Superman movie, go back to the original Superman – The Movie (ignore the two or three sequels, they sucked too). I think that movie was the definitive Superman movie and still stands the test of time.

Movies: Hostel

Yesterday we went to see Hostel, a new “Quentin Tarantino Presents” film written and directed by Eli Roth.

I had not read anything on the film, so had no real expectations going in except for Tarantino’s name on the film. I’m a big fan, so I’ll basically go see anything his name is on. Aside from that, however; I knew nothing about the film at all, not even the basic story line. I would recommend you go into the movie the same way. If you have read any of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or other review sites, you might find that you know too much to be as shocked as I was and that in a vague way too much of the plot is given away, even on the non-spoiler sites.

Now, on to the movie. The movie is about two kids, Josh and Paxton, going to college who have decided to take a backpacking trip through Europe. Along the way they have befriended an Icelandic man named Oli and the three of them are making their way through the Hostels in Europe, in search of, you guessed it, getting high and getting lucky with European women. Josh has just broken up with his girlfriend, so Paxton and Oli are trying to get him hooked up with someone along the trip to help him forget his problems.

They go out one night in Amsterdam and wind up being out after curfew and cannot get into their Hostel. They are taken in by a guy who smokes some pot with them and tells them about a Hostel not on the usual maps where the women love American men and “will do anything for them”. This is enough to get the three trekking towards this off the map Hostel.

Once they get to the new Hostel and check in, they go to their room, which is shared with two women. They are invited by the women to go to the spa with the three women and begin to have a good time. The women are very “hospitable” and Josh and Paxton get lucky with their respective female roommate as Oli (“The King of Swing”) finds someone to hook up with as the night ends.

Then Oli disappears. Checking at the desk, the boys are told that he checked out early this morning. The boys are worried and try repeatedly to call and leave notes for Oli, but he doesn’t respond. They are shown a picture of him that has been taken showing he went off with the girl he met. The guys think this is weird, as he made no effort to let them know he was leaving — and the girls invite Paxton and Josh to go to the disco with them to distract them from their fear for their friend.

At this point in the movie, you are absolutely convinced that this movie is your typical “freaky homicidal maniac kidnapping and killing people” type of movie. It isn’t — not by a long shot — and that is all I’m going to tell you about the plot of the movie. The rest you just have to see for yourself.

Here’s what I will tell you. The twist of what this movie is actually about is on the order of the The Sixth Sense, but about 100 times more disturbing. As we were walking out of the theater I was completely quiet, trying to come to terms with what I had just witnessed. I have never seen a movie that I found this disturbing and that I had thought about so much after the ending credits had rolled.

So to get to the bottom line, here’s the review. The movie is totally worth seeing and I’d give it at least 3.5 stars on a scale of 4. Rotten Tomatoes currently shows a 69% fresh rating. I’d give it higher than that, as I think its definitely original and not the same recycled plot lines that you find in your typical horror movies. Its definitely unique and extremely disturbing. The movie is full of nudity and what seems like gratuitous violence. As the plot unwinds, however, the violence seems less gratuitous (at least it did to me) and necessary in order to communicate the gravity of the final destination of the plot line.

Normally, I enjoy watching horror movies with Kelsi. I would definitely sit down and watch Saw with her, another movie that I really enjoyed for its originality and total non-hollywood feel it had. I’ve yet to find a horror movie that I wouldn’t buy and sit down and watch with Kelsi if I liked it.

Until now. I don’t think I ever want to see this movie again. I don’t want to watch it, and I don’t want to own it when it comes out on DVD. I think it was a great movie, but the final destination of the plot line is something I never, ever want to see again — as it explores what I think is the darkest side of human nature and one that, quite frankly, I would rather kid myself that it doesn’t exist.

So for me, the movie was extremely satisfying, in a warped way. I finally hit my limit as to what I am willing to watch in a movie — but for different reasons that what I have experienced in the past. Normally, I am frustrated at wasting money on stupid plot lines or over produced special effects that are there for the sake of having the effects. I usually have a movie push the limits I have around feeling like I’ve wasted my time.

My limit here was completely different. This movie had an interesting plot, let you get to know the characters well enough to care about them and then pushed you right over the edge. The subject matter was such that it was real enough that it could possibly happen and yet so disturbing that you don’t want to think about the fact that it could actually happen, if that makes any sense. In some ways, I felt that the subject matter was just one of those things that should never be put on film, which is satisfying in and of itself.

I would definitely recommend that those who don’t find nudity and a lot of violence patently offensive actually go to see the film for the experience. I was pretty blown away by it.

Aardvark’d: 12 Weeks with Geeks


Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame has announced the completion of the movie Aardvark’d: 12 Weeks with Geeks, a documentary chronicling the development of a software product called Aardvark. DVD preorders are being taken now for a ship date of December 1. The trailer is available on the project page and I have to say, it looks really cool from a geeks point of view. I think I’ll be preordering this one.